What is a Voodoo Doll?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Voodoo dolls are an often misunderstood tradition associated with the Voodoo religion and forms of Hoodoo magic. They are popularly portrayed as revenge items, used to cause pain to an enemy. Instead of stemming from the traditional Voodoo rituals as found in Haiti and nearby areas, the dolls originated in part from the New Orleans, Louisiana area in the early 20th century.

Voodoo dolls are popularly portrayed as a method of revenge.
Voodoo dolls are popularly portrayed as a method of revenge.

In fictional portrayals, a Voodoo doll is used to curse an enemy. According to popular fictional lore, wherever someone pokes the doll with a pin or needle, the focus object will feel pain or have an illness. For the most part, these portrayals are misconstrued or completely invented.

Voodoo dolls did not originate in Haiti, but rather in the New Orleans, La. area.
Voodoo dolls did not originate in Haiti, but rather in the New Orleans, La. area.

Many cultures use dolls as a focusing point for spells and blessings, but the use of revenge dolls did not come from Voodoo. Medieval European folk magic involved the use of poppets, effigies of specific people, that were used to place curses. Some Western African religious practices also used similar devices called nkisi. It's possible that the misconceptions about the origin of the dolls comes from the Haitian Voodoo practice of nailing puppets to trees in graveyards. Rather than being used as a curse, however, these dolls were meant to be messengers to the spirit world, to contact dead loved ones.

Voodoo dolls are often sold as gag gifts.
Voodoo dolls are often sold as gag gifts.

The doll is not used in Voodoo practices in Haiti, but rather as part of the complicated melting pot of traditions in New Orleans and the Louisiana delta areas. The Louisiana Voodoo practices combine the spiritual elements of the Haitian religion with the magical beliefs of Southern United States hoodoo. In the first decades of the 20th century, Voodoo dolls are believed to have been used to cause sympathetic magic on the desired recipient, sometimes in painful ways. The use of pins was not meant to cause pain in a particular area of the real person, but rather to reinforce the spell being cast.

Many cultures use dolls for spells and blessings.
Many cultures use dolls for spells and blessings.

Modern dolls are still sold as focal points for spells, but usually with the intention of creating positive effects. Many have specific concentration points for wealth, love and financial success. To use the doll, a person must call upon the powers of the Loa, spiritual beings somewhat similar to saints in Catholic practices. Spells cast are meant to be spells of love or blessings, rather than revenge or pain.

Voodoo dolls are often sold as gag gifts and novelty items. Boyfriend/girlfriend dolls, boss dolls, and even Osama Bin Laden dolls are meant as harmless joke gifts rather than spell-casting items. Even virtual ones are available to enact revenge by computer. These items are meant to be amusing and often succeed, but they undeniably promote misconceptions about Voodoo practices that are offensive to some.

Traditional dolls are available for purchase from Louisiana-based websites and stores. Many of these claim to be blessed by local Voodoo priests, and are made from traditional materials. Some kits include instructions for correct blessings and rituals to enact good health, wealth, or success in ventures.

Traditional voodoo dolls may be purchased from Louisiana-based stores and websites.
Traditional voodoo dolls may be purchased from Louisiana-based stores and websites.
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments


I'm a volunteer at a local cemetery and I come across some odd but normal objects sometimes. Today I came across what I think is a voodoo doll. It had one left arm, one left leg, the skin was pink, the torso was beaded, the head had two chicken feathers with shells on the temples and it had a black ceramic face with red eyes and mouth. Along side, I found a black skull faced angel and a horseshoe that was not faced upward but down. The couple were born in 1882 and 1888, and died in 1934 male and female in 1977. Does anyone know what it might mean? Shortly after in a different location, I found a bloody chicken egg with one feather wrapped tight in tissue. I left work feeling very uneasy. Please help.


Ever heard of Robert the doll?


They are just dolls. There is no power in them. You people who want to use it to mess up people's lives are heartless, nonetheless.


can someone tell me please: I just bought a voodoo doll for a break-up of a couple who are real jerks to others. how long does it take for it to work, and also is there any thing else i can do with the doll, like for love or money and what would i go buy? Thanks.


A friend of mine had given to me a voodoo doll - she says it's a kind of "watchover". She says too, that it would help me with some inner issues. For this to work, it's enough to just bear the doll? Thanks for the help.


Hollywood would make you think that the voodoo religion is inherently evil, but educate yourself about it and you will find that the religion is quite the contrary. Just do an Internet search on the misconceptions of Voodoo. Education is the key! Stamp out ignorance and learn.


voodoo is really weird.


My name is Shannon and I am 12. I am just about to use ouija board. What is wrong with it, though? I don't know. I am in Holland at my caravan and I am about to play it so see you.


there are really demons and devils and there are very good spirits to and the ghost hunter team found some spits. p.s. do not use the ouija boards.


the dead know the actual truth.


voodoo dolls are very, very good to teach people a lesson to not to mess with other people.


voodoo is evil.

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