Voodoo Queen preserves spirit of New Orleans cemeteries

Bess Turner, Contributing Reporter

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“Bodies,” Bloody Mary said, and she pointed toward stuffed garbage bags littering the ground at Odd Fellows Rest during a cemetery tour. She peered inside and rapped three times at the locked cemetery gates to alert the spirits of her presence, tossing a few M&Ms through the iron bars as an offering.

Bloody Mary, born Mary Millan, later conceded that the black garbage bags contained not corpses but, in fact, vegetation that had grown over the cemetery walls. The voodoo queen has led cemetery tours for more than 20 years and actually stumbled into the unusual profession by accident.

“It was not ever something that I liked to go on in other places,” Millan said. “It was one of those jobs in between careers, right after I had my baby, but it ended up being what I was supposed to do. I do tours and workshops and rituals, and I lecture cross-country and do tons of TV shows. It’s all about the unusual parts of New Orleans history, including our cities of the dead and the spirits within — our customs.”

The spiritual life is not new to her, however. Millan said she has seen spirits in the cemeteries she grew up around since she was a child, something that she thought was a natural occurrence.  

“Throughout the years I’ve always been psychic, and I’ve always had shamanic connections and connections with the land and nature spirits, as well,” Millan said.

Through an anthropological study of her spiritualism and beliefs, Millan decided that voodoo was her calling and became a voodoo queen.

“When Queen Margaret died, she passed it on about 11 years ago,” Millan said. “I became Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, but I also became Voodoo Manbo Asogwe, which is the Haitian highest level voodoo queen.”

Bloody Mary did not choose her name because she is a descendent of Queen Mary I, the original Bloody Mary. Born and raised in New Orleans, she is the 11th generation of a family that has lived in the city since 1718. Though her chosen priestess name is ominous, Millan insists that her spiritual visitors are friendly.

“Usually a lot of children, little spirits that want to just play,” Millan said. “Nothing dark and evil, not a Hollywood thing.”

Millan strives not only to keep herself removed from Hollywood-generated ideas, but also the large commercial voodoo businesses that have taken root in New Orleans. When it comes to voodoo culture, she aims for spiritual authenticity.

“I don’t want to be part of the whole commercial clan that’s taken over, especially since Katrina,” Millan said. “All these new companies from out of town and things. It’s crazy. I try to keep it small and personalized, and I‘ve been doing it for a long time. It’s something I love to do, and it’s good to do something you love.”