Archive for bones

Reliquary for the Mighty Dead

Posted in Musings, Projects with tags , , , , , , on March 28, 2014 by manxwytch



Begin with a vessel of iron or clay supported on three legs to honour the Three who are Womb and Tomb to all things – Past, Present and Future. Into this vessel place earth from a newly dug grave, dust ground from bones, dried and pulverized leaf of Verbascum, ash from a sacred fire, along with other fitting substances.
About this charnel ground are links of iron forging a chain binding the living to the dead, literal and invisible links to the ancestors, simultaneously encircling and ensorcelling the spiritual community.
Spanning the mouth of the vessel affix a bridge of cypress or yew, the Guardian of the Gate betwixt the living and the dead. Upon this bridge, place a skull, carved with the symbols of power and coloured with the blood of the earth. Into one eye socket place a stone of seeing, crystal or agate. Into the other, place a coin to pay for passage back from the sunless lands to the world of the living. Crown Death’s head and within this Holy of Holies place the relics of your Mighty Dead.


When first I came into the Cunning Artes, it was at a time when a particularly important and powerful Elder in my line was dying, and I never met him in this life. I have thought from that time, decades ago, that I wanted to design and construct something more symbolically significant and ritually powerful than a photograph or a personal belonging  to honour and connect with the Mighty Dead of my initiatory lines.  Since then, several more Elders close to me and vital to my Craft growth and learning have joined him, along with the last of the Elders on the Isle of Mann, and just over a year ago, my Beloved. Together, all have motivated the manifestation of the idea at this time.

There were no practices handed down in the Manx line directly relating to Ancestor Devotion. We have the beliefs and teachings about the Mighty Dead, and the elements of the Sauin rites that honour them but little more. In the old days, tools were buried and books were burned, so there were few relics that remained to link us after death. Gerald changed that to a degree with the museum, borrowing and in time inheriting tools and possessions of deceased witches.

Having designed the image described above, I explored with great interest the universality of the thanototic elements thus gathered, which came as no surprise since Death awaits us all. From the reliquaries of Al Farrow, to the objects created in the practice of Palo Mayombe,


and the designs carved into the trophy skulls of the Dayak in Borneo, and all contributed to the inspiring and informing of the details of my own devotional work.

It has taken more than a year to create and come to terms with this work, step by painful, faltering step, along my Orphic path into Hades and back. Now that the journey has been made manifest, I will continue to develop and improve the piece, and work out the rites and practices that are to be associated with it.

In Life and in Death,


The Mighty Dead: Shrines and Cakes and Silence

Posted in Folklore, History with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2012 by manxwytch

When we lose the ones who shared the Way with us, we have lost more than what is stolen in a mortal death.  We have lost their unique strand of the spiritual current and legacy they carried and shared with us.  And though we may hold our own for future generations to carry the torch of our traditions, the Presence weaves a widdershins thread that is stronger through ancient hands grown tired with the weight of fire.

We carry on.  Our old friend, Time lessens the wound but the wound of our loss is always present.  The grief of their physical loss is the depth of love in equal measure to the pain of loss.  This is the dark edge of the sword of love and the burning pain for the joy of loving.  This is also a Wisdom teaching that can only be felt to be known.  It takes courage to love, fully conscious of the inevitable painful cost of the loss of love and to love despite it!  The Arte therefore requires bravery and is not for the faint of heart.  It is no coincidence that the Latin word for heart is cor, which is the root of the word courage.

A simple part of Craft philosophy and in fact many religions of the world is that Love never dies.   If we love someone or have been loved by them, then that love bears their spirit, giving them life in the Otherworld.  The agape is both the vehicle of communion and the feast.  Love and Death are intimates so it is no wonder that the veneration of the Dead plays an integral part of Traditional Craft practice and philosophy and not for Sauin alone.

 The Mighty Dead

Our Craft Ancestors join the Host of the Mighty Dead upon passing from this world.  There, they guard the Arte in death as they did in life and they can also be summoned by the living for knowledge and aid.  This is an unique added benefit to having Traditional Craft Lineage as opposed to ‘making it up as you go’ as many witches do.  Knowing the secret names of the Ancestors and calling them from the Otherworld to Watch and Ward in special rites is an unique experience.  The simple links to the secret heritage, lore and ancestry are irreplaceable treasures and carry a potency and magic which has a tangible life-force and will of its own.  This is not to disregard my brothers and sisters of the Arte who came to Witchcraft on their own but just to say something of the essence of magical legacy.  I am sure that even if a self-made Witch called upon the Mighty Dead with a heart of courage, their summons would be met in the Otherworld with welcome and loving arms.

Of course, summoning the Host of the Mighty Dead is not to be done lightly and clearly it is far more appropriate to convene ones personal Ancestors than the Retinue of Ages.

Ancestor Shrines

My Ancestor Shrine is a living embodiment of my love of those who have passed on.  It changes over time and as I grow old, it becomes more laden.  I’ve seen Shrines that include animals, inspiring people, familiars and thought-forms put to rest.  I’ve also seen shrines that are entirely symbolic and hold nothing but a skull, rose and candle upon a rough stone.  Sometimes it is only a photo and candle upon a hearth.   The appearance of the shrine is never as important as that there IS a shrine.

 The act of creating the Ancestor Shrine in your home or outdoors should be viewed as a sacred act or ritual that creates a pathway between your Ancestors in the Otherworld and yourself.   You are creating a microcosm of the chthonic realm in terrestrial form.  Each shrine is clearly as unique as the Witch who creates it and his or her Ancestors.  There are no colour coded candles, designer altar cloths, sigils or special crystals of power for this and no instruction manual.  You must rely entirely on your intuition and your heart’s relationship with the Ancestor.  If your instinct tells you to find a skull and place a crystal in its socket to give vision to the dead on your shrine, then do it.  Use photos, use hair, use rowan berries, cremated ashes of your loved ones, use graveyard dirt, use symbols carved or painted, use whatever it is that links your mind to your Ancestors, their Shades.  There is no cookie cutter symbol for everyone and they are your Ancestors with their unique personalities for you to consider as well.  If your granny loved her knitting, why not give her some knitting needles and wool?  The Ancestors live as Shades and still have all the personality they did when corporeal.  Keeping in tune with the love we shared with our Ancestors will help to metamorphosis your Shrine into a living micro-world.

Some Witches prefer to feed the Dead or to make personal offerings to their Ancestors on lunar, daily or weekly cycles.  Many Ancestor Shrines house bowls for offerings of favourite foods, flowers, incense, water, milk, alcohol or grain.  One exceptional Witch that I know has made an offering bowl as central to the Shrine.  Her bowl is fired black clay for skrying and it balances upon three femurs, bound by hand-spun red wool.  Most Shrines will house a candle flame somewhere.  Some witches like to burn their offerings to the Dead while others simply leave their offerings in bowls that are later buried, composted or returned to the earth in some manner.  All in all, it is up to you and your imagination as well as your relationship to the Dead.

Communion with the Ancestors

How each Witch communicates with their Ancestors is also a personal affair.  Whether you meditate, talk or sing to them is up to you.  For some, silence is best and they wait to hear the Ancestors speak first.  For others, a more direct approach with visceral tools such as candles, pins in bottles, ouijii boards and the like. Many witches however are relatively happy with the peaceful remembrance of their dead and don’t need dramatics from the Otherworld.

Some Witches are fond of entheogens and alcohol and smoke and drink rather copious amounts to commune with the Dead or the Otherworld Denizens.  I don’t advise that route as it may unite the quick and the Dead sooner than anticipated and not by willed, patient controlled means.  However, as each shrine is individual; each Witch must form their own personal experiences and connection to the Ancestors by their own methods.  Entheogens and alcohol do have a long history in Traditional Witchcraft.  The informed use of entheogens and alcohols as ‘spiritual aids’ is especially helpful for those people who can’t quite find the space by their own efforts or for those individuals who require an intense spiritual catapulting leap of consciousness, usually for a specific purpose.  Most witches however, are naturals at travelling between the worlds and communicate safely with the Shades without such things.  We already live on the edge or… straddle the hedge as some might say so such things are not for everyday use or are entertainments for the clay-born.

 Shibber Valloo:  Dumb Supper

On Mann, a custom for communing with the Ancestors was the consuming of Soddag Valloo (Dumb Cakes).  The general custom took place during Hop Tu Naa (November 11th but now celebrated on October 31st) however the rite itself was performed at any point the Witch desired.  The cakes were made during the day with a base mixture of flour, eggs complete with ground shell, salt and ashes and could be considered a form of bannock.  Other ingredients were often added by the Witch to give further potency to the cake, mindful that the cakes were actually consumed.  The Witch would go to a private place of the Ancestor she sought communion with.  This could of course be at a graveyard but keep in mind that smart Witches did not want to get caught.  Most witches performed this rite in the privacy of their own property.

The place would be hallowed by the elements and after that, the Witch set out plates, silverware, glasses and napkins for both the living and the Dead.  The Shade was summoned to attend the meal by calling its name into the North.  At that point the Witch tolled a bell in a patterned sequence into the silent night.  The knells acted as an auditory guide for the dead as well as protecting both the Witch and the Shade from unwanted travellers along the ghost roads.  Once the Ancestor had arrived, the dinner candle was lit and it was time to begin the Shibber Vallo, or Dumb Supper.

The Witch did not speak at any time during the Shibber Vallo and made every effort to perform the meal in a widdershins way.  If she commonly used her right hand, then she would use her left.  If she wore clothing, she would remove it and redress with the clothing on backward.  The understanding here is that the Otherworld is a mirror of our own and the reflection is often reversed, therefore the joining of the Worlds creates a respected temporal distortion that the Witch embraces physically.  Wine and water was poured for both the Shade and the Witch and the cakes were lain upon the plates and consumed entirely in mute silence.  When the supper concluded, the Witch arose with the candle and walked backward with the Ancestor to their bed or a place where they may lay comfortably for the night.  Visions and dreams were the least to be expected of this night.

However you celebrate the coming season with turnips, or pumpkins, tricks or treats, we hope you have an intimate time with your Beloved Ones in both worlds.

Hop-tu-naa-I met an old woman
Tra-la-laa -She was baking bonnags
Hop-tu-Naa-I asked for a bit
Tra-la-laa -She gave me a bit, as big as my big toe.
Hop-tu-Naa-She dipped it in milk
Tra-la-laa -She wrapped it in silk
Hop-tu-Naa, Tra-la-laa
Jinny the Witch flew over the house
To catch a stick to lather the mouse
Hop-tu-Naa, Tra-la-laa
If you don’t give us something we’ll run away
With the light of the moon.

Hag Stone Necklace

Posted in Art, Folklore, Projects with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 14, 2012 by manxwytch

I’ve collected Hag Stones for many years and have always wanted to make a necklace.  However, not just a necklace with a single stone, but a  magical necklace that would mark some kind of passage of time and vision.  Waiting for the right Holed Stones has taken years of collecting and though I’ve had plenty of stones for many years, none were the right feel and fit until now.

I’m recently vision impaired so tying a knot alone can be a real challenge for me.  Stringing a thread onto a wee beading needle is a lesson in patience for even those with 20×20 vision.  My ability to create now takes an incredible amount of time, but I’m still an artist and craftsperson and I won’t let that part of me go as it helps to feed my soul.

As I said, I wanted to make a Hag Stone necklace for many years and I’ve wanted it to mark a point in my life.  This is the first piece I’ve made since the loss of my vision and a great challenge for me.  It truly marks a pivitol point of my life, a rite of passage in my way of being and seeing in the world.

Thirteen holy Hag Stones, one for each of the full moons.  I will begin the consecrations of each stone on the full moon closest to the new year, in the dark half, Samhain.  So each full moon will be marked and the necklace will be fully charged in a full year’s cycle.

Twelve round pieces of Amber stone to mark the solar cycles of time and light.  The passage of the Twelve Houses of the Sun.  Amber is a stone symbolic of life, light and energy.  Amber, like Quartz, can hold an electric charge and be seen to glow as if from an internal light.  It also smells heavenly when warmed, heated or drilled.  It has been used in ancient medicines for many years and is said to hold healing properties, bearing the lamp of the sun.  Many priestesses wear Amber and Jet necklaces to symbolize the eternal cycles of life and death.

Rather than use Jet, I decided to go right to the source and I’ve used carved bone as the third bead.  There are Forty Bone Beads.  Bone is our mortality.  The stone of our bodies.  Our inner strength and our support.  It’s what holds up this bag of skin, sinew and cell.  It is white to remind us of the Light where we originated.

The circle of Hags, Amber and Bone is held together with silk thread and copper wire.  Copper for the Green Venusian Current, and Silk for its opulence and  strength.  Fine materials for a precious piece that I hope I will one day hand down to a Priestess of my lineage.

During the year’s cycle, I will make a pouch or box to hold the necklace.  Right now, I don’t know how it will look.  The dream hasn’t manifested and neither have the materials, but I’m sure that Providence will bring the right tools at the right time.  She always does.

The centrepiece stone was chosen because of the natural Runes, yods and crescents carved by Fortuna’s hands. It was also the latest of the Holy Stones to come in to my possession, being found just a few months ago.

Knives, and such

Posted in History, Musings, Projects with tags , , , , , on June 4, 2012 by manxwytch

A little over three years ago I decided it was time to make myself a new ritual knife. The one I had been using I made decades ago as a teen; it was the first ritual knife I had made from scratch – a bar of steel, a stick of red oak and a piece of bronze came together in a wheat/corn/grain/sacrifice-inspired design. The measurements were carefully proportioned for my personal use, and I duly painted the handle black and inscribed on it the traditional grimoiric sigils for an athame.

I was inspired to design a new knife when I found a chunk of meteorite for sale in British Columbia, Canada while I was working at the Olympic Games there. The meteorite was authenticated to contain 92% iron, 6%nickel and traces of two elements not native to this planet. I have always been inspired by bronze and early iron age symbols and art, and I wanted to make a knife of the earliest materials humans learned to work. It is alleged that the earliest iron tools would have been made from meteoric iron, as these tools predate the development of the smelting process to purify iron from terrestrial ore. That was the original seed for the design.

In traditional Manx witchcraft they weren’t terribly concerned about the specific design of ritual tools. There were few who could make them and they used what they could lay their hands on. The colour of the handles wasn’t fixed and what was inscribed thereon was a matter of personal resonance rather than Goetic or grimoiric specification. Certainly there where those who were inspired to use Goetic and angelic sigils, but just as many weren’t, and weren’t thought any less of because of it. I’ve seen Manx blades made of different metals, and handles of wood, bone, hoof or antler, painted, stained or left their natural colour.  I have also seen one athame made entirely of bronze.   Borrowed tools were as good as one’s own, and indeed, for a Manx witch to lend you a knife or sword for ritual was a powerful privilege! I have used tools belonging to ancestors of my lineage, other coveners’ tools, &c, particularly when crossing international borders.

Now, three years later, (I tend to work in what I describe as an arboreal timescale – think about it one year, gather materials and  start building the next year, get something close to finished a year later – at least for my own tools), I have a hand forged blade of meteoric iron with a handle carved of bone. The blade is left a little rough to reveal the marks of its forging, and the handle remains white, in honour of the stars from which the blade came and in truth to the sacrifice required of the material. I have decorated it with ancient stellar and solar symbols from Neolithic carved stones I have visited. These marks are as old as human consciousness, and are powerful in both meaning and meaninglessness.

Presently, I have yet to finalize the design of the guard and pommel, but I know there are going to be caps of apple wood at top and bottom to separate the bone from metal. The blade is the size that the amount of metal would allow, rather than being proportioned to me personally; a little larger than the blade of my previous athame, but this is not a blade just for my personal use, it will be handed down through my line after I am done with it, to be used as I have used the tools of my ancestors.

The Toad Bone Rite

Posted in Folklore, History, Video with tags , , , , , , on April 3, 2012 by manxwytch

Many have read and heard of the old Craft rite of the toad bone.  It has certainly been popularized by the inspiring work of Andrew Chumbley and his eloquent and delicate contribution to traditional craft, ONE: The Grimoire of the Golden Toad.  Karragan Griffith does an excellent overview of the ritual and book in the link I have provided for ONE.

The rite has many variations among traditional groups.  It often involved either the finding or crucifixion of a toad.  Its corpse was placed upon an anthill to have its bones licked cleaned and bleached white in the sun.  From there the witch would cast the bones into a stream running north and with a few incantations would scoop from the waters whatever bone was willing to be caught.

Sounds easy, but I assure you, toad bones are quite light and deftly slip through your fingertips in water. One must be both quick and have eagle eyes if someone is to attempt this by moonlight.  This bone was said to possess uncanny powers, it was coveted by many Toad Doctors and Cunning Folk and was held close to the body of the charmer.

Here is an old (1970s) clip from a BBC children’s tv show called Moon Stallion.  It demonstrates that the legends of the bone-man and cunning magic were a part of popular culture.

Tribal Elders

Posted in Projects with tags , , , on February 11, 2012 by manxwytch

Forty acorn necklace

In recent days I have have been working on necklaces; the first three of a series of nine I plan to make, and I began by taking my inspiration from a traditional Elder’s Necklace from the Isle of Mann.
This original piece was passed down through the Manx covens to my Initiator’s Initiator.
I don’t know if anyone living knows exactly how old it is.
It consists of twelve acorns and a human finger bone strung on a leather thong. Traditionally it would be either an index finger or a ring finger bone, and the necklace would have been a gift to a coven Elder to wear as a mark of honour and respect due to one who has learned and endured much and whose wisdom is as precious a gift as the strength of the oak, the promise of the acorn, and the value of this human life. The original necklace isn’t pictured here, the ones you see here are all modern pieces made by me.

I have been told that back in Gerald’s day a witch would practically be willing to give his left testicle to get his hands on human bone, to make into ritual tools, or symbolically significant jewelry. These days it’s expensive, but not unobtainable, depending on where one lives. The US is pretty open and nonrestrictive; in Canada, the limitations are placed on its transport, and the need to be able to produce a certificate of death to go along with the bone to show its origin and legality. I’m not sure what the limitations are in Europe and elsewhere.

All of this to say that we use what we can get our hands on, and what isn’t commercially available we make ourselves. Just like they used to in the old days. So where there is a lack of human bones we use those of appropriate totemic animals, or we carve in semblance from wood, antler or stone, or cast in metal.

In the old days, those who were adept at making tools and jewelry were greatly esteemed and appreciated by the covens. In the absence of online shops or occult boutiques, appropriate tools and altar fixtures used to be scarce. The efforts of these talented folks can be seen in museums such as in Boscastle, and some were collected by Williamson and by Gardner on the Isle of Mann. Very occasionally they are still in use downline from their makers or original recipients, creating a physical and psychic bond with the old traditions and the Elders who kept and passed them to the present generation of initiates.

I chose to begin my series of necklaces with three variations on the traditional status symbol presented to a Manx witchcraft Elder in honour of my own Elders, several of whom I was unable to gift with them in their lifetimes. So now the pieces hang around framed photographs of these precious people, and I continue working on ones for my living Elders – not all Manx, but each made to honour the individuals who made my path today possible.

Of Bones: The Ophidian Current

Posted in Projects with tags , , , , , on January 25, 2012 by manxwytch

Woodland wanderings and fortuitously connected friends this fall resulted in my happily acquiring a few complete and near complete snake corpses. I am in the process of cleaning them with slightly different methods to ascertain the most effective and efficient way to do so.

One corpse I interred in the back yard for exhumation in the spring. It was the most complete, and least decomposed of the bunch. The others I sealed in ziplock bags and left outdoors until the snows flew, and one by one, Iʼve brought them indoors to finish the disarticulation and cleaning process.

Iʼve had good success with pulling the bones away from the bulk of the putrefying matter and macerating in water, but the smell is an issue indoors during winter when ventilation is lacking. The solution I came upon is to deodorize the osseous material first by letting it soak in a bath of ammonia in a sealed container for a couple weeks, then draining and replacing the ammonia with water to continue the maceration process and loosen up the remaining connective tissue clinging to the bones. During maceration the container was only loosely covered, however there was little to no smell and the water was changed only occasionally, or not at all. After a few weeks the last remaining connective tissues were seen to be falling off the bones when agitated, and a gentle scrubbing with a toothbrush removed all but the most stubborn adhesions. These few were easy scraped away by judicious use of the edge of a blade. The results were clean white, (but not bleached looking), bones that maintained their strength and integrity.

Itʼs going to take a bit of research and work to reassemble the skulls, and a little more to return the vertebrae to their proper order, but my  imagination has already begun to shape the tools and jewels into which these osseous ophidians are going to transform.