After a discussion on dolls in Perdita Finn’s Take Back the Magic class recently, I remembered a doll I have of my mothers. A lovely Effanbee doll about 18” tall from the 1930’s that she got as a child and was very devoted to. Someone had even sewed a hand-made red velvet cape for her. It is the only doll I have in my house at all except for two that I have woven myself in the last couple of years.
I did not know my mother had kept this doll until I found it in her things after she died in 2013. When I was seven years old, my mother gave me her doll collection. There were dolls from all over the world, many of them old and they were very special to my mother. We arranged them in a stacking bookcase with glass fronts. But the thing is, I never played much with dolls as a girl. I would try and play Barbie’s with my friends, but I didn’t really enjoy it. And I never did much with my mom’s doll collection. It just sat in the bookcase in the basement. When I was in my 20’s and my mom moved her house, I remember her asking me if I wanted the doll collection, and I said no, not really. And so, my mom gave those dolls away, being an overly practical, clutter free woman of the 1980’s. That is a painful memory, as I would dearly love to have that connection to my mother today. And realizing now from the class this week that they most certainly held either a literal or figurative connection to my ancestors makes it even more painful.
For a long time, I have told myself a story that since I was a good baby who never cried, and with the advice given in the sixties to not spoil your babies, that perhaps that was why I don’t have any memories of being held or being cuddled on my mothers’ lap, although I know she loved me dearly. But I had an epiphany after the class this week. What if it was more that I came into this world rejecting my feminine self? What if I didn’t cry because I had already lost my voice before I came into this life? Perhaps I was already determined to be independent so no one could hurt me ever again? Perhaps it was me who would not let myself be mothered.
And suddenly I saw that my rejection of the feminine throughout the first half of my life started much earlier than I previously imagined. Realizing that I rejected her dolls, and that I never played with dolls as a young girl connected my memories with other realizations I have had about myself before around denying my feminine self. I went to work for my dad in the family insurance business and modeled myself after the men in that industry for over 25 years. I had few close female friends and no hobbies except gardening. Until about 12 years ago when my son got sick, I had even convinced myself I was not creative, even though I was a Studio Art major in college. Long story short, I had denied the Mother most of my life until then.
This story of mine around the dolls is only a small snippet of the larger story of our society’s rejection of the feminine and the Mother for the past 500 years (or 5000 really). And this rejection of our feminine nature is not always something that is done TO us I have realized. It is also a particular type of scourging we do to ourselves when we deny ourselves access to the Mother. The denial of the feminine in our culture is so intimately related to the scourging we do to the Earth, and the trivializing of mainstream dolls is part of that.
Another insight, that I have to credit Polly Paton-Brown for, is that doll making is very important and powerful because handmade dolls have real power to connect with mothers, grandmothers, ancestors and the land in a forgotten language of the heart. Dolls are another way the land, and the ancestors can speak to us. As we make them, and sit with them, opportunities for memories and other thoughts will arise, and if we allow them, we realize they are whispering to us, perhaps only as a nudge in our heart. I had started making dolls myself a couple of years ago, but I had not put all the pieces together about how powerful their connection to working with our ancestors and the Earth is until I heard Polly’s comments!
In 2018, I took up weaving with a passion, and it was something I knew I had done in many lifetimes. I barely had to learn it because really, I already knew how. And then I took a class called Weaving a Life and learned to weave dolls among other things, and I have taught a couple of classes on weaving what I call Wisdom Dolls. In those classes I talked about the tradition of women weaving in circles for millennia and the dolls as connection to our elder wiser self because that is what I learned in the Weaving a Life class. But I had never really made the connection to working with the dolls to reclaim our feminine selves and to connect with our ancestors. And to help our daughters remember their ancestors.
This teaching of doll making may be much more important than I realized. Perhaps one way to wake up from being asleep is through making hand-made dolls one at a time. What if doll making became as common as baking homemade cookies?
Today I got my mothers’ doll out again, and I cherished her. I am asking her to tell me her name. I am savoring the devotion my mother had for her. And grateful for the healing that she has brought me in realizing more deeply my role in my relationship with her. I will let the dolls show me the way to reclaiming a deeper relationship with my ancestors, the land and how to let myself be mothered.