Why I don’t work with dead babies

Skinning, dressing or otherwise prepping a once-living being is an intimate procedure. The body is not decontextualized, wrapped in plastic and lit with fluorescent lighting like the most common experience of meat in urban areas.

It’s not for everyone.

The infant mortality rate for many non-human animals is extremely high; finding that bodies are very young is a common experience among those who seek them out. Many people I’ve spoken with are dispassionate over, or unconcerned by working with baby animals. Some find the experience distressing, but persevere nonetheless.

It’s common in the Vulture Culture community to have no qualms about processing the bodies of infants or juveniles.
Newborn or foetal animals are often prized to be processed into wet specimens (a whole specimen preserved in fluid, sealed in a jar). Some anomalies such as cyclopic calves, attractive to collectors, rarely live beyond infancy, making it a necessity.

Preserving bodies of the young dead has its own set of challenges.
Baby birds don’t have feathers worth preserving, and the skin of smaller mammals is very thin and fragile.
The skulls of infants are not yet fully fused; this allows them to grow rapidly in life, but easily fall apart in death. They can be re-constructed later, but this requires patience, time and skill. Young bones are delicate, sometimes even almost spongy.

I don’t collect wet specimens because my interest in keeping remains is less scientifically motivated than some. I prefer the tactile experience of being able to hold my specimens-keeping dead things in jars is too clinical for my taste.
Less rationally, I’m also nervous they might get broken-like little unexploded biohazard grenades.

But I also have a more personal reason for passing over infant dead bodies when I find them.

Deceased babies may have stronger ties to the spirit world than this one; they haven’t inhabited their bodies for very long, after all. A newborn rat may or may not have as much knowledge of the fundamental state of Ratness, and what it is to be a rat, and live as a rat, than an older one.
Perhaps Rat, or any other Archetype Spirit progenitors are impartial towards the age of their children when they pass on. Perhaps not-I don’t claim to know.
But since I work with ‘skin spirits’, it makes sense to avoid ones who were badly mistreated in life (including violent deaths and fur farms), or infants.

An experience I had many years ago, early in my practice, solidified this rule. I found a baby bird that had fallen onto the ground and died. I hadn’t been collecting remains for long, so I was a little over-eager in processing things that I’d pass over today.
I went into a meditative journey/trance state to ask permission of the baby bird if I could take its body, and to perform my usual funerary rites when doing so.
The young bird was very wobbly, probably only a few days past hatching, but agreed that I could keep its bones.
The mother of the baby bird swooped me repeatedly, making frantic distress calls. She was upset and grieving, and I ended the meditation. I did not keep any of those remains, and the experience is one I’ll never forget. Consent and caring for the dead, and respecting their wishes are important aspects of spirit work. As animals all develop at different rates, I don’t have any strict guidelines for age, but it’s something to consider when bringing home a new specimen.

This experience set me on a path of a deeper  understanding of consent and the proper care of the dead; a simple yes/no answer is not sufficient. The circumstances that surround the question need to be delicately examined, and personal responsibility must be taken. After all, these are not simple objects and should not be treated as such; they deserve all the reverence and care one can provide.

On trusting yourself-featuring Fox and Coyote

I’m very prone to self-doubt; a self doubt beyond a healthy skepticism and desire to keep ego in check, at that.

To me, Fox is illusive, the secret keeper, the shadow trickster, hunter and prey. I have never once gotten a clear, good look at a living wild fox.

As a teen living on the Mornington Peninsula, a gang of them would slink across our front lawn, activating the motion-sensor porch light. My mother often saw them, but no matter how fast I rushed to the window, I never did.

I’ve skinned and tanned foxes killed by hunters, and seen unfortunate souls crumpled up on roadsides aplenty. Sometimes I’ve witnessed a blurry, fleeting glimpse of one out of the corner of my eye, so swift that I began to doubt it was real immediately after.

Early in my practice, I worked with Fox energy extensively. I found a very old antique fox tail, inhabited by a lively skin-spirit that loved to dance. I’d wear it on my belt for special occasions and public rituals.

A few years later a companion of mine gifted me with the face skin of a coyote. It was badly crumpled up and it’s skin-spirit grumpy (years later, reshaping it improved his disposition significantly). Knowing Coyote’s reputation I was somewhat aghast. I wasn’t ready for that kind of responsibility. I packed it away and largely forgot about it-it wasn’t the right time.

I went on a hiatus from spirit-work.

Later on, I acquired three much more personable Coyote skin-spirits. A skull, who sits on my altar, a tail, and another face skin. I have no doubt they chose me.

I began to wear at least one of my two tails as part of my regular attire. For a short time I wore both-on opposite sides of my body-as Fox and Coyote have an antagonistic relationship, with Coyote nipping at Fox’s heels.

The fox skin-spirit expressed a desire to retire from being worn; I’d had it for over a decade, and it must be older than that by several more. This was the moment that Fox energy slipped off the main stage of my life.

Enter, in force, the coyotes.

They have much to teach me, and I appreciate the company as they trot along by my side. Coyotes are generally warm, playful and chatty. A different kind of trickster; the bold, brash type that will encourage you to build a tower, only to push you off it so you learn humility.

Now, thinking about the past, that ever-present sense of doubt began to creep in.

I began to wonder if the connection I had with Fox was genuine. Did I simply want to work with foxes because I thought they were glamorous, alluring? Did I never see one because I had chosen them, and not the other way around? In my practice, cooperation is vital-the strongest bonds are the ones we don’t choose/initiate.

In a dream, ever the realm of mysteries, a handsome red fox appeared, very deliberately letting me get a good look at it before disappearing back into the scrub, going about its fox business. A sign that our connection was real, that I shouldn’t doubt it’s validity.

Fox taught me to keep chasing the intangible, to trust my intuition. To keep reaching for that goal, the one it’s too dark to see and just out of reach, but to keep stretching until I can brush it with my fingertips.

I best not forget it.

Manticore magic-a meandering ramble through my pagan practice

What pagan paradigm do I work with is a question I’ve been asked many times in my life, and I’m never quite sure how to answer.

Eclectic, neopagan, animist, hedgewitch, void walker, shamanistic spirit worker, magic user, skin priest-these are all terms that I’ve used to describe myself, but none of them fit me comfortably. As soon as I find one that feels comfortable, I quickly grow out of it. Telling people I primarily work with animal spirits is usually enough for casual introductions, but it’s not enough for me. I want more, ever hungry, ever curious, ever expanding my world.

I have neither a solid historical pagan tradition backing me up, nor a cultural one. Pop culture provides my mythical epics, video games my warrior heroes, books my spiritual insight. I’m a product of the cultures I grew up in, here in Melbourne Australia, and continue to participate in.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to piece together a coherent enough framework that can be used as the basis of a new pagan spiritual paradigm.

At the very least, this will be my record. This is my path, the one I carve out for myself, making my own truth.