Synchronicity is a weird phenomenon sometimes. I started this article around three months ago and needed more time for research, so took a month off to do this. Triggered by my use of my cat’s hair in a healing ritual, I started to think about the ethics around use of animal parts for this purpose.
This subject is a huge one. Coming from Africa, where animal sacrifice is common, with human sacrifice and use of human body parts for magic sadly not as rare as one would have hoped, I am aware that this practice ranges from having magical tools and clothes made from body parts (human or animal), to actually sacrificing life to obtain a desired result.
In the subsequent weeks, I’ve come across a sudden increase in the amount of advertising from rather dubious magical practitioners in my area. I thought initially that my greater awareness of practices involving animal sacrifice just meant that I was seeing more advertisements, but then became aware for the first time of one who was advertising by flyers in the local shopping centre and counted more than four cards over the space of as many weeks in my mailbox – I only ever used to receive one card from a man who advertised in this way once every three months. I then went and counted advertisements in my local paper and there were three, whereas a few months ago there were none.
I am now aware of 11 animals (10 cats and one small dog) who have gone missing over the space of two weeks in an area adjacent to mine. Now, these disappearances probably have nothing to do with magical practice. It is far more likely that they have been used as bait for dog fighting. However, it did make me think about the probability.
I am still researching some of the aspects which I would like to discuss in the coming months, particularly around the justification around animal sacrifice – there appears to be some distinction around when sacrifice is made to appease a god and when the departing life force is used to power intent. However, the first issue I’d like to address is the very common use of animal parts in Western Pagan practice.
A few years ago, my ex-husband and I attended the Pagan Federation annual conference and had a super time. We came across a stall which sold the most beautiful stangs and, having spoken with the man who sold them, we bought one. Now, he said that he made them by collecting the antlers from deer who had shed them naturally, rather than bought them from a hunter or dealer. I am normally sceptical about such claims. However, the man was down to earth, not a salesman and I trusted him. My husband now has a stang he treasures and I believe that no animals had been hurt in the process of making it.
Likewise, I have bought crystals and wooden items for ritual use and healing. None of these contain animal parts but the sourcing of both can have a devastating impact on the environment and thereby, animal life.
I saw a television programme on canned hunting in Southern Africa a while ago. Louis Theroux, a renowned UK-based interviewer, was investigating this rather mucky pastime – where animals are bred and kept (and sometimes drugged) for the sole purpose of allowing “hunters” to bag their animal of choice. He was given the opportunity of shooting an animal himself. He couldn’t pull the trigger and the hunter very scathingly said to him – ah, you’ll eat the meat, but you won’t kill the animal”.
Whilst I shy away from purchasing most items containing animal parts, I used to buy crystals which are mined in the main by explosive techniques – I obviously also was happy to “eat the meat, but not kill the animal”. Who knows how many lives were affected by my and other’s requirement to own crystals – how many animals and birds harmed and homeless and how many eco-systems wrecked?
Nowadays, being more environmentally aware, I don’t buy crystals, as it is virtually impossible to verify where they have come from. Most shops will assure you that they have been obtained in a way that is not detrimental to the environment – one even tried to tell me that their cut-price crystals had been dug up by hand!
However, we all have to make judgement calls about what is personally acceptable to us. I have seen pagans proclaim their right to wear fox fur as they are a druid (!), others refuse to wear leather, but who eat meat, unthinkingly buy ritual items made in China and others still who believe that hunting puts them in touch with their inner wildman and brings them closer to nature.
I don’t believe there are any easy answers to this – for instance, is buying something that has cost lives to obtain or make much different from sacrificing a life in ritual? And if not, why do people (like me) have such an issue with it when we’ve been guilty of the same act, just at a remote and comfortable distance?
Perhaps there is no easy answer to this. Perhaps as Pagans who are (mostly) sensitive about the environment and who need to be aware of the public perception of our practices, we need to make informed judgements and understand the true cost of the items we are buying and the activities these endorse.
 I use this term loosely to describe religious practice in which ritual in enacted to obtain a benefit or result of some kind, not including ritual sacrifice of animals in mainstream religions.