The dolls can be sneaky. I can be making a doll with a particular purpose and whilst I am busy focussed on that, they sneak in some truth or other or drop a mini bombshell about something that needs addressing. Just recently I was contributing to an on line event where we were exploring Imbolc and the traditions surrounding this festival and the figure of Brigid, Goddess and Saint. My role was in guiding people to make Bridie Dolls, the traditional dolls that were associated with the festival. Mindful that many people were in lockdown and aware that in times gone by people would have used whatever was at hand to make the dolls I had decided to make dolls from socks or wooden spoons and scrapes of fabric.
This was the first on line event that I had been part of where I would be sharing my doll making. I was horrified when the day before I was going begin to the doll s, I had a bad fall in the garden and injured my right shoulder and hand. The injury was severe enough to affect my dexterity. ‘Time to live what I teach’, I thought. So what is that that , I hear you ask. In all my creativity I hold the belief that it is the intention and process that is important in creativity, not the product. And that is very true. However, as well as the feelings that being out of control and the usual sort of performance anxiety that can come up at such times….you know the one that says things like , “Oh that is useless, what will serious doll makers think” or “Why would anyone want to make a doll like yours, it’s so clumsy” ( add the phrase that fits your own situation and you will get my meaning); I was to discover that the finished dolls had messages of their own.
First it was the sock doll. It felt like I was trying to sew with sausages instead of nimble fingers and my inner critic laughed raucously at the finished product and my attempt at sculpting the face with thread. “Ha …she looks like an owl! Some wise woman!!!” was the sarcastic inner retort. I had to admit, my inner meanie was right, the doll’s face did bear a strong resemblance to the feathered creature of the night. Trying hard to stick to my principles, I repeated again that it was the process and intention that were important, and anyway, owls were known to represent wisdom, so please be quiet. Setting the owl featured doll on one side, I then made the wooden spoon doll. I enjoyed making her, wrapping her frame in the colours of fire and water to symbolise balance and dressing her in velvets and silk. However, when I sat back to admire her, meanie was quick to point out that her arms were very short. It was true. The pipe cleaner armature wasn’t really long enough and the doll looked as if she had the arms of someone with Achondraplasia. It was then the magic began to happen. In my head, meanie continue to have a field day, but as a held the little wooden spoon doll in my hand and gazed at her, I was taken to a deeper place. “Who are you to define what beauty is?’ was the question I was given. I found myself thinking about how in the western world, there is a definite image of what beauty in women should look like. Young, slim, long legged and white. Photographs on social media and in magazines are touched up and altered, offering women and girls unattainable ideals to live up to. Even in the spiritual world, where the written content of articles might be about self- acceptance and claiming your feminine power, the accompanying images resemble those on Instagram, with their impossible long legs, tiny waists and flawless complexions. Ordinary women with curves, wide hips, droopy breasts and bellies with stretch marks are given the impression that they need to change in order to be beautiful. The grey hair and wrinkles that come with passing years have to be hidden with false colour or have cream applied to fill them in and cover them up. When a woman of more advanced years posts a selfie, the highest compliment people can think of offering is “Oh you look so young!”. Just what is wrong with looking our years? Men are often considered to look distinguished as they age. Women are more likely to be criticised for looking past it or accused of being ‘mutton dressed as lamb.’
As I sat holding my little wooden spoon doll in my hands, smoothing out her gauze dress and velvet finery, I found myself thinking of the news last year that ‘do not resuscitate order’s had been placed on people with learning and other disabilities, when they had been diagnosed with Covid-19. I didn’t know then that by the end of the month the enormity of the scandal would be revealed. It seems that the same attitude that saw thousands of disabled die in the gas ovens of the holocaust and even further back, led to women who were elderly or different being murdered as so called witches, is still present in our so called civilised age.
The Owl faced doll added to the conversation. “You are right that the Owl represents wisdom.” She reminded me that in Gaelic word for the owl is Cailleach-oidche, meaning Old Lady of the Night. She was known to be acquainted death and in a culture obsessed with light and youth, her wisdom is so desperately needed but spurned.
I will finish with some words that I heard recently from the Gospel of Thomas, discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in December 1945. Scholars believe that it was written before the Gospels contained in the New Testament. In the Gospel, the disciples are asking how they can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Amongst other things, which included being like breast feeding infants, another image that society tries to hide away, Jesus responded by saying, “When you replace an image with an image, then you will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
I don’t know about you, but I am ready to turn in the old images and find some fresh ones.