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Painting by Michael A. Hampshire in The Celts from Time-Life's Emergence of Man Series, 1974, page 28

Through the Sacred Fires:
The Animals of Beltane
Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
27 April 2004

Spring Equinox, Passover, Easter, Earth Day, and Beltane (May Day) all fall within a brief six week period each year.  These spring celebrations involve themes of renewal, trust in the deeper currents of life, and unexpected help in the darkest of times.  All of these celebrations respect natural processes aligned with the mysterious divine.  The rich ritual legacy Christ left Christendom, for example, centers around simple bread from earth's fields of grain and wine from earth's sunripened grapes.  What Christ left his believers -- what was important to him -- were not those sufferings so graphically depicted this spring by Mel Gibson but, rather, bread and wine transformed within the great web-of-life and shared in communion with human beings, themselves intimately woven into that same web-of-life.  These are natural processes shimmering within the Sacred.  We should not forget this.

This year, spring, with its promise of new life and fertility, has arrived across much of the Northern Hemisphere but it comes shrouded in mounting statistics of death from a misbegotten, tragic war in Iraq.  Sigmund Freud contrasted death with eros, or life-force, that sweet juicy urge to procreate and enjoy life to its fullest.  For Freud, death was frozen, safe, predictable -- it never changed.  Thus, it safeguarded the status quo of self-perpetuating violence, which made it the antithesis of the life-force of eros.   Those who wish to preserve their power and wealth always favor death, which is why they so easily, even carelessly (despite rhetoric to the contrary), unleash war, poverty, and repression against those who oppose them.

Death is the darling of political leaders.  But Freud saw a prevailing death-wish influencing not only the powerful, but also most of humanity, for too many people live without any hope of kinder changes in their lives.  Near the end of Freud’s life, as Europe was engulfed in another fiery war, perhaps the closest he ever came to praying lay in his hope that humanity’s obsessive death-wish would somehow find a healthier balance with the life-force of eros.  Freud died in 1939 -- sadly, these past sixty-five years of continuing military flare-ups worldwide have brought his hope no closer to being realized.  Life’s dismal twin continues to stalk the globe on battlefields, in frightened cities, and throughout our increasingly vulnerable and ravaged eco-systems.

Beltane (alternate spellings include Beltaine, Beltene, and Bealtaine), an ancient Celtic fire-festival, falls within the astrological sign of Taurus the Bull, thereby associating the celebration with the robust life-force of eros in humans and their herds.   Given this association, as Beltane nears again, one special aspect of contemporary society comes into chillingly clear focus: our attitude towards cattle – our major source of meat and milk.

Beltane was once a time in which one’s cattle were honored in rituals of protection, purification, and fertility.  Just as they were driven to their winter pastures at the beginning of the Celtic year at Samhain (Halloween), so were they driven to their high pastures for the summer six months later at Beltane.  It was a sacred time, for one’s status and wealth were measured by one’s herds and any threat to their lives and health directly impacted one’s own.  Protecting one’s animals, as Celtic scholar Miranda Green writes in another context, “is closely associated with the supernatural world and not simply a profane, secular activity” (Green:166).

The Celts knew that seasonal transitions were times of heightened supernatural strength, even danger.  Beltane and Samhain were the year’s two great fire festivals -- they divided the year in half and marked the time when the veils between the worlds were at their most vulnerable, when spirits moved freely through the portals and enchantment abounded.   In respecting such powers, the celebrations called for holy fires, kindled from the trees most revered by the Celts – among these were rowan, birch, apple, oak, hawthorn, holly, and alder.  Such magical woods were believed to be “specialists” in protecting and purifying people and animals from disease and infertility.   Where Samhain’s autumn fires were a time of thanksgiving, Beltane’s fires welcomed the sun’s return and therefore had specially focused powers of renewal.  That is why the Celts at Beltane drove their treasured herds and flocks along a narrow pathway between two banks of burning wood piles, through the holy, incense-like smoke, asking for mighty blessings upon the animals and themselves.  Peg Aloi at Witches’ Voice writes:

…As for purification, fire has always been seen as its chief agent. Traditionally, all domestic fires in Irish, English and Scottish households were extinguished on Beltane Eve, after having been kept lit continuously all year. Just before dawn, villagers would process with their animals up the hillsides to the highest point where fires would be kindled and relit for people to see for miles around. It was also traditional to build these fires out of nine of the sacred woods from Druidic folklore, including oak, ash, thorn, rowan, apple, birch, alder, maple, elm, gorse, holly, hawthorn, and others.

The bonfires were lit so that a narrow passage existed between two fires, so that cattle and other livestock could be led between the fires, to purify them from disease or sterility for the coming year. Torches of dried sedge, gorse or heather were also lit and carried around remaining flocks or stables, to further purify the air….

Cows in ancient Ireland were closely associated with various goddesses, especially those connected to rivers (cattle need to drink an average of 16 gallons of water/day, more for milch cows, so a good water supply is essential – see Green:13).   Feminist liberation theologian, Mary Condren, explores the fact that for the Celts, as well as Egyptians and many other ancient peoples, Mother Goddesses were often synonymous with a celestial cow giving generously of her milk to her children (Condren:26).  The cow, along with the vulture and serpent, were the symbols most associated with the Celtic goddess Brigit -- as a Divine cow, her milk was sacred food, drinking it was a “communion” with her, a healing cure, an antidote against poisonous weapons -- until the practice was forbidden in the 12th century, the Irish regarded cow’s milk as so sacred that they even used it instead of water to baptize their children (Condren:57-58; 232, fn.69).  Milk was crucial for another reason too, as Miranda Green writes, “especially in temperate Europe."  This, she explains, "is because it is a rich source of vitamin D, the other main source of which – sunlight – may be conspicuously scarce in this region” (Green:34).  It is tempting to suggest that on some mystical level the ancient Celts were aware that in drinking milk they were drinking sunlight.  (Note: for serious and unexpected nutritional hazards in today's milk, see: link updated 4/28/11)

The Celts of Ireland, Britain, and Gaul (France) generally did not slaughter their cattle for food until they were too old to be useful.  Until then, they were used for milking, breeding, ploughing, carrying heavy loads, threshing grain by trampling over it, and providing manure -- over fifty pounds per day, on average, and used moist as fertilizer and dried as fuel (Green:26-29).  Their meat by then, of course, was fairly tough.  The Celts were a hardy people who did not indulge cravings for tender, juicy steaks – their cattle were worth far more than that – just to train two plough-animals to work as a yoked team took about two years (Green:29).  Throughout the agricultural year, humans, their crops, and their animals were mutually dependent upon one another.  Of course, today, with tractors and artificial fertilizers, major functions once provided by cattle have become obsolete, allowing for large scale abuse of what functions remain.

The ancient Celts’ attitude toward their cattle was shared by many nomadic peoples from the Steppes and elsewhere but it finds no answering echo from ancient Greece – and regrettably, the Greek attitude is the one that has most influenced our own.  Greece was a collection of city-states.  Where Greek farmers might have one view of cattle, urbanites had quite another.  Predominantly agricultural areas, like the Peloponnesus, were considered backward, inhabited by rustic husbandmen, renegade bandits, over-sexed satyrs, and quick-tempered centaurs.

One Greek myth about a cow stands out among all the tangled tales of dynastic squabbles and amours, both human and divine.  It begins in Phoenicia (present-day Lebanon) where Zeus in the form of a bull raped the king’s daughter, Europa, and then carried her out to sea.  Her brother Cadmus determined to find her.  Not knowing where to look, he crossed the Mediterranean with a few companions and went to Delphi to consult the famous Delphic Oracle.  He was abruptly told to forget his abducted sister.  He was ordered instead to look for the first cow he saw when he left the temple.  Then he and his men were instructed to follow the cow and hound her until she fell down dead.  On that spot, they were to build a great city over which he was “destined” to rule.

Cadmus could have protested.  He could have stayed faithful to his original quest of rescuing his sister.  But he didn't.  With only a dead cow standing between him and a magnificent destiny, what young hero could resist?

I've always been struck by the insanity of that story.  It's fine to build a city where there’s a good source of water, or where you see the omen of a flock of unusual birds spinning up into the bright freedom of the wind, or an unknown tree bearing sweet fruits -- but not where an exhausted cow drops down dead.  Surely, such a terrible dishonoring of that desperate creature's life-force would make it an ill-omened place.  Only people completely out of touch with nature would build their city there.

But it was done – and that city was Thebes.

Semele burning to death in Zeus' lightnings after seeing him in his full power as a storm-god,
a sight too intense for her to endure --
Zeus has just pulled Dionysus from her womb to safety.

Cadmus never saw his sister again.  He would father five daughters, including Semele, the mother of the fertility god, Dionysus.  After Semele’s tragic death, her young son was persecuted and driven out of Thebes by the royal family.  When he returned years later, mature and fully divine, he found that Cadmus had resigned in favor of his grandson Pentheus but the men of Thebes still refused to acknowledge him as a god.  In revenge, he encouraged the scornful Pentheus to dress in women’s clothes and spy on the Theban women, who were his devotees.  The women were in the midst of their "mad" maenadic rituals, a time when they danced in the hills and nursed fawns at their breasts.  The women caught Pentheus spying on them, and Agave, his own maddened mother (and one of Semele’s sisters), not recognizing him, tore him to pieces with her bare hands and smeared her face with his blood.  Through this, the first Royal House of Thebes was destroyed and elderly Cadmus and his wife were exiled.

Thebes is also where Oedipus would be born.  In Freud's hands, the “Oedipus complex” became a fitting cipher for Western civilization, for we too are built on a foundation of thoughtless abuse of the natural world and of each other, with sons desiring their mothers and wanting their fathers dead.

Thebes: an ill-omened city indeed.

Mythology shows us the madness of founding a city where a harried cow drops down dead, but we too have now founded, not a city, but a meat-engorged, urban economy upon our dead cows.  We have destroyed precious rain forests so that cattle might graze and feed our craving for cheap "fast food."  Loopholes in the law allow those cattle to be fattened on feed "enriched" with the ground-up bodies, often diseased, of their own kind.  These cows and other hoofed animals (sheep, pigs, and goats) aren't cannibals.  It's against their nature -- and their natures are highly sensitive. Consider, for example, that many of them have the ability to sense earthquakes and other natural disasters.  They warn the more alert among us by their restless behavior, by shaking and moaning, for they are far more tuned into such earth-vibrations than we.  Given such sensitivity, how could we not have understood that feeding such creatures their own kind would surely cause a cataclysm in their cells, leaving them wide open to disaster?  Their distress left them vulnerable.

During the spring of 2001, few of us can forget the numbing horror of all those cows being burned, those more than two million stacked-up corpses of hoofed creatures in the UK and Europe. Those animals didn't ask to be born to be our food.  They, like all beings, took bodily form in a search for joy.  They wanted to play in the fields, feeling the sheer pleasure of their strong, supple bodies. They wanted to run, sleep, graze, dream, live. They didn't come here to be hurt.  But they were dumped into the flames by the thousands, surrounded by a toxic smoke through which their confused, suffering spirits had to rise.  These were sentient beings -- one need only look into their eyes to know they had souls, to know they suffered and grieved.  Long gone were the sweet-smelling fires of Beltane that once restored and honored their ancestors.

Although that spring crisis of 2001 is now behind us, because of the long incubation period of the human form of Mad Cow Disease  (i.e., “New Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease” or “vCJD,”, a fatal brain-wasting disease), hundreds of thousands of people remain at risk and may not know for decades if they are carrying the disease or not.  As Bradford Duplisea writes for the Canadian Health Coalition:

…According to Mad Cow disease expert Dr. Steven Dealer, like cattle, thousands - perhaps millions - of people may have been infected before the disease was first identified in 1996…. Because no one knows the length of the incubation period, which is currently speculated to be as long as 40 years, it is uncertain how many people will ultimately be infected. Dr. Dealer estimates that as many as 5 million people will contract the fatal disease in the United Kingdom alone….
As for the animals, Mad Cow Disease has an incubation period of four to seven years, which means that young animals exposed in 2001 might not show symptoms until 2005-2008.  In the meantime, inhumane and unchanged factory farming practices guarantee still more epidemics – it is simply a matter of time.  The next serious outbreak could easily be in the United States since few American politicians have the courage to take on lobbyists from the cattle industry.

In 2001, British-born Adrian Strong explored “the death industry which brings food to our tables” (see 4/28/11: unfortunately, link is now dead-- I've emailed Adrian, a former student of mine, and hope to be able to rescue his page).  He writes:

…Do we still have any reverence or even respect left for that which gives up its own life so we may continue our own? The image of mountains of carcasses piled up in a field, being machined by bulldozers and front-end loaders, is a powerful one. Auschwitz this is not, we can smugly say to ourselves - for the victims are not human - and yet the attitude of machine-mind which haunts the shadowy background of such images is not so dissimilar. Indeed is it not this same attitude which treats animals as mere units of production and gives rise to such “stock” diseases as Foot-and-Mouth and Mad-Cow? For what passes for food and treatment of these animals can in no way be imagined as adequate to a soulful life….
…The way we treat our daily food – as stock – not as a living sacrament which keeps us alive is an indication of just how removed we are from Life, and consequently from Death. Yet the powerful images we see on television speak for the slaughtered saying: “Yes, Look! This is the way we really are to you. Look at us! We are mere carcasses to you – not even Livestock, but Deadstock!”….

Confined cows in a Missouri factory farm
(From Factory

This Beltane no more cows are being incinerated because of Mad Cow Disease.  However, factory farming, or what Adrian Strong calls “the death industry which brings food to our tables,” now claims our attention – and our grief.  These practices have been prevalent in many parts of the world for decades and their link to Mad Cow disease is clear.  One might think beef cattle would be most at risk but actually factory farming practices in the dairy industry are among the most dangerous of all.  As UPI’s Medical Correspondent, Steve Mitchell, reports:

…Though dairy cattle are considered the most likely to develop mad cow, some of the top dairy slaughtering plants were sampled only a few times or not at all….

…Dairy cattle often are given feed supplemented with animal protein to enable them to produce the vast quantities of milk required in today's mass dairy operations. Ranchers in the United Kingdom incorporated cattle tissue into their cow feed because it was a cheap source of protein. This is thought to have contributed to the spread of the mad cow epidemic that hit the country in the 1980s because some of the cattle turned into feed were infected.

Although that practice has been banned in the United States, the ban did not go into effect until 1997 and several feed firms have been and are still in violation….

Ironically, this year on 8 April 2004, this year’s “Holy Thursday,” the day Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his followers, I learned from a casual conversation in my local supermarket that less than three miles away a factory farm for 1500-2500 dairy cows was in the preparation stages.  I was shocked and deeply troubled.   The cows will all live in huge buildings, never roaming free, milking will be done 24 hours a day, and their life expectancy is only four years.  The woman who told me this said someone's worked out the stats and that means approximately 1000 cows will die per year.  The company says the bodies will be buried, burned, or composted.  Hideous.  In those first hours, my only thoughts were of the cows – and what it would mean to live so close to such horror.  I felt helpless to stop such a massive dairy enterprise and I could not bear to live so close to the cruelly blighted lives of those mother-cows.

I would only learn later about serious human health concerns as well as plummeting property values.  It was barely a year ago that I retired and moved to this small southwestern Michigan town not far from Lake Michigan’s beautiful shores.  It is a rural area, quiet, friendly.  I bought an ivy-covered house – my first house – and assumed I would gently live out my years here.  But next door to a factory farm?  I felt my world crumbling around me.

These eco-systems are all intricately connected.  The "miasma" of all that airborn chemical soup will affect us all.  So will the contaminated water.  Even if I am far enough away to escape serious illness, if my neighbors are sick, my body is going to feel the terrible disharmony with or without my conscious awareness.  As my depression deepened, I realized I might somehow have to leave this place I dearly love. How could anyone laugh, or sing, or create, knowing what was happening three miles up the road?

A recently published, gripping book, Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust, by Charles Patterson, Ph.D., discusses our policies towards livestock by considering the connections between the treatment of Jews by the Nazis and modern society’s treatment of animals.  Although the appropriateness of its central analogy to Treblinka may disturb many, it comes from a Jewish vegetarian -- Yiddish writer and Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer, who wrote: "In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka."

An eternal Treblinka.  Had I been brought all across the country to live next door to that?  I couldn’t stop it, I couldn’t protect the cows, I couldn’t protect myself.  Once that “farm” opens, I wondered, am I meant to go to the site every evening at vespers and perform a simple ritual of grief and blessing for the lives those cows are living, and for those who had died that day?  I know myself, however – I could do that for a month or two, possibly even six, but eventually such proximity to all that pain and untimely death would erode my own will to live in a culture that could permit such things.   My hold on Freud’s eros would fade.

Patterson’s book begins with Freud:

Sigmund Freud put the issue of human supremacy in perspective in 1917 when he wrote, “In the course of his development towards culture man acquired a dominating position over his fellow-creatures in the animal kingdom.  Not content with this supremacy, however, he began to place a gulf between his nature and theirs.  He denied the possession of reason to them, and to himself he attributed an immortal soul, and made claims to a divine descent which permitted him to annihilate the bond of community between him and the animal kingdom.”  Freud called man’s self-appointed lordship over the other inhabitants of the earth “human megalomania”….
Patterson galvanizes a reader when he explores the mutual admiration between Michigan’s anti-Semitic Henry Ford and Adolph Hitler.  He argues that Ford’s assembly line for automobiles inspired Hitler’s ghastly “final solution” in which Jews became no more than animals to their slaughterers.  He writes this chilling passage:
…Throughout the history of our ascent to dominance as the master species, our victimization of animals has served as the model and foundation for our victimization of each other. The study of human history reveals the pattern: first, humans exploit and slaughter animals; then, they treat other people like animals and do the same to them….
I drove out to the factory farm site for the first time two days after I first learned about it – it was strange that it should be the limbo-time of Holy Saturday -- really eerie.  Corn stubble had been cropped close to the ground and the harsh, stubbled land now stretches forever, all dry and dead.  It's out in the country but less than 3 miles from me.  They have tractors and bulldozers far off in the distance on some low hills.  They want an Auschwitz for the cows, I thought.  It was quite spooky because it all felt so masculine and leaden.  "Dear Goddess," I prayed, "don't let them do this. Don't let them do it."  I drove and drove and kept praying as I looked out over the grim landscape, land already blighted by their machines.

But it can change. I can't believe the goddesses want this -- and it's time for them to make a move.  My driving through the area, and praying so lucidly, turned out to be my Easter ritual for the animals.

In the fortnight since I learned about the factory farm, I have spent time doing web searches and networking with a handful of neighbors who know the local situation far better than I and are more cunning than I in trying to protect both humans and animals in this small township.  We go step by step, one day at a time, with no idea how all this will unfold.  As Beltane nears, and now knowing that such factory farms are all over, I am hoping that as many people as possible will find ways of entering into a compassionate and passionate ritual space on May Day in an attempt to shift the balance towards sanity and common sense.

Modern dairy factory farms, where cows live confined in huge buildings, never roaming free, never “living,” are among the most chilling examples of Patterson’s argument.  These cows are indeed in an eternal Treblinka.  Their calves have a nine-month gestation period.  Once born, calves are immediately removed (surplus males are slated for the veal market) and their mothers are artificially re-impregnated.  During their next pregnancy, cows are still lactating profusely from their previous one.  According to Factory Farming:

… With genetic manipulation and intensive production technologies, it is common for modern dairy cows to produce 100 pounds of milk a day — ten times more than they would produce naturally. As a result, the cows' bodies are under constant stress, and they are at risk for numerous health problems….
To keep cows producing such large quantities of milk, they are fed unnaturally rich, high energy feeds.  These cause such metabolic disorders as laminitis (which lames them) and the often fatal ketosis.  Injections of synthetic Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) further stimulates milk production but impairs the cows’ health and leads to birth defects in their calves.  Ironically, milk is advertised as a fine source of calcium, but the cows providing it are forced to produce so much that their blood cannot replenish their own calcium -- thus, they suffer from extreme calcium deficiency (“milk fever”).

Normally, cows have a life-expectancy of twenty-five or more years.  On modern dairy farms, that is reduced to an average of four years.  Approximately one-third of the herd will die each year – since factory farms with three thousand cows are typical, that means a thousand will die annually.  Many are shipped to slaughterhouses after only three or four years and turned into ground beef.  Those who die on the property are buried, burned, or composted.  Again, from Factory Farming:

…The abuse wreaked upon the bodies of dairy cows is so intense that the dairy industry also is a huge source of "downed animals" — animals who are so sick or injured that they are unable to walk even stand. Investigators have documented downed animals routinely being beaten, dragged, or pushed with bulldozers in attempts to move them to slaughter….
That is what the lives – and deaths – are of these mother-cows, not just in my township, but all across the world wherever dairy cows are “factory-farmed.”

My own suspicion is that to take into one's body a life-form killed painfully, disrespectfully, untimely, and cruelly is to invite one's own cells to run amuck in confusion and revulsion -- the result could be what we call cancer.  Humans are just one among many life-forms -- we're all interconnected -- how can our cells not feel the pain of all the others?  If we were digesting the flesh of animals and birds whose cellular structures still held memories of sun and rain, wind and fragrance, then even if their lives were terminated abruptly, but with the respect a hunter feels for a brave prey, we could probably find true nourishment there, for the earlier, soaring, life-drenched memories would still overbalance the pain at the end.  But to take into ourselves the flesh of creatures reared in dismal, dreary, claustrophobic boredom on huge farms with thousands of other miserable creatures, never tasting rain or wind, never running free, and herded at the end into brutal pens of mass death, how could our own bodies ever digest and find decent nourishment in such gray, cramped, inert flesh?  I don't know.  For myself, I prefer not to risk it.

Whether we know it consciously or not, our myths and folklore inform our fears, prejudices, values, and ethics.  Cadmus and that poor cow are one example of how such material “works” within a culture.  But there are also more positive examples that deserve to be brought to light.

Courtesy of Russian Sunbirds [Link updated 4/28/11]

We are all familiar with the story of Cinderella, but few realize that in many Cinderella variants, it is a cow, not a fairy godmother, who plays a crucial role.  In Marguerite L. M. Wolf’s re-telling of a traditional Romanian version, for example [link updated 4/28/11], a dying mother leaves a cow to her daughter:  “My dear child, I am dying.  Look after the cow and go to her whenever you are in trouble and she will help you as best she can.”

The cow, whose name is Fairywhite, becomes the girl’s only source of consolation – the sad-eyed cow listens to her and then licks away her tears.  When the stepmother gives the girl impossible tasks to do, Fairywhite tells her human friend simply to get started and not to worry.  Each time, the girl’s fingers suddenly fly and whirl magically through the tasks, accomplishing everything within the assigned time-span.  Suspicious after several such episodes, the stepmother orders her husband to have the cow killed.  “Listen, why do we keep that old cow when she does not breed and her milk is all but gone.  She eats our food but gives us almost nothing in return.”  The husband however values the cow as his legacy from his first wife and refuses.  This infuriates the stepmother, who shouts that she will no longer share either his bed or his table until the cow is dead. Terrified, realizing Fairywhite is doomed, the girl runs to warn her.  But the cow comforts her, gently asking her to bury her bones, hoofs, and horns under a cover of dung and to go to the place where the bones are buried when she needs help.

After the cow's death, the girl obeys and finds that the bones can still speak with her, just as Fairywhite did.  Eventually the bones manifest lovely clothes for a dance, where the girl meets a prince, falls in love, and the rest of the story unfolds much as in more familiar versions of Cinderella.  Throughout, there is no fairy godmother to help the abused child, only Fairywhite.  Even when Fairywhite is killed, her bones continue to manifest magic for the young girl.

Magic.  Perhaps that’s what we miss the most.  Our yearning for it sends us by the millions to Harry Potter films, and Lord of the Rings.  Deep in our own bones we remember a time when life itself was “magic,” when animals talked and helped us, when food and drink were magical and truly nurtured us, making us healthy and well.  What the kindly Fairywhite gives Cinderella is magic.  From that "magic" come life and hope.

Our food has lost all "magic." We are factory-fed. As scientist Candace Pert has demonstrated, molecules carry emotion.  If food-molecules are in shock or trapped in appalling death-traumas, what's being nurtured?  We need to get the “magic” back in our food.

Eventually there will be no more factory farms – even today, many groups of physicians, religious leaders, and environmental activists are calling for immediate moratoria on such farms (see the web resources at the end ).  In the meantime, we need to “re-magick” our food.  Perhaps a good start is to create meaningful rituals of grief and gratitude to the animals.  Such rituals will help reconnect us with their essence, their “Fairywhite-ness,” and begin to restore the wonder of our interconnectedness.

Small groups of us, for example, can link up with one another -- and the animals -- in prayer. The prayers should include concern for small farmers too because many love their animals and feel crushed by their fate at the hands of bureaucrats.

We can light white candles, echoing those ancient sacred Beltane fires lit on small hilltops across the Celtic world.  With our candles we create a gentle web-of-light, soothing the spirits of the dead or dying creatures but also purifying fire itself, for it has been massively violated.

We can sprinkle the earth with drops of fresh water while we chant, speak, or whisper blessings.  The Celts sprinkled the earth with warm milk, but milk from cows suffering living-deaths would be no blessing to the earth.

We might invoke Ireland’s Brigit.  We might also call upon the Welsh goddess Cerridwin and ask her to tenderly receive the animals into her magic Cauldron of Death and Regeneration, heal their bewildered spirits, free them of terror, bless them, and send them, refreshed, into future lives where they can live fully, and die at peace in old age.

We should take care not to collapse into emotions that'll only drain us.  We need to stay calm and watchful, show compassion towards our own bodies (which are also of earth) – and do whatever our own healthy, creative imagination prompts us to do.  It'll all help.

May we live more wisely within our overlapping ecosystems.
May we cherish anew the wonder of clean waters and fresh winds.
May we more wisely tend and respect the animals and plants that nourish us.
May the sacred fires of Beltane guide us into new paths of hope.



The Beltane page on my website, Myth*ing Links, has my annotated links to many resources:

(Note – material can be graphic – not for younger readers):

From Canadian Health Coalition, “What Canadians [and everyone else] Need To Know About Mad Cow Disease” (By Bradford Duplisea): [updated 4/28/11]

From Organic Consumers Association, “USDA Misleading American Public about Beef Safety” (December 24, 2003 by Michael Greger, M.D.):

From United Press International, “No Mad Cow Tests in Wash.” (January 15, 2004 By Steve Mitchell):

From the Jeff Rense talk radio network, “US Violates WHO Guidelines For Mad Cow Disease: A Comparison of North American and European Safeguards (15 July 2003 by Michael Greger, M.D.):

(Note: again, often graphic content is not for children)

Grace (Global Resource Action Center for the Environment) Factory Farm Project:

Factory Farming with specific pages on eggs, pork, dairy, veal, beef, poultry & fish:

Again from Factory Farm, beginning with the American Public Health Association, these are calls for moratoria on factory farms due to high health risks to humans:

National Catholic Rural Life Conference, “A Moratorium on Large-scale Livestock and Poultry Confinement facilities” [link updated 4/28/11]:

"The Seven Deadly Myths of Industrial Agriculture" is excerpted from Fatal Harvest, a recent book that chronicles the disasters of industrial farming (since they do not provide continuing links, I am providing them here, in order, #1 through #7 -- all links updated 4/28/11):
Note: for those who would prefer a quick summary of the above seven links, here is a lively review from Lenora Todaro, senior editor of New York's Village Voice:
Here is how she opens her report:

August 15, 2002: Frontier communities had a quick and certain remedy for anyone who poisoned the town's well: they hanged the son-of-a-bitch. Today, though, when the ag economists draw up their efficiency equations, well poisoning is not even marked down as a cost charged to the poisoners--instead, it's dismissed as an "externality." Did people get breast cancer? Did the pesticides run off into the bay and shut down the fishing industry? Was a farmworker's baby born with birth defects? Hey, pal, stuff happens, life ain't fair, not our fault, get out of the way of progress . . . and if you're so prissy about poisons, maybe you oughta start boiling your water.
--Texas radio commentator Jim Hightower, from "Fatal Harvest"
[Added 4/28/11]: "Who Protects the Animals?" by Mark Bittman. Here is how he opens this NY Times piece:
Getting caught is a drag.

Just ask Kirt Espenson, whose employees at E6 Cattle Company in western Texas were videotaped bashing cows’ heads in with pickaxes and hammers and performing other acts of unspeakably sickening cruelty.

Yet if some state legislators have their way, horrific but valuable videos like that one will never be made....


Condren, Mary.  The Serpent and the Goddess.  New Island Books, 2002.
Green, Miranda.  Animals in Celtic Life and Myth.  Routledge, 1992.
Patterson, Charles.  Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust.  Lantern Books, 2002.
Pert, Candace B., Ph.D.  Molecules of Emotion.  Scribner, 1997.

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My complete Site Map will be found on my Home page.  If you have comments or suggestions, my e-mail address is near the bottom of that page.
© 2004 by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.

Page created 29 April 2004 and launched 2:10am, 30 April 2004.
Misc. additions 3 & 4-5 May 2004.
28 April 2011: many unexpected broken links have now been updated, thanks to my diligent Links-elf, Michaela.
Also added a new link: "Who Protects the Animals?"