In popular culture, Voodoo dolls are usually depicted as small, hand-made models fashioned to resemble the enemies of a Voodoo practitioner. By sticking pins into the doll, the practitioner is seen to magically inflict pain or disease upon those enemies. However, this is not an accurate representation of Voodoo practices.
The use of a doll or poppet to represent a person has deep roots in several traditions of folk magic and witchcraft. Such dolls were often crude figures made from twisted string or wax or carved from plant roots. Sometimes a personal object, such as a lock of hair, would be used to magically connect the doll to the person it was meant to represent. The spells performed on the doll were not always meant to bring harm. Such effigies could also be used for healing rituals.
Dolls of this type were not a part of the traditional religion called Voodoo, however. Voodoo was created by the descendants of African slaves brought to Haiti. Elements from traditional African religions were merged with elements from Roman Catholicism and created a hybrid religion. While magical rituals do have a place in traditional Voodoo, the fundamental principal of the religion is that everything is spirit. The primary goal of Voodoo is to serve the spirits by offering prayers and performing rituals in return for good health, protection and favorable outcomes. Practitioners of modern day New Orleans Voodoo often sell Voodoo dolls along with other more traditional items, but this is done primarily to satisfy the expectations of tourists.