How to Acquire Bones and Other Zoological Remains Regardless of Where you Live
This post is the second in a series on the use of zoological remains in Witchcraft, which explores the why’s behind the use of bones, teeth, claws, hides, and such as well as the more practical side, such as acquiring bones, cleaning bones, preparing zoological remains for use, and how to use zoological remains in witchcraft. The previous post is An Introduction to Working with Zoological Remains.
To the witch who wants to expand their practice to include the use of bones and other zoological remains, trying to figure out how to get bones can be daunting. Not everyone has access to wild spaces or the inclination to hunt, so what options are there? Depending on how you would like to use bones and such in your practice, there are actually a few options available to you –regardless of whether you are an urban witch or a rural witch. No hunting or trapping required, so even a vegetarian or vegan witch can ethically acquire bones and other animal bits and begin using them with the respect and sacredness owed to them.
It’s important to stress, again, a point made in the introduction to this series: while there are traditional spells that do call for an animal to be killed in a certain way as part of that spell such spells are rarely worked today and most witches approach the use of bones, claws, wings, pelts, and teeth from an animists stance, acknowledging that often times the animal’s spirit may remain attached to the items and is to be treated with respect. Often times, a witch may even call a spirit into bones, creating a fetich or spirit house for that spirit ally to reside in to facilitate the working relationship between that spirit and the witch. For these reasons, zoological remains are nearly always ethically gotten –even by witches who are not vegetarian or vegan (newsflash: eating meat doesn’t make one immoral.)
To help you in expanding your practice to include the use of bones and other zoological remains, here are a variety of ethical ways that you can acquire bits and bones. While all of these means will result in the need to properly clean your new bones, some methods do require more extensive cleaning. This should not be a deterrent, however, as the witch should be well acquainted with doing work that is oft unpleasant in order to get what they want. Also, the process of cleaning bones –especially of cleaning a skull- teaches an important lesson in mortality and can be a compassionate act that helps to bond you and the spirit still lingering in that skull.
If you, a friend, or loved one is an avid hunter this can be a great way to acquire material that is fresh. There is a lot of benefit to getting zoological remains this way: you know exactly how the bones and such were gotten; if you are the hunter, you can be certain that the animal’s death was handled as humanely as possible and you can either sing its spirit across the veil of Death or ask if it wishes to remain with you; fresh material is easier to clean; you know that the animal had a fighting chance and that lived its life wild and free, taking its place in the circle of life as it now feeds you (or your friend and their family.)
With a few exceptions, this is how I’ve acquired all of my bones, skin, claws, teeth, and skulls. Spending a lot of time in the wild (you know, where animals live and naturally die) puts you in a position to just find bones and carcasses from time to time. Good places to look are at the bases of trees and in places where the brush is thick, as a dying animal will try to hide and bed down and predators will often drag kills to more secluded places so they can eat in peace. Even roaming about a park or small nature preserve in a city can reward you with bones where none should be and especially with feathers. This has its own benefits, too, like occasionally finding bones that have been picked clean and now only require minimal cleaning. Downside is that sun bleached bones become brittle and so won’t work as well for most applications (although, you can always powder them down and add to incense, powders, paintings, amulets, talismans, and fetiches,) and finding carcasses that are suitable for reclaiming parts means extra smelly and sometimes more intensive work to clean them.
There are a number of websites selling bones and skulls online. A handful of witches also have fetiches and jewelry made from bones and such available for sale. You can also purchase tanned pelts (tanned animal hides with the fur on) and leather through numerous websites. If there is a trapping expo or organization in your area, you have the opportunity to view a wide variety of tanned pelts, leather products, and handmade tools that are all available for sale. You also have the opportunity to speak with the trapper or crafter, which can prove beneficial if there’s a particular animal hide or part you’re interested in (many trappers tend to keep the meat for themselves to eat, so this is a way for you to purchase unique skulls, claws, and paws.) Many trappers will also have musk, glands, and urine from various animals for sale which can make for interesting additions to incense, oils, candles, and fetiches.
Put a Request Out
As a witch, you must never underestimate your ability to just “want” something and have it become manifest. Via this method, I came by a number of bones from a female Coopers Hawk. They were waiting at the base of a large Oak tree I am friends with and had not been there just a few days prior. These bones are a precious gift and became some of the first pieces of my bone divination kit. I also acquired a stag skull in this same way, with antlers intact, and a turtle shell. Just hold strongly to your desire, with that unadulterated “it must be so” power that you will have cultivated in your practice as a witch. Be sure to put yourself in places and situations where the results can manifest and be sure to pay attention.
This is an option available regardless of where you live. There are some guidelines that need be followed if you do go this route that ensure better quality material with which to work. Firstly, the fresher the better, as there will be less decomposition which makes cleaning bones faster and easier and there’s a greater chance of getting a claw, hoof, or wing suitable for preserving. Plus, no nasty smells to do deal with. However, a carcass in advanced stages of decay could still yield quality bones to work with, although cleaning the bones will be a bit more intensive or simply take longer, depending upon what method you use (and we’ll discuss different methods for cleaning bones in the next post in this series.)
You’ll also want to inspect the carcass before picking it up (use a plastic bag!) and tossing it into your car. A carcass that has clearly been run over several times does you no good. Reach out, feel if the animal’s spirit is lingering, and help it cross, or simply say a few words out of respect for that animal’s life and death and move the body (best you can) off of the road. Ideally, you’re looking for an animal that’s been “hit” (versus “run over”) as there will be less shattered bones. Some animals, such as rabbits and birds, are very fragile and die from just the smallest bump or scare so there will likely be less physical trauma (i.e. more intact parts to retrieve) and less spiritual trauma (i.e. if the spirit of the animal is lingering, it may be more willing to aid you in your Craft and become an ally –with appropriate reparation for its part, of course. More on that in a future post in this series.) If you do decide to go this route, it’s wise to carry plastic bags in your car so you’ll be ready should a great opportunity present itself.
Store Bought Meat
This is a source that is often overlooked but, considering the especially frightful conditions with which animals raised for meat live through, there is a strong case for why they specifically deserve to have their remains treated with as much respect as possible. Most cooking methods also render bones clean, with little left to do than a light soak and scrub, providing you with usable bones rather quickly. It is very rare for the spirits of these animals to be attached to their remains (especially in the case of a steak where you will have just a small portion of one of its bones) which makes these bones great for creating fetiches, amulets, talismans, tools, and beads for jewelry or embellishing fiber crafts. To give you a few examples of ways you can use these spirit-less bones and bone pieces, you could make a ritual ring from a hollow bone from a steak; a roast chicken can be further boiled and cleaned to provide plenty of bones to craft a protective mobile to hang outside your home; smaller bones can be cut, hollowed, and used as beads for jewelry or for adorning a ritual tool bag or a badass bag to hold your Tarot cards; a large bone, such as from a ham, can be made into a wand handle or used to cap a staff or to provide a shoe for a stang. There are a lot of options here that just take a bit of creativity and openness to seeing these bones and bone pieces in a new light.
Visit Your Local Butcher
Another option available to you regardless of where you live. Your local butcher can hook you up with a goat skull, hooves, and even blood that you can use for offerings to various Deities and for your spirit allies (blood is life, many spirits, including herbivore animals, appreciate offerings of animal blood.) No need to feel self-conscious, animal heads are commonly used for food so purchasing a goat or sheep skull really wouldn’t be that unusual of a request. You can always explain yourself as an artist looking for interesting new materials. And many gardeners use blood in their gardens as fertilizer, so this may be difficult to get if only because other people may be draining the supply (pun intended.) You can always request larger cuts of meat that contain whole bones. In this way, you can clean the bone entirely on your own and have a good portion of meat with which to feed yourself.
Approaching the Bones
When finding bones in natural places, a certain amount of etiquette should be followed. As mentioned a few times earlier, it is not uncommon for the spirit of an animal to linger near to its body after death. If you should sense the spirit, communicate with it first before approaching the body. Depending upon how it died, it may be hostile or jumpy. Regardless, respect should be shown as it is not your body and you have no rights to the bones or any other part of it just because you’re a witch. Caveat: There’s no room for entitlement in witchcraft, it will only get you your ass handed to you, repeatedly, down the road.
Presenting yourself as openly and as honestly as possible will help in calming the spirit. Do more looking then touching and, of course, ask the spirit if you may touch their bones first. Respect the answer you get as asking doesn’t guarantee you a “yes.” If you get a no, thanking the spirit for allowing you to observe their remains and then leaving an offering of some sort, such as water or your saliva, is respectful and helps to keep you on good terms with the genius loci of that place. Then walk away and do not return later to take the bones once the spirit has crossed over.
If the spirit agrees to let you touch the bones, be clear in explaining that you would like to take one (or a few) for use in your magickal practice. Pay attention to a response, as the animal may not agree with your use. It also may prefer you to take certain bones over others, or that you can take a claw but not a wing, or that you can take the head (in order to clean the skull) but only if it is allowed to come with. That is something that you must be clear on, also. If you would like the spirit to remain in its bones, it is best to choose a specific bone for the spirit to reside in and, again, ask if it would like to remain in that bone and to aid you in your magickal practice. Listen for a response and act accordingly.
Of course, if you should approach the body of a dead animal and sense no spirit, behaving with as much respect as possible is still advised; there are always other spirits watching and you are, above all else, defined by your actions. Take no more than you need, bones and zoological remains don’t lend themselves well to being hoarded. It can be seen as distasteful to other spirit allies (such as your other spirit allies) and is just a waste. If you’re not going to use the bits and bones, then they should remain in the wild where other animals will eat them (mice love bones) and where they will return to the earth. When taking bones, some sort of offering is always appropriate. You can always leave a few strands of your hair or some of your saliva, which is not a disrespectful act but rather a means of sharing your water with another.
In the next post in this series, we’ll take a look at the various methods you can use to clean bones and prepare them for use.
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.