Sunday, January 8, 2012

Icky-Bits Pt.1a - Responses.

Harold Roth, an herbalist, businessman, Juju-dude, and author that I have a lot of respect for left a rather large comment to my last entry. It brought up a lot of points that I felt bore following up on - unfortunately when I tried to copy the text of that comment, the blogger system consumed it with a fiery passion - I got the text into an e-mail, and it's from there that I'll be copying. Instead of posting it here first, I e-mailed him with my response. A far more candid version of what I'll post here.

I expected a reply in the terse-and-or-pissed vein. It's part and parcel to the topic, and I didn't question for a moment that someone would bring up the downside, dark side...etc. I did address ethics, but I did not address them in absolutes - that's not something I'm in the market to do. That's the "problem" with the Occult, what is an ethical issue for one is not for another.

"Right" and "Wrong" and "Batshit Insane"

One "Sorceress" and author advocates feeding rats chemicals, painting them with nail polish, and finally beheading them with a meat cleaver as part of a ritual. I find that reprehensible, she does not. She advocates doing it, I advocate a real life reenactment of "Willard" up in that batshittery. I'm going to strongly discourage anyone from doing it, I'm going to say I think it's cruel, pointless, and just a touch over the border into psychopathic. I'd suggest if they wanted to do something similar they feed the rat, baptized in the name of their enemy, to a python. Then, at least, the python eats (Python owners also often pre-kill their snake's dinner. It's safer and nicer for everyone). That's my "Batshit" line. It's not batshit to feed it to a snake, it's pretty batshit to lop it's head off with a meat cleaver... but "batshit" is an imprecise measure.

I'm not going to kill something "Just for a bone" or "just for a ritual" - if I kill it every part of it will either be consumed, preserved, or utilized for a myriad of purposes. I'm also not going to use methods which allow the creature to feel or know they're about to go - that's my line, and my ethos. Beyond that, I'll won't make excuses or apologies. Meat is murder... tasty, tasty, murder and I do not couch or hide that reality.

Harold asked: So what's next, boil a black cat alive for its invisibility bone? Or set fire to a live rooster to curse someone? How about crucifying a bird on a wheel, spinning it around, and whipping the bird as it shrieks in horror for the sake of a sex spell (Greek magical papyrus--can't get more traditional than that)?

From the original post itself: "If the issue is what is "humane" and what is "proper" - Drowning in a pond is a hell of a lot less pleasant than having a bead a benzocane slathered on one's back. Being stabbed through the chest with a dagger is, conversely, less pleasant than dying of old age." Just because I did not say "And you're a horrible person if..." does not mean there was not ethics in the mix. I did not advocate one method or another, because I don't advocate doing the ritual at all. If someone pressed me - Benzocane. I didn't say it's right, I didn't say it's wrong - I said that it's a little bit more complex than two polar points.

In another E-Mail, Harold Said: My understanding of the toad bone rit, from a description that was given to me a few years ago, is that it traditionally involves nailing a live toad to a board (which if I remember correctly was then thrown into a creek to drown). [SNIP] Nailing a live toad to a board is animal cruelty. I don't think anyone can honestly argue against that. [SNIP] But you did bring up the toad bone rit, so I felt free to react to that.

This is an example of what I mentioned in the first post: "For anyone who says "You can't just kill something just for it's bone!" - they're either being intentionally hyperbolic, or are grotesquely under-educated on the nature of the rite (and probably ought to stop discussing it). There's far more going on here. Again, more on that another time." Anyone with more than a passing familiarity with the rite... or rather anyone who has read texts discussing it, will find that the information Harold was given was incorrect to ... well, a really big degree. The rite can be broken down rather simplistically to "Amphibian alive? Dispatch it. I won't tell you how. Amphibian dead? Pin it to a blackthorn tree, or an anthill. Wait until it's picked clean. Take the bones to the river. One'll get your attention." The amphibian, regardless, is dead before any poking, prodding, or dissection takes place.

Harold Said: The most we can do is hope it's not our black cat or our rooster or our bird, because we aren't allowed to condemn such traditional practices or to have ethics when it comes to what other people do. We are only allowed to have ethics if we keep them secret and never use them for anything except to guide our own private thoughts and private behavior. Sex fetishes get more public wear and tear than ethics do with us.

You're allowed to condemn it, but here's my point on the matter: If you (the general you) eat commercially packaged meat, you probably ought to speak to them about their animal handling practices before you speak to an occultist about theirs. I'd put my drinking money on the line that Wrapped-In-Plastic-Industries is worse than feeding the Lwa. Most consider it a "necessary evil" - why? If right is right, and wrong is wrong... go get 'em Tiger. If you have not done your homework there first, and come to me to complain, I'll laugh you out the door.

The ethics in "Pulling a Kioni" are not just the ethics of burning something alive - which is at least two boxes of refined Batshit. He was performing a curse, if it was meant to harm or kill there's ethics in that too.

Is it right to kill someone? Generally, we say "No", but when it comes to throwing hexes and curses... many people say "Yes".
Is it right to kill an animal? Generally, we say "No", but when it comes to KFC... many say "Yes".

Why does the answer change, when the act has not?

Bringing more discussion from the S&M community into Ethics in Craft would actually be beneficial - as would bringing in a few people from the Psyvamp community.

"Perfection" versus "Reality" in Ethics.
And the "Real Witches Never" Fallacy.

Harold Said: Must someone who condemns boiling a black cat alive not ever have eaten a factory-farmed hamburger? No. We aren't perfect. We are human and we fail. That doesn't mean we must have no ethics and must not ever condemn anything we think is wrong. It does mean we should be wary of being hypocrites. But to remain silent in the face of what one believes is wrong is to become complicit in that wrong and to offend against one's own ethics. Why should that be expected of others just so someone can crucify a frog or set a rooster on fire?

You can cry out against what you think is wrong, but putting it in an absolute won't provide traction on convincing anyone else.  If we put the emphasis on reducing harm (to borrow a term from the S&M community) and working within the law... the problems untangle. For most, not all.
Even within the context of S&M, they've yet to reach a perfect place. Legally, engaging in S&M activities is "Assault and battery" - but if both parties are consenting, and no lasting injury or harm is done, is there still a crime?

Is any utilization of an animal's death in a ritual context automatically wrong?
When does it become wrong?
Is it wrong because it's not on an abattoir floor/clinical setting?
What if it is done in the literal most humane manner possible, within a ritual context?
Where is the line of "torture" and where is the line of "humane"?

Harold Said: Tradition does not make magic. People make it. They got that tradition not because it was handed down as a fait accompli by the gods but because people created it in the flow of time in connection to their work with spirits. Because magic is a human creation, not a divine one, it changes--change is a fundamental property of us mortals.

Some believe that and some don't. Their praxis is going to be different by default, and in order to figure out the ethics of differing practices, one has to at least be somewhat flexible. I am not about to say that beating the tar out of a bird, or burning it alive, is "good" - but I'm also not going to tell the person doing it that they're "cursed and wrong", because then I've lost all chance of discussing it with them, and potentially getting them thinking about different options. Of course, if they think about it, speak to their gods, and still come to the same conclusion? Well... that's when the wicket gets sticky. If they've actually -done- it? Eh, lost cause. I'll just tip off the right people.

In the case of the Toadbone: In order to get a bone the animal has to be dead. How it dies is left to the spirits - you'll notice mine was dead already. Should I feel an ethical compunction knowing the spirits killed the animal, and placed it there, in a cruel way? It might surprise you that I actually do feel bad that I did not intervene. I would rather have lanced it in the heart, or smeared it with benzocane than it suffer and drown.

Harold Said: If a bunch of mainline religious people can recognize the need for change with respect to the immutable divine, why is it that people involved in so-called traditional witchcraft cannot rework old practices that offend against contemporary ethics? Is their contact with the spirit world so non-functioning? Do they have no more any revelation? Hang it up then.

If the praxis is an organic thing, changing with practitioners (and that is seen as a good thing) what about when the drift pulls it toward a -heavier- use of animal sacrifice? What if the spirit guidance says not to kill the critter first, but to crucify it alive? Should they still quest for that guidance, or ignore it?

Why is it offensive? Whose ethics? If culture defines the norms and morals, and I disagree with the norms and morals, am I not allowed to strive for a change? Why does adhering to something mean that the person is not functional as a witch? What if the contact they recieved, and the revelation they experience, brings them to the traditional form of the rite, not even allowing for "it was dead when I found it"? Should they discard this spirit guidance because it does not suit certain morals?

The questions I ask aren't actually rhetorical, though I don't expect that anyone will really answer them. I understand that a different worldview and upbringing yields different results - I stated as much in the original post. If we just shut down the discussion with "IT IS JUST WRONG, OKAY?!" we'll never figure out the lines that ought to be there... and what ought not be there.


  1. I guess I'll delurk, as I am struck by a point. So first, Hi - this is my first comment.

    "...if the spirit guidance says not to kill the critter first, but to crucify it alive? Should they still quest for that guidance, or ignore it?"

    Let me admit up front I don't do these rituals, don't know anybody who does (eh- as far as I know), but I am reminded of this: there are people who drown their kids in the tub, or throw them off a bridge, or beat them with chains and burn them with cigarettes... and they do it because "God" told them to. Usually, they are referring to the Christian god, and the rest of society rightly condemns this behavior and belief. At best, we allow it to be evidence of insanity.

    Frankly, I don't see the difference between these people and the people you are talking about, other than one of degree. I would have to go with your lamented, "It is just wrong, okay?"

    I take your point about eating the meat. But here again, it is a matter of degree, or perhaps a better word is "control." It is possible to obtain your meat from a sustainable rancher whose animals live only on healthy pasture, and who kills humanely when a buyer places an order. I have enough control in my life to obtain my meat in this way.

    I do not have enough control to force the meat industry to stop their reprehensible practices. I can only protest that they do them. I feel that still leaves me with a right to condemn those who torture and kill for (any) religious reasons.

  2. @marlenedotterer - Oh, I don't disagree that it's a bad idea, that it is "wrong" - but I question the circuits by which some gets to "It's wrong." and what conditions make it wrong or right.

    If we're discussing ethics, we have to discuss how we get to the conclusions... or else it amounts to "Drugs are bad, m'kay?"

    The particular quote had to do with the idea that if you deviate from a traditional practice, it will (by default) become less gruesome. What if one's own guidance makes it MORESO? Yes, I know the obvious answer is "ignore it" - I'm not dumb. But when does "Do whatever feels right" cease to work? Is it ONLY when it offends someone elses sensibilities? That was the question I was posing... in a rather tongue-in-cheek fashion.

  3. You've raised a lot of stuff, Scylla, which I think is wonderful. I will just say a few things in this comment. Although my comment is so long I have to cut it up.

    Re the Toad Bone Rit. The description I read was some years ago. It was on a forum of some kind. Could have been a private one. I don't remember that. I can't even remember if I said anything about it at the time, although more recently I did make quite a snarky remark when someone on a blog justified crucifying a frog--and this was what was being described as the Toad Bone Rit--because it was "traditional," and then took time to trash Wicca for being agin animal killing and don't Wiccans know animal killing is just part of witchcraft, i.e., Wicca-bashing, which I have heard too often. (I am not a Wiccan, just in case anyone is wondering.) To me, the response that it's okay to kill something, even in a horrendous way, because it is part of traditional witchcraft, is displaying the most astoundingly juvenile lack of reasoning. "It's traditional" has been the justification female circumcision, slavery, and the ordinary denial of all civil rights to women in Saudi Arabia (which does indeed justify this practice on the basis that it's traditional in their culture), example I gave in my original comment which got et. So sorry, "it's traditional" is not going to fly with me--especially in this case, because the fact is that we don't really know WHAT is traditional in witchcraft and there are almost NONE among us who can be said to hail from any traditional society whatsoever.

    But to remind myself, because honestly, I never paid very much attention to it as a ritual and have made a point to no longer hang around in any forums except business ones, today I went to find what I could about the toad bone rit. I found two things that I suspect were sources for what the individuals discussing this were: Andrew Chumbley's paper The Leaper Between, which I read a few years ago, and his work One: The Grimoire of the Golden Toad, which I have never read until today. For those who do not know, Andrew Chumbley was the head of the Cultus Sabbati, a group practicing traditional witchcraft. He said he based the practices of that organization on what he learned from traditional witches in an area of England. So I think he is a pretty good authority.

  4. The Leaper Between is here:

    The copyright of One: The Grimoire of the Golden Toad, is being violated here:

    In the Leaper article, which was a pretty good paper Chumbley wrote for his academic studies does a simple structural analysis of the toad bone rit across several cultures and time, finding things in common (and not). He specifically cites the Hoodoo ritual of boiling a black cat alive in order to acquire its invisibility bone as "structurally the same" as the toad bone rit (and he cites Hyatt, the Hoodoo historian, as a source for his info, not Hurston). So he certainly saw similarity between these rits. He gives also various versions of the toad bone rit. One he quotes described by Fraser (of Golden Bough fame) as burying the toad alive in an ant hill, where it will croak horribly until it is eaten and its bones cleaned. In fact, the burying thing appears in various rits, sometimes with the toad/frog alive, other times with it already dead. Chumbley refers to another rit, basically a folk practice, of pinning a frog alive inside a box as some kind of love charm. In another version of the rit, frogs or toads are hung by their necks from a tree until they are dead. So clearly there are various aspects of this rit that turn up in various ways, sometimes distorted and in bits and pieces, a phenom I have found myself when looking for herb lore. The purpose of the rit also varied, sometimes being connected to horse magic, or to a pact with the devil, or to the ability to have great powers over animals, etc.

    In The Golden Toad, Chumbley states that the toad should be killed by being impaled on the thorn of a blackthorn. It's a subsequently dead toad that is put into an ant hill and its bones collected and put into a bag, floated in a creek, and all the rest.

    I was wrong about the live crucifixion of a toad (they were sometimes crucified when dead), I was not wrong about it being killed in a pretty sadistic way. And in fact in some discussions of this rit, people specifically have pointed to the sadism of the killing of the animal as an important part of the rit, arguing that it is or was a way of distancing oneself from the mores of one's community and entering into a much more morally ambiguous space, I guess you could call it. Weirdly enough, I read today that Crowley crucified a frog for precisely this reason.

    Re the big question you have raised of how do I determine what is ethical, I would like that explained to me by people who believe that "it's traditional" is a good justification for practicing sadism on an animal for a rit. In our society, it is not traditional to do such things. To claim some culture far away in time and place and say that is my tradition and they did that then and so that's okay for me to do now, well, okay, then what about elders who come here from certain places in Africa who want to circumcise their female babies because that's traditional? Should we have no qualms about that? We must have qualms, because in our society, it is in fact not traditional.

  5. Re the meat argument, I do in fact "speak" to Them about factory farming: I don't buy meat like that, although I have no choice for my cats. But it wouldn't actually matter if I did buy it, because what my practice is does not influence whether some other practice is wrong or not. We can talk about hypocrisy, and I acknowledged that in my comment. But the hypocrisy of one's accuser does not let one off the ethical hook. The issue is sadistically slaughtering animals for the sake of a magic ritual. There are people who would argue that meat is going for food, which is not a carefree thing that we can go without. I would myself say there are plenty of other things for us to eat besides animals, but hey. Let's continue with the justification of meat. The fact is that in our society, it is considered okay to kill animals to eat them: but generally only certain people are allowed to do the killing. There are actually laws in most areas against slaughtering domestic animals. But more, we consider slaughtering to be someone's job, someone who knows how to do it. I remember this point being made very strongly by someone who worked in a lab discussing the killing of mice and rats, because I was considering raising them for my cats (free-range mice, lol). There is a way to kill a mouse that is humane and other ways that are not. Most people have no idea how to do it. So do most people initiating themselves into whatever we want to describe as the result of the toad bone rit know how to kill a toad or anything else humanely? In fact, have any of them ever slaughtered an animal? Do they kill their meat weekly or what? I don't think so. So to me, the meat argument does not hold water either. I will say, though, that in societies where people, ordinary people, do regularly slaughter their animals for food themselves, then if they slaughter an animal for a ritual, I would not see that as ethically wrong for them. That's not our world. And how do I get to judge? Same way we all do: we're alive and we are part of a society where we all agree, supposedly, on acceptable behavior.

    Re the SM, I gave that as an example because to me it is something private that is regularly made public and yet completely trivial. I have heard long ago all the arguments for and against SM practices. I don't care because it is consensual and both partners are equally empowered (this is not something done to children, for instance, who have no power). But it does seem strange to me that we can more freely talk about SM than we can about ethics. Somehow, to even raise the question of whether something is ethical or not is taken as a vast insult. But that is part of what being in a community means--not just being a bunch of atoms that bump up against each other once in a while, but discussing, arguing, yes, even fighting about issues that are important to us.

  6. @Harold - There's, yet again, a lot of meat to sort through here. From what I learned from Tradcrafters of Old-lines from England, those that trained and initiated me, the rite as I described it is the Traditional form and variations were "bootstrapping it" or making things up as they went along. Having practiced the rite, and having truck with the spirits involved, anything much outside of what I described is no longer -that- rite. It becomes something else - not having practiced that "something else" I can't tell you what it is, but I can tell you what it is not. Whether that assertion is good enough for anyone else *shrug*.

    Re: Forms of charms involving toads/frogs and their parts - there's another rite mentioned by Pliny and seen in Southern Rootwork where one gets "the hook and the heart" or "hook and shovel". It is not The Waters Of The Moon, though it shares common signposts. It's a love-charm, and the bones are selected very specifically, rather than self-selecting. This rite is often the one that gets malicious and nasty, as is the bog standard in love magic.

    The spirits setting things up so that one comes into possession of a bone marks a Master, and a Sovereign. A king doesn't smelt down his crown to make Goldschlager. You don't take the bone, you receive the bone when/if you've earned it.

    I suppose the fundamental disconnect is that I do come from a society where the regular slaughter of one's own food is normal and natural - not practiced by all, but practiced none-the-less. This includes spearing frogs out at the lake on Sunday, or picking squirrels out of the trees with a .22, or raising rabbits in the back yard. Because of the culture I come from, and the upbringing I come from... it simply does not occur to me that there are assholes out there doing shit without researching first and learning how to do it properly. That only occurred to me when you mentioned the correct way to pre-kill mice. My failure here is that I assume people to be decent, and my mind simply refuses to accept that people are basically assholes.

    Perhaps it is my upbringing that makes it difficult to see why there is an automatic link in so many minds between "something died" and "something was brutalized" - because only a skullhammering idiot shoots to maim, or incorrectly dispatches his dinner.

    Of course, if I did a blog post about the proper way to dispatch animals for butchery and ritual purposes, I highly doubt that would be lauded as charitable and educational.

    In any case, I find the responses interesting, if not expressly sensical to me. We're in agreement on one thing for sure: Attempting to discuss ethics never goes well - we could more easily discuss the free availability of high-def girl-on-girl erotica than whether or not it's fit and proper to brain a rat for Mr. Python's dinner (oh, and also to curse someone).

  7. "Perhaps it is my upbringing that makes it difficult to see why there is an automatic link in so many minds between "something died" and "something was brutalized" - because only a skullhammering idiot shoots to maim, or incorrectly dispatches his dinner."

    Thank you so much for this! This seems to be the brick wall that I find myself running into when attempting to talk to anyone outside of my circle of sacrifice. I have yet to be able to find a good reason for it, or a way for the people themselves to see that it's even there.

    Maybe it's as simple as the fear of the unknown. They have never been present for an animal being slaughtered for supper, and thus fill in the blanks with terror?

    Thank you for these posts, the discussion and continuing to be so forthwith and well spoken. Truly inspiring.

  8. Thank you for your open discussion on this. There has been a lot of death and brushes against it in my little world in the last couple of years. I treated it with respect and reverence from the beginning, said I would learn what it had to teach me but that there were lines I wasn't willing to cross. When Death gets your attention, you don't get to avoid its particulars any more. You have to own your choices and their consequences, whether that's dinner or how to handle the remains of an animal that's crossed your path. (And just like that we started eating less meat and what we eat is raised, as my mother says, "Like it's good enough for Jesus himself to eat.")

    While I haven't even been nudged towards crossing any of my lines yet, nor have I killed anything more than a bug on purpose myself, nobody seems to talk about the ethics of any of it, save some a couple of witches I know who hunt. The physical reality of being with a dead thing is a little hard for those raised in the city, even if you were raised with stories of grandparents' farms and killing chickens.

    Most of us are ill-prepared for real, unsterilized death in any form, let alone to delve into the ethics and particulars of each step in the process from living thing to parts for ritual use/food/etc. Because they're not an important and accepted part of our religious practices (as opposed to Voudou or Santeria), it's convenient to twist our fear and discomfort around the issue into being superior and civilized. In that, I think we've lost a lot of reverence and respect, a set of knowledge and skills, as well as a massive ethical understanding.

  9. Out here we live with ritual slaughter all around us in rural Africa. In fact, right now the ritual killing of cattle for the ANC centenary celebrations has just begun in Bloemfontein.

    Each weekend crate-loads of cockerels are brought in to the village to be strangled in voudoun rituals, large numbers of tortoises and iguanas are killed for body parts. And then we have goats slaughtered for ceremonial feasts. It's traditional, it's approved, it's culturally unassailable.

    I probably don't need to tell you that when this kind of sacrificial killing is done on a large scale and visibly, it is disconcerting if not scary and repulsive. And cruel. It may be efficacious as ritual but here in southern Africa we stand juxtaposed between the tensions of older traditional practices, a human rights culture and a growing awareness of cruelty to animals, the emergence of an animal rights awareness. I

    'm glad you brought up this topic Scylla -- I remain ambivalent and would never harm any living creature in my own ritual practices. For me that aspect of ritual is too problematic.

  10. Good morning
    English is not my native tongue, so I apologize if anything of what I am about to write doesn't make sense.
    @Harold - Regarding the invisibility bone, the original grimoire where it is written (Saint Ciprian's Book), does not mention that the cat has to be alive. That idea was added later. In the original the cat's body was boiled together with a specific herb (can't remember which one)for hours and hours until all meat was separated from the bones. In the same book there is also a ritual for the same thing where the cat's body is buried and fava beans are placed in it's body to grow and be harvested. One of the beans would have the magic. The cat was always supposed to be dead, and the only restriction was that it had to be a black cat.
    It bothers me that cruel people bring their cruelty to ritual.
    I have no problem with an animal being humanely (that is, without suffering)killed.
    @ everybody
    Personally (and that is just my opinion)I think that if there is an alternative to sacrifice that alternative should be used.
    In my own moral compass I equate animal sacrifice with animal testing (and the former is quite often less cruel). Whenever possible it should be avoided, but... in some cases that is not possible. If you're studying to make a vaccine against malaria you not only have to test in animals you have to test it on apes. It is cruel but it is for a greater good.
    I also think that if animal sacrifice is against a persons moral compass, that person can and should negotiate with the spirits for another kind of offering.
    There is a Voudon priest in Portugal that offers fruit to the Lwas, instead of animal sacrifice. His reasoning is simple : "I offer what I am willing to offer. Either they accept or they don't. In each case that is my problem, not yours."
    Works for him.

  11. Just to add -- in the older RuwaShona nyanga traditions it was understood that if you took the life of an animal/reptile and not from hunger, you would be required to give up your life in turn to that animal/reptile, to suffer death-dealing snakebite or piercing. Violence in return for violence. This may be how Khama III died.

  12. I also agree that the assumptions normally made about how an animal is treated in a ritual context could do with some untangling. For whatever reason, people assume from the get-go that only a "sadistic" person would ever consider ritual sacrifice. Clearly, some of the commentators Roth has come across were fascinated by the idea of making a living thing suffer. And clearly, Aleister Crowley was an asshole. But I don't think we should be talking about animal sacrifice and animal cruelty as if they're absolutely the same thing, and I don't think we're obligated to assume that anyone with an interest in the former has an interest in the latter.

    This is one of those subjects that the modern pagan community tends to have a knee-jerk reaction to, because they assume they know what's going on without asking any questions. Ritual evocation is another one of those subjects. The vast majority of eclectic pagans out there would think you were a horrible monster for working from the Book of Abramelin. I know, because I just had a 10 page argument about it last month with 10 reasonably educated people. Why? Because, in their minds, having a demon or spirit do your bidding is always wrong in absolutely every instance, and anyone who wants to do it is just a Christian jerk on a power trip. Also, you will go crazy and die.

    What's my point? I don't know. I just don't think a person should make a blanket judgment, all across the board, about something like this.

  13. "Tradition" is all too often a buzzword used as an excuse for engaging in behaviour which borders on the barbaric. After all, how often have we seen anti-gays laws and institutionalized homophobia excused under the banner of "defending" "traditional" marriage? Or, seen the religious persecuted of women and non-believers justified because it's "traditional" in some culture or another?

    It is one thing to humanely slaughter an animal for food, but another to torture it to death. I don't care what "tradition" is used as an excuse: animal cruelty has NO place in our modern world, any more than other "traditional" practices like slavery or female circumcision do. And, yes, that includes the meat-packing industry, magical practitioners of ANY persuasion, or what have you. I might also add that religious belief (usually) does not excuse you from obeying the law of the land, so to attempt to excuse torturing an animal under the mask of "religious freedom" as we've seen done recently is no excuse at all.

    A wise person draws from the past and from tradition what is timeless and relevant, instead of merely copying every little thing "because that's how it's always been." I myself follow a traditional path, but I also accept that we live in 2012 and not the Dark Ages. I would no more do some of the "traditional" spells requiring cruelty to animals and people than I would live in a wattle-and-daub house and die from the Plague because I knew nothing of medicine.

    I absolutely agree with Harold Roth that such primitive practices have no place in modern magic. They are inhumane, illegal, and go against everything we now know about the animal kingdom. Using religion or tradition as an excuse for this kind of behaviour is just as reprehensible as condoning slavery or human atrocity for the same reason. Cruelty is cruelty is cruelty, no matter what God or practice you blame it on.

  14. I just finished the excellent A Cornish Book of Ways, by Emma Gary, and she also indicated that the Cornish Toad Rite involves an already dead toad rather than a live toad pinned to anything. In high school classes it was very common for people to dissect live toads while their hearts are still beating right into recent memory. Do I think that was wrong, yes. However, one must remember that the ethics regarding treatment of animals have changed VERY recently, and so Traditional practices of just a few decades ago may not have "caught up" yet.

    I mean take ourselves back just a few decades when it was common practice to dissect a live frog to learn about how the heart works...Is that so much better than learning to speak to animals by doing virtually the same operation to a toad in the backwoods? Did the classroom setting make it okay?

    I am grateful that folks like Scylla and Gemma Gary are coming out and giving examples of the toad rite done with a found dead toad. More discussions like this should be out there so that people will stop doing things like buying pet toads and killing them, etc. At least if someone finds a dead toad or buys one from a scientific firm, if they rite doesn't work out, it wouldn't have involved a botched crucifixion of a live animal (that may or may not be endangered).

    I know a lot of it must be kept secret, but the "cat" is out of the bag so to say with Chumbley's article and book, and he isn't alive to clarify his works now.

    I know reading both Scylla's and Gary's thoughts on this helped me feel better about the whole thing. I encourage dialog about "modern traditional" ways to do the same heavy work, but also keep what is useful and discard what is obsolete (as Jack Darkhand put it) about the darkness in our practices.

  15. @ Everyone - there's something very interesting happening here, and has been quite worth reading through and deleting some of the more person-attacking comments to find. This has very clearly illustrated a divide between two camps - "Anything involving the death of an animal is inherently cruelty and torture" and "It's only torture when it's torture, and then it's just disgusting and vile."

    I've also seen a clear demarcation applied to culture and society - "We're THIS kind of society, not THAT kind." with the suggestion that one has to do what society and social pressure tells them, not what the law tells them. Another stumbling block. And also a suggestion that "THAT" kind of culture is just all "primitive" and "misguided" - which comes across as that old "Savages" trope. Meh... doesn't hold water with me.

    It's very, very, interesting. And rest assured I won't drop a topic I feel strongly about any time soon. But I'll be on top of the comments making sure no one starts slinging mud.

  16. Wow, what a fascinating and thorny topic. There is enough grist here for several generations of Philosophers of Occult Ethics to write books and debate about... should there aver be such a thing. It seems to me that the main quandry here boils down to this:

    Does death equal cruelty?

    And if so, or if not, then why? It's an incredibly complex question, touching on culture, socialization, ethical concerns, and a dozen other things. It seems to me to be a reflection of modern Western Society's near total disconnect with death, and Death (a darker mirror, I believe, of our fundamental disconnect with the natural world as a whole). I believe that this disconnectedness is one of the roots in the tangle of this topic.

  17. @Scylla...
    "And rest assured I won't drop a topic I feel strongly about any time soon."

    Am curious. I took the point of both posts to be a discussion on the ethics of the topic. Was that not what was intended? I have found both your posts and the comments very interesting and am sorry that it has made you hesitant to post your thoughts on serious topics. Granted, I have not seen the comments you've had to delete.

    "There is a Voudon priest in Portugal that offers fruit to the Lwas, instead of animal sacrifice. His reasoning is simple : "I offer what I am willing to offer. Either they accept or they don't. In each case that is my problem, not yours." Works for him."

    This to me is a much more intuitive and reasonable way of working. Outside the box. Doing what you believe, not believing what you do. And certainly not believing or doing something because that's how it's always been done before.

    I think much of value can be learned from old ways and traditions, but it has to be balanced with an understanding of the systems that were in place which helped to form those traditions. Testing them out for oneself can be instrumental in growing as a person and cementing what one believes, but in the end, you have to be willing to chuck what doesn't mesh.

  18. @dre - it is a discussion of ethics, but my ethics are well-settled on the matter. I feel very strongly about defending the position that just because something has been killed does not mean it has been tortured.

    I feel very strongly that lumping "it COULD be done wrong" into "it WILL be done wrong" is willfully ignorant of reality.

  19. @Scylla: Here's something else worth considering.
    You talk about contacting the Spirits involved in the permissions and ethics surrounding ritual sacrifice; which is a good point to bring up, and I think your reasoning on the matter is sound. I think this reasoning is borne out of the type of occult work that assumes these Spirits to be real beings that have an existence outside the mind of the practitioner. However, I am given to understand that some schools of thought among modern Pagans or Occultists (not all, mind you, but certainly a not insignificant number) regard such powers as reflections of the practitioner's psyche or Higher Self, "archetypes," or non-sentient energy patterns. So, such ethical questions become merely self-reflective exercises in "giving oneself permission" to do things, and such a person might reach a very different conclusion regarding the ethics of sacrifice than one who has had direct and visceral contact with externally existing Deities or Spirits. I think that such a person would be much more likely to see animal sacrifice (or any type of blood sacrifice for that matter, even the non-lethal variety) as wholly frivolous.

  20. @Cindy - that's a point that had not occurred to me to be honest. To me, the spirits are real and external. I can't imagine why someone would practice Craft that involved religious elements if they did not believe in the external reality of said elements.

  21. @Raven - About your claim that it is illegal. Well, it's not:

    "Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993),[1] was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held an ordinance passed in Hialeah, Florida that forbade the 'unnecessar[y]' killing of 'an animal in a public or private ritual or ceremony not for the primary purpose of food consumption' as unconstitutional." -wiki

  22. @Nicole - notice the wording of the Hialeah case - " in a {snip} ritual or ceremony not for the primary purpose of food consumption"
    They knew enough to cover their asses and not discriminate against Kosher or Halal... which involves sacrifice to Big-G-God, but drew the line at heathen gods. That in and of itself is extremely telling in the whole ball of wax.

  23. My reaction to this issue was precisely over the cruelty of crucifying a toad, and only secondarily about whether it was ever ethical to kill an animal for a magical ritual. They are two different things, IMO. IME, too many people in the traditional witchcraft community (and some in Neopaganism as well) see killing an animal for a rit as a badge of authenticity. Certainly the idea that "real witchcraft is red in tooth and claw" has been expressed repeatedly in my presence. Folks identifying themselves as practitioners of traditional witchcraft even repeatedly emailed me about my site page on herbal codes and linked to it with mockery, saying herbal codes were obviously a Wiccan invention because only Wiccans would ever think that the phrase "black cat's brain" referred to part of a plant instead of the actual brain of an actual cat. But I had information from the Greek Magical Papyrus listing these codes. So there's a lot of just plain ignorance and disinformation out there, and frankly, I hate to see people killing things because they think it is going to make them a "real" witch. People should definitely talk about this openly.

    I do understand that people are seeking authenticity in magic (and in a lot of other things), and I suspect that's where the popularity of something like this toad bone rit comes from. It's taking an animal's life, but it's a "small" life, so perhaps that makes it more acceptable to people. In my opinion, authenticity doesn't come from rituals (or who initiated a person or what group they're in or whether, god forbid, they have "witchblood"). It comes from results. A good magic worker should be able to work with basically nothing. If a sacrifice is necessary, there is always one's talents, time, work, and creativity.

    Scylla, I understand that you and some others you referred to where using toads that were dead already. Are you saying that you in that sense rewrote the rit? Or was that the way the rit was presented to you?

  24. I got back from Luanda last week -- a melting pot for voundoun energies and inventiveness -- and so this thread is interesting in terms of how we look at evolving cultural understandings. What is curious for me here is the notion of traditions or practices that are not evolving, that remain fixed or reified, and the idea that the Spirits guiding those practices are not responsive to social crises or new sensitivities.

  25. @Harold - As someone who owns a major website and resource, who has given an air of "mastery" through such a site, I imagine you attract far more attention from those seeking attention and validation than others do. That's something you might want to consider.

    Re: "Dead vs. alive" - The rite is a really narrow definition, at least if it's to be The Waters. It doesn't have to involve killing something, but it might, and if it does it's best to do it quickly and painlessly. Don't plan, or scheme, or try to "make" it happen - it doesn't work that way, and if you try to force it it'll knock your teeth in. If you're called to it it's still going to challenge your sanity.

    Of course, that information comes from Old-Line Traditionalists who do take stock in things like Initiation and Witch Blood - that may or may not factor into your view of it's merit.

    @Marya - It's been my experience that the spirits are responsive to the changes in the world, but that some just plain don't like it. It's also been my experience that they still ask for the -old- offerings from oldworlders and those who live similarly to oldworlders. That it's acceptable to say "no", but then very impolite to go asking them for a boon afterward.

  26. Part of the reason why I quit reading traditional witchcraft forums and lists is because I felt that a lot of things like this issue were not ever really examined. The idea that animal sacrifice was OF COURSE part of traditional witchcraft (and the more brutal the more authentic) was just a given to a lot of people on these forums and lists, it seemed to me. It was like people got all their information about witchcraft from watching sixties movies about witches. They didn't for the most part read any history and often even dismissed historical knowledge. I'm not saying this is peculiar to traditional witchcraft by any means; it's everywhere. But it just got to the point where I no longer wanted to discuss these issues or read what people who were IMO uninformed about history had to say about them.

    The trashing of my herbal codes page occurred on a traditional witchcraft forum; I happened to see the link in my raw stats and then went to read the thread with the trashing and the gnashing of teeth about Wicca, which is like obligatory in traditional witchcraft, like genuflecting for Catholics. I also received a few emails on that page until I put up the information about how some of it is from the Greek Magical Papyrus and gave the sections in question. But generally when people email me, it is for help, not to tell me I don't know what I'm talking about. I think probably people give if anything too much credence to someone's knowledge if they run a shop--as you say, an air of mastery. I did just get an attempted comment on my blog saying I don't know what I am talking about in terms of witchcraft, and I suppose that was on account of my posting here.

    Well, I am glad you gave the opportunity to me and to others to raise questions about this issue.

  27. @Harold - I agree on the kvetching about Wica/Wicca thing. It seems to be that if one does not, and one calls them-self Traditional, they will come under scrutiny. It's like being "Goth" and not bitching about "Jocks", or being in the "Vampire" community and not bitching about "Lifestylers". Personally, I have a rather different view, and consider that "Traditional" is "Traditional".

    I -do- read history; witchcraft history, folkloric history, and regular old "And so and so came to power until he was killed" history. there is a precedent for animal slaughter in a ritual context, but no one really has a lot of information ON that context. The Witch-Pits in Cornwall might be an exception given that they span from the 1600's up until the 1970's, and each one includes some sort of animal remain and offering. But if any Cornish Old-Crafters know about that, they're not talking.

    I am always willing to continue to discuss and re-discuss issues up to the point where it becomes the flagellation of a dead equine (like the Whitewashing History post became). I felt that this discussion was at one point -headed- in that direction, but seems to have stopped. What this has lead into is a lot of ideas about assumption and motivation - It does not occur to me that there are idiots out there who lie, fake, cheat, dabble, and generally fuck around. I see them as the mutants, not the gene pool.

    Each time I am reminded of their existence I go "Ah, right... morons. Why don't I think about the morons". If I think about the morons, my stance does not change, but my treatment of my stance does.

  28. I went back to look at the entry on whitewashing history you referred to and one of your comments about archeologists treating some layers of a dig like rubbish made me think of a book you might be interested in. It's a history of art book on the depiction of witches in art: The Appearance of Witchcraft: Print and Visual Culture in Sixteenth-Century Europe by Charles Zika. Even the paperback is expensive; I got it used for less. But what's pertinent about it is that a lot of the imagery that is used in the picture Grimassi cropped for his book was being used by other artists, and Zika shows a whole historical progression of how one element, like the witch riding a goat or the imagery in the smoke rising from a cauldron, appeared at a particular time in particular prints and then the whole thing just builds on previous prints, a palimpsest. He also shows how in art of that time period, witchcraft doesn't start out having anything to do with the devil; it's just stuff people do. Attacks on Christian heretics later provide imagery for depictions of witchcraft. I got it because I thought it would be a source of artwork related to witchcraft (and because I love the image on the cover), but it is more like an illustration of elements that were applied to witchcraft from outside it. And it demonstrates the accretion you mentioned in your comment. Just thought I would mention it given your interest in art.

  29. Hello Scylla and Harold! I was following the thread here (I guess I'm sort of a lurker, lol), and I am interested in learning more about the archaeological dig you were referencing. Would you be willing to share a link or more information on it? I find it amusing that some parts of the stratigraphy would be treated like rubbish, when we are trained to treat rubbish like treasure, haha (I just spent the summer carefully excavating a turn of the century trash pit, for example). Not saying it doesn't happen, of course! Anyway, I am always on the look out for information on witchcraft from an archaeological perspective; it's pretty scarce compared to that of other religions.

  30. Audra - in the entry "Whitewashing History" - - there's some discussion of the issue of "discarded" history. The archaeological site I refer to in Cornwall are known as the "Witch pits" of Saveock Water. Googling that will turn up all sorts of information.

  31. Thank you, Scylla! I'll go check it out right now.

  32. I apologize if my question has already been answered and I'm beating a dead horse (insert rimshot here, because I'm a terrible person).
    Anywhose, I seem to be missing the point. *Why* do animals need to be sacrificed?

  33. @Hart - Why are animals butchered? To be eaten.
    We eat physical substance because we -are- physical substance. Spirits eat spirit, because they are spirit.

    So "need"? Subjective - not everyone will be called to that path. But the reason those who are called do so? Because the Spirits are hungry, and must eat. Otherwise they languish and starve.

    Some gods can and do receive vegetable offerings - corn, roots, leaves. Some, like people, prefer a varied diet.

    1. @Scylla Comprehension has been achieved, thank you :)

  34. Of course, another element that must be considered in all this is if the ethics of our society are truly superior to the ethics of the ancient societies from which these rituals come. If modern ethics are truly superior, why should we follow the old ways. And if we should follow the old ways, did we not come to them because they were superior to the modern ways in some form or other?

  35. In Nigeria, all the animals I saw used for sacrifice to deities were killed first (machete chopped off the head or cut the throat), then the parts divided out, offered to the deity, and the other parts cooked and eaten (god, goats, chickens).

  36. Having lived on farms for about half my life I've killed and slaughtered plenty of animals. I was 8 the first time. It's just a normal and natural part of life to my perspective. And according to how I was raised, you do it as safely, efficiently and quickly and painless as possible. That almost goes without saying, as Scylla said: It's easy to assume that people understand this when you live that way.

    People have some weird definitions of cruelty though. Random example: I was helping out a neighbour who had a rat problem. One huge giant beastie was causing all kinds of mischief and there was concern about him being a disease carrier. My city-bred neighbour didn't have any luck with trapping the thing. I offered to give them a hand with rat proofing the house etc ... whilst cleaning out the basement, we came across the offending rat. Without thinking, I dove, grabbed the little beastie by the tail and before he could escape (and before any else could react) I swung him and dashed his brains out on the concrete floor. Boom insta-dead in a single motion. My neighbour has horrified. She actually cried and everything. I tried pointing out that poisoned traps (which is what they had been using) was much, much more cruel and a much slower and more painful death than the one I gave the rat. It didn't matter though. To her mind the fact that I killed the rat with/by my own hand was worse than passively killing it with poison ... death by being trapped in a box shitting it's guts out.

    How messed up is THAT?

    Personally, I think everyone should have to catch, kill, slaughter and eat something once in their life.

    Seeking alternatives to torturing the wee toady sounds like a damned good idea to me. Coming from farm folk, quick and as pain free as possible is my default.

    Killing doesn't = cruelty in my mind. Killing = perfectly normal and natural state of the world. Everything dies, most things die by being killed by something else.

    Killing for pleasure or power and drawing out the animals pain and suffering does = cruelty in my mind. Torturing a toad to death for no reason other than it's more traditional that way is just plain stupid.

    It also defeats the purpose of the rite. The rite is not about being a cool, dark, awesome witch who tortures things for bragging rights.

    Would I sanction someone who choose to torture a toad for the rite? That would depend on their reasons for doing so. It would depend on whether they really were called to do it or were just doing it to do it or to be traditional. If they had be reluctant, grieved, felt bad and conflicted but ultimately decided that was what must be done. Then I'll give them a pass. Because the world is fucked up place, man.

    I also know that anyone who would do the rite in such a manner probably wouldn't brag about it on their blog! Which makes me suspicious of those who do.

    I have scarified animals. because I have lived on farms and the animal needed to die anyways. Better to do in a ritual manner, with love and care, in sacred space, sending the animal's soul to whichever spirit or deity demands it. Giving some of it back to the land.

    My bag for my casting collection is partially made with the black hide of a goat once named Baa-phomet. So sue me, hate me, call me cruel. He had a good life, a good death and his memory is honoured to this day.

    Those witches who bitch that it's wrong to kill animals for ritual purposes? How many of them have a skull they bought from ebay on their altar? Do they KNOW how that animal died? I bet not.

    I'd rather be elbow deep in guts and face the reality of what I am doing, than get some bleached bone or hide from ebay that who knows where it came from or how it was treated or how it died.

    Am I capable of torturing a toad to death? Yes. Would I avoid if I could. Hell, yes.

  37. This has certainly been interesting. I grew up on a farm, hunting, butchering, and killing predatory animals who threatened our food source were natural things that we just 'did', a 'traditional' practice for us. However, intentionally inflicting prolonged pain on any of those animals and not simply ending it's life as quickly as possible would NEVER have occurred to anyone in my family and if it had such a thing would have been met with severe chastisement from those in charge. I still do some butchering for food, and some killing of predatory animals that make their home in my yard and are not safe to remain there with my child playing outside. I do this as humanely as possible, and use their parts in my craft, after honoring their spirit.

  38. It occurred to me somewhere upstream that it really is all about upbringing.
    It has never, NEVER, entered my mind that any practitioner would torture an animal. A crazy person? Yes. A dabbler? Probably.

  39. I think it's very interesting that the conversation always go to defending what we do as "right" whether in general, or for us. We walk outside the main stream, and perhaps the magic is often bound my doing an act that is wrong. I'm not Christian, Wiccan, or Buddhist, and being a witch does not command me to right action. In fact, stepping out of one's comfort zone, and personal ethics is a power unto itself. Not advocating, personally I don't believe in right or wrong as defined by actions.

    Just a thought.