Spirit Containers and Haunted Objects

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

In his book Objects: Reluctant Witnesses to the Past (2006), Chris Caple discusses a class of objects he calls “Spirit Containers”, and it really hits on the objective of this blog. 

Spirit Containers, as Caple defines them, are objects/artifacts that are believed to be inhabited by spirits. This doesn’t necessarily make the object haunted. For example, a  consecrated communion wafer would be a Spirit Container because once consecrated, it is believed to be of Christ/The holy spirit, whereas the doll, Annabelle, would be haunted because it’s possessed by a spirit and actively affects the real world.

A spirit container needs not be a holy relic either. Other similar objects I can think of would be a lucky rabbit’s foot (do people still do those?), A saints medallion, or witches bottle.

Also, haunted objects aren’t necessarily evil, they just always seem to be portrayed that way, especially in the Horror genre.

And these are the definitions for these object classifications we’ll be working with here.

Traits that both object classifications do share are that belief in the supernatural nature of these objects that makes them significant to believers, and can place restrictions on who can use, own, and handle these objects (Caple 2006).  Again to the Communion Wafer example, usually, only a priest can concentrate the wafers, fulfilling the restrictions of handling and use.

The Annabelle doll is similar.

There is a YouTube video from 2017 showing the doll being transferred from one case into a new case, which is an interesting example of a Spirit container itself.

The Moving of the Annabelle Doll 22/02/17

The ritual around this simple action, moving the doll from one box to another, is highly constructed and performative. Things you would expect to see in organized religion, yet, beyond the use of some religious trappings, this is not a religious ritual connected to any religion or church.

Still, it is clear that reverence is being paid to the spirit container, the Annabelle doll, as it is being treated in a way that suggests it may be considered partially human. The doll is carried like one might a small child, it’s seated inside the box where a glass window is provided for it to look out, the door is locked, the container sealed with prayer.

All of these steps not only show a deep belief (or performance of deep belief) in the human-like qualities of the doll, but also reverence towards these human-like qualities.

It would be so easy to simply place the doll in a hole in the ground, bury the doll, or destroy or neglect it in some way. Yet, Ed and Lorraine Warren, after taking possession of the doll from its original owners, decided instead to put the doll on display in their Occult Museum in Monroe, Connecticut. They chose to provide a place of safekeeping for the doll, not once, but twice. 

Whether or not the doll is actually possessed is beside the point here, as is the belief of the Warren’s in the doll. What’s important is the treatment of the doll and the belief of others.

The origins of the Annabelle doll can be traced to at least the 1960s, and if you want a full history of the doll, you can read the Wikipedia entry on it. However, since the doll came into the Warrens’ possession, they steadily built a history and mythology around the doll, making it more than just a doll. Changing the object from its original purpose to a new one.

Caple (2006) talks bout the evolution of the importance of an object over time and advocates that the only way to truly understand an object is to examine its history. We here are both fascinated by the history of objects like Annabelle as well as their current reality.

The Annabelle doll started its life as a simple  Raggedy Ann doll. It had a purpose before it was purchased and gifted to the nurse that originally claimed the doll was possessed. Can we piece the doll’s history together that far back? Perhaps, with a close, physical, examination of the doll. Barring that, what we can track is the history of the doll as presented by the Warrens, and the recent encounters people have had with the doll since it’s placement in the Occult Museum.

Again, the goal of this is not to assess the legitimacy of the Warren’s claims, or other’s belief in the doll. The goal is to look at the object of the doll and understand it as a modern paranormal artifact. 

That said, it’s the belief of others in the haunted nature of the doll that grants the doll it’s current status as a Spirit Container and Haunted Object. Belief in the power of the doll was bolstered not only by the Warren’s claims about the doll but by a series of movies starting with The Conjuring (2013).

The internet has played no small part in the legends surrounding the doll. Videos of ghost hunters and psychics trying to communicate with Annabell are easily accessible on YouTube and Facebook. The Warrens even created their own website to provide information about the doll. 

Belief in the supernatural power of the doll extends beyond the physical as well, as many believe simply seeing a picture of the actual doll can cause bad things to happen. Mocking the doll can be cause for bad things as well, as would be inappropriately taking the doll’s picture, or using a picture in an inappropriate way. 

The remedy for this is to apologize to the doll, either in person, or via mail/email. Again, all of these traits humanize the doll, and fall into Caple’s traits of Spirit Containers.

Does this mean Annabelle has somehow become a spiritual object due to other’s very belief in her? 

Well, yes. But again, not in a way that we would formally recognize as religion. 

di I think Caple was talking about something like Annabelle when he defined Spirit Containers? No, but I think my argument here stands none-the-less. Modern ghost hunting, horror genres, and “creepy-pasta” stories have created modern examples of Spirit Containers and definitely have created their own set of haunted objects. Importantly though is the understanding that we can study these things objectively to get insight into modern supernatural pop-culture.  

And who doesn’t love that?  


Caple, Chris

2006    Objects: Reluctant Witnesses to the Past. 1st Edition, Kindle Edition, Routledge. https://www.amazon.com/Objects-Reluctant-Witnesses-Chris-Caple-ebook/dp/B000PWQMDW

Published by ArchyFantasies

An active Archaeologist myself, I've gotten a bit tired of the use of bad science and archaeology to defend and "prove" made up claims. In this vein my videos should help others who are are not familiar with how Archaeology actually works understand the truth and see through the misleading lies of others

One thought on “Spirit Containers and Haunted Objects

  1. I would think a demon would have long ago gotten tired of possessing a doll that’s been locked in a cabinet for 50 years and left of its own accord.


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