A Montana Girl’s Thoughts on Animal Sacrifice
I was born in Montana, and only lived there til I was three, but still have relatives who live out there, as well as in Wyoming. In both Montana & Wyoming, there’s a lot more cattle than humans, and its dry and scrubby out there, so they are beef cattle. Some of these cattle are lucky and get better treatment in how they are raised and slaughtered, others aren’t so lucky and go through great suffering before they end up on your plate.
I also have several uncles who enjoy hunting- both birds, antelope and deer, and an aunt and uncle who were rangers in Yellowstone Park. Like many kids, I got the “oh no, hunting is bad, that mean hunter killed Bambi’s mom!” view, but that was soon corrected. Without hunters, the deer population would outgrow the available food and some of them would starve. Hunting (while following local hunting regulations) is a way to responsibly maintain the natural equilibrium.
I am putting all this personal back story in, because I understand many of my friends and colleagues having spent all their lives in the city or suburbs and their idea of “animals” is- my pet dog/cat/”fur-kid”, meat, milk and eggs that magically appear in the supermarket, and Romanticized Innocent Bambi in the woods threatened by Scary Rednecks. Well, to be fair most people I hang out with aren’t that clueless, but a few of them are. Like my vegetarian friend who refused to use wool, because shearing sheep “is cruel!”. Actually *not shearing sheep and making them suffer through summer heat* is cruel, and I also notice she has plenty of leather shoes and boots. Don’t get me wrong, there are many vegetarians, vegans and people who carefully choose meat that comes from humanely treated animals that think out their lifestyles a lot more carefully and consistently, and I greatly respect them for that. Not everyone is able to be that careful, due to their financial, time and sometimes geographic constraints, but I applaud the efforts of those who try.
Anyway, this is all a long lead-up to a controversy among some Pagans and polytheists over the issue of animal sacrifice. Some people have knee-jerk reactions to it, assuming that it must be cruel, is unnecessary because we can buy meat at the supermarket, and this isn’t the Bad Old Days, we’re modern, civilized people! There are even more messed-up ideas bound up with the assumptions of “civilized vs. savage” but I will set that aside for an additional post. OK so here we go:
1) If you’re vegetarian/vegan, for health, spiritual, bio-ethical and/or environmental reasons, that’s fine, I have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is people claiming that veg*ism is automatically more ecologically and economically sustainable when this is not always the case, or claiming that it is always ethically or spiritually superior lifestyle, along with sometimes implying that other religions and cultures are inferior to your own. (Likewise, the same sorts of arguments that Everyone Must Be Meat-Eaters, are just as wrong)
2) If you’re concerned about animals being raised and slaughtered humanely, great! So am I! Most meat that you can buy in America or Canada today comes from animals who were treated quite poorly. People who practice slaughter in a religious context should be trained to treat the animal humanely and do so in a way that is sanitary and does not threaten human and other animals’ health. Some polytheist religious leaders (Afro-Caribbean, Heathen, Hellenic), do indeed get this sort of training and insist that others who want to practice animal sacrifice do so as well. Though their worldviews/theologies are different, our Jewish and Muslim neighbors do this in kosher and halal slaughter as well, and have been doing so for thousands of years.
3) If you just don’t believe in the whole concept of sacrifice, that’s also fine- there are plenty of other religions that do not involve sacrifice! Feel free to join them!
4) If you think modern Western societies are not ready to culturally deal with the idea of ritual animal sacrifice taking place in public, you’re probably right! Most polytheists and followers of indigenous religions do not kill cows and chickens in the public square for this reason. There are indeed, many laws and regulations governing slaughter that we need to be aware of. In ADF, blood sacrifice is forbidden in *public rituals*, however this does not preclude what we do in private rituals where everyone understands the reasons and cultural/spiritual context. Similarly, I doubt animal sacrifice will be likely to take place anytime soon in a CUUPs or Unitarian Universalist setting.
5) Even in polytheistic religions that may include animal sacrifice, not everyone is going to feel called to practice it, or be in the right circumstances (city mouse vs. country mouse, issues of health/physical and mental) to practice it. That’s OK, there are plenty of other items we can offer to our Gods, Spirits and Ancestors! If some of our co-religionists are doing this practice with proper training, we can respect the skills and services that they offer to their Gods/Spirits and their community, even if we don’t want to attend their rituals or participate ourselves.
6) For polytheists, Pagans and others who practice hunting and or fishing, this can also take place within a spiritual context. Prayers for beginning the hunt, encountering the animal and killing it can be said, and thanks can be given to the spirit of the animal as well as the spirits and gods of the hunt.