This post focuses on parts of the process of cleaning bone and my relationship with Black Phillip Blackberry, as well as Necromancy and the Resurrection of the dead. I am not an expert in the processing of bones, and while I have had success with other bones, I am still learning how to effectively deal with remains- some of my “Dead things” are bought, while others are ones I have personally processed and therefore this is not a how-to. I do not kill, hunt or trap any animals, and do not advocate any of these methods for finding bones. I will leave links for websites and links where I have found useful information regarding cleaning, processing and staining.
Oh Hell No! That Shiz Nasty!
Dealing with the nitty gritty of maceration and degreasing was incredibly unpleasant. The Rat, Isabelle, and Mr Crabbin did not need any degreasing or maceration. The bones and bits are much too small to withstand the process without becoming mush. They all had peroxide baths to ensure no bacteria would remain.
I don’t think I was ready for all the yuck, and all the nastiness that comes with maceration.I did not have a proper mask the first time I removed Black Phillip from the maceration water. The smell was unlike anything I had ever experienced, I cannot even describe how vile it was. I dumped the water in my plants, and left Black Phillip in the maceration water until I had found a more appropriate mask for this work.
Every time before taking him out of maceration, I would stand before my altar, gloves and mask in hand, incense lit, and I would pray to Anubis. I prayed for strength, I prayed for courage, I prayed to not vomit up all my breakfast, and I prayed to do this right. I would put on that mask knowing what I had to do, and did it.
One night I woke from a dream- Black Phillip was on my bathroom floor, his skull was swirling with beautiful patterns, and the feeling coming from those bones was “I am ready”. I could not take him out though. I was struggling too much. My depression was debilitating, I knew he was ready for degreasing, but I was in a very dark place. One night I wanted to lay out blackberries for offering, but then something told me, “Those blackberries are for me, but you have not come to me in more than a month.”
Guilt. Angst. Sorrow.
I woke up at 5 am the next morning and began to work. The bones were black from maceration, and I wiped them down with biowash, washing off a brownish film which had formed over the bones. There was some corpse wax as well, which I have been unable to completely remove. This was when I was finally able to remove the second nail I had found in Black Phillip’s skull. I had to gently knock it out with a hammer. This part of the skull is now quite fragile, bits came off while doing the staining.
At this point, I decided to put him in a Peroxide bath, not bothering with degreasing, as the maceration water was free from grease this last time. This was my mistake wanting this to be done so soon, not being patient.
The sheep meat smell coming from his bones was incredibly unsettling. I used pipe-cleaners to clean out any bits left in the jaw bones and used a toothbrush to clean out the brain cavity. I degreased him for a few more weeks, taking him out for a final peroxide bath. There was still a smell coming from the bones, much fainter, but still there, other kind souls who I have spoken to have told me it is merely grease. I was thankful that this was almost over. The bones were becoming more and more fragile.
This was the most difficult part of the process for me. I don’t know if I will do an animal of this size again for a long time, at least until I have sufficient space to do proper nature cleaning- leaving the bones out for the sun and the elements. If anything, this was a big lesson in how unprepared I really was to deal with the practicalities of bone-processing.
Reddening the bones
“Anything dead coming back to life hurts”- Toni Morrison Beloved
Reddening the bones is a process whereby bones and skulls are stained red by ochre, berries, wine, and/or blood. A paste is made out of various ingredients and the skull is then rubbed in this paste. The reddening brings life back to the bones as blood brings life to the body. It warms the spirit, and calls them back to the body. Reddening can also be used to make an object sacred and acts as a way of feeding the spirits, giving them blood, and life, and nourishment.
“They took Mime, and beheaded him, and sent his head to the Aesir. Odin took the head, smeared it with herbs so that it should not rot, and sang incantations over it. Thereby he gave it the power that it spoke to him, and discovered to him many secrets”- Ynglingasga
My “reddening” of Black Phillip, was not about trying to call back a spirit, but rather to heal the fragments of his spirit that were lost, hurt or broken and that needed to be released, healed or renewed and also to nourish the parts of Black Phillip that stayed behind. Black Phillip isn’t trapped in the bones- not anymore, not since that last nail was thrown away. In many ways Reddening was a way for me to rectify the wrong that was done. I stained Black Phillip with berries- blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, grapes and lavender. The Reddening (or Staining) was my offering to him of sacred fruits and healing herbs, a way for me to enact kindness, and bring beauty in his death.
“Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine”
what is it that call to us
why must we pray screaming?
Why must not death be redefined? ”
Ringing over and over in my head, Patti Smith’s aching voice was a song of redemption and healing during this ritual bathing and ritual staining. Incense was burning, and my body was gently swaying to the music, like some seprentine witch priestess, from the old days, working my healing magic into the bones.
Black Phillip Blackberry
” I’ve always felt you have to name a thing before it comes to life, like a witch’s spell”- Vanessa Ives ‘Penny Dreadful’
“I named him for his black fur, and I named him out of defiance. I named him partly because of my own relationship with the Devil, and partly as an invocation.” Black Phillip Blackberry Part I
I have named all of my “Dead things”, even the ones who have no spirits attached to them. At the point when I had found him, I had no idea to what extent his bones had been bruised and his spirit broken, and it was during the months of cleaning, and weeks after staining that I knew his name was a bit about anger and vengeance. It was after a conversation that I had with the Hedgehog, that I began seeing Black Phillip outside of the red rage that had clouded my sight. He told me to make Black Phillip’s death about kindness and beauty. Names have power, and it is not surprising that after giving new Life to Black Phillip, that part of his name would change too. I still call him Black Phillip, but sometimes I call him Blackberry too.
I often use blackberries as an offering to The Phouka and the Fae. I don’t tend to eat the berries I grow, but leave them for the frugivorous birds that visit the garden, perhaps my harvest will one day be large enough for me to make blackberry pie, but for now, giving to the birds and the Fae is enough. Bramble is used both for protection and for cursing, and has been associated with the Thorns of Christ as well as The Devil. Blackberry sticks have been used in witchcraft as witches whisks for purification rites. In dream symbology blackberries are associated with sorrow and loss.In old folk magic they are used for healing a number of ailments including rheumatism, boils and burns.
The Crossroads, The Moon, and the Heart
On the Autumn Equinox, I went into trance, and took to Black Phillip Blackberry with a silver paint pen. I began inscribing a sigil upon his head. I didn’t know why I had chosen a crossroads sigil, but I knew it was right. Spirits speak loudly through dreams and symbols, and Black Phillip Blackberry has been in many dreams.
It is an African belief that if you dream of something, that you should then act upon that dream in the real world.* Dreams are taken as important messages relayed by the spirits of the dreamworld. My own practices are based on this kind of dream weaving. Not all dreams can or should be acted out- there are other ways of dealing with dreams and messages which are violent, unethical and immoral, but there are some that will guide you down the serpent way into the heart of the spirit world. Discernment is a powerful ally which everyone, including witches, need to call on more frequently. Spirits and Dreams can be deceiving. The Serpent Path and Black roads, much like the Poison path does not suffer fools gladly.
The Crossroads is a place known for spirit congress, being a liminal space between the living and the dead. Various liminal and deathly beings are propitiated at the Crossroads including Hekate, Legba, The Devil and Hermes. It is a powerful place where divergent energies meet, a place where fate can change, and a place where offerings and oaths are made.To dream of the swirling Crossroads on Black Phillip’s head was only part of the message, the oath came in actually drawing it.
“A Byzantine spell suggests taking the head to the river and rinsing it for three days and three nights in the current. You will then wrap it in linen and take it the crossroads where the crossroad-charms are written on its forehead.”
– Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold “Palo Mayombe: The Garden of Blood and Bones”
I found Black Phillip Blackberry during a Waxing crescent moon. To say that parts of me died that night would be an understatement. Things could not be the same again because this was now it, the Devil had come in the form of black sheep, during a Scorpio moon. Things were set into motion the moment I picked him up, and I could not turn back.
I completed the sigil on Deipnon- the Rams moon- An appropriate invocation to Lord of Sheep and New Beginnings. This was the final acceptance of these Oaths- a final goodbye to the bits of myself that kept clinging on.
In Ancient Greece and Rome, it was believed that the restless dead, those who had met untimely and violent deaths, were more useful in Necromany. Instructions in the PGM, frequently mention animals or people who have come to violent deaths for various spells including oracular heads and attraction spells. This is because these spirits were more likely to become angry ghosts, hungry for vengeance and unable to find peace in the Underworld.
While these spirits tend to be more likely to act as oracles and bound familiars, I believe it up to the spirit to decide whether or not they wish to work with the witch. While Erichto forcefully bound her ghosts to their bodies, resurrecting reluctant spirits with threats, a wise and kind witch knows to leave these spirits alone, or put them to rest if they ask.
Black Phillip, and The Rat died by human hands in cruel and violent ways, and it was by their request that I decided to enact resurrection rites for them. In all cases I believe that consent allows for a much better working relationship with the dead, lest those angry and reluctant beings devour your spirit when you yourself come to an untimely or inevitable end.
Compassion and Love lie at the heart of my practices. I do what I do because it needs to be done. I have accepted my oaths again and again, saying yes to things many others would not. This is what makes us Witches, treading paths that others find too scary, or deluded. The Poison oaths and the Red Oaths are interwined, like ivy growing on a tree. Of course there is always danger, but there is also the deep connection, and deep, boundless love and spirit-fullness that comes from spirit interaction with venomous and deathly beings.
Bone Processing, Cleaning and Staining
Berry Staining bones
Necromancy and Witchcraft
*Ref “Zulu Shaman”- Credo Mutwa