The New York Times November 30, 2003
NEW ORLEANS — Last year, doctors told a 41-year-old New York woman who had been bedridden with meningitis and other ailments that she should prepare for the worst. Rather than resign herself to her fate, she boarded a train to New Orleans — her illness does not permit her to fly — and made an offering at the tomb of Marie Laveau, the "voodoo queen" who died in 1881 but has re-emerged as the center of a far-reaching religious movement.
After what she called a nearly complete recovery, the woman, who asked to be identified only as Jackie, recently made another trip to Laveau's tomb "to close the circle."
"If you believe there are spiritual forces with great power," she said, "this is definitely a place to come."
New Orleans is the center of what scholars and others say is a surging revival of interest in voodoo, a centuries-old belief system rooted in Africa. Laveau, who was hugely influential here in her lifetime but then passed into a long period of obscurity, is its key figure.
Laveau has often been featured in novels, folklore and songs, but in a reflection of how much more seriously she is now being taken, two scholars have recently completed separate academic biographies that portray her as a major cultural and social figure. Her image hangs in many shops here where voodoo charms and amulets are sold.
Tour guides say Laveau's grave at St. Louis No. 1 Cemetery near the French Quarter has become one of the most visited graves in the United States. Chris Grant, office manager for New Orleans Spirit Tours, said his company took about 12,000 people to the grave each year.
"Multiply that by a dozen companies, and then at least double that total to include people who go on their own, and you've got a quarter of a million people per year," he said.
"It's nonstop 24 hours a day," said Sallie Anne Glassman, who studied voodoo in Haiti in the 1990's and later published a book about it. "I get people from all walks of life, from street people to professors to psychiatrists to political leaders. They aren't looking for hexes or charms to make someone's nose fall off. It's something much more basic. They turn to voodoo because there's an increasing desperation in our culture for spiritual meaning and direction."