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What Are Voodoo Dolls?

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800px-Boodoo
Credit: Wikimedia Commons Image

Voodoo is one of the most famous religions in the Northwestern Hemisphere. With a deep tradition stretching back to the Caribbean, and to the roots of slavery and revolution found in that part of the world, voodoo is a blending of African tribal beliefs, Catholicism, and it has elements of half a dozen different magical traditions and practices thrown in for flavor. Perhaps the most famous aspect of Voodoo (largely because it's been used as a literal plot device by Hollywood for decades) is the Voodoo doll. A small, sackcloth doll, this creation creates a sympathetic link with a real person. If you stab the doll with a needle, the person feels pain. If you curse the doll, the person suffers. If you kill the doll, the person dies. You know the story.

It's scary, potent stuff... but it isn't, strictly speaking, Voodoo. While these dolls are commonly used, they're one of several spices Voodoo borrowed from older traditions during its creation.

Poppet Magic

What is poppet magic, you might ask? Well, as you can likely guess, the word poppet is derived from the word puppet, and it typically refers to a kind of doll. The practice is often traced back to American hoodoo, and to English witchcraft, where poppets were large or life-sized dolls. They would be made using powerful herbs and other magical components, as well as something that was near and dear to the person the doll was supposed to be tied to (this could be something as normal as a snip of hair, or as gruesome as a paste made from the target's blood).

This practice is a lot older than the sort of witches Shakespeare wrote about, too. For example, the ancient Greeks had an interesting practice where they created statues called kolossoi, which held a small part of the spirit of a god. A statue of Ares, for example, might be erected in the town center in order to ward off war if it came to their area. Tribal fetishes from the Congo, as well as other parts of Africa, use the same theory of crafting likenesses of people or spirits in order to call to those specific personages.

So, while there is a proud tradition of creating a sympathy between a person (or a spirit) and a doll, Voodoo is just the latest in a long tradition to use this particular formula. It's also the one that showed up the most often on the silver screen, which is why Voodoo is usually the go-to religion when someone finds a doll that has pins stuck through it, and a charred head from being set on fire. Assuming, at least, the person who finds the doll is American.

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Bibliography

  1. "What Is A Voodoo Doll?." WiseGeek. 12/07/2015 <Web >
  2. "Poppets 101- What is Poppet Magic?." About.com. 12/07/2015 <Web >
  3. "Poppet Magick." Controversial. 12/07/2015 <Web >

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