Tuesday, October 13, 2015

HGB Podcast, Ep. 75 - Marie Laveau and Voodoo

Moment in Oddity - The Revenge of Princess Olga of Kiev

Some people take revenge to an extreme that is quite bizarre. Princess Olga of Kiev is an example of this. She was married to Prince Igor who became King of Kievan Rus. One day, King Igor went to a Slavic tribe named Drevlyans to obtain his tributes from them. The Drevlyans didn't want to give the king anything, so they killer him. They should have just given him their tributes. Olga took over as regent because her and Igor's son was only three. The Drevlyans didn't want a female ruling, so they sent a bunch of suitors to Olga. She was infuriated. She had the suitors, along with the boat they arrived in, thrown into a trench and buried alive. She demanded better suitors, but not because she actually wanted a husband. This next batch of men were locked in the bathhouse, which was set ablaze. Then she announced she had picked a suitor and invited 5,000 Drevlyans to a celebration. She had them all slaughtered. And finally she told the Drevlyans that she had a small request. She changed the tributes to be paid and the Drevlyans were relieved and even thought they had the upper hand. Olga had simply requested three pigeons and three sparrows from each home. She then sent the birds back with embers tied to them and the town burned to the ground. If you think that's improbable, our military was going to do the same to Japan using vats and the tests actually worked. Even after this heinous revenge was carried out, Princess Olga was named a saint in the Russian Orthodox religion and Roman Catholicism. Now that certainly is odd!

This Day in History - Emperor Claudius Dies
by Steven Pappas

Onthis day, October 13th in the year 54 CE, the Roman emperor Claudius dies. Many historians of the time seemed to point to poisoning as the cause of death and this is the most widely accepted theory behind Claudius’s demise. The list of people with access and motive wasn’t a short one. Many implicate his personal taster as the one who did the deed, but it would appear the person with the most motive was Claudius’s wife Aggrapina. She did not want to see Brittainicus, her step-son, come of age and take the throne. And after many months of poor marriage to Claudius, many believe she used the poisoning of her husband to ensure that her son, Nero, took control of the Roman Empire. Nero became emperor in the early hours of October 13th at the age of seventeen, making him the youngest emperor up to that point. He would go on to have an infamous career as the ruler who dipped Christians in oil and lit them aflame to illuminate his garden and is even rumored to have “fiddled while Rome burned”.

Marie Laveau and Voodoo  (Research Assistant: Jessie Harms)

New Orleans is a city that seems to ooze the paranormal and the occult. The wrought iron balconies and cobble stone streets remind people that this is a city with a deep history. Every corner seems to reveal a new delight for the history lover and foodie alike. Whether it's the jazz streaming from the windows of the French Quarter to the beignets at shops like Cafe Du Monde, New Orleans is an amazing city. The legend around New Orleans' Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau is larger than life, as large as the mystique of New Orleans itself. She captivated the city for decades and her grave still draws people from around the world. It would seem that the spirits are very active here. Come with us as we discover the history and the hauntings of Marie Laveau.

In 1718, Governor of French Louisiana La Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne founded the city of Nouvelle Orleans in honor of Phillip Duc d'Orleans at the mouth of the Mississippi River. In 1722, Le Moyne moved the capital of Louisiana from Biloxi to what is known today as New Orleans. The area of what is known today as Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana at the time was one territory claimed by the French. Le Moyne believed that the area that was settled as New Orleans was safe from "tidal surges and hurricanes."  Unfortunately in the same year, a hurricane destroyed the city, but the city was rebuilt in the grid pattern that you can find today in the French Quarter. 

In 1762 and 1763, France signed treaties with Spain, giving the city over to Spain's control. In 1788 and 1794 (the year widely believed to be the year Marie Laveau was born) the city was destroyed by a fire, and rebuilt in brick with many of the those buildings and cathedrals still standing today. In 1803, Louisiana went back under French control, who in turn, 20 days later sold it to the United States as a part of the Louisiana Purchase. The final battle of the War of 1812 was fought in New Orleans with Colonel Andrew Jackson leading the Americans.

Nailing down specifics on Marie Laveau is difficult, not only because legends take on a life of their own, but because Laveau's namesake daughter is rumored to have taken up the Voodoo Queen mantle after her mother's death. Historians are not sure which of the two women contributed most to the Voodoo Queen reputation. On this podcast, we are focusing on the elder Marie Laveau and consider her to be the true Voodoo Queen. Marie Laveau was born most likely in 1794, although some claim 1796 or 1801 as her birth year. Her place of birth is disputed as well. Most claim that she was born in New Orleans, but others say she immigrated here from Haiti, which was known as Saint Domingue at the time. And it probably is no surprise that her parentage is unclear. Some say she came down from royalty. What is most likely is that she was of mixed race. Her father was a white man named Charles Laveau.

She was a beautiful woman who caught the eye of Jacques Paris, a Haitian. He asked her to marry him and they did just that on August 4, 1819. They did not live happily ever after. Jacques disappeared a few years into the marriage. Where he went, nobody knew. Some speculated he had returned to Haiti. Common sense makes us think that possibly he met a bad end because he was declared dead. There was no funeral or burial for him. Did Laveau really not know what happened to her husband? If he left her, they wouldn't declare him dead. All we know is that they soon started calling Laveau, "Widow Paris."

Laveau took up with another Haitian named Louis Christopher Duminy de Clapion. They did not marry, but that didn't stop them from having 15 children together. A man named Doctor John became an intregal part of her life at this time. His real name was John Bayou and he was a Voodoo doctor. He taught her how to make gris gris bags, how to use Voodoo dolls and how to produce charms and curses. He was a good teacher and she was a good student because soon Laveau was a very powerful priestess. She rose above all other Voodoo practitioners and many believe she was the most powerful in the city. So powerful, that many claim she held sway over the entire city. She even seemed to have power over government officials.

One story claims that she used her powers to convince a judge to declare a man innocent who was actually guilty of murder. The man's father gave her a house in return for her help. There were those who did not believe that Voodoo had any power and thus, neither did Laveau. Political power can really be more powerful than magic don't you think? Fun fact: Marie Laveau had citizenship with France, Spain and the United States.

Many people believed Laveau could do anything. She could conjure magic to cause people to fall in love some said. She could bring material wealth to people. She could cure illness. These are all good actions and Laveau is said to have had a big heart and one that cared especially for the poor and slaves. She herself had been born a free woman. Because of her care for the downtrodden, she would very often provide her services for free to them. Laveau was not just the Voodoo Queen. She had a very mundane day job. She was a hairdresser. And she was very good at that as well. Many of the rich and influential would come to her and this is where she could have gained her political power as some claim. And on the seedier side of things, there are rumors that she ran a brothel and this is how she established her political influence. She possibly could have had inside information from servants who worked in upscale homes as well. Her high standing was proved through a ritual she held on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain in 1874. Nearly 12,000 attended the ceremony.

Laveau lived to the ripe old age of eighty-six and she died of natural causes in her home on June 15, 1881. She was buried in Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1. Or at least that is what is traditionally believed. Some say nobody knows where she was buried. Laveau had named a daughter with her same name and she became known as Marie Laveau II and is believed to have continued her mother's work. Her legend has lived on through countless novels, movies, comic books and much more. We believe that the Voodoo priestess in Disney's Princess and the Frog was inspired by Laveau. One reason is because lore about Laveau claims she had a snake named Zombi. Angela Bassett played Laveau in the American Horror Story series during its Coven run.

The practice of Voodoo in New Orleans is well known now, but during Laveau's time, it was done in secret. In Voodoo, there is one supreme god. He is called by various names depending on region. This god is unreachable. That is why there are so many spirits in Voodoo. These spirits are needed in order to communicate with the supreme god. Different ceremonies and traditions are practiced, each with a specific purpose that usually involves asking a minor god or spirit for help with something. Some of these rituals call for animal sacrifice.

A Salt Lake Tribune article from 2008 shares this story as told by tour guide and New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum historian Jerry Gandolfo:
"The story begins a long time ago - back when God lived on Earth, managed a vegetable garden and had a servant named Legba. Every night, it turned out, someone would steal from God's prized garden. So God told Legba he was going to make it rain, saying footprints in the mud would lead him to the thief. The next morning, the garden was a complete mess. As God dissolved into a rage, Legba - a dedicated prankster - showed up giggling, holding a pair of God's own muddy sandals. "You must be sleep walking," he told God. This made God furious, and he decided to move to heaven. Because he was mad at Legba, he left the servant behind. God told Legba he'd be the connection between mortals on Earth and God in heaven, and he turned Legba into a rainbow. But because rainbows aren't always available when ceremonies are necessary, he also turned Legba into a snake. Legba is the main spirit in Voodoo, a belief system that seeks the intercession of spirits, but there are thousands of others enlisted by God. In New Orleans, Legba is known by another name. He is St. Peter, the Catholic saint who holds the keys to heaven."
Something unique about Voodoo is that possession is a key part of the practice. A spirit will displace the soul of a practitoner and enter the body. The spirit will speak through the channeler and give predictions, directions or advice. Someone who is possessed will feel no pain. Although there are different forms of Voodoo practiced in Africa and Haiti, both traditions incorporate possession. Voodoo passes on like an oral tradition as seen between Marie Laveau and Doctor John. It is a personal religion and there is not one primary holy text.

The Voodoo that Marie Laveau practiced is the one observed in Haiti, which is the African form with a twist. Slaves brought the religion with them from Africa. Slave owners often required that their slaves be baptized into Catholicism. This forced the slaves to hide their Voodoo and soon many Catholic traditions became intertwined with their Voodoo. The spirits took on the names of Catholic saints, the cross became a symbol of the crossroads and Catholic hymns were sung. Leaders in Voodoo are called priests and priestesses. The gris gris bags mentioned earlier are little pouches used with curses or charms. A practitioner puts a small item in the pouch like an animal skin, dried beans, herbs or stones. Voodoo dolls are used to try to control people or cause them harm. Ancestor worship and the wearing of protection amulets is found in Louisiana Voodoo as is the Ouanga, which is a charm that poisons an enemy using the crushed up roots of the African Figuier Maudit Tree mixed with holy candles, holy water, bones and nails.

At its base, Voodoo is a pretty creepy religion, especially to outsiders. Animal sacrifices, contorted and weird dances, possession and strange tonics all contribute to the idea that Voodoo is creepy. Does it conjure evil? There are some misconceptions when it comes to Voodoo, just as there is with Wicca or Witchcraft. History has clearly taught us that religion can be used for both good and bad. Much of it comes down to the individual practice. There are rumors associated with the creation of zombies in regards to Voodoo as well. These aren't your flesh eating "Walking Dead" kind of zombies. These are generally people held under someone's sway either through drugs or magic.

Marie Laveau's tomb is said to be the most haunted in New Orleans. People visit this final resting place from all over the world. Many come seeking to ask the Voodoo Queen for a favor despite the fact that she has been dead for decades. There are a couple of rituals involved with this practice. The first is for the seeker to knock three times on the tomb and then say the request out loud. After the request is fulfilled, the seeker is suppose to return to the tomb with a gift consisting of either coins, liquor, flowers or a Monkey or Cock Statue. In the past, people would mark the tomb with three Xs using paint or a chip of brick, but that practice is illegal now. The second ritual features the seeker drawing an X on the tomb, spinning three times, knocking on the tomb and yelling out their desire. When it is fulfilled, they are to come back and circle their X and leave an offering.

Her apparition has been witnessed walking among the tombstones at the Saint Louis Cemetery. She is wearing her turban and can be heard uttering voodoo curses. And strangely, there are some who claim that Laveau appears as a phantom cat prowling the graveyard and that it eventually disappears into Laveau's crypt. The cat's eyes glow red. Laveau lived in the location that is now 1020 Saint Ann Street and she haunts that property.

St. John's Eve, which is June 23rd, is a holy day in the Voodoo religion. On this day, ceremonies are held in which new practitioners are baptized into the religion. In New Orleans, this ceremony is held on Bayou Street. Many claim that Laveau rises from her grave on this night to supervise the ceremony. Right after the announcement went out that Laveau had died, people claimed to have seen her on the street, so they disputed the death claims.

Was Laveau's reputation enough to scare people? Did she just have political power? Was she really able to conjure magic? Does Marie Laveau's ghost still walk the streets of New Orleans? That is for you to decide!

Show Notes:

An interesting article written about her upon her death:
"Those who have passed by the quaint old house on St. Ann, between Rampart and Burgundy streets with the high frail looking fence in front over which a tree or two is visible, have been within the last few years, noticed through the open gateway a decrepid old lady with snow white hair, and a smile of peace and contentment lighting up her golden features. For a few years past she has been missed from her accustomed place. The feeble old lady lay upon her bed with her daughter and grand children around her ministering to her wants.

On Wednesday the invalid sank into the sleep, which knows no waking. Those whom she had befriended crowded into the little room where she was exposed, in order to obtain a last look at the features, smiling even in death, of her who had been so kind to them.

At 5 o'clock yesterday evening Marie Laveau was buried in her family tomb in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Her remains were followed to the grave by a large concourse of people, the most prominent and the most humble joining in paying their last respects to the dead. Father Mignot conducted the funeral services.

Marie Laveau was born ninety-eight years ago. Her father was a rich planter, who was prominent in all public affairs, and served in the Legislature of this State. Her mother was Marguerite Henry, and her grandmother was Marguerite Semard. All were beautiful women of color. The gift of beauty was hereditary in the family, and Marie inherited it in the fullest degree. When she was twenty-five years old she was led to the altar by Jacques Paris, a carpenter. This marriage took place at the St. Louis Cathedral. Pere Antoine, of beloved memory, conducting the service, and Mr. Mazureau the famous lawyer, acting as witness. A year afterwards Mr. Paris disappeared, and no one knows to this day what became of him. After waiting a year for his return she married Capt. Christophe Glapion. The latter was also very prominent here, and served with distinction in the battalion of men of San Domingo, under D'Aquin, with Jackson in the war of 1815.

Fifteen children were the result of their marriage. Only one of these is now alive. Capt. Glapion died greatly registered, on the 26th of June, 1855. Five years afterwards Marie Laveau, became ill, and has been sick ever since, her indisposition becoming more pronounced and painful within the last ten years.

Besides being very beautiful Marie also was very wise. She was skillful in the practice of medicine and was acquainted with the valuable healing qualities of indigenous herbs.

She was very successful as a nurse, wonderful stories being told of her exploits at the sick bed. In yellow fever and cholera epidemics she was always called upon to nurse the sick, and always responded promptly. Her skill and knowledge earned her the friendship and approbation, of those sufficiently cultivated, but the ignorant attributed her success to unnatural means and held her in constant dread.

Notably in 1853 a committee of gentlemen, appointed at a mass meeting held at Globe Hall, waited on Marie and requested her on behalf of the people to minister to the fever stricken. She went out and fought the pestilence where it was thickest and many alive today owe their salvation to her devotion.

Not alone to the sick man was Marie Laveau a blessing. To help a fellow citizen in distress she considered a priceless privilege. She was born in the house where she died. Her mother lived and died there before her. The unassuming cottage has stood for a century and a half. It was built by the first French settlers of adobe and not a brick was employed in its construction. When it was erected it was considered the handsomest building in the neighborhood. Rampart street was not then in existence, being the skirt of a wilderness and latterly a line of entrenchment. Notwithstanding the decay of her little mansion, Marie made the sight of it pleasant to the unfortunate. At anytime of night or day any one was welcome to food and lodging.

Those in trouble had but to come to her and she would make their cause her own after undergoing great sacrifices in order to assist them.

Besides being charitable, Marie was also very pious and took delight in strengthening the allegiance of souls to the church. She would sit with the condemned in their last moments and endeavor to turn their last thoughts to Jesus. Whenever a prisoner excited her pity Marie would labor incessantly to obtain his pardon, or at least a commutation of sentence, and she generally succeeded.

A few years ago, before she lost control of her memory, she was rich in interesting reminiscences of the early history of this city. She spoke often of the young American Governor Claiborne, and told how the child-wife he brought with him from Tennessee died of the yellow fever shortly after his arrival with the dead babe upon her bosom was buried in a corner of the old American Cemetery. She spoke sometimes of the strange little man with the wonderful bright eyes Aaron Burr, who was so polite and so dangerous. She loved to talk of Lafayette, who visited New Orleans over half a century ago. The great Frenchman came to see her at her house, and kissed her on the forehead at parting.

She remembered the old French General, Humbert, and was one of the few colored people who escorted to the tomb long since dismantled in the catholic Cemetery, the withered and grizzly remains of the hero of Castelbar. Probably she knew Father Antoine better than any living in those days - for he the priest and she the nurse met at the dying bedside of hundreds of people - she to close the faded eyes in death, and he, to waft the soul over the river to the realms of eternal joy.

All in all Marie Laveau was a most wonderful woman. Doing good for the sake of doing good alone, she obtained no reward, oft times meeting with prejudice and loathing, she was nevertheless contented and did not lag in her work. She always had the cause of the people at heart and was with them in all things. During the late rebellion she proved her loyalty to the South at every opportunity and fully dispensed help to those who suffered in defense of the "lost cause." Her last days were spent surrounded by sacred pictures and other evidences of religion, and she died with a firm trust in heaven. While God's sunshine plays around the little tomb where her remains are buried, by the side of her second husband, and her sons and daughters, Marie Laveau's name will not be forgotten in New Orleans. Daily Picayune - June 18, 1881."

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