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.