I am a hunter, and I am a heathen. I have been doing some reading and thinking on the topic of hunting and about being a pagan. I try my best to honor my Nordic (Norwegian) ancestors, and a big part of the heritage involves hunting and fishing. A lot of pagans (and non-pagans) I have met like to thumb their nose at the topic of hunting, and some I have met are adamantly against it. I wore a (fake) wolf pelt for Halloween last year, and I’ll admit I did a pretty good job at it. Some of the people I met that night, I honestly thought I was going to get a can of paint over my head!
Suffice to say, this is a touchy topics for many pagans. I’ll be honest, I don’t think there is any moral high ground on this topic. The very process of eating, be it plant or animal, brings some kind of death along with it. A plant uprooted brings and end to its life processes in the same way as the stopping of a beating heart. Life involves death, as there is nothing that is that will not know decay. Eventually, sooner or later, we must come to terms with our own mortality.
That being said, I do not think that hunting is focused upon death. Yes, death is a part of it, but only the ending. What is most meaningful, and spiritual is not the kill itself, but the actual being outdoors. As an anecdote, last season I watched for several nights a small four pointer come out, rummage around for a while, and then head off in the other direction. On one of these nights, (I was hunting on the ground instead of in my stand) he comes out of the woods to my right, only ten yards distant. He knew I was there before I even saw him. He was staring right at me. Our eyes locked, and in that moment we understood each other, knew each other in a way that is difficult to put into words. In a way, it was a very intimate moment. He saw me, and I saw him, and something passed between us. It was a very spiritual moment. He ran off moments later, and I never had a shot. I never saw him again after that night.
I think that little tale really helps to get at the heart of this issue, one of the biggest reasons why I hunt. As I hunter, I learn through experience the relationship between all things, and my place in the ecology of the forest. It is how I reach out and touch the world of the spirits. It is a ritual in itself, and a very spiritual experience through and through. In my time in the woods, I have come to know many animals, plants and trees and the spirits of those things. I have given them names, and formed relationships with them. Because as a hunter, I have intimately know my environment, many scents, trails and tracks. I have to know where my prey sleeps, and where they walk and cross through my hunting grounds.
This is where the ethics comes in. I realize, that in some form I am an agent of death. But at the same time, eating is survival, and I have to eat. I will grant there are others ways in modern times I can secure food. But at least with the hunt, I know where my food comes from, and don’t have to worry as much about chemicals or other such poisons that are rampant in our society. Also, I know that I will make use of everything that I can, fur, skin, meat, bone and blood. There is a whole host of hunting rites I use on my hunt.
Here is a brief outline,
First, I ask permission from the spirits of the area for permission to hunt in my chosen spot. Because, regardless of property “ownership”, I am in the realm of spirits. I am on their turf, in nature, and not the other way around. Once I get “permission” (this part can be very spiritual, and I’ll skip the details), I make an offering to the land. I believe firmly in reciprocity, and I know full well that I intend to take a life. Something must be given in return. That is one of the biggest parts of being an ethical hunter and heathen/pagan, and living in balance with the environment. For every take there is a give. As humans, we need materials to survive, wood, food, metal, ect. For everything we need, every gift we receive, it is right and proper that we should give something in return. So, after permission is secured, I leave an offering, as an exchange for the life I seek to take, and to the area/woods/nature itself, because I will also deprive the forest of ones of its denizens. I leave offerings even if I am unsuccessful.
As I wait for my prey, I tend to meditate in silence. I listen to the wind in the trees, and watch the squirrels upon the ground. This is how I have learned what it means to be alive, the nature of spirits, and the interconnectedness of all things.
Lastly, should a kill be made, I be sure to offer a part of it in return as thanks to the spirits and nature. Usually the blood, in most cases. Also, I will often return a portion of a prepared meal from the meat as an offering. Reciprocity is the key here.
Well, I will call that a sufficient outline. I really don’t want to offer a lot of detail. The point is, that hunting must be done with great care and ethically. We would not want others in our dwellings, leaving about trash or taking our things without permission. A hunting area should be kept in the same way, clean of trash and well cared for. It does not do to kill wantonly, or only for trophy.
Many of the beings from my heritage were hunters, Odin of the Wild Hunt, Thor the Giant Hunter, the sons of Ivaldi were all hunters, especially Orvendel, and many others besides. When I hunt, I honor my heritage, and those that have come before me. I honor my ancestors, and the spirits of nature and of the wild. I connect with the spirits of nature, as well as those of my own blood and heritage. I learn much about how in ages past people survived, and I find the whole experience very spiritual and very enlightening.