Animals, Nature, and the Craft

Animals, Nature, and the Craft

Author:   Flame warped mind 

I love animals — not all of them mind you, little bugs, spiders, bees, and rodents still freak me — but I respect each for what they are. Respect. It’s a big part of being Pagan. Ants and spiders are just as important as cows and elephants, each being distinctly different from the next.

‘Witches only love their black cats! They sacrifice everything else to the Devil!’

Really? I don’t like cats at all, and I’ve never sacrificed anything to the devil. I’m just far too busy trying to gather what understanding I can from the animal kingdom to worry about sacrificing to a being I don’t believe exists. “What we have here is failure to communicate.” –Cool Hand Luke.

For as long people outside the Craft have known about any form of earth based spirituality and the people involved in such practice (whom we will refer to as Pagan for the remainder of this piece) , there have been misconceptions involving animals and the Craft. An animal spiritually tied to a person practicing witchcraft (often called a familiar) , was and still is often thought of as a demon in animal form sent to assist in spells against and bewitchment of the God-fearing public. This theory is both prejudicial and nonsensical, not just to the person but also to the animal involved as well. During the Witch Hunts, animals were routinely sentenced and executed for witchcraft along with their masters. This practice went so far that in medieval Europe cats were massacred based on the theory that all cats were Witches’ familiars.

Oftentimes people assume that all Pagans have cat familiars (as though it were a requirement) and while cats have been a part of Pagan society since before the Pyramids were built, they are not by any means spiritual requirements for practicing Pagans.

Another old (incorrect) theory, which has become common knowledge is that Pagans routinely sacrifice animals to appease the devil, a demon, or a god or goddess. The vast majority of Pagans love and respect animals as much, if not more so, than the average person because of an inherent desire to be close to nature. Some pagans forgo all meats in order to avoid the feeling of having caused the death of an animal. The confusion here lies in the difference between “animal sacrifice” and an animal that was hunted to be eaten. Sometimes a ritual item or personal belonging fulfills this function. Sometimes the sacrifice is the worshiper’s dinner. Ask a deity bound pagan, a bought offering is rarely as desirable as an offering strived for.

In my home we have several animals. If at any time animals are used in my practice, the cat is the absolute last choice for a spiritual partner I would seek out. For me, there is only one choice of animal to partner myself with spiritually, ball pythons. Don’t run away screaming just yet.

Snakes are amazingly beautiful creatures contrary to their poor reputation. Captive bred snakes are wonderful animals to work with. The temperament is different between wild (aggressive) to captive bred (calm) snakes. You can have an animal very close to its naturally occurring instinct, (usually) without the aggressive nature. I have three beautiful ball pythons all of which have been involved with some ritual or another. One of their biggest strengths in a ritual is how predicable they are. Dogs, cats, rodents, arachnids, lizards, all have a tendency to be unpredictable, and occasionally volatile. Dogs bark and fight. Cats don’t do what their pets (owners) tell them. Arachnids are entirely unpredictable and easily injured in my estimation. Lizards have a tendency to run away or get into obnoxious places when no ones looking. They’re all too impatient for my taste.

A snake will sit still until they smell food, get too cold/hot, or get curious enough to slowly wander off. They don’t make noise, and, for the most part, don’t resist where they are placed. Best of all, when there is an occasion where they get aggressive/defensive, the posturing and hissing gives those around ample warning as to the change in demeanor. If this occurs, it is normally during a very active part of the ritual; snakes don’t like things being moved past their heads quickly. (At this point most other species of animals are retired from the rites anyway.) Also as long as the surrounding temperature is amiable, they can be placed in a bag, which is then tied up, to prevent wandering and to bolster the animal’s sense of security. I’ll bet your dog wouldn’t let you do that!

When humans allow themselves to be as close to nature as animals, our instincts take over. Some of the most powerful and well-balanced magical workings I have ever witnessed involved Pagans reverting to base instinct. Powerful and pure, Nature is instinct. Nature is not always civilized and pleasant; oftentimes it is harsh, cruel, and gory. The more “civilized” humans become, the more we forget how powerful instinct can be. Animals are the epitome of instinct, and so it is wise to sit back, watch, and learn from the varying multitudes our scaly, slimy, furry, feathered, chitinous, brethren encompass. Even though their speech is limited to sounds that mean nothing to humans, they each have something to say. There is always something new to learn, an untapped facet of primal knowledge… if only we know where to look.

Some of the smallest animals often teach us the most valuable lessons. The ants learned long ago that to cooperate is to survive; infighting only leads to ruin. Salmon show that life is an uphill battle, but anything worth doing should receive our full effort. A snake could have easily inspired Theodore Roosevelt when he said, “speak softly, but carry a big stick.” These are but a few of the lessons that nature offers those willing to listen.

So sit back, shut up, watch and learn, and above all remember nature is “natural”. It’s not good or evil. It’s not right or wrong. It is spectacular and beautiful, bountiful, and calm and at the same time, nature is savage, bloody, vicious, and violent… a self-sustaining balance at its finest.

______________________________________

Footnotes:
Cool Hand Luke
Theodore Roosevelt

Enhanced by Zemanta

The Morality of Sacrifice

by Efun Moyiwa

This article can also be found on Efun Moyiwa’s World Wide Web page, OrishaNet (http://www.seanet.com/~efunmoyiwa/welcome.html).

Animal sacrifice is just a small part of the much larger definition of ebó (sacrifice or offering) in the Santería religion. There are many categories of ebó. There are offerings such as addimú, which can include candles, fruits, candy or any number of items or actions that may be appreciated by the deities or orishas in the religion. In divination, the orishas may ask for a favorite fruit or dish, or they may call for the person to heed advice given. At times, they may ask that a person give up drinking or other practices that are unwise for that individual. They may request a person to wear certain jewelry, receive initiations or any number of other things. Or they may request an animal, usually a chicken or a dove, so the orisha will come to that person’s aid. As a rule, animal sacrifice is called for only in major situations such as sickness or serious misfortune. Animals are also offered when a new priest is consecrated in service of her or his orisha during the birthing process of initiation. In every birth, there is blood.

In our modern society, we have become separated from the concept of death. Even our dead are embalmed and made up to appear living. When we purchase meat to eat or leather to wear, it is preprocessed to remove the shopper from the fact that a life was taken in order that another may live. Meat is wrapped in plastic with a little paper towel to soak up any blood that might remind the buyer of the fact of the animal’s death. The buyer is also kept unaware of the circumstances surrounding the poor animal’s life and, of course, its death. When animals are killed in the slaughterhouse, there is little respect or regard for that animal, the only matter of importance being that the animals are killed cheaply and in great quantity to supply an ever-growing market. In other words, these animals too are sacrificed, though the only deity revered here is greed. We should also take into account that the poultry industry alone kills more animals in one day than Santería has sacrificed worldwide in the last several hundred years!

On the other hand, when an animal is sacrificed in La Regla Lucumí it is first and foremost done with respect: respect for the orisha being offered this life and respect for the little bird whose life is taken in order that we may live better. The animal must be well-cared-for, because it is the property of the orisha. In fact, sometimes the orisha will state that the animal must not die but live with the person, and the orisha expects that animal to be well-cared-for and pampered as theirs.

At the beginning of the sacrifice, when the animal is brought forward, there is a song and action that we perform in acknowledgment that one day our lives will be taken suddenly in much the same way as the animal’s. In this way, our religion differs little from the beliefs of the Native Americans. Here there is a respect for all life, and a respect for the death that must come to all, including ourselves.

Afterwards, if the animal wasn’t used to cleanse a person of illness or misfortune, it is eaten by all the participants. If, on the other hand, it was used for a cleansing, the animal is taken to the place requested by the orisha to complete the offering. These animals cannot be eaten, as we would be eating the sickness or misfortune that was removed from that person.

Whether the ebó is a simple apple or a little chicken, it should always be offered with both hands and an open heart.