'The forty-four cemeteries of New Orleans lend themselves to mystery, ghost stories and occult tourism. Local citizens call them 'cities of the dead'. First time visitors receive a surreal shock - ancient ruins, marble monuments and tall crypts celebrate death and refuse to sterilize, deny or make it merely a medical fact Against the skyline, angels, crosses and statues of grieving mothers make the aura of decomposition exquisite. Mile after mile of tombs resemble houses, small mansions or places of worship - neighborhoods where another branch of the family lives . . . The Creole citizens of New Orleans came to be infatuated with tales of open graves, gruesome deaths and skeletons or ghosts who lead independent lives along the avenues of the cities of the dead. . . (p. 94)
This new biography by Martha Ward is published by University of Mississippi Press, at approx 20 UK pounds (ISBN 1-57806-629-8). Beneath the dull gray cover lurks a colorful hardback documenting the history of the New Orleans Voodoo clan of Marie Laveau and her eponymous daughter. Marie I, born in 1801 died 1881, is buried in the famous New Orleans Tomb which every year is visited by many thousands of pilgrims. She and her daughter lived extraordinary lives, spanning the purchase of Louisiana by the fledgling USA, the civil war, the decline and suppression of Voodoo and the rise of segregation.
Its unlikely that any earlier author had as much freedom to research the subject, using original documentary material, her own intuition and the extensive archive of oral history compiled during the years of the depression by the Federal Writer's Project. Marie Laveau's magick is clearly neither wholly black nor white - she was charismatic enticing her second racially white husband to declare himself black despite the vicious race laws of the time. Time and time again her actions emerge as not quite what they seem - the accusation that she owned slaves changes significance when the author's painstaking research exposes how she and her husband manipulated the law to resist slavery and secure a kind of freedom to anyone in their orbit.
Her daughter (also Marie Laveau) at first resisted but later embraced Voodoo. 'she liked parties, she loved the attention men paid to her striking good looks. She danced the Bamboula and the Calinda in Congo square on Sunday afternoon. There each time she ran into Jim Alexander (Dr Jim not Dr John??) a voodoo practitioner and respected two-headed doctor of Hoodoo, he confronted her; he told her that she radiated power. He offered to initiate her, to be her mentor, to take her through the door to the spirits. She turned him down time after time, because "she would rather dance than make love". One night however ' a great rattlesnake entered her bedroom and spoke to her.' p110.
Some say that in 1999 she returned to a St John's Eve Voodoo gathering on Bayou St John - hopefully she will return. Highly recommended book [Mogg]