The conversation turned to chickens at a wedding this weekend. “We haven’t named ours, have you named yours?” It seems like I run into a fellow novice homesteader every couple of months or so.
Our experience with chickens couldn’t be more different than our table neighbor. We named ours, he didn’t, we’ve been impressed by their intelligence…
“They’re incredibly stupid,” he said with certainty.
“Why do you think they’re stupid?”
“Even after others find their way through a fence, the ones left won’t follow.”
“So they can’t learn?”
“Right, they don’t learn.”
Another difference between us and our wedding friend is that we’re not raising chickens for meat – yet. Its easier to kill things without names, without souls. Will our chickens look stupid when we kill them? Is that a way to protect ourselves from feeling the souls of the animals we eat? Who gets to have a spirit in our culture?
There was a time when some people thought only white people had souls. That gave us the right of sovereignty over other people and the land they occupied. Without a soul, sovereignty is impossible.
Shamanism reveals that all things have spirit, all things are in fact made up of soul. The state of one’s sovereignty is related not only to the nature of one’s soul, but the nature of all souls. We are part of a community of souls, sovereignty depends on the harmony of our community.
|Violette not being stupid.|
Having a name is perhaps the first step to gaining sovereignty in our world. Terry and Tadg named our chickens. I didn’t, not because I didn’t want to be attached to them, but because I didn’t know what their names were yet. I’m happy with the names they’ve given them: “Hey you!” doesn’t seem as effective as “get a move on Violette!”
Learning to psychopomp the gophers I kill has helped prepare me for caring for our livestock. I think I can kill animals whose name I know and whose sovereignty I respect, now that I know I can participate in caring for their souls. I care for these souls while alive, why not as they pass over?
I wasn’t raised in a hunting family, except for fishing. My Dad loved to fish, I spent a lot of time on shores and in boats. He had that quixotic appreciation of, and insensitivity to, nature that is the hallmark of our culture. We love the natural world, so long as we can still throw our cigarette butts out the back of the boat and be home in time for the game. I think this is changing though.
The shamanic journey awakens us to the spiritedness of all things, and to the special responsibility we have to creatures we kill for food. It’s disrespectful to eat anything without honoring its soul, which I also think of as its sovereign self. An animal needs to express its true nature, to live a real life, if its spirit is to be satisfied and move on after death. Not honoring the nature of a thing we depend on for life is a way of poisoning our own well. We create discord, lose our own sovereignty, life falls out of balance. You don’t have to look far to see proof of this.
When we first thought about getting chickens I journeyed to the spirit of the land to talk with her about it. I wanted to make sure it was a good idea, and get her input as to where the coop would go. I was surprised at her excitement over the prospect of chickens on the land. I’d never seen her so delighted. She LOVES chickens. I think she loves the vitality they bring. The dirt they scratch up, the food they eat, the eggs they provide and the poop that helps everything grow seem to fill her with joy. Mostly though, she just loves them.
Chickens do learn, just not what we want them to learn. One of our chickens takes off during the night, where she goes we still don’t know. She shows up for food every now and then – moving on when her other life calls out to her. If I or my wedding friend were left alone in the woods night after night, how would we fare? I think the chicken would come out on top every time. I’m sure this chicken has a thing or two she could teach us. I think she’d convince us that it’s high time for some Shamanic Animal Husbandry.