Bones, fangs, feathers, claws, and shells are potent tools for animal magick and ancestral communion, as I’ve mentioned in the articles dedicated to said subjects. However, I find it absolutely necessary to state in this article as well, that animal remains should be treated with respect, they should be ethically acquired and I do not encourage or endorse the harming of animals in any way shape or form. The bones I use in my craft are gathered and hand-picked by myself from the local woods and the river’s bank and all of them were already old and weathered by the time I came across them.
On the same note, I do no encourage the use of human skulls or bones, especially since most of them are acquired as the result of grave robbery, something that I personally find unnecessary, disrespectful, and disgusting. Also, human bones may contain impure energies which will not serve anyone, unlike animal bones which are imbued with pure and natural energy. Human remains contain energetic imprints made by the intentions, will, and even reactions of those they belonged to. This makes them impure as opposed to animal remains which are attuned to the natural flow of things.
Human spirits can be disruptive through those energetic prints, whereas the spirits of animals rarely disrupt the natural flow of things and they’ve most likely never broke through the flow, since it is their condition of existence. Unless your own will is to bind and control human spirits, working with human remains may be disruptive. For these reasons, this article is focused only on animal remains which are ethically acquired and re-purposed, and not on human remains or animal entrails.
Bones in Animal Magick and Ancestor Work
Animal remains such as bones, feathers, fangs, and even shells are used since the oldest of times and throughout many of the world’s cultures and traditions for divinatory and shamanic purposes. In animal magick, bones work as fetishes or effigies of your spirit animals. Fetishes or effigies are usually inanimate objects which can be either manufactured or occur naturally. They are representative of supernatural powers, such as spirits. Animal bones, which occur naturally, are representations of their respective spirit animals and when they inhabit them they become active.
Upon summoning or invocation, a spirit animal may inhabit such an effigy for communion or spellwork. It ties them to the earthly plane, thus facilitating your communication with them and allowing you to draw from their qualities and powers. Likewise, in ancestor work, the animal spirits inhabiting the bones will work as messengers or guardians during ancestral communion or ancestor work. This will help you especially if you don’t already have an established cult of the ancestors. Spirit animals will protect you from unpleasant spirits, they will guard your sacred space and help guide you towards ancestral spirits that will serve you.
To bind a spirit animal to an animal bone, you may decorate the bones with symbols or words that are relevant to the spirit animals you wish to call upon. They may also be primeval symbols of life and death, that together may reconcile the gap between the two by creating a space for the spirit animal to come into. Another common practice throughout the world is the reddening of bones. By making the bones red, one imbues them with Eros, lifeforce, and it mimics the vitality of blood that once covered them. Usually, the bones are reddened with a mixture of red ochre and red wine in which the bones are laid to rest for a few days until they are stained with red color.
Bones in Ritual
Animal remains can be kept on your altar or sacred space, either on display or kept in bags or boxes, and depending on their size and provenance, you can even wear them. You can keep them in small glass vials or bags to carry them on you, or you can use them as ritual adornments in your jewelry.
- Ritual Adornments: Fangs, shells, small bones, claws, or feathers can be used for protection, luck, for shamanic practice, or in order to draw from the qualities and abilities of the spirit animals that inhabit them. For example, a crow feather or claw may help balance your life and enforce your quest for knowledge of the greater mysteries, or fox fangs or bones may help you attain the wits you’d need in order to sail through a difficult situation. Likewise, they can be used during shamanic work for protection and guidance when traveling between worlds.
- Ritual Tools: Various bones, fangs, antlers, and shells can be used to adorn ritual tools with, such as wands or daggers, or they may be used as object rituals in and of themselves. They may also be used as divination tools, by carving or painting Runes on them, or you may even create your unique divination system by assigning a different meaning to each particular bone, fang, or shell that belong to the same divination set. You can also use large bones as vessels for the candles you use in your work. You may also use feathers among the bristles of your broom to enforce its power of “flight”.
- Smudging Rituals: Feathers are particularly potent for smudging rituals. You may use a feather from your spirit bird or make a wand that consists of multiple feathers, in order to spread the smoke throughout the space you are cleansing. Additionally, you may use a large bone or skull as a vessel in which you may burn the smudging herbs or incense.
- Witch Bags: You can use bones, feathers, fangs, and shells of your choosing in your witch bags for various purposes, as well as for witch bags you create for the sole intention of working with spirit animals. You may carry this on you, or you may use it while meditating or sleeping in order to help you travel between worlds.
- Ritual Arrangements: You may use animal remains to form a pattern on your altar or “work shrine”, which is only built for a given ceremony, in order to allow the energies of the spirit animals bound to the bones to flow throughout the altar. You may also meditate on these patterns, as they facilitate communication with the spirit animals present within them.
Bones in Romanian Witchcraft
In old Romanian tradition, the bones and antlers of a deer were the most revered among animal bones. The antlers were kept in sacred places to honor the spirit of the deer, which in Romanian lore bears Death, the old goddess, on its horns. Likewise, I also keep the antlers of a deer in my sacred space to honor the spirit and the goddess.
But Romanian tradition also regards certain animal remains as very potent for ‘dark magic’. For example, the claw of a rooster or a crow is believed to represent the cross with its arms broken and bent down, which makes it symbolic of ‘dark magic’. While this is obviously a Christian influence, it actually reinforced the belief in its potency for ‘dark magic’, because for example the rooster’s first song is considered sacred and able to break spells, while the crow is highly revered as a funeral and solar bird whose killing is a blasphemy. So, whoever would have a rooster or crow claw would be looked at as someone who obtained it after committing a blasphemy against these sacred animals.
I personally don’t believe in ‘dark magic’. Magic is magic and the way it is used defines only the magician. Likewise, I believe that any animal remains obtained as a result of directly or intentionally harming or hurting an animal are indeed potent for dark feats. But old animal remains that you find, whether you actively sought them or not in places you’d know you’d find them, are released from the superstition of ‘dark magic’ as long as you honor them. And speaking of bones you find, some people like to actively seek only certain animal remains and dismiss others.
For me, whatever comes my path I believe it’s there for a reason and I don’t discriminate against them. For example, I have cow, bull, and goat skulls, and even though these are not as revered traditionally as deer antlers, they are still as potent and they still belong to a genus of spirit animals that I revere and work with, whether they chose me by crossing my path, or whether they were just there because the woods seem to have become a dumping place for farmers, or that they simply died there and my sensitivity for the animal world, physical or spiritual, didn’t allow me to simply pass by them. We resonate and that is what matters.
I mostly use the bones that I have as ritual adornments, arrangements and tools during ancestral communion and animal magick work. I tend to use the same methods instinctively for different purposes. My magick is what a friend of mine endearingly calls ‘felt magick’, which means that I work primarily on instinct and intuition, and when my work happens to coincide with the ‘book’ or ‘special occasions’, it is just right and perfectly aligned in the great scheme of things.
In this case, what I mean by this is that I make ritual arrangements in the way I feel at that moment either to form a flow of energy generated by the spirit animals that the bones belong to in order to form a wall of protection during communion with the dead or the ancestors, or to commune with a certain spirit animal. I also burn incense in a vessel made from an occipital bone and spread the smoke with feathers so that the spirit animals they belong to enforce the cleansing ritual. I also purpose smaller bones for good luck and use them as charms that I wear in my earrings or necklaces.
Bone Magick and Spirit Animals or Totems
In order to truly benefit from the power of the bones you are using, you should learn more about the spirit animals they belong to, what deities are associated with them, and which are the messages they most commonly convey. For example, I have a raven claw that I wear as a symbol of my native totem, which is the Crow/Raven, during communions, magical work, or whenever I want to surround myself with its presence. When I don’t wear it, I keep it on the central place of my altar to honor my native spirit animal. The Crow/Raven is most commonly known as a funeral bird, it’s a great messenger between the dead and the living and during any type of work that I do, I fly on its protective and powerful wings. While the lore of animal magick is very important to take note of, the way you feel about the bones and their spirit animals is also very important.
Whenever you acquire animal remains, make sure you read the energies they bring. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to read bones, so trust your instincts when they tell you that some bones may serve you and others may not. This is important because there might be dormant or remnant energies tied to the bones that may not resonate with you, there may be pain and suffering that there is no way you would know of other than by reading them, or there may be certain spirit animals that would not like to serve you, and that is ok. But make sure you don’t bring bones into your sacred space before you attempt to read them.
And lastly, don’t forget to clean the bones you pick. Try to pick bones that have no smell or soft tissue on them and that have been out in the open for a while. I call them weathered bones because they are usually old by the time they reach this state. Once you’ve picked your weathered bones, simply soak them in warm water with biological washing powder, clean them with hydrogen peroxide, or simmer them in hot water, and then leave them in open air to dry for a few days.