2009.01.07 Sniff my gris-gris

Written by David Green.


I have a little bag of voodoo in my pocket. I know it’s there; I can smell it.

Among the presents I received for Christmas this year, my gris-gris is easily the most unique. I think I can safely assume that no one else in my reading audience got gris-gris this Christmas, or maybe for any Christmas.

When we visited my daughter Rosanna in New Orleans a few weeks ago for cajun turkey, I received an e-mail from my cousin-out-law Ralph. I told him I was in New Orleans and he answered with a brief reply: “Don’t forget your gris-gris.”

I asked Rozee what my gris-gris was and learned that it’s a little voodoo thing to ward off evil spirits or bring you good luck. Or at least to have an interesting smell.

Someone told me recently that New Orleans is the only city he’s visited where he sensed evil. I went to New Orleans without the protection of gris-gris (pronounced gree-gree) but I have it now. Mine is a little flannel bag filled with herbs and seeds and oils. It emits quite a scent.

My gris-gris reminds me of the smell of oil painting. I use to mess around with oil paints in high school and sniffing the bag brings back memories of that.

Rozee was looking for a unique gift on a New Orleans website. She noticed a store with an interesting name—Between Piety and Desire—and learned that custom-made gris-gris was available there.

She went to visit the proprietor, Miss Kathy, who went to work on my voodoo on the basis of a few facts Rozee provided.

Gris-gris always has an odd number of ingredients and mine has 13. An informational card states that Miss Kathy refuses to create items for bad purposes, nor will she ever use items from someone’s body. There’s no hair or nail clippings in my bag. No body fluids. What a relief.

But here’s what I do have: some Spanish moss for the understanding of interdependence; St. John’s wort for good rest; sage for wisdom and patience; angelica for protection; grains of paradise for financial security; mustard seed for faith; and carnation for good health.

There are also four oils: orange for cheerfulness and energy; chamomile for calm and the release of anger; frankincense for divine guidance; and cypress for durability.

There’s also a bit of the gem carnelian for strength and flexibility, and a little snail shell for slowing down and appreciating the world.

Rozee told Kathy that I work a lot. Hence the cypress, carnelian and orange oil. I suppose the snail shell, too. Miss Kathy was quite pleased with her work. A note to my daughter said “This gris-gris is really good.”

I sent an e-mail to Miss Kathy asking if it was OK by her if I kept my gris-gris in the little plastic packet that it came in rather than trailing a scent of those aromatic oils.

Either way was all right by her, although she pointed out the potency of the gris-gris is more pronounced outside the plastic.

I told her I would love to untie the flannel bag and take a look, but I figured that might be against the rules. I was right. Don’t open it. She said there are historical reasons and also practical ones, such as spilling some ingredients and risking the loss of power.

Some people are probably horrified to learn that I have voodoo in my pocket. Why would I want to mess around with that stuff? Most  would simply think I’m nuts to even believe in it. Wait, I never said I believed in it, and besides, Miss Kathy explained that no belief is necessary for it to be effective. “What – you believe that?”

Look, I’m just walking around with an odd Christmas present in my pocket. Now and then I remove it to let someone take a whiff.

Eventually, she says, my gris-gris will lose its power. At that point I can return it to her and she’ll recharge it or I can destroy it. She gives instructions:

“Please don’t burn it or cut it up. The best way is to throw it in water running away from you, with a few words of thanks or farewell.”

If you ever catch me me tossing something from the south side of the Main Street bridge, you’ll know my voodoo is gone.

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