Floating through a Japanese market in Seattle with my good friend and fellow artist Alexandria Sandlin, I stumbled upon the little red roly poly men.
This article was originally published for my online column Morbidly Adorable Mementos for a the now retired ezine, Faezine.com. “Daruma Doll Daydream” is highly relevant to the Morbidly Adorable Tarot as the “World” card features this daruma character! If you’d like to support and receive more writing of this nature in your inbox, please become a Patron to see the “Patron Only” posts! If you’ve already pledged — THANK YOU!
Daruma Doll Daydream
By Misty Benson
Floating through a Japanese market in Seattle with my good friend and fellow artist Alexandria Sandlin, I stumbled upon the little red roly poly men. I was already familiar with a great deal of Japanese culture, but somehow I had missed out on daruma dolls! As Alex went to buy one, I asked her to introduce me to these characters. She told me quite simply that they were little dolls to help you fulfill a wish. Daruma dolls are generally little red symbols born out of Japanese lore meant to represent good luck, overcoming adversity, and persistence in achieving goals. In that moment, I never knew that this innocent query would fuel a new obsession in my art.
Physically, daruma dolls are hollow, round spheres generally made of papier-Mache. They come in a variety of sizes ranging from the teeny tiny stature of a grape to the more substantial size of a basketball. The size of a daruma is only as limited as the imagination and the pocketbook of the patron. Although they are most frequently painted red for luck, I have encountered them in just about every color of the rainbow. The face of the daruma may be viewed as stern or even fierce in its demeanor with its pursed lips, bearded face, and two white eyes without pupils.
One of my favorite legends says that daruma dolls were made in the image of the Bodhidharma, a 5th century Buddhist monk. While he sat for years in meditation, his arms and legs atrophied and fell off leaving him with his unique shape. I rather gravitate to this gruesome story much like I gravitate to the dark nature of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales! Although the shape of the daruma doll is born out of a macabre story, their weeble wobble-esque physique is actually quite inspiring. Remember, weebles wobble but they don’t fall down. This is something that has stuck with me from childhood commercials featuring the weeble wobble toys. In retrospect, I wonder if the creators of weeble wobbles were familiar with the daruma doll. The daruma’s bottom-heavy base gives it similar traits as well as a similar mantra. It may get knocked over and pushed around, but most darumas are designed to roll right back into place. Life can dish it out, but they won’t stay down. The idea is that you may get pushed down seven times, but you get back up eight. What inspiring little fellas!
A simple but effective ritual is attached to the daruma dolls. First, you start by setting a goal, making a wish, or starting a project. As you set your goal, you paint one of the daruma’s eyes black, creating a pupil. When your goal is achieved, you fill in the other eye. The Japanese have a much bigger ceremony surrounding the darumas and rightly so. Although they may be used year round, they are heavily associated with the New Year and the resolutions that ensue. They set a goal for the year, and when the year is over, and the goal has been achieved, the Japanese take their darumas to a big bonfire at the temple where the daruma doll is blessed and burned.
For me, the darumas are magical beings that bounced into my life showing me that no wish is too outrageous nor is any goal too demanding. If I am up for the challenge, they are up for the challenge. They are always present, always vigilant, as I set out on any new endeavor. Their unassuming tenacity has driven me to paint their likeness over and over in my art in an attempt to understand their resilient nature. I also harbor the secret hope that some of their perseverance will rub off on me. After I achieve my goals, I will not burn the darumas. As much as I love the idea of a good bonfire to release their energy as a big thank you to the universe, my vision is slightly different. I like to imagine in my old age that I will have a room full of darumas in all colors and sizes. I smirk when I think of the poor soul left in charge of clearing out my house and passing on my possessions after I die. They will likely see this room full of darumas as the detritus of an eccentric old lady that pack ratted away these strange little men by the truckload. To me, the darumas will not be a sign of how much one person can collect. Rather, they will be a physical reminder of a life well lived by a crazy old bat who had a fail-safe plan for immortality! Oh right, this crazy bat forgot to mention the immortal nature of the daruma! I cannot, I will not, die until I finish my goals. As long as I have a daruma with one blank eye, I have a goal left unfinished. So it stands to reason that as long as I have an unlimited supply of daruma dolls and an infinite list of goals, this rare bird will live forever!