Gris-Gris: A Voodoo Charm

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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!

Sources

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.

Voodoo or Hoodoo?

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What is the difference between Voodoo and Hoodoo?  I recently visited the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum to find out.  Here is a brief account of my discoveries:

Voodoo is a religion (led by initiated witch doctors) that has split into two branches – Haitian Vodou and Louisiana Vodoun.

Hoodoo, however, is a form of folk magic (that anyone can practice) which originated in West Africa and thrives predominantly in the southern USA.

They are complimentary aspects of a supernatural belief system from similar ancient roots.

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Voodoo comes from West African Vodun – “spirit”- and was made popular in Haiti.  It has since spread to many other places, most notably Louisiana, Puerto Rico, Cuba, The Dominican Republic, Ghana, Togo, and Nigeria.  Voodoo is a way of life  built around the supreme being Bondye, a remote creator god.  But there are many spirits called loa that can be worshipped on a personal level.  To connect with the spirit world a believer can invite the loa to enter their body and possess them during religious ceremonies.

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Hoodoo is also called conjure, witchcraft, working the root, and root doctoring.  It is closely aligned with the form of African spirituality known as Ggbo.  As part of the Obeah folk tradition it spread from Haiti and Jamaica to New Orleans and along the Mississippi Delta.  In many way it is an American form of Voodoo.

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Constantly changing as it comes into contact with other cultures, Hoodoo has many Roman Catholic elements.  When African American slaves were forced to convert to Christianity by a law of 1685 they replaced the loas with saints from the Bible.  God became the archetypal Hoodoo doctor who controlled fate and destiny, while Moses was the first man who performed magic and miracles.  The Bible is the greatest conjure book in the world and many of the Psalms are used in spells.

Hoodoo also draws on Spiritualism.  People are able to harness supernatural forces to assist in their daily lives and they can connect with the other world in different ways, often involving rituals and sacrifices.

Bottle Trees are a popular garden feature.  These glass bottles are used to trap evil spirits until the morning sun destroys them.

If you are ever in New Orleans then pay a visit to the Voodoo Museum.  It is a fascinating experience!

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Additional Sources:

Knowledge Nuts, “The Difference Between Voodoo and Hoodoo” at http://knowledgenuts.com/2013/12/26/the-difference-between-hoodoo-and-voodoo/

Wikipedia, “Hoodoo” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoodoo_(folk_magic)

Wikipedia, “African Vodun” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_African_Vodun