Voodoo dolls as we know them today are created for many purposes. Although they are most commonly depicted as objects of revenge, contemporary Voodoo dolls are typically used for healing, finding true love, empowerment, and for spiritual guidance. Traditionally, Voodoo dolls were created to represent a deity, to house a spirit, or to embody the spirit of an ancestor. Today, they are still made to represent one of the many Spirits of Voodoo, as well as to be used as a vehicle through which one may pray to the specific deity, spirit, or ancestor.
When a doll or fetich is created as a symbolic representation of a deity and an altar is set up for this deity, offerings are made to the deity through the doll. Similar to other cultures where statues and stones or other types of effigies are used to represent a particular god or goddess, such is the case with Voodoo. When Buddhists pray to the statue of Buddha, or Hindus pray to a statue of Shiva, or Santeras serve a cement head of Eshu or Voodooists place a doll as Erzulie on an altar, or even when Christians pray to the Mother of God through a statue of the Virgin Mary, it is not the statue, stone, or concrete that they are revering. The objects are believed to embody the spirit of the Divine, and one prays to the Divine through the physical object which either represents or houses the Spirit.
One explanation for this type of worship is explained by John Williams (1932) in his seminal work Voodoos and Obeahs:
The man does not believe that the stone as such is God. What he believes is that a stone, when selected, and set up, and consecrated in some way, becomes the dwelling place of God. In this case, worship is directed, not to the stone as such, but to the God present in the stone, which is merely an outward and visible object marking that presence. . . . Hence the material stone is reverenced or respected as sacred on account of its connection with the divine presence (Williams, 1932).
Dolls that are not intended as altar dolls or used to represent or house a Spirit are used as magical devices, gris gris and talismans. These kinds of voodoo dolls, doll babies and poppets work on the concepts of image magic or "like produces like." An effigy or image is created as a stand-in for an individual, named and often baptized in the name of the intended target. It is then manipulated according to the will of the practitioner who utilizes techniques consistent with the principles of image magic.
Image magic can be broken down to two basic concepts: sympathetic and contagious magic. Sympathetic magic is the idea that whatever you do to an object that represents a person will happen to that person. Contagious magic means that something belonging to a person will have that person’s energy attached to it long after it is parted with. When that person’s personal item is attached to a doll it acts as a contagion, infecting the doll with that person’s essence; thus, making the person vulnerable to attack through magickal remote control.
Little human-like effigies have been manipulated in sympathetic magic rituals for thousands of years by people across cultures. For example, the use of dolls in image magick by the Ojibway and Peruvian Indians was examined in 1922 by Sir James George Frazer: According to Frazer (1922):
PERHAPS the most familiar application of the principle that like produces like is the attempt which has been made by many peoples in many ages to injure or destroy an enemy by injuring or destroying an image of him, in the belief that, just as the image suffers, so does the man, and that when it perishes he must die. A few instances out of many may be given to prove at once the wide diffusion of the practice over the world and its remarkable persistence through the ages. For thousands of years ago it was known to the sorcerers of ancient India, Babylon, and Egypt, as well as of Greece and Rome, and at this day it is still resorted to by cunning and malignant savages in Australia, Africa, and Scotland. Thus the North American Indians, we are told, believe that by drawing the figure of a person in sand, ashes, or clay, or by considering any object as his body, and then pricking it with a sharp stick or doing it any other injury, they inflict a corresponding injury on the person represented. For example, when an Ojibway Indian desires to work evil on any one, he makes a little wooden image of his enemy and runs a needle into its head or heart, or he shoots an arrow into it, believing that wherever the needle pierces or the arrow strikes the image, his foe will the same instant be seized with a sharp pain in the corresponding part of his body; but if he intends to kill the person outright, he burns or buries the puppet, uttering certain magic words as he does so. The Peruvian Indians moulded images of fat mixed with grain to imitate the persons whom they disliked or feared, and then burned the effigy on the road where the intended victim was to pass. This they called burning his soul. (Frazer, 1922, p. 28)
In addition to creating a doll in the likeness of a person, much of the power of a Voodoo doll comes from the person creating it. Traditionally, the maker concentrates all of their thought and effort into the making of the doll, visualizing the change they seek. If the doll is being created for ill-intent, the maker focuses all of the negativity and bad luck that could possibly happen to their target. It is said that some practitioners will abuse the doll for days, doing everything to the doll and more that they would like for their target to experience. This includes yelling at the doll, hitting it, piercing it with sharp objects, suffocating it, binding it, cutting it, and so forth. This whole process is called charging the doll with the purpose for which it is intended. When enough energy is focused this method rarely fails, unless the maker begins to doubt their actions or loses their focus.
While it is not recommended to reveal magical operations to others who are not involved in a given ritual action, sometimes this rule does not apply when it comes to image magick. Throughout history, fixed dolls have been left where the target can see them; thus, lending a significant psychological component to the work. The power of suggestion associated with Voodoo dolls is a powerful phenomenon and the fear associated with the potential power of a Voodoo doll is not discriminatory.
To learn more about how Voodoo dolls, doll babies, and poppets work, sign up for the course Doll Baby Conjure and gain unprecedented instruction on the magical art of image magick.
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