Ben Windham of the Tuscaloosa News travels to New Orleans to visit the tomb of Marie Laveau, perhaps the most famous practitioner/“Queen” of Louisiana/New Orleans Voodoo. He quickly discovers that Laveau’s tomb has become a bigger place of pilgrimage and offerings than any of the local Christian churches.
“In the more than 160 years since its construction, her tomb has become a shrine, a magnet more powerful than any in this city’s “legitimate” churches. Even visitation to the St. Roch chapel, with its astounding assortment of crutches, shoes and plaster casts of body parts, is eclipsed by the crowds of faithful or curious who come daily to Courtesy of Mary Angelyn Fisher. Offerings of candles, beads, coins, trinkets, tobacco, toys — almost anything you can imagine — are strewn in front of the tomb. Its sides are covered with crosses or X’s, usually in threes. Some are scrawled in red chalk.”
VooDoo in New Orleans, like Witchcraft in Salem, is a thriving tourist industry, so it is difficult to tell how many sincere adherents there are among the various hucksters and opportunistic hangers-on, but there must be a significant number if even a fraction of Laveau’s many offerings come from active practitioners. Then again, there seems to be a strong thread of belief (some would say superstition) in Laveau’s powers among the many “normal” visitors.
“I know one thing, however. I made sure that all of our offerings were left on Marie Laveau’s tomb and that we left with nothing that wasn’t ours. Years ago, I visited the tomb with a friend, a self-styled tourist guide. As we were leaving, I swiped one of the offerings from the grave — a blank piece of metal, the size of a coin. I figured it would make a good luck piece for Alabama’s football season. I don’t know if there was any direct cause and effect but I suffered for two years after I took that slug. I got cancer. I almost lost my job. And Alabama sports tanked. It has been only this year that I’ve dared to visit the tomb again. And this time, it was with a new — and profound — respect for Marie Laveau, voodoo queen of New Orleans.”
It would be interesting to know all the places of spiritual/religious pilgrimage in our country that step outside the Judeo-Christian norms. The ever-growing popularity of places like Laveau’s tomb seem to speak of a growing post-Christian (and post-secular) atmosphere where an organic process of reenchantment is taking hold. A process that seems to be allowing new and outsider faiths and customs to cement themselves within our cultural outlook.