Where do I buy a Haunted Doll? From West Africa to Lily.

Posted on August 15, 2020

Where do I buy a Haunted Doll?

Ever since the advent of television and film, the haunted doll phenomenon has left the quiet and secluded corners of society and springboarded not only into the limelight but onto our dinner table. Haunted dolls stopped being the subject of taboo discussions and started appearing on Saturday morning cartoons. Things that in the 16th century Europe might get you a visit from the Spanish Inquisition – the Royal backed one not the one from Monty Python – were now on The Simpsons and SpongeBob. Haunted Dolls were a big-ticket item, so much so that a market for the actual effigies and poppet started appearing on the web. A market that flared up from the dimly lit corners of the dark web and rapidly spread like brushfire into traditional FCC approved channels; Amazon and eBay.

A market that even has a podcast – with weekly reviews – of its products. A podcast/goof manned by the McElroy brothers called “Haunted Doll Watch” a segment on “My Brother, My Brother, and Me.” The protagonists and shows ringleaders chuckle and gasp over the toys and kooky madcap objects they manage to unearth from those rather funky digital stalls. And folks, there are hundreds of them. Each selling nightmare fooder with a warning label that reads: 

“All paranormal and metaphysical items sold in my store are for entertainment purposes only.”

The first Markets

The original marketplace for haunted dolls pitched its tent in remote regions of West Africa. The tradition of such venues can be traced to early Egyptian religious haberdasheries. Specific, stores, like Christian “santerias”, were magical items could be purchased; some even at a bargain rate. Among the racks of ethereal and otherworldly products, dolls, effigies, and poppets we generally the most traded and purchased.

animals skulls at the Fetish Market/Lomé Fetish Market
Source: Wikicommon. (Julius CruickshankOriginally uploaded to Flickr as Fetish Market in Lomé Fetish Market

Those dolls, the ones you can find in places like The Lome Fetish Market, weren’t haunted dolls but objects of profound magical properties. They were fetish items.

A fetish or fetishism – despite what our filth addled brain thinks – are not objects, trappings or activities made popular by certain naughty channels. Fetishism is the worship of an object believed to have magical powers or supernatural property. The word was later adapted into other – groan “XXX mediums” – because shrinks made the correlation to that plain riding on the meaning of the word “worship”. But in reality, if you stick to the first meaning of the word, a fetish could be anything from a pentagram necklace to a cross on a wall.

In West African culture, and later on brought to other regions in the galleys of slave ships – they used dolls to manipulate the natural forces of the natural and biological world. Poppets placed inside or around homes were used to harm and heal the person they represented. Chicken blood, semen, excrements, oils, spirits, and other liquids were poured on the doll to anoint it; transmogrify its cloth skin for the purpose it was designed for. 

In the Lome market as well as other markets like it, sorcerers, wizards, merchants, and priests would sell these dolls. Some mass-produced, some painstakingly crafted for a specific objective… all, if their promise was to be believed, crackling with magical forces. Some were pure evil; embodied hexes for enemies and adversaries. Others were good and benevolent; guardian angels and brimming with beneficial qualities. If you wanted your ex-lover to plop dead, you went to the market. If you wanted a child and your wife was barren, you went to the market. If your mother had a deadly disease, you went to the market. If you needed money and were in dire financial straits, you went to the market.

In these types of places, around those stands, in the bustle of that strange commerce is where dolls like the now-famous Lily were born… or at least ancient precursors to that model.

Photo of Lily the haunted dolls
Source: US Ghost Adventures. Lily The Doll

Due to the alienness and the lack of understanding of African Culture during those bygone days, the church and European society quickly bunched up all these poppets and figures under one umbrella term: “malevolent.” Everything was believed to hold untold evil and as such were evidence of sorcery and possibly a reason for being excommuned.

Only wizards, witches and warlocks, and gypsies played with haunted dolls; and all were fair game for the church’s bloodthirsty watchdogs.

The Market in the 21st century 

In a 2015 article for Smithsonian.com, writer Linda Rodriguez McRobbie explained that “Dolls inhabit this area of uncertainty largely because they look human but we know they are not.”

Photo of robert the doll
Source: Wikicommons

This psychological explanation is a mirror duplicate of what in robotics is called

Dolls lack the ability to mimic, to act human, and to actually look one hundred percent human. Our brains at a basic evolutionary level remain suspicious of whatever is not human… more so if said item looks “almost human.” This in turn leads to feelings of physical coldness, of paranoia, of weariness. It is from this natural response that our fear and in part fascination of haunted dolls comes from… and it is from this response that the ancient Lome Market went digital.

The Haunted Doll Digital Distillery

A market has risen where consumers can in fact search for dolls that come with guarantees of a supposed paranormal pedigree. Movies about certain dolls, like Annabelle, or Chucky have created a desire in most of us to explore the claims of haunted dolls. We like playing fast and loose with the unknown.

Katherine Carlson of The New Yorker, explored this very active marketplace and was instantly seized with its bizarre nature and even stranger rules. A medium that’s governed by specific norms and Byzantium regulations enforced by its participants.

“A haunted doll requires proof — or at least enough of a backstory that a prospective buyer can embrace the possibility of the supernatural”.

Dolls are typically sold in private auctions and no two are the same. Users can normally find either private sellers or niche collectors or rare stores on websites like eBay, Amazon, Etsy, and dozens more.

creepy photo of doll with dead eyes
Photograph by Martin Parr : Magnum

Reports on the sale’s listings from these sites, and the haunted product, are often accompanied by stories and detailed claims of the doll’s background and supernatural power. Some of these reports are even professionally backed by letters of authenticity from psychics and parapsychologists. 

Finally, price. How much is a haunted doll? What the price for actual proof of the supernatural? Items like these can range from 20 dollars to the millions. On the bottom rung, a haunted Barbie figurine with a penchant to go all Toy Story on its owners. Up in the high shelf among the choice cuts vintage handmade dolls – from the turn of the century- with a sale’s tag saying it was once kissed by Aleister Crowley.

Collector items and Teddy Bears, belonging to serial killers have racked up thousand dollar sales… and a particularly gruesome stuffed shark, present during the execution of a renowned killer, was even sold close to a cool million; the hammerhead supposedly afflicted by the killer’s unrepentant soul.

And stories like that abound. Haunted dolls, particularly in this wild wild digital world are just about everywhere. Everyone seems to have a devilish doll tucked away in their attic or basement that they are willing to part ways with for a buck or two. You can’t throw a rock, without hitting a vendor or two with a He-Man with a backstory not approved by Mattel… Or a Transformer that morphs into something in need a holy water shower. Barby dolls possessed by Sirian demons. Furbies with a wild banshee in their innards. A tickle me Elmo that does an amazing impression of various scenes from The Exorcist.

So, if you’re in the mood for something freaky and morbid to bring home, you can always check out eBay’s selections of haunted dolls, or buy something along the lines of Lily, or hop on a plane and travel to the still active markets in Africa where they sell the stuff by the truckloads. If it turns out you actually bought yourself a little demon then write to us, we’re itching to hear your tale of woe and desolation… Take pics’ we love those. 

For more tales check out our blog.

Sources: 

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/rabbit-holes/ebay-fantastical-earnest-world-haunted-dolls

https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/otm/articles/haunted-dolls-ebay

https://mbmbam.fandom.com/wiki/Haunted_Doll_Watch

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPvDNxRy_AI

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haunted_doll