When I was very, very young, my mother made Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy dolls for my sister and me. Raggedy Ann was my sister’s; Raggedy Andy became my special friend. He always sat on my bed and slept at my side and heard my prayers and kept my secrets. He comforted me when I was afraid, attended countless tea parties, listened to me learn to read, and dutifully soaked up many tears in his soft cloth body. Faded and musty and worn bare with love and childhood, Raggedy Andy is now gently wrapped in tissue paper and rests in an old family trunk.
When my mother made these dolls for us, she carefully sewed a small candy heart inside each one of them. And, somehow, I believe that made all the difference. They were never mere stuffed creations to us; they were transformed with those hearts into genuine “spirit dolls.”
Of course, I never knew to apply that name to them back then. But recently, a great friend of mine brought me a Native American spirit doll from her travels out west, and the similarity and recall suddenly came rushing back.
According to tradition, spirit dolls are ancient talismans against all negativity and evil. They embody spirits that have gone before – representing their strength and energy and beauty.
The particular spirit doll given to me by my friend is rich with character and personal story. She is not old. Nor is she particularly skillfully made. She lists slightly to one side and one of her earrings is missing entirely. And there begins her charm.
She wears puffy blue shoes with bells fastened around her ankles by strips of leather. Her hair is long and braided down each side of her head – the braids branch out in a rather unique, unruly fashion. I imagine her beaded headband was put on in a rush, the feather tucked in quickly, as she is anxious to start her day. She has a somewhat odd shape to her body, telling me that outward appearances have little to do with her values. The small carved bone or antler “gourds” she wears around her waist and along the hem of her dress make me think she is a “nourisher” of others – perhaps physically, perhaps spiritually (the bells on her feet announcing her coming to them, bringing laughter and dance and courage).
My small spirit doll is entirely handmade. And I have pressed carefully on her body to try to feel the “heart” within her. I am quite confident there is one. Perhaps not a candy heart, but a heart nonetheless.
My Raggedy Andy doll represented and honored my childhood. It was my mother’s love, her hands that made him, his secret heart she placed inside. He was there when I was punished, and cared when my own small heart would break, he believed in my dreams, and understood when he was left behind.
My new Native American spirit doll has much the same qualities – lovingly made, a celebration of imperfection, a mix of purpose and joy.
As I am writing this story, we have just taken the first few steps into a new year, new beginnings resting on the old. I believe I will unpack my old Raggedy Andy doll and place him with intention next to my new Native American spirit doll, and keep them both where I can be reminded of all that has gone before in strength and positive energy and beauty – and all the promise of these things yet to come.
I wish for you all in this coming year: bells that ring on your feet in happiness, braids that fly in energetic purpose, one earring lost in courageous acts, gourds to nourish others along the way, and a heart sweet with secrets and the trust of someone you love.