I have been reading through Skins Spirits by Lupa , and I have had some thoughts that I wanted to share on this book.
First off, if you have any interest of working with animal parts in a practical/spiritual manner, this book is HIGHLY recommended! Honestly, I can not praise this book enough. Reading through this book, I found myself saying “yes!” and nodding along at several locations, and it is a wonderful to see many of my thoughts reflected in Lupa’s well written read words. Skin Spirits was published back in 2009, and the impression I was left with after reading it was twofold; First, “where have you been all my life?!” and second; “why did it take me so long to become aware of this?!”
Yes, it would be safe to say I am a big fan of this book. But all the gushing and glowing aside, there are some very good thoughts, ideas and concepts well presented throughout this book that I really wanted to talk about here. I come at this book from my own walk in life, primarily as a hunter and an animist. In fact, I have been reading it mostly while out hunting (oh the irony!)
In the first chapter, she lays out the reasons for working with animal parts, and I wanted to briefly touch on these from my own perspective.
1) To Give the Spirits a better “Afterlife”
This reason is very important to me on so many levels. It is something I have to think about whenever I go hunting. As a hunter, I strive to make my kills as clean as possible in order to prevent suffering. Also, I am spiritually obligated to the animal after it is killed. Call it a “life debt”. I have to make sure the spirit is treated properly and with respect, and that, should the spirit desire to do so, that it makes it way into the keeping of its ancestors. Lupa just adds another layer to this, and further adds to my intellectual toolbox. It goes beyond just making sure the “core” spirit of the animal is properly cared for, but also the “partial spirit” that continues to reside in the remains. These too should be treated with respect.
In addition, I have been trying to learn more about leatherworking, and working with the remains from the animals I hunt. Lupa certainly presents plenty to think about in this regard, and I will continue to mull it over as I learn more about tanning, leather crafting, and working with animal remains.
2) To Connect with Spirits, Deities and Other Entities
Bones, feathers, skins and so forth can be used as ritual tools to connect with spirit of the animal, or as Lupa puts it, to the totem of that animal. To keep on point, this one is pretty straightforward. As Lupa presents it, skins and other animal remains retain a part of the spirit of the original anima, and this can be used as a connection to the spirit itself, or to greater beings that represent the entire species. For example, Lupa uses remains to call on the spirit she wants to work with, such as in dance or ritual.
3) To avoid waste and 4) aesthetic reasons.
As these two points are pretty straight forward, I won’t say much about them. To avoid waste in a big one, and basically comes down to the principle of recycling. It is important to me to use as much of an animal as I can, especially if it is one I killed. That is part of the obligation, but it all just makes good sense as far as conservation is concerned. Waste not, want not. The other point is aesthetics, where in we concede the point that animal remains have a certain look about them. “Tribal” “Primitive”, or “Shamanic”. My take away from Lupa’s book is that while remains can be aesthetically pleasing, we should have other reasons for working with animal remains for more than just the way they look. Afterall, we are just talking about lifeless hunks of material, but the beings that still are part of those remains. Beings that are worthy of respect, and that they should be treated as such.
The rest of the book covers things like ethical and legal concerns, more detailed information about working with skin spirits, as well as practical ways to create items from skins and other animal remains. I am glossing over these parts for several reasons; first, it would make this blog way too long for easy reading, and second and most importantly; it is not my place to recap the entirety of another author’s work. Out of respect for Lupa, and any author, if you want to read more about these things you will have to purchase the work. It is not my place to offer freely that which is not mine.
As such, I wanted to focus on a couple of other points. First, I want to talk a little about “fake” animal remains and the real thing. As Lupa points out, there are several reasons a person might not want/be able to work with the real thing. There could be ethical issues, legal issues, financial issues, as well as other reasons. The animal you want to work with may be extinct, or may not dwell on this plane of existence.
In my own case, I work with wolf spirits, and so I am not allowed to own anything that would in anyway sanction the killing of a wolf, even if it is legal. It’s a spiritual taboo, and as far as the spirits I work with are concerned, it amounts to kin killing. As such, in order to work with wolf, I do have a faux fur cloak. It originally started its life as part of a Halloween costume one year, and then turned into a ritual artifact.
However, as in my own case, I am aware of how environmentally unfriendly having such a pelt is. It takes petroleum to produce it, and it will practically never breakdown (a few thousand years or so.) As such, I never intend to replace it once it starts to fall apart, and I have resolved to use as much as I can until I can no longer do so. Basically, to reuse it as much as I can, and do my best to prevent it from ending up in a landfill. Lupa has a more recent post on fake furs, which is liked below.
The point being, that sometimes we have to turn to substitutes. I have been exploring other options such as smaller items and masks. I have a few wolf pendants, and because of Lupa’s book, I have also been exploring the idea of wolf-shed (made from the shedded fur of live wolves) artifacts. It may just be an option considering the taboos I am under.
Thanks for reading!
Skin Spirits, by Lupa.
Find it on her website at http://www.thegreenwolf.com