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Monday, April 1, 2019

Bone Magic Series: Furs and Pelts: How to Use Them In Magic

Bone Magic Series: Furs and Pelts: How to Use Them In Magic

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In the last post, I covered how skulls and bones are ritually used in witchcraft, both historical and modern. This post will cover the use of pelts, furs, leather, and skin in magical practices through time and across the globe.

Pelts and fur refer to the outside covering of an animal. A pelt is the animal's skin and fur, while the fur alone is no longer attached to the skin, such as when you brush your dog or cat. Also included in this category would be animal skins, such as snakeskin, leather, and wool. These make up the outside covering of the animal, being used for touch, protection, and temperature regulation. The skin contains hundreds of thousands of nerve endings, thus making the skin one of the first ways an animal interacts with the world. Furthermore, skin and fur act as a protectant, keeping in moisture and harmful pathogens. Finally, the skin is used for temperature regulation, providing an anchoring site for sweat glands, as well as for fur to aid in warmth. Animal remains other than bones don't tend to preserve very well, so much of what we know regarding the use of pelts and furs is inferred from paintings, writings, and indigenous cultures still present today. Pelts and furs were most commonly used in garments and blankets for warmth, especially during winter months, and as containers for water or miscellaneous items. However, that doesn't mean that they didn't have magical uses as well.

One of the most common uses of animal pelts/fur/leather/etc was to invoke the spirit of the animal whose pelt was being worn. The most famous example of this is the Navajo skinwalkers. According to Navajo legend, a skinwalker is a medicine man who has reached the highest level of priesthood but has chosen to use their powers for evil by taking the form of an animal to inflict pain and suffering. In order to become a skinwalker, the person must kill a close family member. The most common animal form taken is the coyote, followed by the owl, fox, wolf, and crow (source). Other common uses include wearing animal furs and pelts as ceremonial garb to invoke the spirit of the animal being worn. Mississippian archeological finds show that the peoples of the area relied on animal pelt headdresses as part of their ritual practice (source) while many indigenous tribes across North America, including the Pueblos, Navajo, Apache, and Inuit, dressed in furs and hides during ritual dances, again to invoke the spirit of the animal they were wearing (sourcesource). In Europe, furs were used in similar ways. In 1604, five supposed witches were burned after they pounced on a child while wearing the pelts of wolves (source). In Scotland and Wales it was believed that witches would use the pelts of hares to transform to suck the milk from cows (source). In Africa, Zulu witch doctors wear the pelts of bears to symbolize strength while monkey pelts are often worn to frighten spirits. In one instance three Zulu witchdoctors wore the pelt of a lion for strength, deer for docility, and feathers while playing the drum to scare away evil spirits during the difficult birth of the chief's child (source). Today, the Zulu church is moving away from using the pelts of endangered species, specifically the leopard, relying on faux fur instead as an act of conservation (source). Of course, animal skins are not the only skin that has been used historically. There are accounts of human skin being used as recently as the 2000s in parts of Africa as a protective charm, like a rabbit's foot, or to increase fertility, strength, and good luck (source).

Today, furs and pelts are used for the same reasons as they were historically. They are used to make jewelry, clothing, bags, and altar cloths as well as for skin dancing and invocation of the animal spirit or archetype. While there are some ethical concerns regarding furs, pelts, and leather, it should be noted that faux furs and pelts can be used as well with the same results. I don't personally use fur in my practice, at least not yet, but I would like to in the future. If you happen to use fur in your practice, I would love to know how in the comments below!


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

If you are looking at learning more about pelts and skin dancing, I strongly encourage you to read Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic and Skin Spirits: The Spiritual and Magical Uses of Animal Parts by Lupa. She covers the topic extremely well as she is a skin dancer herself. She also includes wonderful crafts and projects that use animal remains.

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