Tutorial: Ancestor Skull Rattle

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My daughter chose the colors and then wanted to add extra features with a marker.  She also poked it on the top of its head, but it still works!  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2016.

When Samhain / Halloween decorations and materials started showing up at the craft stores, I snatched up one of those small, papier mâché skulls.  At the time, I didn’t have a project in mind, but I knew something would come to me.  It wasn’t until my daughter was playing with it that we stumbled upon its purpose, which makes sense given the (very informal) research I’ve been doing on rattles.  She put some toys inside the skull and shook it.  She said she wanted to make a rattle like her egg shaker.  I thought that was a brilliant idea.

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Gathering materials.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2016.

Materials:

  • A papier mâché skull
  • tissue paper cut or torn into small pieces (a toddler will happily help you tear)
  • dry beans, beads, small stones, or other filling to create the rattle sound
  • modge podge or tacky glue
  • a paint brush or two
  • an old plate or tray
  • markers for additional decoration

Pour some glue or modge podge into your old plate or tray.  Using the paintbrush, work a layer of adhesive onto the skull.  Bee wanted a paintbrush too, so we worked together.  As you paint, smooth pieces of tissue paper over the glue. Make sure you put your dry beans (or other filling) into the skull.  Gradually cover the openings in the skull with several layers, taking care not to puncture the wet tissue paper. You may want to do the top first, let that dry, and then do the bottom for easier handling.  Once the whole piece is dry, you may want to decorate the skull to bring out its features. We did not add a final layer of gloss, but I think it would be a good idea to preserve your piece.

I enjoyed making this instrument for a variety of reasons.  It was a fun, easy project to complete with my daughter.  At three, she’s learning to cut, so she had fun practicing with scissors and tearing tissue paper of her choosing.  It’s a great use for wrinkled, torn tissue paper  if you’re like me and try to reuse everything until it’s falling apart.  I would like to make more rattles year in different colors – white and black, perhaps.  It could be a fun grove craft project.

The skull rattle joined us at my grove’s Samhain celebration.  Bee and I played it while we chanted.  It doubles as a seasonal decoration.  We’ll have to keep our eyes open for more papier mâché shapes appropriate for other celebrations.

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