Charm Bags - Magical Arts

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Charm Bags
Magical Arts

This is among the simplest, most universal and most primal of magical arts. Charm bags go by countless names: amulet bag, mojo bag, mojo hand, medicine bag, tobie, gris-gris bag, huanga bag, gilly bag, and so forth. Virtually every language, magical tradition or culture has at least one name to describe this concept. In Romany, for instance, the charm is known as a putzi or pocket, which, in fact, is where they are frequently carried.

Charm bags involve a very simple concept: one or more magical ingredients are wrapped in fabric or placed in a container. This may then be carried on the person, pinned into clothing, slipped under a mattress or pillow or preserved in another private place. Sometimes they are openly hung on walls or doors as amulets and talismans.

It is an incredibly creative form of spell-casting; the possibilities are endless. There are innumerable ways of crafting a charm bag. The crucial point is to choose the ingredients and then choose the container.

Traditional ingredients include botanicals, bones, beads and other small amulets, crystals, lodestones, metal and minerals, and dirt, especially crossroads dirt or graveyard dust. Other popular ingredients include magical powders. These ingredients may then be dressed with condition or other oils. (See page 594, Candle Magic.)

Traditional containers include cloth bags, especially those made of felt or silk. Leather bags may also be used. Sometimes a fabric bag is filled with ingredients and then placed inside another sturdier leather bag, particularly when the ingredients include loose powders that might easily spill out. The simplest charm bags consist of ingredients wrapped up in a handkerchief and knotted closed with a ribbon. Elaborate containers are made of precious metals, decorated with priceless jewels. In Latin America, old medical ampoules and vials are recycled and transformed into transparent charm vessels.

Although this tradition literally derives from everywhere on Earth, traditional Africanderived charm bags are especially sophisticated, creative, and powerful.

Mojo refers to the power emanating from the container and its materials. Hoodoo mojo bags are traditionally made from fabric drawstring bags, usually red although they may be colorcoordinated to suit the bag’s purpose, thus someone creating a mojo bag to draw prosperity might choose a green bag.

Because mojo bags can be opened and closed, ingredients may be added or removed. Mojo bags are traditionally “dressed” or “fed” to empower them. This involves either sprinkling with a magical powder or perhaps adding a drop of wine or other alcoholic beverage, or a drop of a carefully chosen condition oil, once a week or on some regular schedule. Because the mojo is ultimately perceived as possessing a living, vibrant spirit (if not literally alive) then this feeding is necessary to maintain optimum power.

Mojo hands have nothing to do with anatomy. The hand refers to the power emanating from the charm, as in the hand of power or glory. Hands are enclosed packets, similar to a European sachet. Ingredients are placed between two pieces of fabric which are then sewn together completely enclosing the ingredients. A mojo hand will not be taken apart, nor will other materials be incorporated. It is complete as it is.

Mojo hands are traditionally made from red felt or other red fabric. They are square or rectangular and resemble a quilt patch. The practice of the closed hand may derive from African roots, such as the Paket Kongo (see below) or it may derive from European influence.

Traditional English charm bags bear tremendous resemblance to African-American mojo hands. They are also traditionally crafted from red fabric, often felt, but they may be cut into creative shapes, especially hearts for romantic magic. The fabric may be embellished with beads, lucky charms, embroidery or other fine needlework. Creating the bag is a spell unto itself; each stitch, each knot is accompanied by a blessing, wish or affirmation.

Gris-gris and mojo bags are sometimes now treated as synonymous, however originally they were not identical. Mojo bags are a simple, if powerful, folk tool. Gris-gris were originally elaborately constructed containers, similar to modern Pakets Kongo to which they are closely related. Many were formed in the shape of dolls and contained herbal or various magical ingredients. Enslaved Africans in the Western Hemisphere imported their tradition but were forced to create less elaborate gris-gris, and so southern American gris-gris have evolved into the equivalent of mojo bags.

The elaborate style and artistry survives in the Pakets Kongo, which are packets of Congolese origin usually intended for protective purposes and/or healing. Pakets Kongo are more solid and structural than the standard charm bag. Many feature a long-stemmed gourd or onion shape. Many also possess what appear to be arms.

The contents are wrapped in silk, then bound with ribbons, secured with pins, and ornamented with beads, sequins, metallic cloth, and feathers. Many Pakets Kongo are so beautiful people buy them as objets d’art without awareness of their real identity.

They may be topped with a cross, not because of Christian affiliation but because the crossshape is significant to the indigenous Congolese concept of birth, life, death, and rebirth. Pakets Kongo are created under the aegis of the snake magician spirit, Simbi.

See DICTIONARY: Hoodoo, Mojo; DIVINE WITCH: Simbi.