The term "gris gris" seems to be confusing for practitioners-even seasoned ones. The term Gris Gris has a few origins. Some believe it comes from the word "juju" for the west African word for a "fetish" or "sacred object", "jou jou" for the french "doll" or "plaything". Grou grou then came from this and then "gris", the french word for "grey" took over. It then evolved to mean a physical working, such as a doll or bag created from natural objects, to create a balance between light and dark in order obtain, maintain, and control outcomes. Gris gris can be herbs, shells, nuts, berries, powders, stones, bones, sticks, roots, claws, teeth, hair (especially hair or nails belonging to the person for whom the gris gris is being worked)-anything natural that possesses ashe'. Ashe' is the energy that each living thing possesses-it's spirit.
There are rules with gris gris-it ain't just throwing shit in a bag-AND, not just anyone can do it. I can learn how to run but will I ever run a marathon? No.
The first must have is an extensive knowledge of herbs. Not just their names, but where and how they grow. What they need for food when then bloom, how they multiply. All of these characteristics must be known to know how the plant "works". What it's doctrine of signature is. The Doctrine of Signatures is an ancient theory from 40 A.D. This doctrine states that herbs that resemble various parts of the body can be used to treat ailments of that part of the body. This has been adapted into magical practices by way of associating what an herb looks like to what magical use it has. A good example of this is the Lucky Hand root. This multi-fingered root is thought to have special provenance over "all the things that five fingers can do." For this reason it is carried by folks who play the lottery, bet on horses, play cards, and are seeking employment.
Read as many books about herbs as you can get your hands on. Old and new ones. I have learned some of the most valuable uses of herbs from books published in the 1920's that I picked up for 25 cents at a rummage sale. Check books out at the library-they have tons on gardening and herbs. Look for classes on native plants in your area at nature centers, camps, and retreats.
What is an herb? An herb is any plant that has more than one use. Medicinal, magical, culinary, aesthetic, and olfactory are all uses of a plant. Any plant that possesses more than one is an herb. We have a saying "a weed is just an herb whose uses have not yet been revealed". Learn your native plants-especially weeds. You can make delicious and nutricious wild harvested salads and learn magical and medicinal benefits by grokking-sitting and communing with the native plants.
The place a plant is found can have a great affect on your magic. If you find a lone dandelion sprouting up through a concrete slab-that plant has come to you representing survival. It comes with strength and support. Appreciate it's effort and let it's spirit of victory inspire you. Learn your environment and explore the landscape around you. GET OUTSIDE!
Learning proper harvesting a drying techniques are a must as well. I won't go into this too much here. Most herbs can be hung in a cool DRY place to dry and most roots can be dried whole (or sliced if they are thick) and dried in an oven on the lowest setting for a few hours on a cookie sheet lined with parchment. You are drying them-not baking them so don't raise the temperature to speed up the process or you will cook your roots to mush.
The bag- I am picky about this. I will NEVER use a pre-made velvet bag sold in the shops on-line. I either hand make or machine sew each of my bags from material I have hand picked. Or, I have a friend make them. My own gris gris bags are made from cloth I died myself with natural dyes I make from native plants. If you can't sew or don't have a machine, cut a circle or square of cloth, fill the middle with gris gris and tie it up with string. Material can be as inexpensive as $3 a yard at a fabric shop and you can get dozens of bags out if it. Plus you can choose the colours and patterns to suit your goal. Anything is better than mass produced, crappy, velveteen or flannel bags.
What goes inside;
Are you making a gris gris bag to honor a deity or saint? Is it to help or harm another? Is it to help yourself? Have the appropriate gris gris harvested and before you. If you can't harvest your own, purchase from a reputable spiritual worker.
Lay your square of cloth down (or circle if you prefer) and lay a lining of cotton or Spanish moss first. This is your lining. These are both considered very sacred and lucky plants and will keep the rest of your gris gris from poking through and keep your powders from coming out through the material. Choose an odd number of items. A typical number is 13 but i go as high as 27 sometimes. My personal practice is to lay out all gris gris I have associated with the matter or goal and then invoke the deity or saint that deal with that area and then intuitively choose the ingredients for the bag by allowing the deity or saint to guide me. I don't work this way every time but most times I do.
Choose ingredients that represent each part of a plant-each part of the life form. A root, a stem, a leaf, a flower, a seed or berry. Not all from the same plant but each from different plants. This represents the whole spirit of a plant or being-encompassing it's ashe' in entirety. And don't forget the earth! If you have not begun an Earth pot start one today! This minute! Gather earth from everywhere you go-especially trips to sacred or special places.You can begin with earth from your own home. Honor your home! It protects you, it keeps you warm, it provides for you! My Earth pot contains red sand from the Sahara, mud from a birthing center in Ethiopia, volcanic sand from Hawai'i, sand, sea glass, and pebbles from Vieques, and peat from Ireland. Someday I will go home to Hungary and gather earth for my ancestors.
I choose to add items to represent the element that governs what I am working on. Water for healing, so I would add 7 shells for Yemanja. Fire for love so I would add sand from Hawai'i. For grounding I would add earth from our homeland-Ethiopia. Feathers for intuition or easy change, and so on. I realize not everyone has these earths but use what you have and your intuition. Start gathering earth from graveyards and crossroads to have on hand for your workings.
I also always add a shell, stone, feather, and a bone or claw-no matter what. It grounds the gris gris by rounding out the energies-you should have plant, animal, and mineral represented.
"Top" your gris gris by finishing it with a powder that is appropriate for your goal. Kyoto for luck, Attraction for manifesting, Oshun for love, Obitsu for protection, etc.
Finally, draw up the sides and give it a twist-clockwise for attraction, love, and manifesting matters and counterclockwise for protection, banishing, or ill intent.
Bind with an appropriate coloured string or cord by winding it at least 7 times with the cord then tie securely. You may add beads or charms if you feel the need. You may choose to knot it or tie a bow so it can be opened. This all depends on, again, the matter and intent. For matters of attracting or healing love, I tie a bow so other items can be added to make the love grow, for harm I tie a not so it can not be opened. Though these rules are not absolute and depend MUCH on the client and matter at hand.
I have made gris gris for over 15 years now and information, realizations, and mysteries are still being revealed to me. For this, I am blessed. When the messages stop coming and it seems I have learned all there is-it will be time to stop as the gift will have been passed to someone else.
For proper activation and feeding techniques, see my post How to feed a Mojo