Thursday, December 20, 2012

How to Make a Gris Gris Bag

Before you attempt to make a gris gris bag, whether you are a seasoned conjuror or a newbie, be sure to read the page on Gris Gris first. This will give you some insight and deeper knowledge about what gris gris actually is, the many forms it takes, and most importantly, the history of how it came to be such a significant and unique part of New Orleans Voodoo.

What I am going to describe here is how to make a gris gris bag, because that is the most common thing people associate gris gris with, and most people are not making them correctly. Hopefully, after reading this article and the page on Gris Gris, the next time you attempt to make a gris gris bag will be a different experience, and one you will find much more powerful and effective.

Gris gris is a system of magick that is on a continuum of intent and purpose. As in the past, gris gris continues to be used to assist in all matters of living and as charms of empowerment, whatever the intent. What follows is just a short primer on the basics of fixing a gris gris bag. Once you know the basics, the rest is up to you.

Traditionally, a gris gris bag is a 2-inch by 3-inch drawstring bag made out of red flannel, chamois, or leather. Special herbs, stones, personal effects, roots, bones, coins, metal lucky charms, crystals, good luck tokens, carved stones, and European seals and sigils that have been written with magickal ink on parchment paper are placed inside the bag. Other colors can also be used, according to their magickal symbolism. You should only put an odd number of items into your gris gris bag; never less than three and never more than thirteen. The items are blessed as they are placed into the bag and the whole bag is dressed with anointing oil or holy water. It is then smudged in incense of some kind, words of power are spoken into it, and it is breathed upon. These rituals are said to activate the magick of the gris gris.

In New Orleans, gris gris is often hidden from public view. It is always ritually prepared in front of an altar and consecrated to the four elements: earth, fire, water, and air. Here are a few rules of thumb to remember when “fixing” a gris gris bag:

  1. Gris gris are created on the cardinal points of the Kongo cosmogram, or on the point of a specific spirit. For the sake of this tutorial, I am focusing on the cosmogram.
  2. Color symbolism is important. Choose a color specific to your need.
  3. Gris gris must contain an odd number of items: more than three, never more than thirteen.
  4. It must be filled with items that are specific to the desired purpose. 
  5. It must be dressed with a liquid of some kind.
  6. Be very careful of the words you speak when making gris gris. Your words create energy that will become a part of the gris gris itself.
  7. Each ingredient can be smudged or smoked in incense, and so can the final bag.
  8. A petition written in a magickal alphabet or a magickal seal or sigil drawn on a piece of parchment paper with a magickal ink is placed or sewn into the bag. Magick squares and other talismans can also be added to gris gris bags.
  9. Words of power are spoken over the bag as a means of activating the divine energy.
  10. The final act is to breathe upon the gris gris to give it life.

To create a gris gris, you should set up a basic gris gris altar or working space. This altar should contain the four elements already mentioned: a bowl of water to represent the element water, incense to represent the element air, a bowl of graveyard dirt to represent the element earth, and a candle flame to represent the element fire. These elements should be arranged according to the Kongo cosmogram, a powerful symbol in Kongo cosmology. The cross pattern represents the crossroads; the division of the spiritual world from the earthly world at a sacred point which is the center. It is a circular cosmology, reflecting the belief that the journey of life is a continuous process as opposed to a beginning (birth) and an end (death). The four cardinal points of the Kongo cosmogram are read counterclockwise, starting at the bottom or southern point and going east, north, and west. Place the graveyard dirt at the bottom or southern point, which is where birth occurs and also where the container of our ancestors resides; the candle is placed in the east where the transformation of the individual begins as a full member of society; the incense is placed in the northern direction, the point of intellectual power; and the bowl of water is placed in the west, where comprehension, understanding, and the point of departure takes place. The gris gris itself should be placed in the center of the crossroads design and created on the center point of the cosmogram. Note that there are other interpretations of the cardinal points and the one I have given is the one of my understanding.

Gris Gris Charms

Following are a couple of examples of gris gris charms that you can make for a variety of purposes. Because gris gris is a highly intuitive magickal system, you should try a few of these and get the feel for how it is done. Then, use your intuition, along with your knowledge of the plants, herbs, and minerals, for making your own gris gris. Remember, gris gris is not confined to a bag. Some gris gris is merely a powder or a potion. Sometimes it can be made into a doll. Gris gris should be assembled in the middle of your gris gris altar, the ingredients asperged with incense and if made as a bag, tied shut using hemp string, wax thread, or leather cording.

Get Even Gris Gris Doll

This is an example of how to make and use a gris gris doll. It is a creepy little revenge spell from my book, The Voodoo Doll Spellbook: A Compendium of Ancient and Contemporary Spells and Rituals, Vol. I.,  which by the way, I am very happy to report has been picked up by Weiser books and will be republished with additional spells in 2013.
Create a small doll baby out of black fabric. Stuff the doll with saffron, salt, gunpowder, graveyard dirt, powdered dog manure, and crumpled newspaper from the obituary section. You can also write your target’s name in the Theban alphabet and put it inside the doll. Place the doll near your enemy—under their front porch, in their dresser drawer, in their purse, in the kitchen cabinets. Be sure to be discreet. Your target will surely suffer three times the anguish they have caused you.

Gris Gris Powder to Remove an Enemy

I am quite confident that the practice of throwing down powders in hoodoo is historically related to the practice of gris gris. Here’s a powerful gris gris for taking down enemies: grind up some snake sheds, dirt dauber nests, powdered blue glass, and a little cayenne pepper (oh hell, make it a lot of cayenne pepper), and mix it up real good. Sprinkle it where your target will be walking. If you are not near them, sprinkle some on a photo of your target and wrap everything up in a neat little package, folding the paper away from you, and bind with black thread. Bury it in a cemetery or throw it away in the trash.

Protection Gris Gris

And last but not least, here is an example of a gris gris bag. Combine the following ingredients in a 2 x 3 red flannel bag to create a powerful protection gris gris.

  • Dried toadstool top
  • Camphor
  • Piece of High John the Conqueror root
  • Powdered jellyfish
  • A hand drawn protection talisman

 Recite this traditional gris gris prayer of protection from the Koran:
In the name of Allah, by (the help of) Allah, and all Praise is due to Allah Who has taken neither a wife nor a son, and for Whom there is no partner in (His) Kingdom, and there is not for Him any helper against any humility; and all praise is due to Allah, Who describes but (He) cannot be described, Who knows. Who knows the treacherous look of the eyes, and what the breasts conceal; and I seek refuge by the Gracious face of Allah and by the name of Allah, the Great from the evil which created and spread and from the evil of what is beneath the lowest of the low beneath the earth, and from the evil which is hidden and manifest, and from the evil of what I have described and what I did not describe, and all praise is due to Allah the Lord of the worlds.
O Allah! Send Your blessings on Muhammad and his progeny. Aameen.
Alternately, you can say Psalm 44:
Hear my voice, O God, in my prayer: preserve my life from fear of the enemy. Hide me from the secret counsel of the wicked; from the insurrection of the workers of iniquity: Who whet their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words: That they may shoot in secret at the perfect: suddenly do they shoot at him, and fear not. They encourage themselves in an evil matter: they commune of laying snares privily; they say, Who shall see them? They search out iniquities; they accomplish a diligent search: both the inward thought of every one of them, and the heart, is deep. But God shall shoot at them with an arrow; suddenly shall they be wounded. So they shall make their own tongue to fall upon themselves: all that see them shall flee away. And all men shall fear, and shall declare the work of God; for they shall wisely consider of his doing. The righteous shall be glad in the LORD, and shall trust in him; and all the upright in heart shall glory.

Or you can simply say a heartfelt prayer of your own. Hold the bag in the palm of your hands with both hands closed together, bring the gris gris up to your mouth, and gently blow into the bag to activate it with your breath. Soak the gris gris bag in whiskey every Friday to recharge it. Hang the gris gris above the doorway to keep evil from entering your home. Alternately, you can wear it around your neck from a leather cord, or in your pocket, on the right side if a man and on the left side if a woman.


Alvarado, D. (2011). The Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook. San Fransisco: Weiser Books.

Alvarado, D. (2010). The Voodoo Doll Spellbook: A Compendium of Ancient and Contemporary Spells and Rituals, Part 1. Prescott Valley, AZ: Creole Moon Publications.


All text, images and graphics Copyright 2012 Denise Alvarado, All rights reserved worldwide. Do not copy without my express permission.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Ancestral Altar

Anyone who wishes to develop a Voodoo spiritual practice should create an ancestral altar first. This altar can honor your biological ancestors, the universal archetypal ancestors, or both. Any and all connection to the spirit world is dependent upon the strength of your ancestral connection.
There are an endless variety of ways in which to create an ancestral altar. The following are some guidelines to get you started. Follow your intuition when creating your altar, and feel free to add to or subtract from the suggestions below.

How to Create an Ancestral Altar

To create an altar you will need:

••A table, flat stone, or shelf
••White cloth
••Photos and mementos of your ancestors
••White candle
••Glass or crystal bowl of water
••Fresh-cut flowers
••A portion of each meal of the day
••A dish with nine different types of earth, including graveyard dirt

Drape the white cloth over the table or shelf. If using a stone, leave it bare. Place the glass bowl of water in the center of the table and the white candle behind the bowl. Arrange the photos and mementos, flowers, and bowl of earth on the altar in a manner that pleases you. The bowl of food should go in front of the bowl of water. You can add a small white candle in the bowl of food as well.

How to Address the Ancestors

First, light the incense to purify your surroundings. Sprinkle a little fresh water on the items on your altar, including the earth, to give respect to your ancestors. Light your candle and offer it to the four sacred directions—east, west, north, and south—then place it behind the bowl of water. Begin speaking to your ancestors by introducing yourself. Say something like,

“Greetings, ancestors, my name is ___________________, son/daughter of ____________________ and __________________, and I come with a pure heart to honor you with these offerings.

“I honor [Say all of your ancestors names out loud]. I honor all of those remembered and forgotten, who were associated with my ancestors as friends, companions, and loved ones. I love, honor, and respect all who have gone before me.

“To all my relations, all grandmothers and grandfathers, all elders and ancient ones, to all the creatures, plants, and living things of our Mother Earth, I offer my reverence and gratitude. I thank you for your guidance and protection, seen and unseen.

“For all those who suffered so that we may carry on the traditions, for those who died prematurely, in a violent manner, or to anyone in particular need, I offer this special prayer so that you may rest in peace through the intercession of the four archangels and the Seven African Powers.”

You can say the prayer to the Seven African Powers here or another prayer of your preference, followed by a sincere prayer of your own. You can now talk to your ancestors about your problems and ask them for guidance. When you are finished, offer them the food and drink and thank them for listening. Take a moment and meditate on your life, focusing on your blessings and abundance. Visualize passing on all that is good to your ancestors who have gone before you and to those yet to come. To conclude, pour water on the ground and say “Aché!” Let the candles burn out if possible.

At any time, you can focus on the positive aspects of your loved ones and pour water for them. Do this daily or weekly, while saying their names out loud. You can remember them by offering them some of the food you eat every day. A point of clarification: we do not worship our ancestors. We honor and respect them, and ask for their guidance.(29)

29. From A Guide to Serving the Seven African Powers by Denise Alvarado.

*Excerpted from the Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook by Denise Alvarado. Copyright 2011-1012 All rights reserved worldwide.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Lesson of Poor Cow and his Shadow

In the Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook, I take some time to discuss the relationship between Native Americans and Africans and African Americans on New Orleans Voodoo and Hoodoo. On pages 15 through 18, I introduce the Mardi Gras Indians and point out that they are perhaps one of the most unique aspects of New Orleans culture, particularly during Mardi Gras and St. Joseph's Day celebrations:
With their elaborate costumes and fabulous performances, the Mardi Gras Indians' flamboyant displays cause the average onlooker to miss the important role they play in the history and shaping of New Orleans Voodoo hoodoo. Their contributions to the enduring Voodoo hoodoo tradition lies in the transmission of cultural knowledge via chants, dance and music. Their authentic African rhythms are those that are used in the rituals and celebrations of major Voodoo holidays and rituals. (Alvarado, 2011, p. 15).

For this post, I am going to depart from the Mardi Gras Indians and further discuss Native American influences and similarities with African traditions. I would like to point out the use of story-telling as a means of teaching. For those in the African-derived traditions there are the patakis. For those in Native traditions, there are the medicine stories. As medicine people we learn these stories and share them in the appropriate times. When someone comes to us for advice, sometimes it is best to not give an answer but to provide some advice - often in the form of a story - that provokes thought and introspection. That way the person is directed to look inwards and to the Ancestors for the answers rather than outwards.  

And now, let me share with you a medicine story:  

Poor Cow felt very sorry for everyone in his camp. He saw Many-Horses, who had a broken leg and he said, "Oh poor Many-Horses, how will he get through the winter with a broken leg?" Then he saw Amy White Buffalo, who could have no children and he said, "Oh poor Amy White Buffalo, what will become of her if she cannot bear children?" And so Poor Cow was sad for everyone and felt pain for them all. He was the ultimate empath and intuitive. Then one day he noticed that he had lost his Shadow. He went to the medicine chief of the camp and asked him, "Oh Great Chief, I am sad for I have lost my shadow. What shall I do?" The Great Chief said, "Poor Cow, that is very sad. Why don't you go into the sweat lodge and find your shadow?"
And that's what Poor Cow did. He went into the medicine lodge, found his shadow, and died.

Lesson: Never walk in the shadow of a sorcerer or you will die. There are many ways to die. There comes a time when you have to own your own shadow. Poor Cow lost his shadow because he was weak. He feared too much for himself and others. He couldn't own his own power let alone his own shadow. He wanted to fix others so he didn't have to focus on fixing himself. When he entered the sweat lodge, which is a symbol of sacredness, his physical self merged with his spirit and he was healed. He died to what he had always been - a weak and divided person. He emerged from the sweat lodge a new man.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Making Magic Lamps

Magick lamps are some of the easiest and effective means of creating change through supernatural means. They are one of the oldest types of works in New Orleans Voodoo and Hoodoo.

What types containers do you use for your magic lamps? The first concern is that it is fireproof and can withstand the heat that is produced by burning oil. The second concern is the nature of the it for protection? love? money? You can use a variety of different containers for burning oil and some have properties that lend themselves to the particular work you are trying to do.

Here are a few examples of what I am talking about:
* For a work of protection, use a hollowed out pineapple with the barbs intact.
* To petition Eleggua, use a coconut shell
* To petition Yemaya, use a crystal bowl or a thick shell
* Use a coffee can or tin can for general purposes
* Use a hurricane lamp for all works (common in New Orleans for obvious reasons, i.e. hurricanes, but also because they are built for heat, you can fill up the base with oils and herbs and whatever else you want to use in the spell, put on the glass top and everything is nice and safely contained)
* colorful ceramic bowls

Once you decide on the container you will use, you then need to decide what to put in the lamp. Olive oil is a very good carrier oil for magic lamps and has been used for centuries for this purpose. Following is an example of a magic lamp for petitioning the Seven African Powers.

Magick Lamp to Petition the Orishas

The creation of magick lamps in hoodoo is utilized by old tyme rootworkers because they understand the power and effectiveness of magick lamps and they know how quickly they produce results. The reason they produce quick results is because they are hotter than candles and can be mounted by the Spirits. Once you recite a Saint's novena or utter the secret words of a Spirit over the lit lamp, you draw that Spirit down onto the work.

To create a magic lamp to petition the Orishas, you will need the following ingredients:

Coffee can
Palm oil
Olive oil
Magnetic sand
Seven African Powers Oil
Parchment paper
Piece of hematite
Seven cashews or pine nuts
Purple basil
Pinch of sea salt
Orange water
7 Peppercorns
Cocoa butter
7 bay leaves
7 rosebuds
Wicking material
Mixed bouquet of flowers
Coconut cake

Write your petition on the piece of parchment paper and set in the bottom of the bowl. On top of the petition paper place a pinch of magnetic sand, seven drops of orange water and Seven African Powers Oil, a piece of hematite, seven cashews or pine nuts, a pinch of purple basil, a pinch of sea salt, seven bay leaves, a pinch of rosemary, seven rosebuds, and seven peppercorns. Drizzle some honey over these base ingredients, and then cover with equal parts palm oil and olive oil. Place a wick in the mixture.

Go to the seashore and petition Yemayá and all the Orishas to come to your aid as you light the lamp. Next to the lamp, place a glass of water with cocoa butter, a mixed bouquet of flowers, and a coconut cake.