The Legend of Guatemalan Worry Dolls

The Legend of Guatemalan Worry Dolls

Last update: 12 December, 2021

According to the tradition of the Mayans from the Guatemalan highlands, when children are scared or have nightmares, they give them worry dolls before they go to sleep. Then, they put them under the pillow, and when they wake up, their worries are gone.

Worry dolls are incredible pieces of a traditional Guatemalan legend. According to this legend, the exact origin of which is unknown, the doll worries about the problem instead of the person, allowing the person to sleep peacefully.

So when the person wakes up, the doll will have relieved all of the concerns that would normally keep them awake. The worries stay with the doll, which will have to be caressed to prevent it from being in pain.

“Worry dolls take away my suffering. I whisper my worries to them very quietly and they silently heal me of them. And under my pillow they sleep, and if I have a problem, without the doll I would wake up. Me, who never believed in amulets or sorcery. What am I doing telling dolls my sorrows?”


worry dolls

A beautiful and tender tradition to relieve your worries

Although there are many different types, worry dolls tend to measure between 10 and 20 millimeters. They’re made by hand using a base of wood or wire. The face is usually made of cotton, cardboard, or clay, and the clothing can be made with wool or aguayo, a traditional Guatemalan cloth.

In Guatemalan culture, these little figures were originally intended to alleviate children’s nighttime anxiety, but today it’s also common for adults to use them. They’re usually kept in boxes or cloth bags in groups of 6, one for each day of the week, giving them the option to rest for a day. They usually come with the following instructions:

  • Concentrate on your concerns or problems when you go to bed.
  • Tell the doll what you want them to take away.
  • Put the doll under the pillow.
  • Caress the doll’s tummy a few times so that your sorrows don’t hurt it, and in the morning, they’ll have disappeared!

The dolls are used as dreamcatchers and amulets, offering you a chance to unload your daily suffering in a natural way. This beautiful tradition promotes a very healthy psychological habit that everyone should try to achieve every day: releasing your mind of your preoccupations so you can sleep soundly.

Physically transferring your worries and sorrows onto the doll one by one, even though it’s imaginary, can be a very useful way to manage your anxiety over your problems. It also makes you feel like you have the power to manage your anxiety and prevent insomnia.

young girl

Silly Billy, a children’s story about worry dolls

The tradition is so strong that there are even precious stories about how useful these dolls are for helping children control their emotions and manage their fears and anxiety.

Silly Billy is a story by Anthony Browne, who has brought the traditional legend of Guatemalan worry dolls to millions of homes around the world. The story tells of a boy named Billy who has dozens of worries that keep him from sleeping. After trying almost everything, his grandmother tells him about worry dolls and how they can take away his troubles.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.