Showcasing the art and ritual of the African and African-diaspora religions

Statue of Marie Laveau

Catalog Number: M001


13.25” x 4.05” x 3.58”

336.55 mm x 103.00 mm x 90.96 mm

Religion and Denomination: Hoodoo/Voodoo (African-American)
Transatlantic Family of Religion: Vodun
Country of Origin: Brazil
Ethnographic Origin: African-American
Materials: pigment
Usage: Ritual (used)
Detailed Description of Significance:

Hoodoo and Voodoo in Louisiana and elsewhere in the deep south of the US clearly have some roots in the practices of Haitians who moved there in the wake of the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804).  However, French and British magic, as well as the oppressor’s projections onto the oppressed, have also undoubtedly shaped the lore about Marie Laveau, “Voodoo Queen of New Orleans.”

What is today called “Vodou” in Haiti includes a complex pantheon of gods, work with the dead, and a tradition of magic that does not include the use of the so-called “Voodoo doll,” such as the ones on the ground beside Laveau in this image.

Many Afro-Atlantic religions entail the use of pots, tied packets, and other vessels to harness the spirits.  This image of Marie Laveau features her holding a pot or a bag with a knotted rope around its neck.  On the ground beside her are two hands.  Multiple traditions around the Bight of Benin in West Africa entail the worship of one”s hand as a means of improving one’s fate, and one powerful type of 20th-century African-American amulet was known as a “hand.”  Multiple Afro-Atlantic traditions use human skulls and other bones to command or establish alliances with the dead in order to improve the conditions of the living.

However, this sensationalistic image suggests that, under Laveau’s command, an entire skeleton is prepared to climb out of the ground and bite someone.  This suggestion is closer to fictional Anglo-American representations of “zombies” than to the rare but real phenomenon of zonbi in Haiti.  See, on this website, the film “Zombies Are Real” (2015).

Marie Laveau is a semi-mythic figure associated with Vodou in New Orleans in the early 20th century. The figure is based on a real woman who lived, and practiced Voodoo in New Orleans, but myths have sprung up around her life. Her story is often combined with that of her daughter, also named Marie Laveau. These stories tell of her power, sexual, political, and religious, over the powerful white men who came to her for guidance.  

 So-called “Voodoo dolls” are common in popular stereotypes about New Orleans. These dolls are allegedly stuck with pins or otherwise harmed to bring harm to the person the doll represents. In the popular conception of Voodoo in the United States, these dolls are a symbol of the power Marie Laveau had to help, hurt or manipulate those around her–most strikingly, the white men who actually dominated tge financial, military, political and social system under which the black and mixed-race women of her time typically suffered. .