Exploring the Mystical World of Gris-Gris in Voodoo

In Vodoun, or Voodoo, gris-gris resemble charms or talismans which are kept for good luck or to ward off evil.

 

Evolution of Gris-Gris in Voodoo

Originally gris-gris were probably dolls or images of the gods. But presently most gris-gris are small cloth bags containing herbs, oils, stones, small bones, hair and nails, pieces of cloth soaked with perspiration and/or other personal items gathered under the directions of a god for the protection of the owner.

 

Etymology of Gris-Gris

The origin of the word gris-gris is unclear. But some scholars trace it to juju the West African name for fetish, or sacred object. Juju maybe be an European translation for the expression grou-grou (hence gis-gris). Or it may refer to the French word joujou, which meant «doll» or «plaything».

 

Early European Perceptions of African Fetishes

Most of the African fetishes were shaped like dolls, and early Europeans on the African West Coast may have mistaken serious religious objects for innocent looking poppets.

 

Definitions in Literature

Walter Gibson, in Witchcraft (1973), states that fetish denotes any object possessed by a holy spirit, while juju more specifically meant a charm, something witch doctors needed to make their medicine work either for good or ill.

Biren Bonnerjea whose Dictionary of Superstitions and Mythology appeared in 1927 defines juju as the West African name for a fetish, also called grigri.

 

Gris-Gris in New Orleans

The gris-gris became traditional in New Orleans, the American headquarters for voodoo, where they were use for various things such as attracting money and love, stopping gossip, protecting the home, maintaining good health and achieving innumerable other ends.

At one time, every police officer was known to carry a gris-gris for protection in New Orleans.

 

Ritual Creation of Gris-Gris

A gris-gris is ritually made at an altar containing the four elements of earth (salt), air (incense), water and fire (a candle flame). The number of ingredients (placed in the gris-gris) is always one, three,. five, seven, nine or thirteen.

 

Specific Ingredients in Gris-Gris

Ingredients are never an even number or more than thirteen. Stones and colored objects are chosen for their occult and astrological meanings corresponding to the purpose for which the gris-gris is to be used.

 

Marie Laveau’s Gris-Gris

Legends concerning the famous New Orleans Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau claim her gris-gris contained bits of bone, colored stones, graveyard dust (also called goofer dust), salt, and red pepper. Other more elaborate gris-gris were made of bird nests and horse hair weavings.

 

Gamblers’ Gris-Gris

A red-flannel bag holding a lodestone or magnet was a gambler’s favorite gris-gris, which was supposed to absolutely guarantee good luck. Another favorite gris-gris of gamblers was made of chamois, a piece of red flannel, a shark’s tooth, pine-tree sap, and dove’s blood.

 

Negative Use of Gris-Gris

What was referred to as «putting a gris-gris» on a person could be used to bring others bad luck or misfortune. Such gris-gris filled with gunpowder or red pepper were thrown on a person or at his door supposedly to get him into a fight.

Gris gris also were to get rid of people. Marie Laveau to have written a person’s name on a small balloon, then tied it to a statue of Saint Expedite, when released the person would supposedly depart in the same direction as the released balloon took.

 

Warning Signs in Gris-Gris

Leaving a gris-gris, usually containing powder, for a person generally that he or she was not in the «voodoos» favor and they had better watch their step.

 

Marie Laveau’s Horrible Wangas

One of Marie Laveau’s more horrible ‘wangas’, or bad luck reputedly was a bag made from a shroud of a person that had been dead for nine days.

Gris-gris contained the following ingredients a dried one-eyed toad, the little finger of a black person who had committed suicide, a dried lizard, a bat’s wings, a cat’s eyes, an owl’s liver, and a rooster’s heart.

 

Santeria’s Take on Gris-Gris

In Santeria, gris-gris bags are called resquardos or «protectors.» A typical resquardos under the protection of the thunder god Chango usually contains herbs, spices, brown sugar, aloes, stones or other sacred relics, tied up in red velvet and stitched with red thread.

 

Gurunfindas: Santeria’s Talismans

Gurunfindas are talismans made by the Santeria’s black witches, mayomberos, to ward off evil from themselves and direct it toward others.

 

Creation of Gurunfindas in Santeria

To make a gurunfindas the mayombero first hollows out a guiro. It is a hard, inedible plant found in the tropics. Then fills it with the heads and hearts of a turtle and various species of parrots, the tongue and eyes of a rooster, and seven live ants.

 

Ingredients and Rituals in Gurunfindas

Next the mayombero adds seven teeth, the jawbone and some hair of a cadaver, along with the cadaver’s name written on a piece of paper, and seven coins to pay the dead spirit for his services.

 

Finalization and Usage of Gurunfindas

Then the mayombero pours rum over the mixture and buries it beneath the sacred ceiba tree for 21 days. When he disinters the guiro the mayombero marks the outside of the fruit with chalk. And then hangs the charm near his home. A.G.H.

 

Modern Adaptations and Uses in Contemporary Society

In today’s world, the significance of these charms has transcended traditional Voodoo practices, finding a place in modern society. This subtopic explores their adaptation for contemporary use, reflecting a blend of ancient traditions and modern interpretations.

 

Urbanization of Traditional Practices

With the spread of Voodoo into urban areas, especially cities like New Orleans, these charms have become more accessible and diversified. Their adaptation to urban life includes uses in modern-day stress relief, personal empowerment, and as a means of cultural expression.

 

Commercialization

The commercialization of these items has led to their availability on a larger scale. They are now often sold as souvenirs, decorative items, or even as part of spiritual kits online, raising questions about the authenticity and dilution of traditional practices.

 

In Health and Wellness

In the realm of alternative medicine and wellness, they are sometimes used for their perceived healing properties. People incorporate them into personal wellness routines, often blending traditional beliefs with new-age spirituality.

 

Digital Influence

The digital era has introduced them to a global audience. Online communities and platforms share information, sell these items, and even offer virtual creation services. This digital adaptation has made the practice more accessible but also opens up debates on the preservation of sacredness.

 

In Popular Culture

Popular culture, through movies, books, and music, has played a significant role in shaping the perception of these charms. Often depicted in various forms of media, these representations influence public understanding and acceptance in everyday life.

 

Challenges and Controversies

The modern adaptations are not without challenges and controversies. Issues of cultural appropriation, commercial exploitation, and the dilution of traditional meanings are ongoing discussions among practitioners and scholars.

This exploration into the modern adaptations and uses in contemporary society highlights the dynamic nature of cultural practices and the complex interplay between tradition and modernity.


Source: 4, 145-146.