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Synopsis

Against the backdrop of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century New Orleans, A New Orleans Voudou Priestess: The Legend and Reality of Marie Laveau disentangles the complex threads of the legend surrounding the famous Voudou priestess. According to mysterious, oft-told tales, Laveau was an extraordinary celebrity whose sorcery-fueled influence extended widely from slaves to upper-class whites. Some accounts claim that she led the "orgiastic" Voudou dances in Congo Square and on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, kept a gigantic snake named Zombi, and was the proprietress of an infamous house of assignation. Though legendary for an unusual combination of spiritual power, beauty, charisma, showmanship, intimidation, and shrewd business sense, she also was known for her kindness and charity, nursing yellow fever victims and ministering to condemned prisoners, and her devotion to the Roman Catholic Church. The true story of Marie Laveau, though considerably less flamboyant than the legend, is equally compelling.

In separating verifiable fact from semi-truths and complete fabrication, Long explores the unique social, political, and legal setting in which the lives of Marie Laveau's African and European ancestors became intertwined. Changes in New Orleans engendered by French and Spanish rule, the Louisiana Purchase, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow segregation affected seven generations of Laveau's family, from enslaved great-grandparents of pure African blood to great-grandchildren who were legally classified as white. Simultaneously, Long examines the evolution of New Orleans Voudou, which until recently has been ignored by scholars.

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