Pagan Portals - Poppets and Magical Dolls: Dolls for Spellwork, Witchcraft and Seasonal Celebrations

Pagan Portals - Poppets and Magical Dolls: Dolls for Spellwork, Witchcraft and Seasonal Celebrations

by Lucya Starza


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Poppets are dolls used for sympathetic magic, and are designed in the likeness of individuals in order to represent them in spells to help, heal or harm. The word poppet comes from the Middle Ages in England, originally meaning a small doll or child, and it is still in use today as a name of endearment. The term is older than the phrase ‘Voodoo doll’. Pagan Portals – Poppets and Magical Dolls explores the history of poppets and offers a practical guide to making and using them in modern witchcraft. It also covers seasonal dolls, from Brigid dolls, used in celebrations for the first stirrings of spring, to fairy dolls enjoyed in tree-dressing at Yuletide. Other topics covered include spirit dolls, ancestor dolls and dolls as representations of mythological beings and creatures from folklore. The newest book from Lucya Starza, author of Every Day Magic: A Pagan Book of Days.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781785357213
Publisher: Moon Books
Publication date: 08/31/2018
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 258,470
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Lucya Starza is an eclectic witch living in London, England, in a rambling old house with her husband and cats. She writes A Bad Witch's Blog at and is the author of Pagan Portals - Candle Magic. She edited the community book Every Day Magic - A Pagan Book of Days and also contributed to Naming the Goddess, Essays in Contemporary Paganism and Paganism 101.

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Dolls our Mothers Gave Us

When you were a child, did you have a special doll? Perhaps it wasn't human-looking, but a Teddy bear or even a plastic gonk. Dolls and other toys can have a talismanic quality. It can feel as though having them keeps us safe, wards against our fears and worries, and attracts good luck. Sometimes it seems they have their own personality, or perhaps a little of the personality of the person who gave them to us. When we were young they might have been our friends, helpers and confidantes as well as going on adventures of the imagination with us in play. While we might grow too old to play with dolls and toys, many of us still have them and they can still be there for us if we need them.

As an adult, your old dolls or toys might have a place as ornaments in your bedroom or be stored in the attic, but it would feel wrong to throw them out. If you didn't keep any of your childhood dolls, perhaps you have one you were given as an adult by a friend or loved one. Maybe it has sentimental value or cheers you up and reminds you of the giver. Perhaps it acts as a lucky charm.

Personally, I have several dolls and other toys from my childhood and a few given to me over the years. I also have a Kipling rucksack, which comes with the brand's iconic monkey. There have been times when I was travelling somewhere or to something I was nervous about and have looked at that irrepressible-looking monkey and wished for luck.

The Slavic fairy story Vasilisa the Beautiful tells of a young woman who gains help from a magical doll given to her by her mother. It comes from Russian Fairy Tales by Alexander Afanasyev and is worth reading in full, but here is a short version:

On her deathbed, Vasilisa's mother gave her a small wooden doll and told her the doll was very special. If she was ever in need, she should give the doll a little food and water and ask for help. Vasilisa's father remarried but, as is often the case in fairy tales, the stepmother was not only cruel, but had two daughters of her own who treated Vasilisa badly. They set her the most difficult and unpleasant household chores, which she nevertheless accomplished perfectly – with the magical help of her doll.

The father was a merchant and his work often took him travelling. On one occasion, when he had been away for a long time, Vasilisa's stepmother sold the family home and moved the girls to a gloomy hut at the edge of a forest. Their nearest neighbour was the feared hag Baba Yaga, who it was said was in the habit of eating unwelcome visitors.

One winter's day, Vasilisa's stepmother put out the fire in the hut, leaving only a single candle alight to work by as the sun set. The stepsisters, who were in a particularly mean mood, blew out the candle and told Vasilisa she would be blamed. The only solution, they said, was for Vasilisa to go to their neighbour, Baba Yaga, and beg for a light.

Obviously, this wasn't something anyone would want to do, but without fire the family would perish, so the next morning Vasilisa set off through the wood, taking her doll with her.

After a long walk, during which time she was passed by three unusual riders – one in white, one in red and one in black – Vasilisa came to a house that stood on chicken legs, walled by a fence of human bones topped by skulls with glowing eye-sockets. It was the home of Baba Yaga. As she watched, the three riders again passed her, riding through the hag's house.

Vasilisa was terrified, but nevertheless approached the strange dwelling, knocked on the door and asked for fire. She thought herself lucky the hag didn't eat her at once. Instead, Baba Yaga said she must work to earn the flame. If she failed, she would kill her. Not only was Vasilisa expected to clean the house, wash clothes and cook, she was also instructed to separate rotten grain from good grain and poppy seeds from soil.

The normal chores she did over the course of a day – although she was again surprised to see the three riders enter and leave the house. The other tasks were, of course, impossible for one girl to do unaided in the time allotted. Terrified she would be eaten, Vasilisa's only hope was to secretly ask her little doll for help, and it did. The doll told Vasilisa to sleep. When she awoke the tasks were completed perfectly – although Vasilisa was surprised to then see three disembodied hands squeeze oil from the seeds.

Baba Yaga could complain of nothing – although she looked as though she wanted to. Instead, she asked if the young woman had any questions.

Vasilisa asked who or what the riders were, and was told the white one was day, the red one the sun and the black one was night. She thought, then, of asking about the disembodied hands, but the doll quivered a warning in her pocket and Vasilisa realised she should not ask more. In return, Baba Yaga asked Vasilisa how she had succeeded in the tasks. Wisely not wishing to give away the precise nature of her magical doll, Vasilisa simply said: 'By my mother's blessing.'

Baba Yaga fell into a rage and said she wanted nobody with any kind of blessing in her house. She threw Vasilisa out, but kept her side of the bargain and gave her a skull full of burning coals.

Returning to her stepmother's hut, Vasilisa found that no one had been able to light any candles or fire from the time she left until the moment she returned with coals. But, once the fires were lit, the glowing skull grew brighter and hotter.

Fire spread through the house, burning the stepmother and stepsisters to ashes, although Vasilisa escaped. She buried the skull so no one would be harmed by it again, left the ruined hut and made her way to the city.

Once there – again with the help and advice of her magical doll – she became famous as the most skilled weaver in the land, married the Tsar and eventually found her long-lost father. As in many fairy tales, they all lived happily ever after.

I'm not suggesting the dolls we hold onto as adults in the real world are quite as magical as that, but I do believe they can act as lucky charms. The well-wishing of the giver imbues them with the power to give us strength when we need to face our fears or have difficult decisions to make. They aren't going to sift poppy seeds while you sleep, but asking your doll for help before you go to bed might prompt guiding dreams, lead you to wake the next morning with the answer to a problem in your thoughts or give you the confidence to do what must be done.

Practical Magic: Find Your Helper Doll

If you still have a doll, bear or other toy from when you were a child, find it. If not, dig out any doll or toy given to you that has sentimental value. If you don't have anything that fits the bill, treat yourself to one as a gift to yourself. It doesn't matter if it is small – even on a key ring – it is the way you feel about the doll that counts.

• Sit in a quiet place alone with your doll and study it carefully.

• Examine how you feel about it and what memories it brings up.

• Does your doll have a name?

• Ask your doll if it will help you.

• Wait silently and see if you can sense an answer.

• If that answer is yes, thank your doll.

• Make it an offering of a little food and drink, by putting them in front of the doll. A little tea and a shared biscuit would be fine. (Spent offerings should be put outdoors afterwards.)

• Put your doll where you will see it. If it is small, you could carry it in a pocket or bag.

• When you are in need, ask your doll for help.


An Easy Way to Make and Use Poppets

A poppet, as explained earlier, is a traditional name for a doll used to represent an individual in spellcasting. Sometimes a poppet is created because the person in question isn't there when the spell is being cast. It works on the principles of imitation, or sympathetic, magic – operating on the idea that something that looks like an individual can take their place in magical acts. You can also make poppets of people who are present – including yourself – because they are great to use as a focus. In fact, making poppets to represent yourself – or an aspect of yourself that you want to boost or aid – is the main way I would recommend starting out.

Poppets don't have to look realistic – they can be highly stylised. Obviously if you are skilled at sewing, knitting, carving, modelling, drawing and so on you can use your talents for good effect, but even if you have no artistic skills and are rubbish at making things, you can still quickly make a simple and effective poppet.

How to Make a Simple Poppet

Gather together the following items:

For the body

A clean cotton handkerchief once owned by the person the spell is for or a square of fabric from one of their old garments


A few strands of their hair (get this from a comb or hairbrush; you don't have to cut it from anyone's head)

More small bits of cloth from their garment, or cotton wool, if you don't have enough hair to stuff the doll

Other things

Wool or string Scissors A marker pen
Place the hair, cloth bits or a cotton wool ball in the centre of the handkerchief or square of fabric. This will form the head. Bunch the fabric over the stuffing and tie the wool or string around it to form a neck, leaving either end of the wool to be the poppet's arms.

Trim the wool or string to a suitable length. The rest of the handkerchief, under the head and arms, represents a loose body or clothing.

Write the person's name on the edge of the fabric. You can draw on any features that are relevant for the spell – although these can be simple shapes, dots or lines. Eyes can be represented by tiny crosses or circles.

Then say three times: 'I name you XXX.'

Your poppet is now ready for you to cast your spell on.

Practical Magic: A Simple Poppet and Candle Spell

This simple spell can be used when you want to send magical wishes to someone, including yourself. Perhaps you want to sending healing energy, wish good luck in an exam or test; boost success in a job interview, new venture or contest; wish travellers a safe journey; cheer someone up if they are feeling down or make sure any activity goes as well as it can.

You need

A poppet to represent the person for whom the spell is intended A tea light candle and tea light holder Matches
Pop the tea light candle out of its case and, with the end of a match, inscribe one word on the candle to represent what the spell is for. Examples could include: health, good luck, success, safe journey, happiness or just blessings. Put the candle back in its case and then put that in the tea light holder. Place it in front of the poppet and light the candle while saying a few words about what you wish for. It could be as simple as: 'XXX, may you have good luck in what you are doing at this time.'

Let the candle burn so its light falls on the poppet (obviously be careful not to place the doll so close you set fire to it!).

Moving Forward

While there is nothing wrong with that basic poppet spell, you can make your magic more effective by how you make the doll, what you put inside it and what you dress it with. By deliberately using the magical properties of materials, colours, herbs and other components, you can specifically tailor your poppet for its purpose. The next chapters will show various ways of making poppets and enchanting them.


The Body of the Matter

Poppets can be made from all sorts of materials: cloth, wool, wax, wood, clay, carved roots, woven straw, corn shafts, fruit or vegetables and paper are all traditional. You don't have to stay traditional though, you can make them from Plasticine, you can upcycle packaging material – you could even make a 3D print-out of plastic if you wanted to. I'm all for moving with the times.

Some modern poppets are repurposed from mass-produced toys and dolls – and you can even buy 'Voodoo doll' kits, but I don't think they work as effectively as something you have made yourself and there are two good reasons why. Firstly, the poppet should have a connection to the person the spell is for and you can use things associated with them to make, stuff or adorn the poppet. Secondly, you start to imbue the doll with purpose as you make it – your thoughts, feelings and intentions go into every act you perform while putting the doll together. There's a reason witchcraft is known as 'the craft'.

Generally I make small poppets, between 5cm10cm in length. You need less material to make and stuff a small poppet than a big one plus they are easier to store, carry around or hide (if you need your magic to be discreet). Don't feel you always have to do that though – you can make your dolls as large as you like.


In modern witchcraft, poppets are often simple sewn dolls made from two gingerbread-person shapes cut out of fabric then stitched together around the edges. You can draw a basic pattern yourself on a piece of paper. This is easily done by folding a piece of paper in half down the middle, drawing one side of the doll against the fold and cutting it out so that when you open it up you have two symmetrical halves joined in the middle. Practise until you get a shape you are pleased with. Put that paper pattern onto a double layer of fabric, pin it in place through both layers, then cut out both sides of the doll at the same time.

If you prefer to use a pattern someone else has designed, they are easy to find in books on doll-making, online or in craft shops – or you could draw around a gingerbread person dough cutter.

For material, you can upcycle an old garment worn by the person the poppet will represent to give it personal connection, or use new fabric in a natural colour or one that ties in with the purpose of the spell (there's more on colour symbolism later in this chapter). Natural ingredients are best for any type of spellwork, but if the only old garment you can find to reuse is a tatty pair of nylon knickers, go ahead and use them. The connection to the individual is the most important thing.

If you are using new fabric, felt is easy to cut and sew, and doesn't fray. No need to hem – a simple running stitching by hand around the edges is all you need to hold it together. However, overstitch or blanket stitch are more durable on fabrics that fray and will do a better job of keeping loose bits inside. Stuff the doll as you go, filling it a little at a time and making sure all you want inside is there before doing the final few stitches. If you prefer very neat edges, sew a seam by putting the right sides of the cut-out doll pieces facing each other and stitching a centimetre around most of the edge, then turn the doll the right way round, stuff it and overstitch the rest closed.

Features can be drawn, sewn or stuck on afterwards. Simple crosses or circles for eyes and a line for a mouth are okay, but you can add other stylised features if you like. You can use beads, buttons or bought sets of dolls' eyes.


If you can knit or crochet, you can bind your spell in every stitch. Use the small poppet knitting pattern below or source a pattern for a knitted doll online or from a hobby shop. Choose pure wool as a preference, but you can reuse wool unravelled from garments worn by the person the poppet represents, which might not always be 100 per cent natural. You can also cut up old knitted garments for a sewn poppet in the same way as a fabric doll, but you will need to bind the edges with blanket stitch to stop it unravelling.

When you make a knitted doll as part of a spell, you can create a chant or mantra to say in your head over and over as you work. Something like: 'In and round and out I cast, this spell I do weave to last.' However, if you are a novice knitter, just concentrating on following the pattern is fine too.

Small Poppet Knitting Pattern

With this simple knitting pattern for a small poppet you knit the body all in one go, starting at one leg, then the other leg, then joining them together and knitting the body and head. The arms are knitted separately and sewn on. Use 4mm needles and double knit wool. You can use three cotton wool balls for stuffing, or a similar quantity of other material such as small pieces of fabric. Put hair, herbs and so on inside the middle of the cotton wool balls to keep them in place.

Legs and body

Cast on 7 stitches. Knit 6 rows of stocking stitch then cut the wool and tie off the end, leaving a longish thread. Push the first leg to the back of your needle then cast on another 7 stitches. Knit 6 rows of stocking stitch again, then knit right across both legs – 14 stitches in total – for 14 rows in stocking stitch. Decrease by knitting twice into each stitch so you have 7 stitches, then cut off a longish amount of wool, thread it through the 7 stitches and pull them tight to form the top of the head and tie off the thread.


Cast on 6 stitches, knit 5 rows of stocking stitch, then cast off. Repeat for the second arm.


Excerpted from "Pagan Portals Poppets and Magical Dolls"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Lucya Starza.
Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Oldest Type of Magic 1

Chapter 1 Dolls our Mothers Gave Us 5

Chapter 2 An Easy Way to Make and Use Poppets 10

Chapter 3 The Body of the Matter 13

Chapter 4 Finishes and Flourishes 31

Chapter 5 The Prickly Subject of Pins and Thorns 36

Chapter 6 Ethics, Cursing and Assertive Magic 40

Chapter 7 Rituals to Enchant Your Poppet 45

Chapter 8 More Spells with Poppets and Magical Dolls 52

Chapter 9 Decommissioning Poppets 71

Chapter 10 Deities and Creatures from Myth and Legend 74

Chapter 11 Dolls of the Dead 78

Chapter 12 Seasonal Dolls of the British Isles 82

Chapter 13 Doll Magic from Around the World 89

References 97

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