Doll Babies and Poppets Part II

A doll I made of myself. Not yet finished.

   The odd thing about Appalachian folk magic is that each family works differently. And these differences are close in region surprising. What one family does will be done in a different way compared to a family just across the Mountain or just down the holler. If you know a thing or two about Appalachian life out of the city, you’d know that rural communities were basically left to dry by the rest of the country. No good transportation, news would arrive weeks later if something somewhere else. People waited for weeks to get to a doctor or they simply couldn’t.

It was with the help of the natives and the imported knowledge from their homelands that the immigrants were able to utilize the native plants for medicine and magic. Byron Ballard, in her many writings and wonderings, has come to define folk magic and witchcraft as the practice of peasant medicine and psychology (see her book Staubs and Ditchwater).

     These differences apply to the use of dolls in the mountains as well. But it’s generally thought they used anything on hand to make a doll when times were rough; which was always, as many of them, myself included, were always piss poor.

So keep in mind, as Ian Allan recently stated in his blog Appalachian Witchery (link will be provided at the end of this post) there ain’t no one tradition of working in the root in these mountains. After all this time, cultures have mixed and swirled, there ain’t no telling how many ways there are to make a dolly. So the ones here, and in the previous post, are the ones I’ve learned about and heard about in my life.

If your from these mountains (meaning your great grandady is from here too), I invite you to message me about the ones you’ve heard of and I’ll add em here.
So where were we? Ah, types of dolls. There’s plenty more. We’ve covered stick dolls and rag dolls already, so now let’s move to the most iconic of this region: Apple Head dolls.

Apple head doll for Ancestor Veneration by Ian Allan

Apple head dolls were generally done in love work, but as piss porn as most of Appalachia was and still is, we made due with this for just about anything. Apple head dolls are essentially made like a stick doll, with the head simply being an apple. Mostly though, they are rag dolls in with stick as the main core, upon with the apple is placed to make the head. Again, Google the instructions on how to dry the head.

Apple head dolls were used in varying ways, to stop gossip by sewing the mouth shut, loading the head with love and attraction herbs to bring a lover or have them dream of you. I’ve even seen an apple head doll once growing up, but the hands of the doll were seared. Still not sure what its purpose was. Maybe a thief? Hell who knows.

Diagram of making an apple head/stick doll by Jake Richards
Apple head doll for the legend of the bell witch. Photo by Ian Allan

Next is probably the second most simple doll to make, Hankie dolls, also known as crow babies (final product somewhat resembles a scarecrow). Not sure what they’re called elsewhere, but they’re sorta like the little, ghost dolls people hang in trees around Halloween; except we don’t leave the “skirt”, that becomes the arms and body. Originally, they were used for protection of them home from haints (troublesome spirits) and bad luck. Since the making of the doll is so simple, the technique is widely used for a number of things. Originally it was simply made from a handkerchief, but you can just use a 7×7 peice of fabric.

Shawmarie Jeffery, owner of Inexplicable Things, recently made a video on how to make one. Here’s the link:

Another type of doll made in the Appalachias was the corn doll. These are commonly made from just corn husks while others may use an empty, dried cob as the body and form the husks around the cob to make arms and legs, or simply left as a skirt of sorts. These were traditionally used for healing purposes. Mama Starr relates her encounter with one for a pregnancy issue, you can find this in her book Working the Root.

Crow baby for safe travel by Me

Lastly, dolls were made from mud, dough or meat, generally for cursing and hexing. For dough and meat dolls, they were worked for a few days and left out either on an ant hill or deep in the woods for the critters to eat away your enemy to either hex them or just get em outta town.

Mud dolls are usually made using the red clay which is common in these mountains or crawfish holes. You simply gather the moist mud, shape it into a person, adding personal concerns, herbs and other ingredients for your intent, and continue to work it from there. Afterwards the doll is disposed of either by smashing it at a crossroads or throwing it in the river/lake, after the spirit has been released.

Below are some possible doll works to get you started.

Angel doll 

This working is used to heal a person of an illness or to help with pain. You can craft a doll from sticks, fabric or clay. Once the doll is made and awoken, lay it in a bed of healing herbs. Take four eggs and anoint them while reciting Matthew 7:7-8 or Psalm 30:11-12. Place the eggs at the head and feet, left and right of the doll. Continuously pray over the doll until the sickness is gone. Once the work is done, dispose of the eggs at the base of a willow, and disassemble the doll. Return any personal concerns back to the target and bury the remains of the doll on church or hospital grounds. To strengthen this and prevent the sickness from returning, wrap the doll in a silk or lace cloth before lying it in the bed; this will also be given to the person after the work to prevent the sickness from returning.

Caught in a web

This is for those bastards who just don’t know how to stop with the lies. Make a rag doll and fill it with beans (whatever you have on hand). Work the doll from full moon to new moon, work the doll while reciting Proverbs 14:5, 19:9. One the night of the full moon, cut the mouth of the doll open and walk to the lake or other body of water. While walking to the water, spill out 1/3 of the beans while reciting one of the above verses 13 times. On the 13th recitation, toss the doll into the water. They’ll be weighed down by there lies until they hit rock bottom and spill the beans.

Allot of people have shown interest but have requested videos on making these different kinds of doll babies. While there are much more, there may be a third posting. But that’ll be later on if the interest continues. Until then, be sure to subscribe below and comment if you’ve heard of any other kinds of dolls worked in these hills. Until next time, love one another and talk to your tribe.

Crawfish mud doll for domination and to “teach a lesson” by Adrian Stanmathisly

Appalachian Witchery by Ian Allan

Shawmarie Jeffery’s video

Author: Jake Richards

Jake (Dr. Buck) follows family practice as a Yarb Doctor and Conjure man in the Appalachian Folk Magic tradition. He follows the legacy of his mother (a seventh daughter), that left behind by his grandfather, a baptist preacher who was a blood stopper, wort doctor, and thrush doctor; his grandmother, who was a knowledgeable melungeon woman in these works before Alzheimer’s set in; his great, great grandfather, also Melungeon, who witched for water in Washington County and his great grandmother who taught and worked from her roost at the foot of Devil’s Nest Mountain. Jake is the author of Backwoods Witchcraft: Conjure & Folk Magic from Appalachia; Doctoring the Devil: Notebooks of an Appalachian Conjure Man; and the Conjure Cards deck, all available for order and preorder on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound. When he's not writing, blogging, reading the bones or trying for clients: he is either traveling, gardening, sewing, book binding, reading, or sculpting. For questions, readings, recommendations for future posts, interviews and the like, you are welcome to email him below:

7 thoughts on “Doll Babies and Poppets Part II”

  1. Thanks for sharing this rich history ! I’m so called to folk Magick of all types . I too serve the Goddess & am also deeply drawn to Hoodoo (which is surprising to me as a northern Witch of Germanic descent !) but spirit leads us where we need to go ! So now I’m studying all I can ! Magick is prayer in motion ! I love to see intent come to life and that is so obviously done with this work with Magickal dolls ! I’ll be working this for sure ! Blessings Brother ! 🌛🌝🌜

    Liked by 1 person

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