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Lupa

 

 

 

Leftover Spirits
by Lupa
©


Today is an artwork day.  Iíve been looking forward to it, and now Iím taking advantage of it.  I donít have as much time for creating things as I used to, so when I do have some time for these things, I savor it.

Iíve been unemployed for a few weeks, and my husband, Taylor, has been kind enough to give me a month off before I even have to start job hunting.  The past year has been hell on me.  We moved fromPittsburgh toSeattle last March, and I ended up getting yet another physically demanding job in a long string of similar employment.  Unfortunately, a bachelorís in English doesnít get much in Pittsburgh, and once we hit Seattle I had to get the first thing I could find just to help cover the bills while Taylor looked for something more substantial.

Itís my turn, now, to look for a real job, something that pays more than $10 an hour.  But first, Iíve gotten a break to let my body and psyche recover from a lot of stress and damage.  Iíve finished editing a couple of manuscripts for Taylor, who is the managing editor for the pagan/occult publisher we both write for, and Iíve just sent off the second-to-last draft of my own current book project.  Thereís nothing else pressing, so itís time for me to create things.

I donít paint on canvas, at least not very well, and my drawing ability is negligible at best.  However, give me leather, fur, beads, bone and other such things, and I can make anything from ritual tools to jewelry to wall hangings and then some.  Old fur coats, taxidermy mounts, disassembled costume jewelryóthese and more are the materials I use.

Wait a minuteódid I say materials?  Thatís not the right word.  Thereís much more respect to what I do.  Iím well aware of the conditions in factory farms and fur farms.  I know how trappers and hunters arenít always ethical.  I have deer skulls I found with their antlers sawn off, the meat and fur left to rot in the woods.  I have fur coats abandoned to Goodwill bins, deer heads that have been removed from wooden plaques and cardboard taxidermy moldings, bone beads released from broken necklaces.  There are faces and tails and feet that were thrown away by the coat factories because all they wanted were the pelts of foxes, coyotes and raccoons. 

The souls have departed, and yet there is spirit left to these remains.  Laden with chemicals, I canít bury them in the Earth or burn them.  But I canít leave them as trophies either.  So I talk to the spirits left in the furs and bones.  I ask them what they want to become, what piece of beauty theyíd like to be a part of.  I canít give them their lives back, but I can give them new existences.

I open one of the ten big blue plastic watertight bins in the laundry room where I keep most of what I work with.  As I sift through layers of old coats and stoles, a sleeve of white fox calls out to me.  Sheís soft, with a little sprinkle of grey and black hairs amid the white; she enjoys the attention of being petted and looked at as something other than a status symbol bought with blood money.  I donít hear words, but the image of a drawstring pouch flashes into my mind.  Aha, a simple one, but lovely nonetheless.  I draw out the fur with a caress, and take her back to my work area.

I sit down amid partially finished and completed projects.  Here is the horse totem I made from an old dog bone and some horse hair.  Thereís the painted doe skull that I just need to add a string to hang her from.  Perched on the tall candle holder is the headdress I made from an old mule deer taxidermy mount, antlers and all.  And outside on the porch thereís a cloak made from wolf fur and painted deer skinóI used acrylics on the leather, and Iím in the process of spraying it with layers of sealant to protect my work.

I examine the fox fur.  Sheís from an older coat, and some of the strips of fur are dry and brittle.  This means Iíll have to glue a fabric backing so sheíll hold.  I ask the fox, nicely, if I may do so, and she agrees, content just to be in my hands.  Once the backing is attached, I lay the fox to the side, and head back to the bins.

This time the bin of deer antlers calls to me.  I open the lid, and right on top, as if heíd fought the other antlers for the best spot, is an old, weather, heavy whitetail antler.  You donít see whitetails this size any moreóthe main beam must be more than four inches in circumference.  The ends of the tines are broken off, and the surface of grey antler looks like old wood.  

I lift up the old trooper, feeling the heft and weight of the bone.  Iíve made a number of things with such antlers, and Iím curious as to what he wants to be.  He sends me an image of a bowl, and I know immediately what heís talking about.  I have handcarved wooden bowls which I mount on deer antler as ritual offering dishes.  So itís back to the supply room to pull out a bowl. 

Normally I cradle the bowl in the curve of the antler.  However, this deer was so big that the bowl slides out easily.  He tells me, ďTurn me overĒ, not with words, but a sensation of picking up the rough bone and balancing it on its broken tips.  I do so, and the bowl settles nicely at the apex of the curve.  Already the antler is feeling better, and he allows me to drill small peg holes to help secure the bowl to his back.  The adhesive holding the pegs in will need time to dry, so I set the antler and his bowl aside for the moment and walk outside to check on my cloak.

This is one of the few pieces where Iíve used a brand new pelt.  At one of the pagan gatherings I attend yearly there is a reputable dealer in pelts and other animal parts. One year, as I was walking through his tent, asking the animals who was going to go home with me, a lovely black and silver timber wolf pelt begged for a moment of my time.  Several years later, he is now stitched to two halves of a black deerskin, made into a ritual cloak.  Were I to turn him over, I would be the CITES information, the numbers that tell me that he was taken legally, written in permanent marker above his tail.  But itís the other side Iím concerned with right now.

The black deerskin is quite happy to be my canvas today.  Iíve only painted one half of the cloak today; the rest will happen tomorrow.  Iím reminded, for a moment, of some of the buffalo robes made by the Lakhota and other plains tribes ofNorth America, which had painted decoration on the skin side while the fur kept the wearer warm.  Instead of stories of wars and successful hunts performed by other cultures, though, I have painted my personal cosmology on this half of deerhide.  At the center is a silver and black wolf next to an evergreen tree.  The roots of the tree pass under a river teeming with fish, and into an underworld populated by a golden-skinned pomegranate, a serpentine ankh made of an Ourobouros and a Caduceus, and an infant Coyote holding a chaostar.  These three things represent, respectively, entrance to the Underworld, rebirth and remaking, and the potential for new life.  The tree next to the wolf is climbed by Ratatosk, the squirrel who runs up and down the World Tree carrying messages.  At the top of the evergreen is a Qabalistic Tree of Life, representing the ascent to higher realms.

As I spray one more layer of sealant on the intricate design, I think of how these different symbols have affected my life and my worldview.  But I also think of the wolf and the deer who once ran through the wilderness, probably far away from each other, and who are now brought together in this creation of mine.  I think of how our paths have collided to create a symbol of pathworking in general, a tool meant to help whatever magician or pagan it goes to climb up and down the World Tree in search of answers.

All of the animal parts I work with come from a variety of sources.  Some are from flea markets or online sources; others I found in the woods.  And a few have been mailed to me by people who wanted to see them get a better home.  Most have had bad deaths, which is why part of the purification process is to meditate with the spirits and relive their dying moments. 

Most people are repulsed by dead things, especially the faces and tails.  Yet theyíll wear leather shoes, or eat hamburger, or eat produce laced with pesticides that killed numerous insectsóand possibly larger animals as well.  Iíve always liked working with skulls and bones, fur and feather, ever since I scavenged rabbit skulls and turkey feathers from the woods I grew up near.  Itís natural to me, and I am honored by their trust.  They trust me to help them find a better afterlife than hanging on a wall or in a closet of mothballs.  They know that my clientele are pagans and magicians, people who will honor them in ritual and magic.

But I also know that it doesnít have to be this way.  Perhaps some day I wonít have to rehabilitate these remains, because theyíll no longer be pulled from the Earth unnaturally and treated with chemicals.  I give a portion of the money I make from my artwork to the Defenders of Wildlife, a nonprofit group that works to protect wildlife and their habitat.  I write letters to my representatives, and I pass on news bits to others who may do the same.

But as long as there are remains left mistreated, they will come to me and others who work the same magic, to be turned from symbols of human domination to participants in magic and creative processes.Today is an artwork day.  Iíve been looking forward to it, and now Iím taking advantage of it.  I donít have as much time for creating things as I used to, so when I do have some time for these things, I savor it.

Iíve been unemployed for a few weeks, and my husband, Taylor, has been kind enough to give me a month off before I even have to start job hunting.  The past year has been hell on me.  We moved fromPittsburgh toSeattle last March, and I ended up getting yet another physically demanding job in a long string of similar employment.  Unfortunately, a bachelorís in English doesnít get much in Pittsburgh, and once we hit Seattle I had to get the first thing I could find just to help cover the bills while Taylor looked for something more substantial.

Itís my turn, now, to look for a real job, something that pays more than $10 an hour.  But first, Iíve gotten a break to let my body and psyche recover from a lot of stress and damage.  Iíve finished editing a couple of manuscripts for Taylor, who is the managing editor for the pagan/occult publisher we both write for, and Iíve just sent off the second-to-last draft of my own current book project.  Thereís nothing else pressing, so itís time for me to create things.

I donít paint on canvas, at least not very well, and my drawing ability is negligible at best.  However, give me leather, fur, beads, bone and other such things, and I can make anything from ritual tools to jewelry to wall hangings and then some.  Old fur coats, taxidermy mounts, disassembled costume jewelryóthese and more are the materials I use.

Wait a minuteódid I say materials?  Thatís not the right word.  Thereís much more respect to what I do.  Iím well aware of the conditions in factory farms and fur farms.  I know how trappers and hunters arenít always ethical.  I have deer skulls I found with their antlers sawn off, the meat and fur left to rot in the woods.  I have fur coats abandoned to Goodwill bins, deer heads that have been removed from wooden plaques and cardboard taxidermy moldings, bone beads released from broken necklaces.  There are faces and tails and feet that were thrown away by the coat factories because all they wanted were the pelts of foxes, coyotes and raccoons. 

The souls have departed, and yet there is spirit left to these remains.  Laden with chemicals, I canít bury them in the Earth or burn them.  But I canít leave them as trophies either.  So I talk to the spirits left in the furs and bones.  I ask them what they want to become, what piece of beauty theyíd like to be a part of.  I canít give them their lives back, but I can give them new existences.

I open one of the ten big blue plastic watertight bins in the laundry room where I keep most of what I work with.  As I sift through layers of old coats and stoles, a sleeve of white fox calls out to me.  Sheís soft, with a little sprinkle of grey and black hairs amid the white; she enjoys the attention of being petted and looked at as something other than a status symbol bought with blood money.  I donít hear words, but the image of a drawstring pouch flashes into my mind.  Aha, a simple one, but lovely nonetheless.  I draw out the fur with a caress, and take her back to my work area.

I sit down amid partially finished and completed projects.  Here is the horse totem I made from an old dog bone and some horse hair.  Thereís the painted doe skull that I just need to add a string to hang her from.  Perched on the tall candle holder is the headdress I made from an old mule deer taxidermy mount, antlers and all.  And outside on the porch thereís a cloak made from wolf fur and painted deer skinóI used acrylics on the leather, and Iím in the process of spraying it with layers of sealant to protect my work.

I examine the fox fur.  Sheís from an older coat, and some of the strips of fur are dry and brittle.  This means Iíll have to glue a fabric backing so sheíll hold.  I ask the fox, nicely, if I may do so, and she agrees, content just to be in my hands.  Once the backing is attached, I lay the fox to the side, and head back to the bins.

This time the bin of deer antlers calls to me.  I open the lid, and right on top, as if heíd fought the other antlers for the best spot, is an old, weather, heavy whitetail antler.  You donít see whitetails this size any moreóthe main beam must be more than four inches in circumference.  The ends of the tines are broken off, and the surface of grey antler looks like old wood.  

I lift up the old trooper, feeling the heft and weight of the bone.  Iíve made a number of things with such antlers, and Iím curious as to what he wants to be.  He sends me an image of a bowl, and I know immediately what heís talking about.  I have handcarved wooden bowls which I mount on deer antler as ritual offering dishes.  So itís back to the supply room to pull out a bowl. 

Normally I cradle the bowl in the curve of the antler.  However, this deer was so big that the bowl slides out easily.  He tells me, ďTurn me overĒ, not with words, but a sensation of picking up the rough bone and balancing it on its broken tips.  I do so, and the bowl settles nicely at the apex of the curve.  Already the antler is feeling better, and he allows me to drill small peg holes to help secure the bowl to his back.  The adhesive holding the pegs in will need time to dry, so I set the antler and his bowl aside for the moment and walk outside to check on my cloak.

This is one of the few pieces where Iíve used a brand new pelt.  At one of the pagan gatherings I attend yearly there is a reputable dealer in pelts and other animal parts. One year, as I was walking through his tent, asking the animals who was going to go home with me, a lovely black and silver timber wolf pelt begged for a moment of my time.  Several years later, he is now stitched to two halves of a black deerskin, made into a ritual cloak.  Were I to turn him over, I would be the CITES information, the numbers that tell me that he was taken legally, written in permanent marker above his tail.  But itís the other side Iím concerned with right now.

The black deerskin is quite happy to be my canvas today.  Iíve only painted one half of the cloak today; the rest will happen tomorrow.  Iím reminded, for a moment, of some of the buffalo robes made by the Lakhota and other plains tribes ofNorth America, which had painted decoration on the skin side while the fur kept the wearer warm.  Instead of stories of wars and successful hunts performed by other cultures, though, I have painted my personal cosmology on this half of deerhide.  At the center is a silver and black wolf next to an evergreen tree.  The roots of the tree pass under a river teeming with fish, and into an underworld populated by a golden-skinned pomegranate, a serpentine ankh made of an Ourobouros and a Caduceus, and an infant Coyote holding a chaostar.  These three things represent, respectively, entrance to the Underworld, rebirth and remaking, and the potential for new life.  The tree next to the wolf is climbed by Ratatosk, the squirrel who runs up and down the World Tree carrying messages.  At the top of the evergreen is a Qabalistic Tree of Life, representing the ascent to higher realms.

As I spray one more layer of sealant on the intricate design, I think of how these different symbols have affected my life and my worldview.  But I also think of the wolf and the deer who once ran through the wilderness, probably far away from each other, and who are now brought together in this creation of mine.  I think of how our paths have collided to create a symbol of pathworking in general, a tool meant to help whatever magician or pagan it goes to climb up and down the World Tree in search of answers.

All of the animal parts I work with come from a variety of sources.  Some are from flea markets or online sources; others I found in the woods.  And a few have been mailed to me by people who wanted to see them get a better home.  Most have had bad deaths, which is why part of the purification process is to meditate with the spirits and relive their dying moments. 

Most people are repulsed by dead things, especially the faces and tails.  Yet theyíll wear leather shoes, or eat hamburger, or eat produce laced with pesticides that killed numerous insectsóand possibly larger animals as well.  Iíve always liked working with skulls and bones, fur and feather, ever since I scavenged rabbit skulls and turkey feathers from the woods I grew up near.  Itís natural to me, and I am honored by their trust.  They trust me to help them find a better afterlife than hanging on a wall or in a closet of mothballs.  They know that my clientele are pagans and magicians, people who will honor them in ritual and magic.

But I also know that it doesnít have to be this way.  Perhaps some day I wonít have to rehabilitate these remains, because theyíll no longer be pulled from the Earth unnaturally and treated with chemicals.  I give a portion of the money I make from my artwork to the Defenders of Wildlife, a nonprofit group that works to protect wildlife and their habitat.  I write letters to my representatives, and I pass on news bits to others who may do the same.

But as long as there are remains left mistreated, they will come to me and others who work the same magic, to be turned from symbols of human domination to participants in magic and creative processes.