I’ve seen many folk who acquire bones, skins, and other animal parts from sellers or straight off the highway with no regard to the animal’s spirit. Many today speak of sacred relationships with our four-legged, winged and swimming brothers and sisters, but then they just buy some bones or skins to use in crafts to make a wand or some other shit with no regard to the animals consent to it nor how they were treated in life. They just want the aesthetic.
Let’s face it: animal husbandry is a horrid practice today. Animals are kept in pins like product and “packaged” in machines that slit their throats, drain them, and then render their flesh. Totally impersonal and inhumane. Rabbits are struck to the floor to break their necks and sheep are practically skinned alive by sheering. While their are some folks who do this work ethically and treat their animals right, we have to face it that the majority does not.
Animals are hunted for furs, mounted trophies, and a good buck from the buyers. In my relations with the furred, feathered, and scaled kin, I follow as the Cherokee taught. An animal that is killed without offering its self to the Hunter becomes vengeful and will bring disease to their killer.
The Cherokee followed a belief in reincarnation but not for humans as is explained in the tale of Coyote going to save the dead. Another tale relates putting leaves over the blood spilt when an animal is killed and later on that animal will rise again from the pile of leaves. This is how they believed the game returned. They also placed a portion of the animal in the fire as thanks.
I recently received two raccoon skulls (pictured above). Many of the teeth are missing and one has a broken eye socket, I suspect from being hit by a car. The other I have no clue about. Keeping the bones of animals like this can be an emotional burden. You know you cannot change the pain they went through, naturally or by man. Here in your hands your hold the last piece of a being that couldn’t been beaten to death or left to die alone.
The Natives always treated the animal with the utmost respect, pre and postmortem. And I set to do the same in my work. In Appalachia, most people still hold the belief that all the animals are our kin. While there are some macho-hunters who will spend all day trying to convince you of a deer’s lack of intelligence, ask a woman. They’ll always tell you about God and the animals. Maybe it’s that wisdom that pushed the Cherokee to a matriarchy in the first place: where they consulted woman regarding trade and war because they had the closest hearts to the earth.
As Appalachians, we are a people who always mourn the past and the good ol’ days. Even to the smallest thing.
Them old granny women knew about kindness. Though their temper usually arrives before they do, their hearts were gold. They respected the spirits that aided them, spiritually and physically in the form of food. Though this changed drastically when the Industrial Age began and factories began moving into Appalachia, making the dollar bill greater. Or maybe it changed when the Natives traded the skins of their brothers to the settlers for their guns and foreign treasures. Who knows?
Within the past few years, a large pagan community has come to flourish in Appalachia. New faith on old ground. The problem is no one knows its history. No one sees their furry neighbors as much since the largest population lives in cities. The best way to work with our kith and kin of the hills is to learn about them. Hogs, coyotes, turkeys, doves, snakes, turtles, salamanders etc.
They are not just props or ingredients possible for use in your craft, whatever you practice. They live as you do. Whenever you wish to use an animal’s part, do so with respect and permission. As modern witches we have knowledge of spiritual natures. We speak to spirits daily. For you to go around taking as you please is plainly rude as shit to the spirits of that animal. Even animals want peace after death sometimes.
Do this when you find bones or whatever you wish to use.
•firstly, ask before you take. I usually get a bad feeling in my gut if it’s a no, and a deep peace if it’s a yes. Leave something behind. Whether some tobacco, pocket change etc. Give as you take.
•clean the bones up, rend the meat off if need be. Keep what you will use and bury the rest after following the next step.
•speak to the spirit. Ask it what it needs. This may take some time before you get a reply. Animals usually express their wants and needs to us in dreams but divination will suffice.
•if the spirit agrees to work with you personally, treat it with care. I have a coyote pelt from which I work with a coyote spirit I have name Ol Blue. Every time I leave the house, I rub the pelt just like I would a living dog. Right behind the ears 😉. Give them attention as you would any friend.
•Some animals were dealt a hard life, often at the hands of other humans. Their souls need healing. The best way I have found in keeping bones is to sing to them and sit with them. Speak with them in a soothing voice telling them it’s all okay now. I like to sing them old folk songs like Tree in the Valley. This can take months.
•prep their “home” with what they need: bowl of water, some type of food that they would eat, flowers etc. This is establishing a relationship. Stay with it. Change the water regularly and “feed” them regularly as well.
•Now if the spirit hasn’t agreed to work with you personally, but will allow you to use its parts, then you’ll need to clean them and bless them. As my magical tradition is Appalachia Folk Magic, I always stay as traditional as I can even though Mamaw wasn’t doing this type of thing. Pray psalms 23 over it and baptize it with “living water”. Wrap it up in a white hankie and leave it out side for three nights. Bring it back in and work it how you will.
Animal spirits can be great allies to work with. Most often they will help protect you, warn you, and comfort you. They are friends. As in all friendships, it is give and take. So treat your friends kindly, especially the non-human ones.