In African history, the gris-gris was an amulet or symbol of good luck and spiritual protection. The practice of using a gris-gris symbol was brought to America by African slaves near Senegal and Mali in the 17th & 18th centuries. The gris-gris is a small bag full of little objects specific to the person or place intended. Part of early Islamic culture in West Africa, the gris-gris bag is usually inscribed with scriptures from the Qu’ran. In some parts of african culture like Senegal, the gris-gris was sometimes used as a form of contraception.
The term gris-gris was said to derive from the Mande language, and the West African term juju, which means sacred. One of the most famous practitioners using gris-gris was Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans in the 19th century. Laveau was said to have inherited her magical powers from her African ancestors.
The gris-gris is typically used to sort out matters in love, finance, luck, legal issues or to reverse a hex. Once the voodoo practice was brought to America and integrated into slave culture, the meaning changed from mostly positive intentions to negative. Slaves used it as a spiritual method to bring evil spirits to their slave owners. Some of the gris-gris bags were placed on the gravestones of slave owners.
In Louisiana, where the practice of voodoo is well-known, the gris-gris is used as a symbol of black magic. It includes two types of magic, homeopathic and sympathetic. Sympathetic is a symbol made to look just like the person intended. Homeopathic uses hair, clothing or something attached to the subject.
More information about the use of the gris-gris can be found at the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana.