I find myself thick in the Samhain tide this autumn. My world is filled with dying and the conscious taking of life. And I am very wakeful to it. Riding the emotions have been a great challenge. Through it all, I keep looking at the ethics involved, questioning myself, looking to my ancestors for support, looking deep inside my own soul for clarity.
My Samhain tide has started with the autumn leaves falling, their slow desent into decay as the sunlight fades by noticeable minutes each day. The scent of leave mould filling the air. Nature moving through its unending tides between growth and death. This is the dynamic in which I walk each moment.
After nine years of being a strict vegetarian, I have made a shift. It became apparent that ethically my path lies in living locally, divorcing myself more and more from reliance on things from away. My wife and I are rearranging our lives to immerse ourselves in the local environment. My spiritual path is one of engaging in a sacred manner with the Spirits of Place. It is a path of finding my right place in the ecosystem and being content with it. It is one of being ultra-clear about the line between needs and desires. And as I have journeyed this path for the past year or so, I decided to eat meat again. But I maintain these stipulations: it has to be local, organic, and/or wild. I cannot ethically spend money on meat that I don’t know where it comes from. Ultimately, I decided that in order to ethically eat meat, I needed to own the role as killer.
This year, I started bowhunting. And last week I managed to kill a small deer. The arrow was startling effective. The deer died in three seconds. Having completed what I set out to do, I was now face to face with consequence. There was no undo button. I didn’t “enjoy” the killing, the cleaning, or the butchering. This was the first large animal I have killed in my life. I could write a lot about this process and my feelings but suffice to say, this wasn’t easy. It was very unsettling (and this is a good thing).
The Samhain tide then got thicker. A close family member had heart surgery and dangerous complications. A week in ICU and things are beginning to look up. As you can imagine, especially this time of year, the connection and threads of family have been very strong during this crisis. Thoughts of my father who passed eight years ago have been in my mind. My connection to the ancestors has been tugging at me. It all just gets thicker and thicker.
Last weekend, I participated in culling ducks at a friend’s farm. They really needed the help. This was perhaps the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. We used cones to hold the ducks (it takes two people, one holding the feet). I had to push a knife behind the trachea and cut the main arteries, holding the head while the animal bled out and died, holding tight during death throws, watching its eyes, feeling its soul to know when it had died. One duck took twenty minutes to expire. This sort of intimacy was the deepest I have ever experienced. It laid me more soul bare than sex. It was extremely challenging, heartbreaking and exhausting. Again, this wasn’t easy.
All around me is the harvest. We are picking the last of the vegetables before the first killing frost hits (it is late this year). My hunting has been successful. We are ridding ourselves of stuff in our living space. All around is conscious killing. It is visceral. It is challenging, humbling, and powerful. My being involved in killing hasn’t brought guilt or shame. It has brought the weight of responsibility to the forefront. Never again will I pull a carrot up, tearing its roots from the Earth, endings its life, consciously killing it, without a deep awareness of the act. And this act is a sacred one. Life feeds on the killing and death of other souls. And one day our death will be the food source for others. And the cycle of life and death, the tides of living and dying will continue.
So I invite all of you to be wakeful to that which you kill, whether it is an animal, vegetable, weed, relationship, process or household item you use and dispose of. We all need to be extremely wakeful to these acts. Each of us, without exception, is a killer on some level. We have to shoulder the responsibility for the killing we do. And for those of you who eat meat, I strongly recommend you involve yourself in the process of taking a life and the processing of the body. This is your obiligation for having this food to eat. And I garauntee you will not be able to eat the meat without a profound awareness of the life you have taken and the significance of the act. And this I assure you will draw a clear line between what is a need and what is a desire.
And finally, I encourage everyone to spend the energy to go as deeply into this Samhain tide as possible. It is time for dying, for letting go of year behind us. It is time for us to dive into mystery, deep intimacy with the darkness around us, within us. It is a opportunity to be extraordinarily wakeful to our own way of being in the world, from our most brilliant creativity, to the killing we do. This is our path as a pagan people.
Please share your thoughts.
Blessings of living and dying,