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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Bone Magic Series: Feathers, Fangs, and Claws: How to Use Them in Magic

Bone Magic Series: Feathers, Fangs, and Claws: How to Use Them in Magic

Previously in the series, I covered bones and skulls and furs and pelts. This is only a fraction of the animal remains witches commonly use, and while this is a bone magic series, I strongly felt the need to cover a variety of animal remains because their uses make more sense with the proper context. This post will discuss all those miscellaneous remains, including feathers, teeth, and claws.

Feathers

Feathers are keratin filaments that cover the outside of birds and even some dinosaurs. They make up the plumage and not only provide warmth and water resistance, but also allow for flight. Like animal pelts and skins, feathers do not preserve well over time, so much of what we know of their historical magical uses stem from indigenous cultures, mostly Native American, and ancient mythology. Feathers have long been used as ornamentation on ceremonial garb, particularly headdresses among many groups worldwide, or as robes and cloaks. Birds are believed to possess a spiritual essence, their feathers being used to aid in flight and communication with the spirit world (source).

The type of bird largely impacted the type of magic associated with the feather. Macaw feathers, desired for their color and highly valued, were used by the Tewa for ceremonial purposes as a way to bring rain, which was believed to come from the South, the cardinal direction associated with the macaw (source). These feathers were so valuable, in fact, that they were often traded for goods, including turquoise and skins (source). Among the Zuni, turkey feathers were believed to represent mortality and therefore not worn by a dancer should death follow. Today, turkey feathers are often buried on All Souls' Day so the dead may wear them to dance (source). Eagles were and are symbolic of the sun or sky and were often used in combination with turkey feathers. It was believed the eagle was a spirit messenger and could take prayers to the heavens. Wearing the feather of an eagle is said to bring strength, wisdom, and protection (source). In the Hopi Snake Dance, a dancer follows the snake carrier while continuously brushing the rattlesnake with an eagle feather to stop the snake from striking (source). In Celtic mythology, the eagle was believed to be one of the oldest of all creatures.  In the tale of Culhwch and Olwen, Culhwch is tasked with finding the magical child Mabon. He asks a number of animals to help him in his quest, the eagle being the animal who tips him off as to where Mabon is (source). The eagle also appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in an account of the Battle of Brunanburh which says, "...the grey-coated eagle, white-tailed, to have his will of the corpses." This suggests the eagle took advantage of the deaths during the battle, thus again showing wisdom and ingenuity. Furthermore, Highland clan chiefs often wore three eagle feathers in their bonnets as a symbol of rank (source).

Crow feathers, like the eagle, were also used for wisdom and knowledge, as well as death and witchcraft (source, source). The tail feathers of a peacock, in spite of the beautiful plumage, is believed to bring ill luck and attract the evil eye, due to the tip resembling a human eye. Peacocks are scared to Juno, the patron goddess of women, and to rob a peacock of its tail feathers is thought to offend her (source). This, of course, is not a complete list of all feather correspondences but it does drive the point home that feathers have numerous magical associations.

In Egyptian myth, the feather of Ma'at was the judge of one's soul. According to the story, the heart of the deceased was handed over to Osiris, the God of Death, who placed it on a giant golden scale and balanced it against the white feather of Ma'at, the feather of truth. If the heart was lighter than the feather, thus showing it was free from impurities and sin, then the gods would consult the Forty-Two Judges to decide whether or not the soul was worthy. If so, the soul would pass to the Field of Reeds, the Summerland/Heaven equivalent in Egyptian mythology (source). The feather is also the symbol of Shu, the Egyptian god of Air and father of the Earth. Shu is often depicted wearing a feather in his hair. As such, the feather is often associated with the element Air (source).

Ancient Shamans in Siberia and the Druids of Europe often wore birdlike cloaks and costumes to represent transformation. The Colloquy of the Two Sages describes the possession of a three-colored feather robe by a High Bard. "...A covering of bright bird's feathers in the middle, a showery specking of fin-druine (white silver) on the lower half, and a golden color on the upper half." Another similar description is found in Cormac's Glossary, referred to as a tugen which was a Feathered Cloak commonly worn by Irish poets to represent mysticism and knowledge (source).

Feathers are also commonly placed in Witched Ladders. In the late 1800s, several strange items were found in the eaves of a house in England including a string of feathers. The house was then declared to belong to a witch and the string of feathers was referred to as a 'witches ladder.' In this case, it was a string of cockerel feathers and it was suggested to be used to cross over the roof of houses, cause death, and hex neighboring cattle. It was believed each feather was a hex, curse, or bad wish upon another. Throwing the witches ladder into the water was said to break the curse as the water would purify and loosen the feathers from the string. Their removal from the ladder meant the curse was also removed. Modern witches create witches ladders to curse, invoke clarity, or bring positive intent such as luck, prosperity, love, healing, or success with each feather representing a wish (source).

Today, feathers are used in much the same way as they have been historically used. Witches use feathers from an assortment of birds for an assortment of magical purposes. For example, placing blackbird feathers under someone's pillow is said to compel them to tell you their innermost secrets, while the feathers of a Wren are believed to prevent drowning (source). Furthermore, feathers are often placed on altars to represent air or placed in hedge riding sachets to aid in soul flight. Different colored feathers also have a variety of meanings. For example, finding a black feather means an angel is protecting you, green for abundance, and white for purity (source). Finally, many witches use a feather to waft smoke from incense or a herb stick. Their uses are endless and have been used for centuries by magical practitioners around the world.

Teeth and Claws

Other animal remains include teeth and claws (I will cover shells and blood in the future, but not as part of this series). Teeth could be classified under bones, but I felt the need to discuss some of their specific uses separately. Teeth are hard external bones covered in enamel used for mechanical digestion. Some of the earliest uses of teeth, whether animal or human, dates back to burial practices in the 7th and 8th centuries. Amulets containing teeth have been found in numerous graves, particularly those of women and children across Europe. It is believed these amulets were placed in the grave for protection for both the living and the dead (source, source).  From the 7th to 9th century, animal teeth were used to identify cunning women and these bones were commonly buried with the practitioner (source). In the 13th and 15th century, cattle teeth were found in graves, an indicator of healing magic (source).

In Ancient Rome, teeth were highly valued as a form of protection against the evil eye. Giovanni de'Medici was particularly fond of using animal teeth as a form of protection, particularly for the protection of children. Paintings by Detti and contemporary inventories suggest that animal teeth, more specifically wolf teeth, were mounted around homes, including the estate of Piero Ubaldini and Giulio de'Medici. Like many items during the Renaissance, teeth were believed to be a form of sympathetic magic. They were placed around the neck of a nursing infant to protect the child from danger and promote the development and growth of the child's own teeth (source, source).

Later teeth that had fallen out were commonly thrown into the fire instead of kept for protection as it was believed the teeth could be picked up by a witch and used to cause misfortune (source). Still, later the folktale of the Tooth Fairy arose in the United States around 1900. It is important to note that the Tooth Fairy did not exist in British folklore, making this a largely American tradition, although the Italian Marantega and several other folktales around the world are remarkably similar. It was believed that by placing the tooth under the pillow that the fairy would reward the offering with a monetary gift. The tale of Marantega, an old witch who trades coins for teeth, is very similar to the myth of the Tooth Fairy. However, it is believed she seeks teeth to fill her own toothless mouth (source). In several Asia countries, including China, Japan, and Korea, children who lose teeth from their lower jaw would throw their teeth on the roof, while those lost from the upper jaw are tossed on the floor or placed under the pillow. It was believed that the new tooth would be pulled toward the old tooth, lessening the time it would take to replace the tooth. In Mongolia, the teeth were fed to dogs, so that the new tooth would be as strong as the dog's teeth, or buried under a tree so that the new tooth had strong roots (source).

In Conjure, teeth have been historically and still are used in a variety of magical workings. For example, badger and alligator teeth were and are used in mojo bags (source). In fact, in 1760 Jamaica passed an act that forbid the slaves from engaging in magical activities, using dog and alligator teeth as evidence of such magical workings (source). Today teeth are used for protection, to bring luck, in binding spells, as part of a bone tarot set, in mojo bags, or in spells that increase communication.

Like teeth, claws can be used in much the same way, pulling on the attributes of whatever animal it came from. Historically, claws have very little written about them. In fact, much of what I could find is about cutting human fingernails. It was believed that cutting your nails on a Friday or Sunday was unlucky while cutting on Monday was thought to bring good health and Tuesday wealth (source). Romans often wore images of bears or bear claws to ease childbirth and protect the unborn child (source). Today, witches use claws as altar decorations, for protection, and mojo bags. For example, cockerel claws are used in protection charms in Voodoo and Santeria practices.

Overall, animal remains have and are an integral part of magical practices the world over. Whether they are used in rituals or spells, they bring us closer to the world around us. How do you use feathers, fangs, or claws in your magical practice?

Interest in the rest of the series? Here's what's to come!

Bone Magic Series

Cleaning and Preserving Animal Remains
Working With the Spirits of Animal Remains: Crossing Over & Contracting
Feeding Your Bones
Throwing the Bones + Build Your Own Bone Tarot


2 comments :

  1. I'm comletely new to the world of witchcraft and have spent most to of the week enchanted by your blog; interesting and beautifully written. And then yesterday I found an wonderfully iridesent magpie feather and haven't stopped smiling since. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experiences.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a wonderful gift from the spirit world! Thank you for reading. I am glad you are finding my blog useful! :)

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