Thanks to the entertainment media and basically just a whole bunch of misinformation, the Voodoo religion and Voodoo dolls have gotten a bit of a bad wrap in modern years. In movies, they’re portrayed as having ties to Satanism and other dark magic, being used to curse or bodily injure an enemy as a form of revenge. This representation couldn’t be further from the truth.
Seldom do these movies mention that Voodoo dolls are almost never used to cause harm — traditionally, at least. It isn’t their purpose to cause harm. It may be more commonly attempted nowadays, but the reality is, karmic backlash is a real thing. Any attempt to injure someone else with a Voodoo doll only brings the same harm back on yourself, multiplied times over. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
A Brief History of Voodoo (AKA Vodou, Vodum, Vodun, Vodú)
First and foremost, it’s true that Voodoo is an incredibly spiritual religion — but it has more ties to Christianity than it does Satanism. Despite what the mainstream tells you, Voodoo is a religion of peace and healing, whether that be spiritually, emotionally, or physically.
There are currently three strains of Voodoo practiced widespread across the world today:
Of the three, New Orleans Voodoo is not only the youngest, but the most hybridized of the three. Over time, the New Orleans strain mixed and meshed with several cultures not only from surrounding religions like Christianity, but also surrounding societies, such as American, French, Spanish, and other Europeans settlers in the US.
This type of Voodoo stemmed from enslaved Africans brought in the early 1700s to the Southern states to work on plantations, and groups were usually made up of multiple cultures from Africa. Based on their knowledge of herbs, poisons, and folk magic that revolved around creating charms and talismans, New Orleans Voodoo quickly took on aspects from surrounding religions in the region to become what it is today.
It was common for slaves to use their homeland religion in order to create healing salves, as well as talismans for protection and safety. Talismans such as gris-gris and Voodoo dolls were constructed essentially for the purpose of protection, but an outsider’s perspective misunderstood them to be dangerous, or even tools of malicious revenge. Slave owners might have thought their slaves were using “Satanic magic” to put curses on them and their families. In reality, slaves were attempting to keep themselves not only safe and protected, but in good eyes of the spirits and their ancestors.
The entire premise for Voodoo is quite the opposite of what the overall consensus is: rather than a person being in total control of the spirits, a practitioner of Voodoo works for the spirits, honoring them and offering gifts, before asking for favors. Generally, favors lie in spiritual or physical healing, luck, financial success, and so on — not to inflict deadly harm on others. In fact, the spirits would probably be pretty pissed if someone showed up requesting things like that.
Voodoo Dolls vs. Poppets
As briefly mentioned before, out of the entire Voodoo religion, I think one of the most pervasive instances of gross misunderstanding revolves around voodoo dolls and their true purpose. While yes, they are designed to represent the person who the practitioner wishes to affect, they are not used for evil or violence.
Rather, the purpose of voodoo dolls usually revolves around a person’s personal needs. Hoping for more luck in your daily life? There’s a voodoo doll for that. Suffering from debilitating chronic pain? Guess what, you can construct a doll to relieve that, too.
There are two types of dolls you can make: Sympathetic, and Homeopathic.
- Sympathetic dolls: Represent the intended person through their form and appearance
- Homeopathic dolls: Can be a generic shape, but require a specific object to indicate the intended person. Whether that be a strand of hair, or a personal item that belongs to them, it doesn’t really matter.
While it’s true needles are occasionally used in the dolls as well, it’s not for the purpose that’s so widespread in the media. You can’t sew up a doll of your ex and poke them in the eye, hoping to cause blindness — sorry, it doesn’t work like that.
Rather, needles were traditionally used in two ways:
- To pinpoint the location of a person’s bodily pain, such as in the back, and heal it by slowly removing the needle.
- To wake the spirit you’re hoping to home inside of the voodoo doll. This also encompasses the trend of seeing voodoo dolls tied up with string — though instead of being for the purpose of “binding” someone or something, it’s to keep the spirit inside nice and cozy so that they don’t accidentally slip out of the doll.
Where did all of these false voodoo doll ideas come from? There actually was a practice of poking needles into a doll to cause physical harm — but it didn’t stem from Voodoo. Instead, needle-poke revenge originated in good ol’ Europe, where dolls, or poppets, were sewn together in order to inflict harm upon nearby witches. Some of the people, who were referred to as Cunning Folk, sometimes also took it way too far and used an animal’s heart to stab with needles, rather than a doll. Yikes.
Not only were the needles said to inflict harm, but it was also assumed the poking would break a woman’s bewitchment. Did that mean setting her free from the Devil’s contract, or simply paralyzing her abilities? Would it make her safe to approach, like a sedated wild animal? I wish I could tell you. I’m assuming if it meant actually breaking their contract, there probably wouldn’t have been so many witch hunts back in the day. It would be just a little too easy.
And maybe that made sense, since apparently witches were doing the same thing with their own poppets, too. Did they and the cunning folk have needle-pricking wars from opposite sides of the village? So many questions, so few answers.
And further she confesseth, and sayth, the speediest way to take a mans [sic] life away by witchcraft, is to make a picture of clay, like unto the shape of the person whom they mean to kill, and dry it thoroughly. And when they would have them to be ill in any one place more then [sic] an other; then take a thorn or pin, and prick it in that part of the picture you would so have to be ill. And when you would have any part of the body to consume away, then take that part of the picture, and burn it.
And when they would have the whole body to consume away, then take the remnant of the said picture, and burn it: and so there-upon by that means, the body shall die.
Translation: “Create a form of the intended victim out of clay, and prick a spot you wish to harm. After that part of the victim’s body is successfully injured, you’re welcome to burn the clay model and your work is done.
Or, you could just burn the entire thing from the get-go and kill them.”
- Voodoo Dolls: Good vibes, good times, good stuff.
- A Witch’s Poppet: BAD STUFF, DO NOT PROCEED.
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