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My Thoughts on some of the Spiritual Dimensions of Eating Meat

This page was sparked by discussions of the ethics of vegetarianism and by media and other debates about Santeria and other religions which include the sacrifice of animals as part of specific religious practices.

I've heard it said that the original meaning of the word "sacrifice" was "to make sacred". I don't know the source of this contention, but I like the idea. It puts the practice of spiritual "sacrifice" in a whole new light (not about the Christian - or even Buddhist - idea of "suffering" per se, but about learning our lessons and participating in a sacred world/endeavour).

I am also a meat-eater: I've tried vegetarianism and am very unhealthy unless eating meat. (I can explain more if desired but it would be a digression here...). I do feel somewhat hypocritical because I am an extremely reluctant predator: I grew up eating meat from nice little packages, while "animals" are cuddly things to pet. I doubt I would enjoy killing an animal for my dinner. None-the-less, I hold plants to be just as "alive" and sacred as myself or other animals. We are all in "Gaia" - Who, to me, is the BioSphere. One of Her rules is that we feed on each other: parts of Herself transforming into other parts.

I don't mourn the proper death of my cells (each animal - or is this just plants where the rigid cell wall inhibits easy reabsorption? but you get the idea - cell carries little chemical bombs that cause it's destruction when it becomes outworn or is otherwise not serving the body as a whole - the cells "parts" are then "reabsorbed" or used by the other, living cells of the body)nor do I feel that it is "immoral" for the body to use the dead cells components to maintain living cells. This is part of how the body maintains itself and keeps its complexity going.

Similarly, Gaia's parts are interconnected and transfer substance back and forth among them. I think our squeamishness about "killing" our supper comes from the aforementioned "sanitized" presentation of food, but this presentation comes also from a deeper source. I think we, at an unconscious level, confuse "killing" with "murder". Humans alone screw up our basic evolutionary strategy as social animals (above all else!) by periodically killing each other for no good reason. "Murder" is a betrayal of a social fabric (as is its meta-version: warfare) and, in my opinion, puts us at odds with our biology. Humans are curiously uneasy in our own skins (I have my opinions about why this is but they are pretty crack pot! and also would be a digression here). We have moral qualms (read: "social rules") with the betrayal of trust that "murder" represents and therefore are uneasy about "killing" (is it "murder", ie. a betrayal of trust, or a healthy gathering of food in Gaia?), particularly of our companion species (domestic animals we "take care of" often infantilizing them as well, just to complicate the emotional picture!).

I've come to the moral conclusion (ie. evaluation of the implications of my actions in the context of a social fabric) that all life is *equally* sacred and worthy; that I must eat to survive; and, therefore, I must kill: either I kill my food or I kill myself from starvation. (I am aware that some who are vegetarian on moral grounds eat only those foods that can be obtained by non-lethal methods, such as fruit and nuts. This would seem to be a way around the above posed dilemma except that all matter grown in Gaia serves a purpose. Eating fruits and nuts is eating the reproductive potential of a living thing - it's potential offspring - which is certainly better from the standpoint discussed here, but does not entirely avoid the central delema. OTOH I could restrict myself to roadkills or some other "already dead" source but this, also, seems to artificially sidestep the issue...).

I choose to believe that I am in this world for a reason, and, just as I have rejected the Christian notion that I am here as a loyalty test by a particularly sadistic deity, I also reject the notion that I'm here to choose my own death (or even, the ill health that a vegetarian diet currently offers me) as a false "moral" choice. I choose a spiritual stance (which, BTW, seems to me to be a rather Celtic approach to spirituality) that I am here to face what is as unflinchingly as possible: even if I don't like it; and to attempt to become less innocent/ignorant of the ways of the Universe and its inhabitants (mortal and otherwise).

I don't particularly like the fact that this body I live in seems to need what may be viewed as a "primitive" (with the negative connotations of that word) or "brutish" diet, but there it is. It's part of the puzzle I'm here to unravel. (I do like Celtic knots!) To tie this back to the concept of Sacrifice: as a meat eater (or eater at all!), I cannot wholly condemn the use of death or offering of life as in a spiritual context. First, I think it must be put in its proper context: people who slaughter regularly for their daily sustenance simply are not going to see it as "murder" or unusual death (no different than ritually eating turkey at Thanksgiving - they just include the slaughter of the turkey in the celebration). Second, I would disagree with the shunning of Deities for whom "blood sacrifice" may be appropriate (I may not choose to work with them or may choose to approach them only in a way I feel comfortable with, but I would not necessarily judge others who feel differently - Also, I am not talking about anything that could even remotely be considered "murder" here! I am not referring to a Jacob on the mountain scene!).

I think there is a danger of confusing the Pagan personification of forces or aspects of the world we find ourselves in with the monotheistic notion of the underlying spirit that, when personified, we "must" obey (or pay the consequences). If (as a Christian, for example) one were worshiping/giving allegiance to a "supreme deity" who is "all powerful" etc., and will take care of everything in return for your unquestioning obedience - that deity *must* be pretty absolutely "good" in human terms! (something the Christian god doesn't seem to - quite - pull off!). To me, in a Pagan pantheon, the "God/desses" are not necessarily anthropocentric by nature: they are *not* human and may not understand - or even care about! - human concerns (like a tornado doesn't particularly notice human niceties). Therefore, to such a deity, human squeamishness about what is after all pretty prosaic in the context of the BioSphere (death, the killing of food) would be irrelevant or silly. In this context, I could respect (although, again, I may not choose to do this myself) someone who chose to "make sacred" a living offering as a means of connecting, for example, to the Goddess Morrigu/Morgana, because part of Who She Is is a Goddess of death. I would expect one would choose to work with Her, at least in part, to better understand the aspect of our life here related to killing/death and, therefore, blood sacrifice could be an appropriate part of gaining this understanding (making yourself, as well as the offering, more "sacred" - connected to a larger spiritual reality or energy).

OTOH, I am also a proponent of understanding religious (and other practices) in their cultural context. We live in a culture that "hides" the killing aspect of our meat consumption (in contrast to Italy, for example - or Chinatown - where butcher shops advertise their wares by hanging animals with their heads still attached in shop windows). Therefore, the act of killing a living being in my culture would have a different energy to it than it would in a culture where such squeamishness does not exist. So the use of "blood sacrifice" would have very different meanings in this culture (generally) than in one where the killing of food animals is a more routine part of life. I am annoyed when I encounter the practice of sacrificing an animal in other cultures portrayed in a graphic and gruesome way in our media: such images have a very different meaning to us than they do when viewed from the point of view of the other culture (for example, the sacrificing of the goat in Not Without My Daughter). Final point: the Romans spread rumors about "human sacrifice" among Celts/Druids as a means of portraying them as barbaric when, at the same time, they were routinely killing people in the gladiatorial arena for "sport". It's all in how your cultural lens views things. One wonders how our cultural choices will be viewed in the long run - eating meat or even killing animals in a sacred context - may seem positively wholesome in the context of some of the other aspects of our life these days. Just my thoughts.

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© 1997 Robin A. NíDána
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