Monday, October 10, 2011

Valley of the Dolls

Man, I've been slack about my updates. What is it about Fall that feels like it must over-compensate for the chill torpor of summer?
But hey! It's October! Time for some Hallowy-weenie, creepy, ghoulie, ghostie posties: Let's talk about Voo-Doo Dolls!

I've been a doll nut since I was a kid. Most little girls are, but most out-grow it. I never did. But my mother had views on most of the commercially offered dolls, so my sisters and I mostly made our own. It's a hobby I enjoy to this day, and one that led to a passing fascination with voo-doo dolls.
 Voo-doo dolls are really just one version of a doll made with the intent of interacting with a spirit, and working related magic. Other such dolls include Worry Dolls, dolls meant to take away stress or problems merely by a person voicing their concerns to them, Corn Dollies, dolls made of wheat or corn chaff said to hold the spirit of the harvest through the winter to be released in the spring of the following year, and Fertility figurines, self explanatory.
  When most people think of voo-doo dolls they think of a dreadful and vindictive sorcerer woman sticking pins in a doll meant to inflict pain upon an unfaithful lover or the like. Wikipedia has this to say about the myth:

         "The practice of sticking pins in dolls has history in folk magic, but its exact origins are unclear. How it became known as a method of cursing an individual by some followers of what has come to be called New Orleans Voodoo, but more appropriately Hoodoo (folk magic), is unknown. This practice is not unique to Voodoo or Hoodoo, however, and has as much basis in magical devices such as the poppet and the nkisi or bocio of West and Central Africa. These are in fact power objects, what in Haiti is called pwen, rather than magical surrogates for an intended target of sorcery whether for boon or for bane. Such Voodoo dolls are not a feature of Haitian religion, although dolls intended for tourists may be found in the Iron Market in Port-au-Prince. The practice became closely associated with the Vodou religions in the public mind through the vehicle of horror movies and popular novels.
There is a practice in Haiti of nailing crude poppets with a discarded shoe on trees near the cemetery to act as messengers to the otherworld, which is very different in function from how poppets are portrayed as being used by Vodou worshippers in popular media and imagination, i.e. for purposes of sympathetic magic towards another person. Another use of dolls in authentic Vodou practice is the incorporation of plastic doll babies in altars and objects used to represent or honor the spirits, or in pwen, which recalls the aforementioned use of bocio and nkisi figures in Africa."

A few years ago in a Charleston cemetery, a few dolls were found nailed to trees, and it caused quite an uproar. But I thought they looked kinda cool. Just little dolls made of a few twists of fabric, rather like the kind I made myself as a child. They had been there so long, they had grown lichens and the tanic acid of the tree had turned them nearly the same color as the bark. It was like they were part of the tree. This seemed to me as much a bitter-sweet memento mori as the tombstones nearby: a reminder that all things fade, and we all return to the earth. I thought it would have made a rather interesting art installation, but I was glad it wasn't because if it had been it would have been ignored, rather than getting a reaction out of people!
   It's always interesting to see how different people react to dolls. I love them. Even the creepy ones. I made a whole bunch of fairy-like whimsical dolls meant for mere hanging decoration and was selling them at a craft fair a few years ago. They were brightly colored with feathers and beads and whatnot. Totally whimsical, right? A little kid came up to me and said, "I like your dollies, but I'm not allowed to play with those kinds of dolls. Mama says they're for voo-doo." I wanted to snatch my creations away from him, cover their imaginary ears and say "don't listen to the little beast, you're beautiful!"
  Clearly, if a reaction is what you're looking for, a doll is a great way to get one. Humans, especially women, are biologically inclined to care for babies, or anything that resembles one. I feel this inclination to the point that if you drew eyes on a teapot and started being mean to it, i would want to punch you in the face. Because these little babies are meant to be so near and dear to us, they are able to tap into the things that frighten us as well. Unblinking eyes that seem neither living nor dead, dismembered Barbie bodies, white-faced porcelain dolls, all inanimate objects that can seriously creep you out just by standing there. They lie in that uncanny valley between a harmless object and a living thing that might do us harm. This opens the field wide for the whole creepy doll genre of horror from Chucky, to various Stephen King scenes, Toy Story, etc. They've become such a part of our cultures lexicon it's actually hard for me to name the actual films I've seen creepy dolls in. With such reactions, is it any wonder they became linked to voo-doo as power objects?

(left to right:) Madam Alexander Flying Monkey doll Jessica gave me from a happy meal
skeleton "voodoo" doll I made just now out of string
Sally, the first doll I ever made when I was 7

No comments:

Post a Comment