Originally published September 11, 2013
Although hoodoo is a tradition that is primarily African American in its origins, the concept of poppet magic is actually European in origin. The concept was adapted from Germanic practices, and has had local herblore and personal concern concepts added to it to make it an American, hoodoo style piece of conjure.
You ideally take an article of clothing belonging to the person you’re working, and sew your poppet together from that. Poppets were typically always made from the clothing of the target, particularly used clothing and preferably from a sweaty smelly area of the body. If it’s love/lust work and you can get used underwear to make your poppet with, then yay you! If worn unwashed clothing was not an option, then plain fabric like calico was used, or whatever scrap fabric was to hand. Red flannel would also be common.
You then take the poppet and stuff it with Spanish Moss and any herbs you might want to use. If you manage to get personal concerns of the person you are working, but don’t have an article of their clothing to make the poppet with, you stuff them inside as well. If you have their clothing but it isn’t enough to make a poppet with, or if you want to be more discrete, you can stuff it inside the poppet instead of making the poppet with it.
The most important step is to baptise the poppet and bring it to life. You baptise it in the name of the person you are working, usually by saying, “I baptise you <name of the person you are working>, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” repeated three times. This is accompanied by drops of whiskey, Hoyts Cologne, or holy water to properly baptise the poppet. This process of calls the person’s spirit into their proxy: the poppet.
From this point on, anything that is done to the doll is done to the person it is baptised for. You talk to it and tell it what you want. You can cradle it and stroke it and keep it close to you if you want to draw in your target. You can torture the poppet if you want to punish your target. You can bathe it and surround it with other works for healing or cleansing. You can place it somewhere safe for protective work.
When done, you can dispose of the poppet in an appropriate manner. Burial in your yard if you drew in a lover and he/she stayed, throwing it in a river if you want the person carried away from you, at a crossroads if you were doing bad things to it.
Now here’s what poppets/doll babies are NOT, because there is some confusion.
They aren’t voodoo dolls. Vodou doesn’t use proxies the same way hoodoo does, nor does Vodou use dolls the same way. Dolls in Vodou are commonly given to particular spirits as offerings, or made into repositories for a spirit. The common fallacy of the ‘voodoo doll’ is entirely non-African in its origins. As stated above, it’s European.
Poppets aren’t offerings to spirits, devotional objects, or things to go on an altar. They are TOOLS. They are made to be WORKED. They are created for a specific purpose, which is to be a proxy for a particular human being. You could make a doll as an offering I guess, but not a hoodoo style poppet/doll baby.
I’m not sure where the idea for making poppets in colours came from, but it isn’t a traditional thing, although the colour symbolism might be. Poppets aren’t made for ‘success’ or ‘money’ or ‘dark arts’. Poppets were typically always made from the clothing of the target or from plain fabric, and they are only ever used to work a PERSON. If they had any decoration at all, it was to make them physically resemble the target of the work. Having fabric ready to go in every colour of the rainbow just in case you needed to make a poppet isn’t something that would have happened in the big heyday of rootwork. Hoodoo originated with the poor, and stockpiling fabric isn’t something most people could have afforded. Much cheaper and easier to raid someone’s dirty laundry, or use whatever scrap fabric you had to hand.
Doll babies don’t work unless you baptise them, they exist solely as a means to work a person without them being physically present. They are an old and powerful form of work, and the concept has become very strongly entrenched in the hoodoo/conjure/rootwork tradition. They rely on the Christian concept of baptism and the idea of sympathetic magic to work, but they serve their purpose well.