I think hunting is probably the least discussed as a pagan or natural tradition. On one side are people who think animals shouldn’t be food. That’s entirely acceptable if you can hack the diet. On the other side of the spectrum are the “rednecks” whom South Park would have you believe empty endless clips into the woods to pile up as many trophies as they can. In actuality, this doesn’t happen. Hunting involves being one with nature, and to the people who think it’s going to be Deer Hunter 2014 – it’s pretty boring. They’re doing it for the wrong reasons, the reason is to commune. Today, hunting is not going to the grocery store, but a chance to interact with, and see the glory of, creation. In a lot of ways because the importance of survival is diminished in modern society, the magic of the experience can present itself.
How do we hunt deer? “I am the Mountain God…”
I woke up, and truth be told I would love to write a post like “oh I prayed and fasted and summoned Skadi and…” Well actually I changed diapers and got the kids fed while my wife finished her shower and then I took a shower. That’s not particularly magical, except for a general sense that the time of year is magic because it is the harvest. Rather the meditation came in the car ride over to the park. There’s always the mental checklist (Did I pack water? nope, forgot the water. Did I pack fire? OK I have fire, I can make water), but the ride over also gives me a chance to survey the woods and notice that society at this hour is largely devoid of people. It’s an eerie feeling while at the same time a comfort that what we do is private, and intimate.
Hunting deer requires crossing a primordial boundary from the comforts of modern society into the quiet of the woods. No longer is Man the maker of the environment, but rather Mother Nature rules these quiet places. As I walk along, the horse trail gives way to countless other trails laid over it. The deer have built new ways of travel, sometimes crosscrossing and sometimes overlaid with the trail which man prefers his horse carry him through. In this way there is a concession; man’s footfalls are fewer here than “out there” in society. No more cars are here, the beast is king. To walk on the deer trails, my feet become cleft and hard.
It is important to take in the light. The light of this new dawn was red, with purple. The sun rose as a glorious, full orb. The horizon burned. The trees of autumn stood proudly mirroring the braised fire in the sky. We should be so fortunate as to find ourselves in such a home. I consider myself lucky that just for a moment when the sun is rising and still low, the leaves in the trees present the most beautiful living stained glass cathedral. I hope my children appreciate this. I hope the woods should live forever.
The air is chilly, even with an M65 jacket with liner doubled up and handsewn buttons, the camouflage provides no emulation of the fur which the animals enjoy. The fur is perfect, and perfectly suited to the woods. Each animal is clothed in fur ideally suited to its environment and colored as best as any Main St tailor might hope to produce for a king. The deer, in my world, is truly the king of the woods. Wreathed in horns and deft in foot, they slip silently along. First, they eat grass, and as the wheel processes they prefer the delicacy of the newly budded, verdant plants as their leave unfurl from winter slumber. Today, there is no snow. The deer walk along creekbottoms and sleep under pines. They mingle in tall grass and hold court under wise, thick red Oak trees. Soon, they will flirt and breed and calf, as they affect the cycle of life in the forest floor so do they themselves honor the circle of the spheres and reproduce.
I think these things as I smoke my pipe. The pipe is briar, the leaves from a far away land. A doe appears. Deer do not merely walk, as any hunter will tell you, they evaporate and move place to place unseen and unsensed, unhurried and unrestrained by gorges, gullies, and stream. Or that’s what hunters believe when we comfort ourselves.
My ancestors take over. The history of the bow is the history of mankind. I hardly feel the smoke and the fury of the moment and in that instant, we are one. We trade places. No longer is the king of the woods the deer, but he is me. The age-old dance continues, the Oak King is pierced by the Holly King.
The King shudders, and dies. The entire forest is still for a moment, perhaps shocked at the violence of this event or out of respect for everyone involved.
I give thanks to the deer for this moment, and we rest together.
There is however one more trick the deer has, for neither of the Kings truly ever dies. Part of the deer is spilled on the ground in the final moments, and this blood is rich heartblood which nourishes the grass for the forest, and thus the other deer. The entrails will provide food for Odins consorts, and other animals too. Did the deer have a happy life? The liver tells me with a rich dollop of fat on top that the deer ate well and was happy. The heart is the last to come, I eat it as fresh as possible, as the heart should become my heart. I cut my hand as I work as mindfully as possible – perhaps not as much as I should – and realize some day too, I will feed the forest. Until then, this deer will feed me and my family, and with due respect I hope other deer will too.