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Notes For Unsolved: The Bizarre Voodoo World Of New Orleans

Research notes for Supernatural Season 2 Episode 10

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** Research compiled for Ryan & Shane on February 10, 2017 by Adriana Gomez.

New Orleans

  • The city was founded by the French around 1718 by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville.
  • Sometimes early French settlers married Native American women and African slaves would create alliances with the Native Americans. It appears New Orleans has been a melting pot since its conception.
  • Around 1763, France ceded Louisiana to the Spanish, in order to gain an alliance during the Seven Years’ War. For about the next 40 years, New Orleans was under Spanish rule.
  • The city adopted a Spanish style of racial regulations, allowing a community of free people of color.
  • When Louisiana transitioned to Spanish rule, they adopted the liberal custom of coartación: a slave and owner could agree on a price for the slave to purchase their freedom.
  • In 1803, Louisiana territory returned to French rule, and was immediately sold, within the same year, to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase.
  • At the time of the Louisiana purchase, roughly 20% of the city was made up of free people of color.
  • Generally, they were referred to as “mulatto.”
  • During the first half of the 1800s, New Orleans thrived. It was one of America’s wealthiest cities and the third-largest.
  • Until about 1830, most of its inhabitants still spoke French.
  • Though there was much slave trade happening in New Orleans, they continued to have a strong community of free black people.


Voodoo

  • The origins of Voodoo are unknown, but most agree it came from West Africa, particularly the region of Benin where the word “Voodoo” means “spirit.”
  • It is believed that the religion derives from the tradition of ancestor worship and animism, the belief that nature and inanimate objects contain consciousness.
  • Voodoo came to America during the slave trade, through Haiti. They were forced by plantation owners to practice Catholicism and end their cultural practices.
  • In response, slaves used Catholic iconography to mask their Voodoo saints. For example:
  • God was the equivalent of Bondyè.
  • St. Patrick is considered synonymous with the god Danbala.
  • St. James is the equivalent of Ogoun.
  • St. Peter is considered Legba, the gatekeeper.
  • Catholic holidays were also adapted to integrate Voodoo, as well as baptism.
  • Voodoo practitioners believe in one god and that there are many spirits who have power over humans and nature. They are referred to as “Lao.”
  • Each Lao has their own signifier such as a fruit or color.
  • They also believe spirits of the dead can be used as mediums for the living and the divine.
  • Such a strong connection between the living, deceased, and divine is amplified by spiritual possession.
  • It is believed that when you are possessed, God chose to temporarily displace one’s spirit so that their body may become one of the divine.
  • It may have been during Voodoo’s Catholic-American transformation that the emphasis on the magical aspects of Voodoo, such as curses and talismans, began.
  • (When slavery ended, it wasn’t uncommon for people to advertise themselves as “Voodoo doctors” selling magical objects and spells.)
  • Voodoo calls on spirits to help the sick and needy, and guide one through life’s struggles.
  • It has no central authority or scripture. It is community-based and balances the individual’s experiences with nature and deities.
  • Knowledge of its religious practices is passed on orally from generation to generation.
  • Sacrifices do occur at certain ceremonies in order to invoke the power of the spirit world. The typical sacrifice involves a chicken or a goat.


Voodoo in New Orleans

The Catholic church, as well as the French and Spanish government were tolerant of Voodoo. During the early years of the town’s development, society allowed for a community of gens de couleur libres (free people of color) which allowed Voodoo to thrive and some of its members become important Voodoo practitioners and public figures.


  • It was actually the Protestants, who came to New Orleans after the Louisiana Purchase, that deemed Voodoo dangerous, devil-worshipping sorcery. They feared it would cause a rebellion.

  • During Marie Laveau's time, the majority of Caucasians never viewed Voodoo as a legitimate religion. They still considered it “uncivilized” as a way to justify slavery.

  • Starting in the 1820s, racial tension progressed more rapidly as slavery came into question, and the United States came closer to war. In response, Voodoo ceremonies were raided by the police more and more consistently.

  • During Reconstruction, journalists would openly use their platform to mock those who practiced Voodoo, reporting exaggerated stories of orgies, interracial sexual relations and animal sacrifice at ceremonies.

  • An 1896 article was titled “Dance of the Voodoos--Outlandish Celebration of St. John’s Eve--A Living Cat Eaten by the Voodoo King--Unparalleled Scenes of Savagery in the Pontchartrain Swamps.”

  • These demeaning reports contributed to the belief that Africans were unfit to join civilized society and be treated as equal. Even African American clergymen condemned Voodoo as devil worship and detrimental to racial progress. Toward the end of the 19th century, Voodoo had to go underground.

  • After the Civil War, “unlawful assembly” could no longer be used as justification to break up ceremonies. In order to continue oppressing Voodoo, laws against fortune-telling, practicing medicine without a license, indecent exposure, and disorderly conduct were enforced.


Voodoo Locations/Details

*Note: All the other “Voodoo” locations I could find online seemed like touristy places. I bet Bloody Mary will know places that aren’t tourist destinations.

Voodoo Spiritual Temple: It was established in 1990 and is the only formal Voodoo temple in the city. It focuses on West African herbal healing medicines.

Island of Salvation: It is a store and gallery run by Sallie Anne Glassman who is a reportedly internationally recognized Voodoo priestess. She frequently gives lectures about Voodoo at universities and conferences. She was ordained through a traditional Haitian ritual. She hosts weekly ceremonies at her home.

Lake Pontchartrain: Marie Laveau allegedly had a house built along the shore called Maison Blanche. She would hold St. John’s Eve festivals and other Voodoo gatherings on the shores of this lake. Supposedly, she would disappear for nine days before the ceremony and feast, and afterwards, would not be seen for another nine days.

St. Louis Cathedral: Marie Laveau was married here, held public Voodoo ceremonies outside of it, allegedly had her children baptized here, and probably attended mass here since she was a devout Catholic. In recent years, access has been limited to the cemetary here.

Catherine Henry’s Cottage: This is where Marie Laveau used to live. *The building is probably gone since I can’t find its address online, but we know where it is generally located. Marie Laveau’s grandmother, Catherine, bought the cottage in 1798. Marie also lived there. Location: On St. Anne street, between Rampart and Burgundy street.

Armstrong Park (Congo Square): The southern corner of Armstrong Park was called Congo Square. Africans would meet here on Sundays to dance and play drums. It is said this is also where Voodoo public rites ceremonies were held up until 1857.

Voodoo Museum (touristy)


The Saint Louis Cemetery - History and Hauntings

In 1788 there was an epidemic and a great fire in New Orleans. Both caused the St. Peter Street Cemetery to fill. Since there was little room left for the deceased and out of fear of contamination, the city chose to build a new cemetery, located outside of city walls. The St. Louis Cemetery was created in 1789.

  • It is the size of a square block and there are roughly 700 tomb ruins, tombs, and markers.
  • Today, it is the city’s oldest burial site and people are still buried there today.
  • There are sites located above ground that are meant to host multiple burials.
  • This was a tradition established by the French and Spanish who settled in New Orleans.
  • Above-ground burials were probably meant to avoid issues with flooding.
  • Because of this practice, the cemetery hosts thousands of the deceased.
  • These above-ground tombs were meant to hold generations of families. If there was a new burial, the bones of the dead would be swept to the back or placed in an ossuary.
  • It was tradition for family members of the deceased to visit and clean the burial sites of their dead.
  • Because of continual yellow fever and cholera epidemics between 1789 and 1823, St. Louis Cemetery No.2 was built. It is considered one of the most haunted cemeteries in the US. Some ghost legends include:
  • Henry Vignes - A 19th century sailor who before heading out on a voyage gave important documents, including for his family's burial plot, to the head of a boarding house he had sought shelter in in the past. Upon his return from his voyage, he found she sold his family's tomb. Shortly after this discovery, he became ill and died. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the St. Louis Cemetery. It is said he walks around looking for his family’s burial plot.
  • Some claim they have spoken to Henry’s ghost. Others believe he appears at funerals.
  • Alphonse - He supposedly will grab visitor’s hands and will ask for directions back to his home. He will steal flowers from other people’s burial lots to supposedly put them by his own marker. Supposedly, he warns people to stay away from the Pinead family’s tomb.
  • Reportedly there are countless more ghosts. Some were yellow fever and cholera victims. It is rumored that cat and dog ghosts roam the area and may have belonged to a former night watch.
  • Some people claim to have captured orbs in photos and recorded EVPs.


Marie Laveau's Grave: Obituary records indicate that she was buried with her family in St. Louis Cemetery no.1, on Basin Street, next to Captain Glapion.

  • Followers maintain her grave and give offerings such as Voodoo talismans and fruits.

  • Visitors draw Xs on her mausoleum, hoping she will grant them a favor. (PRESERVATIONISTS DISCOURAGE THIS. DON’T DO IT RYAN! BAD!)

  • Some say her spirit still walks the cemetery.

  • One man claimed he was slapped by her spirit after making a disparaging comment.

  • Others claim to experience cold spots, rapid breathing, and headaches. Visitors claim they have seen the ghost of the Voodoo queen or were touched by her ghost. People have also claimed that it glows green or nude ghosts can be seen dancing around the tomb as if part of a Voodoo ritual.

  • Others believe her remains are located in St. Louis Cemetery no.2, inside a vault called the “Wishing Vault.”

  • At the Wishing Vault people will draw crosses on the marble, offer coins, holy cards, flowers, fruits, and even mardi gras beads.

  • People theorize that at some point, her body was moved to the “Wishing Vault.” (I’m 95% sure they are wrong)


Marie Laveau (the First)

Family Tree: Her great-grandmother Marguerite was likely from the Wolof tribe (modern-day Senegal) and came to America in 1743 on a French slave trip. Property inventory suggests she worked for a well-off shoemaker known as Belaire.

  • Marguerite and her daughter Catherine became practicing Catholics and were possibly baptized in the St. Louis Cathedral.
  • In 1795, according to coartación practice, Catherine bought her freedom for 600 pesos. A few years later, in 1798, she was able to buy modest cottage on St. Anne street.
  • In 1790, Catherine’s daughter, named Marguerite, was released from slavery voluntarily. In 1801, she gave birth to Marie Laveau, daughter of a wealthy Mulatto businessman named Charles Laveaux.
  • Marie Laveau was born free.
  • Don’t call Marie Laveau Blood Mary, call her the “Voodoo Queen of New Orleans”


Biography: She married a freed quadroon named Jacques Paris, a carpenter, in the St. Louis Cathedral on August 4, 1819 by a Spanish priest known as Pére Antoine. As dowry, her father gave her some property.

  • They had two children, both passed away at young ages. Roughly a year after their marriage Jacques Paris seemed to have disappeared. It is unknown whether he left his wife or died. Marie became known as the widow Paris.
  • Marie Laveau entered a domestic relationship with a white French nobleman named Louis Christophe Dominic Duminy de Glapion. They could never marry because of antimiscegenation laws.
  • Nevertheless, they lived in Catherine’s cottage. (Which may be located on St. Anne street, between Rampart and Burgundy street.)
  • She gave birth to fifteen children but only two survived into adulthood: Marie Heloïse Eucharist and Marie Philomène.
  • Glapion died in 1855
  • Laveau took solace in the Catholic church, which she was never accused of leaving.
  • During their relationship and after his death Laveau volunteered within the community. She was known for nursing victims of the city’s epidemics like cholera and yellow fever, and saved some from death. She also sponsored an orphaned boy.
  • She was talented with herbal medicine which made others were wary of her. She reportedly took delight in this and for a while continued to maintain a shroud of mystery.
  • She was a lifelong Roman Catholic. She received the sacraments, attended church, and had her children baptized.
  • She chose to use her spiritual abilities as a Voodoo priestess instead of use them to gain power within the Catholic church, as some women of color did.
  • It was reportedly some time between 1815 and 1827 that she considered a life of Voodoo. Marie was allegedly inspired while she worked as a hairdresser for upper class women who would keep her informed of scandals and reveal their family secrets.
  • Her job as a hairdresser also supported her while training to practice Voodoo.
  • She allegedly learned Voodoo by studying and working alongside many respected practitioners including:
  • Dr. John (also known as Bayou John and Prince John) who taught her fortune-telling.
  • Marie Saloppe, who was a known hex-breaker.
  • Laveau reportedly hexed Marie and drove the woman insane.
  • It was through this vocation that she became a public figure. In many newspapers between the 1820s and 1890s, she was described as “the ancient queen,” “the Priestess of Voodoo,” “the head of the Voodoo women.”
  • She would hold religious services at her home. These services involved offering a feast to spirits and reciting Catholic prayers, the use of holy water, followed by chanting and dancing.
  • Her ceremonies had just enough of an air of mysticism.
  • Deities were encouraged to take over the bodies of the devoted.
  • White people would attended as well.
  • She would consult people individually, giving them rituals to succeed in business, gain control in their love life, etc. She would not shy away from those with negative intentions.
  • She would not only serve as a spiritual guide but also read minds, predict the future, and offer to give or remove curses.
  • Marie would also hold public ceremonies, sometimes near the St. Louis Cathedral, after attending Catholic church.
  • On June 15, 1881, she passed away in her home. Her funeral gathered devotees, those who were curious, people from all economic classes and different ethnic backgrounds.
  • She was buried with full Roman Catholic rites.
  • Upon her death, some periodicals merely described her as a beautiful charming woman who had a way with herbal medicine, reluctant to admit she was a Voodoo priestess. Others, such as the New Orleans Democrat described her as “the prime mover and soul of the indecent orgies of the ignoble Voodoos.”
  • She was respected and feared by all classes and races. Others could not understand how she could be a Catholic and Voodoo priestess when Voodoo was “devil worship.”
  • Every June 23, on St. John’s Eve, her legacy is honored.


The New York Times Obituary of Marie Laveau: Marie passed away at 98.

  • She had a vast knowledge of herbal medicine and gave valuable advice.

  • She known for her beauty.

  • Marie was such an influential figure that she would receive merchants, legislators, lawyers, and planters at her modest cottage in St. Anne.

  • She was known for her predictions coming true and her advice generally being the wisest.

  • Marie would visit prisoners and convince them to atone. Prisoners hoped to invoke sympathy for Marie because she was known to gain them pardon or a shortened sentence.

  • Reportedly, “in moments of passion,” she would yell curses at those who displeased her.

  • Some say when if wished death upon you, her curse wouldn’t fail.

  • It seems she never truly passed on her knowledge of spiritual powers.

  • She did not record any part of her life since she could not read or write.

Conspiracy: Newspaper of the time claimed that, in order to maintain her mystic status, she colluded with her daughter Marie Laveau II to replace her as “the ancient queen.”

  • Allegedly people thought she had transformed herself when she reappeared younger.
  • There is no clear indication that either of her daughters did replace her, and it seems unlikely.
  • Marie Heloïse Eucharist died in 1862 at age 35.
  • Marie Philomène lived in her family cottage until her death in 1897. Records indicate that she may have scorned Voodoo and was a devout Roman Catholic.

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