Black Witchstory: 4 Black Witches You Should Know About
Now you know we can’t have a list of black witches without mentioning Tituba. Although said to be a black woman in some accounts, she was most likely an American Indian from the Caribbean. In 1689 Tituba (a slave) was brought to Salem by the minister of Salem, Samuel Parris. She was charged with taking care of the Parris’s daughter Betty, and his niece Abigail. In 1692 people in the village started to convulse and complain of hallucinations. What we now know to most likely have been some form of food poisoning was then thought to be witchcraft. And who was the finger pointed at? The one colored person (of course) Tituba, a mentally ill woman and a woman who had frequent run-ins with the Parris family. At the end of the hysteria, 19 were killed as witches and 150 people imprisoned. Tituba who confessed to being a witch and played a pivotal role in naming other witches was released from prison and never to be seen again. I personally think she was most likely tortured and gave a false confession. You have to think about the pressures a WOC in a Puritan society must’ve been under. Perhaps she was offered her freedom or a lesser punishment if she confessed. There’s much to be speculated and not much to say for sure on what exactly brought about the confession. What is important to note here is the pervasive narrative that has survived for centuries that healers of color must automatically be witches and devil worshipers.
Marie Laveaux, Priestess of the Voudous, was an Afro-Creole woman born to Louisiana natives Charles Laveaux and Marguerite Darcantle on September 10, 1801. She was baptised as a Catholic at 6 days old and remained one for the rest of her life. It was said that she went to mass every day and even held a close mentor-life relationship with her Parish Priest, Pere Antoine.
Marie is famously known as the Voodoo Priestess of New Orleans but was also known as a nurse, a brothel owner and quite possibly an abolitionist. She was said to have nursed countless people infected with yellow fever and cholera. This is most likely where the myth of Marie Laveaux being a magical healer and eventually a Voodoo priestess came from. Well into her seventies she was also known to have made frequent visits to prisoners to provide food and spiritual guidance. In one of my favorite and bizarre stories of Laveaux, it is said that she used the paralyzing poison, tetrodotoxin, on prisoners to make it look like they were dead. Once they were pronounced dead and buried, she would send for them to be dug up smuggled out on the Mississippi river to a new life.
Oddly enough, according to Ina Johanna Fandrich who is known for writing one of the most accurate accounts of Marie Laveaux’s life, there is no proof of Laveaux having some extraordinary power (or Voodoo powers). What’s more probable is that the legends of a Marie Laveaux voodoo priestess was created when the people of New Orleans confused Marie Laveaux with her daughters and sister of the same name and formulated a singular “Marie Laveau” who was a mysterious and powerful Voodoo priestess.
Learn more about Voodoo here.
Celia Cruz was born in Havana, Cuba on October 21 1925 and went on to become one of the most successful international salsa singers to date. With 23 gold records, a star on the Hollywood walk of fame, the National Medal of Arts, and 14 Grammy nominations (with 3 wins) there’s no surprise she, still to this day, is known as the Queen of Salsa.
Celia, though raised Catholic, was exposed to Santeria, by a neighbor who taught her Santeria songs when she was a child. One of her more famous songs, “Yemaya” is about a (Orisha) goddess of the sea and the mother of all in the Yoruba religion.
Celia was part of the Santeria migration from the islands to New York in the 1960’s - when she moved to New York City from Mexico with her husband Pedro Knight. Stephanie Fernandez of NPR had this to say about Celia’s role in bringing the Lucumi and Santeria sound to popular music:
“Ethnomusicologist and Yale University professor Michael Veal cites Cruz as one of the central figures of the West African diaspora in the Caribbean who "injected a folkloric sensibility of lucumí and santería into popular dance music." Cruz's ability to incorporate these folkloric elements into her music has historical roots: In the 17th and 18th centuries, slaves vastly outnumbered white settlers on islands like Cuba, Jamaica and Hispaniola, and consequently were better equipped to preserve their religious beliefs and musical practices than slaves in the United States. The musical worship of the Yoruba orishas, or gods, is part of the spiritual fabric of Cuba that produced genres like rumba, mambo and son montuno.”
Santeria was a revolutionary act by slaves in Cuba who were forced to become Catholic under Spain’s rule. In defiance they disguised their Yoruba beliefs and spirits they prayed to (Orishas) under Catholic saints - and thus named the practice Santeria. Santeria thus derives from the word saints, and is translated to “way of the saints”. Today many who follow the Santeria religion also consider themselves to be Catholics in one form or another.
Aurora Lamar was the founder of the La Pimienta rama. She was said to be a notorious madame that ran a brothel and helped reshape Santeria. There wasn’t much to find about her on the Internet so I’ll share what I did find on an online message board by user Obalubbe:
“Of Joses godchildren, no one is more spoken of and proliferate than Aurora Lamar. Although she was a woman, black and lived in a harsh neighborhood; Aurora was one of the most predominate business people of Havana, she was the madam of Atare. Aurora was ordained to Aganyu in the mid 1920s by Jose Urquiola; her Ocha name was Oba Tola. She possessed a natural gift of business, finance and afudache. Auroras husband, Jose Ramon Gutierrez, was a pimp and strong man. After his ordination into Ifa by Bernando Rojas, Gutierrez adjusted his livelihood. The combination of Gutierrez and Aurora produced over 1000 ordinations and countless initiations of elekes, warriors and adimu Orishas. Aurora employed Gutierrez to give warriors and conduct the slaughters of the ile. Due to their massive following and Gutierrezs position in the ile, this is probably where the notion of giving warriors and slaughter can only be done by Babalawos comes from.
Aurora is credited for spreading La Regal Ocha throughout the island of Cuba. The first person ordained from Santiago de Cuba was Rienaldo Perez Oba Abi; his godmother was Aurora. Aurora applied business terms to the religion. Those that could not afford ordination were put on a payment plan; with each installment, one was able to take home an Orisha. The last three installments were applied to the Ita book, Elegua and lastly the tutelary Orisha of the person.
What should be noted is that Auroras ordination was Chango con oro Aganyu. Therefore to the beliefs of many, Aurora would not qualify to ordain omo Ochuns due to her head being actually seated with Chango. The majority of Auroras ordained godchildren were omo Ochun.”
Marie Laveau: The mysterious Voodoo Queen by Ina Johanna Fandrich
Afro-Cuban Rhythms for Drumset By Frank Malabe, Bob Weiner