Poppet Construction – How to Make Your Own Magical Doll
A poppet can be as simple or as elaborate as you like — it all depends on how much time and effort you want to put into it. You can construct one out of just about any material — cloth, clay, wood, wax. Use your imagination! In some magical traditions, it’s believed that the more work you put into it, and the more complex it is, the stronger your link will be to your goal. Because a poppet is a device for sympathetic magic, all of its components will be symbols of what it is you hope to achieve.
You can do your poppet-making as part of the working itself, or it can be made ahead of time so you can use the poppet later on. Which method you choose is really up to you.
Remember, your poppet represents a person, so figure out before you begin who it symbolizes. Is it you? A friend who’s asked you for help? An un-named lover you want to bring into your life? A gossip you want to shut up? The possibilities are endless, but just like in any spell working, you’ll need to set a goal before you begin. It keeps you from having to deal with “do-overs” later. These instructions are for a basic poppet construction, using fabric. Feel free to modify your design as you need to.
Selecting Your Fabric
There are no real rules when it comes to choosing your material, but it’s not a bad idea to select fabric based on your goal. If you’re doing a money spell, use a piece of green or gold cloth. If you’re looking at healing, perhaps something in a soft blue or silver would be best. Check out fabric stores around the holidays, and you can find all kinds of neat patterns.
Valentine’s Day designs are perfect for matters of the heart, and there are plenty of prints with dollar signs, coins, stars and moons, and other fun designs.
Another option is to use fabric that links the poppet to the person it represents. Doing a healing spell for a friend? Ask the person for an old t-shirt. If you’re trying to draw love into your life, consider using a scrap from that sexy lingerie you wore last night. If you just can’t find the right material, use a plain muslin or white felt. Here are a few ideas for designs and colors for poppet magic.
- Animals: Brown or green fabrics, patterns with cats or dogs, anything pet-related
- Banishing: Black fabric, designs such as swords or wands, dragons or fire
- Creativity: Orange or yellow fabric, prints of suns or other fire symbols
- Healing: Silver, white or blue, with designs of clouds or other air symbols
- Love: Pink or red material, designs like hearts, roses or other flowers, Cupids
- Money: Silver, gold or green fabric, or designs of dollar bills or coins, cups or earthy symbols
- Protection: Red or white material, with patterns of shields, keys or locks, fences, mistletoe
When it comes to types of fabric, use what’s easiest for you to work with. Cotton prints are easy to sew, but if you’ve never used a needle and thread before, you might want to try something stiffer like felt — it comes in every color you can imagine, and will hold its shape as you sew. If you’re an experienced sewer, use anything you like.
A poppet represents a person, so ideally it should look (sort of) like a person. Give it a head, two arms, two legs, a torso. You can make your own outline or you can use the ultimate poppet pattern — a gingerbread man. If you’re doing a spell for an animal — such as a healing spell for a sick pet — make the poppet shape accordingly. Your poppet doesn’t have to be huge, but it should be big enough that you can stuff it with your ingredients later.
Take two pieces of your fabric, and place them right side together on a flat surface. Place the pattern on top, pin it in place, and cut it out. Leave a little room around the edges for a seam allowance — usually a 3/8″ margin is good. Remove the pattern, and there are your two poppet shapes. Time to start sewing!
If you’ve never sewn anything by hand before, don’t panic. It’s not hard, but it does require some patience. You could always use a sewing machine if you’re pressed for time, but most experienced poppet-makers agree that it’s worth the effort to do it by hand. Pin the two pieces of material with the right sides together, and stitch around the edges. Leave an opening somewhere, wide enough to stick a couple of fingers in. Turn the poppet inside out, and begin stuffing.
Personalize Your Poppet
Fill your poppet with something soft, like polyfill or cotton balls. Old pantyhose work nicely too. Work the stuffing all the way into the nooks and crannies of the arms and legs, and then fill the torso and head.
This is where you’ll place your spell components — herbs, stones, whatever. In some magical traditions, something from the person represented goes inside the poppet. This is alternately referred to as a taglock or a magical link — it can be bits of hair, nail clippings, body fluids, a business card, or even a photograph. Once everything is inside, sew the poppet completely shut.
The more you can customize your poppet, the better. Even if you’ve placed a magical link, or taglock, inside, you’ll want to decorate the outside too. Draw or paint or sew a face onto your doll. Add yard or string for hair. Dress your poppet in something that looks like the person’s clothing. Copy any tattoos, scars, or distinguishing features onto the poppet as well. Add magical or astrological symbols if you like. While you’re doing this, tell the poppet who it represents. You can say something along the lines of, “I have made you, and you are Jane Jones.”
Your poppet can be used for any number of things — love, money, protection, healing, to get a job. Anything you can imagine, you can make a poppet to bring it about. Simply figure out your goal and the means to achieve it. The only limits on poppet construction are your own creativity and imagination.
Poppet History – Global Poppet Magic
Ramses and the Poppets:
When most people think of a poppet, they automatically think of the Voodoo doll, thanks to this item’s negative portrayal in movies and on television. However, the use of dolls in sympathetic magic goes back several millennia. Back in the days of ancient Egypt, the enemies of Ramses III (who were numerous, and included some of his harem women and at least one high-ranking official) used wax images of the Pharaoh, to bring about his death.
It wasn’t uncommon for the Greeks to use sympathetic magic in workings related to love or war. Christopher Faraone, Professor of Classical Languages and Literatures at the University of Chicago, is one of the foremost authorities on Greek magic today, and says that Greek poppets called Kolossoi were sometimes used to restrain a ghost or even a dangerous deity, or to bind two lovers together. In Idyll 2, The Witch (Pharmakeutria), written about 200 b.c.e., the tragedian Theocritus refers to melting and burning wax dolls. He relates the tale of Simaetha, rejected by Delphis, attempts to get her lover back with magic.
The Princess Who Played with Dolls:
Wax dolls certainly weren’t limited to the ancient classical world. The one-time Princess of Wales, Caroline of Brunswick, was married to the man who later became King George IV, and evidently couldn’t stand him. She spent many hours forming wax dolls of her husband and jabbing them with pins. Although there’s no concrete evidence as to what this may have done to George, when Caroline ran off to Italy with her young lover, George didn’t object.
The royal couple remained married but lived separately until Caroline’s death in 1821, according to Witchcraft and Evidence in Early Modern England by Malcolm Gaskill.
West African Fetish Magic:
West African slaves brought with them a doll called a fetish when they were forced to leave their homes and come to the American colonies. In this case, the doll is not so much representative of an individual, but is in fact possessed by spirits connected to the doll’s owner. A fetish contains significant power and is typically worn or carried by its owner as a talisman. During America’s Colonial period, slave owners were allowed to kill any slave found with a fetish in his possession.
American Hoodoo and Folk Magic:
In American Hoodoo and folk magic, the use of poppets as a magical tool became popular following the Civil War. There is some dispute as to whether the dolls are used at all in Haiti, which is the home of Vodoun religion, and a few sources disagree on whether the use of poppets is truly a Vodoun practice or not. However, the Voodoo Museum of New Orleans does stock a variety of dolls in their gift shop.
Regardless of how you make your poppet — out of cloth, a chunk of meat, or a glob of wax, remember that poppets have a long tradition behind them, and that tradition is influences by the magical practices of a wide range of cultures. Treat your poppets well, and they will do the same for you.
Are Voodoo Dolls Real?
Question: Are Voodoo Dolls Real?
Popular culture depicts the “Voodoo doll” as a poppet bearing the resemblance of an enemy. The target is cursed with misfortune, pain and even death via the thrusting of pins into the doll. Such items are not a part of traditional Vodou, although some Vodouisants, primarily in New Orleans, have now adopted them, often for sale to tourists.
Tales of similar poppets have existed in European witch folklore for centuries.
It’s certainly possible that Europeans, knowing very little about Vodou and commonly decrying it as evil and Satanic, merged rumors of Vodou with familiar witchcraft rumors from back home.
In Vodou, a pwen is an item filled with particular components that appeal to a particular lwa. They are meant to attract a lwa and gain its influences for a person or place. Pwen come in a variety of forms, including dolls. Pwen dolls can be found in a variety of forms, from crude poppets to elaborate works of art.
Vodou, an Introduction for Beginners
Vodou (Also spelled Vodoun, Voodoo, and several other variants) is a syncretic religion combining Roman Catholicism and native African religion, particularly the religion of the Dahomey region of Africa (the modern day nation of Benin). It is primarily found in Haiti, New Orleans, and other locations within the Caribbean.
Followers of Vodou, known as Vodouisants, believe in a single, supreme godhead that can be equated with the Catholic God.
This deity is known as Bondye.
Vodouisants also accept the existence of lesser beings, which they call loa or lwa, which are more intimately involved in day-to-day life, (as opposed to Bondye, who is a remote figure). The lwa are frequently invited to possess a believer during ritual so that the community can directly interact with them.
The relationship between humans and lwa is a reciprocal one. Believers provide food and other items that appeal to the lwa in exchange for their assistance.
Vilokan is the home of the lwa and the deceased. It is commonly described as a submerged and forested island. It is guarded by the lwa Legba, who must be appeased before practitioners can speak to any other Vilokan resident.
A variety of animals might be killed during a Vodou ritual, depending upon the lwa being addressed. It provides spiritual sustenance for the lwa, while the flesh of the animal is then cooked and eaten by participants.
Rituals commonly involve the drawing of certain symbols known as veves with cornmeal or other powder. Each lwa has its own symbol, and some have multiple symbols associated with them.
The common perception of Vodouisants poking pins into dolls does not reflect traditional Vodou.
However, Vodouisants do dedicate dolls to particular lwa and use them to attract a lwa’s influence.
There is no standardized dogma within Vodou. Two temples within the same city might therefore teach different mythologies and appeal to the lwa in different ways. As such, the information provided here cannot always reflect the beliefs of all Vodou believers. For example, sometimes lwa are associated with different families, Catholic saints, or veves. Some common variations are included here.
African slaves brought their native traditions with them when they were forcefully transported to the new world. However, they were generally forbidden from practicing their religion, so they started to equate their gods with Catholic saints and perform their rituals using the items and imagery of the Catholic Church.
Relationship with Christianity:
If a Vodou practitioner considers himself Christian, he generally professes to be a Catholic Christian, and many Vodou practitioners do also consider themselves Catholics. Some see the saints and spirits to be one and the same, while others even today still hold that the Catholic accouterments are primarily for appearance.
Popular culture has strongly associated Vodou with devil worship, torture, cannibalism and malevolent magical workings. This is largely the product of Hollywood coupled with historical misrepresentations and misunderstandings of the faith. Slave uprisings in Vodou-influenced areas such as Haiti were violent and brutal, and white settlers came to associate the religion with the violence, as well as embrace many unfounded rumors about them.
What is Vodou?
Vodou, sometimes referred to as Voodoo, is a religion that blends Catholicism with West African diasporic faiths. Primarily practiced in the Caribbean, Vodoun incorporates ancestor worship and animism alongside saints and African gods. Many of the traditions followed today are directly related to those brought to Haiti by enslaved Africans hundreds of years ago. During the colonization of Hispaniola, Africans from many different tribes brought their customs with them.
These beliefs were blended with the native Taino Indians of Haiti, along with the influence of Spanish and French Catholicism.
During the late 18th century, there were a number of slave rebellions in Haiti, and former slave Touissaint L’Ouverture led battles against the French colonists. Haitian lore attributes L’Ouverture’s success to a Vodou ceremony — according to legend, this was the beginning of the revolution. Today, while many of Haiti’s people identify as either Protestant or Catholic, nearly all acknowledge the country’s connection with Vodou.
Bob Corbett of Webster University has a wonderful outline of the basic beliefs of Vodou on his page at Introduction to Voodoo in Haiti. He describes the basic concepts of Vodou, as well as the deities and ritual format. Corbett reminds his students “to recognize that Voodoo is Haiti’s religion, it is taken very seriously not merely by unlettered peasants, but many intelligent and learned members of the Haitian society believe as sincerely in Voodoo as do German theology professors in their Christianity.”
Following the January 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, Vodou was brought to the forefront of the public’s attention. A scholarly association for the study of Haitian Vodou was formed at University of California, Santa Barbara, and named Kosanba. Their website says, “The presence, role, and importance of Vodou in Haitian history, society, and culture are unarguable, and recognizably a part of the national ethos. The impact of the religion qua spiritual and intellectual disciplines on popular national institutions, human and gender relations, the family, that plastic arts, philosophy and ethics, oral and written literature, language, popular and sacred music, science and technology and the healing arts, is indisputable.”
Ebbos in Santeria – Sacrifices and Offerings
Ebbos (or Ebos) are a central part of Santeria practice. Humans and orishas both need an energy force known as ashe in order to succeed; orishas, in fact, need it in order to survive. So if one would like to be favored by the orishas, or even just pay respect to these beings that are intimately involved with forces in the physical world, one must offer ashe. All things have some quantity of ashe, but nothing is more potent than blood.
Sacrifice is a method of delivering that ashe to the orishas so they, in turn, can use ashe for the petitioner’s benefit.
Types of Offerings:
Animal sacrifices are by far the most known type of offerings. However, there are many others. One may need to pledge to do a particular action, or abstain from certain foods or activities. Candles and other items may be burned, or fruits or flowers may be offered. Singing, drumming and dancing also contribute ashe to the orishas.
Food is the usual offering in the creation of talismans. A talisman provides certain magical qualities to the person wearing it. In order to infuse as item with such influence, ashe must first be sacrificed.
Those who wish to more generally attract the positive aspects of an orisha might make a votive offering. These are items that are left at a shrine or otherwise put on display as a gift to the orishas.
Animal Sacrifice Where the Meat is Eaten:
Most ceremonies that involve animal sacrifice also involve the participants eating the flesh of the slaughtered animal.
The orishas are only interested in the blood. As such, once the blood is drained and offered, the meat is eaten. Indeed, the preparation of such a meal is an aspect of the overall ritual.
There’s a variety of purposes for such a sacrifice. Initiations require blood sacrifice because the new santero or santera must be able to be possessed by the orishas and interpret their wishes.
Santeria believers do not merely approach the orishas when they want something. It is a continual reciprocal arrangement. Blood may therefore be sacrificed as a way of saying thank you after the receiving of good fortune or the resolution of a difficult matter.
Animal Sacrifice When Meat is Discarded:
When the sacrifice is made as part of purification rituals, the meat is not eaten. It is understood that the animal takes the impurity upon itself. Eating its flesh would simply put the impurity back into everyone who partook of the meal. In these cases the animal is discarded and left to rot, often in a location of importance to the orisha being approached.
The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that religious animal sacrifice cannot be made illegal, as it falls under freedom of religion. However, those that perform animal sacrifices do need to follow certain rules to limit the suffering of the animals, just as slaughterhouses have to do the same. Santeria communities do not find these rules to be burdensome, as they have no interest in making the animals suffer.
What is becoming more controversial is the discarding of purification sacrifices. The discarding of carcasses in certain locations is important to many believers, but that leaves local city workers the task of cleaning up the rotten bodies. City governments and Santeria communities need to work together to find compromises on the subject, and the Supreme Court also ruled that related ordinances should not be overly burdensome to believers.
The orishas are the gods of Santeria, the beings that believers interact with on a regular basis. Each orisha has its own distinct personality and has a wide variety of strengths, weaknesses and interests. In many ways, therefore, understanding an orisha is like understanding another human being.
There is also a more removed being known as Olodumare, who created the orishas but later retreated from his creations.
Some describe the orishas as being manifestations or aspects of Olodumare.Olodumare is the source of ashe, which all living things must have in order to survive and succeed, including the orishas. Olodumare alone is self-sustaining, not needing ashe to be provided by another source.
Humans and orishas, however, provide ashe to each other through a variety of rituals. The best source of ashe is in sacrificial blood, which is why animal sacrifice plays such a prominent role in Santeria. Humans provide ashe through blood or other ritual actions, and the orisha becomes a conduit of ashe from Olodumare to the petitioner to assist in the petitioner’s endeavors.
Old World and New World
The number of orishas varies among believers. In the original African belief system from which Santeria originates, there are hundreds of orishas. New World Santeria believers, on the other hand, generally only work with a handful of them.In the New World these beings are commonly seen as family: they marry each other, give birth to others, and so forth.
In that sense they work more like Western pantheons like those of the Greeks or Romans.
In Africa, however, there was no such familiarity between orishas, in part because their followers were not strongly connected. Each African city-state had its own single, patron deity. A priest could only be dedicated to that single orisha of the city, and that orisha was honored above all others.
In the New World, Africans from many city-states were thrown together into common slavery. It made little sense or practicality for a slave community to to focus on a single orisha in that scenario. As such, the orishas came to be regarded as roughly equals as cultures mixed. Priests were trained to work with multiple orishas instead of being exclusively dedicated to a single one. This helped the religion to survive. Even if a priest of one orisha died, there would be others in the community trained to work with that same orisha.
The patakis, or stories of the orishas, are not standardized and are frequently contradictory. Part of this comes from the fact that these stories come from a variety of different African cities, each of which had their own ideas about the nature of the orishas. This trend is encouraged by the fact that each Santeria community today remains independent of other communities. There is no expectation that each community would function exactly alike or understand the orishas in exactly the same way.As such, these stories give multiple origin stories for the orishas. Sometimes they are depicted as once-mortal figures, often leaders, who were elevated by Olodumare to divinity. Other times they are birthed as higher beings.
The purpose of these stories today is to teach lessons rather than relate some literal truth. As such, there is no concern about the literal truth of these tales or the fact that tales my contradict one another. Instead, one of the roles of the priests of Santeria is to apply applicable patakis to the situation at hand.
The orishas are equated with a variety of Catholic saints. This was a necessity when slave-owners refused to allow slaves to practice African religion. It is understood that the orishas wear many masks in order for people to better understand them. Santeros (Santeria priests) do not believe that the orishas and the saints are identical. The saint is a mask of the orisha, and it does no work the other way around. However, many of their clients are also Catholic, and they understand that such clients better identify with these beings under the guise of the saintly counterparts.
What is the Santeria Religion?
Although Santeria is a religious path that is not rooted in Indo-European polytheism like many other contemporary Pagan religions, it’s still a faith that is practiced by many thousands of people in the United States and other countries today.
Santeria is, in fact, not one set of beliefs, but a “syncretic” religion, which means it blends aspects of a variety of different faiths and cultures, despite the fact that some of these beliefs might be contradictory to one another.
Santeria combines influences of Caribbean tradition, West Africa’s Yoruba spirituality, and elements of Catholicism. Santeria evolved when African slaves were stolen from their homelands during the Colonial period and forced to work in Caribbean sugar plantations.
Santeria is a fairly complex system, because it blends the Yoruba orishas, or divine beings, with the Catholic saints. In some areas, African slaves learned that honoring their ancestral orishas was far safer if their Catholic owners believed they were worshiping saints instead – hence the tradition of overlap between the two.
The orishas serve as messengers between the human world and the divine. They are called upon by priests by a variety of methods, including trances and possession, divination, ritual, and even sacrifice. To some extent, Santeria includes magical practice, although this magical system is based upon interaction with and understanding of the orishas
Today, there are many Americans who practice Santeria. A Santero, or high priest, traditionally presides over rituals and ceremonies.
To become a Santero, one must pass a series of tests and requirements prior to initiation. Training includes divinatory work, herbalism, and counseling. It is up to the orishas to determine whether a candidate for priesthood has passed the tests or failed.
There are a number of different orishas, and most of them correspond to a Catholic saint. Some of the most popular orishas include:
- Elleggua, who is similar to the Roman Catholic Saint Anthony. Elleggua is a liaison between man and the divine, and has very great power indeed.
- Yemaya, the spirit of motherhood, is often associated with the Virgin Mary. She is also affiliated with moon magic and witchcraft.
- Babalu Aye is known as the Father of the World, and is associated with disease, epidemics and plague. He corresponds to the Catholic Saint Lazarus.
- Chango is an orisha who represents powerful masculine energy and sexuality. He is a being associated with magic, and may be invoked to remove curses or hexes. He ties strongly to Saint Barbara in Catholicism.
- Oya is a warrior, and the guardian of the dead. She is associated with Saint Theresa.
A number of adherents of Santeria have made the news lately, because the religion does incorporate animal sacrifice – typically chickens, but sometimes other animals such as goats. In a landmark 1993 case, the Church of Lakumi Babalu Aye successfully sued the city of Hialeah, Florida. The end result was that the practice of animal sacrifice within a religious context was ruled, by the Supreme Court, to be a protected activity.
In 2009, a federal court ruled that a Texas Santero, Jose Merced, could not be prevented by the city of Euless from sacrificing goats in his home. Merced filed a lawsuit with city officials said he could no longer perform animal sacrifices as part of his religious practice. The city claimed “animal sacrifices jeopardize public health and violate its slaughterhouse and animal cruelty ordinances.” Merced claimed he had been sacrificing animals for over a decade without any problems, and was willing to “quadruple bag the remains” and find a safe method of disposal.
In August 2009, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans said the Euless ordinance “placed a substantial burden on Merced’s free exercise of religion without advancing a compelling governmental interest.” Merced was pleased with the ruling, and said, “”Now Santeros can practice their religion at home without being afraid of being fined, arrested or taken to court.”
It is estimated that about a million or so Americans currently practice Santeria, but it’s hard to determine whether this count is accurate or not. Because of the social stigma commonly associated with Santeria by followers of mainstream religions, it is possible that many adherents of Santeria keep their beliefs and practices secret from their neighbors.
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Santeria, like Vodou, is an African Diaspora religion, meaning that it is based on native African religious traditions that were brought to the Americas by African slaves. Native American beliefs, Catholicism and the experiences of slavery merged with these African religions to form what they are today.
Santeria developed in Cuba, although it can be found in many countries today, primarily spread through emigration from Cuba.It is primarily based on African Yoruba religion, although the beliefs of the Dahomey and Benin people also influence it.
These source religions can still be found in Africa today.
The terms santero and santera are reserved only for full priests of the religion, and priests confer the priesthood upon a person through specific ceremonies after the candidate has met certain requirements.There is no special term for people who simply believe in Santeria. Santeros provide their services to anyone who asks, regardless of belief.
Santeria honors a number of worldly gods known as orishas. Each has their own myths and command over certain aspects of life. There are also multiple aspects of many of the orishas, with further specialization in terms of interest and influence. In the West there are less than two dozen orishas commonly approached, although in Africa there are hundreds.Above the orishas is Olodumare, creator of all and the supreme being. Olodumare is a distant, removed being no longer involved in the affairs of mortals. As such, he is not approached as orishas are.
Ashe is the substance of Olodumare and thus the substance of all things created by Olodumare.
To appeal to the orishas is to attempt an exchange of ashe. Humans, through their offerings, provide ashe to the orishas, which they need in order to survive. In return, the orishas grant ashe that will assist the petitioner in some specific task.
Santeria shops commonly carry a wide variety of Christian items such as prayer candles dedicated to particular saints. This practice was originally developed by slaves in order to hide their pagan practices from Christian masters. Today, Cuban communities continue to be strongly Catholic, so the practice continues to have benefit, both in shielding believers from scrutiny but also allowing santeros to assist Catholic members of the community through the use of Catholic language.Santeros believe the orishas wear a variety of masks that other cultures recognize as their own holy figures. So, for example, when Aganyu is described as St. Christopher, it is understood by the santero that St. Christopher is one of the masks of Aganyu, although a Catholic petitioner would understand this figure only as St. Christopher. In this way santeros do not believe other holy figures are false, merely different perspectives of the orishas. Religious Sacrifices In order for ashe to be provided to orishas, sacrifices must be made. There are a variety of things that the orishas like, but one of the most common and powerful sources of ashe is blood. As such, animal sacrifice is fairly common in Santeria rituals.
Because the orishas primarily want the blood of the animal, the flesh of sacrificial animals are frequently eaten after the ritual is concluded. There are exceptions to this, such as when the sacrifice is part of a ritual to draw away a contaminating influence. In such cases the bodies are discarded as spiritually contaminated and left to rot.
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