A Gau (also spelled Ghau or Gao) is a Tibetan Buddhist amulet container or prayer box, usually made of metal and worn as jewelry. As a small container used to hold and carry powerful amuletic objects, the Gau is culturally equivalent to Latin American package amulets, African-American conjure bags or mojo hands, South American charm vials, and American wish boxes.
Because they are worn as jewelry, Gaus are made of metal and are often ornamented with semi-precious stones, but they vary enormously in style according to the taste of the designer. The one shown here is a contemporary clamshell-hinged Gau from Nepal, decorated with a double dorje design and a small piece of red coral. It is made with a ring at each end. One of the rings is the hinge, the other is the box’s opening catch, so this Gau can be strung sideways or hung as a pendant on a cord, either alone or among other beads and charms.
As used in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and Mongolia, the Gau box usually contains a written prayer or a sacred yantra diagram such as the kalachakra. The prayers and yantras are usually hand inscribed or block-printed by a priest and they are always blessed before use.
Since the late 20th century, when trade with central Asia increased, Nepalese Gaus have became increasingly popular with eclectic practitioners of magic in Europe and the Americas, especially those who make their own talismans or prepare amulets for clients. Although perhaps not properly respectful of the Gau’s original spiritual function as a holder for Buddhist prayers, these Western mages and root workers — and i admit that i am among them! — find it intriguing that, when empty, the beautiful jewelry-like Gau boxes of Nepal are just the right size to hold a King Solomon pentacle seal and a variety of plant or mineral materials. Best of all, because Gaus are not flat like European or American lockets, their interiors are voluminous enough to hold the assorted symbolic objects that comprise a typical hoodoo “bottle spell,” albeit on a miniature scale. Thus we find modern root-workers and pagan witches using Gaus as holders for amulets designed to provide magical protection or to draw love or money or increase the wearer’s gambling luck.