My Doll Story - Julia Inglis
The spirit doll is an ancient being, familiar and beloved to many cultures around the world. Making a spirit doll is engaging in the art of healing and enchantment – to weave life and love into a creation by making something solely by hand with materials from nature. By engaging in these ancestral crafts we weave a bridge back to our own great grandmothers who I believe send blessings to us and to the doll herself before she travels on to do her work with those who need her. I am passionate about embracing and honouring these folk magic handcrafts of our grandmothers that have been forgotten or worse still, been misunderstood.
I believe my grandmothers brought this craft back to me so that I could live in the forest away from the city and continue to do healing work with people without carrying the heaviness of issues they are dealing with afterwards. Unfortunately I learnt this the hard way after experiencing exhaustion in my city practice - I kept seeing people receive the most beautiful visions of their spirits during healing sessions but they were unable to hold onto this vision afterwards. I saw that they needed to have something tangible and real, something physical to hold to remind them of how powerful and magical they truly are. Especially to hold through times of loss and fear. The doll came to me in a dream 13 years before but it wasn't until I moved to the forest 4 years ago that I sat with a friend one day to be shown how to needle felt a doll. Something huge unlocked inside me that day and within hours I was creating dolls non-stop. It was as if my hands remembered this craft so well and were so happy! I could feel my grandmothers guiding and teaching me about fleece and fibre, how to include plants that assisted with healing and where to find them in the forest.
As the time went on and I settled into my new forest home, I was creating a doll every day. And I began to notice a new theme turning up in my work with the spirit doll. Not only was I focussing on the person who I was creating for, I began to become aware of the stories of forgotten women and children in history and environments that were carrying the memory of traumatic events that took place there. I began to create dolls for the living and the dead. The strongest stories for me were of the women and children incarcerated within the Magdalene Laundries and I began by creating and leaving a doll at the old site of the laundry near my home in Melbourne, Australia to be a comfort for the spirits who may still be feeling pain there. I travelled to Ireland and left dolls for the women of the Magdalene Laundry in Dublin. I then met with survivors and created dolls for the living too. I have been called to create and leave dolls at the sites of persecution of women as healers and witches in Scotland and to gift dolls to a pauper's graveyard in London known as a the Cross Bones Graveyard.
The balance of dolls for the living and the dead seems to be the way that I give back for my spiritual inheritance. Another way is to leave dolls in nature, in the forest - sometimes as gifts to the trees and sometimes with a note to let people know that if they find this doll she is theirs - she is a free gift to them. Sometimes when people find the dolls in nature they ring me and ask if they can really keep her? I assure them that she is for them and they can't believe it - but this teaching and lesson of giving for nothing is a very important part of the teaching of the doll. Whenever I feel lacking or worried I will create one of these 'free' dolls and give her away and not long after I am aware of the lightening of my own load and strange, beautiful gifts turning up for me too.
You see something very magical happens for the doll maker. In the act of creating a spirit doll for another, we can't help but travel down that rabbit-hole like Alice in Wonderland - we cannot help but dive into the depths of our own heart. I believe that this is an important process in making spirit dolls, we also get to 'make' and heal ourselves. A kind of 'collective shadow work'. You cannot help but go inward with hand made work, there are long long hours and much repetitive movement. Like our grandmothers many moons ago caught up in the repetition of a needle going into thread, or a spinning wheel forever turning, we begin to enter a kind of dreaming-awake state. In the act of making slowly and by hand, you begin to step into a liminal space between time and hear the voice of your own spirit – the dreamer within the dream.
The spirit doll can be a mirror or a bridge to a powerful part of yourself that you might not be able to express. She is a friend and the more time you spend with this friend the more you love them. Perhaps you begin to tell the doll secrets that you hold in your heart and cannot share with others. The doll lives with you daily - through good times and bad - the doll is always accepting. And then a funny thing happens, you begin to feel the living spirit in this doll and how much love it has for you. You then recognise this love as part of your own spirit and that love for the doll begins to flow back from her to you. You see that you are also a magical, beautiful and creative being. You begin to heal yourself.