Marie Laveau is staring at me from her tomb. The Voodoo Queen is gloating, amused that after years of swearing that I did not believe in magic, I have the audacity to stand there like a hypocrite tempted to knock on her tomb. I am not like the others who are simply doing it to prove there is nothing to it. It might have started off that way, but the historian Jerry Gandolfo had just told us that a Voodoo Priest/Priestess continues his/her work even after death. For a good part of the 1800’s, people would knock on Marie Laveau’s door to ask for a cure, or love potion among many other things. Laveau is known for single-handedly saving New Orleans from the yellow fever epidemic. She died in 1881 and she now resides in St. Louis Cemetery #1. If you knock on her tomb and make a wish, she will deliver…If you believe in those sorts of things. But when you come face to face with superstition, folklore or whatever you want to call it, a spark of “what if” manages to shine even within the most skeptical of us all.
There are few in the tour who wears their religion like a veil as they glare at her chamber with disdain and peer at everyone who dare knocks. Who are these people? Why are they even here if the subject is so offensive to them? Is it to report their findings to Jesus? And can their watchful eyes reflect in my mother’s? Can she somehow know that I am about to go against everything she’d ever taught me about Voodoo in order to make a wish? My whole life I was told that Voodoo was merely devil worshiping. Jerry Gandolfo who runs the Voodoo Museum in New Orleans does not agree with my mother. Jerry says it’s a religion that comes from West Africa and it is based on God, spirits and ancestors. The belief is that God got tired of dealing with people and so gave the task to the spirits. A Priest or Priestess can interact with spirits and they can affect our daily lives.
I am not at Marie Laveau’s tomb to defy my mother. I merely need to understand the presence of Voodoo in my Haitian culture, as the religion has influenced and continues to affect the lives of Haitians everywhere, even those who are not practitioners. New Orleans is the best place to start my research. As Jerry the Historian informed me, New Orleans got their culture from the Haitians.
I stare back at Marie Laveau and I imagine her laying there with her head towards me, smiling. I look at the gifts people have left her, all the things there representing worldly pleasures: bottle of New Orleans spiced rum, lipstick, a Joker card, a hotel key, flowers. Mardi Gras beads hang on the front of the tomb with a red rose: all things signifying sin. However, in Voodoo worldly pleasures are not viewed as shameful. In fact, one gives up his/her body for possession in order for the spirits to indulge the five senses. Sex, dance, eating, drinking, laughing, smelling, these are all activities that one participates in while possessed.
There are red and black X’s all over the tomb. Apparently people used to sign with three X’s in order to remain anonymous while making a wish. The city no longer allows that, I guess some consider that as defacing private property but the gleaming colors of the ink makes me think that many don’t concur. According to Jerry, knocking is sufficient and all the other hocus pocus that’s told about jumping, spinning or spitting three times, are simply said for entertainment purposes.
The internal battle passes. I step forward and knock on Marie’s door. I close my eyes and I make a request. I repeat it twice to be sure that I am heard. I open my eyes and immediately feel silly for having fussed. A judging eye lands on me, grinning I say “you should try it. You never know, it might work.” She looks harassed as she backs away from me like I’m the devil.
Later that night, my wish comes true. I’ll keep that part to myself. It may have been coincidence or…Marie Laveau. Either way, I return the following day and leave her a thank you gift. It is the proper thing to do.