Oh the joys of living nearer to the countryside. You don’t have to go far (less than 10 minutes, really) to get to the beautiful countryside of north central Florida. And even better than that is having relatives who live in said countryside. We were invited to head out and visit some family about half an hour northwest of Gainesville and the drive alone was worth it. Beautiful, tree lined country roads just can’t be beat.
The family we went to see was my step-brother, his wife and their two teenage daughters (as well as several dogs, a cat and some hedgehogs!), who live on about six acres of land. We were treated to hot, fresh, homemade caramel popcorn, home-brewed beer and lots of good conversation. Their girls knew we were interested in animals, bones and the like, so they took us on a little trip around their property. We hopped on the back of the golf cart unaware of the treasures they were about to show us.
The girls had said there were lots of bones on the property and that we were welcome to take whatever we wanted. First stop was the hog and goat pens. They had been raising the hog and goat for a 4-H project and, unfortunately, the animals died unexpectedly quite a while ago. At the time of the animals’ passing, the girls had been quite upset, but they weren’t sure what they wanted to do with the remains. Lucky for us, they left them for the benefit of the woodland scavengers who picked them clean. We came upon almost perfectly intact skeletons that had been there long enough that most all of the tissue had long since deteriorated and been cleaned away by insects and birds.
The spine of the hog was laid out perfectly with the ribs, shoulders and pelvis lying delicately in place. Even the skull was fairly undamaged. In the next pen over, the goat bones were a little more spread out. The birds and animals had thrown them about a little more, but nonetheless, it was pretty easy to put the pieces together – ribs, spine, skull and all. As we were walking out of the pens, we noticed some smaller vertebrae and ribs half buried in the leaves, which turned out to be from an armadillo. After filling up many plastic bags with all the bones we could find, we headed to the next spot.
Driving deeper into the property, ducking and dodging tree limbs and vines, we stopped in a densely wooded area. We didn’t see anything at first and then the girls pointed to some bones off in the trees – a deer. The deer had been shot several seasons ago for food and its bones and organs left for the creatures of the woods. The skull was in one place, a leg bone half buried in another, and more scattered around and protruding from the ground. Part of a bone was visible under the leaves and when we brushed them aside, there were oh so many more. The girls were definitely amused by our awe and wonder as we excitedly filled our bags.
Next they told us of another deer skeleton that was back closer to the house, so we headed off. This one was up under some very thorny bushes and was a little tricky to examine. Apparently this deer had died of natural causes, as they just found it there one day with no obvious wounds. Being kind to the other creatures of their land they had once again left it for the foragers. The ground was shaded and very damp here and the deer hadn’t been there for too long, so as we pried the bones out of the soggy earth we could see there was still tissue and tendons that had not yet been cleaned. We freed them from the ground and brought them out into the sunlight a bit where the insects and animals could get to them better. The girls said they would leave them there and that we could come back for them when nature had taken its course.
With our laps full of bags of bones, we headed back to the house to share our bounty. We played with the dogs, looked at the sleeping hedgehogs, got some home-brewed beer to-go and loaded everything into the car. Driving home at dusk on picturesque roads we saw a hawk, turkey vultures and five deer grazing at the edge of the woods.
Within the next few days we acquired a five gallon bucket and many bottles of hydrogen peroxide to begin the cleaning and whitening process. So far we’re almost done with the goat bones and will move on to the hog and deer in stages. Our plans for these bones are wide-ranging. Many of our readers know that I work with animal spirits, so some of these bones will be added to my animal spirit altar. Many of them will be available for sale as soon as they’re ready. They can be added to bone-throwing sets, used in mojo bags and have various other purposes depending on what it is you “do”.
The individual bones have many meanings – vertebrae and spinal bones can stand for courage and resoluteness; the rib bones for breathing or suffocation; the shoulder bones for protection or divining; the leg bones for journeys, travel and endurance; the teeth for luck, attack or defense; and the skulls for thought, influence and rationality.1 The animals themselves have their own symbolism and any of their bones may also be used as a representation of that animal’s spirit. In the southern African sangoma and Peruvian shamanic styles of bone reading the hog can symbolize lust, gluttony, determination and male vigor; the deer can symbolize nature, swiftness and otherworld visitations; and the goat can symbolize aspiration to heights, pride, lechery and fun.2 In many Native American traditions the hog can represent confrontation of your own weaknesses; the deer can represent persistent love and gentleness; and the armadillo can represent the importance of personal boundaries.3
We are thankful to our relatives for letting us scour their property; we are grateful to the animals and honor their lives and their spirits with these bones. This was a wonderful experience and we can’t wait to go back and check on the deer bones we left behind and see what else the land has uncovered. We’ll let you know when the bones are cleaned, prepared and up for sale.
Thanks for reading!