Attitudes to Animals

Bryn’s piece on Fur Babies and Familiars, posted on March 29 2010, set me off in a big way. I was going to write a reply but found I had so much to say it required a post of its own … here it is.

I find the different attitudes between creatures thoroughly horrid. However, I’m not a vegetarian and I do respect all the animals I eat, I’ve often helped raise and care for them through my farmer friends. I also respect all the vegetables I eat. I don’t think it’s OK to eat veggie and then not care how the vegetable has been grown, how the soil has been cared for. Many people don’t think or care about this. They don’t mind that the Earth’s body is illtreated with bad chemicals, uncomposted manure, fresh chicken and turkey manure that actually burns the land. The shamans of old knew how to hunt and how to take the beast from the pastures that was “theirs”, that was giving itself to them to eat. I understand that. When I visit my friends’ farms and their animals I ask the pigs, cattle, sheep, hens, goats, which one should I eat. I’m always answered, often by a nose in my hand, just after I ask the question. With 3 of my farmer friends I can say, “This one says I can eat her” and my friend makes a note.

But I know how incredibly rare this is nowadays. And I wish it wasn’t. Many of us on this site are practising witches or shamans or magical workers … why don’t more of us accept our ability to make an agreement with an animal about eating it? I ask my students to try practising this and they find it makes an enormous difference in their lives. And they don’t all end up being veggies either, in fact none of them have in the past 15 years.

Hugh Fernley Whittingstall has done enormous work trying to get people to make a real relationship with their food … not running away from it as most people do. Making a relationship this way is not exploiting, it’s accepting responsibility. And accepting that the animal is not a moron but has a spirit, an anima, that is capable of making the relationship and taking the responsibility too. It’s insufferably arrogant to assume humans are the only creatures who can think … just because most of us have not learned how to communicate with them and so believe they cannot understand us! I recommend reading Sherri Tepper’s “Jinian Footseer” – about a witch’s training and how she learns she has made this mistake for most of her life. Fortunately she comes to realise … and apologise!

I don’t keep pets. However, 2 cats keep me in order! They are certainly NOT a disaster for wildlife. I live right out in the country, our large garden is bung full of wildlife including about 50 varieties of birds and we have a sparrow population of over 50. It is perfectly possible – provided you don’t write your cats off as morons – to come to a modus opperandi with them that suits both parties. I object to them killing songbirds – the hawks are more a danger to the cats than vice versa! – so I have it out with my cats when we first begin to live together. The first bird I catch them with and they get scruffed, the bird taken away so they can’t enjoy it, and an earwigging from me that goes on for several minutes while I scruff them down. It usually only takes one go and they get the point although I did have to rugby-tackle my ginger tom once after. It didn’t happen again. We’ve always had cats. And we’ve always had birds. Successfully.

The cats love me to pieces, sleep on the bed (when they wish, not when I wish!). they are certainly not “furry babies” !!! The gods forbid! I do not anthropomorphise them, nor are they substitute children and I don’t like the suggestion that that’s how I am! They are my friends and my familiar spirits. They work with me. And they hunt … but not birds. I have no objection to rats, mice and rabbits, all of which they eat and which helps me in the garden and with country living in general. Even in a town you are never more than 3 feet away from a rat! The problems only arise when there are so many you begin to see them. The cats deal with this problem pretty well. They are predators, dong their job of culling species. Mind you, I have no objection to the sparrowhawk hunting in our garden either. She and her family have to eat too. I am very pleased that our ecosystem here is so good that we have sufficient small birds to feed her and are so included in her range.

I have never had a then/us relationship with any non-human, visible or of the unseelie court either. I am well aware that as the most recent species to come to planet Earth I am definitely new-boy-on-the-block and I try to listen to my Elders – the rest of creation – to see if I can learn how to behave. Again, how is that more of us magical workers don’t do this but think ourselves somehow superior because we can write and despoil a planet in a hundred years?

The thought of giving a child an animal “as a toy” makes me grab for my Kalashnikov! To introduce a child to an animal as a potential friend and to ensure the child realises its position in relation to the animal – that of protector, feeder and career … ie “staff” – is worthwhile. It the child gets bitten or scratched then I’m going to take the animals side and the child will get ticked off for being so horrid as to make the animal go for it.

If there were about 5 billion less people on the planet then the problems we inflict on the environment would not be there. And we might learn to behave ourselves properly after a good plague too! The human population in the 1880s was about 1 billion. Some 120 years later, at the year 2000, there were 6 billion of us. Now, some 10 years after that there are 7 billion of us. Does this sound like cancer cells to you?

There is nothing to control our population except ourselves, and we’ve not done it. We worship kids. We think it’s “a right” for every woman to have children and there is still a strong culture of a man’s virility being measured by how many sprogs he’s fathered. Ye gods! I feel it likely the earth will sort us out – as she has before – with a good plague. Bring it on, I say!

As a shaman, I know reincarnation. No, not believe in it, there’s no doubt and the concept of belief for me is a non-sequitor. I know it. In consequence, losing this particular body and personality is not that important. I’ll lose it sooner or later when I die anyway. I don’t know how I will die this time, nor does it terribly matter except (like most people) I hope it doesn’t hurt too much J. So if I get wiped out with the plague that’s fine with me. Ditto friends and relations. I’ve seen the all before, I’ll see them all again. Of course I’d miss them if I’m left but so what? I’ll miss them when they die anyway, same as I miss my cat-friends who’ve died, and my horse-friends, etc. However, I care deeply about the frightful mess we humans are making of the Earth and am happy for her to sort it out ASAP.

To get a real idea of our very junior position in the universe would be a great help to our attitudes to animals, and the rest of creation. If we begin to work on ourselves, to really understand the rest of Life, to ask instead of trying to control and not to consider anything that doesn’t look like us to be a moron, then we will begin to grow … for the first time in several hundred thousand years. Clannishness is NOT right, them/us with regard to human/non-human is completely wrong. But none of that means we shouldn’t eat each other. Every time you breathe in you kill millions of microscopic life … don’t they matter? Are you going to stop breathing ???

As Brynneth said, “So much of what is wrong in the world stems from people acting without thought, serving their own immediate desires with little care for long term impact on themselves, much less anything else.”. This is very true … but … to change means taking a completely different attitude to humanity itself and one’s own self within that. The shaman does this – when she or he does it right. It’s a very hard path, turns everything one is brought up to consider “normal” on its head. It means standing in one’s rightful place at the bottom of the evolutionary ladder – not the top, where most people think they are!

The Grail question is “Whom does the Grail serve?” and the answer is “Life”. Human being need to get this firmly into their thick heads.

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