The Bad Witch’s Guide to Poppets
I am a bad witch. There are a long list of reasons why I am a bad witch. Having been out of the broom closet for some considerable number of years I would on occasion get asked “but you’re a good witch though?” My response to that depending on the person asking but I found I started to say “yes, a very, very good witch” rather darkly as it usually got the point across.
As someone who has only relatively recently learned to sew I had to get crafty with poppets. I am quite cool about substitutes like onions and lemons (as someone who LOVES to cook).
I started making my own salt dough for my family early on. I do suggest food colouring (and gloves) at least in the mixing stage otherwise it has a tendency to go a bit gray. Equal parts flour and salt with warm water added a bit at a time until it reaches a dough. You can add an oil to make it a bit more pliable but if you mix it then chill it it should work better without. Salt dough can be used to make decorations, altar pieces for Sabbat, and poppets to heal, or otherwise. To harden it drying it out in a low oven is best, but it does dry to a hard texture, a bit like crumbly clay.
Clay is old school! You can buy air clay and you won’t need to dry it in an oven or you could let it dry out slower. Again it quite hard when finished and you might need to “poppet it” (add openings, names and so on) before it’s dry. You can mix herbs and things into the clay but this will effect it’s structural qualities too. If you are going for a bigger poppet you will probably need an armature. An armature is a skeleton within an object to give it a structure. Small ones might need only a single piece of thin wire down the middle. Bigger poppets might need a wire body. Clay holds onto paint well when dried and if you are a person who paints well this can be valuable.
Fabric cut out with wool or other stuffings make a cheap and useful poppet. They take pins and other objects pretty well. You can put hair, or an old piece of clothes inside. You can add cursing herbs or spices and they soak up oils really well. It’s definitely a different experience than the clay or dough. An accomplished person can knock one out in very little time, but the rest of us it might take more than an evening. It’s lightweight and easy to carry with you.
There are a couple of ways you can make wooden poppets. You can use the carving method which requires a lot of skill and tools. The peg method (a wooden clothes peg can make a quick and useful poppet in a pinch). Or you can make a bundle doll. A simple cross bundle bound with thread can make and excellent poppet or spirit doll. You can use all kinds of woods, all kinds of thread, from silks to rough jute and soak it in oils or tinctures. You can glue the threads or even wax them (making them easier to burn in a fire) to keep the binding together. You can of course combine materials and use clay and the like to make the thread hold. You can make it as simple or as complicated as you like.
I am a crafty witch, in all senses and I got into needle-felting recently and I love it. It’s sculpting with pointy needles! While you do need wool and felting needles (which can vary in price a lot) a simple set is not that expensive. What you don’t pay in money, prepare to pay in blood! No needle felter doesn’t stab themselves (with varying degrees of pain and blood loss) while making things. Sure you can by leather finger protectors but I never stab myself in the same place twice! That said you can make rather good likenesses, have a whole spectrum of colours and shades of wool to choose from and with an armature you can make them quite big. I have been making a lot of fae dolls this way (they just want to be made) and there is this strange alive quality to them even before they are finished.
Roots and Vegetables
From pumpkins to turnips we have been carving faces for a very long time of vegetables. My turnip head is still there from Samhain last year (and yes it’s terrifying). You can carve or make poppets from roots like ginger and even odd shaped carrots, or just parts like heads, or phallic symbols in all kinds of vegetables. They do perish (some more quickly than others) which can be great (or not) depending on what you want. Can be burned reasonably safely and put in rushing water without too much issue (polluting is bad people). You can also squish them quite well too, should you feel the need and compost with clear(ish) conscience. Being as they tend to be wet (ooh er) things like photographs, or other connections can be damaged in trying get them into the poppet. That said that might be a bonus and they take pins and such really well.
This is one I don’t often use but one of my friends is great at this one! They are not “pretty” but they have such a power to them. Good for a short sharp shock. They burn well (obviously) and if you do it right they burn themselves! So try and make sure if you are using a wicked candle to try and keep it central to the poppet. A candle, a craft knife and a hot spoon to smooth things out are all you need. It’s a cheap and powerful way to make poppets. You can of course buy and melt wax and sculpt it from scratch but it requires a double boiler and a lot of patience. This way means you can add oils, herbs, hair, photographs and so on. They take pins well and if you leave in a cool place can last a long time. No so great for throwing in water but good for jar work and fire work.
Grasses, Cornstalks, Such Like
Corn dollies are a very old poppet material. Good wheat stems can vary on how easy they are to find and there are hundreds of ways to weave these little lovelies. Dependent on the material weaving can be a simple or complicated business. It’s more like stalk origami than true weaving but you get some lovely pieces. They are a lot of work and you might not want to use them as a poppet unless you are really pressed. That said they are a beautiful and ancient form of poppet and it would be remiss of me to leave them out. They can last years, but don’t take pins well. You could use them as a basic armature for something like clay on top.
A good poppet is what you need in the moment. Whether it is for healing, focusing a group spell or cursing the crap out of someone making your own is an empowering and therapeutic thing.