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Ritual Burials

March 1st, 2017

Bear by Katie Tume

Many thanks to Katie Tume for this guest post about her beautiful and unique work.
Katie is a talented embroidery artist from Brighton, East Sussex. Born in 1980, she is a fifth-generation needleworker who first learned her craft at her mother’s knee. Katie’s work is influenced by folklore, mythology, pagan societies and the old Gods.

All my life I have been interested in the story, the first story. My love of folklore and myth is like a rabbit hole I am forever journeying down, I think because I am always wishing to know, who was the first person to tell this story? What was the first version? When someone saw an otter and realised they were looking at joy, and family and named it, and told someone else. I think I am interested in these origins because I believe it will show me some lost magic, something maybe forgotten, and new. I see this whenever I like, whenever I choose to look at a weed, or a bird, or the sky.

As an artist, all my work celebrates magic in nature, both hidden and revealed. I love the herbals, the grimoires, the folk names. I love the poisonous and arcane. I love the humble and overlooked. The snail and the bear, everything in between has such magic to offer. It is that which I try and stitch in to each piece I make.

Bat ~ Katie Tume

In 2016 I produced a series of pieces based on the ritual burials of animals. It’s hard for me to recall exactly when I first read anything by Philip Carr-Gomm but his words and those co-authored with his wife Stephanie have provided a window into the past and my own imagination for over 15 years. Their Animal and Plant Oracles gave me so much inspiration, and were my most often referred to resource, that this body of work would have been impossible to realise in the same way without them.

This series explores the way we as humans share an ancient history of ritually honouring animals in life and death, and invites the viewer to consider how the sacred place those animals once held, has now changed. In the transient nature of life and death, there are clues all around us of the importance and significance certain animals have – in the names of plants, in the folklore and mythology of global cultures.

Cat ~ Katie Tume

Inspired by ancient Celtic burial rites, the composition of each piece suggests a burial ground where the spirit of each animal is ritually honoured with sacred plants, symbols and runes.

Our ancient ancestors believed in reincarnation. Although specific funeral rites varied throughout Europe and indeed the globe, archaeology suggests one common thread is that the human remains were being prepared for another world, where they would be infused with spirit and live again. Many readers will be familiar I’m sure with the custom of ‘grave goods’ – objects of personal and spiritual significance placed in the grave or burned, believed to travel with the soul to the next life. Early on in this project I visited the British Museum and saw examples of these, which embedded the concept into my mind. I was also fortunate to see the Celtic Art exhibition there, and realised a dream of seeing the Gundestrupp Cauldron, and the Gods and sacred animals sharing the space on this most magical object.

Many tribes or clans were believed to be descended from animals. We know of ‘Cat People’ in Scotland, and ‘Wolf Tribes’ in Ireland. Some families were even said to have descended from animals; several families in Scotland and Ireland were thought to share ancestry with the seal. In our early tribal culture, most had their animal totems – Sheep and Raven people in Sutherland, Horse people of Kintyre. In Switzerland they have discovered altars to the Bear more than 70,000 years old. Ceremonial headdress made of antlers over 10,000 years old were found in Yorkshire.

Our ancestors chose to be buried with their animals, as guides or companions. Although hunting was commonplace, every part of the animal was used. The hunt itself was considered sacred and the Goddess was asked for permission before daring to take the life of any creature. Animals held a role in our ancestor’s society far beyond anything we recognise now.

This series specifically looks at ten animals, all native to the British Isles at some point and all with special cultural or religious significance to pagan communities. Despite the sometimes literally God-like status some of these animals once held, many are now either endangered or lost entirely from the UK. In fact, of these 10, only 2 have populations defined as ‘stable’. Certainly it is true that every single one of these creatures faces persecution in some way.

Hare ~ Katie Tume

When I began this project, it came from my lifelong love for folklore and ancient mythology and a desire to explore this. However, researching each of these animal’s stories, learning of their magic, their power, and in many cases of their centuries of persecution borne out of human fear, I discovered I was personally marking each animal, ritualising my grief too. Even the process of embroidery can often be a meditative one. The in and out of the thread, the inhale and exhale. As I came to the project’s completion I feel both a sense of catharsis, and a strong desire to continue sharing the stories of species we have lost, species we are losing.

Who was it who first decided to name the harebell? What were the circumstances? Were they enjoying the golden late spring, watching the wild Hares boxing and dubbed the first flower they saw? Has a harebell ever been placed on a Hare’s grave? Has a great Bear’s body ever worn a crown of oak leaves?

To find out more, and to read a full illustration of how each piece was created, as well as the meaning behind them, or for any purchasing enquiries please visit my website

Otter ~ Katie Tume

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