Our Ancestors didn’t have access to the latest perfectly polished stones, dyed feathers or resin representations of spirit animals or deities. Tools, both mundane and magickal, were gathered from what was available to them.
Bones have been used for utilitarian pieces, crafted into weapons or tools and used for ritual purposes since the dawn of mankind. They were made into amulets and charms, used in folk medicine, used for divination, spirit summoning, and in protection magick.
It’s easier than ever for modern practitioners to access bones for magickal use. Suppliers of clean, sterile skulls, bones and claws can be found online, and the goods can be delivered straight to you with just a push of the button. But wait- How do you know if the bones you purchased were ethically sourced? It is important to do your research before buying any kind of magickal supplies online, avoid buying from anyone who sells material that is included on federal or state endangered species list, any migratory birds, or marine mammal species. Always search out local suppliers who are open to questions as to how they have obtained their material.
A better way to collect bones, feathers, stones etc. for your craft is by finding them yourself. This is something that can be really difficult for practitioners who do not live on the edge of a forest but be mindful as you stroll through the park or along the beach because there is treasure for the taking. Other options include, contacting a friend or family who is a hunter; give a head’s up to friends or family who are avid hikers; or even contact your local butcher shop to see what they have to offer.
Roadkill is another option- but depending on how decomposed the animal is, the cleaning can be a gruesome act to be done with reverence and quiet.
However you find bones, make sure you know exactly what animal you have. Thank the creature for its gift and research the folklore of your animal to get a better sense of the messages they convey.
Cleaning and Sterilizing Bones
Finding an animal that was recently killed (typically roadkill), can be cleaned one of two ways- Exposure or by Maceration.
Cleaning Bones by Exposure
You will need:
Lidded container large enough to hold your animal
Sharp object for poking holes (screwdriver or hammer and large nail)
If you choose something like a plastic-lidded compost bucket, use a screwdriver to punch holes all around the sides for ventilation. If you are using a small metal garbage can, use a hammer and a nail to punch out ventilation holes. When ready, put your small carcass in the container and secure lid. Place it somewhere remain undisturbed for several weeks or more, depending on the state of decomposition and your climate. Also remember to secure the lid if there is a chance wildlife or your neighbor’s dog or cat may disturb it. There will be a slight odor- bones are ready when the odor has subsided.
Cleaning Bones by Maceration
You will need:
Large containers to allow for complete immersion
Close access to water
Remove as much of the remain flesh, feathers, etc. from the bones as you can. Place what is left in a container and completely cover with tap water. Every couple of days, replace the water, pouring the used water into the compost or the garden (it will have a foul odor). Repeat until water is clear- this means that the bacteria have finished breaking down the flesh.
Cleaning Old or Heavily Soiled Bones
If you have found bones that have been openly exposed and are relatively clean, you may skip this procedure and move onto the hydrogen peroxide bath. But if you find bones that are covered in soil, or have been sitting in someone’s basement or barn with years’ worth of accumulated dust and dirt clinging to them, you can get rid that grime with a pretty simple procedure that requires only a container (large enough to accommodate your piece) filled with warm water, dishwashing soap (‘Dawn’ works well), and a toothbrush.
Set the material in the warm water bath with a few drops of dishwashing liquid- let it sit for a few minutes to loosen the dirt. Then use the toothbrush to gently get into the crevices until you are satisfied with its cleanliness. The bones will most likely still have a yellow tinge.
Bleaching and Sterilizing Bones
Once the bones have been cleaned, it’s time to sterilize and bleach your bones to the brightness you desire.
You will need:
Container large enough to allow complete immersion
Place bones in container and pour over enough hydrogen peroxide to cover completely for sterilization. As it is also a bleaching agent, you may allow the bones to stay in until they have reached the shade of white you desire. This may take up to 8 hours if you are bleaching a skull.
If you have an especially old skull or bone that has some tough staining around the teeth or in the cervices, you may make a paste from borax and hydrogen peroxide to pack into those areas. Use a toothbrush to move the paste around.
Never ever use household bleach to brighten bones as it will deteriorate the material.
Reddening the Bones
You may want to empower your bones with sigils, symbols or by reddening them with a paste made with brick dust, madder, beet powder or ochre (or other naturally red plant or mineral), red wine and/or a little blood. This is a tradition used by cultures who practice ancestor worship and was traditionally done using a red ochre paste to symbolize blood or the ‘life force’ being returned.
You will need:
Brick dust or ochre powder, madder root powder or beet powder
Red wine, cherry juice or moon water
Ground dragon’s blood (optional)
A few drops of your own blood (optional)
Plastic wrap (optional)
Mix enough ochre powder. Madder, beet powder or brick dust and red wine (you may also add drops of blood) to create enough paste to cover your bones. Use your hands (you may want to wear protective gloves) to completely coat your bones. Wrap in plastic wrap and let sit overnight allowing it to stay moist. Remove wrap and allow to air dry. When completely dry brush off remaining dust. While holding your bones, take a deep breath- now slowly blow out across your bones- ritually breathing ‘life’ into them.
Feeding the Bones
If you are using your bones as a way of summoning a spirit guide, you may want to ‘feed your bones.’ In other words, offer an offering to your bones. It may be a bit of food the animal would have eaten in life, a crystal, incense etc. That is between you and your bones.