Category Archives: Bonekeeping

Bonekeeping on the Homestead

I know it has been awhile since either of us have posted anything, a couple months really, but things have been rather busy and well, other things have simply taken priority. However, I have been wanting to talk more about ‘pagan homesteading’ and our current urban-homesteading journey, and again… haven’t found the time. Hopefully posts will come more often now that we are teaching and getting some things underway. Today’s post, is one of Life & Death, and gives a bit of a window into what it means to be a Bonekeeper (my–Wren’s– personal path-title).

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Homestead Diary Entry

July 27, 2015

Two weeks ago we welcomed three young female ducks into our family. Two days ago chicks began hatching underneath the ruffled feathers of our broody hen Golden. And today, today we ended the day honoring the Dead. In the afternoon, upon realizing I had forgotten a sprinkler on, I headed out to turn off the water. And while doing so, had the thought that I should go check in on our two small hatchlings (only two, so we had thought, had hatched out of 12 eggs). As I walked towards the coop, I noticed the smaller coop door ajar for the second day in a row, and then I saw a pile of… something… off to the side of the coop, and for a split second thought it was the red hen that had been missing for two days now. The landowner’s dog skirted by me, head down, tail tucked and slightly wagging. And then as I neared the pile of what was, yes, feathers—and lots of them, I realized it was not the red hen. Nor was it a hen at all. It was one of my ducks. At that moment I began to panic, and could hear no others squabbling as they should be. I rounded the other side of the coop and found the broody hen jammed part way under the coop trying to get into the fence, making quite a ruckus, her two chicks tucked up under her against the wiring instead of nestled safely in the coop where they should have been. Looking past her I saw another pile of grey-brown feathers. A second victim. But where was the third? For a split second I hoped she had gotten away somehow, escaped into the hedgerow. But then I thought… and I opened the larger door to the coop. There lay the body of our third duck. My heart sank like a stone.

Because there were yellow jackets and hornets buzzing around the carcasses, I had to wait until dusk to move them for burial. My anger at the dog began to be replaced by a welling-up of grief. Tears finally came, running down my cheeks. He knew he had done wrong, and I took him up to the inner yard and leashed him to a pole until I could deal with the situation. I was definitely going through the “Stages of Grief”, and pretty quickly. Coming back up to the house my small son met me with worry on his face. “What’s wrong mama?” he asked. And I told him. Because why should we hide the ways of living and dying from our young children? He had already experienced his own dog killing a chicken when we first arrived here, he could know about this. With his adorably simplistic child-logic, he informed me “That’s ok mama, we’ll just go back to the farm and get some more duckies and then everything will be ok.” I didn’t want to make him upset and tell him that no, we probably shouldn’t get more, and just held him and let him hug me. When Midnight came home a short while later and I went to go show him what had transpired, I discovered a fourth body: that of a new chick. I don’t know where it came from, as I hadn’t noticed it the last two days, and I don’t know how it died, but its tiny black and white body lay limp in the back of the coop, and simply added to my sadness.

At dusk came the task of Bonekeeping. However we found that our parched earth, even the ground beneath the massive walnut tree beyond the coop where green grass still grew shaded from the scorching sun, our shovel could not break the surface, and what little digging was accomplished, was interrupted by roots of that massive giant. There would be no burying these feathered creatures here, where we had laid to rest a songbird a couple months before, nor anywhere. And so, befitting birds that were as wild at heart as they were—they had come to us untamed—we lay them to rest on a bed of freshly cut wild blackberry vines at the back of the property along the creek. Buried with them were our offerings—blackberries, plums, and four apples from our trees—to feed their spirits on their journey across to the Otherworld. Another layer of thorny vines atop them, and more fruit, along with a rustic bouquet of Queen Anne’s Lace flower umbels, red clover blossoms, wheat, and a sprig of pink-petal blackberry blossoms.

Father and child left me in the faux-silence of the twilight, to say my words and do my work. At first I could do nothing but apologize. For bringing them here only for it to end in their deaths, for not keeping them safer, for the small chick who had not even known life. Then I breathed deep the intoxicating scent of creek-water and vine-ripening blackberries. I raised my hands, and spoke.

                Befitting creatures of water, we lay you to rest here on the creek-bank.

                Befitting creatures with wild spirits, we wrap you in thorned blackberry vines.

                May they deter molestation by creature, wild or tame, unless that is the way She will take you.

                We give our offerings, harvested from this land that was your home for a short time,

                That they may feed your spirits on their journey Across to the Otherworld.

My Lord of Beasts, please take their spirits into your fold, into your eternal forest. May they be at peace.

My Lady of Bones, devour their flesh, may the earth swallow their remains that they be reborn from the world anew.

May you rest in peace. May your journey be swift.

And as I will it, so mote it be.

And before I walked away, I petitioned the Spirits. “Spirits of Place, please protect them, keep them safe, and aid their spirits on their way to the Otherside. I ask this of you, with many thanks.” Again I breathed deeply the scent all around me. Two wild ducks flew overhead, crickets sang from the hedgerow, the last calls of birds fighting the coming darkness echoed from the trees nearby. And I began to cry again, my heart heavy and aching, my mind weary. Two tears fell to wet my cheeks, and so I wiped them away and flicked them onto the thorny grave before walking away.

Farewell then, dear ones, farewell.”

First Day Home~ Flower, Daisy, & Blue... RIP...
First Day Home~ Flower, Daisy, & Blue… RIP…
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Making Sure the Dead are Truly Dead and Gone

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Normally I hear my stories on the wind. It sings them to me on storm winds and sea breezes, it whispers them to me beneath the full bellied moon. It brings them up from forgotten places and plays me echoes of secret memories. Normally I share what I hear, this time let me tell you what I lived.

Some people have a knack for walking in the other world. It is a talent that can be learned, it can be trained and it can be honed. But some people, they just have it from birth. They walk through life straddling worlds, sometimes seeing in this one, sometimes gazing into others. This is a story about such a man. He is married to a dreamer, she is many things make no mistake, but above all else she dreams. Together they have a son, a toddling thing best described by his mother’s wide eyes and his father’s thirst for adventure. Completeing their family and filling their home is the Bear, a large man, shaggy and strong, gentle save when stirred to anger.

Now living where they live, and being what they are, they are no strangers to death. They have seen it from afar and they have held it in their arms. To the Dreamer death was a mystery and a puzzle, to the Walker death was an adventure and a promise.

So, tell me; what do you think they did when confronted with a situation where death and the newly dead were in their hands… why they Fucked it up of course. And therein lies the story…

It isn’t just humans who can become lost in the here after. The spirits of Birds and beasts can as well. Aye, they live closer to death, they have fewer walls erected between them and the truth of it. They are born knowing its nature, they live with it day to day hour to hour. Death however comes in more forms than there are stars to light the sky, so when it comes in a shape foreign and sudden… then can be a problem. If a deer is taken down by a wolf that is the nature of things, if a mouse is taken by an owl on the wing, that too is the nature of things. There is little shock and a clear understanding in the mind of the prey. There is fear. There is pain, but no suprise, no confusion. Death has come and they must surrender to it.

But what happens when death comes sudden, swift and strange to the predator, what does the wolf, or owl, the bear feel when they are struck down by the doings of Men. I think that for prey animals it is easier, they’re constantly dogged by the spectre of death, but for the hunter to be struck down causes a disconnect. The wolf knows old age, it understands thirst, and famine, disease. But what’s a rifle, what is a car to barrel up and pounce so brutally, to pulp flesh, snap bone, and savage organs. Whats worse it rolls on without a pause, no memory of prey to humble the predator, no flesh taken to fill an empty belly no purpose beyond clumsy power and inconsiderate speed. How does the predator reconcile its death to this?

Simply put, they often can’t. If you ever find yourself near the results of such a collision, take a moment and observe. There is a palpable miasma of confusion and indignity, an alpha predator reduced to a ragged bundle of fur or feathers crushed and tossed without a second thought.

I know what death is to me, through this experience I also have found what it means to me as a witch.

The Dreamer found the body, a wind tumbled ball of feathers left without ceremony on the roadside with its neck broken. She called the Walker to bring it home. He approached it with the care he would the honored dead, with gentle words to sooth it, and if truth be told to sooth himself. He was no stanger to spirits, but this one was lost and confused and its presence was echoe and emptyness. With what ceremony he could afford it, and such dignity as he could grace he brought it home, laid it beneath the familiar oak and begged it peace and easy sleep.

A day passed, then two, and he stopped feeling the spirit so strongly, he looked with eyes open in both worlds and saw nothing and so they put the body to the knife, passed it through incense and blessed it with prayer, some parts they preserved and the remains they put in the ground there beneath the sun and the branches of that oak.

Naive of the Dreamer, Foolish of the walker.

The Walker you see, he went walking the other world under the eye of the sun. Small wonder he found no sign of the lingering spirit then. It was nocturnal in life and so too in death. It wasn’t gone to its rest, only sleeping… Foolish, naive.

Only the oak bore witness to the momement when the spirit found its buried body. Only the oak and the wide night sky. The Walker wasn’t there to bear witness, he didn’t feel it, didn’t notice at all. The credit for that goes to their son, the toddling child all eyes and curiousity. “What’s that?” Sometimes that’s what it takes for that voice in the back of your head that’s been screaming “Hey idiot pay attention” to get its point across. The Walker didn’t see the how of things, he only saw the results. The wretched thing, lost and bearing the wounds of its death and the marks of its body’s internment in the ground. Shambling up like a night born creature from someone’s bleak and blackest dreamings. Empathy was never a gift of the Walker, but understanding… that he bore the burden of. This he understood on a primal level, the knowing of it settling on him full and heavy. With slow and deliberate care he reached out to the spirit. He wrapped it in threads of himself, spun thin and strong as spider silk. He tied it to him and made it whole. In his trance he saw it flying, and amidst the incense of cedar and lemon grass his son saw it too. “Flying, mama, happy” he giggled, pointed and signed.

Now in a fairy tale this would be the happily ever after. But fairies and their endings have no place in this tale today.

I think that this is not an end at all but a beginning, and that is where I will leave you. At the beginning.

Burial Rites

Bonekeeper

And they call her the Bonekeeper ~

She drums, the soft leather beater tapping out a steady rhythm that sounds out from the frame drum in her other hand. Her eyes close, her head tilts back and she begins to sway. Grass pricks at her bare feet and smoke of anise, mugwort, damiana, wormwood and mullein rises up in the low-hanging oakleaf canopy above her. Before her lies the feathered body of a great bird, her lover knelt beside it, knife in hand. The rhythm changes from a slow three-beat to a quickened four-beat. Dum dumdumdum dum dumdumdum… this is the burial rite. Wings are cleaved from torso, feet carefully detached, toes spread around a maple seed ball to hold them in place. Feathers are salvaged. These are all placed in layers of rock salt and covered with a tight-fitting lid to keep out moisture and those who would devour all. The rest is wrapped in burlap, and placed gently in a hole nearby, gaping wide from the dark earth where roots lie stirring with the new spring. More herbs are burnt upon the coal and poured into the hole with the Dead. In a few months time what remains when feather and flesh has been eaten away will be exhumed, he will bring out his herbs and smokes, and she will again bring out the drum, and this time, they will sing the bones back to life ~

Of Bones & Incense

Raven-Skull-1s
Original work first posted at Isáine’s other blog, Witch of the Wyldwood April 27, 2013

Smoke billows up in swirling wafting rivulets. I breath deeply the smell of sandalwood and dragon’s blood. Night is falling over the land as the last light of the sun dies in the western sky. Just before darkness completely overcomes everything, I carry the hand-dipped sticks of incense outside. It is time to check the old bones, and to start processing the new. The old bones had tipped out of the bucket but they were undamaged. I gingerly picked up each, allowing the smoke to curl around them, all the while a song is spilling forth from my lips. Each bone is passed through the smoke then added to the bowl. Once they are all done, I gather the new bones. This set is tainted with the essence of murder and dishonor. These bones will need some work, and I feel that at least some of them if not all of them will find their final resting place in the earth. These bones belonged to animals wrongfully killed, animals whose flesh was wasted, whose bodies were left to rot at the end of a dirt road. But they called to me. Called to me to take what I could, to pass them through the smoking incense and sing them back to life. And so that is what I shall do. For that is who I am— the Bonekeeper. These bones I pass through the smoke, singing all the while, until they are all in the bucket. Cool water is added, filling almost all the way. This will sit for some time. And then the next step will be taken. The first set of bones I take inside and begin to scrub gently in fresh water, checking for any remaining flesh and scrubbing away the green algae that formed here and there. These bones are almost ready. Cleaning them with the small brush was rhythmic, hypnotic, meditative. And the white smoke curls and swirls through the air as I work, and sing to the bones. 

We Weep, We Weep, for the Forests of the Dead

Original content first posted at Isáine’s other blog, Witch of the Wyldwood November 13, 2012 [Some revisions from the original have been made]. 

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

The words fell from my lips, uttered over and over as I took in the landscape around me. I fought back tears that threatened to erupt from my eyes and run down my cheeks to mix with the rain that kissed them, falling in a steady drizzle from the gray November sky. But maybe I should have let them fall. I should have wept for the fallen. My feet made barely a whisper of sound as I trekked through the soft sand, stepping over and into the deep scores left marred there by the tracks of the machines of Man. For it was Man that had done this. Like the tears, I battled the urge to drop to my knees in the scarred sand and place my hands and face into the dirt, but maybe I should have given in to the need. Instead I trudged on, taking it all in. A feeling of utter misery began to rise like bile inside me. My soul screamed. This was murder. This was sacrilege. This was… words can barely describe the sensations bubbling up in my soul-mind, of the energy of the place, of the pain that resonated from it.

My nose caught wind of the scent of decay just as my eyes glimpsed over a flash of white against gray sand and wet, partially-burnt wood. The partial carcass of a young deer had been caught up in the mess of broken stumps and snapped limbs. The skull had been broken into pieces, each tiny antler button in a different place, the jaw bones still partially connected to skin hung from a log protruding from the pile, part of the hide stretched out over the logs. Much was missing. I knelt then, and taking two still-joined vertebrae into my hands I began to whisper… “We weep, we weep, for the forests of the dead.” It became my mantra as I walked. I returned to gather what bones I could to take home and consecrate, to release the spirit, and cleanse the parts for use in ritual, if They wished to be used thus.

I walked on. The piles rose at least a story tall in some places. Many of the trunks were wider across than I could have wrapped my arms around. All the bark was gone and the heartwood shone through, wet and smooth, glistening with rain. Roots, trunks, branches, it was carnage. The spirits cried out, the wailing echoing with the pattering of rain softly falling on wood and sand. I blinked through the rain drops like tears and stepped closer here and there, placing my palms on the dirty, wet logs feeling the pain, searching. I took pieces here and there and set them aside. I rounded a bend and found a pile full of gnarled, red wood. I thought it cedar, but wasn’t sure. I placed my hands on the solid hardwood and when I pulled them away it was like blood on my hands, rust-red. I wiped it across my face. Blood of the fallen. Marks of a pledge.

Around another bend I spotted a gnarled head of red wood and fought to free the log weighing at least as much as myself, if not twice as much. It was caught by other branches and when I finally freed it, in my mind’s eye flashes of images flitted by: a post, standing sentinel, fetches draped over it, bones and blood, milk and honey and mead poured into the earth at its base. I drug it from where it lay to take with me. My coven-mates who had gone with me were hesitant, unsure. They felt it best to leave it. “It is unforgiving,” Midnight said to me, unease etching the manner of his face. “It remembers the manner of its death. It remembers Man.” They both stood on either side of me looking down at the log. “You must take care of it,” the Bear says to me. “Spend time with it every day, work with it, give it offerings.” I nod, not sure of myself now. But when I thought of doing those things, the images returned to my mind and a feeling of “this is right” settled deep in my belly, and I took it home with the bones of the young stag.

As I sit and write this, because I had to, I think of all the trees cut down, of it all around us. These trees were clear-cut, bulldozed, and burned. All to build houses. In this particular area, the first time I had driven by and noticed that the forest was gone and seen the piles from a distance, it was as if something had wrenched my mind and my eyes from my control and made me look. The spirits wailed in my mind and my breath hitched in my throat. I had thought that was bad, but it was nothing compared to being there, being among it, touching it. It marked my soul. The images are burned in my mind and I feel like screaming with the spirits killed there, trapped there. I know not how the people who do that job can live day to day performing such acts of destruction. How are they not affected? How can they not see? Feel? It makes me think of the book I’m reading, The Legacy of Luna, about a woman who sat in an old-growth California Redwood tree for two years living on a tiny platform 180 feet in the air to save the forest, and the tree they called Luna. Of how reading the story, and other stories like it, it all seems so distant. It is bad, it saddens us, we say that we want to help, that we want to do something, but we don’t really feel the conviction that we feel after being there, of experiencing it first hand. Many of them were old, old trees with more than just a simple life-energy. They had sentience, spirits. And they were destroyed in an instant. Cut down for nothing other than greed with no regard for the consequences or who or what would be effected after.

Blood of the fallen smeared across my cheek. Mark of a pledge made while surrounded by death. “We weep, we weep, for the forests of the dead.” A mantra. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Words that cannot change what happened. But maybe, we can stop it from happening again, and again. We say that we are Pagans, Witches, that we work with the energies and spirits of the land. That we are “protectors” of the natural world. That we follow “earth-based” religions or spiritual paths. But how many of us are actually what we say we are? How many of us step up and step into our roles as stewards of land and beast, as woodsmen and [true] pagans? Maybe some of us recycle, sometimes, or do things that we think make us “environmentalists” when we find them convenient, or when we “have time”. The time is now. The place is here, there, everywhere. The person to do something is you, don’t wait for someone else to step up.

Be the change you want to see in the world, says Ghandi. In the words of the Witch of Forest Grove,“Recycling does not make you an environmentalist. Choosing the beef jerky that wasn’t made from cows herded in clearings that were once part the Amazon rainforest does not make you an environmentalist. Having a garden does not make you an environmentalist. Do you want to help? Do you want to apologize? For real? Collect garbage from your local green spaces and clear out invasive species. Join a committee or board of a local park or area. Plant trees after first learning how to do it properly. Donate money to conservation efforts or volunteer to help. Volunteer at wild animal rescues. Vote for laws in your municipality to protect trees from being cut down and to protect parks and green spaces from development.”

Take up arms. Do spells, leave offerings, get physical. Connect with your local nature spirits, find a tree to work with. Leave offerings outside, do a spell to stop a building company or logging company nearby. Do something. Work to save this planet that is your Mother. Work to save and honor the trees that you call your brethren, and animals your kin, the elements your gods. Or there will be nothing left.

EDIT: 11/15/2012

After having multiple conversations with practitioners of various pagan paths and reading an article I found on Eco-Paganism, I have realized that my use of the term “true-pagan” was incorrect. Pagans have varying levels of interaction with nature and nature spirits. Some are more “esoteric” and focus more on spiritual growth than working with the environment, though they may consider the Earth a sacred body containing Spirit. Then there are others who are more Animist, more “field” pagans in the words of Dr. Adrian Harris and are more concerned with the environment and taking care of and working with the Spirits found there. I acknowledge this difference between the many paths of pagan, but I still stand by my belief that if you claim to follow an “earth-based religion or path” and believe Nature is Sacred, that you should try working with your local nature spirits, leave offerings at a particular tree or grove, get active in your community and state legislatures involving environmentalism, pick up trash when you see it (which we ALL should do regardless of religion), etc. as a part of your spiritual practice as well as your duty as a pagan and/or witch to protect the Earth Mother.

Here is a good article on Eco-Paganism:

http://tidesturner.blogspot.com/2011/08/eco-paganism-101-by-dr-adrian-harris.html?m=1

Land Guardianship Article:

http://sarahannelawless.com/2012/03/25/land-guardianship/