One of the best friends Southern Sizzle has ever had, author Danica Avet — (and I recommend her books in THE VEIL series!) –blogged about the gris-gris yesterday, a Voodoo charm bag. Stirred up all kinds of memories concerning Voodoo.
And anytime a person thinks of Voodoo and New Orleans, they think of Marie Leveau.
But I have a question before we go any farther. And I want you to be completely honest with your response. Out of 100 people I asked this question of, 100 provided the wrong answer. (Not going to include my GCCRWA Chapter members in that number; they know the answer from my Paranormal program.)
So here we go: Who was the first Voodoo Queen of New Orleans?
Everyone I’ve ever asked answered without hesitation. “Marie Leveau.”
Wrong answer. In the early 1800′s the first Voodoo Queen was Sanite DeDe, a young woman from Santo Domingo. She held rituals at Dumaine and Chartres, with St. Louis Cathedral only blocks away. Rhythmic drum beats could be heard during Mass, which is why in 1817 the Church decided any religion that was not Catholic couldn’t be practiced within the city limits. Congo Square (now Louis Armstrong Park) became the location where early voodouns held ceremonies.
Marie Leveau was actually Sanite DeDe’s protege. Marie was born 1783 to Marguerite Darcantel, a slave from Haiti and mistress of wealthy plantation owner Charles Leveau. She was always a free woman of color. Marie was raised within the strict guidelines of the Catholic Church. A devout Catholic, she attended Mass every day of her life.
A hairdresser, in 1826 Marie became intrigued with then Queen Sanite DeDe. She began to study herbs and the secrets of the Voodoo religion. Marie is the one who saw the correspondence between the two religions, with one supreme deity and the saints. Quite often statues of Catholic saints were openly displayed, no one suspecting (or if they did it was never mentioned) they were actually part of a Voodoun altar. Marie never abandoned her Catholic roots, and is the one who incorporated Holy Water and candles into Voodoo rituals.
Marie Leveau was the most feared woman in New Orleans despite being one of the city’s greatest humanitarians, working alongside Pere Antoine caring for the sick during yellow fever epidemics. She ministered to prisoners on Death Row. She helped all who needed her regardless of race or ability to pay.
She retired as Queen in 1875, and died at the age of 98 in 1891. Her tomb is in St. Louis Cemetery #1, one of the most visited sites in New Orleans. At any given time you’ll find flowers, herbs, coins and rum offered in homage; or X’s marked in chalk by those with a specific request.
Voodoo ritual items include: ‘Veves’ (pronounced vay-vays), magical symbols drawn in cornmeal on the floor during ceremonies, and on dolls or gris-gris bags. ‘Gris-gris’ (pronounced gree-gree, with the ‘gr’ guttural in the back of the throat), a small cloth pouch tied with colored thread or yarn, worn or carried on the person; contents and color are according to purpose. Patients at Charity hospital have been known to refuse to remove their gris-gris when entering for treatment. Mojo, a major gris-gris, with attitude. Poppet, a cloth doll representing a person, usually the self. Poppets are made with hair from that individual, fingernails from that individual, and sometimes ‘anointed’ with blood. As the representation of that individual, it is surrounded with money and luxuries to improve the welfare and living conditions of the person by association. Loa, one of the demigods, each with a particular purpose, and ‘danced down’.
Front stoops in New Orleans were scrubbed with red brick dust, the most prevalent way to prevent curses and individuals meaning you harm from entering your home.
Blood and Bone – there are subtle signs and symbols of Voodoo everywhere in New Orleans. The old hanging cast iron cauldron used to boil clothing on wash day served double duty, becoming the recipient of ritual brews. It was usually combined with the red and white of blood and bone, demonstrated in something as innocent as a white-washed wall with red geraniums set in front of it.
Voodoo is a continuous and intriguing thread running through New Orleans history, and if you’re ever in the city be sure to take one of the tours offered by Haunted History Tours. I’ve included them in the tags, or you can visit them at www.HauntedHistoryTours.com. The Travel Channel naming them “The #1 Tour in New Orleans!” is an additional incentive and recommendation. If you go on their Vampire Tour or Ghost Tour be sure and bring your camera. You never know who or what will show up in your pictures.