Posted on August 13, 2020
The history of haunted dolls, or more exactly the chronology behind the phenomenon of magical effigies, is closely linked to the history of humankind. We really can’t talk about Annabelle or Robert, or Okiku without first getting on our time machine and strolling the African savannah and trading japes and jokes with our superstitious off their rocker ancestors. We need to grabble with our story as a species and our shared narratives. This is going to be a quick recap. An article going in deep and explaining the anthropological rigamarole behind this sensation could take volumes, and I’m not being paid for such an analysis nor do you have the time or concentration; you want the spectacle, the blood, the juicy bits.
The Hazards of Self-awareness
One of the first things we as a species started to identify with was our own reflection. Self-awareness came hand in hand with our capacity to identify our physical attributes and distinguish them from all our peers. The minute we went up to a pond, marveled at our reflection and recognized it as our own, and utterly different from that of our kinfolk, we made a gigantic cognisant leap. It blew the doors of its hinges and we became different animals in that instance… which in truth took ages to get into a swing. We became unique individuals, distinguishable from all other members of our tribes. We became – and Im’s sorry Tyler Durden – the unique snowflake. In that second, we obtained the very tools and devices we would ultimately require for artistic expression, for self-expression, for autonomy. That is why, from an anthropological point of view, one of the biggest milestones in Sapien history occurred when as a species we began creating does funky stick figure. We made a link between us and them. We represented our struggles through them. We started branding the world in those icons and it was a more culturally accepted method of claiming land than simply pissing on it and screaming. “MINE!”. It was US – the stick figures – and EVERYTHING ELSE – the other stick figures that were a bit lopsided and traveled on four legs.
As we evolved, we made the jump from crude drawings on cave walls to figurines made of mud and twigs.
The History of Haunted Dolls
The Magic of Twigs
Over time, those representations started claiming real estate in our capacity to interact and, even dominate, our surroundings. They became integral in our way of telling our story, our rules, and our tribe’s legends. In essence, we understood that through them we could change perceptions and claim adepts. If we could, in fact, tell better tales, more manipulative lies, and grander visions of how prosperous and uncannily superior our tribe was compared to other tribes we could, in fact, grow in numbers and strength.
Those rudimentary pictograms no longer simply spoke our tribe’s memoirs, but our dreams and our engaging narrative. Through them we created and exercised our religions and made our pie-in-the-sky ideas into something tangible; you couldn’t touch God, but you could touch a statue similar to God. We marketed our preponderance and perfection through them; we didn’t sell a truth we sold our idea of truth.
One of the most interesting examples of this occurred during the reign of one of the oldest civilizations known to man… The EGYPTIANS. Most of the old Egyptian religion and rituals were based on a cosmological pantheon obsessed with the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Their main god would pop out at sunrise, travel the sky as a young man, battle the serpent of chaos at sunset as a geriatric Charles Bronson, die at nightfall, and then rise up like a phoenix next morning with the sun; rinse and repeat.
The Egyptians were obsessed with the trials and tribulations they would have to face after death; the Book Of The Dead nothing more than a mystical roadmap on what to expect once you bought the ticket to the great beyond. They planned, meticulously their death, and walked the road of nights with their deities. Teh supernatural was as ordinary as going out for a loaf of bread; you could go to the barkery, buy a doughnut, and chit-chat with an immortal diety while walking back home.
“Honey, just walked into Anubis… How is he? He lost Ammit, again- yes, the devourer of souls – and was wondering if we could help him put up lost and found pamphlets around the Pyramids. He’s scared for the rascal…” And your better half would even bat an eye.
The Demon Dolls
It was on the edges of the Nyle that some of the most archaic examples of the haunted dolls aspect first reared its head… and it was in a way, there, by what would eventually become Cairo, in the shadow of the temples that the M.O. of these items started to get organized.
Back then, there were dolls of all kinds. Well, not dolls per se, but toy representation – in the most rudimentary and crude fashion available – of anthropomorphized beings. You had statues and toys of Horus and Bas. You had mud figurines of Anubis. You had wooden knickknacks of crocs’, hippos, and falcons. AND, you had marionettes of demons.
One of the most important lessons imparted in Egyptian lore to its practitioners was Demon Identification. Demons, tricksters, and creatures of the night – the things that go bump after sunset – were part of everyday life. Not only that, but they were also part of our journey – the one each of us would take – through the afterlife. Demons were everywhere. In order to rob them of their power, you had to be able to name and identify them. You had to be able to conjure spells to bind them and these were dependant on their names. When you died, you trailed the long halls of the underworld and would blindly stumble upon one of its denizens… Guardians of gates… If you couldn’t go, “stop being such a tard, Henet Requ, you hippo headed dung weasel and let me through,” then you were stuck for eternity dredging up small talk with something that wanted to devour your soul.
So, what did the Egyptians do?
They started teaching kids the names of these foul things. And, what better way to do it than… You guessed it! They made toys of the demons. A very early production line of Funko figurines depicting the nightmarish monsters that might be waiting for you once you went the way of the dodo.
Egyptians started infusing these effigies with purposes and power; in a way, they connected to the very thing they represented. If you wanted to get pregnant, you went and bought a fertility doll. If you wanted a bright kid, you went and got an Ibis – for Thoth. If your town was being plagued by some bizarre illness, and the only “rational” explanation was that a being from the Darkness had descended on the place – not the fact that you’re using the village well as a toilet. The only solution? You went and got an even bigger bastard to ward off the demons or spirit causing havoc throughout the land. You in fact made a bargain with one of these beings and went “sic’ ’em boy!” on the forces of the unknown. That bargain depended on an effigy, a representation of that creature/demon, which you cared for and respected. And, every-so-often the thing which you allowed into your house would get uppity… and start making some shenanigans of its own; it was after all a freaking demon.
The Teddy Bear
Like Lily the doll, we started employing these representations to fight off the armies of darkness that were amassing on our doorsteps. From that ancient past, we evolved – but not too much; the die had been cast and we were set in our ways.
We were a cowardly and superstitious lot… and Batman hadn’t been born yet. We had no idea why babies would die – and no one had coined the phenomenon known as SIDS. We had no clue why every-so-often a wolf would waltz into town and take one of the farmhands. Why the next town over was plague free while over here we were tossing bodies onto a funeral pyre. Why crazy uncle Charlie was, well, crazy. The most rational explanation; demons and goblins, and the sidhe. And how did you fight these fiends?… well, you started chatting with your Lord… and if that didn’t help, you went and got yourself a supernatural attack dog.
The first paranormal pooch… The bear and the tiger. In Asia and Africa, big cats were the apex predator everyone dreaded and revered. In Europe, bears were the cat’s meow. See what I did there? The toy animal, or wooden cutout, metamorphosed into the stuffed teddy.
You wanted to protect your kin, you went with a devilish spirit and magical creature that could tear you apart and your enemies… You crossed your fingers and hoped it wouldn’t bite the hand that feed it.
Voodoo, magic, and psychology
From those bygone eras, we slowly but surely came to Chucky… but, before that grand premier and the madness it would bring, we will first have to explore the fetish of trinkets, the magic of marionettes and the psychology of puppets…for the next chapter, click here.