Monday, September 13, 2010

Inhabiting Paradise - 8

Subsistence, based on agriculture, has a history of several centuries in these mountains. By contrast, hunting and gathering kept people fed here for several millennia.

Whatever form it takes, the spirituality of subsistence runs deep. From “Hunting for Spirituality: An Oxymoron?” by David Petersen:

[Commenting on this same topic] in his weirdly wonderful book, Bone Games, Rob Schultheis notes that when humanity lost the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, we lost the deepest spirituality we've ever known: "Something in us died: mojo, obeah, mana, Buddhahood, audacious rapture...dead. Dead and buried in an unmarked grave somewhere back there. Our ancestors knew more than we do."

Indeed, according to Paul Shepard, our hunter-gatherer ancestors not only knew more than we do but also were more fully human - which assertion, of course, demands a definition of humanity.

According to ethnographic research, animism has always been the universal cosmology of unadulterated hunting-gathering peoples worldwide, and it remains so.

Architect Siegfried Giedion, lecturing at Harvard University, tackled this touchy topic head-on when he asked rhetorically:

How is it possible that primeval man both killed and venerated the animal? [To comprehend this apparent irony] we have to forget our present attitudes toward the sacred. With primitive men the sacred had a two-fold meaning. It included both the holy and the profane [secular]. Animals were simultaneously objects of adoration, life-giving food, and hunted quarry. This two-fold significance of the animal as object of worship and source of nourishment is an outcome of a mentality which did not confine the sacred to the hereafter. For them, the sacred and profane were inseparable.

The Petersen essay also included thoughts from several writers, including psychotherapist Ralph Metzner:

In indigenous cultures around the world, the natural is regarded as the realm of spirit and the sacred; the natural is the spiritual. From this follows an attitude of respect, a desire to maintain a balanced relationship, and an instinctive understanding of the need for considering future generations and the health of the ecosystem - in short, sustainability. Recognizing and respecting worldviews and spiritual practices different from our own is perhaps the best antidote to the West's fixation on the life-destroying dissociation between spirit and nature.

From Aldo Leopold:

Hunting is not merely an acquired taste: the instinct that finds delight in the sight and pursuit of games is bred into the very fiber of the race...The love of hunting is almost a psychological characteristic. A man may not care for golf and still be human. But the man who does not like to see, hunt, photograph, or otherwise outwit birds or animals is hardly normal. He is supercivilized, and I for one do not know how to deal with him.

Barbara Dean writes of her northern California rural environs:

The interplay of life and death is everywhere here: in a post-season fly caught and eaten in a spider web above my desk; in the deer bones, freshly gnawed in the canyon across the stream; in the oak leaves, fallen and now decaying in a mat behind the house. I have been a vegetarian for more than twenty years, which I once thought exempted me from the violence that accompanies the securing of food. But a few weeks of working in the garden my first summer here...did away with that comforting illusion....I soon grew uncomfortable with the notion that even a berry might not have a life.

Each death is clearly part of sustaining another life, and, just as clearly, my own survival depends on being part of this chain every day in one way or another. Most of the time, I understand this inescapable reality well enough to justify my own role. But sometimes the darkness at the heart of that logic breaks through and I face what seems an intolerable truth....I will never know enough about the profound complexities of life on Earth to be sure that I perform this act - that I kill - with moral certainty.

The conviction of my human inadequacy expands within me. And then, somehow, from somewhere, another emotion sweeps over me, and I am enveloped by a sweet and transforming humility, a feeling so unexpected that the experience can only be called a moment of grace. This feeling, which transcends the hunt and yet is utterly rooting in its essence, brings a sense of resolution to the impossible dilemmas with which I have been wrestling. I fully understand that humility is the key. Only through humility can the soul make peace with the terrible necessity of survival.

Gary Snyder - "To acknowledge that each of us at the table will eventually be part of the meal is not just being 'realistic.' It is allowing the sacred to enter and accepting the sacramental aspect of our shaky temporary personal being."

Ortega y Gasset - "The hunt is not something which happens to the animal by chance; rather, in the instinctive depths of his nature [the prey] has already foreseen the hunter."


- excerpts and references from "Hunting for Spirituality: An Oxymoron?," by David Petersen in The Good in Nature and Humanity, edited by Stephen R. Kellert and Timothy J.
Farnham. [That book is notable as well, for reprinting a Barry Lopez short story,
The Mappist...a really fabulous story, worth seeking out.


Jim Parker said...

I just recently reread A Sand County Almanac. Wonderful reading for anyone.

dwbrewin said...

It seems like the biggest problem is that people have forgotten what food is. Whether or not you eat meat; do or don't hunt, all food involves the taking of a life. The "primitive" people understood that it was a web of life and that all life forms deserved sacred status. I'm just as thankful to the fruit from our garden as I am to our chickens that provide eggs and meat for us and also to the deer or boar that I might be fortunate enough to bring home. They are all life forms that deserve our respect and gratitude.

GULAHIYI said...

...a breakfast of ham and eggs is a life time commitment for the pig and only a days work for a chicken...