This post is the first in a series that will cover the use of zoological remains in witchcraft. Future posts will cover acquiring bones and animal remains, cleaning, consecration, and how to use zoological remains in your own practice.
The use of zoological remains has enjoyed a historical presence in witchcraft so much so that the two nearly go hand in hand. Of course, while it is not necessary to work with zoological remains in order to practice witchcraft, many a witch have found a deepening of practice in doing so. And engaging in something that reaches far back in our collective witch history has a way of bringing comfort, confidence, and direction that one may otherwise find missing from their practice. However, it is critical to note that the use of zoological remains does not make for a more “authentic” witchcraft practice, nor does it make you more of a “badass witch.” Rather, it’s just another avenue of using natural objects in your craft in order to create the changes that you wish to create.
The term zoological remains refers to the preserved body parts of an animal. Examples would include bones (especially skulls,) feathers, shed skin, antlers, preserved claws, internal organs (dried or fresh, depending upon the use,) preserved wings, the tanned skin and/or pelt, blood, fat, and teeth. These remains are carefully and thoughtfully collected as often times, the spirit of the animal may still reside near to its body, imbuing those remains with its spirit, thoughts, personality, and will. As such, the collection and use of animal remains is a very delicate process, with care taken throughout to be as respectful as possible to the spirit of the animal still attached to the remains or, at the very least, to be respectful of the life and memory of that animal.
In this way, there is little difference in working with the skull of a deer than there is in working with the branches of a willow. Yet, the use of zoological remains is a touchy subject, with some feeling that the misinterpreted concept of “harm none,” as made infamous by the Wiccan Rede, extends to all witches and that, as such, even the idea of eating meat for a witch is tantamount to a “sin*.” Such thinking is ridiculous, of course, as witchcraft is not a religion and has no sort of dogma other than to be a witch, you must practice witchcraft.
It is important to note that very, very rarely is an animal killed specifically in order to be used for witchcraft. While no one can account for how every individual witch practices and there are indeed numerous traditional (i.e. historical) spells that do call for a specific type of animal to be killed in a specific manner as part of a specific spell, most witches don’t resort to such as there are, quite frankly, easier and more humane ways to acquire zoological remains. How one goes about acquiring zoological remains will be covered in a future post, as will cleaning, preparation, and use.
The Ideology Behind the Use of Zoological Remains
The use of zoological remains in witchcraft is grounded firmly in animism, which is a major underlying current in witchcraft. In a nutshell, animism is the belief/knowledge that in all things there is a spirit. Evidence of this way of perceiving the world comes easier to those who live in the wilderness or who spend great amounts of time in truly wild places. Animism is part of the driving power in witchcraft as it is the explanation behind the energy in an object (from an anthropological perspective with insider knowledge of witchcraft, the terms energy and spirit can often be used interchangeably. Of course, context will distinguish between the concept of the spirit that resides in a plant or turtle shell and the spirit that is a Deity, but I digress.)
It is this perspective that is the hallmark of working with any sort of animal remain as often, but not always, the spirit of an animal will linger after death, remaining attached to its body. That spirit can be helped to the Otherworld or it a contract can be struck with it wherein the spirit will maintain its attachment to its remains in order to benefit the witch and, in return, receive its own benefits. In this way, a witch gains an ally who can aid them in a wide variety of ways, with different spirits having greater talents in certain areas than others.
In this way, the use of zoological remains does not denote anymore “nefarious” or “evil” a practice than any other aspect of witchcraft. Spirit allies residing within their carefully cleaned and consecrated bones may be able to offer help in guarding the witch’s home and family, in Travelling and returning from the Otherworld, in finding things, in boosting the power of a spell, or even in calling upon certain Deities (if your craft swings that way.)
While one can be a spirit worker and not work with zoological remains it’s impossible to work with zoological remains without working with spirits. Considering that to be a witch is to be a spirit worker, there should be no problem in this fact for the witch looking to expand their practice. There is not always a spirit attached to animal remains and they can be used without calling a new spirit into them, but this makes the use of those remains merely decorative and devoid of the true spiritual power they hold. For example, bones without a spirit attached to them can be used to make beads, in the creation of talismans and amulets, or as part of other tools. But, there is a big difference in this manner of use than there is in truly working with zoological remains and their innate power.
In the next post in this series, we’ll look at the various ways that you can acquire zoological remains, regardless of where you live. Until then, feel free to hit the comments with any questions regarding this topic.
*Point of Interest: there’s no such thing as “sin” in regards to witchcraft unless that individual witch happens to prescribe to a religion wherein the concept of sin is found. Gentle reminder to not let the baggage of others effect you and not to carry their baggage around as if it were your own.
Throwing the Bones
Whether you're struggling with something spiritually or in everyday life, bone divination can highlight areas where focus is needed and identify alternative ways forward.