Thursday, February 26, 2009
Voodoo Dolls in Magick and Ritual
For those folks who may be interested in the history of Voodoo dolls, you should check out my new book, Voodoo Dolls in Magick and Ritual. In it, I trace the origins of the modern day Voodoo doll back to Africa and Greece, how they were used, how they got here to the US, and how they are supposed to be used, as opposed to how they are believed to be used. In 213 pages (who knew there was so much to know?) I discuss the various types of archetypal dolls that have had an influence on the modern day Voodoo doll, as well as provide descriptions of the various types of Voodoo dolls one can find in New Orleans. For example, the photo below is a vintage Voodoo doll from my private collection. It is an old style Voodoo moss doll that was made in the traditional fashion out of sticks and Spanish moss, but the really interesting thing is that its face was made from the mud chimney of a crawfish hole.
Now, you are probably looking at this doll and thinking to yourself, or perhaps saying out loud something about how ugly and evil it looks. You may be surprised to know, however, that it was made to enhance one's intuition. So, you see, looks can be deceiving, even with Voodoo dolls.
Now here is another Voodoo doll from the old school style. It is called a ju ju doll and these are made to bring good luck and protection. A ju ju is an object that is used to ward off evil and negativity. The doll is adorned with a variety of charms, buttons, beads, saints medals and what-nots to charge the doll with the power of its purpose. Of course, being from the New Orleans Voodoo tradition, there are also some fun trinkets on it as well, like a martini glass and a "Party" button. A lot of times you could find these dolls with Mardi Gras doubloons and king cake babies attached, too.
Now, the ju ju dolls are a lot of fun to make and a lot of fun to look at. But they probably are a take off from the old style nkisi or bocio from Africa. Minkisi (plural) are crude wooden dolls frequently made for protection, and they would have a lot of personal items attached to them to enhance their purpose. From the book, "A nkisi literally translates as "sacred medicine". The term nkisi is the general name for a variety of holy objects used throughout the Congo Basin in Central Africa thought to contain spiritual powers or spirits. Minkisi (plural) are primarily containers such as ceramic vessels, gourds, animal horns, shells, bundles, dolls, or any other object that can contain spiritually-charged substances. Minkisi are often referred to as portable graves because they may contain personal items of a powerful individual as one of the main ingredients. Even graves can be considered minkisi because they house the spirits of the dead.
Minkisi may be created for the protection and wellbeing of the community or for the private use of an individual, according to their specific needs. For example, individuals may need protection for themselves and their families, or seek general success in their economic pursuits" (Alvarado, 2009, pp. 23-24).
Power Figure (Nkisi)
Kongo peoples; Democratic Republic of Congo
Wood, paint, nails, cloth, beads, shells, arrows, leather, nuts, twine; H. 23 5/32 in. (58.7 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.127)Retrieved from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website.
Like modern day Voodoo dolls, the process of creating a bocio or nkisi was an empowering activity and sometimes involved more than one person. For example, there was the artist who created the raw figure, the diviner who activated the object by attaching a variety of personal items to the sculpture, and the client who uses it in a particular ritual context (Blier, 1995). After the sculptor carves it, the diviner customizes it by adding symbolic materials such as special earths and stones, leaves and seeds, parts of animals, bird beaks and feathers, all of which are specifically combined to attract and direct forces for an intended purpose. Consequently, each nkisi is a unique creation. While the ju ju is made of different material, the manner of creation is remarkably similar.
Well I cold go on, but perhaps I will save it for another post. If you are interested, you can read more about it in my new book here.