Let’s face it, all traditional (that word again) polytheisms involved sacrifice, usually of animals. You give to the gods, they give to you, right? There was even carryover into the Middle Eastern monotheisms — Kapparot for some Jews,sacrifices of sheep or cattle at Eid al-Adha, and of course Jesus as the “lamb of God” who is the supreme sacrifice. Some people sacrifice their sanity—less blood that way.
Before we go any further, we should define both “tradition” and “ritual” because people often use them interchangeably. Although traditions can be religious in nature, ritual is more specific to spiritual matters. So, for the sake of clarity in this article, we will use “ritual” to describe spiritual matters and “tradition” to describe non-spiritual matters.
Most rituals, even for Christian hunters like myself, originate from our pagan ancestors. Some of these rituals are pre-hunt and some of them are post-kill. As humans, we have always asked for blessings before the hunt and given thanks for our success after it. This is not so different than the pre-planting rituals and the post-harvest rituals in our agrarian history. We need food to survive, so we ask for assistance and when we’re full, we express our gratitude in hopes that our appreciation will be looked upon kindly when it comes time to ask for assistance again.
Climer lives in northern Colorado, but he was kind enough to rendezvous in Florence, a southern Colorado town that I visit weekly. (Try the Pour House coffeehouse if you are there.)
My first writing on Craft hunting ritual was published in 1992, in the chapter “Witches and the Earth” in Witchcraft Today, Book One: The Modern Craft Movement, that being a four-book series that I edited for Llewellyn in the 1990s. It included a description of pre-hunt ritual performed by my hunting partner and myself.
¶ “The Three/Four Souls and Their Afterlives.” Heather at Eaarth Animist looks at different traditional accounts to learn what might explain her own experiences: “It has baffled many Western anthropologists how a studied people can talk about a dead person being reincarnated in a child and also being an ancestor. The problem comes from the anthropologist’s own Christian idea of one soul.”
¶ Scholar of esotericism Wouter Hanegraaf from the University of Amstersdam discovers a solid book on idolatry as a category within monotheistic religions: “One searches practically in vain for authoritative monographs about the notion of idolatry and its significance in monotheist religions generally.” There are some contemporary scholars of Paganism working on that area too, but maybe not enough.
That’s a pity because both invoke an odd, almost indescribable atavistic feeling. It seems to me extremely important that we all should know that feeling first hand, that we should experience it at key moments in our lives and in the yearly round of winter, spring, summer, fall. For whatever else the feeling is, it’s the sense of being brought up sharply against something Other, and you never know, that might just save us from ourselves.
Sabina Magliocco, anthropologist and folklorist and author of Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America, among other books, has a new research project underway on people’s spiritual relationships with animals.
The purpose of this study is to understand how we imagine our relationship to animals, how we incorporate animals into our spiritual or religious beliefs, and how this may motivate our actions in the everyday world.