burials

Oak-corns and Apple-thorns

November, 2013

Speak, Thou Head

Paleolithic burial mounds.  Buddhist stupa shrines.  Catholic reliquaries.  The bundled bodies of Hualcayán.  These are all examples of venerating the remains of ancestors, a common practice that cuts across all cultures and time periods.

The practice of feeding ancestral spirits with wine, liquor, tobacco, flowers, incense, etc. as a form of ancestor worship — or as a way of asking for their assistance in your day-to-day affairs — is just as common in various forms of witchcraft.    Nowadays though, modern sensibilities and laws make owning the actual skull of an ancestor more than a little problematic.

What’s a witch to do?  Well, Peter Paddon, in A Grimoire for Modern Cunningfolk, describes how his clan uses a pewter skull as a stand-in for the ancestors.  He even describes how to ritually awaken the skull.  Although Paddon’s method sounded practical and appealing, it also seemed to be lacking that special something.

Some time ago a friend of mine mentioned a practical alternative to an actual ancestral skull.  He said that it is fairly common to bury and then dig up a glass, ceramic, or stone skull and then use it as a substitute.  I tried to find some literature on that practice but came up empty.  I gave up on the idea and moved on.

That is until just the other day when I received a skull made of black glass as a gift, and all of this came back to me.  I took it as a sign.  I promptly decided, using instinct and intuition, to go it on my own.

As I’m writing this it’s October 21st.  On Halloween night I’m going to bury a ceramic skull in my yard.  I will approach the funeral service with all of the reverence due the burial of an actual loved one.  There will be flowers, candles, a wooden marker, prayers, and traditional songs and words.  I will let the skull remain buried for three days, at which point I will dig it up and give it a good rinsing in rainwater.  Then, to give it more power, I will stuff it with things that once belonged to those who have passed — jewelry, notes, snippets of clothing, and even some familial teeth and hair (thanks to relatives who kept the teeth they bought when impersonating the tooth fairy, and who put locks of hair in their Bibles).  Once complete, it will go on my altar as a connection to my ancestors.
If you’d like to see how this ritual turned out, and see some pictures, you can go to my blog and read about it by clicking this link.  By the time this article is up, the ritual should be complete.
And if you’re a better researcher than myself, and you know the origin of this type of rite, please satisfy my curiosity by posting that information in the comments below.