Spirit Dolls Tradition / Ritual in Rivendom | World Anvil

Spirit Dolls

IkRima was a quiet child, even before she was born. We thought that she was weak because we barely felt it when she decided that she would give kicking a try, but we promised ourselves that we would love her all the same. It doesn't matter if she's born weak. Children learn better than most, and we knew that we could teach her to be strong. We knew that we could help her build her body and become a warrior like her mother. But even if somehow she didn't learn, we knew that we would love her. We would teach her to be strong elsewhere. We would teach her to be strong of mind, or sharp of tongue, and we knew that she would make a good IkThanar if she put her mind to it.   But she was even quieter when she was born. She scarcely drew a breath and squeaked before falling silent. The light of the world had already called out to her, but she wasn't ready. We held her all the same. Her mother and I. We cried. We were devastated. But we needed to be strong. Because her body was dead, but we couldn't let her soul die, too. With my child in my arms, I took her to IkEstra, the village IkThanar, and together we fashioned for IkRima a doll out of straw and hairs plucked from her soft little head.   I came into IkEstra's home with a child, and I left with a doll. But it held her soul and would hold it for the next seven years until we knew that she was strong enough to make the journey to our ancestors. We might not have had the chance to teach her how to be strong in life, but I knew that my wife and I would teach her how to be strong in death. We would teach her the value of patience, and wisdom, and perseverance. We will teach her that, one day, we will be together again. All she has to do is wait for us with our ancestors and the time will come that we will be a family once more.
— Journal of IkBelkar
Eristurdal warrior
  The eristur believe that the soul is a mutable thing, which starts out as a seed in the womb and grows in tandem with the body. They believe that the soul reaches "maturity" at seven years of age as this is the point in time when the soul is strong enough to be able to make the journey to the hall of the ancestors on its own. But when a child dies before, during, or soon after birth, their soul is much too weak to be able to make the perilous journey through the land beyond the veil, and it is for this reason that the eristurdal shamans, the thanarel, bind these young souls to makeshift bodies that can be cared for and nurtured until they become strong enough to pass through the veil and join the ancestors under their own power.



The concept of binding souls to inanimate objects to preserve them has existed for as long as the eristur can remember, predating even the thanardal tradition. In the early days, binding a soul in such a fashion was thought of as a means of staving off death, or disease, prolonging mortality for just a little bit longer in the hopes that someone would then unlock the secret to immortal life and restore them from death.   But the notion was quickly perverted by more sadistic individuals. Upon death, eristurdal warchiefs, as they were called during that time period, had their spiritual advisors bind their souls to inanimate objects like pendants or even splints of wood or bone. Then, these items would be implanted in the body of the youngest, most physically-fit specimen in the village under the false notion that doing so would allow the deceased warchief to take over the body that they were implanted in. This was thought of as a means to obtaining quasi-immortality.  

As Punishment

Later on, the idea gained popularity among eristurdal tyrants as a way to show off their brutality and as a means of striking the fear of dissent into their people. These individuals would make a show of "stealing" the soul of an enemy and binding it to some crude object, typically carvings of phalluses and the like. At the time, this was thought of as a fate worse than death, because it meant that the victim's soul would forever be under the control of the tyrant, who could torture it at a whim.  

Spirit Dolls

The modern concept of a spirit doll has its origins in the Age of Songs. At the time, a profound paradigm shift was working its way through eristurdal society as a result of the birth of the thanardal tradition. With this changing perspective came a new understanding of the soul, such as how it worked, how it grew, the things that nourished it, and where it went after death. This new understanding implied that the souls of children would be too weak to make the journey to the hall of the ancestors and would thus wither to nothing. This tragedy, especially during a time when pediatric mortality rates were still relatively high, could not be ignored by spiritual leadership. Spirit dolls were a natural consequence of these new beliefs melding with older superstitions and were viewed as a worthwhile solution to the problem of child mortality.   The first "spirit dolls" weren't spirit dolls at all. Rather, they were simply any object that the parents of the departed child thought best represented their deceased children. They could be favorite toys, or blankets, or clothes. The first "spirit dolls" weren't at all used for stillbirths either as it was believed that the act of ensoulment occurred during a child's first breath.   It wasn't until much later, a few decades after the eristur made first contact with the urkal, that the template for the modern tradition was born.  

In the Age of the Dominion

Following the successful conquest of IldRenn by the Dominion many eristur converted away from the thanardal tradition to the Faith of the Nine. Under this new belief system, souls were immutable and eternal, and instead of having to find their way to some "hall of the ancestors," they were called away to the city of The Stranger at the moment of birth.   Furthermore, with the arrival of the Dominion and the intimate knowledge of the workings of life and death that it brought with it, the notion that souls could "grow" were proven objectively wrong, dispelling the basic beliefs that made spirit dolls necessary to begin with. However, spirit dolls have not fallen out of fashion. Their primary purpose has changed for most eristur, of course, becoming a way of memorializing the dead rather than as a means to preserve the souls of the young, but they remain a cornerstone of eristurdal society.


The thanarel recommend that upon death, the body of a child less than seven years of age be immediately brought to the nearest thanar. In the olden days, this was done so that the ritual to bind the soul could be performed before the soul departed on its journey to the hall of the ancestors. In the modern day, this is done as a matter of hygiene.   The body is placed either on bare earth or on a straw mat, depending on the season. Afterwards, the thanar makes a pile of twigs, kindling, and incense which they pick up using a pair of deer antlers carefully crafted to ensure that they could hold the pile together in a small bundle. As this occurs, the parents are tasked with building a ceremonial fire that will be used to light the bundle. Then, the thanar passes the bundle three times over the body, ostensibly to calm the soul and prepare it for its binding.   Afterwards, the thanar makes an offering of blood, salt, and cooked meat to the spirits as a plea for protection and guidance in the next step of the process. After the offering is made, the thanar cuts a small lock of hair from the body and ties it up into a small clump with twine. Then, the thanar builds the doll, typically out of straw or dried reeds, around the bundle of hair before tying it all together with twine once again and "sealing" it by dipping the head in a pot of melted animal fat.   Once the sealing is done, the ritual is completed. The grieving parent is given the choice to leave or stay, as what happens next isn't easy to watch. Regardless of the choice made, with help from members of the community, the thanar assembles a pyre and burns the body of the deceased until nothing is left but ashes. All who are present must remain until the last ember has stopped glowing.

Glossary of Terms

Age of Songs
An era of eristurdal history defined by the birth of the thanardal tradition
Dominion, the
The greatest empire in the history of the world
An individual, typically of a green complexion, that has ancestral roots in southern IldRenn. Equivalent of D&D orcs
Of or relating to the eristur
Faith of the Nine
Official religion of the Dominion. Centred around the worship of nine primary deities, especially the head of the pantheon, the Stranger, who is god of the veil between life and death
The Western continent. Home to the eristur and the other Races of Man
The Race of the Eristur
(pl. thanarel) A shaman. Mystical, spiritual leader of eristurdal communities
Of or relating to the thanarel
An elfin race native to IldRenn. Known in the vernacular as the woodland and rogue elves


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