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Gris-gris (talisman)

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Title: Gris-gris (talisman)  
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Language: English
Subject: Mojo (African-American culture), Good luck charm, Troll cross, Djucu, Takrut
Collection: Superstitions of Africa, Talismans, Vodou
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Gris-gris (talisman)

A West African Tuareg gris-gris
Gris-gris, 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 Peul gris-gris.


  • Etymology 1
  • History 2
  • Contemporary use 3
  • References 4


Although the exact origins of the word are unknown, some historians trace the word back to the African word juju meaning [1]


The gris-gris originated in Dagombha 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 USA with African slaves 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 masters and gris-gris can still be seen adorning the tombs of some slave owners.[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 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.[7] 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.[8] In the 1800s, gris-gris was used interchangeably in Louisiana to mean both bewitch and in reference to the traditional amulet.[9] 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.[10]

Contemporary use

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]


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ Knight, Jan (1980). A-Z of ghosts and supernatural. Pepper Press. p. 46.  
  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.  
  5. ^ a b "Folk Figures". Western Folklore (Western States Folklore Society) 7 (4): 392. Oct 1948.  
  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.  
  7. ^ 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.  
  8. ^ 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.  
  9. ^ Newell, W. W. "Reports of Voodoo Worship in Hayti and Louisiana". The Journal of American Folklore (American Folklore Society) 2 (4): 44.  
  10. ^ 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.  
  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.  
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