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Sympathetic Magic in Witchcraft: Poppets, Effigies and Dolls

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Born in deepest Cornwall, now living in wild Wales, Bev has been practising her personal brand of eclectic witchcraft for years and years.

Decorative effigy.

Decorative effigy.

If you have any interest in witchcraft, you probably have heard the term ‘sympathetic magic’. But what exactly is it? Simply put, it means performing an action in the hope of affecting the actions and condition of someone or something else. For example, using the healing modality, Reiki, a practitioner may perform a distant healing substituting a teddy bear for the patient. The healer will focus his or her attention on the teddy in order to heal the person who could be on the other side of the world.

Sympathetic magic (or magick) is based on the principle of like attracting like. There is also some scientific thought that related particles in the universe can affect each other however far apart they are. These particles can be linked by thought alone. It’s far-fetched indeed, but people have been using such magick for thousands of years.

When ancient cave dwellers painted the images of animals they hunted for food, it was very likely they believed by recreating those animals they attracted them to the area. That good fortune in the hunt would come their way. That they would be successful in the expedition so would be able to feed their families and community. It’s also entirely possible that the images they painted were accompanied by certain rituals and ceremonies. This was sympathetic magic.

If you are a skilled crafter, you can easily make your poppets. As you do so, visualize your energy flowing into the doll.

If you are a skilled crafter, you can easily make your poppets. As you do so, visualize your energy flowing into the doll.

What Are Poppets?

A poppet is merely a physical representation or effigy of a person who is not with you. As with the Reiki example given above, it is a substitute for the real thing. The wish, prayer, or spell is focused on the poppet so that the person it represents receives the benefits (or otherwise). Sometimes a witch may use a hair or nail clippings from the person to incorporate into the figure. Writing the person’s name on the poppet is also quite common.

Historical Poppets

Accounts in old books and manuscripts suggest that poppets were usually used for ‘malefic’ purposes, i.e., to harm someone. However, they were used for love, sexual desire and healing as well.

At the trial of the Lancashire Witches in 1612, a witch known as ‘Old Mother Demdike’, gave the following instructions:

The speediest way to take a man’s life away by witchcraft is to make a picture (figurine) of clay, like unto the shape of the person whom they mean to kill, and dry it thoroughly. And when you would have them to be ill in any one place more than another, then take a thorn or a pin and prick it in that part of the picture you would have to be ill. And when you would have any part of the body to consume away, then take that part of the picture and burn it. And so thereupon by that means the body shall die.” Wonderful Discovery of Witches in the County of Lancaster, 1613.

I should imagine that any witch who practiced this kind of witchcraft led an extremely unhappy life themselves. Demdike died in prison at the age of 80 after being betrayed by her own daughters.

How to Make a Poppet

The best way is to choose your preferred method of crafting and go from there. There is not enough room here to describe in detail all the various ways of making a human form. Poppets can be dolls or figures made from: wax, clay, or Play-doh. They can be carved, knitted, crocheted or sewn. I like these 12-inch wooden mannequins that artists use for figure painting. They can be painted, dressed and customized in whatever way you like.

Simple items like a clothespin or wooden spoon can also stand in for a human figure. They don’t have to be three dimensional either; a picture or small cardboard cut-out will also work. It helps if you can incorporate something personal belonging to the person it is supposed to represent. If that’s not possible, then focus on them as you create the figure and write their name somewhere on the doll.

Wooden mannequins are perfect for poppets.

Wooden mannequins are perfect for poppets.

Personal Doll for Good Luck, Protection, and Health

In her book, Poppets and Magical Dolls: Dolls for Spell work, Witchcraft and Seasonal Celebrations, the author, Lucy Starza, suggests making a personal poppet or using a doll from your childhood. This doll will be your good luck talisman and helper. She cites the Cinderella-like Slavic tale of Vasilisa who had helped throughout her life from a doll her mother passed down to her.

Once you have found or made your doll you can perform this short ritual to give it the power to be your talisman. This is called ‘consecration’. Lucy Starza has a more in-depth poppet consecration ritual in her book, mentioned above. However, this simple one will suffice for now. And you can always repeat Lucy’s ritual if you decide to get the book and learn more.

  • Sit quietly and contemplate the poppet. Hold it in your hands.
  • If the doll is a childhood to allow happy thoughts and memories to rise up in your mind.
  • Visualize an energetic connection flowing between you and the doll. If you close your eyes, you can feel as if your own being is incorporating the doll. You are one and the same.
  • Ask your doll if it is willing to help you and be your companion.
  • Stay quiet and try to sense an answer. If yes, thank the poppet.
  • Make a tiny offering of food and drink—just set some tea or cookie crumbs before the doll.
  • Remain seated and quiet while you share your hopes and fears silently with the doll.
  • When ready, dispose of the drink and food outside—the birds will appreciate the crumbs.
  • Place the doll where you can see it, or if small enough, place it in your purse and carry it around with you.
  • When you need help or a sign, ask the doll to provide it. When you are unwell, wrap the doll up warm and take care of it as if it is you. You’ll soon feel better.

Take care of this poppet. If anyone asks you what it is, just say, it’s a good luck mascot. Many people carry around talismans, so no one will bat an eyelid. Don’t let other people handle your doll.

These character dolls would make great personal poppets. Choose one to match your style.

These character dolls would make great personal poppets. Choose one to match your style.

Healing Magick

It’s very important that you get the afflicted person’s permission before you carry out any kind of healing work. You don’t have to go into detail, but always ask if they would like you to do a short healing ritual. You could call it a prayer if that would go down better. There is no difference between a prayer and a spell. They are the same. Their power lies in the belief of the practitioner and the desire of the patient to get well.

The reason why you shouldn’t do a healing spell or charm without permission is because you don’t know what is really happening in that person’s life. They may be undertaking some kind of internal spiritual journey. For example, there are many cancer survivors who say that their diagnosis changed them, made them better people who went on to do good in the world. So just be careful that you are not meddling in things you shouldn’t.

A Quick Healing Spell Using a Poppet

Once you have permission, go ahead and create your poppet.

Hold the poppet in your hands and close your eyes. Imagine the recipient of the healing as whole and well. What does it feel to you personally that the person is healed? Really get into the feeling of it. It might consist of happiness, gratitude, and relief. If you can, center that feeling on your solar plexus.

Open your eyes. Visualize that healing energy you just conjured up pouring from you, from your solar luxes, through your hands and into the poppet.

Close your eyes. Once again imagine the person feeling well. In your mind’s eye, visualize them up and active, doing all the stuff they like to do. See them happy, smiling, and healthy.

Say this charm three times:

*Their name*, I see you happy and healthy, healed and whole.
May you be fit and well, from your toes to your soul.

After you repeated that, say, “As I speak, so must it be.”

It’s done. Put the doll aside in case you need to repeat the spell. Keep it safe. If you throw it away or destroy it, you could harm that person. Alternatively, you can release the connection between the doll and the person by saying,

Spirit of *their name*, I bid you leave.
Your job is done and you must be gone.”

Repeat three times.

You don't have to put bandages on your healing spell poppet, but if it's appropriate, do it.

You don't have to put bandages on your healing spell poppet, but if it's appropriate, do it.

Cleansing a Poppet to Use Again

It’s a good idea to cleanse the poppet by your preferred means. That might be:

  • Leaving it on a shelf so the light from the full moon bathes it.
  • Wrapping it in a cloth with a cleansing crystal, such as quartz.
  • Smudging it with smoke from dried sage.
  • Passing it (carefully) over a burning candle. About 12 inches above, to be safe.
  • Rinsing it under a cold faucet (if the doll is suitable for that sort of treatment).

You can now keep the doll to use again.

Protection Spells Using Poppets

An excellent way of using poppets for white magick is to cast protection spells on behalf of loved ones. Protection spells simply provide a layer of love around that special person. They can facilitate ease on a journey, make things work out for the best, and, of course, keep the loved one safe.

Protection Spell

Create your poppet, using a piece of clothing, a lock of hair or some small possession belonging to the person you wish to protect.

Design a ritual. You might want to cast a circle, use incense and candles. The basic structure of your ritual is up to you. Find some guidance here: How to Begin Witchcraft: Casting Spells. It’s always good to prepare everything beforehand.

Hold the poppet in your hands. Allow the emotion of love to build within you. Also, be confident that the person is protected. Feeling this strong emotion is key to a successful spell. Envision the love pouring through your hands into the doll.

Say three times:

*The person’s name*, I call upon the power of love
To keep you safe wherever you go
I’ll hold you close, deep in my heart
May all be well while we are apart.

Then say:

As I speak it, so must it be.

As with the healing spell, once the necessity for protection is over, you can cleanse the doll ready to be used again.

Money Magick With Dolls

Money spells are a great way to use poppets. Make a doll to represent yourself. Read through the tips above under the section, Personal Doll for Good Luck, Protection and Health. This is your doll and you won’t want to use it for any other purpose, other than to improve your own life.

You don’t need to perform another ritual. Once your doll is consecrated and you feel it is working for you, tuck a dollar bill into its clothing, or tape it onto the poppet. If you like, you can write larger sums of money on the bill. Put the doll in a safe place and allow it to attract money on your behalf. Remember to express gratitude for your good fortune.

Don't stick pins in dolls!

Don't stick pins in dolls!

Sticking Pins

The practice of sticking pins in a doll in order to harm another person is a common one. However, as one witch to another, please don’t do it. Even if some girl has just stolen your boyfriend, or your step-father has ordered you to clear up the dishes—again. It’s a dangerous thing to do and such intention often comes back to you. Maybe not immediately, but sooner or later magick has a habit of ‘coming home’.

May It Harm None

I’m sure you are not the sort of witch who would deliberately set out to harm another person. Even if that person had done you wrong, it is not a good idea to use witchcraft to exact revenge. One of the tenets of witchcraft is that what you send out can just as easily be turned back on you. Sympathetic magic can mean that if you wish someone ill, that wish may be reflected right back at you. Maybe not right away, but somewhere along the line. Many people have told me they made such mistakes when young and now regret the things they did.

So use poppet magick wisely. Don’t do anything for, or to, someone that you would not wish on yourself or your own child.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: I’m about to make a spirit doll to help my mother get better (with her permission), and so far I’ve learnt a lot from various different sources but I can’t find one to tell me if I can stick pins in certain parts of the doll’s body to actually take the pain out of it, or if it’s just to harm?

Answer: Don't stick pins in it. You may be thinking that a form of remote acupuncture will help, but it won't. Use Reiki techniques on the poppet to heal your mother. And you don't need to be Reiki attuned to use them. Think of it as 'hands-on-healing'. Channel the healing energy from the Universe, through your body, into your hands and then into the doll. All the while hold the image of your mother healed and well (not healing but already healed, like it's a done thing). Know in your soul, without doubt or question, that it is working. Repeat every day.

Question: I have a second-hand poppet. I felt drawn to purchase it. How do I cleanse it to remove unwanted energy?

Answer: There are various ways to cleanse a magical object. If the item is suitable, hold it under clean running water for a minute. If not, leave it on a windowsill during the full moon. Another way is to smudge it with sage smoke. If you look for information on cleansing tarot cards, you can apply a lot of those techniques to your poppet.

Question: I made a poppet named Bojangles and I want to make sure I don't cause harm if I stick a pin in it while thinking about the world and its problems. How can I do that?

Answer: You can make sure no harm is caused by not sticking pins into poppets at all.

Question: Does the poppet need to represent an actual person or can it be used to represent an entity?

Answer: Poppets are human shaped, and thus used to represent people. I'm not sure what you mean by 'entity' so if you are referring to a spirit, then it might also work for that too. I've never tried, so unable to advise.

Question: How do you create a poppet to keep someone from gossiping and spreading lies?

Answer: I suggest using a binding spell as described here: It uses a poppet like the article above, but it's more specifically to prevent someone from continuing unwanted behavior.

© 2019 Bev G


Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on February 06, 2019:

That's a great idea, Karen. Yes, the objectives are all the same, just the methods are different.

Karen A Szklany from New England on February 06, 2019:

This seems similar to creating a "prayer shawl" for someone who is sick or injured in some way (with permission, of course). I may knit one for my mother and then use the poppet ritual to bless it as I send it to her.