This is something most Neo-Pagans, and hell many traditionalists never mention – the skin that is sacred.
This is more than the craft-store buy, the dyed furs, or even faux fur. I do hunt, fish, and I am an avid omnivore. Something else that boggles the mind – vegan pagans who worship hunting gods. That seems paradoxical to me, non sequitor.
Anyway, the sacred skin is not just an American belief – many Europeans still have lingering memories of the sacred skin. Case in point is the drum – the drum skin is made of the sacred animal and is thus given a new life, new purpose, new voice. This new entity becomes the steed, the gateway,the guide and/or teacher, to the Other-world and beyond even that. I myself have a bear-skin oblong drum, it’s odd shape gives it a deep, unique tone and voice that pummels me through the veil.
The skin itself connects us to the essence of the animal you hold in your hands, wear on your shoulders, or place sacred items upon. The skin is often used to protect that which it is wrapped around, and thus it also connects the contents as well to the protective influences. Painting sacred symbols on the skin heightens it’s strength, and potency. The picture shown here is the hare’s skin I finished preparing over Rauhnact, and it’s main purpose is to aid in fertility (not just of the body but in other areas as well), protect whatever I wrap it around and guard it against evils and damage. The hare is sitting on the bear-skin of the actual bear I ritually hunted years ago.
It is through the skin that many shape-shifters cross from human to the crossroads of human and animal, a man-beast. Also in several ancient cultures from Babylon to Greece skins were donned to become ‘the children,’ of a certain deity. Case in point – the ‘bears,’ of Artemis come to mind…
I wear my black-bear skin for such work, consecrated to Arta, I also know of a Herne worshiper who has a white-tail stag with antlers that he uses, another Nordic practitioner who has a feline lined hood for her work with Freya, and one who uses a coyote skin for La Loba.
Skins were a major part of many European cultures, such as the children being carried home in a dog skin, or being placed in a crib of wolf skin, bear skin, or reindeer skin to protect the child from fairies, the evil eye, and illness. Even today I’m not the only one who calls on the powers of the skins – I know of a semi-local woman who placed her adopted baby on hare-skin during the first ‘moon,’ of being home. Some Slavic babies were passed through a wolf-skin to be ‘born of the wolf.’ As well as a German custom I’ve learned myself – newlyweds who mate on a bear-skin will have a long happy life together. (Granted, this is an oral tradition I was told, and until I can locate a source, I’ll have to leave it at that. Of which, it doesn’t bother me – I still had a wonderful night…)
There are many rituals for preparing the skin, and many taboos and ritual observances for the hunt itself. Many sacred skins (such as the Greek Golden Fleece and Thor’s Goats) act as reminders of mythology and cosmology, and it is a tangible link to the Gods and Ancestors – something that is very human in all of us.
Now, I don’t think covering your entire house with skins is any more potent than one who had created sacred cloth with sewing and embroidery. I believe, one gave way to the other with no loss from the transition. We live in cities and towns, but the memory is still there and show themselves in many sacred sewing beauties.
While I avidly try to avoid ‘buying,’ anything I give to the sacred – sometimes it is just unavoidable. So many laws and regulations forbid this, or prohibit that – even I can’t get around this sometimes. But I do stress that if you can only take one hunt, and feel the moment, it will change your perspective on many things. That skin won’t be just some craft-store purchase, it won’t be some lifeless bargain you got at a flea market (granted, there ARE happenings where the life is still there… ), the skin won’t look the same, won’t feel the same, it’ll be different because of the link between the two of you. In my life it becomes more precious than gold, and to be cared for, loved, and to be kept within the family.
Just my two thoughts, as Ostern grows closer and closer….