Care and Feeding of Your Totem Animal Dance Tail

A while back I posted The Care and Feeding of Your Totem Animal Dance Costume. It’s a handout that I include with every full hide headdress and totem dance costume I make, to give provide physical and spiritual care instructions. I recently wrote one up to send out with tails, too, and thought I’d share it with my readers! (If you want to see the tails in question, check out the Tails, Ears and Horns section of my Etsy shop.)

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Thank you for your tail purchase! Please read through this care sheet for information on how to care for your tail physically and spiritually.

The Anatomy of a Tail

Even in life, many mammal tails are often fragile things—thin skin wrapped around a bit of muscle and connective tissues on a scaffolding made of the thinnest, smallest vertebrae in the body. Tails are meant to be flexible; they may be used in visual communication with other animals, as well as fly swatters and other pest removal. However, yanking on a mammal’s tail is never a good idea.

In the same way, you don’t want to yank on your tail. While the tail may look thick and full, much of that is hair or fur. The skin itself is actually a very thin strip of a very thin hide. If you look at the back of the tail, you’ll see a bare patch. Using your finger, you can trace it further down the tail’s length, and notice how it gets thinner the further down you go. Additionally, if the tan is older, such as on a vintage tail, the end may dry out a bit, making the tail more fragile. But with sensible care, your tail can last for many years!

Physical Tail Care

Keep your tail clean, cool, and dry. Repeatedly exposing your tail to moisture, such as rain, will cause the hide to deteriorate, as will too much heat. If your tail gets a bit dirty, just on the surface of the fur, wipe it off with a damp cloth; Pledge Wipes are very good at cleaning fur, especially old stains or dust and grime. If it gets really filthy and if the tail is not vintage, you can carefully hand-wash it in warm water and a gentle soap, and hang it out to dry immediately (do NOT apply heat). Make this your last resort, however.

The very worst thing you can do to your tail is pull on it. Touching, petting, and other gentle handling is fine, as is everyday wear and display—it won’t fall apart if you don’t treat it like glass. Just be careful to not sit on the tail or accidentally rest weight on it while getting up. Don’t let people yank on it—children may be especially enthusiastic about treating tails like toys, or their classmates may playfully tug on the tails if they wear them to school.

Sometimes accidents like the above happen, and that thin little strip of hide that Mother Nature made will break. This is hardly the end of your tail! I offer free repairs on everything I make, including tails, no matter the reason. If your tail breaks, don’t feel bad! Just send it back, and I’ll stitch it back together for you.

Spiritual Tail Care

While I’ve discussed this in more depth in this article here, here are some ways that, if you’re so inclined, you can connect with the spirit of the tail itself.

–When you first get the tail, spend some time sitting with it, smoothing or fluffing the fur as needed, and getting to know the physical attributes—color, etc.–that make your tail unique. As you’re doing so, see if you get any impressions of the personality of the tail. You may be used to speaking with spirits; if you haven’t, see what thoughts, emotions, or images cross your mind as you handle the tail. If you feel like you should keep it in a particular place, let that be the tail’s “home”.

–Before you put the tail on to wear it, ask the spirit of the tail for permission. If the tail seems to say “no”, then put it back in its place for a few days, and try again. Or ask why it doesn’t want to come out just yet. If you can wear the tail, thank the spirit; some people may also wish to create small rituals for putting on and/or removing the tail each time.

–Some people prefer to just wear tails as accessories. If you wish to have a deeper spiritual connection, spend time sitting with the tail as well as wearing it each week, or even every day if you wish, to get to know it better. You may also wish to research the animal it came from-where that species lives, what it does and eats, what its relationship to humans it, etc. In this way you can have a better idea of whose tail you’re wearing.

–You might even try dancing with the spirit of the tail, or otherwise actively interacting with it when you wear the tail itself. Try going to a park and pretending to be that animal species. Or if you’re ritually-minded, call the tail’s spirit to join you in a celebratory dance!

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Privilege and the Broom Closet

(First of all, thank you to everyone for your kind words on my last post. I am still recovering emotionally; writing about other things is helping. Here, have some.)

So recently there’s been some talk about people jumping ship from things like Facebook over to Google Plus. It’s apparently even great for pagans.

I wouldn’t know. A few months ago, Google suspended my account after less than a month since I was listed as “Lupa Greenwolf” instead of my government-recognized name. Since my professional pen/personal pagan name wasn’t good enough for G+, my profile remains suspended–that image above is a screen shot taken from my browser when I go to the G+ page. I could change my name on this account to my legal name and still be able to live my life more or less the way I do now, but I have a number of personal reasons for preferring to be “Lupa” in the pagan community, and keeping my legal name reserved for other parts of my life. I’m not a tightly closeted person, but it’s my choice to present myself under one name or another.

I’m lucky that I was able to make that decision, because there are a LOT of people who don’t have that choice either way. Pagans who would have much worse consequences if they decloseted. People who use the internet to connect with queer, poly, or other minority folks and don’t wish to connect those to their legal names. And, of course, people who have been the victims of stalking, domestic assault, and other crimes who don’t want to make it easy for their attackers to get at them again.

If you can be out of whatever closet by choice and not force? Great! But understand that you have a privilege that many others do not. Your privilege is that you have the option to decloset (or not) and can decide whether you feel you can handle whatever negative consequences may occur without having it made for you.

So who are you?

–Chances are good you don’t have children, or at least don’t have to worry about someone trying to wrest away custody using your religion, sexuality, etc. as a lever. Or you feel that you have enough grounding to win a custody case, and so aren’t concerned.

–If you do have children, you don’t feel particularly concerned about the effects having decloseted parents could have on them in school and other situations. You feel either that there are no real risks, or you feel capable of handling the risks, and you feel that your children will be sufficiently protected physically and psychologically from the potential effects of your decisions.

–If you are in one or more relationships, you do not feel that your partners are at sufficient risk that you should stay closeted to protect them, nor do your partners feel threatened enough by potential risk to protest your decloseting, or even end their relationships with you. Or you can afford the potential loss of your relationship(s) and not be so badly financially and/or emotionally harmed by that loss that it would be better to stay in the closet.

–You also probably are either securely employed in a non-bigoted environment, can easily choose to move to another work environment, are self-employed, independently wealthy, have a spouse, partner, or sugar daddy/mama who is capable of supporting you no matter what, or otherwise don’t have to worry about your source of income being destroyed by bigoted employers/coworkers/systems.

–You’re probably fortunate enough to have people who support you emotionally and psychologically, a safe buffer of friends and/or family who will give you safe space for being who you are and who you know won’t abandon you.

–You can handle the potential loss of people who may turn on you entirely if they find out, or are capable of dealing with harassment from them if they stay in your life, or if you can’t get away from them. Additionally, you are not dependent on these toxic people for a place to live, food to eat, support in school, or in the case of minors, legal dependency.

In other words, while you may face risks due to decloseting, you feel you are capable of handling them and can consciously take them on by being public about who and what you are. You may even face the same risks as someone who stays in the closet, but you feel more prepared and able to face them than the other person.

Granted, there are exceptions to every rule, but given what I’ve seen of closeted vs. uncloseted folks, the above are very common descriptors of the willfully decloseted. It doesn’t make you a bad person, or a good person for that matter, but these are all privileges that not everyone has.

Moreover, it’s a dick move to criticize people who stay closeted to any degree, or their reasons for doing so. Not every decloseted person attacks their closeted associates, but some do. I have seen many people over the years complain about people not decloseting, whether that was the broom closet or the queer closet or whatever closet others were using for protection, I’ve seen them called traitors, and I’ve seen the blame for continuing discrimination against everyone else laid at their feet for not standing up and being visible. I’ve seen pagans say “You should have nothing to hide if you’re strong in your faith”. I’ve seen radical queers tell closeted queers that all they’re doing is milking the “benefits” of the closet and not taking the full brunt of queerphobia. I’ve seen closeted people being told that by staying in the closet, they’re actively supporting the bigots themselves.

And the criticism is always by people who are ignorant of their own privilege, sometimes willfully so. They’re people who have financial, psychological, logistic, or other advantages that many of the closeted do not, the ones I mentioned earlier. They can’t seem to see past their own self-righteous tunnel vision to see that not everyone has the same options they do, and may not be as safe as they are.

Before you start complaining about how I’m attacking the decloseted, this is what I mean by privilege: Privilege isn’t a criticism of the fact that you HAVE something; it’s a reminder that not everyone ELSE has what you have, and that affects the options each of you have access to in a given situation. The criticism comes when you forget that imbalance, and act in spite of it, and thereby harm those without your privilege.

Why is this important? As individuals move, so moves the community. If the community only moves in the direction of privilege, then it begins to exclude those without privilege more and more. (We already see this with struggles with transphobia and racism in the pagan community.) A pagan community that relies more heavily on G+, for example, excludes those who cannot be decloseted or otherwise link their legal name to their involvement with paganism.

So if you’re considering making yourself a G+ only kind of pagan, using your legal name openly as a pagan, by all means please make your decision as you will. But as you do, please remember that you get to have that privilege, and how ignoring privilege can affect the larger community over time, with each decision an individual makes.

ETA: I have since found out that the name issue with G+ has been relaxed, and have submitted an appeal to see if they’ll unsuspend my account. Even if they do, that still doesn’t solve the overarching issue of closeting vs. decloseting, which is what this post is about–G+ was just one convenient example.

The Death of the Place That Raised Me

I am in a small town in Missouri, the place that I grew up in. It’s been a trip of many revived memories, as my mom dug a whole bunch of my childhood belongings out of a storage space in my old room, and I’ve been going through the bittersweet process of sorting through everything, deciding what mementos to keep, and which to let go of as resources to send back into the cycle. So I’m already in a mindset deeply tied into my life as it was over twenty years ago.

Which meant that when I drove to the little patch of woods by my old house that I explored so much when I was still in my single digits, finding that it had been entirely leveled and replaced with a brand new building was an arrow to my heart.

I am still in shock, and so disbelieving. I feel I’ve lost a long-time friend, perhaps one that I lost touch with as I moved away, but never forgot entirely and visited when I could. And I never got to say a proper goodbye. I had no idea that the last time I visited would be the very last.

I know, I know. I get that the fact that this place stayed “undeveloped” as long as it did, in a podunk little town pretending it’s a big city, was pretty impressive. It’s actually the second place that I’ve seen destroyed. The woods behind the house we lived in next, and that I am visiting now, was almost entirely removed for a housing development. The spirit there still lives; much-diminished, and much more jaded, it still lives in the remnants of the woods that flank the artificially widened creek that sluggishly meanders through as best as it can.

And that destruction happened over fifteen years ago, when I’d only had a couple of years to connect with the spirit there. That experience, coming home on the school bus one day to find all the trees save for a few down and shattered–that was a horrible introduction to adulthood, and it really was where my childhood came to an end. Today, even those old wounds pulsed achingly.

I am still angry. I haven’t “gotten used to it” or “grown out of it”. And I feel isolated as I sit in a place where most people wouldn’t understand why I’m so deeply hurt by this loss. I’ve already been told “Oh, but the pharmacy people are so nice!” and given the attitude of “development happens, get over it”. Invalidation after invalidation. And it hurts, it just hurts so much.

That place? It taught me the joy of the outdoors, the fascination with other species, and my place as a human animal. It was my refuge when I began to experience bullying at the age of eight. It was my first minor rebellion, as technically I wasn’t supposed to be over on that side of the hill. But mostly it was a place where I could allow myself to explore, both the physical landscape, and my imagination. I wasn’t just a little girl in a pink coat wandering through the brambles and trying to avoid poison ivy. I was a wilderness seeker, living in a little cabin in the woods. I was a wolf, hunting rabbits in the tall grass. I was a snake basking on a big rock. I was so many things, each time I sneaked through the narrow pathway in the poplars and into the trails around the cedars.

I spent so much time in that place, that little maybe-half-acre of scrub woods, and now–now I can never walk there again. All I can do is hope that the few pictures I took on my last visit, two years ago, are still on my old laptop, that I can have a little more visual aid to help strengthen my memories in the wake of seeing this horrible shift.

Underneath the foundations of that building are the remnants of root systems from scraggly cedar and poplar trees that I hid among when I was young. There, too, are the nesting sites of Monarch butterflies, quite possibly relatives of the one that I watched in its chrysalis every day for two weeks until it emerged one spring day. And there lie the bones of the garter snakes and box turtles that were descendants of the ones I would catch, observe briefly, and release. There are stones that I stood on, lifted up to explore the life hiding underneath–snakes, crickets, centipedes, and more.

I won’t go back this trip. I won’t go back to try and find any last remnants of my place. I can’t bear it. I know I shouldn’t hold it against the new spirit of this place that is just being born. All places have spirits, including built-on ones. And I’m sure the pharmacy building now there will develop its own spirit over time.

But it’s not my place. The spirit of the place I knew is dead. Gone. Living only in my memories, and maybe in the remnant memories of a few other people who saw it as more than just an open lot.

All I have left is one single pine cone. I was going to go back at this trip and collect a few more mementos. I’m glad I have the one that’s left. It’s on my place altar. I hope it can stay safe there. It’s my last physical connection to the place that had so much meaning for me.

When I get home, when I can get back to that pine cone on my altar, I’ll spend some time looking for the pictures on my computer, and put together a mourning ritual to help me grieve. I’ll wait until I get back to a place where I know my anger and my sadness will be respected for what they are, instead of having them minimized and invalidated. I’ll go to where I can be safely held in my hurt, and remember the place that held me when I hurt so many years ago.

Until then, it’s not “just a place”. I’m not just “making a big deal out of nothing”. I have to remember that. I can’t let my grief be derailed by others’ expectations of how I should feel or what should be important to me. I spent too much time living up to the expectations of others, and I’ll be damned if I deny my hurt any longer for a place that formed me in ways no human being ever did.