Ancestral Dolls Motanki

Welcome to the world of Motanki – Ancestral dolls of good wishes, magic and protection. These simple rag dolls are a cultural heritage of Slavic people still practiced today by babushkas of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. Fortunately, this ancient tradition is seeing a reawakening of interest and is gaining in fashion among younger folks. The tradition of doll making has a long history entwined in folklore, magical thinking, and shamanism, and can be traced in almost every culture on the planet, from native Americans, through India, all the way to Japan.

Making a doll used to serve as a way to educate youngsters, and simply do something creative and fun. Most importantly the dolls assisted as amulets and magical objects that were past from mother to daughter, to ensure good luck, protection, happy marriage and abundance. It’s said that the longer the doll stayed within the family circles, gifted from generation to generation, the more magical properties she had. Therefore they were made in a ritual manner, obliging to moon cycles, special days and dates, color scheme, and always with a heartfelt Intention.


My classes are fun, educational and inspiring. Every participant leaves with a hand made doll created accordingly with the traditional technique and style. The intuition plays an important role in this process because the doll is personalized and represents the emotional state of the maker, as well his/her desires and hopes.

It is important to understand the principles behind the creation of Motanki dolls.

  1. All dolls are created with a positive intention and can’t be used to control someone else, like in Voodoo. Such magic is possible but not recommended, and definitely not practiced here, as the negative energy always returns like a boomerang. The victory from dark magic is short-lived and not worth the price. 
  2. The process of doll making has many characteristics of auto-therapy. A doll serves as a mirror, signaling a need to focus on some untapped issues.  She might be resentful or picky, act silly or very serious. She might argue for the yellow piece of fabric for her dress knowing all well you don’t like yellow! Why? What will you do? Will you resist, or give in. What is it that she is trying to tell you? 
  3. Motanki Dolls are created without the use of sharp objects, like knives, scissors or needles. The fabric is torn into pieces then wrapped and tangled. Motanka means “tangled” in Ukrainian.  A poke with a needle is considered a bad omen and the making of a doll has to begin all over. There are few exceptions further discussed during the classes. 
  4. Upon accomplishing your doll, a personal gift is offered to her. A piece of jewelry, or a scrap of fabric that carries special meaning for you. Maybe a pendant, gem or grandmas old handkerchief? It should be a gift that seems appropriate. 

The doll should be placed where you can see her, that way she will remind you of your intention. That completes the union and ignites the magic.

So many dolls!

There are many types of dolls that we can make, created with many different materials and techniques, serving different purposes. Grains are used to ignite prosperity and attract abundance, herbs are for healing, wooden stick (birch is best) as a core of the doll is to give her a masculine strength, while her clothing is her feminine nature. Some dolls are surrounded by babies, some carry bags (gifts), some are made as a couple to ensure a happy marriage. The list goes on… let’s take a closer look at a few of the types of dolls.

Mother (Seven). Considered one of the strongest amulets for family protection, often surrounded by six baby dolls wrapped around her waist. She is commonly associated with fertility, healthy kids, pregnancy, childbirth, and generally all aspects of motherhood and family protection. Mother Doll was believed to bring good luck and protection to the all-female line and was handed down from mother to daughter to bestow fortune and protection. The longer she stayed within the family circle, the stronger her protective powers were said to be. Her “core” is usually made out of a tree branch that symbolizes strength, and stability. The covering layers of fabrics represent her feminine energy.

Wishing Doll / Task Doll – If you struggle with some problems in your life, this Doll might help. She serves as a guardian angel and has to be created for a very specific reason. She can assist you in a general way, giving you strength, courage or abundance, or more specifically she can help in your relationship, romance, health, money, adventure, simply in whatever aspect of your life results are desired. After your goal has been fulfilled, it’s normal to burn your doll. Yes, I know, she is so beautiful and special, but if her job is finished, she needs to go with flames, or into the waters, making space for new things in your life. 

Nourishing Doll – This well-endowed doll’s mission is to grant plenty of luck and abundance. She is here to lavish you with money and prosperity in a balanced and loving way. She is jovial, joyful, plentiful and very happy to give you all that you need (not all that you ask for 😊 ). When dried herbs, flowers and grains are used to fill her up, she truly becomes a nourishing doll.

Grain Doll – Grain doll is a nesting protector of the homestead, she brings prosperity into a household. This is the only doll that requires sawing. Her “body” is a linen bag filled with natural grains that symbolize wealth and abundance. She could be additionally filled with lavender, spices, gems, anything that symbolizes wealth and abundance to you, even real money (not paper, only coins). She is often accompanied by a male counterpart who of course completes her and makes sure the wealth is distributed in a compassionate and loving way.

Threshold Doll – She symbolizes an ending of some period in life and the begging of the next one. Coming of age, marriage, graduation, loss of a loved person, and any other significant event in life. 

Travel Doll – A long time ago women would make a Travel Doll give her to a husband or brother who was about to embark on a trip, a mission, a war raid, a voyage. Sometimes it would be an expedition into an unknown part of the country, sometimes war or a merchant trip. She was to remind of home and grant a safe return. Nowadays her role has changed a bit but she is none the less the best talisman to bring good luck on any trip we take in our global village.

The Lovers – Given often as a wedding gift the lovers are quite popular dolls to make and one of more difficult to as well. The two dolls – a boy and a girl, are connected by one arm that represents their everlasting union. Often made for the protection of newlyweds ad a gift.


One of my favorite books of all time is Women Who Run with the Wolves, and this is a brilliant explanation of the meaning of a doll in our psyche by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, American poet, Jungian psychoanalyst. :

“Dolls are related to the symbols of the leprechaun, elf, pixie, fairy, and dwarf. In fairy tales, these represent a deep throb of wisdom within the culture of the psyche. They are those creatures which go on with the canny and interior work who are tireless. The psyche works even when we sleep, most especially when we sleep, even when we are not fully conscious of what we are enacting. In this way, the doll represents the inner spirit of us as women; the voice of inner reason, inner knowing, and inner consciousness.”

“Dolls serve to us as talismans. Talismans are reminders of what we feel, but do not see, of something that is as it is, but we cannot see it immediately. Talismanic numen of a doll is here to remind us, to speak and to anticipate for us.” (Estes, 2004, 107)

Professor Geri Olson, specializing in Psychology of Creativity; Psychology of Self-discovery; Myths, Dreams and Symbols sees doll making as a gateway to the imagination and a way to create something of a private ally. She says:

​ “Just like indigenous peoples, we use dolls for healing through the artistic process and the joy of being creative, and for power from taking something from one’s imagination also making it visible. The doll has always played a central role in portraying the narrative and values of a culture”. 

In Women Who Run with the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes recounts the Russian version of the archetypal story of Cinderella, called Vasilisa. In this story, Vasilisa – an orphan living with her stepmother and stepsisters is given the task of sleeping by the fire to ensure that it doesn’t go out. But her evil stepsisters steal the fire while she is asleep, and then blame her and harass her for letting the fire go out. Vasilisa is sent on a quest into the dark cold woods in search of the evil Baba Yaga who is the only one who has fire. Vasilisa doesn’t really know where Baba Yaga lives and wanders throughout the woods terrified of making a losing way back home and dying alone. Her only support is a  doll that her beloved mother gave her. Every time that she comes to a crossroads in the forest, she stops and waits in agony, hoping to be informed by the doll. The doll acts as the transcendent function and the connection to the archetypal Good Mother. If she is on the right path, the doll jumps up and down with excitement – letting her know her inner ‘yes’. In fact, just touching the doll as she makes her way through the dark woods makes her feel better.

Here is what Pinkola Estes has to say about this tale:

“To my mind, the old Russian tale “Vasalisa” is a woman’s initiation story with few essential bones astray. It is about the realization that most things are not as they seem. As women, we call upon our intuition and instincts in order to sniff things out. We use all our senses to wring the truth from things, to extract nourishment from our own ideas, to see what there is to see to know what there is to know, to be the keepers of our own creative fires, and to have intimate knowing about the Life/Death/Life cycles of all nature – that is an initiated woman. 

 Stories with Vasalisa as a central character are told in Russia, Romania, Yugoslavia, Poland and throughout all the Baltic countries. The archetypal roots might be dating back at least to the old horse-Goddess cults which predate classical Greek culture. This tale carries ages-old psychic mapping about induction into the underworld of the wild female God. It is about infusing human women with Wild Woman’s primary instinctual power, intuition.*

Here, I invite you to watch this delicious award-winning short film by Dr. Jamieson Ridenhour called The House of the Yaga. It illustrates what can happen when the ego confronts the heart of darkness. It contains the wonderful artwork of Ali LaRock.


Is Ancestral Doll making a craft exclusive for women?

Women were traditionally and naturally predisposed to create peace and wealth for the household, and with that, they are usually the ones making the dolls.  Women understood the potency of magical ritual, they used herbs and healing abilities of food. Doll making was a creative way to spend time with other women. The dolls were often made for the young girls to play with. But sometimes they were playing a more important role, if made ritually and with the right preparation.

That said, men are more and more often participating in this ritual. They make dolls as gifts for their daughter, or wife. It is a wonderful experience for men as well. 

Why are they called Ancestral?

The cult of ancestors played a very important role in the lives of ancient Slavs, just like in every native culture across the globe. This was one way to connect to ancestral energies. The white body of the doll is actually a color often associated with death and transformation. The reason for the ancestral connection was to honor everybody in the family and ask for guidance and protection.

Is Ancestral Doll making an art typical for Slavic Cultures?

Generally many cultures have a history of doll making. Typically they are serving as talismans and amulets and are supposed to help with something. The details and materials differ depending on the geographical and social position in one’s culture. That’s why the Slavs make their doll out of fabric scraps, not from corn husk for example – since corn has not been cultivated in Europe in ancient times.

Are there Male versions of the dolls?

Yes. There are few versions of male dolls – the papa grain doll is a companion to grain doll. There is the man in Lovers Dolls. Also, if made as a single Task doll, he will usually hold a wheel in his hands- a solar symbol of change.

What is a Grain Doll?

A grain Doll is a doll made with grains that represent wealth and abundance in the household. She is usually placed in the kitchen to make sure there will be always enough food. She also protects your home from sickness and hunger. Papa Doll is a wonderful companion to grain doll, he is a supportive wise manager of wealth and brings good luck and lots of love.

Can I make a doll with the intention of making someone fall in love with me?

During the process of doll making, we discover something about us that keeps us from receiving love. And it’s not something someone did or didn’t do, but simply lack of love for our inner child. This is a chance to heal and attract love, not to “make someone fall in love” with us – that’s bending of a free will. This type of healing can be supported with herbs and crystals which are beneficial for healing and love.

What are the benefits of doll making?

I don’t believe there is any scientific study that can prove this, but from my own observations, the process seems deeply relaxing and comforting. If done in the right atmosphere, it can also bring in the healing of traumas, because we are able to let our guards down and reach into the subconsciousness. That’s why so many people report feeling as if they entered a dialog with the doll just to discover something interesting about themselves or their past, that they were previously unaware of.

Can I use recycled materials?

Absolutely! You can get rid of some old fabrics, scraps and pieces of materials, or have fun sorting through an old box of jewelry – this is a very much recycled and upcycled doll. 

Are there any other types of dolls?

Yes. At the begging of winter, women would make a decoration out of 12 dolls tangled on one string. They would be hanged over the fireplace, or front door in modern days, to protect from cold and sickness. It was believed that they were taking the maladies on themselves, so it was necessary to burn them in the spring. Lichomanki – bogie dolls.

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