The use of skulls and bones for ritual and other purposes stretches across all ethnic lines and cultures. Skulls are used in Haitian voodoo worship as well is in places like Nepal. But lest you think that this macabre usage is confined to the non-western world, you should familiarize yourself with secret fraternal societies such as the Skull and Bones, which has long been known to use human skulls in their oath ceremonies. The Skulls and Bones was founded in 1832 at Yale University, and its most famous members over the years include former President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry.
But why?? Why bones? Why human skulls? In some…OK…many cultures dating back centuries, the bones of the departed were regarded as being just as sacred, if not more, than any temple you will find in the world today. The dead (whether human or animal) was honored and respected, sometimes more so in the afterlife than they were when they were alive, and therefore, bones, among other things such as crystals, stones and countless other paraphernalia….but especially bones are a type of fetish.
OK people, calm down, don’t get too excited over the word. I’m not talking whips and chains and a leggy, patent leather clad seductress cracking her whip while incorporating the macabre, into your private fantasies, I’m referring to a magikal fetish. (Sorry to disappoint 😉 )…
A fetish is “an object regarded with awe as being the embodiment or habitation of a potent spirit or as having magical potency (source)”. The word fetish originates from the French fétiche which stems from the Portuguese word feitiço meaning “charm” or “sorcery”. Feathers, bones, crystals, and as stated above, stones are all types of fetishes. Skulls and bones in particular have an appeal to witches who perform spirit work and are a necessary and simple way to connect with spirits of the dead and of animals……and who aren’t afraid of anything that doesn’t resemble a butterfly or rainbows. Working with bones is not just for necromancers or practitioners of the “dark arts” or left-handed path (cough, cough)…. Practitioners who work with bones are a wide range of healers, diviners, shapeshifters, rootworkers, witches, shamans, druids, and pagans.
The possession and reverence of human bones is most commonly found in cultures who practice a long tradition of ancestor worship. It is still part of the mourning process in some Asian countries today to dig up the bones of your loved ones after a few years, clean them, reassemble them neatly in a box and find them a new home in a tradition called “second burial”. Despite misconceptions, it is not illegal to possess human bones in Canada and the United States. This doesn’t mean grave robbing is legal, but instead that it is legal to purchase human remains or to convince your loved ones to let you have their skull after they die (an interesting dinner conversation I would think).
Christian Day, a controversial figure who I am honored to call a friend, and one of the most recognizable witches in America today as the famous Salem Warlock not only possesses a real human skull named “Robert” but has written a book on the subject of Death Magick, appropriately titled,“The Witches Book of the Dead”. Well written and easy to follow, Christian details rituals in which you summon the spirit of deceased loved ones, idols and even the spirit of the human skull you own. He gives practical, easy to follow, step-by-step advice on contacting and building a relationship with spirits, as well as identifying the types of spirits you will likely want to avoid working with and inviting into your circle. The book also points the student in the right direction when considering the acquisition of your very own human skull.
An excerpt from his book:
“Those who fear the study and use of supernatural powers often warn that exploring this path will open doorways to worlds best not explored. This fear-mongering has especially been used by authorities seeking to keep the masses from increasing their own personal power. While this view of danger lurking behind every closet door and under every bed is naïve to the true nature of the hidden realms of existence, the metaphor of the doorway is quite accurate. To work with the shades of the dead, the student must approach the spirit world with an open mind and be ready to experience levels of awareness that can unlock the hidden doorways of the soul.
Trafficking with the spirits of the dead offers us the ability to extend our intuitive senses and increase our magical power. When we welcome the dead to play a part in our supernatural workings, our visions become their aspirations and our wishes become their commands. The dead can be summoned to perform such tasks as helping you to seduce the object of your affection, influencing the minds of others, reaching into the dreams of the unwary, and spying on people. According to some legends, the dead knew where lost treasures where buried. Not much has changed. The spirits can still discover hidden opportunities and unearth profitable secrets. They can still convey magical talents, fame, love, and wealth to those brave enough to summon them.
But to begin working with the dead, you must be willing to surrender yourself to the arts of Witchery, immersing yourself in magic and knowing that part of you will die in order to be filled with the powers of the spirit world.
The Shroud and the Veil: Living Witchcraft
Establishing a pact between yourself and the spirits is only the beginning of living a spirit-filled life. You must also be willing to face your fears of the unknown and transform the fabric of your life itself. It is not necessary that you creep up and down the streets each night in a black caftan with your eyes painted to look like a skull. The spirits recognize those who are different. Learning to distinguish yourself as a creature of wonder and mystery will show the spirits that you are one of their own.
Working your magic in both the worlds of the living and the dead can be challenging. The mundane fear what they do not understand, and thus the Witch has often become the object of that fear. Yet the reward for conquering your fear of death and creating a primal shift in your own reality is to obtain the passport to the realms of the dead.”
You see, owning a human skull or even animal bones is not only NOT devil worship, as those who fear the unknown will tell you, but it is a practice that predates even Christianity. Working with spirit is powerful, awe-inspiring, spiritually up-lifting, and in many ways, humbling…..you wouldn’t disrespect your dearly departed granny, would you?
No matter how terrible we witches are portrayed in mainstream religions, I digress, that our practices came long before theirs, and I only mention this because there is always SOMEONE who is willing to go down that road. In this case, because of well-documented history, we know now whether it was the chicken or the egg that came first.
I myself own several skulls, none of which are human (yet), but I have yet to see the spirit of the bull whose skull rests stately upon one of my altars lay claim upon my soul for the rest of eternity, or roam the halls of my home releasing disembodied moans. Ghouls from the depths of Hades have not infested the nooks and crannies of the building awaiting the opportunity to wreak spiritual havoc.
These bones and skulls instead rest upon the permanent ancestor altar in the front parlor, along with the photos, ashes and personal belongings of those I have known who have left this world for the next. It is symbolic of the cycle of life and death, and is the key to the door; the invisible veil that stands between the world of the living and the veil of the dead.
This alter is given special attention. During Sabbats and other holidays we celebrate, it is decorated appropriately. Offerings are made, and the candles are lit weekly. I talk to my loved ones, I ask for their advice, their guidance and sometimes their assistance….. and I get it. Sometimes, they will answer through dreams in which they appear. Sometimes, they send an unmistakable sign. Sometimes, they physically appear or will be heard….and more often than not, it is at a time I least expect–like when the Christian neighbors are visiting (Oops!).
Honoring of the dead is what you make of it. It’s quite simple; If you respect and honor them appropriately, they will respond in kind. You get back from it what you put into it, so it is best to keep in mind that if you are a demanding personality, the spirits, just as they may have in life, will grow tired of your demands in death. Spirits are not to be controlled, manipulated or treated poorly.
The logical thing to do would be to work with the spirits of those you knew, loved and trusted, or of those spirits with whom you respect and have been inspired by in their lives. The choice to broaden your psychic horizons and improve your life (and it will) through spirit work rests entirely upon one’s own comfort level. The Old Ways are alive and well, I assure you. The Traditional Witch has not become extinct in favor of the teachings of white fluffy clouds and spring time all year round. Old Magick, and its practitioners still exist, and it includes work with the spirit world in an intricate and greatly revered way.
Order your copy of Christian Day’s Book, The Witches’ Book of the Dead today!
(Click the book to order)
Resources & Credits: