I just finished a week of hunting deer in Wisconsin, and am a Pagan. Most Pagans don’t have a deep connection to hunting, I guess their demographic is more urban than many religious groups. Hunting is not a big Pagan topic of conversation unless you are from, or live in, a rural area.
A recent blog post by author Stifyn Emtys caught my attention. He wrote questioning hunting, well really questioning it as if hunting is essentially “enjoying killing”. The post goes on to conclude that some, “people don’t kill because they have to. They kill because they want to. And that, my friends, isn’t just scary. It’s horrifying.“ Another, commenting on social media about that post, took it a step further with, “Hunting, when one has access to vegetation and other food sources is just cold-blooded murder, no way around it. ”
Murder is killing a person with malice a forethought, quite a stretch to classify hunting with this term.
What offends me is that the post’s author admits that hunting experience is an area of limited personal contact and understanding, but still concludes, “ people who kill animals in the name of sport or spirituality …. reveal something starkly horrific about the human condition.” The author equates hunting with “enjoying killing”. I don’t hunt because I enjoy killing. I accept that many things in life involve death, and yes, sometimes killing.
As a Pagan and a hunter, I don’t feel compelled to proselytize about either activity. There are plenty of horror stories about both designations, there are plenty of reason to be neither, it is a personal choice. The blog post did get me to think about killing, death, and particularly our relationship as Pagans to it.
Where is the Pagan experience with death in this intellectual argument? It seemed lacking. My spirituality and experience has changed how I look at death, and at killing. I don’t see it as a punishment, an act of fate or karma, even something to fear. I see it all around me, everyday.
I used to farm on a small-scale, grew crops, raised chickens, goats, and pigs mostly. As a farmer you have to kill animals, whether they are raised for the meat, or because they are the wrong gender, or ill, or too old to contribute to the whole. It is not a philosophical choice, just a necessity. It is hard to face it, and do the killing, but you learn to do it. For me, it wasn’t easier with killing food I raised in the garden. I still cringe when I tear a head of lettuce from its roots ( I can hear it scream! ) , or pull up a potato plant. I know I just killed it. What you don’t have a direct hand in killing, the earth, its critters, and the seasons all take their toll. The death and killing involved in farming is hard to live with. You see the new babes of spring, and the fresh sprouts emerge, but you also know that killing and death is coming. The rural agrarian experience of death and killing is foundational to me as a Pagan.
When you move from the personal to the more abstract and disassociated world, this is where most people live. Killing is done somewhere else. Our food is raised and grown, and that messy death event takes place out of our sight. For some the standard is whether killing is cruel or not, whether sacred or painful. All death and killing is painful, this is what living things do, they know death. When we remove ourselves from the death process it just seems less like killing.
As consumers we kill every moment. No one wants the pain of imagining the dying bauxite miner in Sierra Leon who helped make your soda can. The kids in China salvaging radioisotopes from our waste electronics and dying horrible deaths. The death from lung disease from countless fabric mills in India to make your bed sheets.
As citizens of the most powerful country in the world, we kill through our country’s policies and both the actions and inaction done in our name. We can remove and isolate ourselves from it, but really who did you kill today in Mexico, in Sudan, in Haiti, in Indonesia? I support the role of soldiers, not because I like my hired killers, but because they face a difficult role, often outside their control. They face death and killing in my name, even if it is not with my consent. If every politician and corporation board had to personally face the killing and the death they are responsible for, with their very own hand, it would be a different world.
We are raising a generation experiencing killing by proxy. Millions of people spend billions of hours wreaking death, destruction, and killing in video games. There is no relationship to the death and the killing, it is just a visual stimulus. When you experience killing on a personal level, you gain a respect for death.The simulated experience with death in gaming numbs us, and when confronted with the realities of death, many can not cope with it positively.
I find it very strange for people to react strongly against hunting. There are certainly sick people out there who participate, but for most hunters it is a chance to really connect with nature, themselves, their families and friends, and encounter and confront one of the primal forces Pagans embrace : Death.
We all feel guilt from all the killing and death that surrounds the living, we can’t help but feel it. Some react by hiding from it, some make up for it by entering helping professions. Some become vegetarians, some try to never grow old. As a Pagan, I see all this death and killing and find some resolution in it from my spiritual experience. Death is rarely ‘productive’ or kind, but it is inevitable and part of everything. So what is the problem?
As a person, a hunter, and a Pagan, yes, I am a killer. I believe we all are, we all have a hand in it, how closely you are involved in it varies. Some just face it and grow personally and spiritually from it, others don’t. Please don’t take your passion to avoid the realities of death and raise a spiritual banner with it. Pagans have the opportunity through their spirituality to find a positive place for death within themselves. It is really a foundational concept. We are born, we live, we kill, and then we die. May the gods witness it all.