Death & Witchcraft

On the heels of Samhain, I thought it most appropriate to write about the role of death in Wicca.  Samhain is traditionally celebrated as a time to remember our ancestors and honor the sacrifice of the Horned God, who gives His life at this time that we, His Hidden Children, may survive the winter.

As I taught my coven this Samhain, we live in a modern age where we do our hunting in grocery stores, we have electric blankets to keep us warm in the cold, and lightbulbs to light the darkness.  The slaughter of the animals before winter isn’t as relevant to most of us, but the sacrifice of the Horned God is nonetheless meaningful to us.  His sacrifice is still to give us the strength, resources, and humility to face the metaphorical winter of our day–immorality, prejudice, and so forth.

However, because we live in an age of plenty, it has resulted in certain political ideologies finding their way into Wicca.  For instance, vivisection and feminism have become trumpeted hallmarks of Paganism.  In Wicca in particular, which teaches that nature is sacred and women are the vehicles of the creation of life, coupled with the Rede, it is easy to see how people can take the leap to vegetarianism and women’s rights.  In fact people who already hold those ideals tend to be attracted to a religion  like Wicca that supports their already held ideologies.

Today I was reading a blog post by one of my subscribers, which led me to their YouTube page, which led me to read the comments on a particular video…that literally made my jaw drop.  The commenter called the blogger a “sociopath” because she is a hunter and therefore causes “suffering to the poor and defenseless” animals.  I just…I can’t, I can’t even…I couldn’t respond directly because I figured it would be like trying to knock down the Berlin Wall with my husband’s LittleFoot stuffy.  Pointless and a waste of energy.  Instead, you get this blog post.

The primary issue I have with this is the premise that death is equal to suffering.  If anyone has ever watched a family member die, you know this isn’t true.  Death can be the release from suffering.  This is true even for those who are not actively dying.  We put our animals to sleep when they’re clearly in pain, having trouble walking and are soiling themselves, and so forth–cats with FIV are put to sleep because of how virulent the disease is and there is no treatment.  While clearly these situations are different from hunting animals in the wild, they demonstrate that death DOES NOT EQUAL suffering.  If that were true then death would be considered suffering in ALL circumstances, regardless of the situation.  This is simple philosophical logic (thank you Fr. Gensler at John Carroll University for your incredible course in basic logic…LogiCola does indeed rock).

Additionally, just because someone kills animals doesn’t mean they are a sociopath.  Psychologists would have a field day with explaining why such a supposition is asinine, but in would boil down to then stating that every person who has ever squished a mosquito, which is still an animal, is a sociopath.  Sociopathy is a multi-faceted mental illness, and not all sociopaths kill animals.  Again, that whole statement is riddled with logical fallacy.

So what about hunting?  And suffering? And death?  And it’s role in Wicca?

Death is a sacred part of the journey in Wicca.  All death.  The sacrifice of the Horned God at Samhain teaches us to treat death with honor and humility.  Wicca is not a denial of death.  Death is a necessary step in the cycle of life.  Plants and animals die; their bodies decompose and return nutrients to the Earth, so that new plants can grow, and animals can eat those plants, and so on.  We are humans, and we are witches, and we too often fall into the trap of seeing ourselves as apart from Nature when, in truth, we are just as much a part of Nature and the cycle as any other organism.

Part of “harm none” would seem to predicate that we would want to limit suffering.  That said, we would have to make choices in that vein, which may mean ending life.  I choose not to eat Tyson chicken because I think the way they raise their chickens and slaughter them is deplorable, but that doesn’t mean I won’t eat chicken.  Additionally, as Wicca is about balance, I believe in eating a balanced diet–which means that meat is not my primary food source.  By eating reasonable portions, I am not contributing to obesity and the “need” for factory farming.

Where does hunting fit in?  Hunters are the ultimate producers of “free range” resources.  They also help to keep populations under control–populations that, if left to their own devices, would find greater suffering from starvation, invading urban areas where they are often poisoned or hit by vehicles, which may mean a lingering death or prolonged suffering before they are healed.  Most suburbanites don’t try to check on the deer, they’re just angry that they have a huge dent in their car.  Every hunter I’ve ever met had has the meat butchered–keeping a portion for themselves, and donating the rest for the hungry.  Hunger is a real problem, even in this country.  The hides are tanned and turned into leather goods such as gloves, hats, and so forth.  So what if they mount the head on their wall?  We have statues to our gods–it’s a kind of honor and recognition for the life of that animal, not just a “trophy.”  Moreover, the death from a hunter is swift.  If a shot does not instantaneously end the animal’s life, a responsible hunter does not stand over the body cackling and watching the light slowly leave–they take steps to end the suffering as fast as possible.

Vivisection has its place in Wicca.  However, as in all aspects of Wicca, there must be balance, not absolutism.  We are not fundamentalists; we are not extremists.  Do animals have rights?  Surely.  Within the same wheel we all operate on.  We do what we can to minimize suffering, take only what we need, and preserve the balance.  If you choose to take more extensive measures and take a more extreme stance, that is fine, it is YOUR choice–but realize it is your own political ideology, and not Wicca, that informs your choice.  Wicca is balance.  Death as well as life.

Blessed be.

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About Ariawn

I am 32 years old and have been studying Wicca for over 15 years. In 2012 I was elevated to the third degree in Traditional English Wicca by Dragoman Sledz. Since his passing earlier this year, it has been my goal to develop and document our Wiccan philosophy as fully as it is within my power to do so, and in doing so continue our mission to bring Wicca out of the shadows and make it available to those who seek the path. I currently reside in Ohio with my husband and our three cats, and I work as a registered nurse in Cleveland. I have an additional bachelor's degree in English literature. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.
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