i know a lot of taxidermists take photoshoots of their pelts hanging on gravestones and i’ve thought about doing that (i like taking my pelts with me) but after thinking about that i think it might be disrespectful so i avoid it at all costs and make sure i never lay my possessions on graves if i have anything with me
Which brings up an interesting set of thoughts about the different ways people respect the dead and their remains. Just desecrating the dead stone object marking the place where someone’s body lies is seen as a much worse offense than some of the things we do to nonhuman animals’ bodies. This isn’t a bad thing or a criticism of the above, just a curious difference.
In American society as a whole human remains are treated very differently than other species’, hence there being nonhuman animal meat and leather and such freely available. We’d never dare do that to humans (as a culture, anyway). We’re biased toward our species. Look at all the different ways human remains are cared for—burial with embalming, green burial, cremation, scatter or keep the ashes, burial at sea, sky burial. All these have different connotations, often even different across cultures. But they all tend toward “treat dead humans with as much perceived respect as possible”. Look at how angry people get over the desecration of deceased humans, from Hector of Troy to a modern crematorium that dumped bodies into the woods behind the building.
Contrast that with other animals. Some people will bury or cremate a beloved pet that’s died, though plenty of dead fish still end up flushed down toilets across the nation. For the most part, other nonhuman animals aren’t treated with even that much care; it’s a much more impersonal affair to deal with their remains. Eat them, wear them, let them rot in a gutter with the other dead rats.
Taxidermy and other dead critter art is often a way to give the animals’ remains some additional respect, according to the artists, anyway. But opinions differ on that note, especially with animals that were killed only for their skins. Is it respectful to carry a pelt around, or wear a headdress into a grocery store, or wear a tail to school? Is it respectful to preserve a hide as close to lifelike as possible with taxidermy? What about ritual tools made from hide and bone that are strictly kept in sacred places?
I don’t think there’s one right answer, especially as this can be a very heated topic with people on all sides firmly convinced they’re right. Despite the ways in which we are much stricter about the treatment of our own species’ remains than those of other animals, even the disagreements there pale in comparison to the debate over nonhuman animal remains. There’s not as much of a set system in place, and there’s plenty of room for debate.
I’ve been working since the 1990s to create such a system for myself, based on my work with the animal hides and bones I’ve incorporated into art and spirituality. I’ve written about these practices extensively, and tried to make it clear what I was about. I’m not surprised I still get criticism for it, though, in part because the culture surrounding animal parts is in more flux.
Anyway, enough rambling from me. I just liked the initial vignette above, and thought it illustrated the different in how we treat the remains of our own species vs. those of others.
Alright, since I had such a good turnout for my first set of free video workshops this past weekend, I’ve got another pair queued up! This time I’ll be talking about skin spirits and working with animal parts in spirituality and art. As before, there’ll be two time slots to choose from:
Friday, January 18, 2013, 7:00pm Pacific Standard Time
Saturday, January 19, 2013, 11:00am Pacific Standard Time
Here’s a time converter you can use to determine what 7pm/11am PST would be at your time zone. You don’t need to sign up anywhere, just make sure you have a Livestream account and show up! And, again, I’ll upload versions to my YouTube channel. Also, I’ll be doing some practice runs to make sure that I get all the technical bugs worked out, to include making damned sure I can find the chat this time :P
Here’s some of what I’ll cover:
In the last few years there has been an increase in interest working with hides, bones, and other animal parts in both art and spirituality. My work with skin spirits and their sacred remains has become one of my most asked-about topics as a result, and now you can have the opportunity to find out more directly from me in this free online workshop! Plus you’ll have the chance to ask me questions via chat related to both the art and spirit of my work for the past 15 years.
Here are just a few of the topics we’ll cover:
—What are skin spirits, and how do I work with them, and why are the hides and bones known as “sacred remains”?
—How can I respectfully work with animal parts in art or spirituality, and what rituals can I use?
—Where can I find animal parts to work with, and how do I decide what to do with them?
—What are other considerations, such as legalities, ethical guidelines, and safety?
—How can I physically and spiritually take care of the animal parts that I have, and what artistic options are available to me beyond traditional taxidermy?
Newcomers and more experienced folk are all welcome. Because of the sensitivity of this topic, the chat and questions will be moderated. And, again, I’m offering this workshop free of charge! If you’d like to support my work financially, feel free to check out my books at http://www.thegreenwolf.com/books.html or my ritual tools and other artwork at http://thegreenwolf.etsy.com
Alright. I’ve seen (and responded to) the recent rant by someone on dA regarding headdresses (among other things, most of which I agreed with, some of which I didn’t, but none of which struck me as disrespectful), and I saw the harassment that another dA/Tumblr person got over her rare pelt that she was going to headdress, and I’ve seen other people snark about headdresses for various reasons. And I’d like to make a few points.
First of all, it’s none of anyone’s business what a person does with a hide they have, whether that’s make it into a headdress or a soft mount or a blanket or a wall hanger or something for their cat to sleep on. Traditional taxidermy is not inherently more respectful to the animal than headdressing. They can be respectful for different reasons, but ultimately it comes down to the individual person and their approach. And since not a single one of you is sitting here in my living room, watching my work, and none of you are in my head any further than my writing lets you in, you don’t get to have the final say on how respectful I’m being or not being. If you want to sit and fume about how THEY’RE DOING IT WRONG, fine. If you want to be jealous of how they have something that you don’t, you can do that, too. But ultimately it’s not your choice what happens to something that isn’t yours. I’d love to nab all the fur coats that are donated to PETA (or whatever group) that are then given to animal shelters for bedding, and use those coats for pouches and other art instead. At the same time, I can also see that they’re doing that in their own form of respect for animals both dead and alive, and just because I’d do something different with those coats doesn’t mean I’m more right than they are.
Second, yes, traditional taxidermy if well cared for is going to last a long time, probably longer than a headdress that’s getting a lot of use or a softmount that’s getting a lot of snuggling. That being said, there are ways to help a headdress last longer. I learned some tough lessons with my first wolf headdress, for example, and I know now better ways to take care of the skins I dance with. Does it mean I was being deliberately disrespectful because early on I didn’t know better and had no one to tell me better? Of course not. I was doing the best I could at the time. And now I know how to keep it out of the rain and not right up next to the fire (because that fire hurts *me* too, ya know!) and how to condition the hide to help it last longer and so forth. Does it mean I’m less respectful because what I choose to do with some of my pelts won’t make them last as long as a traditional mount that stays indoors and maybe gets dusted now and then? I don’t think so. Longevity =/= respect. I have seen some taxidermy mounts that I felt were a waste because I thought the hide and antlers and such would be better put to more practical uses, but in retrospect they weren’t any more wasteful than my own works. Even bad taxidermy is often someone’s practice attempt and was the best they could do at the time. These days I feel, whether you believe in spirits or not, if you’re doing something you feel shows the animal at its best and you’re doing what you can to help it last as long as possible while you do it, then that’s respect enough for me.
The cultural/spiritual thing also comes up. I’m not going to get into the “my invisible friends are better than your invisible friends” argument here, because it does no good. I can’t prove my spiritual beliefs are empirically true, and I don’t treat them like they are. I give them as much space as I give anything that I feel strongly but can’t prove. What I will say for sure is that I can’t help not having been born into a culture that had a pre-existing, long-standing animistic tradition with animal parts. I have spent the past fifteen years doing my absolute best to create a path for myself that fulfills that niche in my life, and that offers some guidance for others who feel the same need. I don’t feel my practices are the same as those of indigenous cultures, but I don’t claim they are, either. What frustrates me is when someone says “Well, you can’t have these traditions because you weren’t born with them, and you can’t create them, either. So sorry. You’re just shit outta luck.” (I get that last bit more from people on Tumblr than on dA, FWIW.) I’m not trying to “be an Indian”. I am being a white chick from the Midwest, currently ensconced in Portland, who is figuring out her own way to create an animistic tradition involving these sacred remains. Everything I do was created from my own experiences, not an attempt to pretend to be someone else.
So, what. Because I’m a white girl I should only rely on the traditional taxidermy created by Europeans and carried over to the States? That’s the only dead critter art available to me? It’s like saying my religion should only be that of my various European ancestors because of my genetics and that I’m not allowed to make my own connections to the land and its spirits here in Oregon because my family’s not from around here. For what it’s worth, while I think traditional taxidermy is beautiful and I admire those who can do it, I neither like nor want to engage in it myself for a variety of reasons. I’m not good at it, and it’s not something I enjoy in the way that I enjoy the art that I do make.
I could retaliate in the “my art form is better than your art form” debate by saying “Well, you’re disrespecting the animals by using non-biodegradable styrofoam mounts and chemicals and other things that aren’t eco-friendly and thereby polluting their habitats, and you just turn them into trophies to hang on a wall and never do anything, and so my headdresses are better, nyah-nyah!” But that’s not true, either, for a variety of reasons, and that’s not how I feel about traditional taxidermy even though it’s not my chosen art form.
Because I do see each one as its own distinct art form, and each one possessing its own potential for respect for the animal, whether that’s through preserving the skin as long as possible, or bringing the skin back to life through movement and dance and ritual and other right-brain practices that people in cultures worldwide enjoy. It’s less about the art itself, and more about the people creating, purchasing, and admiring it.
Now can we please get back to showing off our respective dead critters so everyone can enjoy it?
acynicalsmileandacupoftea asked you: 2012-07-09 10:40 Hello there! Thanks for the follow back. Oh, since I’m here, I wanted to ask you if you think that is coherent for a wiccan/pagan (and a furry) to get a raccoon/fox/wolf tail. Much people use them as a fashion thing, but I use it as “totem”, but my friends think I’m lying about it (I don’t even use it outside my house!)… So, any opinion/advice?
First of all, you are most welcome :)
And yes, I definitely think so. In fact, that’s how I began making wearable tails over a decade ago—as extensions of the spiritual self, or totemic talismans. My primary customer base for my work has always been pagans, so it only seems natural to me that there would be a spiritual component to working with animal parts. And while a lot of furries who wear real tails just have them as costumery for their fursonas, there are furs who are also spiritual about the whole thing.
It’s only been in the past couple of years that tails have become trendy outside of subcultures like neopaganism, furry fandom, the RenFaire circuit, etc. and so LOTS of sellers have popped up, many of whom are just selling them as fashion accessories. And if that’s all people want to wear them as, then that’s their business. (However, I always include a copy of this care sheet with every tail I sell just to be a little subversive. Who knows? Maybe I’ll score a convert ;)
So in short, yes, you can work with your tail in a spiritual manner, even if not everyone else does. If your friends don’t believe you, then you may want to think about why they aren’t respecting your spirituality. Do they also ignore other parts of it, or is it just the tail bit? What sort of responses do they give you? have you tried explaining it to them?
In the end, you may not be able to get them to see things from your perspective, which is okay, as long as you’re good friends otherwise. Sometimes people just don’t get it, and we can’t make them see. Being a good example is one way to speak without words, so just keep doing what you’re doing. And there are people besides me on Tumblr, on deviantArt, and elsewhere on the internet who work with tails and other animal remains spiritually, so you’re definitely not alone! Perhaps connecting with some of them can help you to feel a little more included. I haunt the taxidermy tag here since sometimes spiritual crossovers show up. And wander through some of the fur and bone related groups on dA to find people who make ritual tools with animal remains (I run this one that’s specifically for pagan ritual tools of all types, though it doesn’t get much traffic just yet).
Let me know what you think of all this :)
(I’ll try to get to the longer bits of writing people have requested later in the week; I was out of town all weekend and am playing catch-up yet again.)
Golden wolf mask headdress. Available here.
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