A gris-gris is a voodoo fetish that was originally designed as a doll to protect the owner from evil or bad luck. Over time, the doll was replaced by a cloth bag that could be worn on the person. Gris-gris today are usually small pouches inscribed with verses from the Qur’an. They contain either 1,3,5,7,9, or 13 ritual objects such as animal bones, herbs, stones, hair, nail, or pieces of clothing.
Gris-gris are made on an altar containing the four elements: fire (candle flame), earth (salt), air (incense), and water. These charms are used to attract money or love, to prevent malicious gossip, to protect the home, and to bring good health and fortune.
Historians believe that the gris-gris tradition originated in Muslim Ghana. The slaves who arrived in Louisiana carried these amulets with them. They were quickly adapted to bring ill-fortune and bad-luck curses on their white masters. As they became part of the New Orleans voodoo culture, gris-gris were amalgamated into black magic rites to conjure up death and disaster. In this way they changed from being a protective charm into a vengeful curse.
Some African communities still use gris-gris as a form of contraception.
The Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau marketed a particularly nasty version she called wangas. Made from the shroud of a person who had been dead for 9 days, they contained a witch-brew made from toad, lizard, bat, cat, owl, rooster – and a suicide’s little finger!
New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum.
Wikipedia, “Gris-gris,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gris-gris_(talisman).
“Voodoo Hoodoo Spell Book,” at http://voodoohoodoospellbook.blogspot.com/p/blog-page_19.html.
(Photo: Kit Perriman)
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