As a child I loved my dolls. I had an extensive foreign dolls collection (which was a likely foreshadowing of my eventual ex-patriot status), all on show on a large peg board.
So perhaps it is no small surprise that in my late middle age that I would take to fashioning dolls. I am currently creating a brídeog, a St. Brigid’s doll, or possibly throwback to the goddess Brighid doll. There was an old custom of lying a doll in a basket, or Brigid’s bed, at Imbolc (31st January -2nd February). I have made a less traditional effigy of Brighid in the past that I call ‘Activist Brigid’ which is today’s featured image. The one I am working on now is more in keeping with the homespun ones made in rural households in times past. At any rate, I am keen on reviving older traditions, but giving them a more contemporary treatment and context.
But all this crafting got me thinking about the etymology of both the word effigy and doll. This making a form based on the human form is as old as the Willendorf Venus.
Effigy is rooted in the words that become the phrase ‘artistically fashioned.’ Now we think of those carved stone sarcophagae that house the remains of bishops and Norman knights and their ladies. Or it recalls ‘the guy’ that gets ritually burned on Guy Fawkes Day each November 5th in England.
Doll has a more interesting, less ancient, history. Back in the 17th century it was a short form for the name Dorothy, and was a pet name for ‘mistress.’ It gradually became used to mean a small model of a human and was in more common usage than the older term poppet.
Long, long ago we fell
in love with this form.
We loved its shape and heft.
We cradled it, kept it warm.
We cherished what remains were left.
Then we gave it a name
in faith and love until
we began to call it names.
consigning it to a bonfire of flames.
Name. Shame. Blame.
Cast into the flames.
First though, was the love
in the fashioning,
the care, the craft
that an artist will bring
along with all the hard graft
working with stone or fabric
mimicking the anatomic.
How do you treat this doll?
How do you cast its name?
What games shall it play?
What magic might it claim?
Shall it be home bird or runaway?
Just what of its fate can you recall?
Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved
If you are interested in learning a bit more about some of the folklore of St. Brigid and the Celtic Goddess Brighid, you might like to read my ebook of poems that celebrate the face of the Celtic divine feminine.