Pagan Choice or Personal Choice?
As I travel in Pagan circles, I often come across very heated discussions on the topic of vegetarianism. Is it a way of life dictated by the Wiccan Rede? Is it supportable as a Pagan choice? Many take the admonition of the Rede to mean that they shouldn't kill an animal to provide food for themselves. Is this a valid interpretation?
Consider.... The God of the Hunt (anyone remember the Horned God?) is one of the oldest God images in human history and ranks right up there with the Goddess of Fertility in age and importance. Stone Age man depended on the hunt for food, and he wasn't just hunting roots, nuts, and berries. Some believe that the scarce forage led the ill equipped proto-humans to hunt other animals for food. The need to use tools (weapons in this case) to bring down food animals and the need to communicate for effective cooperation in the hunt led to the evolution of self-aware intelligence that now separates man from the other beasts. Throughout the ages, man has hunted animals and, as agriculture developed, husbanded animals for their meat, fur, hide, fat, horn, and milk....even for their waste products. Fertilty rites were enacted to ensure the harvest of the field AND fecundity of their beasts.
OK, this isn't ancient times. We have alternatives! We don't have to kill other creatures to survive. Right? Well, maybe. I will admit that with careful dietary planning and perhaps a few supplements we can survive without meat, and textiles are very versatile these days so perhaps we could do without leather....a common material used for shoes. We have already acknowledged that we can live without meat, so if we use man made materials for shoes, there is no need to farm animals for these materials, right? Perhaps, but think about it for a moment....man-made materials are generally plastic--made from petroleum by-products, a diminishing resource. They are manufactured through processes that can't help but pollute, and, once the end product has outlived it's usefulness, it's carcass will be with us for thousands of years. Think about all of the pollution caused by the processing of "man-made" synthetics next time you put on your "faux-fur", orlon "fleece" lined jacket, or shoes made of "100% man-made" materials. This is bad enough, but what about all of those unemployed cattle? It sounds trite, but this is not a joke. We have bred cattle for thousands of years as meat animals and a resource for their hides. There are millions of head of cattle in this country alone. Is it humane to return them to a wild existence they are no longer able to cope with? Is it fair to a farmer to demand that he find another means of income so he can support all of these cattle that no longer contribute? If one takes all these things into consideration, the choice of "man-made" as opposed to natural is clearly *not* in the best interest of the environment. One must admit that animal resources are 100% renewable, and with PROPER STEWARDSHIP, the balance of nature is maintained.
As a modern Pagan, I don't see myself as a protector, but rather a steward of ALL living things....that is to say, one who ensures that resources (both plant and animal) are used wisely. You have to understand that the world can not be changed over night, and you have to be certain that the changes you advocate are responsible ones in the long term. Stewardship is NOT a Christian concept (as is often stated). Stewardship was *the way of life* our forefathers (both Pagan and Christian) lived without even naming before we all lost contact with the land. Stewardship wasn't a choice; it was sensible living. I would certainly not advocate cruelty to any living thing. To be sure, some modern farming techniques ARE cruel, and they DO need to be changed. As I see it, that should be our task as stewards of the environment: as stewards, each of us needs to examine our place in the ecosystem and find that balance is not the same as extremism. As we try to restore our connections with the land, many become extremists in their effort to counteract the mistakes of the past without a thought to natural balance. Extremism--in either direction--is dangerous to the necessary balance.
OK, but the Wiccan Rede says "An Ye Harm None"....To take the philosophy of harming no living thing to its logical(?) conclusion, you would have to find a nice corner, curl up, and wait to die. How about that cucumber in your salad? It was alive til you put it in your mouth. The cotton in your shirt was grown with pesticides, herbicides, and poisonous fertilzers....THEN viciously mowed out of the field, spun into thread, and the seeds rendered into cooking oil so you could stirfry your pea pods. I fail to see how you can separate the value of life into consumable or sacred according to phyla. To me, the salad I ate yesterday falls into the same category as the the meatloaf sandwich I just ate: I bless the spirits of each equally. Man is not carnivorous, but we are indeed omnivorous....hence, meat-eaters. One must understand that the lion is NOT going to lie down with the lamb--except for a juicy snack. Humans evolved into meat eating creatures, and it is as much our nature as the lions'.
Without some animal protein, the body does not function
properly: it is prone to illness and weakness. I have seen too
many 'good' vegetarians on the verge of anorexia because they
chose to eat only vegetables, many of which consume more calories
in digestion than they contribute. It seems, too, that they are
usually sniffling about during cold season and routinely take
artificial iron supplements to keep from suffering the ravages of
anemia. Without the cruel, wasteful, ecologically unsound
practices of modern, factory, produce farming, vegetarians would
find themselves unable to make that their choice. Vegetarianism
is a PERSONAL choice, but please make no claim that it is a Pagan
choice. The evidence of the ages will not support such a
Essay Copyright 1998 © by Rain SilverSplash. This article may be distributed freely, so long as this notice remains and the article is in no way edited from it's original form. No fee may be charged for the distribution of this article in any form without consent of the author.
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This page last updated 3/14/06