Two women named Marie Laveau, mother and daughter, were key figures in the practice of voodoo in New Orleans from approximately 1830 until the 1880s. The first Marie Laveau (b. 1783) built a reputation as a powerful leader in the particular form of West African Dahomean religion that developed in New Orleans. There, voodoo practice centered on several Dahomean deities (vodun) and on healing, herbalism, and divination. In the Louisiana context, elements of Roman Catholicism were blended with the Dahomean tradition as well.
The first Marie Laveau oversaw large ritual gatherings in Congo Square and on the banks of Lake Ponchartrain. In her home she also saw clients who came with health problems, domestic difficulties, and other troubles. Clearly, Laveau was successful in her practice, and black and white residents of the city knew of her skills and solicited them. She was also widely known for visiting and caring for death row prisoners.
Around 1875 Marie Laveau's health began to fail, and her daughter (b. 1827) assumed the public role of Marie Laveau. By the time the first Marie died in 1881, the reputation of her daughter had been solidified. The second Marie continued the craft developed by her mother and other practitioners of voodoo, particularly healing, divining, and providing protective charms for white and black clients. By the last decade of the century, Marie Laveau's practice had declined significantly, as other figures assumed prominence in the city.
The legend of Marie Laveau was kept alive by twentieth-century conjurers who claimed to use Laveau techniques, and it is kept alive through the continuing practice of commercialized voodoo in New Orleans. Each year hundreds of curious tourists and followers visit Marie Laveau's grave in New Orleans, where they present offerings to "the Voodoo Queen."
See also Voodoo
Tallant, Robert. Voodoo in New Orleans. New York: Macmillan, 1946.
Ward, Martha. Voodoo Queen: The Spirited Lives of Marie Laveau. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2004.
judith weisenfeld (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005