Portable Skin Spirits

I’ve been really busy in my studio making my hide and bone art, and it’s given me some time to reflect on where my various pieces have ended up. Over the years I’ve really enjoyed getting to see the extent to which people have incorporated these creations into their spiritual practices—and their everyday lives. It really has ranged from those who only bring them out during certain rituals, to those who carry them throughout their day. Of course, some of that depends on what they have. A small pouch or a piece of jewelry incorporating a bit of hide or bone from one’s totem is a lot easier to carry around than a full hide headdress.

chokerFor myself, I live a very active lifestyle, and so I tend to prefer to be very streamlined about my personal talismans—if it won’t fit in my pockets or closely around my neck or wrists, I leave it at home. And I live in a place where it rains a fair bit, especially in the winter, so I don’t wear fur where it can easily get wet, which can damage it. I also don’t feel the need to “advertise” my spirituality to the masses that I did when I was a shiny-eyed newbie; I don’t need to carry a miniature ritual kit with me everywhere, and I don’t need to wear a wolf hide to the grocery store. (Yes, I used to do the former, along with wearing the neoshamanic equivalent of the dinner plate pentacle. I was never quite so brash as to wear a wolf into the store—my headdresses have always been strictly for sacred rites, not showing off.) Still, I sometimes keep a few small things about my person as needed; the rest have their honored places at home.

But each person’s preferences vary. You may be happy wearing a fox tail everywhere you go, or your tail may never leave your ritual space. Either one is okay. If you do wish to have some small reminder of your totem with you when you’re out and about, here are a few suggestions:

–Pocket talismans: This can be as simple as a single tooth, claw, or bit of hide. You can tuck them into your wallet or purse, or in the little side pocket in a pair of jeans. These are wonderfully simple and often the most inexpensive option. The downside is that if you aren’t wearing something with pockets and don’t carry a purse, you may have to figure out some other option. Additionally, the smaller something is the easier it is to lose, and so you’ll need to take care when taking something else out of the same pocket the talisman is riding in.

–Bracelets, necklaces, and other jewelry: Wearables have a great advantage in that you can put them on pretty well whenever you like. Additionally, unlike pocket talismans, you can have direct physical contact, which some people find comforting. There are those for whom putting the jewelry on every day is a small ritual of reconnection. Obviously this won’t work for everyone. I find my skin gets irritated if I wear fur for too long, and I’m rather hard on jewelry which means that smaller bones used as beads will occasionally break, so I usually keep my critter bits for special occasions. Also, if you have an occupation or hobby that requires a lot of movement or use of your hands, you may find the jewelry getting in the way. And depending on your job and location, you may not be able to wear animal parts at work due to sanitation issues, customer sensitivities, dress code, etc.

il_570xN.352925005_fx4c–Tails and other “minor” costumery: These are generally accessories that are a tad bit more noticeable and unusual than jewelry, but aren’t complete outfits. If you’ve ever been to any sort of convention that caters to a geeky crowd, you’ll likely see at least one or two people wearing real fox or coyote tails. Some people feel comfortable wearing these in everyday life, even with the risks—I’ve had to repair more than one tail that was broken when a teenager wore theirs to school and someone thought it would be funny to yank on their tail. Others save these more overt creations for sacred and safe spaces where people are more likely to recognize personal boundaries. If you decide to wear such a thing out and about in the world, prepare for the occasional curious question, as well as chuckleheads saying stupidly insulting things now and then (and occasionally forgetting civil boundaries by invading your personal space). However, having that ready connection to your totem, and being able to experience it in a variety of setting with assorted levels of distraction can be a valuable practice.

–Headdresses, clothing, and other “major” costumery”: This can be anything from a full hide headdress to elaborate clothing and costume pieces. Generally speaking, these are reserved for formal ritual events, partly because they tend to carry a lot of power, and also because they can be fairly pricey and the general public doesn’t always respect that. I don’t recommend these as everyday fashion pieces for those reasons; rather I suggest keeping them for special occasions and settings. If you should decide that you absolutely have to wear that boar’s head mask on the bus, be aware of how much space you take up, watch out for the aforementioned chuckleheads with poor boundaries, and decide whether you feel this diminishes the ritual efficacy of the piece.

And, as always, know your legalities before you buy or scavenge!

4 thoughts on “Portable Skin Spirits

  1. I wear my cow tail whenever I’m out and about, provided the weather is nice. She enjoys being out, and I love having her there with me. I’ve had quite a few strange looks but no one overtly rude. In fact, I’ve had more compliments than anything else.

  2. Thanks for the excellent ideas! My totem is a tiger, which I love – but because of CITES and ethical concerns, wearing tiger parts is not really possible. Perhaps there’s some ways I can use your ideas with empowered synthetic parts.

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