Archive for skeleton

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,


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.