The use of dolls, figures, and sculptures is pretty universal in the world’s faiths. However, what is commonly known as the “Voodoo” doll, which someone uses to perform what’s called sympathetic magic, by which what is done to the doll is done to the person the doll is modelled after, is a European invention. It’s called a poppet.
In Africa, doll like figures were used as charms or “homes” for spirits, or as sort of physical realm bridges for them. In Haiti, some people make a messenger doll and secure it to a tree in a graveyard to carry a message to the ancestors. Bochio and nkisi are examples of these types of figures that may have been confused with poppets by Europeans.
Whatever their origin, Voodoo dolls apparently work well enough that Africans in the diaspora adopted them. Today, a Voodoo doll can be either a portable charm fashioned after an artist’s impression of an Orisha, guardian, messenger, or deity, or a sympathetic magic tool. As a sympathetic magic tool, it can be used for many things, not just curses. For some, it is even used by people who are particularly strong in magic, to protect and guard people who are weaker or vulnerable for some reason, or merely loved by them. Some have dolls for their whole families and friends, and their entire known pantheon.
You can have a doll made by an expert, or make them yourself. Different sects and individuals have different requirements as far as materials. Generally, they should be made of natural materials, though some use plastic buttons, or polymer clay to make parts like the head or brain or heart pieces because they are less degradable and symbolic of the person’s soul or Ori enduring after the body dies, aside of being easy to acquire. Stone is, however, a natural material that survives longer than cloth.
Dolls made for the Orishas should contain items that are sacred and attractive to them. Dolls made for humans should contain items that appeal to their Ori. If they are a child of or have an affinity for a particular Orisha, then items sacred to that Orisha should also be a part of their doll.
If you are beginning to make dolls, the first one should be some sort of Eshu figure. Remember, he opens the gate.
There are other things to keep in mind when making dolls, but I don’t want to give out too much specific information. What works for me may not work for someone else, and traditions vary. Basically though, it’s not just a matter of making a doll and using it. There are also different steps for preparing a doll that is pre made, and one that you are constructing on your own. The timing also matters. Just as you would get readings and consider astrological conditions when building any other kind of figure, you would do so when making dolls.
If you intend to use pins to help focus a particular energy, then they should also be made with care, as should any clothing or other ornamentation you’ll be using with your dolls.