I'm not sure exactly where it started. I've been collecting dolls and dollhouse accessories for more than a decade now as an adult collector, but it's not like the idea of having a representation on an altar is new.
The first major offering was a Samhain night when my kid was very small. It had been a long day and I was exhausted, and there was zero energy for cooking an extra meal (because the earlier one wasn't the sort of thing you offer at Samhain). I sat in front of a very, very basic altar and tried not to feel like giving up. And the idea was fully there in my head then, as if it had been placed there.
I first discovered energy offerings when I was a new pagan and I've always been fond of them because I would often find myself with an excess of nervous energy and it was helpful in multiple ways to offer it to the powers. But with a baby in the house, it was harder to keep my energy offerings up because I just didn't have as much energy.
The tiny harvest made that easier. It acted as a visual reminder and an energetic anchor for the energy I did have to give, and over time I found that the act of keeping this kind of altar worked as its own kind of attention. Going through the foods and items I've collected, sorting and arranging the offerings, thinking about what makes the most sense for any given season... all of these actions charge and recharge the tiny harvest.
It also makes sense alongside the creation of dolls to represent various powers. It's not at all uncommon in multiple cultures for statuary or deity representations to be dressed and cared for; I'm just a bit more ridiculous about it, I suppose. Sewing tiny dresses can be a meditative as well as a physical offering.
Once I had the ideas for the tiny harvest taking shape, it wasn't surprising that things began to accellerate. The scale I use is very common; Michaels even has seasonal dollhouse items sometimes, and I snap them up on sale when I can.
Eventually if you have enough furniture, dolls and offerings, it's easy to end up with an entire dollhouse. Houses for spirits are found in a wide variety over time and location; I know I'm just reinventing the wheel, but it's fun and thoughtful at the same time.
Even when I don't use an entire dollhouse for various spirits, there are other options. Shadowboxes and display cubes are the obvious choices, but I stumbled on the idea of setting up a space for a spirit inside a lantern when I was offering support for library wights during a renovation and I've been particularly fond of that idea ever since.
Some spirit houses are intricate and stunning, carved out of rich teak that signals an owner’s wealth, and festooned with ribbons and garlands. More modest ones are fashioned from concrete but enlivened with bright paint — reds, yellows and blues that fade gently over time in the moist tropical air.
Inside can be found figurines that personify residents’ ancestors, or statuettes of horses or elephants that symbolize good fortune. The faithful leave daily offerings of rice, bananas, glasses of water filled to the brim, booze and bottles of sugary soda with straws sticking out.