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News Article

The True Story of 'American Horror Story: Coven's Marie Laveau

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marie laveauA few months ago, we told you about the real-life woman, Madame Lalaurie, on whom Kathy Bates’s role in American Horror Story: Coven is based. But she isn’t the only specter of the past. In the show, her mortal enemy, Marie Laveau (played by Angela Bassett), was also based on a very famous New Orleans legend.

Details on the real Marie Laveau’s life are sketchy at best. Born around the end of the 17th century or beginning of the 18th century a free woman of color, Laveau was married twice. Her first husband died or disappeared mysteriously after a few years of marriage; the second she never legally married because he was white. Instead they had a placage, the equivalent of a common-law marriage. Laveau had at least five children, but only two lived to adulthood. (Some historians at one point claimed she had 15 children, but it was later believed that many of these were nephews and nieces.) One of those children was also named Marie Laveau (often referred to as Marie Laveau II) and herself was a powerful voodoo priestess.

As in American Horror Story, Laveau was a very popular hairstylist, working on society women in their homes. As such, she was privy to gossip and insider information. It is likely that she used what she learned here to “tell fortunes.” By about 1830, Laveau was a New Orleans voodoo queen. She would hold ceremonies, dance naked around a bonfire, and sell gris-gris bags. Of her “magical” abilities, she is claimed to have saved men from the gallows, healed the sick, and remained forever youthful. She is said to have died in her home, peacefully, in 1881. Rumors persisted that she was seen around the French Quarter after this date, but this was likely her daughter. Before her death, Laveau was said to have withdrawn from public life and turn her beliefs exclusively to Catholicism. 

Interestingly, the real Marie Laveau does not seem to be as evil as the Marie Laveau depicted in American Horror Story: Coven. While she almost certainly put hexes on people and was known as the “Boss Woman” of the New Orleans voodoo priestesses, she was also remembered for devoting her life - particularly the last dozen years - to caring for the sick. She is also said to have done remarkable things for race relations in New Orleans: whites sought her for psychic readings and gris-gris bags, and she regularly invited locals, tourists, press, and police to attend her voodoo ceremonies. Of course, she charged a substantial amount for these services, prices people were all too willing to pay. She often helped people of color for free - yet she was said to have also owned her own slaves. 

We still have a couple more months of American Horror Story: Coven episodes. Any thoughts on where the Marie Laveau character will go?

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