Ok, so I’m a bit behind on the Pagan Blog Project, but I’ve been busy. A late post for the letter ‘I’ and something of a stretch, sure, but now I think on it, I think it might actually be important.
I’ll start with the motivation, and it sort of flows on a bit from last week’s post. I do engage a bit with various community groups, and as a crafter(-lowercase), those groups can be focused more on ‘goods’ as opposed to practice. One in particular is a fantastic (not so) little group run by a Facebook friend in which Aussie people can share their wares. It has a witch-occult-shamanic theme, and rather than just a mash of advert links, it allows people to source different things that might not be readily available, second-hand and locally. Anyone who has seen my blog or Etsy Store knows I use animal parts. From feathers and leathers to bones and claws. So when someone was looking for raven feathers, I was, as an avid feather collector, able to help out when they posted on this otherwise happy little group.
I say otherwise because it incited a few questions, or rather, commentary, regarding the use of animal products. And it’s not the only time, I’ve seen this a lot. And before I enter into the guts of this post, I will, and happily, acknowledge that people who are “pagan” as I’ve said many, many times, can practice many different things. Vegetarian and vegan being very popular, many are earth based, or bioregional animists, deeply invested in the well being of the Environment from both a deistic perspective, and a strictly scientific one. It is reasonable to me to consider a person might wish to abstain for using or ingesting any animal product at all. Unfortunately, it’s not always reasonable.
In the first place, and most common (and a question I ask myself most often) is “where does the animal part come from?” Besides obviously, the animal, the question speaks to legality, sustainable practice and animal cruelty. For me, I prefer to source locally, so if purchasing any animal part I prefer it not to be imported. It’s also easier to follow the providence back if it’s not some back water farm of dubious practice run by Swamp People in the U.S. Or hunted in Eastern Europe with no consideration or legislation for conservation of the species. There’s a big difference between “farmed”, “hunted” and “found”. Knowing which and where allows one to consider the practices and support industry and activities consciously as part of their Craft.
I personally have no problem with farming, hunting or finding. The things I use are found. Locally, that is walking distance from my house. Unfortunately, little beings do meet with cars in my area, being full of both wildlife, and roads. I don’t wish for it, that’s for sure! A horrible part of living in the Hobart suburbs and surrounds. But where I come across bones, I will happily collect them. If it’s dead, then chances are the animal was harmed in the process. But I prefer it to be accidental, without cruelty or natural. If tomorrow there was no more road kill, I’d be Ok with that. And use something else. No problem.
I recently had a conversation with a local man regarding deer hunting. Fallow deer (Dama dama) were released for hunting in Tasmania (thanks colonialism!) and so, to control numbers, hunting in season is a yearly practice. Given they compete for space with natives, I’m not against this provided the hunting practices are in line with my own views of community safety and minimising animal cruelty. We spoke at length about these things, and the fact that for himself, he hates waste. Another bug bear of mine. But I’m not against meat eating, and as meat eating goes, this man’s obvious respect for the animals, his insistence on skill in hunting being tested by lack of suffering, not the imposition of it, and the fact he ate his venison seasonally at his own hand was something I could respect. The same can be said for crop farmers controlling numbers of things like kangaroos and wallabies, many of these finding plates as well. I eat crops myself, lots of them, so again, provided I feel the legislation isn’t heavy handed and gun crazy, or lacking scientific evidence for effectiveness, I am not offended by these activities. Another is foxes and rabbits, both introduced menaces, and I prefer them neatly shot with no unnecessary cruelty than other poisoning and baiting activities different states have entertained. Which never turn out well for anything. And if it has to die, then let’s use it for something. Food particularly, leather and fur. If a thing must die, then I’m for engaging with usefulness. And for me, part of that is about connecting with Spirits of Land, and the place in which that animal connects us to the tides of environment. Which includes lessons of the past, and death and the role it plays in supporting life.
In the same way, there are lots of bits and pieces one can source from farmers. Farmers who produce meat will often be a source of antlers, horns and bones etc. But because deer, for instance, shed their antlers does not mean that your buying them from a deer farmer is supporting sustainable, cruelty free practices, at all. But chances are if you eat pork in Australia purchased from a major supermarket, for the most part, these things probably do not concern you until you find the bones in a ritual tool.
I find that the most offence is usually taken by those with the least understanding. Not unlike the outcry regarding the introduction of curfews in various Victorian Council areas for cats horrified by how cruel this is to beloved tabbies. But the personal death toll of native birds and marsupials at the hands of domestic cats, (which is still debated) apparently lost on the average cat owner against the curfew. As was the fact such things diminish injuries, unwanted litters, the feral cat population (whose impact on ecosystems is much less debated) and diseases for the pet cats themselves. All my cat friends are happy, healthy companion animals that live inside and supervised outdoor lives. And my cat owning friends have fewer dead natives on their personal death lists.
Asking “where does that come from?” is an excellent question, and should be asked of animal products of any kind. You have a right to purchase in line with your own ethics. I don’t get asked a lot, but I do write posts like this and write everywhere that all my bits are found, on the ground, already free of the animal or dead by natural or accidental causes. It’s important to me too.
What really shits me beyond tears is the moralising and misinformation. Especially when ever someone is confronted by a bone or antler or horn or skin. Because too often, those same people are dripping in crystals. And rarely do people asks “where does that crystal (or metal, copper, silver, gold etc.) come from?” And the thing about it is very often in Australia they are imported (not withstanding those that occur and are mined here, and still does not account for those things bought from online and overseas retailers), from places they occur, like Africa, Eastern Europe, South America, Asia, and often from big holes in the ground, worked by people in third world countries, in situations in which workers make very little for their efforts, or worse (jade anyone?), and at a cost to local environs and ecosystems almost generally unknown by your average purchaser of a crystal tipped wand, or indeed anyone. Is that crushed velvet certified free trade natural materials? Or just your standard run of the mill petro-chemical item you bought from Spotlight? Another question one rarely hears. Maybe a dead raven is worth more than an entire Arctic ecosyctem, I can’t be sure.
There are very few (if any) industrial scale human activities that don’t cost something we’d prefer not to know about or wish wasn’t so. The response to animal products found in craft items, most generally sourced (from my experience) locally and by people concerned about their environments and against animal cruelty seems to stem from the confronting nature of these things, the nature of blood and bone, and the disembodied possum claw when contrasted to the local possum you feed in your backyard, as opposed to any real ethical consideration. And thinking about these ethical considerations regarding anything from your spiffy crystal & silver jewellery, to your next meal, your vehicle, and your next ritual tool purchase, can give you a headache. But sweeping statements about what another should and should not use or do, on any passing consideration will find the commentator living in a glass house. The same glass house we all live in by virtue of being Australian, with cars and using electricity.
The fact that I am moved to write this is encouraging, at least people are asking. Which means people are thinking about it. The internet allows us to research more immediately (as the random assortment of in-text links of this post are testament to), and also connect with people making and producing things that do not engage in industrial scale production, working locally, using second hand and recycled goods, and with ethical considerations in line with the world we might wish for somewhere outside of the glass house.