Bone Collecting: Cleansing & Consecration

Bone Collecting

When you bring home new bones and skulls (or other animal parts), and before you add them to your altar or craft fetiches or tools of them, you should first cleanse them. This prevents energies from past owners or negative energies from the spirits of the bones themselves from effecting you or cursing you. I cleanse with holy water and incantation, I bless and consecrate the creature to its desired purpose, I formally introduce it to my other spirits, and then I feed it offerings.

Cleansing of the Bones

Many of the creatures that come my way as a bone collector have died violent deaths. Life is messy and nature isn’t gentle – animals very seldom die natural deaths after long lives. They are killed by their own kind, killed by natural predators for food or territorial disputes, hit by cars, culled by humans as invasive species or pests, or hunted by humans for sport or for food. Such is the way of things, and I cannot change it or pretend it is not so, but what I can do is ease the creature’s passing by treating it with honour and respect after its death. I can ease its angry or confused spirit with sweet words, offerings, and songs so it calms and either moves on or chooses to stay in its bones as a guide. I can wash the bones in water from sea, river, or stream to wash away its pain, cleansing its spirit, and returning it to the well of souls to be reborn again.

To cleanse the bones, wash them with water you have made holy (for instructions see: How to Make Pagan Holy Water). To cleanse other animal parts (hides, claws, feathers), sprinkle them with an aspergillum of purification herbs dipped in holy water while reciting a purification charm or singing a chant. Herbs suited to this include any evergreen trees, rosemary, bay laurel, lavender, avens, fennel, sage, or vervain. Water chants are best for this with the water element’s association with cleansing, death, and the underworld. Sing over the bones for as long as you need to – until there has been a shift in the energies. Singing heals the heart and soul. Singing restores harmony where it has been taken away or disturbed.


Ariana Lightningstorm
(click to hear music)

Strong like the ocean
Gentle like rain
River wash my tears away

The River is Flowing

Diana Hildebrand-Hull
(click here for music)

The river is flowing
Flowing and growing
The river is flowing
Down to the Sea

Mother, carry me
Your child I will always be
Mother, carry me
Down to the sea

Cleansing and giving offering to the beasts

Appeasing Angry Beasts

Sometimes a gentle song, holy water, and offerings aren’t enough to appease the spirit of an angry beast. Roadkill are usually confused, not angry. But the spirit of an animal that has been hunted and killed in a disrespectful manner for sport, money, or just because, is often raging in the remains of its body. Even if you cannot see or hear spirits, the angry ones are easy to find as being around their remains will make you feel uneasy, upset, nauseous, sick, irritable, or angry yourself. If you can hear them, they’re usually the ones swearing at you and cussing out all humans. You need to regain their trust. Apologize for what happened to them, tell them that not all humans are like that and you will show them through your good deeds.  Apologize to the Lord and Lady of the Beasts (Old Man and Old Woman to me) for life being taken without their permission – for spirits being stolen from them. Try to sweeten their disposition and that of the animal(s) with sweet offerings. For creatures here on the West Coast, honey and burnt offerings of sweetgrass and good tobacco are well-received.

If you can walk between worlds to speak to spirits, do so, and talk to the spirit and ask it what it wants or needs to be at peace. It may be something simple or something impossible. They may ask you not to use their parts in your magic and ritual, but to bury them and let them go. Agree within reason, but if the demand is too high, know you can bargain down to something simpler and doable – be honest and don’t make any promises you can’t or won’t keep. If you cannot speak with spirits, smudge well the bones with juniper tips or berries and bathe well its bones or flesh with holy water steeped with juniper. I also find this prayer from the Pagan Book of Living and Dying to be incredibly useful even though it is meant for humans; instead of saying “him or her” say the name of the animal (i.e. cat, deer, crow…):

For One Who Has Died Violently or in Great Distress


Mother of healing,
help us to believe in the
place where wounds can heal.

Mother of weaving,
show us what has been torn
can there be mended.

The worst has happened.
How can we believe again
in hope, love, kindness?
[name the dead three times]

Boatman, Ferryman,
she/he has had a rough crossing.
Carry her/him gently.

Comfort her/him, Mother,
in your warm arms of
night; rock her/him to sleep.

And by our rage,
Mother of Justice,
May justice be done.

After the angry spirit has been appeased and calmed, then it is ready for cleansing with the gentle songs of water and the sweeter holy waters of blessing. Wash away the last remnants of anger and pain leaving peace and calm. Perhaps, by the end of it, you will have gained a new ally who will speak well of you to its kind.

Purifying the bones

Consecration of the Bones

After cleansing, the bones, skulls, or other parts are ready for consecration. To consecrate is to turn into a sacred object and to enliven it with purpose – to give it animus. If the bones will only be used for display, or will be given away to another, or made into something to be sold – do not consecrate. Consecration turns something into a living fetiche that must be always be cared for and regularly fed energies and offerings until one’s dying breath or until it is passed on to another to care for in the same way of reverence.

In your ritual space, during the waxing or full moon, leave the bone, skull, tooth, claw, or wing in darkness by wrapping it in a dark cloth or burying it in earth. Pray or sing over it – calling it to life and singing it a song of what it will be. Unwrap or unearth it and anoint it with holy oil or holy water, drawing an equal-armed cross upon it with your finger. It is newly born. Charge it with its intended purpose by speaking it aloud. Invite a spirit into it who will match its purpose, to bind itself willingly to the item, but be free to come and go from it as it pleases. Bless it with the elements – with dirt, with water, with flame, and lastly blow your breath across its surface three times, emptying your lungs each time. It is done. It can now be used in your magical practice, placed upon your altar, decorated, or turned into a ritual tool or jewelry.

Author Sarah

Illustrator and weaver of words. Witch. Forest siren with talons, succubic tendencies, a love of otherworldly beauty, poisonous plants, wild places and dead things.

More posts by Sarah

Join the discussion 18 Comments

  • Very good Sarah. Whenever i see animals killed along the road i always pray “May you be reborn into a loving womb of your kind, far away from a road.”

  • Matt says:

    Hell yeah, awesome post; this’ll be getting put to use very, very soon. You bring up some highly intriguing points on working with the animal spirits, as well. Very glad you mentioned all you did, and left it to the public. Many thanks.

    Blessings to you!

  • Debbie L Scribner says:

    This brought tears to my eyes because it touched my heart so. Thank you Sarah, for the sharing of your wisdom. You inspire and motivate and fascinate..I often come upon animals that have passed and feel the need to say or do something respectful and helpful, I carry sacred tobacco with me and I leave this as an offering, this post helps me a great deal.

  • Jennifer says:

    I have a question this post brings to mind. I bought a Japa Mala several months ago. I bought this Mala due to the pressure I felt in my chest as I held it. I believe this Mala is made of bone. Every time I hold it, I get the same pressure and a strange headache. Could this mean it needs to be cleansed? I’ve never worked with bone so it’s new to me.

  • elfkat says:

    Reblogged this on Adventures and Musings of a Hedgewitch and commented:
    Great post!

  • mojo says:

    I always enjoy your perspective. something that I have begun to do is to take crushed egg shells and trace the body/bone with it, to ‘rebirth’ it from mundane and death to sacred and life from a spiritual level…it works fantastcally…

  • Dianna says:

    This post resonates deeply to me. I can’t put my finger on it, but something stirred! Beautiful post!

  • Such evocation in the way you write, I can feel the reverence you have for those who whose bones you work with.

  • dreema says:

    Great piece, this: it addresses a lot of stuff people don’t tend to think about. I do not save bones though I wish I could – too concerned about what macerating flesh off bones might do to my compromised system. However death visits my ground a lot as cats are always bringing in half-dead mice or shrews, kestrels tend to take out birds right on my patio and I have to pick up the feathers or other bits. Since I’m no longer strong enough in the hands to put an animal out of its misery, I instead have managed to perfect a rite to send a dying animal’s soul Over, and they often die in my hands this way. It is better than the suffering. The resident badger which is remarkable unfraid and unconcerned about it takes the bodies at night, so all works out.

    I think your point about honouring how an animal has died and working from there is a point that needs making: people buy skulls and so forth for their altars on ebay but don’t give a thought for how the skulls may have been acquired. Just because the animal was ”naturally harvested” or the animal was scavenged up doesn’t mean you’re going to end up with a spirit in its right mind when you begin to work with the skull. It may be frightened. It may be angry. It may even be completely insane. Or maybe it just plain doesn’t like you.

    If the spirits don’t work with someone, the best thing to do at that point is to find someone else who can work with it, or bury the bones with ceremony and allow the spirit to move onward. There is no ”failure” in this. It’s not a contest of witch-fu. I can’t work with some spirits – just not my medicine, as it were. That’s fine. And it happens. It’s all just part of the learning.

  • Tana says:

    Damn… now I have something in my eye…
    Thanks for sharing, this is a wonderful blog post.
    Too many humans don’t dare to open their minds and hearts to the animals.

  • jen says:

    Thank you for this – I have been procrastinating on cleaning a skunk and a goose skull I that I found. Now I know how to proceed.

  • Beautiful, thank you, Sarah 🙂

  • The Shaman says:

    Truly amazing!!Great respect I have for all of Creation, yet, especially for one such as yourself whom your love and respect for our Relations is heart warming.Aho!Mitakuye Oyasin, my dear friend!

  • Valentina says:

    All very important things to do to appease the animal spirits! Thank you for writing something so brilliant and timely.

  • Syne says:

    Thanks a lot, once more, it’s so true, so important as a path, what you do for animal spirits and bones…

    Some years ago happened to me something similar that what you describe with animal spirits… but with trees. There was a wonderful part of wood no far from my house, full of life, full of animals, full of energy… One day the woodcutters came and cut about the half (or maybe two thirds) of the trees. Five days of heavy noise, five days of “massacre” as I felt it.
    From these days, the trees that are still there aren’t the same at all. Not friendly anymore, no more energy of life, no more animals. It’s a desert of hate and defiance. And I’ve felt these feelings when I returned there. I tried to communicate with the trees, to tell them not all humans where murderers, but -was I not strong enough?- they didn’t want to hear or believe anything and I flew under their painful feelings…

    Maybe I should go there again. Maybe the time that has passed has made them less hateful. Maybe their pain is weaker now… However, trees live so much slower than us that it’s this time was not enough. I hope they will recover one day.

    • The old part of my local wood (the bluebell part, so it’s very old) doesn’t like humans in general. It’s taken me about a year and lots of offerings of water to the point where it tolerates me, so you could try that.

      It was under threat of being cut down for housing in the ’70’s when a local campaign rescued it and it’s now owned by a charitable trust.

  • Love the post. The bones decomposing in my back garden were all brought to me (save one) by my cat, who before then had only killed two birds in her 9 year life. Then I get brought lots of birds as presents. Cats seem to be attuned to the magical better than other creatures.