History of haunted dolls part 2: Fetish, Killers and Krusty The Clown
As we’ve previously discussed in the history of haunted dolls, the haunted doll phenomenon is really nothing more than an offshoot of our capacity to be self-aware. As we evolved and grew, and our capabilities for artistic expression and religious narrative expanded, that very need – the need to represent ourselves and our tribe – also transformed. In our previous piece, part 1, we talked about demons, effigies, and Egyptian mythology. We graced and glanced the whole phenomenon from its primordial days until the rise of Empires. In the continuation of that study, we’re going to continue that research train but from a more modern perspective. Brace yourself for a piece full of ju-ju, mumbo jumbo, black and white magic, voodoo, and… gasp… and truckloads of pop culture reference. Haunted dolls and the market for them is a growing fad and despite our understanding, it’s a fad and trend with eons under its belt; it’s not new, and there’s no reason to believe it’s going to go out of vogue.
History of haunted dolls
From the cradle of life, the African Continent, our species raced out and tried to conquer lands, undermine natives, and basically fornicate like bunnies until everyone was from the same tribe. There was a rhyme and reason to the madness. The earliest haunted dolls were in fact poppets, effigies, and magical objects used during rituals and religious representations. They served a purpose… to carry faith and to carry a tribe’s beliefs. The easiest way to sway an enemy and quite possibly subjugate them to your system was by making them believe that their misfortunes were caused by YOUR Gods… and that only YOUR Gods, far more powerful than their petty pantheon, could, in fact, protect them. You could create burgeoning power-bases, aimed at deposing kings, with nothing more than a really scary haunted doll; one with the spirit and might a terrible demon or omnipresent God.
From the root of Africa, the sensation branched out. Within the continent, dolls and effigies became powerful fetishes. In the European mass, that very vein continued to be something akin to a protection spell against wandering spirits and other forces of evil. And in Asia, that branch blossomed into a more factual and on point definition of a haunted doll. Just give me some wiggle room and I’ll explain.
What we Yanks commonly thing of as voodoo is really nothing more the simplest of rituals or practices of a myriad of religious waves. Voodoo to most of us is just a freaky looking doll or figurine with a porcupine’s worth of pins sticking out of it. The figure, a representation of someone we know and what we do to it, is then transposed to the person. If we stick the figure into a cauldron and boil it, the person it mirrors will start to feel a fire in their belly and begin to sweat like a pig at a barbecue.
Well, from that very shortsighted belief, the phenomenon grew and strengthened. Each retelling lending the fetish – the tool behind the ritual – more importance and power. Before long, the voodoo doll started to harness the soul of the victim or spirit it wished to manipulate… and from that creative leap it’s just a small hop to:
“The doll MOVED!”
Vampires, pixies, and serial killers
Meanwhile, up north, in the recently Christianized European continent, the whole voodoo/fetish/magic rigamarole was considered blasphemous. Haunted dolls were evidence of witchcraft and sorcery… and we all know how those suspicions turned out for the accused. Everything that wasn’t approved by the church was sacrilegious and contestable. Demons were demons, the couldn’t be controlled or harnessed, only saints could do magic/miracles, and religious practice were forces of good controlled by God and it’s representative on Earth, the church. So, basically: “stop trying to get back with your neighbor with that twig figure… that’s Devil play… and you’re going to get us burned at the stake, Frank..”
Still, there was a loophole… one left over from pagan days and one that’s very much active today.
The idea of the scarecrow. Scarecrows are in their essence constructs made to ward of predators that might affect the crops. Well, what if we could make spiritual scarecrows? Constructs whose objective was to ward off evil? As long as you didn’t use any magic, and it was just that, a constructs – nothing more – the church shrugged and said, “why not?”
Basilicas and temples started sporting gargoyles and dragons. Houses began to place effigies and statues, horrible fiends to stave of devils, fairies, and goblins on their porches. Some of these constructs were dolls, hung on trees like Christmas decorations, each more terrible than its sibling on the next branch. Today, one those effigies still retain its initial objective: Lily The Haunted Doll… a doll representing a 16th-century serial killer with a Guinness World Record for kills.
From this practice, we Yanks started cutting up pumpkins and making Jack O’ Lanterns. From this practice, most of our Halloween traditions were born. We dress up like ghouls – or we used to – to scare off bloodthirsty creatures that came out on that dark night. We decorate our house, under hues of nightmare and glows of Lovecraft, just so the things that like to snap at our necks and feast on our lives, think twice before breaking down the door.
Once more the leap from “it’s just a pile of rocks and twigs” to “it MOVED!!” Was just a hop… and one that in gin-infused Europe – hard spirits were cheaper and more readily available than water – was even easier to make.
Meanwhile, in Asia, the whole sensation took a hard left. Dolls could in fact hold the ghost of the dearly departed. Their religions, in particular Shinto, infused possessions, a person’s possessions with power. There was a bond, a link, between the things you loved and cherished with your spirit. Things were easily infested by your essence if you weren’t buried with them.
Such is the case of Okiku. In a way, the idea we have of an actual haunted doll – one harnessing a spirit or creature of immense supernatural power, comes from the exotic orient.
Yes, there were instances of cross folklore pollination, one believes jumping the cultural schism and appearing in another traditions mythology, but they were in fact few.
That leap… well, if the doll is in fact haunted by your dead parent, and even the town priest said it was so, there really was no leap. “The doll moved… past the butter.”
Then… WE came into the game and our need for entertainment changed EVERYTHING! In the 20th century, the television, the radio, and later on the internet made borders obsolete. We had an abundance of leisure time, thanks to the wonders of the Industrial Revolution, and now we needed to be entertained. PERIOD. Hollywood needed to feed us stories. We couldn’t be left alone with our minds, struggling to find meaning in our lives, we demanded distractions.
And Hollywood knew that. It reveled in the prospect. The 60s hit the airwaves and producers needed more and more stories. They started churning the waters and cherry-picking from cultures and traditions. Not only TV… but books, primarily pulp, and comic books, went hog-wild with what other regions – just now opening up thanks to a certain level of political stability and the airplane – had to offer.
Tales From The Crypt. Doctor Strange. The Twilight Zone. Outer Limits. Alfred Hitchcock Presents… and dozens more became infatuated with the supernatural, with the spiritual, with the bizarre. And it didn’t help that narcotics were readily available; Timothy Leary became an acid guru and Yogis in India celebrities.
“Did the doll move? Maybe LSD will give me the answer… Go Go Gadget Acid!.. Crank up the Jerry Garcia tunes and let’s get this orgy started. What doll? We were talking about a doll? Really? Past the peace pipe.”
Ghost stories became a hot ticket item… and haunted dolls were EVERYWHERE. You had Anthony Hopkins fighting with a demented ventriloquist doll. You had the Twilight Zone breaking the ratings with its superb Haunted Doll episode. When Mile Myers went bonkers on Jamie Lee Curtis and the slasher genre became the next golden goose, Hollywood pitch rooms decided to mix the great ideas and create a money cow… CHUCKY was born.
A Chucky broke the levee And everything went to overdrive since then. From Chucky, to a crazed Krusty The Clown doll in the Simpsons, to Jerry Seinfeld unable to sleep cause of a dummy – and I’m not talking about Kramer – to a Spongebob episode, and finally to Annabelle.
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