Healing Talisman Motanki Dolls

The tradition of doll making has a long history entwined in folklore, magical thinking, and shamanism, and can be traced in every culture on the planet, from native Americans, through Guatemala, India, all the way to Japan. In all cases making a doll was (and still is) a spiritual and practical activity.

Motanki are an example of such traditional dolls.

Thanks to old babushkas of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, the tradition of making Motanki survived till the 21st century and this nearly lost art is enjoying a true renaissance of interest! Making Motanki is now cool and fashionable among doll enthusiasts and folk artisans and even spiritual teachers and healers.

The Dolls of good wishes, Motanki, offer protection and guidance and are made in most cases without sewing. These simple rag dolls are a cultural heritage of Slavic people, and the tradition was almost entirely forgotten as any form of magic and ethnic ritualism has been scrutinized and simply forbidden by the Soviets.

But making a doll was too important and simply too much fun to be forgotten. Making a doll served as a way to educate children, too. During the evening hours when the mothers, grandmothers, and daughters sat together to make these special dolls, old tales with often psychological elements were told. Stories of Baba Yaga hiding in the woods, just waiting to eat a child, or legends of water spirits drowning a clueless youngster were common. Nothing gets your kid to obey better than a horror story of utter demise if rules are not followed. Good old days!

The dolls were made not only for pleasure but also as amulets and magical objects of protection, and were handed down from mother to daughter, to ensure good luck, protection, happy marriage, and abundance. Therefore they were made in a ritual manner, with intention, in accordance with moon cycles, auspicious dates, and to commemorate changes in ones’ life – like coming of age, marriage, or childbirth.

So many dolls!

There are many types of Motanki dolls that require different materials and techniques. They also serve different purposes. Grains are used to ignite prosperity and attract abundance, herbs are for healing, sometimes love magic, wooden stick (birch is most commonly used) serves as the core of the doll representing her animus, the masculine energy, while the clothing is always attributed to the feminine nature. Some dolls are surrounded by babies, some carry bags (gifts), some are made as a one-armed couple to ensure a happy marriage. The list goes on… let’s take a closer look at a few of the types of dolls.

by Aneta Grzegorzewska

The Mother (aka “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 children, 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 with intention and a wish – it can be a specific wish to heal, or overcome the particular difficulty, maybe getting a job, or changing place of living. She can assist you in a general way, giving you strength, and courage to act, or support in your love life, money, adventure, simply in whatever aspect of your you are seeking a change for better. After your goal has been fulfilled, it’s typical 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.

What kind of magic is that?

Understanding the rules of making 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. 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 grandma’s hand-sewn handkerchief? It should be a gift that seems fitting. 
  5. Placed your doll where you can see her daily. That completes the union and ignites the magic.


Is Ancestral Doll making a craft exclusive practiced by 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 welcome to participate in this ritual. Men can make dolls as gifts for their daughters, or wife, or fiancee. It is a deep and relaxing experience for men – their own wild Anima within awakens.

Why are they called “Ancestral”?

I call them “Ancestral” because I want to differentiate between artistic or commercial dolls and dolls made in a process that connects the maker to his higher self. In a way, this is a shamanic process. The cult of ancestors played a very important role in the lives of ancient Slavs. One way to connect to ancestral energies was by making effigies, and dolls. The respect for death was symbolized by the color white, so is the body if the doll. White is also a color of protection – so right there, there was a call to the ancestors for protection and guidance.

Where are Motanki from?

It is my understanding that the Ukrainians and Belarusians kept the art of making Motanki dolls alive through all the upheavals, massacres, and ancestral traumas these peoples endured reaching many generations back. Generally many cultures (I bet all of them but I have no proof) have some tradition of doll making, we just don’t have enough “evidence”. Typically dolls served as talismans and amulets and were made from perishable materials, so not much of the archeological data is available. We know about clay dolls from Egipt and wooden dolls of Japan as some of the oldest relicts of doll making. Slavs made their dolls out of fabrics available at hand, usually linen (gorgeously embroidered ) and wool, leather, silk if available, plus any colorful material scraps, beads, gems, dried forest fruits, herbs, flowers, wooden elements, and so on …

Are there Male versions of the dolls?

Yes. There are few versions of male dolls – there’s a Grain Man – cool guy. Brings even more money luck when paired with Grain Doll! Lovers consist of two dolls – traditionally a groom and a bride. There is also a boy doll who holds a magical wheel of life in his hands- a solar symbol of change and transformation.

What is a Grain Doll?

A Grain Doll is a doll made with grains. Shocking, I know. Grains represent wealth and abundance. Rice is often thrown over the Newlyweds, and all sorts of grain-based (Demeter based) goddesses have been worshiped forever. So filling the doll with grain represents a wish of having wellness and abundance. She is usually placed in the kitchen to make sure there will be always enough food for everybody. She also protects your home from sickness and hunger. Grain Man is a wonderful companion to the 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.