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.