altar, book, book review, books, craft, crafting, Happy Voodoo Gris Gris, pagan, paganism, review, spirituality, voodoo, witch, witchcraft, witchcrafting
I had originally written this as a submission for witch-crafting. They’ve decided not to post it on their blog because of the problematic contents of the book, but encouraged me to post it here. I’ve decided to do so because I feel that pointing out problematic material like this one is an important step towards stopping its recurrence in our community. I was not the only curious witch who bought this expecting something entirely different (Check out this Amazon review!), so the likelihood of someone else picking it up in our community are pretty high! With that said, I tried to keep the review fair by addressing the problematic pieces honestly, and addressing the content as separately as I could. If there are issues I’ve overlooked or addressed incorrectly, feel free to drop me a line and let me know. Thank you.
Happy VooDoo Gris Gris,
Mademoiselle de la Brindille, with text by Anne-Claire Lévêque
Back cover description:
“Lucky charms, amulets, talismans…
Allow yourself to be transported into the world of dreams, magic, and charms.
Feathers, salamanders, bells and mirrors…are hung together in threes, sevens, or even in groups of thirteen, to protect you or to bring you luck. Mobiles, windows garlands, rosaries for the home, bracelets, brooches or key rings…these charms can be hung around the house, wherever you wish, and perhaps even accompany you on your travels. Just as effective as a four-leafed clover, or a rabbit’s foot, they are undoubtedly prettier, taking on colors of your moods and your inspirations.
-30+ irresistible ideas for you to try; easy to make and to personalize
-Each creation is explained in step by step detail
-Cultural notes explain the symbolism of the materials, shapes and colors used and give meaning to the charms shown”
Ok, yes, I actually bought this book. Look how pretty it is! Is anyone actually surprised? No.
It was $18.75 CND, minus my employee discount.
So let’s get right into the most obvious question I’m sure you’re all asking yourself, having seen the cover; “Voodoo?”
Yeah, there is absolutely nothing about voodoo in this book.
The author’s focus seems to be on practices from the north-eastern hemisphere, and includes almost nothing from any of the African diaspora faiths or practices related to Voodoo.
I’m going to point out the problematic part of this book first so you can gauge the importance of the rest of the book with that in mind (I feel you can enjoy problematic things, as long as you understand and accept that they are problematic, and why, then continue on with respect to that.)
It’s obvious what’s going to be coming here, isn’t it?
This is a book conceptualized/created by what appears to be a white-passing (cuz I’m not in this lady’s genes) European woman, penned by another of the same. The title is entirely misleading and pretty damned well erasing (on the part of the people that actually are represented in the book but have nothing to do with Voodoo, and actual Voodooists, because they aren’t represented in the book at all), and appropriative. The book has a typical ‘cultural tourist’ feel, and there is a very good reason for that;
You see, after traveling the world and collecting information and inspiration from a myriad of cultures, the author has made a living creating jewelry and knick-knacks based on her discoveries. Madamoiselle is a jewelry-maker, would-be interior designer (she describes the contents of this book as ‘jewelry for your home’), and journalist. She may be a magical practitioner of some kind, but it’s never really made clear. The book suffers from a slightly New Age sense of ‘we-are-all-one’-ness, I suppose.
So, the ‘touristy’ feel is entirely because her creations are built on things she primarily learned while being a tourist. In the book, her creations are described and explained in scrapbook-like tidbits that, while maybe not entirely offensive or wrong, suffer from their brevity. Comments like “In the Muslim world…” are too specifically written for some vague practice that may only apply to a portion of that group, while “Cowrie shells act like an Eye or mirror that confronts the Evil Eye with itself…” are never attributed to any group at all.
So, like I said, this book is problematic in that it homogenizes many faiths, customs, and ethnicities in a potentially offensive way. (I’m not from these groups, so I say potentially because I don’t know what is or not offensive to groups I’m not part of). Mademoiselle’s only source is herself, it seems. Tread carefully.
That said, there is still some merits to the book.
The projects themselves are accessible and beautifully presented. Even a novice crafter (or Crafter) would be able to handle 90% of the ideas in the book. The second-hand, upcycled, repurposed, or slap-dash look of many of the projects means that ‘happy accidents’ are not only expected, but may even be encouraged. Tangled thread, bent wire, or glitter in the glue are all ok in the aesthetic of this book, I feel.
The pictures are beautiful. They are very ‘witchy’ in that sense of aesthetically pleasing clutter with a mix of textures and sources, though significantly more colourful than most ‘witchy’ set-ups would be. I love it.
The instructions are adequate for the most part; these projects aren’t really about technique, but learning to look at your materials in a different way to create something unique. Though, they are lacking in a few places; the hand-made scent burner in particular (a ‘burner’ that doesn’t burn anything? That’s just a diffuser.)
In terms of witchcraft, the ideas are great ways to incorporate your spellcraft into your interior design, your jewelry, or your grounds-keeping. Nothing is ground-breaking, but some of her ideas are unique in their execution, so some inspiration can be pulled from that. Her hanging door-charms are interesting and include plastic animals, pouches, and bells. Like I said, an amulet to hang over your door isn’t a new idea, but a plastic elephant and bear (to represent Earth) wrapped in pretty silk ribbon is an aesthetic I wouldn’t have thought of on my own!
Some of the more complicated projects include a wire bird-sculpture, prayer-flag inspired window hangings, and a table runner (for which she gives some suggestions concerning magical intent or symbols to include…great ideas for altar dressings!), and a miniature altar housed in a shadowbox (pictured on the cover).
Each section includes a full spread of her inspirations (which can be a bit of a sticky wicket, as I mentioned earlier), complete with interpretations of the symbols involved or some very brief history. What is nice about this is that it turns what would otherwise be a run-of-the-mill jewelry and craft book into a book on spiritual and magical crafting. The information might not be correctly sourced but it gets the wheels turning and puts you in the correct head-space.
All in all, I’d give this book a 7 out of 10.
The book is a bit pricey considering how sparse the actual writing is, but lots of pretty pictures means lots of ink, means lots of overhead, means lots of dollars coming out of my pocket.
The book, and especially the title, is problematic though it is mostly due to its brevity. The information isn’t outwardly offensive from what I recall (there are no “The noble savage…” -type comments), but problematic is still problematic.
I like the projects described, and I think this book offers an interesting source of inspiration, but I would never suggest it to anyone who doesn’t at least understand what appropriation or erasure are. People who know how to research, look up secondary sources, or ask a legitimate member of communities before incorporating elements into their magical or spiritual practice should be fine to sift through the problematic material in this book, but fair warning should be given!
To sum up; don’t read this as a text on folk magic, or spirituality (and especially not as a book on Voodoo or gris-gris bags, of which there are none in the book). Read it as a craft book with interesting spiritual or magical elements as they apply to you. I wouldn’t disregard the text immediately, but be sure to research further to better understand what you are including in your Craft. Knowing every element might only make your Crafting that much more effective!
*Photos are taken by me (with my crap phonecam) from Happy VooDoo Gris Gris by Mademoiselle de la Brindille, with text by Anne-Claire Lévêque. First published in North America by North Light Craft. The quality of the photos in the book far surpass what is shown here.
Maryse Rogers said:
Hi, Your mother-in-law got me hooked on your newsletter and I always enjoy reading it. I have crystals, etc. here and I want to build myself an alter. Do you have any suggestions on where I can research these? Been going through a rough time in the last few months, ex. head concussion, sprains, change in meds which make me dizzy, etc and to boot now I have to go back for a second mammogram because the doctor needs to check something out, which better not mean cancer because I refuse to be the 3rd in my immediate family. Again I always enjoy reading your newsletter, well written and very interesting.
A Changing Altar said:
If you are looking for information on crystals, the Crystal Bible is usually a safe bet. The Crystal Bible 2 is an expansion that includes more composites and man-made crystals, so depending on your tastes the original should suffice.
I find some of their information a bit optimistic or overly simplistic, but it is definitely a good reference.
I’ll also direct you over to a friend of mine (and of Susan’s) named Caroline. She has a small business dealing with stones and crystal gridding that might be very helpful to you!
If you are asking for help regarding altar spaces, there are as many different altars and shrines as there are people using them! I could always make a post or two about altars and shrines to help you out a bit. Also, as I mentioned, Caroline deals with crystal gridding which is a fantastic and effective idea for use on altars (or anywhere).
You can reach Caroline at http://www.inspirenergy.ca/, and you can find her on facebook under her company’s name. She’s is a fabulous person and a great resource!
Best of luck Maryse, and don’t hesitate to leave any other questions or comments you might have!
*poke* I nominated you for a Liebster Award 🙂 http://pixiecraft.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/liebster-award-2013/