As witches we don't just walk in the shadow, we open to it's mysteries like night blooming jasmine. Fragrant with magic and revived in the properties of the night. We thrive, dance and create with the shadow. In this article we will be working with the Greek goddess Hecate who is also known as the Queen of the Witches. We will learn how to tend bones and fashion them so that we may carry the spirit of the Queen of the Witches as well as the animal spirit close to our hearts in bone.
Hecate is the Greek name of the goddess of the shadow. She is connected with the dead, ancestral wisdom and the wisdom of the creatures of the earth, as well as the memory of the earth itself. She is the Mystery, the Void from are all things are created and destroyed, she is wisdom that comes with practice and age, dream practice, visions, divination and nocturnal activities. Hecate teaches about the bone as a magical tool. She is associated with the Hedge- physically the hedge is the entrance or edge of a wooded area. This is also the entrance between the mundane reality and the world of the spirits. The Crossroads- physically this is where four our three desolate roads meet. The cross roads also represent the four directions plus above, below and in the center which is another entrance between worlds and where one creates or interacts with spirits. Hecate is also associated with the Three Keys- the keys represent unlocking secrets and knowledge or opening a path, protection, and prosperity. Working with Hecate can offer you protection while walking in the shadow whether it's the dark night of the soul or intentionally working with the shadow in a ritual practice. She clarifies messages from dreams, dispels confusion, reveals mysteries of the witch’s path, enhances intuition, and gives visions. I will add that aside from reaching out to her in order to manifest, it is also a good practice to sit and just listen to or observe what she has to offer when she is evoked.
Accepting the shadow of the self: The Crone is the Woman of the Shadow. On a psychological and emotional level to dive into the shadow of the self can be uncomfortable if there are things that we are refusing to see. We may also subconsciously be afraid to acknowledge parts of ourselves that we've hidden away for fear that we will be vilified or that we have judged to be unacceptable. There may be a reluctance to see how we project our own unaccepted shadow onto others. When we cut off our own shadow we are only operating with half of the self. Hecate, the Wise Woman who knows, can show where we cut ourselves short and through her wisdom, our self-acceptance and understanding, paths may open that we didn't even know existed. But, our work as witches is much more than internal exploration.
What is in the shadow? The shadow or underworld is more than just a concept. It's is a space that the witch reaches through a state of trance to communicate with the dead and spirits of all kinds. This is why it important to cast a circle or create some kind of protection because this world does not just include loving ancestors that want to lift us up. This may also include confused/suffering deceased or lying spirits that could be attracted to the opening between worlds and want to attach to you or follow you home. After the ritual space is established and the practice has begun, when you open to the shadow, you may find that this is a beautiful and sacred experience. Magic is so very personal and what may be felt, seen, heard, or sensed in any kind of way is entirely up to where the practitioner is at so to speak and their own personal relationship to the shadow. It is certainly practice that seasons the witch. Witchcraft is always an adventure and what better adventure than to unabashedly traverse the Night.
Why do we want to enter the shadow? Aside from discovering and accepting things about our own nature, a celebration of the shadow or a dark goddess, or to communicate with spirits, the shadow is an oracular space. One can scry, hone intuitive faculties, gather energy for dream work, charge herbs associated with the night for other workings, or what we will do here which is to create a fetish where the essence of a spirit or deity is drawn into an object. In this case we will be working with bones.
This section on bone tending is very much hedge witchery and to do it must take a willingness to roll up your sleeves, and really get into the dirty work. If you are in an urban area and do not often get the chance to come across deceased animals in nature or if this is not for you, we will visit alternative bone tending after this section. Feather preservation is a whole other process that cannot be eliminated due to possible feather mite infestation. While we may all love feathers, it is best to save it for another article in order to stay on topic.
I will add here that I absolutely do not harm animals to get their bones. Personally this would greatly disrespect and destroy a pact that I have with the animal spirits. Because I have been in the practice of asking, it does not take long before I come across bones or the body of a deceased animal. If you habit yourself to asking, it will come to you.
For this craft you will need:
a bandanna or mask
a sturdy five-gallon bucket or bigger
a cement block or something just as heavy that can withstand the weather
some type of basin large enough to hold finished bones
a cardboard box
a big pot that you may not want to use for cooking food anymore
a sharp knife
wire cutters (for larger animals)
the body of a deceased animal of the night.
Here are some small animals associated with the shadow, and our craft, but this list is by no means a limitation:
- Crow or Raven
- Toad or Frog
All of these animals listed carry the same correspondences that I mentioned above for Hecate and the shadow and they also carry their own specific correspondences. I am choosing not to list their specific correspondences here because I believe that it is important for the witch to develop their own specific relationship with these animals and their energies. Ask and see what comes to you.
Before scooping up the dead, ask: Is this right for the spirit and for you? Is there a connection? Is the spirit asking you something? Respect and reverence is number one. Are you to come back with an offering to the spirits of the land from which you are taking this animal? If all lights are green, do not touch the dead with your bare hands as this will spread bacteria from the putrefaction process (if the animal already has a lot of bugs the organs may be gaseous. Do not harvest the body. Leave it long enough for the bugs to do their work. Putrid exploding organs are not fun and it could be a health hazard).
I am in the habit of always carrying plastic bags on me in the event that I come across an animal corpse. Put a bag over each of your hands like big gloves. *Never use your bare hands*. Use one bagged hand to scoop the animal into the other bagged hand. Once the animal or a good part of it is in a firm grasp use the now freed bagged hand to pull the bag around the animal so that it is now inside one of the bags. Double bag it by taking the other bagged palm under the base of the bag with the animal in it and pull the outer edges up and around it. Tie it off.
Once you are home
*Put your gloves on* then gently empty the bag outside of your home in an undisturbed area. If you have a bird (with gloves on) clip off the wings at the joint and remove as many feathers from the corpse as possible. You can make these parts an offering to the land. Put the animal body underneath your bucket and place the cement block or other very heavy object on top so that animals will not be able to knock it over and take your body. Wash your hands thoroughly with hot water and strong soap. I also wash and disinfect door knobs, the sink handle, and anything else I may have come into contact with. With your animal safely under the bucket, the bugs will go to work decomposing the organs and flesh of the body.
The time needed for decay will vary depending on the size of the animal. It could take a week or a couple months. While this process is happening endeavor to connect with this spirit through sitting outside and moving between listening and stating your intentions. You can also include the animal spirit in your rituals, or dream work. Write a song or chant than evokes the spirit of this animal. An example is: “Spirit of Crow (or whichever animal) who knows the Night, a familiar may you be, by my side. Protect and teach me your secret ways, create with me, a bond that stays”. Make it personal. Make it brief so that it easy to remember and get into the rhythm. When the rhythm hits you in a certain way, and you will know... ride the energy of the connection.
Check on the animal from time to time to know that it remains undisturbed and to observe progress. Wear gloves and cover your face. When the organs have diminished and what you have left are mostly bones, maybe some flesh is left, maybe some fur or some feathers, and some tendons it is time for the next phase.
Engage in this practice on the dark moon: Put your gloves on and tie your bandanna around your nose and mouth or put your mask on to retrieve the animal. It's not advisable to inhale putrefaction. Put in your boiling pot of water. After you have stirred a bit you can take off your bandanna. If you have access to an outside fire pit awesome, if not this is okay, just be sure to open the windows and light some incense. If you have created a song or chant do this now or if it's right for you, create a new incantation for this next process and perform this while you are stirring the pot. An example is: “Stirring pot and swirling bone, familiar of the Toad be known (or whichever animal). I call you in, on this hour to bless me with your gifts and power”.
As you stir interact with your craft as you are stirring not just the body, but the energy, and the spirit that is still very much alive with the relationship that you have been cultivating. Bones will fall away and there should be a decent amount of separation. If you're not already outside, then take the pot outside. Wait for it to cool and then with gloves on remove any remaining feathers or fur.
You may have to gently cut away tendons with your knife or gently hand separate (*Wearing gloves*) vertebrae, and remove the skull from the spine. If you are working with a bird be sure to cut and save the feet. The crow foot is especially connected with Hecate. Next place your bones (and bird feet if applicable) in the cardboard box with a heavy layer of cornmeal already on the bottom and pour more cornmeal on top to completely cover up the bones. The bones should be buried at least a few inches under the top layer of cornmeal. The cornmeal will soak up moisture from the boiling as well as any natural juice of the bone. Let this sit in a dry place. The larger the animal the longer it needs to sit a frog or a toad may take no time at all but a larger animal the longer the process. It could take two to six months.
When you check on your bones always wash your hands when you're through. (Please forgive me for this) you will know when they are ready, when they are bone dry. Brush off the cornmeal and place them in your bin with fifty percent peroxide and fifty percent water. Cover and let sit for up to two weeks. This is for whitening as well as disinfecting. Do not use bleach it is too harsh and could destroy the bone. Bones of the toad or frog may not need that much time so keep an eye on them and when they’re white take them out. Do not leave birds feet in the peroxide for that long. I left my crow’s feet in for maybe about an hour and then put them back in the cornmeal box for a few weeks to dry out again and they were just fine. Once they are whitened lay the bones out to dry in a protected area.
** CAUTION **
Hedge Witchery is not dainty. It’s dangerous, it’s dirty, and it’s not always kind. The practitioner engages in this craft at their own risk. Working with this kind of decay can spread sickness or disease if precautionary measures are not taken and instructions are not followed. Dead animal bodies are filled with bacteria and may carry viruses. It is the practitioner’s responsibility to administer caution and use a combination of intuition and common sense when working hands on with an animal corpse. Follow ALL of the instructions. Always wear gloves. Always wash your hands thoroughly with hot water and antibacterial soap when finished. Always disinfect your working space when finished. Do not touch your face or any part of you after handling an animal corpse. Be present with what you’re doing and always disinfect what may have been contaminated. I mentioned above that if the body you come across already is significantly bug infested then leave it in nature because if you try to pick it up and the organs are gaseous it can explode. Are there bugs swarming the body? Does the body look bloated? Don’t touch it. That means blood, guts, feces, and bacteria all over you. If you’re meant to work with those bones they will still be there after the organs decompose. Harvesting an animal corpse is best when the death is fresh. Boiling is part of the disinfectant process as well as the peroxide bath. There is no way to take the nitty gritty, the risk, or the morbidity out of Hedge Witchery otherwise it’s not Hedge Witchery. Hedge Witchery is dear to my heart. Take precautions, be smart, have fun, and love the process.
Urban Bone Tending
If this is not attainable for you or if the work is just not your cup of tea, you can by all means purchase your bones online. Know that whoever has harvested and preserved the bones has their energy in them so this is something to think about while looking for a supplier. Once you have received the bones gently bury the bones in a container of salt for 48 hours. Maybe the salt will need to be changed during this time and maybe not. Your intuition will tell you. This will cleanse the energy. Next you will need to add your energy to your bones as you cultivate a relationship with them. Work with them into your dark moon rituals, sing or chant them to you like I mentioned above, calling this spirit into your life. Bless them with fragrant oil (this may discolor them) place them in a safe area next to while you are sleeping for dream work. The more you work with your bones, the stronger the bond, the deeper the connection, the more access to the power, wisdom, and blessings the spirit can bring.
Drawing the Crone to the Bone
Work with the Crone on the dark moon. When you invite Hecate into your ritual and into your life you are also working with the shadow and all that it entails.
The Greek oracle, poet and musician Orpheus wrote a hymn to Hecate:
"Hekate Einodia, Trioditis, lovely dame, of earthly, watery, and celestial frame, sepulchral, in a saffron veil arrayed, pleased with dark ghosts that wander through the shade; Perseis (daughter of Perses), solitary goddess, hail! The world's key-bearer, never doomed to fail; in stags rejoicing, huntress, nightly seen, and drawn by bulls, unconquerable queen; Leader, Nymphe, mountain wandering nurturer of youth, hear the suppliants who with holy rites thy power revere, and to the herdsman with a favouring mind draw near."
If calling on this goddess is compatible with who you are, may your experience with her be enriching and may you benefit from her dark grace; however, as you can see tending bones is a practice in and of itself. Working with the bones does not necessarily depend on you working with Hecate. If she is for you, her offerings include: fish, garlic, onions, eggs and bread. Four (the directions and the crossroads) black or red candles can be dressed in garlic, mugwort, and mint infused oil. Performing your ritual on an actual hedge or crossroads that you have an established relationship with is an exhilarating experience and should you be able to, I highly suggest it. If you're practicing at home (and as you may already know), just as a teacher told me a long time ago: when practiced in earnest the spirit will come. After you have established your ritual space by the means which you are accustomed to, call on her using your own words. Again, you can write a song or a chant that will induce and maintain a light trance as you evoke her presence. Speak the truth that is in your heart. Make it known that you wish to carry her wisdom and grace with you in the bone. Make this extremely personal. Speak why it is that you wish to work with her. Sing, chant, and/or speak her essence into the bone. Your witch senses will let you know when it is done. Repeat this to strengthen the bond on nights when the moon is dark. You can wear your bones fashioning them as sacred jewelry, keep them on your altar or close to where you sleep.
Working with the bones is an ancient practice that draws us ever closer to the spirits of the earth and our craft. It is intimate and the resulting experiences can be profound. May the Crone and bones guide you well in the shadow, may they inspire you and offer you blessings both dark and light.