Category Archives: Skin Spirits

Dear Fellow Artist: No, I Will Not Use Fake Fur, and Here’s Why

This morning I got a message from another user on Etsy who shall remain anonymous. Unfortunately they seem to have deleted their shop shortly after they sent the message, so I was unable to respond to them directly. However, they raise a question that I get a fair bit  in my artwork with hides and bones, so I thought I’d reproduce it here, both in case the querent happens to see it, and for general information. Their original question was:

Hello, I’m a cute fairy who want to present my grand faux fur wrap to you. My faux fur is soft and warm enough. I think you will like it very much. So if you can use my good quality fur instead of animal’s “Clothing”, You and animals will be warm in winter and these cute guys will spend their Christmas eve with their family, too. I hope you can agree with my idea. Best wishes for your business on Etsy.

Here’s the response I would have given them:

Good morning,

Thank you for your inquiry. I am assuming you are attempting to get me to switch over to fake fur in the hopes of saving the lives of animals. While I appreciate your intent, I have very good reasons for not working with fake fur, to include not wanting to cause the deaths of animals. (Feel free to click the links in the following paragraphs for supporting evidence of what I’m about to write.)

See, all that fake fur you were trying to sell me? It’s made of plastic, specifically nylon, acrylic and polyester. Do you know what plastic is made of? That’s right: petroleum. The petroleum industry accounts for the direct deaths of millions upon millions of living beings each year, from birds and sea mammals to the tiny microscopic beings that make up the backbone of ocean ecosystems. 4,000 tons of oil were spilled in 2014, and that’s just from spills that were actually reported to authorities. Given that in 2013 there were almost 300 unreported oil spills in North Dakota alone, we can only imagine how many more go unreported worldwide, especially in countries with fewer or weaker regulations than the United States. This is to say nothing of the air, water and land pollution caused by oil drilling, which is sometimes done in ecologically fragile places like the Arctic, where the damage can take decades to be reversed. And since habitat destruction is the single most devastating cause of species endangerment and extinction, the amount of habitat destruction wrought by oil drilling operations should be of note. In fact, here are just a few examples of how oil spills negatively impact the environment, both short term and long term.

But that’s just the process of getting the oil out of the ground. It then has to be piped thousands of miles, leading to more spills–here’s a list of known spills in the U.S. just in the 21st century. Then it has to be turned into plastic, an energy-intensive process that not only uses more fossil fuels for production, but can also use natural gas, coal and other potentially polluting materials in the manufacture of the plastic itself. The process of creating plastic often also creates harmful chemicals such as BPA, and can release up to 500 million tons of greenhouse gases per year. This isn’t even including all the effects of the dyes used to color it (PDF here.)

Then that plastic has to be shipped to wherever fake fur is manufactured, often in China, which has poor track records with regards to worker’s rights and slave labor. And then it needs to be shipped again to whoever sews the fake fur into coats and such. All that shipping leads to even more pollution (and animal deaths) as ships cross the oceans again and again, both air pollution and marine pollution, to say nothing of the wildlife, coral reefs and other marine denizens physically damaged when struck by ships and their anchors.

So you go to your favorite big-box fabric store (which may have put any neighborhood fabric stores out of business, by the way) and buy a roll of fake fur for your project. (Or to try to resell to me in the name of the animals.) Let’s then fast-forward twenty years; the coat you made from fake fur is now ratty, old and torn, and the person who bought it from you no longer wants it–even Goodwill will throw it out if they donate it. Fake fur isn’t recyclable, and (at least in my opinion) doesn’t wear as nicely as real fur, so it doesn’t lend itself to crafty repurposing once it’s gotten all matted and discolored. The person could throw that old coat into a landfill, where it will sit and take up space; it’s not like it can biodegrade anyway. If it got incinerated, it could release all sorts of toxins from the plastic and dyes into the air. Or let’s say it somehow got dumped into a waterway, and then into the ocean (whee, littering!) That coat could take up to a thousand years to biodegrade. And while it’s in the process of breaking up into tinier plastic particles, once again that petroleum-based fake fur is killing animals. Larger wildlife can get entangled in plastic waste which can drown or starve them; they also eat it, which can cause painful deaths through intestinal blockage or rupture, or even longer, horrible deaths through starvation since they can no longer fit real food into their stomachs. And the same thing happens to tiny plankton, which are absolutely crucial to the health of the entire ocean. Even if your coat ends up in a landfill, the plastics can be washed into the water system as they break down, creating the same marine problems.

Is this to say real fur is without its pollutants and other environmental impacts? Absolutely not. As someone who has been working with hides for almost twenty years, I am quite aware of the chemicals used in commercial tanning, among other environmental problems associated with my materials. But for the reasons I’ve outlined above, no–I will not be switching over to fake fur any time soon. I have many reasons for my hide and bone work, ecological, spiritual and otherwise, and I think it’s incredibly hypocritical for you and other people to insist I switch to fake fur “for sake of the animals”. I think I’ve made it pretty clear above that your “animal-friendly alternative” is anything but animal-friendly. As an environmentalist, I do choose the real deal over fake, and I continue to donate part of the money I make from art sales to nonprofits that work to combat the pollution and habitat destruction your petroleum-based fake fur causes.

New Monthly Rewards For Crafty People On My Patreon!

Are you a fan of the hide scraps, bone bits, beads and other crafty bits I destash on my Etsy shop? Have I got a deal for you, then!

I just added three new Patron packages at my Patreon account–and I mean packages literally. If you subscribe at one of these levels, I’ll send you a flat rate priority box stuffed full of all kinds of goodies that you can use in your own creations. Your care package may include fur and leather, skulls and bones, feathers and beads, vintage crafting how-to books, colorful yarn, crafting tools and other stuff to make stuff with. Plus you’ll have access to my Patron-only feed, and the monthly totem profile!

So what are you waiting for? Sign up today at http://www.patreon.com/lupagreenwolf 🙂

Roadkill is Not a Waste

I love my fellow vultures, we fans of taxidermy and hides and bones and other such specimens. But I don’t always agree with them. Case in point: I recently read someone writing about how they thought they were obliged to pick up roadkill and salvage the hide and bones because otherwise it would be “a waste”.

On the one hand, I can see a good point in favor of that attitude. Roads aren’t “natural”, if by “natural” you mean “anything dating after humans discovered fire”. We see a deer accidentally hit by a car as a tragedy, but a rabbit accidentally trampled by a stampeding deer is “natural”. It’s only human intervention that seems to be “unnatural”. So if that’s your perspective, then yes, roadkill seems like a huge waste of life.

Furthermore, the argument is made that since the carcass is already there, we vultures should process it into tanned fur and cleaned bones and other specimens. It means one more set of animal remains funneled into the growing demands for taxidermy and curiosity cabinets, but without the deliberate killing of hunting (which for some people is worse than an accidental death by roadkill).

Both of these are valid reasons for making use of a roadkilled animal, and not letting a good opportunity go to waste. However, I would also argue that leaving the carcass there is not a waste. We may dislike seeing it on the side of the road, perhaps because it’s unsightly, often because we feel it’s disrespectful to the animal.

But what actually happens to roadkill when it’s simply rolled off the side of the road and into the ditch beside it? I had the unique opportunity a number of years ago to witness this in detail. I lived in a rural area close to Pittsburgh, PA. A whitetail doe got hit by a car right in front of the house, and her body ended up falling partway down a drainage ditch at the edge of our yard. This was mid-July, so it was hot, and flies showed up almost immediately. In the space of a week, a complete carcass was stripped almost completely of flesh by a growing army of maggots and bacteria, and likely was also nibbled on by local foxes, raccoons and other critters.

We do not see this process ourselves very often. Most people only see the remains of the deceased as bodies in funeral homes, meat in grocery stores, and fleeting glimpses of roadkill on the side of the highway. Few observe the stages of decomposition, and so we forget it is the most natural thing in the world. That roadkilled doe did not go to waste. She fed thousands of insects, countless bacteria, and even the fungi and plants beneath her. Even remains that “simply rot” feed something. There is no waste in nature.

But what about my work with preserved hides and bones? After all, I did collect the doe’s bones once the meat was all gone, and I did purification rites over them. Yes, I create my art and do my skin spirits rites because I feel I am honoring the animals that once wore these remains. But I also recognize that these are purely human conceptualizations of “honor”. The older I get, the more I think we do these rituals more for ourselves and our own sense of what is morally correct than what nature considers “honorable”. Wolves do not pray over dead elk. Elk do not pray over tree leaves. Leaves do not pray over nutrients in the soil that were only recently seeped from decaying salmon dropped there by grizzly bears. We are likely not the only animals to mourn lost loved ones, but we, and we alone, conduct elaborate rituals specifically because we feel the remains themselves–and not just the life that once wore them–should be so honored.

This is not to say I think roadkill collection is wrong, or that we should stop. After all, an opportunity is an opportunity, and besides, respect is a good thing to practice in general. But I think we need to stop justifying roadkill collection by saying it’s “waste” otherwise. That’s a very human-centric view of things; just because we won’t use it doesn’t mean nobody else will.

**********

Want more hides and bones? Please consider picking up a copy of my book, Skin Spirits: The Spiritual and Magical Uses of Animal Parts, or perusing my current hide and bone art selection on Etsy!

The Tarot of Bones IndieGoGo is Live!!!

Magician

AAAAAAAAAND HERE IT IS!!!!! THE TAROT OF BONES INDIEGOGO CAMPAIGN IS LIVE!!!!!!

Here’s your chance to get THE best price for the Tarot of Bones deck and book set (due out Summer 2016), AND get lots of neat perks! What kinds of perks?

  • A handmade (by me!) leather pouch for your Tarot of Bones deck
  • Copies of my other books on paganism and nature spirituality
  • Prints of select cards
  • Original assemblage pieces used in the creation of the Tarot of Bones
  • A thank you in the Tarot of Bones book and website
  • Other perks to be revealed if we meet the goal of $5,000 and get into stretch goal territory

Plus you’ll be helping me acquire the rest of the materials I need to complete the card art as well as offset some of the other costs. While this isn’t my only source of funding, the campaign will help me stick to my production schedule for the project.

What is the Tarot of Bones? It is a natural history-themed divination set I am creating. I’m making 78 permanent assemblage pieces, one for each of the cards, featuring animal bones and other natural and reclaimed materials. These assemblages will then be photographed for the card art, and the deck will be released with a full-length companion book (not just the little white booklet). You can find out more about it and see photos of completed assemblage pieces at the official Tarot of Bones website.

And if you’re in the vicinity of Portland, OR, don’t forget about the Tarot of Bones party at Paxton Gate this Friday evening from 6pm – 8pm! You can see some of the assemblages on display, listen to me talk about the project, and sign up to back the IndieGoGo campaign! More information can be found here.

For just $5 you can help make the Tarot of Bones a reality! And even if you can’t contribute, please reblog/reweet/share the IndieGoGo campaign so others have the opportunity to be a part of it all! And many, many thanks for your support and help 🙂

Lupa At PantheaCon!

Hey, all! Once again I’ll be at PantheaCon in San Jose later this month for workshops, panels, book signings and more! Here’s my schedule for the weekend:

Llewellyn Publishing FAQ – Saturday 11am – noon – Llewellyn suite (room 1057)

I’ll be one of several authors answering questions on writing books, getting them published, the ever-important promotion, and more. This panel is a perennial favorite!

Animal Skulls as Ritual Partners – Sunday 9 – 10:30am – San Martin room

Here’s the only workshop I’m presenting alone this year–but they picked a good one! Here’s the official workshop description:

For thousands of years, animal skulls have been used in rituals and other spiritual practices around the world. In this presentation, we’ll explore how to legally and ethically obtain skulls, how to work with and care for the spirits within them, how they can be a connection to animal totems and evolutionary ancestors, and more! We’ll also meditate with well-cleaned animal skulls; a limited number will be provided for attendees to borrow, or bring your own! Door will be closed later in the presentation to allow for an uninterrupted meditation.

Godless Bless – Sunday 1:30 – 3pm – Pagan Scholars’ Den Suite room # TBA

As a naturalist pagan who works with totems and other spirits (which apparently makes me a nice middle ground between people who work with gods and people who don’t), I was asked to moderate this panel on atheism in paganism. I’ll be asking several panelists questions about their beliefs and non-beliefs, what composes their spiritual practices, how they came to where they are today theologically speaking, and more, followed by a general audience Q&A.

Plant & Fungus Totems – Monday, 7:30pm – East-West Bookstore, 324 Castro Street, Mountain View, CA

Just down the road a bit from the Doubletree (though you’ll need a car) this workshop is part of a special set of FREE! presentations by Llewellyn authors at East-West Bookstore the week of February 11-17. If you can’t make it to PantheaCon but you’re in the SJ area, come join me as I talk about what plant and fungus totems are, why you might want to work with them either on their own or in conjunction with animal totems, what makes working with them a unique experience, and more!

Announcing My Newest Project: The Tarot of Bones

Happy New Year, all! For the past several weeks I’ve been dropping hints here and there about a big, super-secret project I have in the works, and now I’m doing the big unveil:

After almost twenty years of practicing nature-based spirituality and creating art with natural materials, I am creating a tarot deck. The Tarot of Bones is an ambitious project combining the nature-inspired symbolism of animal bones with the tarot’s well-loved archetypes to create an unparalleled divination set for the 21st century. As animals exist within vibrant and complex ecosystems, the bones will be ensconced in permanent assemblage artworks using natural and reclaimed materials reflecting both the animal’s habitat and emblems of their respective cards.

The Tarot of Bones will be a complete 78-card tarot deck with both the Major and Minor Arcana, each card featuring a full-color photograph of the assemblage piece I create for it. A full companion book will also be available, detailing the symbolism and potential interpretations of each card, as well as sample layouts and other material of use to the reader. The Tarot of Bones will be self-published to allow me the greatest amount of creative control; I will be organizing a crowdfunding campaign later in 2015. If you would like to support my creative endeavors in the meantime and get access to exclusive work in progress photos of the artwork for the cards, please consider becoming my patron on Patreon.

For more information and updates please refer to the pages and other links at the official website; you may also wish to join our Facebook page (make sure you turn on notifications!) I’ll be posting pictures of the assemblage art for each of the 78 tarot cards in the deck-to-be. The first one will be up later in January; in the meantime, I invite you to take a peek at some of my other artwork on my portfolio; you can also see specific samples of my work on the main page of the Tarot of Bones website to give you some idea of the style I will be using for this deck.

And please share, reblog or otherwise pass this post on to anyone you feel may be interested; as I will not have the promotional power of a publisher behind me on this project, word of mouth is going to be a really important component of making it happen. Thank you!

Purification Ritual For Hides, Bones and Other Animal Remains

My artwork and other practices with hides, bones and other animal remains have always been intensely spiritual. I didn’t like seeing them displayed as mere trophies or status symbols, and so set out to remake them as sacred creations and beloved personal artifacts, guides in costumed shapeshifting and curiosities for consideration. I wanted them to be revered, not merely possessed.

There are a lot of factors outside of my control in this. I can’t control who buys a particular item (other than turning away the occasional rude customer) or what they do with something I made once they have it. I’ve just had to learn to let go and let gods in that regard. But I can do my best to seek out my target audience and present my work in a way that will appeal to them, and keep working my intent into everything I create. And I add a bit of a ritual to it, too, whether you want to believe it changes things on a distinctly spiritual level, or simply helps me stay focused on my task.

I realized recently that while I reference the ritual I do quite a bit, I haven’t actually written about it much. So I figured now would be as good a time as any to share it with you in detail. You’re welcome to try it out for yourself, modify it as needed, but please do give credit when sharing.

There are three parts of the ritual: the meditation, the purification, and the offering.

The meditation is the part that takes the longest. I’ll sit with each piece that I’ve created, and meditate with the spirits of the animals whose remains are incorporated into the art. I have a conversation with them, and ask each of them to show me what they’d like me to know about their lives and deaths. Sometimes I get a vivid, play-by-play of their last moments; other times I get highlights of their lives, especially when they were young (even other animals like to reminisce about childhood). I’ve often gotten some of this information already; as I create the art I’m having an ongoing conversation with them about what I’m creating and what they’d like me to include, and it’s a good opportunity to chat with them about other things as well.

The purification involves a physical smudging of the completed artwork. I used to use sagebrush, but these days I tend more toward cedar or sweetgrass as I like the aroma better. I generally only use a tiny bit at one time; rather than burning an entire sage smudge stick, I’d just pull out one lone leaf and light it. Part of this is to keep from aggravating my asthma, but it’s also so I’m using fewer resources. One leaf purifies as well as thirty in my experience, even if it takes just a touch longer to smudge the entire piece. It’s really an issue of quality over quantity. Other forms of purification can work, too, though I recommend against water-based ones since water can hurt certain hides and other remains. I also say a prayer over each piece at this time, asking that they will go to someone who will love them and cherish them for who and what they are, and thanking them for letting me work with them in the first place.

The offering is the part that’s changed the most over the years. When I first got started, I would offer small drilled stones and shells to the totems of the animals whose remains I used. When I had enough to fill a small leather pouch dedicated to that totem, I would make the stones into a necklace, and then give it to someone who worked with that totem. Over time I became less enamored of this. What was I going to offer to the totems of the stones I made as offerings to the animals? After all, they’re a part of nature, too, not just objects to be given and taken. So I instead diverted the money I would have spent on the stones and shells toward donations to nonprofit groups, and increased my volunteer time to compensate as well.

No purification ritual goes exactly the same way as another. Sometimes the meditation is brief, other times it’s looooong. Occasionally I get a spirit making a special request for an offering or other gesture. That’s why I don’t have this all written out in one big “First say this, then do this” format. It’s more a set of guidelines than holy writ. The point is to remind myself that I am working with skin spirits and sacred remains, and that what I do is meant to honor.

Note: If you enjoyed this post, please consider bringing home a copy of my book Skin Spirits: The Spiritual and Magical Uses of Animal Parts, which details my years of spiritual work with hides, bones and other animal remains, along with step by step instructions on how to make assorted ritual tools with them.

I Really Love Skulls

(Featured picture: drum fish skull)

Ask any scavenger of hides and bones what their favorite piece in their collection is, and you’re liable to get an excited flood of passionate words and stories. Sometimes the object of the collector’s affection is a rare, hard-to-get specimen, but it’s just as likely to be a commonly found skull or bone or hide, perhaps the person’s very first acquisition, or something that they found themselves on an adventure in the woods.

I personally find it hard to pick favorites. For a while, earlier in my collecting career, I was pretty big into whole hides. One of my earliest purchases was a very old Alaskan brown bear rug from an antique shop in rural Missouri; I removed the rug “apparatus” so all that was left was the hide, and that was the start of that collection. However, as I got older and continued to live in small apartments, it became incredibly impractical to have a bunch of large, bulky hides taking up a lot of space, so I made them into art and rehomed most of them over time. I still have a couple that are very near and dear to me, though, my bear included.

Red kangaroo skull
Red kangaroo skull

My fascination with hides was more the “Oooooh, shiny!” effect that a lot of newer collectors get, where they want to have ALL the dead things they can get. Later it transformed into acquiring and maintaining hides as ritual companions in dance and other sacred acts. And I have always enjoyed incorporating them into headdresses and other artwork.

But more recently my eye has turned toward skulls, and there’s a decided natural history flavor to my current interest. Comparative anatomy is one of my little amateur naturalist geekeries. I love how one particular basic structure–the skeleton–can take on such strangely varied forms. A mass of collagen and calcium stretches, through natural selection and genetics, into shapes and sizes ranging from the massive bulk of the skull of an elephant, to the finely sculpted lines of a garter snake skull–and the accompanying bodies, too. Skulls have evolved to consume all manner of foods, to act in aggressive and defensive manners, to house the tiniest and largest of brains.

And it’s all out of necessity. A skull is a tool for a job, and the animal that has a skull better suited for its job than the next animal is the one more likely to pass its genes down to the next generation. The hummingbird whose bill is just a tiny bit longer can reach more nectar and therefore have more calories to work with. The bighorn ram with stronger horns and a thicker skull has a better chance of winning–and surviving–fights with other rams for the privilege to breed. So it is that from one generation to the next, tiny mutations can lead, over time, to great changes and adaptations.

White-thighed hornbill
White-thighed hornbill

You can see this concept throughout the entire body of any vertebrate–or any living being, really. But skulls are perhaps the most dramatic illustration of comparative anatomy, and to my mind among the most beautiful. Not everyone shares my appreciation, of course. There are people who feel the collection and display of skulls and remains is a morbid subject; this is a relic of our culture’s inability to properly deal with the reality of death. We’re supposed to go through life pretending death doesn’t happen, and acting only with horror and sorrow when the topic is broached (and then wondering why people don’t deal with grief very well). There’s an element of hypocrisy to the criticism of skulls, taxidermy and the like, too: People who routinely eat dead animals, plants and fungi have given me the hairy eyeball for my hides and bones. I suppose the idea is to not think of death once the remains have gone down one’s gullet, but it all feels a little like the teapot calling the kettle black.

But that’s part of why I have the collection that I do. Death is just one of the many realities of a multi-staged life cycle, and you don’t have to be a member of the Addams Family to appreciate it. More practically, it’s a lot easier for me to display the skull of a feral hog next to that of a white-thighed hornbill than to have the living creatures in my tiny apartment! And they sit alongside very much alive and thriving houseplants, and on the other side of the sliding glass door from my little balcony garden and bird feeder, both of which entertain a wide variety of living beings which I love and appreciate as much as my skulls.

In the end, I am a naturalist, if a mostly untrained one. And as I build my own museum, I am creating an ever-growing altar of curiosities dedicated to the wonders of the natural world, that which I consider most sacred. I would not be here today without the development of the vertebrate skeleton, or the evolutionary flexibility this miraculous structure has shown through millions of years of natural selection. I celebrate this marvel through the display of skulls, demonstrating the artistry and practicality of nature’s amazing processes.

Note: If you enjoyed this post, please consider bringing home a copy of my book Skin Spirits: The Spiritual and Magical Uses of Animal Parts, which details my years of spiritual work with hides, bones and other animal remains, along with step by step instructions on how to make assorted ritual tools with them.

skulls