(Essay 3) Radical Doll Making From Willendorf to Today: The Relevance of an Ancient Tradition by Jude Lally

Jude LallyRadical Doll Making

I call myself a radical doll maker taking this practice back to its roots. Back to roots of dolls as tools of magic, of holding intention, created and used within ritual. In a world that views female stone figurines as male pornography this is indeed a radical art!

I choose the gatherer’s story. I choose to spend time with my sisters in a sacred creative circle where together we weave magic envisioning it stretching out through space and time to encompass those old ones. I claim the story of my ancestors as the gatherer’s story of a world imbued with ritual and creativity. I choose the story of my ancestors as the creators of the female stone figurines and, that through dance and drum and song and trance we can ask these old ones for guidance. And from our dances between the worlds I take back that wisdom and recreate it through writing, drawing and art. I sit in circle and share stories with my sisters where we share our insights but also discuss how we can weave this wisdom into our lives.

In trance we ask these old ones for wisdom and guidance and then we dance with them, between the worlds. Creating dolls to house this vision, to remind us of the connection and a focus to keep that relationship with the old ones alive.

The Making Process

My experience of making dolls is in weaving a relationship. Through the red cord of my female linage back to the seven clan mothers and then Mitochondrial Eve herself who lived 200,000 BCE in Africa, Bryan Sykes (2001).

Dolls begin with an intention and then the visions and ideas flow. In shaping the wool, I can turn off my head and let the repetitive movements lull me into a creative zone.

Selecting pendants and embellishments, offerings to She that is taking shape, She becomes a vessel – carrying intention, filling up with possibility, guidance and direction. She is a portal for she sits on the threshold of this everyday reality and the otherworld. In this process I get to know the olds ones through honoring in creating, drumming in their stories and dancing these stories.

Strengthening the connection even more, I hold space for other women to explore this connection while learning and resonating from each other’s experience and insight.

The Dolls of Our Ancestors

For all the stone figurines across the eons that did survive, I wonder about all the personal dolls that didn’t survive. The dolls made from fur and bone, stick and feather. I imagine our ancestors made dolls and some for the very same reason we also make dolls – to honor the great mother that birthed them and walked with them through life sustaining them through all sorts of experiences. Perhaps their dolls were a way of giving thanks to her and petitioning her to aid the sick and women giving birth. Maybe it was to ask for the return of the reindeer herds and petitioning for the rains to come or to hold all manner of hopes and thanks and rites of passage. In the end, probably like us, dolls were something to mark their personal relationship with Her and to acknowledge that we aren’t alone in this world – to recognize She who births us into being, walks with us in life and then when at last we return to her, midwife’s us back to the otherworld with the promise of rebirth.

Geri Olsen (1998, p.47) offers this insight, ‘‘the making of dolls and the rituals surrounding them embodies a deep ancestral path to make the invisible life visible, to honor significant life events and make them special through art. Art-making could also be fitness enhancing and help ensure survival through shared ceremony and a strong community.”

A Co-Creation

It’s here deep within the process of creating that we are in a very receptive state and a place of   co-creation. We are connecting with the old ones, spirit, source, and ancestors. Things become clear in this space, things get worked out, questions get answered. We enter into a theta state of brainwaves, a state similar to deep meditation. Here we’re able to access information beyond our normal state of consciousness and really access our intuition. This process can be part of our ritual, as it’s here I believe we can talk to these old ones. As we create, we are building a container, a vessel for the divine. A vessel we can invite divinity into and the dolls themselves become spiritual beings.

Tina Forster (2015, p.42) reflects on this co-creating, “Even as I work, there is no plan…no design in advance. Only the need to stay very, very present. Listening and depending on an inner knowing to do what’s next. To place the next piece, to take the next step. And all the while, being held by the one. The one who holds all things together. The one who weaves, sews, gathers, still creates. Even as in the very beginning…it is now, and ever shall be. I am the partner, although small, of the One who creates. Working with, working alongside, listening…for the next step. Anxious sometimes, when I am called to wait. To let be…to sit..while the bigger work goes on outside myself. In all this, I am held. To know that brings peace.”

Dolls have played an important role in Forster’s healing process and I recognize that they can open and soften our hearts and then from this healing can occur. One early route to my doll making was after the death of my younger brother aged 35. Consumed by grief we do not know what will be good for us, what will soothe our soul. Forster says she didn’t know how to name the grieving process and that really what she was looking for was a form of ritual. I began making small birds through a wet felting process – there is the set up and the process and a wonderful repetitive movement which brought me into centre, a calm and grounded centre. I created many little birds – different colors and as they found homes and got mailed out there was a comfort in having created them, having a connection and in a letting go. That small gesture representing the bigger picture of what was happening.

Forster (2015, p.42) quotes Rupp to explore this ritualization as an essential element of the grief process. I also feel this idea can be applied to many other reasons we turn to art and doll making to explore our connection, healing, inspiration, longings and gratitude’s. ‘We search for images or symbols that speak to us at the centre of ourselves. Then we take our image or symbol and create same gesture of expression, some significant movement, out of which comes a connection with god, ourselves and our life.”

(To be continued. Read part 2)

See (Meet Mago Contributor) Jude Lally

Editor’s Note: This is also published in SHE RISES :How Goddess Feminism, Activism, and Spirituality? (Volume 2)

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beautiful essay – I believe that any form of art takes us into that space between worlds where we can tap into mystery, and that indeed, without entering this space, no matter how beautiful the ritual, nothing will happen. As a naturalist as each turn in the wheel comes around I find myself gathering… this time of year it is seed pods in particular that draw my attention. Playing with the shapes helps me enter that space.