Gris-gris (talisman)

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A West African Tuareg gris-gris

Gris-gris, also spelled grigri, is a voodoo amulet originating in Africa which is believed to protect the wearer from evil or brings luck,[1] and in some West African countries is used as a method of birth control. It consists of a small cloth bag, usually inscribed with verses from the Qur'an and containing a ritual number of small objects, worn on the person.

Etymology[edit]

Although the exact origins of the word are unknown, some historians trace the word back to the African word juju meaning fetish.[2] An alternative theory is that the word originates with the French joujou meaning doll or play-thing.[2]

History[edit]

The gris-gris originated in Dagombha in Ghana and was associated with Islamic traditions.[3] Originally the gris-gris was adorned with Islamic scripture and was used to ward off evil spirits (evil djinn) or bad luck.[3] Historians of the time noted that they were frequently worn by non-believers and believers alike, and were also found attached to buildings.[3]

The practice of using gris-gris, though originating in Africa, came to the USA with African slaves and was quickly adopted by practitioners of voodoo.[4] However, the practice soon changed, and the gris-gris were thought to bring black magic upon their 'victim'. Slaves would often use the gris-gris against their masters and gris-gris can still be seen adorning the tombs of some slave owners.[4] During this period, there were also reports of slaves cutting, drowning or otherwise manipulating the gris-gris of others in order to cause harm.[5] Although in Haiti gris-gris are thought to be a good amulet and are used as part of a widely practised religion, in the Cajun communities of Louisiana, gris-gris are thought to be a symbol of black magic and ill-fortune.[6] In spite of the negative connotations of gris-gris, so called Gris-Gris doctors have operated in the Cajun communities of Louisiana for some centuries and are looked upon favourably by the community.[7] In the 1800s, gris-gris was used interchangeably in Louisiana to mean both bewitch and in reference to the traditional amulet.[8] Gris-gris are also used in Neo-Hoodoo which has its origins in Voodoo. In this context, a gris-gris is meant to represent the self.[9]

Formation[edit]

A gris-gris is formed in a small, leather pouch which is usually etched with verses from the Qur'an.[10] Inside the pouch are engravings specially tailored to the wearer. The pouch is then sprinkled with blessed water while an incantation is recited.[10] The ceremony is traditionally conducted over an altar with a burning candle being present.[2] The ingredients of the gris-gris number one, three, five, seven, nine or thirteen.[2] Sometimes stones and other items with occult meanings are added to the pouch. There will often be a doll symbolising the wearer also attached to the pouch.[2]

Contemporary use[edit]

According to a 1982 survey, gris-gris were one of the top three methods of contraception known to women in Senegal. All three were traditional methods ("abstinence, roots and herbs, and charms ('gris-gris')"). Over 60% of women reported having knowledge of such methods; modern means of contraception were not well known, with the pill the best-known of those, a little over 40% of women reporting knowledge of it.[11]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Knight, Jan (1980). A-Z of ghosts and supernatural. Pepper Press. p. 46. ISBN 0-560-74509-5. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Gri-gri". The Element Encyclopedia of the Psychic World. Harper Element. 2006. p. 265. 
  3. ^ a b c Handloff, Robert E. (Jun-Sep 1982). "Prayers, Amulets, and Charms: Health and Social Control". African Studies Review (African Studies Association) 25 (2/3): 185–194. JSTOR 524216. 
  4. ^ a b "Folk Figures". Western Folklore (Western States Folklore Society) 7 (4): 392. Oct. 1948. JSTOR 1497852. 
  5. ^ Touchstone, Blake (Autumn 1972). "Voodoo in New Orleans". Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association (Louisiana Historical Association) 13 (4): 371–381. JSTOR 4231284. 
  6. ^ Sexton, Rocky (Oct. 1992). "Cajun and Creole Treaters: Magico-Religious Folk Healing in French Louisiana". Western Folklore (Western States Folklore Society) 51 (3/4): 240–243. JSTOR 1499774. 
  7. ^ Deutsch, Leonard; Dave Peyton (Spring 1979). "Cajun Culture: An Interview". MELUS (The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States (MELUS)) 6 (1): 86. JSTOR 467522. 
  8. ^ Newell, W. W. "Reports of Voodoo Worship in Hayti and Louisiana". The Journal of American Folklore (American Folklore Society) 2 (4): 44. JSTOR 533700. 
  9. ^ Lock, Helen (Spring 1993). ""A Man's Story Is His Gris-gris": Ishmael Reed's Neo-HooDoo Aesthetic and the African-American Tradition". South Central Review (The Johns Hopkins University Press) 10 (1): 67–77. JSTOR 3190283. 
  10. ^ a b DIANE GILLESPIE (October 8, 1999). "From Senegal, Powerful Blessings for American Students". The Chronicle of Higher Education. 
  11. ^ Goldberg, Howard I.; Fara G. M'Bodji and Jay S. Friedman (December 1986). "Fertility and Family Planning In One Region of Senegal". International Family Planning Perspectives (Guttmacher Institute) 12 (4): 119–120. JSTOR 2947982.