Working with the parts and relics of the deceased in a spiritual fashion is a form of ecstatic union, connecting on a deeper level with the underlying spiritual current permeating what most conceive as “reality” (Kalunga is what would come to mind to the Palo practitioner). At its most superficial I’d describe it as a form of psychometry, but what it really is is taking on the role of the psychopomp. That itself takes on different manifestations, however. A dog and a crow are both psychopomps, but both are shaped differently from one another and behave and function in their own unique fashions. This also largely depends on who you are and what you are working with. Not everyone is capable of being a psychopomp. Taking on such a task without the mental or spiritual fortitude can manifest itself in mental imbalance, among other unpleasant things. I’ve seen this numerous times over the course of years in my work with the dead, but I’m not here to tell stories of specifics, but to offer a general idea of what this kind of work entails, and the job I perform personally.
What do I mean when I say “relics of the dead”? This could count as anything that is left behind at the moment of death, or relating in some way to the passing of an animal (be it human or nonhuman). Similar to the Catholic understanding of relics, these take primary and secondary forms. A primary relic would be the skin, hair, bone, nail or any other physical remnant of the direct body. A secondary relic would be various items such as pieces of clothing, reliquaries, graveyard dirt and so on. I’ve worked with relics of all kinds: animal bone, skin, blood, soft tissue, crematory ash, graveyard dirt, and numerous other items. Each of these things have different attributes, spiritual imprinting, and function. To keep things simple, I’ll start with the differences in spiritual function between animal bone and animal skin.
In my long experience, the deepest and longest-lasting spiritual connection one can find is within bone, particularly the skull. While fur and leather and soft tissue decays and dissolves, bone will endure for much longer and serves as a lasting foundation and record of the animal (whether human or nonhuman) that once lived. Numerous animistic cultures and spiritual traditions throughout the world make use of the skull as the primary focal point for spirit and for the personalities, thoughts and perceptions of the once-living animal. It is the sum total of all wisdom, knowledge, experience and sensation, which is why skulls were so revered and held highest of all the remains of the dead in numerous animist cultures and societies. In Regla de Palo, skulls make up a very important part of various ritual workings and spiritual tech. This has been the basic premise for a great many headhunter societies whose primary goal was to capture the head of the enemy and gain control over the fallen enemy’s soul. The bones and particularly the skulls of the ancestors received similar preparation and treatment. An example of this is the story of Odin and Mimir, when Odin preserves the head of the fallen sage through the use of various herbs and incantations, seating the soul within the decapitated head and accessing the wisdom and memory within. The severed head proffers wisdom and knowledge to Odin.
Animal skins and hides also make up a significant part of animistic practice and tech that involves psychopomp work. The skin is a very intimate part of the body, and is the external expression of ourselves, the organ by which we sense the world around us. Skin-to-skin contact is a very powerful form of connection and energy transferral. Much has been written about skinwalkers, berserkergangr (bear-shirt), and the shaman and his or her ritual cloak of shapeshifting. The skin or hide of an animal, especially when ritually prepared, is a powerful tool by which the animist or spirit-technician can interface with the spirit and energies of that particular animal. To give you an example of how powerful an animal skin can be, sometimes the simple act of draping one over a person can cause them to “go under” or become posessed by the animal’s spirit or energy. Animal skins can also be used as containers or coverings for the storage and transport of ritual and holy objects or items, or mediums on which spells, sigils and so on can be written upon. The spiritual charge within the skin or hide amplifies the work being done.
There are numerous examples of the above given, and I’ll write more on specifics later on. Part of what I do is fulfill the role of ‘sacred scavenger’, which means finding and preparing nature’s relics and artifacts to be used in a spiritual or ritually meaningful way. My methods range anywhere from scavenging roadkill to procuring tannery and furrier rejects to seeking out lost and overlooked treasures in antique stores, junk shops and estate sales, and the search itself is just as sacred. Part of my search involves meditation, prayer and offerings to the animal I wish to work with (either personally or for a contact or client seeking my assistance), and usually it will present itself in some form. An old skin in a junk shop, a skull at an estate sale, or a pile of bones in the forest. Serendipity and ‘coincidence’ make up a large part of this–what many occult practitioners call synchronicity.
I’ll write more on this later, when my migraine isn’t kicking my ass. Hopefully with pictures. Folks do love pictures. Keep up the great Work all!