(Essay 4) Radical Doll Making From Willendorf to Today: The Relevance of an Ancient Tradition by Jude Lally

Doll in Folklore

Breejah. Art doll by Jude Lally
Breejah. Art doll by Jude Lally

Before she died, Vasalisa was given a doll by her mother and advised to feed the doll and ask its advice when she needed it. Clarissa Pinkola Estes (1995) explains that the relationship between Vasalisa and her doll symbolizes a form of empathic magic between a woman and her intuition. While many women find their intuition weak, she explains that this is something which through practice can be strengthened and regained. When this occurs, it is as if the handing down of intuitive reliance between a woman and all females of her lines who have gone before her, this long river of women, has been dammed.

In the tale Vasalisa feeds her doll, to which Estes (1995, p. 93) describes as “an essential cycle of the wild woman archetype, she who is the keeper of hidden treasures”. Vasalisa feeds the doll in two ways, firstly, with bread and more importantly, secondly by finding her way to the old wild mother, the Baba Yaga. She explains the very role of the doll, which is a talisman, is a reminder of what is felt but not seen.

Jeri Studebaker (2014) wonders if the doll in this story can tell us anything about how the Neolithic Europeans might have used their female figurines? Like Vasalisa could it have been a tradition to carry a doll around with you and, like Vasalisa, tell no one about it? She explains that with the Medieval Church in Europe forbidding Goddess worship this practice would then have been a very secret one. She then ponders whether or not this tale contains a secret code describing a pre-patriarchal initiation rite for girls. After Vasalisa’s ordeal, Studebaker (2014) suggests that maybe she is now a fully ordained priestess of the great Crone, Baba Yaga.

Transitional Object

The doll has traditionally been seen in therapy as a transitional object, easing the transition in childhood as a child begins to separate from its mother. Susan Napier (2008, p.260) notes the emergence of the theory of adults requiring transitional objects at certain times of their life. In a modern world removed from any notion of the planet as mother or nature as providing for us, she suggests that the doll is a fitting transitional object bridging us back towards the notion of mother and her life giving aspects ‘‘straddling the mysterious boundary between human and other, between concrete reality and the virtual worlds of imagination and play, they open up a bridge between reality and its other, be that supernatural, sacred, or virtual.”

I feel that the doll with its long use through time and across cultures offers us a wonderful tool of transition to rejecting the hunter’s story of our society and adopting the gatherer’s story. This sacred vessel, a house for our prayers and desires, hope and dreams, gratitude’s and connection can be our transitional object as we forge a new path, one away from a society that sings the hunter’s song to one where we sing the gatherer’s song. The path that connects our villages and leads us to our sacred circles where we weave magic and intention, work throughout the wyrd web shamanically and empower each other in the work we each do on our lives and our communities.

Whether fashioned from clay or two sticks wound together with yarn and embellished with fabric, fur, feathers or shells, dolls are part of a tradition which stretches back over countless generations. In a world which has countless issues needing mediation the doll is a very relevant transitional object for those working to create new ways of working and living which honor the sacredness of life. The process of the art itself is a meditation which allows itself to be created with a weaving of intention. The doll offers many insights from how it is used to what it stands for. For those wishing to rebirth a Goddess spirituality the doll is a figure whose roots lie in the very people who saw the world as female and that the doll can act as that figure to honor that outlook and allow an inspiration in embodying those ancient values into a modern world.


(End of the essay. See Part 3.)

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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Napier, Susan. Lost in Transition: Train Men and Dolls in Millennial Japan, pp. 259-261. Contained in: Lunning, Frenchy (Ed). (2008). Mechademia 3: Limits of The Human. University of Minnesota Press, USA.

National Geographic. 2013.
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/10/131008-women-handprints-oldest-neolithic-cave-art/ Accessed online 03/01/2016

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Pinkola Estes, Clarissa. 1995. Women Who Run With the Wolves. Ballantine Books, USA.

Studebaker, Jeri. 2014. Breaking the Mother Goose Code. How a Fairy-Tale Character Fooled the World for 300 Years. Moon Books, UK and USA.

Sykes, Bryan. 2001. The Seven Daughters of Eve. The Science that Reveals our Genetic Ancestry. W.W. Norton & Company, USA.

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