Lupa’s Den – Thinking About Dead Animals
Over on my LiveJournal, I have a significant number of furries on my friend list; I’m not a furry myself, but I enjoy the artwork folks post, and we tend to have other things in common as well. (Lots of pagan furs, for one thing!) Something that got posted a few weeks back was some controversy over “soft taxidermy.” Basically, there are a handful of artists in the furry community who take whole pelts and stuff them like plush toys. (There are also apparently people who stick bows and other cutesy things on them, but I haven’t yet seen these pics.)
This has caused somewhat of an uproar, even among folks I know who have various hides, bones and other animal parts in their possession. Even folks who are okay with traditional taxidermy have found the real-fur plushies to be creepy, especially as they sometimes seem to be treated like toys (as though being a trophy is any better . . ?). And it’s brought about one of my periodic assessments of my own use of animal parts in my spirituality and artwork.
For those who don’t know, for over a decade I have been creating ritual tools and other artwork from hides, bones, feathers and other animal remains. It’s been an integral part of my spiritual practice because an animist, as I work with the spirits of the animals who once wore those remains. And it’s something I’ve always struggled with, ethically speaking, because I know and understand that by buying some of the things that I do, I’m directly supporting the fur industry and the deaths of numerous animals. Granted, I also support the deaths of animals by eating meat, though that’s due in part to a metabolic condition in which I need to have meat protein to maintain my health.
I always have a few options to choose from when I do this periodic questioning:
- Keep doing what I’m doing: Obviously, this has been my choice up to this point. When I talk to the spirits of the animals themselves, they express appreciation that someone has actually taken the time to work with their remains in a respectful manner. This is especially true of things I’ve “rescued,” such as old fur coats and taxidermy mounts. What I create is intended to be respected in a spiritual manner, to include the gravity of the fact that yes, these were once living beings, and they didn’t have to die this way. I really ought to emphasize that latter part more.
- Only use secondhand and found animal parts: In some ways, this would be a more ethical choice, because there’d be less of a direct impact overall, and I’d still be recycling. Honestly, the majority of what I work with is either old coats and other reclaimed remains, or things that other people have gotten rid of. I actually buy very little of anything new. But still, there are animal parts that I do buy new, and I do own up to that.
- Use up what I have, and then quit: I have a lot of things I saved up over the years. When I lived in Pittsburgh, I went to one of two huge flea markets on a daily basis, and almost never came home empty-handed. Plus I do a lot of barter, and occasionally people will just give me furs and other things that they don’t know what to do with because they figure I can make something neat out of them. So I’d still have enough to keep me busy for quite some time.
- Quit entirely: Or I could just sell off everything I have that can’t be safely buried (hides, for example, are generally tanned with nasty chemicals that we don’t need concentrated in the soil).
But the thing is — and this is the selfish part, and perhaps the biggest motivator — I enjoy my artwork. I can’t paint worth a crap, nor can I draw, or sculpt. This is really the only visual medium that I’m any good at. It’s one of my biggest stress-relievers, and it’s also a small stream of income for me. But mostly it’s the enjoyment I get out of it.
Also, it is a significant part of my spirituality, and has been since just about the beginning of my paganism over a decade ago. I have some personal skins and bones that are in my own set of ritual tools, and I work with those spirits as well as their corresponding totems on a regular basis — from the skins I dance in, to my horse hide drum, to the bear skull rattle, and then some. Maybe it’s all in my head (and maybe all spirituality is wholly subjective and used to justify personal preferences), but the spirits enjoy working with me as much as I enjoy working with them. When I dance a skin, it gives its spirit the chance to ride my body. When I create something out of remains that would have ended up incinerated or left to hang on a wall as a trophy, the spirit gets a chance to be a part of someone else’s practice — or maybe a participant thereof.
Yet I do realize the physical, real-world implications of what I do. Which is why I still mostly stick to second-hand remains, and why I donate a portion of the money I make from artwork sales to the Defenders of Wildlife and other nonprofits. I know that none of these choices will have as much of an impact as if I were to quit entirely. But I have my reasons for continuing, and I follow those reasons with the understanding of the consequences.
I’m not going to go and criticize the soft taxidermists, or the people who wear fox and coyote tails as a fashion statement, or those who wear fur coats, because in the end I know that I don’t have room to talk. My spiritual and personal reasons for what I do don’t make me a better person for it. But they do add value to my life, and I balance that out with the knowledge of the impact of my choices.
©2009 by Lupa
Edited by Sheta Kaey
Lupa is the author of Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic, A Field Guide to Otherkin, and co-author of Kink Magic, among other works. You can read her blog at http://therioshamanism.com and see her website at http://www.thegreenwolf.com.