March Theme Challenge-Amulet Bags

February 26, 2017 , In: Beadwork, Design Challenge, Fiber, Mixed Media

I have the honor of introducing March’s Theme Challenge-Amulet Bags/Pouches. They are also referred to as spirit pouches, medicine bags, poem keepers and secret keepers.

Felted Poem Keeper By ArtofJane2 on etsy

Amulets have been worn around the neck or carried in pockets since ancient Rome when they were used to provide the wearer with the powers of the gods. The general thought is that amulets provide protection from danger to the person who wears or carries them. They can include gemstones, statues, coins, drawings, rings, plants, animals, even words in the form of magical spells & incantations to repel evil.

Felted Amulet Bag By ThistleWoolWorks on etsy

There is evidence of amulets in almost every culture throughout history. In China they used written text to keep them safe & they kept crickets in special boxes for good luck. Egyptians used scarab beetles to protect them and their most prominent amulet was a symbol,  the Eye of Horus, which they used for power, protection and good health.  Africans carried an animal’s foot or other body part of a ‘swift’ creature to help them escape danger quickly.  It is thought that the ‘lucky rabbit’s foot’ was introduced to the New World by the early slaves.  In Islamic folk culture the hamsa or ‘hand of Fatima’ is used to avert the evil gaze. Turkey has the blue evil eye that I’m sure you have all seen. It is supposed to ward off bad luck. Even today, it is still either carried in pockets, worn or hung in the homes of most of the Turkish population. In India, Nepal and Sri Lanka they believed that wearing a jackal’s horn granted them wishes. In the Phillipines they used amulets or agimat for the removal of evil spirits or exorcisms.  This is just a sampling of the many different countries & cultures that have a history of using amulets as protection.

The actual creation of a pouch or bag to carry the protective items is harder to pin down. From my research I found that the belief is, they originated with either early Native American tribes, Aboriginal tribes or from Africa.

In African culture their amulet bags were called mojo or gris gris bags. Gris gris means fetish or charm. They considered the items they carried in these bags as a ‘prayer in a bag’.  These small bags were usually red flannel, although some were constructed of leather. They were sometimes inscribed with verses from the Quran as well as contained a ritual number of charms. They were not only used for protection from evil but also to prevent pregnancy. These gris gris bags were brought to the the New World with the enslaved Africans and quickly adopted by practitioners of voodoo.

Leather Medicine Bag/Amulet Pouch By DesertTalismans on etsy

In Native American culture the bags were primarily medicine bags or spirit bags. They contained items which were believed to protect (like amulets) or to give spiritual power to the owner. If  they were used as spirit bags they usually contained something to represent their spirit animal. Shamans or medicine men carried rather large medicine bundles that could hold many items such as seeds, herbs, pine cones, animal teeth, horse hair, arrow heads, bones or just about anything they believed held spiritual or healing powers.

Beaded Ribbon Bag By HeidiKummliDesigns on etsy

Traditionally, amulet bags/medicine bags were constructed of  leather and many were adorned with beading. But today, they are created from many different fabrics using a variety of techniques. Beaded, felted, leather, suede, fabrics (velvet, denim, patchwork), ribbon, macrame, woven, knitted/crocheted and I even found polymer clay amulet keepers. They range from bright, blingy, & fancy to very rustic, earthy & organic as you can see in all the photos I have included. To view even more visit my pinterest board where I have pinned quite a few. The photo of the gorgeous velvet amulet bags in the featured photo at the top are from Sage Goddess.

Small Bag Woven With Fabric Strips By

When I mentioned the amulet bag theme to my fellow AE members I found out that several had made amulet bags before. Jenny has made a couple of beaded ones-one in beade embroidery and one bead woven doing peyote stitch.

Jenny’s Bead Embroidered Amulet Bag Top L & Bottom L; Jenny’s Peyote Bead Woven Amulet Bag at R

Lindsay shared these beaded amulet bags that she made in the past as well. She used brick stitch, freeform peyote and netting.

Lindsay’s Beaded Brick Stitch Amulet Bag Top L, Her Freeform Peyote Stitch Amulet Bag Bottom L and Her Beaded Netting, Heavily Embellished With A Fossil Ivory Gnome at R

Karen shared a post she had written previously for our blog about ‘First Nations Beadwork’ that you can read here for more Native American inspiration. Below are some small bags created by Iroquois & Wabanacki Tribes.

Iroquois & Wabanacki Beadwork Bags

The possbilities are endless…from simple to ornate, tiny to almost purse size. I do hope you will join in the fun of creating your own personal amulet bag to fill with treasures that you feel bring you good luck or have special meaning. After reading about Native Americans putting teeth in their medicine bags I may just have to create a special little pouch for all the baby teeth that I saved from my daughter! (Yeah, I’m one of those moms that saved pretty much everything.)

Turtle Shell Medicine Bag By RainbowNativeTraders on etsy

Theme Challenge Details

  • You must have an active blog

  • You are free to create your amulet/spirit/medicine bag from any material or technique of your choice

  • Remember to have fun with it and let your imagination soar

  • Share/Reveal:  March 30

If you plan to participate & want to be included on the blog reveal please email me at [email protected] I need to receive your commitment & a link to your blog post by March 27

Thank you!



Cathy Spivey Mendola

Cathy Spivey Mendola has been creative her entire life. After a short career in the medical profession she became a stay-at-home mom which allowed her to dabble in various arts and crafts. Many years and mediums later she has finally found her passion-bead embroidered jewelry. When she needs a break from jewelry she creates bead embellished art quilts and wall hangings.
  1. Reply

    I can’t wait to see what everyone makes!

  2. Pingback: Art Elements Theme Challenge – March – blueberribeads

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