Gris-gris (talisman)

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A West African Tuareg gris-gris

Gris-gris /ˈɡrˌɡr/ GREE-gree, also spelled grigri, and sometimes also "gregory" or "gerregery",[1] is a Voodoo amulet originating in Africa which is believed to protect the wearer from evil or brings luck,[2] 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.

The contents of a Fula gris-gris.


Although the exact origins of the word are unknown, some historians trace the word back to the Yoruba word juju meaning fetish.[3] An alternative theory is that the word originates with the French joujou meaning doll or play-thing.[3] It has otherwise been attributed in scholarly sources to the Mandingo word meaning "magic."[1]


The gris-gris originated in Dagomba in Ghana and was associated with Islamic traditions.[4] Originally the gris-gris was adorned with Islamic scripture and was used to ward off evil spirits (evil djinn) or bad luck.[4] Historians of the time noted that they were frequently worn by non-believers and believers alike, and were also found attached to buildings.[4]

The practice of using gris-gris, though originating in Africa, came to the United States with enslaved Africans and was quickly adopted by practitioners of Voodoo.[5] 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 owners and some can still be seen adorning their tombs.[5] During this period, there were also reports of slaves cutting, drowning or otherwise manipulating the gris-gris of others in order to cause harm.[6] Although in Haiti, gris-gris are thought to be a good amulet[7] 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.[8] In spite of the negative connotations of gris-gris, so called Gris-Gris doctors have operated in the Creole communities of Louisiana for some centuries and are looked upon favourably by the community.[9] In the 1800s, gris-gris was used interchangeably in Louisiana to mean both bewitch and in reference to the traditional amulet.[10] 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.[11]

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 traditional 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.[12] Gris-gris are worn by a wide strata of society by everyone "from wrestlers to soldiers to housewives, and can feature anything from monkey to snake to mouse."[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ Knight, Jan (1980). A-Z of ghosts and supernatural. Pepper Press. p. 46. ISBN 0-560-74509-5.
  3. ^ a b "Gri-gri". The Element Encyclopedia of the Psychic World. Harper Element. 2006. p. 265.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ a b "Folk Figures". Western Folklore. Western States Folklore Society. 7 (4): 392. Oct 1948. JSTOR 1497852.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Fombrun, Odette Roy, ed. (2009). "History of The Haitian Flag of Independence" (PDF). The Flag Heritage Foundation Monograph And Translation Series Publication No. 3. p. 39. Retrieved 24 December 2015.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Newell, W. W. "Reports of Voodoo Worship in Hayti and Louisiana". The Journal of American Folklore. American Folklore Society. 2 (4): 44. JSTOR 533700.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Goldberg, Howard I.; Fara G. M'Bodji; 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.
  13. ^ "The traditional mystics going online". BBC News Magazine. BBC. 15 March 2015. Retrieved 8 April 2015.[dead link]