Today I just had to get out of the house. I've been keeping as isolated as possible in the current circumstances at home, but this has led to a slight crisis as far as my spiritual practices go. It's not like I have people in the house who are repressing my beliefs, far from it, even if they do in fact have different spiritual paths they respect mine. No. Its lack of, or more accurately, contamination of my primary sacred space.
Like many I've been working from home the last few months and the question early on was where could I set my work space? The only place left was the room I use for ritual purposes. Yes, I know that sounds privileged and all, but there is a long history to how our habitation in this house as changed over the years. That room tends to be mine. Its the room you will often see as the background to any YouTube or video recordings I've done. Its a place I can go to write or be with my deities. It is also the only room with an open fireplace – that is another story.
Anyway, this room now contains my desk (a metal folding camping table in fact before anyone thinks it's some huge ancient wooden thing!). Wires are everywhere for the laptop and bumph I need for work.
It is decidedly unspiritual. This is the problem. Now, many pagans perhaps won't find this a problem for the out doors is where many go. Not so for me. I'm Kemetic, the majority of my ritual work tends to require a dark enclosed room where the odd candle (or fire) and shed loads of incense can be lit. Neither are helpful outside.
Due to my presence on a daily basis in this special room, the sacredness of it has now been utterly stripped. Even attempts to cleanse and not look at this mundane day time life hasn't helped (which is quite easy in the dark until I trip over a wire or thump against the desk). The 'otherness' that I have for this space has gone from my head. I know quite well that my deities who live in this space don't care – life has to continue no matter what the circumstances. For me though, I need that head space both for magical, spiritual and mental reasons.
Luckily it hasn't been of any critical concern as most of my forty or so festivals occur in later in the year, however, a crucial seven day festival that follows the summer solstice has really come home to me. To start with I wasn't concerned. The day of the summer solstice is the only festival ritual I perform outside in day light. Not so the rest of the rituals at this time. I need to do them three times a day for the next several days in the dark with my deities.... But I couldn't. For the first time in decades I couldn't do it. I couldn't find that specialness both because of the room and it's contamination and perhaps too the unacknowledged stress.
That really hurt. The gods I work with I know understand. We've been here a few times in different ways over the years, but what I really needed was some connection, some mark of time that in this isolation has been seriously lacking.
Today I had to get out of the house. The only option I had left was to find the only other place that provides spiritual peace other than my now contaminated sacred space; The beach. It was perhaps ideal that today its blowing a gale and the sea is wild and there were no one else on that beach. I'm a secret sea witch I think. I asked the roaring chaos of wave and foam and the Kemetic forces that I attach to them for help as well as a few other things. I found a couple of 'hag stones' too as is my usual routine when performing adhoc 'rituals' on the beach. One I've kept (to join the pile of unremembered stones by my fire place) and this one I threw back to the sea as an offering.
It’s great to be here as a guest blogger on Witch Path Forward so a big thank you to Debi, Rose and Sarah for hosting me and thanks to you too for coming along with me as I talk a little bit about the magical, weird world of dolls and poppets.
When lock-down began I was already working from home but after a week or two of being confined to the house and being grumpy because I miss my coven, the boredom began to set in. I’ve always enjoyed textile crafts and found myself knitting one of my Goddess poppets, carefully embroidering sigils and moons on it, stuffing it with herbs and crystals. That was in March and I’ve made dozens of them since then, but where did this fondness for poppets start?
I’ve been a witch a long time so poppets are nothing to me but a few years ago, when a good friend showed me her research on dolls and their history, the last thing I expected was to be presenting a talk on the subject for our local pagan speakers’ group in Nottingham a few months later. And I certainly didn’t expect to be asked after that talk, ‘when’s the book coming out?’. I laughed off the question as I had no intention of writing a book about magical dolls!
You know what, though? The history, folklore and magic of dolls is such a fascinating topic that a single session, complete with slides including a pincushion doll of Hitler, wasn’t enough to do it justice. I carried on looking into the historical and magical uses of dolls as poppets and before long, the idea of a book became a reality. So, let’s delve into the magical world of dolls!
A doll can be classed as any object made in human likeness, used as toys, teaching tools, emotional support, altar effigies and, our favourite as witches, a poppet for casting spells and magic.
Poppets are made with wax, wood, clay, cloth, twigs and sticks, leather, feather and bone. They are made with intention, concentration and focus for a specific aim: to harm or to help. Before we look at how to use poppets for helpful magic, let’s travel back in time to ancient Egypt, where Pharaoh Ramses III was cursed by one of his wives, Tiye, who was desperate to see her son on the throne. Tiye enlisted the court magician and some of the Pharaoh’s harem and plotted against Ramses, using wax images to curse the guards who watched over him. Tiye was captured but not before Ramses was fatally injured – the punishment for Tiye and her co-conspirators was severe, some were executed, others disfigured. Another royal cursed by magic was Queen Elizabeth I, whose privy council found a wax image, struck through with pins and engraved with her name, in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Believing this was making her ill, she called for her official magician, John Dee, who reassured her that the evil spell could be counter-acted. The wrong-doer was never apprehended but fortunately, the Queen recovered from her illness and Dee remained her advisor for many years.
While we wouldn’t advocate cursing, hexing or wishing someone the evil-eye today, poppets definitely have their place in the modern witch’s arsenal. Making a poppet to represent a specific person creates a psychic, sympathetic link between them and the doll, so anything we do to the doll is transferred to the person. Using a cone of power, crystals, candles and incense, we create magical intention through the poppet to affect that person.
Poppets can be used for all kinds of spells – bringing good-luck, increasing confidence, healing, breaking bad habits, binding magic, fertility and relationships, among others. You can make a poppet easily by using a poppet making kit, sewing a doll of your own, cutting out paper dolls and writing petitions on them, moulding wax or clay, or even salt dough, into a human form. It doesn’t have to be an exact likeness of the person you’re doing the magic for.
Make sure your intention is clear and precise and gather your materials together: cloth or clay, feathers, herbs, crystals, flowers, thorns, ribbons. If you have one, add a tag-lock of the person you’re working the spell for to strengthen the sympathetic link. Decorate the poppet to look like the person and add a trinket to represent them or what they are asking for, this might be a toy car for safe travels or a coin for finances.
As you make your poppet, hold your intention firmly and raise energy in a sacred space. Hold the doll carefully, breathe on it to give it life, bless it on your altar with the elements and give it a name. Tell the poppet what it needs to do: Your name is Lucy, you are healed, you are well. As you are well, so Lucy is well and healthy. Visualise the person as if the spell has already worked and their issue is resolved.
Once your magic is complete and the result achieved, there are different opinions on disposing of poppets – you can bury it, burn it, throw it in a river, dismantle it and throw it in the trash. Just make sure you don’t cause any damage to the environment by littering with man-made materials that won’t break down!
Before I say farewell, I’ll leave you with a little peek into the weird world of dolls I found while researching. I’ll start with the sad story of a haunted doll which belonged to a pregnant woman. A friend was jealous of her and gave her a cursed doll as a gift. When the woman’s pregnancy resulted in a son who died after only a few days, the doll mysteriously began to wail with a baby’s cry. She believed the doll had taken the soul of her son. She went on to have a daughter but the curse went on too, claiming the souls of all of the first-born male babies born to the woman’s family. With each poor baby that was lost, the doll gained the voice of another haunting, wailing cry.
A happy tradition to end of is the Kitchen Witch. Kitchen witches are little dolls kept in the kitchen to bring good luck to the house-hold and stop your pans from boiling over. Dressed as a witch, this little doll is Scandinavian in origin and is given as a gift with a little note attached to bless the house and keep watch over the kitchen. They were once so highly prized that in 1597 a Mr John Crogington of Shropshire left specific instructions in his will for his own kitchen witch to be passed onto his son. It is said to be lucky to give, as well as receive, a kitchen witch!
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief romp around the magical world of dolls and poppets and if you make any poppets of your own, I’d love to see your pictures!
It’s been a delight to share this with you and to find out more about me, pop along to www.moirahodgkinson.com where you can access the free knitting pattern for my Goddess poppet doll. The Folklore and Magic of Dolls, the book that my friend inspired, is available from: https://shop.thewolfenhowlepress.com/
About Moira Hodgkinson
A practicing witch and author, Moira began casting spells and writing stories as a child and hasn’t stopped doing either of them since. Her books include practical, intuitive guides to witchcraft and paganism and pagan-oriented novels but her real love is horror. Moira writes for pagan magazines including Witchcraft & Wicca, has consulted for BBC Radio on witchcraft and gives talks and workshops at events across the country including Witchfest International.
She lives in the heart of Sherwood Forest with her family and too many cats. When not busy writing, Moira can be found walking in the forest talking to trees, curled up reading a book or knitting socks while watching horror movies.
The Witching Path – Capall Bann
The Witch’s Journey – Thoth Publications
The Folklore and Magic of Dolls – Wolfenhowle Press
Wild Women (Pagan fiction) – Children of Artemis Publishing