The life and work of the legendary “Pope of Voodoo,” Marie Laveau—a free woman of color who practically ruled New Orleans in the mid-1800s
Marie Laveau may be the most influential American practitioner of the magical arts; certainly, she is among the most famous. She is the subject of songs, films, and legends and the star of New Orleans ghost tours. Her grave in New Orleans ranks among the most popular spiritual pilgrimages in the US. Devotees venerate votive images of Laveau, who proclaimed herself the “Pope of Voodoo.” She is the subject of respected historical biographies and the inspiration for novels by Francine Prose and Jewell Parker Rhodes. She even appears in Marvel Comics and on the television show American Horror Story: Coven, where she was portrayed by Angela Bassett.
Author Denise Alvarado explores Marie Laveau’s life and work—the fascinating history and mystery. This book gives an overview of New Orleans Voodoo, its origins, history, and practices. It contains spells, prayers, rituals, recipes, and instructions for constructing New Orleans voodoo-style altars and crafting a voodoo amulet known as a gris-gris. – Goodreads.com
When I first saw the announcement for this book I was sure I would like it, but I now know that was a serious understatement. This book is fantastic! It’s interesting, historical, and practical at the same time. It serves up history and social justice right alongside magic and mystery. I can see myself reading it a second time because not a day has gone by since I finished reading it that I don’t think of something I read in it – like the fact that Marie Laveau donated space in her own tomb to those who couldn’t afford to be buried anywhere else and at last count there are 84 people resting there. EIGHTY-FOUR!
Thank you so much to Weiser Books for sending me a copy to read and review!
🔮 – This book is divided into 3 parts – part one shares the history of New Orleans Voudou and Marie herself, while Part two shows ways you can create your own devotional practcie to the spirit of Marie Laveau. This really is the most interesting way to read about magic. I loved the stories, the history, the quotes and eyewitness testimony. Marie Laveau’s story is captivating and inspirational, and you can follow up that inspiration by showing your respect for her and her practices right away. Then, part three talks about different categories of conjure in what the author describes as “The Laveau Voudou tradition”. Even if you’re not looking to work this into your spiritual practice it’s incredibly interesting stuff.
🔮 – It’s possible to read an entire book on Hoodoo or Voudou and never see slavery discussed at all and that is not ok. The effects of slavery on actual enslaved people, and on their cultural and spiritual practices, was never ever forgotten. The book didn’t shy away from talking about death conjure and bluntly saying this practice was born out of necessity and severe oppression. It never made you feel like you need to practice this kind of work, but made sure you know it exists and why. In the first 10 pages, Alvarado also talks about the fact that Marie Laveau and her man were slave traders. She talks about slave revolts that happened in Marie’s lifetime, and the effect it had on people at the time. She never excuses them. She explains why free people of colour would have owned slaves at the time, but offers no excuses. Then she also addresses the elements of Marie’s myth that focus on her helping to free slaves, and the evidence from her very real life. I really appreciated this devotion to the grey area. Nothing is, for lack of a better term, simply black or white and I’ve always respected that Hoodoo and Voudou honour and work within this space.
🔮 – This level of research put into this book is something else. It as a piece of academic work written for a popular audience, it’s also a book of magic written by a practitioner for other practitioners. Sources are cited, footnotes are added, and Alvarado does her best to explain that though some blanks can be filled in, some can not be. As someone who once studied history and humanities at an academic level, I was so impressed. The story was captivating without having to sensationalize, and while providing a full list of resources to help people do their own research. She’s a native creole woman and also shared personal experiences from her own upbringing within the world of creole Voudou that academic writing just can’t. These personal tid bits were some of my favourites in the book.
🔮 – This book really goes beyond the myth of “The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans” and gets to the heart of Marie Laveau as a person. Who she was, where she came from, who her family was, and the times she lived through. Throughout the book Marie’s catholic beliefs and devotion came up many times in beautiful and respectful ways. The Black Code made it illegal for black people in Louisiana to practice their African culture and spirituality and any were forced to convert to christianity and Catholicism, but Marie was also a very devoted catholic. She loved the church, she loved god, and she lived her life by christian ideals. Marie worked with the poor and disenfranchised, and visited and prayed with those in prison. She would hold rituals behind the church on sundays to convince other people to come to church with her and hopefully feel nourished by the experience. This existed alongside her devotion to and belief in Voudou. It’s common in witchy circles to downplay the importance of Catholicism in this particular branch of Voudou, and I gotta tell you guys we’re missing out. I was not raised in any christian/catholic church so I don’t have a lifetime of possibly bad memories like many people, but I find the prayers and psalms used in Hoodoo to be beautiful. I learned a lot!
🔮 – The Magic of Marie Laveau never ever let me forget that I am white and a colonizer – and I appreciate that a lot. Many times throughout the book I had to stop and put it down and just reflect on how disgustingly inhumanely cruel some parts of this woman’s everyday life were specifically because of white people. FRENCH WHITE PEOPLE AT THAT. My french white guilt was at an all-time high and quite frankly I think that’s the way it should be. One time this came through is in the later sections which talk about developing a spiritual relationship with Marie. The author outright says you can’t do this and not leave offerings, you can’t do this and not respect the history and practices, you can’t do this and look down on the poor and disenfranchised, you can’t do this and just replace the parts you don’t like with something that’s more comfortable (aka white and pagan) and expect Marie Laveau to smile on you. I am a big fan of creating a practice that is perfect for you – whatever that means – but when studying an actual tradition it’s important to learn the rules! Then you can develop ways to show reverence to the tradition in your own way through your relationship with the spirits and deities later. The entire book felt like it was open and welcoming, but without relieving people of responsibility.
I, honestly, loved this book. I loved every section, every page. Even the parts that were sad or hard, or just not a type of magic I would ever personally use where well-written and painted a beautiful picture of New Orleans and Laveau Voudou. I highly recommend it to anyone. Anyone with an open mind that wants to learn. Anyone who wants to study Hoodoo, Voudou, Conjure, Lucumi or any other religions of the African Diaspora from the outside. Anyone who wants to learn more about the history of New Orleans. History buffs and academics will love it, and so will those trying to create a meaningful spiritual practice that fits in with their modern lives.
This book really helped me see Marie Laveau as less of a legend or a story, and more as what she really was – an incredibly strong and compassionate woman living through an unimaginably difficult time and place in history. She was a woman who devoted her life to helping those that others who pass by without a glance, and showed kindness to some of the worst people our society has to offer. She also respected herself and demanded to be treated with respect from those with a legal right to treat her as less than human. She’s not some witchy movie character or a snappy rock song, she’s an inspirational example of how we can all be better and how we can change the world around us through the power of magic.