Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ahimsa and Druidism?

The fact that I'm a Druidic vegetarian quietly amuses me.  My ancestors were Irish, Scottish, and Germanic!  They ate mutton, haggis, and sausage!  My ancient Irish ancestors looked to Druids for spiritual guidance - which often involved blood.  On Samhain, the herds were culled before the hard, cold months.  My ancestors were from Northern Europe.  They were herders, raiders, hunters, and fishermen.

They would probably have a hearty laugh at me!  Yet I understand that their world was different from my own.  They had to eat meat and other animal products to survive.  Animals were often raised more sustainably than they are today on their giant factory farms.  My ancestors in the northern climes just didn't have the choices that the Mediterranean Pythagoreans, the Hindus, or the Jains had.  Not to mention, my ancestors did many things that probably should not be done today anyway...

I've been a meat-free vegetarian for about as long as I've been a Pagan*.  For me, the two are hand in hand but I've never been able to exactly express why.  I've always known that a part of it has to do with a deep respect for nature.  But that is only part of it.  Carnivores and omnivores are also part of nature and I do not deny their place or rights.  My spirit guide is a carnivore.  My animal companions are carnivores.  They have never expressed a desire to give up meat and I don't think it would be healthy to force it on them anyway**.  But I feel like I have a choice, and I don't feel like it furthers me from the food chain.  I am basically an herbivore.  If my spirit animal doesn't eat me first, then I will die and be eaten by smaller things and go back to the plants I ate.  As long as I am not in a survival situation, I feel quite content eating as I do.

An lj friend and fellow ADFer*** recently posted this article entitled "I Was Wrong About Veganism" by George Monbiot.  Basically the author, who once insisted that Veganism was the only ethical response to the environmental, health, and food dilemmas of this world, takes back the statement and gives his reasons based on new statistics.  He argues that going local and returning to traditional feeding methods is the best for the environment and the animals.  I totally agree, and the article made me feel better about my recent decision to consume dairy products again, albeit with a nearly strict preference for organic and/or local.  The rare bit of cheese I eat must be rennet free.  (On a side note, I feel like Brighid, my patroness who has very close ties with dairy, kept bugging me when I gave it up.  So yes, in a way I do feel spiritually obligated to eat some of her essence.)

My friend is one of many Pagans I know who argue that eating meat and eating local is a moral act, to use her choice of words.  By eating meat she is imitating the Gods.  I get that, and I'm not about to say they are wrong, horrible people - especially if they are eating sustainably harvested meat.  And yet...  I still don't feel compelled to eat it myself.  I've never felt spiritually motivated or pushed to.  Quite the opposite.

I recently started to read more about Hinduism and Jainism in my quest to better articulate what, exactly, drives me to live the way I do.  I could call myself an ethical vegetarian (someone who is a vegetarian for ethical reasons), but that implies that people who do eat sustainable meat are unethical...which isn't right or healthy to assume, in my opinion.  I do what I feel is ethical for myself.  In my studies, I came to the concept of ahimsa which is Sanskrit for the concept of doing no harm.  It is an interesting and complicated subject but I rather enjoy learning about it because a lot of it is what I believe for myself.  My friend Parallax first helped me begin this process of articulation when she mentioned a thought she had had when she was a vegetarian - there is a difficult to express hierarchy, which is why many of us are somehow okay eating plants.  But even so, I try to be as respectful to plants as possible, thanking them for their nourishment, asking for permission before I harvest them, and leaving gifts of nuts or drink when I do.  Even then, I try not to take everything - just enough for myself and for the plant to further flourish.  Turns out, Jains believe in this hierarchy and have organized it.  It is quite interesting, especially in light of recent arguments that "intelligent" animals like dolphins, whales, apes, octopuses, and squid should not be eaten at all.

So what does all of this mean to someone following a Druidic path?  In Irish lore, some people are under geasa - magical bound to do or avoid something.  Fate.  One famous geis belonged to Cuchulainn.  Because of his practically totemic connection to dogs, he was spiritually forbidden to eat of their flesh.  As fate would have it, he ended up eating dog (due to other geasa in place) and this was part of his undoing.  Perhaps not eating flesh period is my own personal geis - my spiritual fate?  Perhaps it is merely this life's lesson.  I have already learned much from my journey of fruit salads and lentil burgers - integrity, compassion, empathy, acceptance, patience, creativity...  So much.  Perhaps in this life, I am not meant to eat the salmon of knowledge - instead I am to share the hazelnuts of wisdom with the salmon themselves.

*I gave up red meat when I was 8 so I've been a flexitarian or vegetarian of some sort for a very long time. 
** It would totally fail anyway.  My cats like catching flies waaaay too much.
*** I don't know if she wants her username floating out in the virtual ether so unless she wants official credit, I will respect her privacy.  

( For My LJ Friends: )


  1. Fourteen years ago I swore an oath before the gods to no longer eat pork. Ten years ago, I went back on that for a year - and it was a bad year. Now I live pork-free, quite happily. Periodically I slip, due to no fault of my own ("These smokies - they're all beef, right?" "Yes, sir" taste - nope, not beef at all). When this happens, well, I stopped trying to make restitution with my (Anglo Saxon) gods. They just laugh at me. :)

    Just thought I'd share.

  2. Interesting story. Thanks for sharing! I appreciate hearing about how other Pagans abstain from different things.

    I have thought more about this topic and intend to write more soon. :)