Can Real Pagans Eat Meat?
20th April, 1999
When you have been involved in the Pagan community for a while, it is amazing how the same issues tend to pop up over and over again. One that has become increasingly annoying for me is the issue of whether true Pagans are vegetarian. Now, I will state right from the start that I eat meat. I'm not a big meat eater, but I do eat it with many meals.
This topic reared its head for me a few weeks ago. I was asking on one of my Pagan email lists if anyone knew a leather worker (I was in need of a scabbard for my athame). Before the day was out, I had received an email asking me why I enjoyed killing sweet little, defenceless animals just to satisfy my fashion sense. Well I can tell you that this is not the way to get on my good side.
Then a couple of days ago my favourite Pagan magazine hit my letter box. It contained a letter to the editor about a previous article concerning vegetarianism. The letter writer too was concerned about the growing tendency within the Pagan community towards a dogma supporting the idea that "real" Pagans are vegetarian.
What got me thinking about this topic again was the editors response which boiled down to the "if you can live with killing innocent animals, then that's your business". Now this to me smacks of someone trying to use good old fashioned guilt on me. Again, not a good thing to try on an ex-Catholic Pagan.
Over the next few days, this particular edition of the magazine prompted some pretty lively debate on the Pagan internet, from both sides of the argument. The two camps fall into two basic groups, the "Meat is Murder/Real Pagans don't eat meat" group and the "It was good enough for my Pagan ancestor's" group.
"Meat is Murder"
This group believes that humans are no better than animals and that we both are an important part of nature. They also believe we have no right to "murder" them for our food. We have no right to exploit animals, we are smart enough to survive without killing animals. A further element of this article is that the meat industry is basically cruel and inhumane.
"Good Enough for the Ancestors"
This group believes that humans are no better than animals and that we both are an important part of nature. As a part of nature, animals are there to help us survive and that we must appreciate there contribution to our survival by not being wasteful. Another argument in this camp is that nature is made up of a cycle of birth, death and rebirth and that animals play their part in this cycle when they help us to survive with their deaths. The ancestors part comes in with the point that there are very few Pagan cultures that were vegetarian, infact animal sacrifice and meat eating played an important part in the Pagan cultures of the past which modern Pagans draw on (Greek, Roman, Celtic and Nordic/Germanic).
I think the issue of vegetarianism brings to the fore more significant issues within the Pagan community. The most important of which is the increasing dogmatism that is developing. There is an increasing tendency to see issues in the form of what makes one a "real" Pagan. The diversity that is so treasured by many who follow a Pagan path is gradually being replaced by an urge to conformity and "spiritual correctness."
While there have always been specific traditions which often have strict beliefs, there is an increasing tendency to assume that "my way is the "REAL" Pagan way". One manifestation is the assumption that all Pagans follow the Wiccan Rede or that real Pagans are vegetarian. I believe that we must guard against such dogmatism, after all it is often the dogmatism of other faiths that drew people to Paganism, which seemed to lack them. Let's not allow our apathy see a new Pagan dogma created.
So, to answer the question posed at the beginning of this article, can real Pagans eat meat? I believe they can, our lives are ours to live, we take the responsibility for our actions, if I can live with my eating meat, why can't you?
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