Of Bear Fat, Drums, and Tea

Tearing apart the fat

My awesomely bearded friend Grant who I met at the shamanic conference came over today with a massive hunk of bear fat for me along with house-warming gifts of a bonzai tree and a salvia cutting for me to root. He gave me feathers, a talon and heart of owl, and claws of wolf and I gave him a good bundle of magical woods along with bottles of my salmonberry and ginger-lime meads. I taught him how to render fat and he showed me his style of drum-making with the two bear hides he brought. The hunk of bear fat is so huge that I didn’t get to show him the straining part before the sun sunk below the sea. It’s still on the stove melting and melting until tomorrow (my whole apartment now smells pungently of bear).  After pulling apart the huge hunk of fat we found a tail, the penis bone, and both balls inside – extra bonus like a prize in a cereal box! Well, a prize to a shaman and a witch with a fondness for dead things anyway…

Bear tail, baculum, and testicles

Right now the rendering fat looks like a really gross bear stew of bits of skin, tendon, and hair. But it will be dark liquid gold after I strain it a few times and cook the water out of it. The local natives used it for medicinal salves and to protect their skin from the cold in winter. It’s also supposed to be good for oil lamps so I’m going to use a little of it for tallow candles with beeswax and the rest for a shapeshifting salve.

While the fat sat on the stove for hours, and we were fueled with copious amounts of tea, we set to work making drums with the black bear hides and maple frames I rubbed with beeswax; cutting, hole punching, weaving cord in and out of flesh, tightening, and crafting the handles. I really like his method. It is quicker and simpler than the other methods I’ve done and has a nice “finished” look. Instead of using rawhide lacing he uses waxed vegetable sinew. It’s easy to work with, doesn’t destroy your hands, and you can burn the ends so knots don’t slip out.

Cutting the hides Punching holes into the hideForming the handle Burning the cord ends

He made two larger drums and I made the two smaller ones. I am very interested to see what the hide looks like when it’s dried in a few days. I kept one of the smaller twelve-inch ones and haven’t decided whether to paint it or leave it natural. Grant kept the massive one, I can’t remember if it was sixteen or eighteen inches, but it is impressively big. Now I have lots of leftover bits of bear rawhide – maybe I’ll make rattles or other tools with it.

The finished bear drums

After we finished our crafting and had cleaned up, he went off to visit another friend, a bone collector, to look at her animal skulls and the lovely Holly, my awesome fellow witch, came over to visit me. We had tea by candlelight at my table discussing magic, dreams, and life. It was a good day. Now to wash the bear out from under my nails, my skin, and who knows what else…

tea for witches

Join the discussion No Comments

  • Skye says:

    I hope your drums turn out well when they dry! The one I made last year has proven to be a little more finicky than I expected. (But I’ve also never met one that wasn’t!)

    I don’t know if you’ve heard this before, but a kind Anishinabe Elder I once met told me that after the hide is dry, look for patterns, shapes and signs in the hide. They can reveal a message that you need to know. And also to be wary of how the hide changes, making other messages clear.

  • What an awesome afternoon!!! That looks like so much fun. Your pictures always make me smile

  • Nikkie says:

    This morning when I woke I could smell the farm of my childhood….

  • theredlass says:

    I don’t know quite how to say this but there is a sense of reality when you do posts like this. It is not sterile and clean but raw, gross even, and fundamentally primal in it’s execution. By comparison it makes what I do feel less witchy. *laughs*

    • Primal’s where it’s at 😉

      There was definitely a strong ancestral reaction for both of us to the big pot of bear fat – long ago it would’ve meant surviving the winter. At first it smelled gross, but then it started to smell like food.

  • Wow, a bear penis bone. That’s intense! who got to keep the balls and bone? Did you share them?

    Lovely drums. Soon, I shall make my own, soon.

  • Dver says:

    I envy you the amazing folks you know and get to connect with in person! What a wonderful day you’ve described. While so far I haven’t felt the urge to acquire a drum, a bearskin one might change my mind, that must be very powerful.

  • Marilyn says:

    It all goes to remind one of what precious little that people had back in the old days and how they put to good use every bit that they did have!

    Nowadays we have become so spoiled with an overabundance of food and material things that we forget and don’t appreciate how others, especially our witch kin, had to live back in the day. As with the Native peoples, nothing was wasted and every last feather, tooth and claw was put to good use.

    I actually have (non-witch) friends who are grossed out by bone-in chicken and will only buy and eat skinless boneless chicken breasts! How far removed people have become in modern times…

  • Aelwyn says:

    I’m so jealous!

  • Soli says:

    What an amazing day there and I think I am a little envious of your just getting the bear fat.


  • Kelda says:

    I live on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and I was just looking into legends related to douglas-fir trees, when I came across a Hesquiat legend called Bear and Raven. Your post reminded me of it right away; I think you could use the words ‘oil’ and ‘fat’ interchangeably; the legend points to the fact that bears are rich in fat:

    “Black Bear used to break off Douglas-fir bark with one swipe of his paw and pile it on end in the fire. Raven wanted to have a meal with Bear and he tried to imitate Bear in collecting fuel, but he could not break off the bark; he only hurt himself. When the fire was going, Bear put his paws up to the fire and oil dripped out of them into a dish. Raven watched him doing this, and when Bear went over to eat at Raven’s house, Raven tried to produce oil in a similar manner. But no oil came out of his feet, and his claws burned and shrivelled up into their present state.”