Pagans and Hunting

Hunting Pagans
Many Pagans today hunt, much as our ancestors did long ago. David De Lossy / Getty Images

Question: Pagans and Hunting - How Do Pagans Feel About Hunting?

A reader writes in and asks, "Pagans are supposed to be peaceful, earth-loving people who care about animals and cause no harm. So how come I meet Pagans who think it's okay to hunt and kill animals?"


First of all, just like in any other religion, people are people, first and foremost. Some Pagans probably love roller coasters and some like Hello Kitty, but that doesn't mean all of them do. Secondly, it's very important that you understand (a) not all Pagans follow the rule of "Harm None" and (b) even among those who do follow it, there are varying interpretations. It's impossible to say that all Pagans are "supposed to be" anything.

For many Pagans, equally as important as the idea of caring about animals is the concept of responsible wildlife management. The fact is, in some areas, wild animals such as whitetail deer, antelope, and others have reached the status of nuisance animal. In the state of Ohio alone, the whitetail population is estimated at over 750,000. Some are hit by cars, others die when the amount of animals in an area outweighs the available resources, and still more are plagued by disease caused by overpopulation. For many hunters, Pagan or not, eliminating some of these animals is seen as an act of mercy and of responsible wildlife management. Not only that, any responsible hunter does so fairly - no shooting at wolves from helicopters, or unethical practices like that.

How do you think our ancient Pagan ancestors got their food? They hunted and fished and trapped, and caught it. Most of the Pagans - or anyone else, for that matter - in centuries gone by were not vegetarians. They were people of the land, who lived responsibly and caught what they could eat. What they didn't need, they left alone, allowing it to scamper away and go on to create life for the next season. Most ancient cultures had deities that personified the hunt. In parts of Britain, Herne (an aspect of Cernunnos) symbolized the wild hunt, and was depicted wearing the antlers of a great stag, carrying a bow and horn. In Greek mythology, Artemis is not only a goddess of the hunt, but also a protector of animals. Most cultures had gods and goddesses associated with hunting.

For modern Pagans who do hunt (or fish, or trap), hunting is a way to get back to the natural world as our ancestors did, to provide healthy food for our family, and to pay tribute to those who survived hard times in centuries gone by. In some traditions, the hunt is still ritualized, and the deer or other animal is honored as sacred following the kill. Even the consumption of the animal is celebrated.

That said, obviously, there are many Pagans who are opposed to hunting. It's okay to disapprove of it if you so choose, and there are any number of reasons why someone might find hunting objectionable. Perhaps you're a vegan or vegetarian who things eating meat is unnecessary. Maybe you think it's inhumane to kill animals with a bow or gun. Maybe you have a reason rooted in your spiritual beliefs - it could be that your deities disapprove of hunting on principle. All of these are perfectly legitimate stances when it comes to making choices for how you live your own life.

Hunting is one of those issues that there are clearly dividing lines on, in the Pagan community. Much like eating meat, it's one of those things that you don't have to do if you don't want to, and if your tradition forbids you from hunting, then don't do it. However, keep in mind that everyone's path is different, and each of us lives by our own set of values and guidelines. Don't be surprised if those Pagans who DO hunt get frustrated when you try to lecture at them about how they're "not supposed to" do it.