I enjoy voodoo as much as the next saint-worshiping Catholic so I was thrilled to tour the St. Louis Cemetery Number One on our visit to New Orleans.
Those people you see there? They are on a proper tour. Katie and I were doing our own delirious tourist thing in the 120degree heat. We’d taken one of those giant air-conditioned bus “Super City” tours the day before and felt we had enough information to go on by ourselves.
Marie Laveau, a very popular voodoo priestess, is said to be buried (entombed?) in the Glapion family crypt. It wasn’t too hard to find because it is the one marked with a bunch of handwritten XXX’s and small offerings at the front. As soon as I saw all the coins, candles, lip balms, hotel room keys, and the single pair high heeled shoes, I regretted not gathering more information (a rare regret from this map/voodoo/crazyladies/info/history fan).
After I snapped this pic a few Euros came up and started their own photo session so I wandered off to the side so we could all pretend we were taking unique photos. I went just far enough to observe my little sister watching a middle-aged woman in a bright African-national-color-themed shawl walk up to the tomb, snacking on a bag of Wise (or similar off-brand) cheese-powdered corn chips, survey the offerings and turn to the small group of Euros and ask, “What’s this mix?”
According to Katie, their accents made it impossible to explain to the cheese doodle woman that this was the grave of a Voodoo Priestess and covered in XXX’s of blood or whatever. They gave up and walked away. This is when I walked up and gave Marie Laveau my minty CO Bigealow lip balm. I put it near a melted candle and two Holiday Inn Express room card keys.
The woman asked me, “what’s the deal with this?” And I, using information from my tour the day before, catechism, and a paper written about folk religion I wrote my first year in community college, made up a hodge podge story about Marie and Voodoo offerings. I was inspired by her attention AND her constant chomping on the cheese doodles so I said, “for example – if you leave her some chips and ask to never go hungry, you will always be food fortunate.”
She looked at the mix of stuff near the tomb and said, “I need money…. those are cute shoes though.” She said the last thing like she was debating on looting the offerings. “..real cute shoes.” (note the strappy pumps in the above photo)
Then she turns to me and asks, “But if you are Christian..this stuff is bad, right? You don’t need this.”
I look at her with my best, “that’s between you and the lord” look and she paused, circled the shoes one more time, then reached into her snack bag, grabbed a handful and threw the cheese-powder-covered-crumbles over the entire display of offerings at the base of the tomb, like bread crumbs over a casserole.
It was quite a disturbing gesture, even more so when she did it again the second time with even less pomp and grace, like there was a section of the tomb she had missed or some pigeons she wanted to kill.
Things are probably different there at night. You can Voodoo in private. Night visitors most likely don’t ask questions and probably carry better snack food.
I’ve heard that if your request to Marie is granted that you have to return to New Orleans to thank her. I’ve been nervous ever since I inadvertently encouraged the woman in the shawl to spread her cheese doodles on the resting place of the beloved Marie Laveau. But things have actually been on the up and up for me. Maybe Madame Laveau likes my lip balm more than anything.
(above photo is from a different cemetery than St. Louis Number One – I can’t remember the name)