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Patti Wigington

Using Animal Parts in Ritual

By December 30, 2013

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An angry (and slightly confused) reader writes in with, "I saw on one of the Magical Mondays blogs that you used snakeskin in magical workings. Pagans are supposed to love animals, and not harm them. Shame on you!"

First of all, let's have a little biology lesson. Do you realize that snakes shed their skin on their own? True fact. They do this as they grow. My corn snake, Paco the Mighty, sheds about every two to three months. Snakes in the wild shed too, so it's not uncommon to find a shed skin just lying around outdoors. Seriously, no snakes were harmed in the filming of that blog post. Honest to dog.

Secondly, many Pagans use animal parts in ritual and spell work - not everyone, but many of us. As long as your specific tradition doesn't have some sort of injunction against it, and those animal parts are gathered humanely and ethically, there's nothing wrong with this at all. For more on this, read about Using Animal Parts In Ritual.
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Comments
August 7, 2009 at 4:43 pm
(1) theo says:

Well Said Patti,

On an expanded note, this is something that drives me nuts, and I may have to write a very terse rant about at some point. I’m very tired of listening to pagans who whine when I use snake-skin, or a cats whisker or claw for some magical purpose, only to see the same person plucking flowers to decorate their living room.

Life is Life. Be it Mammal, Fowl, Marine, Vegetative, or any other type. All life matters, and it is important to recognize that there is nothing inherently wrong about death, or about using life.

Every year we raise cattle, swine, and fowl to be slaughtered. Every year we grow fields of corn, wheat, soy, tomatoes, peppers, and rice, for the express purpose of cutting them down to feed each other. I’ve often wondered why people believe that animals have a soul, but plants do not. Is it that they are born? Or perhaps that they can more visible express pain?

To be in balance with the world, it is imperative that we respect the fact that life as we know it is is almost entirely dependent upon the premature death of other living things. Pretending that you survive without absorbing the vital force of other things is foolish, creates an imbalance, and demonstrates a lack of responsibility for your impact upon the world.

August 7, 2009 at 5:42 pm
(2) Leisl says:

I’m just gonna agree with theo. :-)

August 8, 2009 at 6:58 am
(3) Only Ed says:

OK. Yes, we slaughter animals mercilessly and in inhumane fashion just to put that hunk of dead animal flesh on your supper table. That does not make it right. Do I have to make a Nazi analogy for you? Or do you get it? Have you seen what goes on in slaughterhouses? You should before you speak. You should before you eat.

As for the use of animal parts in ritual — that freely given is fine, but times have changed and we have destroyed so much of Nature that it is no longer proper to kill for any reason short of starvation. Plenty of cows & pigs, you say? Cows and pigs are an abomination of domestication. Far too many of them for the earth to support (yes, their numbers contribute greatly to climate change, and they eat food that could have gone to starving people — get educated people, I can’t teach you everything in a single comment).

The old ways do not work anymore. Killing for ritual is not good. If you truly communed with Nature you would know. Just like you would know the patriarchy must come tumbling down.

We have destroyed the balance of Nature upon this planet, and She has begun to shrug . . .

August 9, 2009 at 4:49 pm
(4) Chrissy says:

It depends on the animal part. My cat’s claws get clipped because declawing is cruel so I trim the tips back so they wont scratch me, my kids, my furniture or more importantly each other because they are both boys so they like to rough house. Whiskers fall out, and snakes do shed their skin and leave it behind so they don’t care what you do with it. However I don’t believe in harming an animal for any reason. My cats aren’t thrilled with the claw trimming but I know what I am doing and it’s like trimming finger nails. They are usually just annoyed that I am holding their paw. There is no reason to harm animals in ritual. If a ritual calls for it then find a new ritual. I take the harm non to mean animals as well. They are intelligent and they know what’s going on. Pigs in slaughter houses are tortured before death because the extra blood flow makes the meat taste better. Nobody deserves to be treated like that. It’s been proven that animals understand. They can learn, it’s not fair to do that to anyone. What did they do to deserve that kind of treatment?

August 10, 2009 at 12:17 am
(5) Sladie Wolf says:

I collect snake skins from my neighbors python and cornsnakes all the time. It’s better to use it for something other then just throwing it away, plus the python’s skin is absolutely beautiful.

I also collect deer fur that sheds off naturally during the spring (tons of deer where I live) and cat whiskers and claws that have naturally shed (I’ve got 2 cats, plus the neighborhood kitties that like to sleep in my garden.)

I don’t think there is anything wrong with using what you find. I also hunt, which is a long tradition in my family, and the animal which was brought down so that we can eat (because Moose is a lot better then beef any day!) is blessed, smudged and honoured for giving it’s life so we can survive.

We do not keep and stuff the heads, but we do take the hide to a leather worker, and we’ve made a few teepee’s from it. I don’t like keeping the heads, it creeps me out just a bit.

Ah also; finding shed antlers = great medium for charms, jewelry and even making bolines and athame’s, plus it’s completely humane like snake skin.

August 10, 2009 at 2:04 pm
(6) Joseph says:

The old ways do not work anymore. Killing for ritual is not good. If you truly communed with Nature you would know. Just like you would know the patriarchy must come tumbling down.

Nonsense. The old ways work just fine, up to and including animal sacrifice (which is practiced in Theodism, which I follow). This is nothing more than a political statement (radical animal rights) masquerading as a religious entiment. “Patriarchy”? Get over yourself…

August 10, 2009 at 6:37 pm
(7) Rob Taylor says:

Well said Joseph. The Old Ways must be preserved, including farming, domesticating animals and celebrating the cruel beauty of nature embodied in the cycle of life and death.

If people don’t want to be a part of that fine, but they can’t claim to follow the Old Ways if they embrace these fadish pretenses.

August 10, 2009 at 8:00 pm
(8) TheGreeningSkull says:

You know I grew up on a farm and we had a large vegetable garden and several kinds of livestock. We ate our chickens, turkeys, pigs, and a few veal calves. These were the same animals I often raised from babies. I saw it as no different than hunting or fishing. In fact being raised to be so attuned to season and life cycles is probably the main reason I became a pagan.

August 11, 2009 at 5:46 am
(9) Lupa says:

For over a decade, a large portion of my practice has involved working with the spirits in animal remains; I utilize them in my practice, and also create ritual tools and artwork with them. Many of them are secondhand, from coats and so forth. I do reassess my ethical boundaries periodically, just because I do want to be aware of what it is I’m doing and why, but in the end it comes down to handling the remains in a more respectful manner than trophies and luxury coats. (Most hides and so forth can’t be safely buried due to preserving chemicals.) I also donate a portion of the money I make from my artwork to the Defenders of Wildlife and other nonprofits.

As to the whole meat issue? Nice as it might be to go vegetarian for environmental reasons, I have health issues that pretty much require me to have meat protein or else not thrive as well. So I do what I can by buying free-range when I can afford it, and also honoring the spirits and totems associated with all my food, animal and plant alike.

August 11, 2009 at 7:28 am
(10) Persephone RS says:

People have the tendency to overreact when it comes to animal products I notice. To me, killing an animal solely for fashion is downright cruel and unforgivable. However killing the animal for good is noble and given that the meat is consumed, the animal is praised for its goodness. These are the “old ways”. The Old Ways are the ways of our ancestors, who praised the sacredness of the animal. To me, the Old Ways are beautiful. The farming, planting, growing, harvesting, and being one with nature.

August 11, 2009 at 7:29 am
(11) Persephone RS says:

I meant to say FOOD rather than good.

August 18, 2009 at 3:30 pm
(12) freeluna says:

We have 5 cats in our house, so I have no problems finding the cat claw sheaths they shed on a regular basis, and in more than one case, extracting the disconnected sheaths from the fur of one of the cats — they do tend to roughhouse! As said earlier, cats shed whiskers often enough, and they’re easy enough to find, except for our black cat. I only ever found one black whisker. Generally, though, I see no problem with using things that shed, and a bit queezy about using something the animal would’ve needed to survive, say it’s skin or skull, what have you.

January 25, 2013 at 2:59 am
(13) Makarios says:

Good article–thanks. Something that you might want to consider is that, when collecting dead animals (or parts thereof), some caution should be exercised in handling them. A case of tularemia or similar infection can really ruin your day. IMO, best to learn about this from someone who has experience.

January 30, 2013 at 1:13 am
(14) Ren says:

Let’s just please remember that there are MANY types of Pagans and of course Pagan traditions, and animal sacrifice and/or working with animal parts is part of some traditions.
We need to be tolerant towards other’s believes and practises.

January 31, 2013 at 1:23 pm
(15) Amy says:

While I enjoy a lot of vegan and vegetarian products, I do, like one commenter above, require animal protein to be healthy. If I could go without, I probably would. I hate the idea of having to kill an animal. I always wonder how we’d justify not wanting to be eaten if some higher lifeform came to this planet and viewed us in the same way we view animals. That being said, I do think people need to eat meat responsibly and that it’s best not to support large slaughterhoues and CAFOs, as the animals live in terrible and abusive conditions.

December 30, 2013 at 12:10 pm
(16) Lexa says:

As oomg as the items are gathered in a way that does no harm to the being you collect it from then it shouldn’t even be an issue. And also, as a vegetarian, it was MY personal choice to become so… and I judge no one else by my own personal standards or beliefs. Eating meat does not make you a bad person. Being a bad person does.

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