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7 Marie Laveau The Voodoo Queen Repossessed BARBARA ROSENDALE DUGGAL The past twenty years have yielded an enormous body of work aimed at recovering sources that give rise to a reconception of the role women have played in religious life. The task of discerning the total participation of women in the major "literary religions"—those religions whose foundations or practices are set down in written texts—is an arduous one. As June O'Connor puts it, "Rereading the traditions means re-examining materials and traditions with an eye attuned to women's presence and absence , women's words and women's silence, recognition given and denied women." Feminist scholars havevigorously challenged the male bias both in the study of religious texts and inherent within those texts. In an article surveying the expansion of research in the area of women and religion , O'Connor asks, "How might we read between and behind the lines of androcentric religious texts in order to reconstruct the experience of women who become a part of these traditions?"1 Feminist theologian Carol P. Christ discusses another bias: the reluctance of Western academicians to include in the core of religious study the myth and ritual celebrated within nonliterary traditions. Though the existence of nonliterary religions is acknowledged, most scholars are committed primarily to the interpretation of texts. Christ ari . June O'Connor, "Feminist Research in Religion," Studies in Gender and Culture 4 (1989): 102. J 57 158 BARBARA ROSENDALE DUGGAL gues for the expansion of our notions of history to include the study of traditions that have left no written records. If we accept the bias that text offers the only reliable evidence for historical analysis, we diminish the importance of all that came before the invention of writing. The preference for text over ritual, Christ claims, reveals a limitation inherent in Western conceptions of the nature of religion. "More is at stake here than simple inherited prejudice toward the study of texts. Ritual embodies in a fuller way than text, the nonrational, the physical side of religion ."2 The field of folkloristics is founded on the study of nonliterary traditions and the lives of individuals who serve as informants of them. Folkloristics has valued—even relied on—the contributions of female informants to the collection and the analysis of data meant to reveal and comment on the things of daily and traditional significance to diverse groups of people. Nevertheless, the Western aversion to the physicalside of religion, aswell as the male bias toward the exclusion of women within religious traditions in general, has no doubt contributed to the limited documentation and slanted analysis of traditional material in folklore studies as well. Folklorists have a unique opportunity to dig through the vast archives compiled by their predecessors on every facet of social life and attempt the kind of re-viewing being done in other fields. When discrimination takes root, more often than not the crux is that Group A is dehumanized into the Other by Group B's assumptions about its members ' expressive behaviors: how they worship, what they eat, who they love, what they wear or fail to wear, how they use and manage violence, how they deal with sexuality in daily and religious life, and what makes them laugh, cry and tremble with fear. No discipline is as capable of revealing essential insights into the expressive behaviors of human beings as folklore studies; and through its comparative, multicultural approach, it holds perhaps the greatest potential to expose and correct the very real consequences of bias. No one is without biases, of course, so that the ironic danger of a specious unseating of one set of biases for another should alwaysbe borne in mind. Perhaps all we can do is even the playing field by giving every bias an equal hearing. 2. Carol P. Christ, "Toward a Paradigm Shift in the Academyand inReligious Studies," in The Impact of Feminist Research on theAcademy, ed. Christie Farnhamed (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 71. MARIE LAVEAU 159 With these concerns in mind, I would like to reexamine a popular folkloric figure, nineteenth-century New Orleans Voodoo queen Marie Laveau, one who has been regarded not only through the biases already mentioned, but also those of race, class, and culture. The present essay is the result of a preliminary inquiry into the subject. Many of the issues discussed here will be fleshed out and tested only through extensive fieldwork and the review of primary source materials. Though the findings of...


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