Killing, Death, Hunting, and Pagans – Editorial


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.


photo: http://notdabblinginnormal

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.

Deer Auto Accidentphoto:

Deer Auto Accident

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.

Death on a Pale Horse (Gustave Dore, 1865)

Death on a Pale Horse (Gustave Dore, 1865)

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.

Nels Linde .  I also wrote about Pagans and hunting in 2010.

19 thoughts on “Killing, Death, Hunting, and Pagans – Editorial

  1. David Salisbury says:

    Nels thank you so much for writing in such a friendly and compassionate way around this sensitive topic. Although I absolutely disagree with the stance here, it is nice to see folks conversing about this subject with intelligence and poise.
    Looking forward to dining with you once again!


  2. lisaspiral says:

    Really nice post. The idea that it’s murder if you kill the animal you’re going to eat but if you buy it at the grocery store so someone else killed it it’s somehow ok is rampant in our urban culture. It’s a symptom of that removal from nature you refer to in this post. How refreshing for the other viewpoint to be expressed so gently and eloquently. Thank you.

  3. Christopher Blackwell says:

    Not a hunter, I could not do it. But as you say life does feed on death, whether we do it personally of have the butchering done by others, we still all feed off of things that once were alive, as some of them may feed off us when we die. Sorry for those whom cannot deal with it, but death is part of life, there can be no life without death.

    Now I have killed people at a distance being in 105 Howitzer Artillery in the Marines in the Vietnam War. Now I was only the horizontal chart operator sticking pin into a graph, but it is part of the process of delivering a shell to a target and I have no idea whether our targets were proper or not.

    As taxpayers and citizens we are part of the process of war, as consumers we are part of the process of wrecking our planet. So we can’t get away from the idea we are part of the process of killing, whatever our personal opinion on the subject might be.

  4. JRob Zetelumen says:

    A shamanic practitioner once said that they are vegan because of their connection to spirit animals. I replied that I eat meat for exactly the same reason. My place in the food chain is a very important part of my path. Death is a part of my path. I don’t shy away from it simply because it makes people uncomfortable. Thank you for putting it into the blogosphere that Pagans can hunt as a part of their spiritual practice. I respect your connection to nature.

  5. David Salisbury says:

    To be fair though JRob, its not fair to say that vegans are vegan because they shy away from death or that is makes them uncomfortable. Vegans are vegan because their against unnecessary suffering and the idea that humans have the right to inflict it upon other species, not death itself. I’m vegan and I consider the mysteries of death and resurrection absolutely vital to my spiritual path. I’ve prayed with the dying as they’ve left this world. Death is not the enemy of veganism, abuse and the entitlement of taking life is.

    • Christopher Blackwell says:

      Susan, Having respect for the animal that they hunt and making full use of it as a sign of that respect, as well as stoping when they make their legal kill, and not shooting until they are certain to make a kill would certainly get hunting a lot more respect, then say drunken hunters shooting at everything in sight.

      Same goes for respecting the land they hunt on and getting necessary permission, and taking their trash with them would keep hunting areas open and get cooperation from property owners as well. But then that is just being a good hunter, whether the person was Pagan or not.

      Sharing the hunt with family and friends and cooking it well, or with people who are unable to hunt, especially those in need would add honor to the hunt as well. Remember a skilled and generous hunter was a very respected member of any community. If older hunters teach that to younger hunters, then we will see less complaint about hunting. Encourage good hunting and bring back full honor to hunting.

      • caraschulz says:

        I know more non-Pagan hunters than Pagan hunters and the ones I know are what Christopher describes. I think it has more to do with generational hunters than it does with religion. The hunters I’ve seen who are disrespectful (and dangerous) are usually young males who decided to go hunting with friends (who also have not been raised in hunting culture), but that doesn’t make them hunters. They are, however, in the extreme minority.

  6. milkhermit says:

    Like David, I am not a vegan because death and pain make me squeamish, or to protect myself from interacting with these things. I’m a vegan because I think it’s ethically unacceptable to take part in the animal farming practices of today. There is absolutely nothing ethical about purchasing animal products – milk, flesh, eggs, leather, all are involved in unnecessary and horribly cruel practices.

    This isn’t limited to animals, either. Our farming practices (and yes, over 99% of animal products in the US are produced through factory farming, so “sustainable” or “humane” meat/eggs/dairy don’t really factor in) are unsustainable and violent to the environment, and have staggering tolls on the wellfare of human beings as well as the animals. To me, hunting is such a small issue that while I find it personally distasteful I prefer it over people buying such things. I think it’s frustrating that more pagans, as members of an earth-based movement, do not seriously consider the benefits of veganism and vegetarianism from a scientifically sound, spiritual viewpoint. There is extremely compelling evidence that plant-based diets have a big impact on one’s carbon footprint as well as the other, more difficult to measure impacts like human wellfare and personal health.

    What I’m trying to say is that I personally think the “hunting issue” among pagans is a red herring distracting us from having a productive and salient discussion about what we eat and where it comes from. You want to hunt? I’m fine with that. But let’s talk about the ethical ramifications of everything else, too.

    • David Salisbury says:

      Thanks for pointing that our milkhermit. I agree, the more important conversation (yet even more highly-debated) will eventually be around looking at the food we eat in general.

      Certainly there is more integrity in eating flesh only from someone who was hunted, rather than purchasing it in a store. Folks who dislike the idea of hunting should also dislike the idea of grocery store ground beef equally, if not more. If any respect can be afforded to the practice of eating animals, I would be more inclined to giving it to hunters than to purchasers. Primarily because of the factory farming issues you mention. Its silly for someone to recycle bottles in their home while frying up burgers on the stove. The latter causes so much more environmental devastation than the former.
      [Of course, that talk point only applies to Pagan paths that are nature-based, since not all of them are (certain reconstructionist religions). For example, I would never have the nature-based faith debate with my good friend Cara because it wouldn’t apply to her personal faith. Ok sorry for that tangent..]

      However frustrating it is, its definitely easier to have these conversations with Pagans in a way, as they tend to be more inclined to listen and open up to knew knowledge than in other groups that just totally shut down.

      • milkhermit says:

        “[Of course, that talk point only applies to Pagan paths that are nature-based, since not all of them are (certain reconstructionist religions). For example, I would never have the nature-based faith debate with my good friend Cara because it wouldn’t apply to her personal faith. Ok sorry for that tangent..]”

        No, that’s a good point. I was using “pagan” in the very general sense, as most under the umbrella ARE earth-centered, though not all! It’s important to acknowledge the variety, though it doesn’t excuse the majority. 😉

        Discussions about veganism are, as a rule, almost always frustrating, but at least many pagans are more willing to listen and discuss, and in a polite and educated manner. Away from keyboard my preferred form of activism is awesome cooking, but online one must return to the tried and true ways. 8)

    • Nels Linde says:

      Thanks to all the posters for all the insightful comments! I wrote without dealing with the many ‘ethical’ issues surrounding food, in all its forms. There are so many ethical sub-issues that derive from this discussion, and how deeply you want to follow the ethical issues involved.

      For me, many food ethics issues revolve around the concept of waste. Whether it is in the efficiency of animal feed lots, or broccoli farms in Arizona, we make many levels of ‘ethical’ choices in what we consume, whether we recognize them or not. As a northern climate resident, I might most ethically spend the winter eating root crops and squash that are locally raised, and supplementing that with local meat. In the USA we have a vast array of inappropriate to climate and land foods available at all times. In my mind, once you move away from an environmentally appropriate ideal you increase both inefficiency and waste for both producer and consumer. But darn, a January salad is sure good with wild rice and a venison steak! I once knew a ‘fruititarian’ (I only eat the gift of a plant or tree ) who ethically chose that path. Problem was in a Wisconsin winter climate nearly all his food was trucked in from the tropics, and he had to keep his house at 80 degrees to compensate for his fragile body temperature on that diet. Is that diet ethical overall?

      I believe the red herring is rating our food choices ethically, well at least in assessing our humanity or level of spirituality. It is critical for American consumers to be aware of all the ramifications of their food choices from many perspectives. Most will make some choices appropriately, and some pretty wastefully or unhealthy. Character judgements based on our individual food choices and translating them into levels of ‘ethics’ is generally just plain divisive. Throw in wide income disparities and deep poverty, and most have a really limited range of choices to make, at least world wide.

      To me the only ethical choice is to support broad education exploring the interconnectedness of our environment, economics, our
      health, and our food choices, AND all the broad effects these choices have on our world and communities. Like most things, if you break it down to small enough pieces, someone can be argued as ethically ‘better’ than someone else, and that gets none of us anywhere but divided. Nothing about food is really simple, except ; “Clean your plate!’

  7. Sarah Buhrman says:

    My hubby works at a slaughterhouse. He participates in the daily, hourly, killing of cattle for those steaks that get grilled on the weekends, or the hamburger for burgers or meatloaf, or a hundred other meals. He is also a follower of the Norse pantheons, and a hunter. Aside from the Virtues he strives to live each day, none of those things are connected. Life is still sacred. If anything, the work and the hunting are both a matter of self-reliance and practicality.

    We eat. We eat meat. That meat must die.

  8. Glen says:

    I am glad to hear that there are more pagan hunters out there. I sadly know way too many people who hate the idea of hunting and hate those that choose to do so; yet in most cases still eat meat(ironic?). Too much denial exists in our society when it comes to the violence and death that results from our actions and inactions. To live is to kill, plain and simple. This is a HUGE issue that will take MUCH work, in many forms, to remedy.
    In terms of hunting though, being the topic of your article; there are definitely changes that need to be made. Starting with taking back what’s left of our culture from corporations and the consumerist $$$ machine. The newest and coolest gizmos and gadgets don’t make a hunter; skills, knowledge, and respect do. Secondly, with little wilderness, and over population of both humans and animals in some areas, we need science based “management.” The biggest bucks or bust mentality doesn’t create healthy herds or a healthy future. And 3rd, being of my opinion, is to put spirituality back into the hunt. as an animist I feel life should be met with respect. Most hunters I have meet that were ethical & respectful were of some actively spiritual path. We shouldn’t let fear of ridicule stop us from embracing a more emotional and meaningful hunt… It’s ok to cry sometimes, man or women.

    If you haven’t read ’em the books *Heartsblood(Peterson)* and In Defense of Hunting(Swan) seem fitting here.

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