October 18, 2011

How to Make a Poppet

I think most people are familiar with the concept of a voodoo doll. It's a small human figure meant to represent an individual for magical purposes.

The term "voodoo doll" is really a misnomer. Using dolls to cast spells has a long history, and isn't even particularly associated with Voudou, which is really an Afro-Caribbean polytheistic religion.

In colonial New England these dolls were known as poppets, which is an old spelling of puppet. They were often cited in witchcraft trials as evidence of malicious magic. For example, Goody Glover, and elderly Irish woman accused of bewitching several Boston children, had in her home

"several small images, or poppets, or babies, made of rags and stuffed with goat's hair and other ingredients. When these were produced the vile woman acknowledged that her way to torment the objects of her malice was by wetting of her finger with her spittle and stroking of these little images."

See? No pins are necessary to torment your victims, just a little spit. And Goody Glover later showed that your doll doesn't even need to be well made - a common stone will do.

Before her execution Goody Glover was visited in prison by Cotton Mather, who prayed for her soul. But, as soon as he was out of her sight, he said she "took a stone, a long and slender stone, and with her finger and spittle fell to tormenting it; though whom or what she meant, I had the mercy to never understand."

Goody Glover's trial happened in 1688, and set the stage for the Salem trials of 1692. Poppets once again played an important role.

An early American poppet on display at the Salem Witch House.

Two men testified against Bridget Bishop that while doing work in her cellar, they tore down a wall to find "several poppets made up of rags and hogs' bristles with headless pin in them with the points turned outward..." This evidence helped make her the first person executed in the Salem witch trials.

Poppets were also used as evidence against Candy, a slave in the Salem Village house of Nathaniel Putnam. She kept in her room "a handkerchief wherein several knots were tied, rags of cloth, a piece of cheese, and a piece of grass." These must have been a very simple dolls indeed, but the afflicted girls claimed they could see the specters of Candy and the Black Man (i.e. the Devil) pinching the dolls, which caused them great pain. Candy was later forced to eat the grass, which she claimed burned her skin. Candy confessed to being a witch, and ultimately escaped execution.

Given all the bad energy surrounding poppets in this part of the country, I'm reluctant to provide specific instructions. However, I found this video (with peppy music) that shows you how. Watch it if you dare!

The quotes in this post were from Chadwick Hansen's Witchcraft at Salem.

Next week - Witches' familiars!


Doug Lazorick said...

I'm a Puppet

Wade Tarzia said...

I was doing some research in the Cavan County Library in Ireland, among the microfiches of children's school notebooks of the 1930s and 40s, in which they recorded local folklore for the Irish Folklore Commission. I came across a couple of items mentioning the bundling of oat sheaves and burying at the boundary of a neighbor one wished to harm; as the sheave slowly rotted, so too was the cursed person supposed to sicken.

Peter Muise said...

Doug, wasn't that posted on Tony's door in college? At least he wasn't a poppet!

Peter Muise said...

Wade, that's really interesting. Was anything done to the sheaves to make them resemble a person? I've read other European folklore about the last sheaves in the field. Often they were left there as an offering to some supernatural being, like the local faerie or demon.

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Rich Clabaugh said...

Thanks for the post Peter! I find dolls kind of creepy in general but these warrant the feeling!