Voudou altars consist of a number of common elements no matter the spirit or saint called upon and served. These common elements are not seen in traditional African altar spaces and most likely derive from Catholicism. As Laveau Voudou is influenced by Catholicism in addition to African traditions, we observe these commonalities when creating altars for Marie Laveau. The use of white altar cloths and the presence of flowers, candles, a cross and incense, for example, are all described as required altar items in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. Strict adherence to the most elaborate and decorated altar space is not required, however, as there are many variations on a theme. Our Voudou Queen will appreciate any sincere effort to show reverence.
One issue that will determine the type and complexity of altar space you create is your budget. For some people this is not an issue and they can afford the best offerings at all times. This is not the case for most folks. Maintaining an altar with fresh flowers can be costly, for example, but even the Church allows for substitutions in the form of “good-quality artificial ones” (Schulte), and Marie used artificial flowers when creating altars for inmates. So, if you are strapped for cash, invest in some high-quality artificial flowers to be kept on her altar and supplement with fresh ones when you can. I like to spray artificial flowers with perfume when freshening up her altar and when working with her. But remember, even a single fresh flower will be appreciated when you can afford it. Also, gathering wildflowers as they come into bloom is a fantastic, economical alternative to buying costly flowers from florists that have often lost their fragrance. I do this all the time and almost always have seasonal wildflowers and blooms from trees and bushes that adorn her altar.
Generally, there are three types of traditional altars to Marie Laveau: the parterre, the three-tiered altar, and the tabletop altar. Three-tiered altars are often reserved for saints, such as the elaborate St. Joseph altars found all around New Orleans on St. Joseph’s Day and Mardi Gras. Tabletop altars are consistent with conjure workers. Parterres are used in both Voodoo and Hoodoo. The type of altar you choose to build for Marie Laveau will depend on your available space and resources. By no means does this mean she won’t appreciate any sacred space you make for her. I have made large, three-tiered altars to her that take up an entire wall, as well as simple tabletop altars. I have even only had her image hanging on the wall and also made portable shrines to her from Altoids tins when space was an issue.
As you work with Marie Laveau, remember that she is best served with her favorite things and colors. Keep the guidelines from Table 1 handy when working with her, creating her altar, and giving her offerings. There is a lot of room for personalization, so consider the following instructions in the table as a guideline.