Meeting the Meat: An Animal Initiation
We are reasoning Pagans. We revere the Earth and Cosmos without gilding the lily with the supernatural.
We are poets and singers, dancers and artists. We paint the sky with our pigments, our tones, our voices, the products of our loving hands.
And under all that, all that lovely amazing late-evolution neocortical creativity and executive function, there is The Animal.
The Animal that, frankly, kind of scares us. It’s sweating and eating and breathing and excreting and lusting, and none of that is under our control. It’s as if our consciousness is surfing a powerful, turbulent wave of capricious, hungry, insistent flesh…except that the consciousness is the wave, too, not separate from it.
That fear isn’t an accident. Civilization has required that, in order to live in such dense populations, we damp down The Animal: that we be less violent, certainly, less physical, but also less embodied, less lively than we might otherwise have been. We suffer social punishment if we do not do this.
Other cultures throughout the world–including bygone European cultures–have had ways of celebrating and accommodating The Animal: rites of wildness and chaos. Bacchanalia. Dionysian rites. Feasts and orgies. Dressing up like Wild Men and Wild Women. Holidays in which power roles were reversed, like the Lord of Misrule at Yule, and The Animal was allowed to come out for awhile, before tucking safely back behind our civilizing cultural norms.
I don’t know enough about cultures of other places to represent them here, but I know enough to say the theme of the Animal-informed person is widespread across the globe and across time. Thus, “spirit animals”, clan totems, the many animal mask/dance ritual traditions of Sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania, and so forth. Indeed, the oldest humanoid figure known to survive is a lion-headed man carved of mammoth ivory and found in Germany, dating from 40,000 years ago.
We, however, inheritors of the Puritanism of the Protestant Reformation and its sour disapproval of pretty much everything except prayer, profit-making and obedience, do not live in such a culture. Even as capitalism works to stir our Animal hungers to try to sell us products, the palpable disapproval of those hungers lingers in our societies.
In today’s Pagandom, we realize what we have lost through the civilizing process… particularly when it comes to the rejection of bodily pleasure that so characterizes the miserable faiths of the Abrahamic line. We don’t look askance at wild dancing and thundering drums, at howling at the Moon. They feel good, the animal exhibitions of passion and celebration. And so long as we don’t hurt the Earth or each other, we embrace feeling good.
Sometimes—particularly when I need to wear a suit for some work reason, like lobbying an official—it will suddenly strike me: I’M AN ANIMAL. Walking, under this civilizing armor, I am warm, wet bones, muscles gliding in smooth motion, penis shifting back and forth, skin singing with the touch of fabric from a thousand points. I am my hunger, the sense of middling fullness in my bladder, the energetic zing of caffeine. I am an animal, alive and aware. Hunting. Foraging. Seeking. Safe, and confident in its power.
I feel it as a secret power. Not that others aren’t also animals, but they are doing their best not to know it. I am embracing it. And somehow it makes me powerful.
So here is a solo* ritual you can do to acquaint yourself with your Animal self.
NOTE: This is a ritual that requires a significant degree of comfort with your body. The Animal is embodied and physical–if you have challenges in this area I would encourage healing work to build love for and confidence in your physical self before conducting this ritual.
- Access to a bathtub and a full-length mirror, and a prepared space you don’t mind getting dirty.
- Aromatic fresh herbs such as thyme, culinary sage, and rosemary, tied up in a cheesecloth sachet.
- Epsom salts.
- Liquid slip made from white, red and/or black clay, each mixed with water to make a thin paint, in separate dishes. You may make a paintbrush for daubing this slip on your body by chewing the end of a stick, if you wish, or use your hands.
- Hearty food edible by hand (a piece of cold cooked meat, or some heavy, crunchy vegetables are good choices) and water.
PREPARATION: Preferably, do this on the night of the full Moon.
Take a bath in water into which a sachet of fresh aromatic herbs and two handfuls of epsom salts has been cast. Use be sure to submerge all parts of yourself at least once. Dry yourself, but don’t dress. If you have jewelry you use during rituals, you can put that on if you choose.
Put on some ritual music. I like drumming for work like this, especially the complex, liberating rhythms of Afro-Caribbean, Middle Eastern or African drumming. As examples, here are some YouTube videos that you can choose from for a playlist soundtrack for your ritual:
ARRIVAL: Light candles to illuminate your ritual working space. If you like, burn earthy incense like myrrh or sandalwood. Carefully and mindfully lay out a Focus of all-natural objects: stones, fur, leaves, feathers, leather, bones, wood. Fossils are a good choice.
Close your eyes, and regulate your breathing until you are taking long, deep breaths. Feel your belly and chest rising and falling with your breath, and listen to the sound of your breath in your ears. Feel the pulse of your heartbeat in your chest. Your body is living, processing, carrying out all the many functions of being an animal.
Now, begin to accelerate your breathing until you are panting. Make noises while you are panting until you are grunting and snarling. Feel your animal nature rising within you, with its hungers and instinctual responses. Continue until you feel fully transformed into your animal nature.
QUALITIES/INVOCATIONS: Now that you are transformed into the Animal, grunt and snarl your invocation of your animal nature. The rest of the ritual is done in a preverbal mode: without human words.
WORKING: Continuing to growl, slowly, deliberately, run your hands over your body. Feel your skin, your muscles, the lean places and the fat places. Own this: it is you.
Gaze into the mirror, and growl at yourself. See the Animal there: the primate’s jaw and brow, the close-set mammal’s eyes, sprouting hair, sound-gathering ears. See yourself, and know that you are an animal creature of Earth.
Use the clay slip to draw designs on your face and on your body: perhaps tiger stripes or spots, or other animal designs. People all over the world use clay to decorate themselves–you can look for examples, many of them are very beautiful. Clay will wash off easily, but you may want to have a cloth to stand on to protect the floor while painting it on. Or not–animals really don’t care about such things!
Once you have applied your clay decorations, be sure to admire yourself in the mirror.
If there is a safe and private place where you can go outside, do that and howl at the Moon. If not, put on a robe or other covering and go out (or to a window) to gaze at the Moon and quietly “howl” at it.
GRATITUDE: Take the food you have prepared and eat it with your hands, washing it down with water. Be messy. Feel the nourishment entering your body, the good Earth providing for you. Know the gratitude of an animal well fed.
BENEDICTION/CLOSURE: With a final few growls or a howl, honor your Animal nature before letting it sink back to within your skin and down under the layers of culture and civilization that inform you. You can now draw upon your Animal nature at any time you feel you need it; it is especially adept at survival and setting firm boundaries.
Wash the clay from your face and gaze in the mirror again: see the Animal lurking in there? It’s your deepest ally, a powerful part of yourself. Speak your name to yourself in the mirror, and say, “welcome back.”
Blow out the candles. The ritual is complete.
Be sure to thoroughly ground when you are done, perhaps with a shower to wash off the rest of the clay.
*This ritual can easily become a powerful and intimate couple or group ritual if participants are comfortable enough to do it together. They can use the slip to paint designs on one another, and dance their animal natures after the slip dries. If done as a couple or group ritual, communicate nonverbally until the ritual is over: with grunts, whistles, hoots, imitation bird calls and so forth.
Illustration: “The Sorceror”, engraving from the Neolithic cave at Lascaux,
showing half man/half animal figure
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