Marie Laveau was born in 1794, baptised and registered at the parish. Her origins remain, truth be told, rather murky: in her white and black blood mixed. It was even suspected that she had Native American blood. Some even said she was the daughter of a white nobleman and a black slave.
In 1819, as told by the parish’s records, Marie Laveau married a carpenter named Jacques Paris, a man of colour like her, and a free man like her, not a slave. They led a quiet life, respectable and rather discreet. Three years later, the husband died. Marie Laveau may have wept his loss but did not seem to miss him much. She started hanging out in Congo Square. It was at the door of New Orleans, a place where slaves gathered every Saturday to sing and dance, to recover their identity through African culture. Marie Laveau was magnificent, her black eyes sparkled on her perfectly chiselled face, her skin was smooth and rather fair for a mixed woman. She dressed ostentatiously, with long ample skirts, lots of big jewels, flowers, and feathers. Given her beauty and queen-like demeanour, she could pull it off…She quickly became the star of Congo Square’s improvised shows. Everyone around her believed in voodoo. They practiced it. Marie Laveau’s interest grew.
Originally from Africa, this cult had arrived in the Americas with the Spanish conquerors and their slaves. It was intertwined with Christianity as well as old Native American beliefs. The result was a confused syncretism. Voodoo, associated to black magic by the general public, found its roots in the inexhaustible field of the mysterious and the invisible. Some sorcerers would use it with bad intentions, to cause harm, to make you sick, to annihilate freewill, to kill. Others would use it to do good, to heal, to save. Anyhow, those rites shrouded in secret were systematically impressive, even terrifying, so as to deter the undesirable and anchor the followers.
Voodoo remained essentially matriarchal, with women almost always officiating. It was based on fertility and condoned sexual freedom. Taught by a priestess, Marie Laveau quickly climbed the levels of initiation and in turn became a priestess. She was undeniably gifted. She still worked as a hairdresser, which allowed her to recruit new followers: women with bad lovers, young women with no lovers…soon even man came begging for her interventions.
Around that time, a man from the highest pinnacles of society came to find her. He had problems: he was accused of having raped a young woman of the lower class, and her father was dragging him to court. His lawyers were pessimistic: the evidence was undeniable. The young man, out of saints to implore, chose the devil instead and kneeled in front of Marie Laveau, begging for her help. He assured her that if she were to save him, she would be generously rewarded. Marie Laveau promised. The day before the trial, the young man confessed to his father his trip to see the witch. The father shrugged:
– You are ridiculous, but if she succeeds, I will give her my cottage on St. Ann Street.
The next day at 6am, Marie Laveau discreetly made her way to the courthouse and, on the right corner of the judge’s desk, placed an exquisite mix of perfumes she had brewed. Then, she placed a bag of grinded bricks in front of the man’s residence, along with a note nailed to his door: “The young man is innocent”. Note she daringly signed with her name, Marie Laveau.
The trial was off to a bad start: the prosecution sustained that were the young man freed, no girl would be safe… Marie Laveau grabbed a piece of paper, stuck some of her hair in between, crumbled it into a ball and threw it at the orator, who immediately stopped his peroration and announced he would let the jury decide. And the jury unanimously gave a non-guilty verdict! True to his word, the father of the acquitted gifted Marie Laveau with the cottage on 152 St. Ann Street, which would remain her residence for the rest of her life.
TO BE CONTINUED