mayan worry dolls

Guatamala: Mayan trouble or worry dolls

mayan worry dolls
Six worry dolls – the males are smaller than the females

General description Six tiny dolls handmade from small sticks and pieces of material (three male and three female dolls) kept in a painted oval box.

Dimensions Dolls ranging from 2.5 – 3.5 x 0.5 – 1.2  x 0.3 – 0.7 cm. The oval box is 4.5 x 3 x 3  cm

Date when acquired Late 1980s

Original Date Unknown

Source Bought by Barbara v. K. somewhere in Germany.


The bodies are small sticks of wood with roughly hand painted faces in red and black. The men have wire legs wrapped in thread. The legs are bent forwards at the end to give the impression of feet. The arms are made of wire wrapped with different coloured thread.


The females’ dresses are made of various materials and are embroidered with different threads (a red dress with blue thread, a black dress with green, yellow, blue, purple and red thread and a purple dress with blue thread). The men’s clothing is all made up of threads. They have trousers of either cerise or purple whilst the tops are in a lilacy blue.

mayan worry dolls
Lid of box showing painted design


The box is made out of a light wood like balsa and is painted with squiggly lines of green and red.

Background information

These are special dolls traditionally used for a form of “magic” in Guatemala. They originate from the ancient Mayan civilisation but are still used today. These dolls are made from scraps of material and are kept in groups of either five or six in boxes or small bags. The idea is to tell one or more of the dolls your troubles before you go to sleep and then put the doll under your pillow. According to the Mayan belief, the doll is thought to worry in your place, thereby permitting you to sleep peacefully. The dolls are predominantly used for children in Guatemala and parents often remove the doll during the night to reinforce the child’s belief that the worry has gone. Some parents involve the child in making the dolls to further increase the psychological benefits of releasing worries. Some medical centers apparently use them in conjunction with treatment for disease in children.

In the 1980s, there was a phase of buying these dolls for presents in the various fair-trade shops in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. I seem to recall seeing them all over the place. At that time, I was told you had to tell all the dolls your worries and during the night they would discuss the problem or problems and then let you know their solution during the night in your dreams. Despite being sometimes a severe worrywart, I have never got down to using these dolls in the thirty odd years I have had them.

Source(s) of information A modern story based on the Mayan trouble dolls can be found at


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