‘Hawthorne & Heather’ is a series on my life with my partner spirit Hawthorne, focused on how the spirits have impacted my life. While these posts are relevant to the Otherfaith in that my life involves the Four Gods and their spirits, they will be more focused on my own life with the spirits. This is not intended as an introduction to spirit work but an exploration of my own life with the spirits and adjusting to life afterward, as it were.
This piece will deal with animal death and killing. If those are distasteful to you, you will not want to read farther. This includes an image with blood and feathers from the bird.
I’ve never killed an animal before. My family didn’t raise chickens or any other animals for the slaughter. We kept pets like dogs, cats, fish. I was aware from a young age that meat came from dead animals, my mother refusing to teach me anything else. She had learned of the brutalities at factory farms as a young girl and become a vegetarian. She wanted me to know that if I was eating meat, I was eating an animal that had died so that I could consume them. There were to be no pleasant obscured realities in her household.
Perhaps this is what led to me, as a pre-teen, to want to know about slaughtering and death. Meat of all kinds had always been my preferred food. But as I would look at slabs of meat at the grocery, I wanted to know how the animal went from their whole form to a simple chunk. I was not so much obsessed as I was curious.
I never became a vegetarian, like my mother. Or a vegan. I wanted to go on hunting trips with my family (not allowed, as I had not been born with the right parts). I wanted to fish and learn how to properly prepare a fish from living to gutted to ready to fry. When I learned of the traditional making of sausage and other ‘gross’ meats, I wasn’t repulsed but thought that using the most of an animal was appropriate. They had died, why would we not use the most of them we could? Wasn’t to do anything else inappropriate, disrespectful?
My mother didn’t take issue with my meat consumption. She went to extra lengths to buy certain meat from certain ranches – her issue was not with death-for-food but with the unnecessary cruelty.
I eventually decided that I wanted to participate in the slaughter of every kind of animal I ate. Ideally, of course, I wanted to always slaughter the animal I ate, but that wasn’t a possibility. I would settle for what I could. And I made a commitment to myself that if I couldn’t kill the animal, if I couldn’t even hold witness to their death, I had no right to eat them.
My mother took in chickens a few years ago, for the eggs. But some turned out to be roosters, and she didn’t want them and they would harass the other birds. So she decided to do what her grandmother did – kill them, clean them, eat them. I asked to take part in it, to see what it was like and to see how I handled it.
My mother, when she has caught a bird to kill him, will not change her mind. She told me, after she killed her first rooster, that she hated it. It made her feel guilty, and she was worried about giving the bird a quick death. My brother – raised vegetarian, unlike me – tried the bird after he had been cooked, but he didn’t find the meat tasty. (He has, on occasion, tried meat. Once he could ask for it, he was allowed to try it. But he’s never been fond of it.) My mother ate the bird, of course. She wasn’t going to let his body go to waste.
“Hold him still,” she told me after she had wrapped him in a towel. “You have to hold him tight, because he’ll start flapping after he’s dead.”
I held the bird as tight as I could without hurting him.
It was strange, feeling him breathe, being surrounded by the group of young children as we were. (Most of whom had already killed and butchered animals as part of their family’s business or livelihood.) Feeling him still as we laid him down. My stomach became tied in knots. As my mother put it, the feeling is as if one is about to jump from a cliff.
‘Are we going to do this right?’ I thought. ‘What if we mess up?’
Of course, we were already well into the process, and with a thwack his head came off. Blood splattered across the ground and my hands. My mother tossed his head into a bucket and held up the body so the blood would drip out.
His wings flapped, and his neck – exposed and bloody as it was – twitched. For all the tension that had been building in me, there was none afterward. Perhaps I had been preparing myself for long enough, but there was no upset. There was a bit of sadness, but mostly there was a feeling of being embodied. My brother was watching, and his eyes were dark after we were finished.
“Are you alright?” my mother asked.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Are you upset?” she asked.
“No,” he said, and then walked away.
I washed my hands and went inside as my mother held the bird above the blood bucket and conversed with her friend. “How do you feel about the rooster?” I asked after I washed my hands.
My brother shrugged in that way that children do, loose and long. “Happy I guess,” he said, not sounding happy nor sad. “Now the rooster won’t wake me up in the morning.”
“No,” my mother laughed, “he certainly won’t be waking us up anymore.” As if waking the next day, she would miss the crowing waking her up at four in the morning. I had no trouble believing my mother would miss it.
I watched my mother butcher the rooster, her knife making steady cuts as she informed me how she cut him apart. “Different, isn’t it? Knowing he was just alive.”
I stared at the cut apart bird. “…not really.”
Maybe she educated me well enough.
I can seem overeager to kill animals. In a way, I am eager. I want to understand how death and slaughter works. I’m not eager because I think I will enjoy the process. But I feel a deep obligation to know what death for food is like.
There are a lot of spirits of slaughter and bloodshed in the Otherfaith. Some, like Alynah Blake, are in it for bloodsport. She isn’t a spirit of eating and consumption, she’s a spirit of cleansing and bloody revelries. This is in comparison to a spirit like Casimir, a protective giant who has ties to slaughter. He poses to us the reality of our food.
This is ultimately what I come back to. It is not an issue of dieting, no. It is one of accepting the realities around us. I cannot obscure that I am eating a living being without doing dishonor to creature I’m eating, myself, and my gods and spirits. (And this is all without touching on the incredibly complex nature of food in the United States, agribusiness, and such. And also while not touching on the nature of consuming plants. There is a lot to explore here, and these are all issues I was ‘raised on’, so to speak. I am not ignoring them because I am unaware of them but because they are complicated topics deserving of more time than I could give them.)
I was worried, as we were killing the rooster, that perhaps there would be more of Alynah Blake than Casimir in me. But there was nothing pleasurable about the death. It simply was. My brother, perhaps, grasped it best. It was what happened. We killed an animal, he was dead, now we would eat him. He was neither distraught nor gleeful about it.
We didn’t offer the chicken to the gods as we killed it. My mother is non-religious, sometimes anti-religious, and it was her home, her chicken, her hatchet. I had no business shoving my religion there, nor am I trained in how to sacrifice an animal to my gods. We thanked the animal for his life, but that is as close to any spiritual action we got.
I know people take issue with the arrogance of killing something to eat it. I’ve never understood it as arrogance. This accusation of arrogance is, of course, limited to the killing of animals, as if no other process in our consumption of food involves death. Or torture. Or brutality. Too often we are upset because we have killed something cute (similar to how endangered animals receive much more support when they are cute, or majestic, or appeal to us).
Certainly, after taking part in the death of an animal, I can’t understand terrorizing one or beating a creature. There was no sudden shift in my love of animals to a raging desire to hurt them in any way. I want their death to be swift, as non-stressful as killing can be. Of course, I have never been able to wrap my head around the idea that caring for an animal means I can’t kill it.
Perhaps I had thought it over long enough. Perhaps it was how my religion influenced me. But either way, I found myself arriving at that same spot my brother was. We killed an animal, with repercussions large and small. It was sad.
It was death.
Thank you for reading. ‘of the Other People’ is a site dedicated to the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist religion. You can find more about us here and here. You can contact us here if you have any questions or would like to get involved.