So many legends and mysteries surround the very real woman known as Marie Laveau from New Orleans. Vodou Queen; devout Roman Catholic; friend to prisoners and orphans; herbal healer; hairdresser; nurse to those sick with yellow fever; slaveholder; wife, mother and widow; snake handler; town madam--but what's fact and what's fiction?
I just read Carolyn Morrow Long's A New Orleans Voudou Priestess: The legend and reality of Marie Laveau, an easy-to-read and thorough examination of facts, stories and myths that have surrounded this fascinating woman for more than 100 years. She uncovers where many of the myths about Marie originated using city records, newspaper accounts and archival interviews with people who knew her--or at least claimed to. I thought it was incredibly well-researched and as objective as possible. As a Vodou practitioner, I wanted to know more about Mdme. Marie. I find her spiritually inspiring, I've seen her presence in ceremony, and every year on St. John's Eve my spiritual family in New Orleans holds a public ritual in her honor. For some us, she has been elevated to the status of a Vodou lwa. But why are we doing all of this? I ask these sorts of questions and like to know as much as possible because I find it enriches my spiritual practice.
As Hurricane Ida moved out of Louisiana, I lit a candle to ask Mdme. Marie's help for those in need in New Orleans. In return for her help, I felt her ask me to learn more about her, and so I read this book as one way to do so. I learned a lot, but there are may questions that will remain unanswered. As Long writes:
What we can piece together ... is a silhouette of Marie Laveau, her mere outline ... Tantalizingly incomplete, she is perhaps even more magnetic than she would be if fully known.
What's also fascinating is to read about the racial dynamics during Mdme. Marie's time as well as that of her mother and grandmother, plus the men in her life. Long does a commendable job of helping the reader understand how racial dynamics changed over time and how they affected each generation--suggesting that this, too, has shaped our contemporary view of Mdme. Marie.
I highly recommend Long's book, and you don't need to be a Vodouisant to appreciate it. Read it for the racial dynamics, for a view on the role of women in New Orleans society, or for the historical interest--but read it!