Episode 54: Veganism, Witchcraft, and Ethical Choices – It’s not what you think!

Episode 54: Veganism, Witchcraft, and Ethical Choices – It’s not what you think!

00:00 / 00:34:20

There are many differing opinions on this subject. The way you view the world, including your religion or spiritual practice, can definitely color how you behave and the lifestyle you live. But does that mean you have to be vegan to live a spiritually-led life?

I make every attempt to be inclusive and accessible to everyone. If you would prefer to download a PDF copy of this transcript, click here.

Welcome back to Round the Cauldron where we talk theology, philosophy and everyday life as a modern witch. If you like the show, please leave a review wherever you listen to help other witches find me. Don’t forget you can help support the show at patreon.com/roundthecauldron for as little as a dollar a month and get patron exclusive content. If you’re ready to hop into the show, grab some coffee, pull up a seat and join me ’round the cauldron.

So today I want to talk about something that can be a little controversial even outside of the pagan sphere and that is the concept of veganism and vegetarianism. So, before we hop into the topic, don’t forget that I have a bunch of stuff on sale in my shop. I have a bunch of clearance. Links will be in the description and in the show notes below. And also, I am working on an email course for an introduction to tarot. So, make sure you’re signed up to my newsletter and you can join me on Patreon. Patrons at the exclusive level and up will get access to this email course for being a patron. That’s one of the perks of being a patron. And it’s not the first email course or it’s not the only email course I plan on offering, but it is going to be the first.

So, if you’re interested in learning the basics of tarot, keep an eye out for that. I will let everybody know when that is completed and when you can sign up to take that email course. Okay. On to the topic. I know a lot of my listeners, a lot of my viewers here on YouTube and listeners for the podcast, identify as Wiccan, which means most of them follow the Wiccan Rede. I want to have a disclaimer here that I no longer describe myself as Wiccan. I no longer describe myself as – or I no longer partake in the Wiccan faith.

I am an Irish pagan. I have moved away from Wicca, so I do not follow the Wiccan Rede. However, this particular episode and this particular video are not here to tell you that your beliefs are wrong. Okay? Your personal beliefs. I’m not here to tell you that they’re wrong, but I do feel that the idea of veganism and vegetarianism needs to be discussed within the pagan and witchcraft community because there are extremes to both sides. Okay, and also, I am not going to be debating the environmental impacts and consequences of veganism, vegetarianism, and being an omnivore, and being a carnivore, okay? I am not discussing the environmental impacts of any of those things. I don’t feel like I am well – I don’t feel like I am educated well enough on those topics and this is an episode particularly pertaining to the idea of veganism and paganism and not the environment.

I know they kind of can go hand in hand, but I want to keep them separate for this particular episode. Now, I don’t know how long this episode is going to be and I don’t know if I’m going to go on any rants or tangents or whatever, but I need to explain what I mean in this context for paganism because there are forms of paganism across the world, right? However, I am not familiar enough with any Eastern form of paganism to speak about it. So, whatever I say about paganism in this episode is strictly Western paganism, Neo-paganism, and Wicca. Okay? I just want to throw that out there. I know before in one of my previous podcast episodes and videos, I hadn’t made that clear enough and someone said that I was cherry picking. So, I’m not cherry picking. I’m only speaking on what I know.

So do you need to be vegan to be a pagan? Do you need to be a vegetarian to be a pagan or a witch or Wiccan or any of it? The short answer is absolutely not. There are no dietary requirements that I’m aware of in Western paganism and Wicca and Neo-paganism. Now, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any. It just means that I don’t know of any. I don’t know personally of any dietary restrictions that have been placed on pagans or witches for whatever reason. Now, there are some questions that get asked when the debate is going on about what kind of diet a Wiccan person or a pagan person should follow. These questions are like, but what about the Wiccan Rede? What about the environment? And but wait, it’s a living thing. What about that? And I want to address those questions here because first of all, yes, the Wiccan Rede is a thing: “An it harm none, do what ye will.”

However, it is a guideline. If you look up the definition of rede, it literally means advice or counsel given by one person to another. So, it’s advice first of all, and I’ve spoken about the Wiccan Rede before, and I will link it somewhere in the description and in the show notes. But first of all, not everyone follows the Wiccan Rede that labels themselves as pagan or a witch. Second of all, if you say, in my opinion, if you say that – what am I trying to say? Let’s say you take the Wiccan Rede literally, okay? An it harm none, do what ye will. Which means you’re going to live your life doing whatever you want as long as you don’t hurt anyone or any living thing. Okay? My problem with people saying that the Wiccan Rede is telling you that you need to be vegan and that you absolutely cannot partake in any sort of animal product consumption is that doing absolutely no harm is virtually impossible.

Now you can live your life in such a way that you try to do as little harm as possible. But if someone were to come up to me and say that I have to be a vegan because the Wiccan Rede says so and me partaking in animal products is causing harm and I’m a bad person – I would then expect that person to not drive a car and to walk everywhere and to shop local, to not partake in fast fashion. So, I don’t want to see them shopping at Walmart. Okay? Because those people, you can’t, you can’t throw stones unless you’re living your life the way you want me to live it. Right? So, some people use the Wiccan Rede as their justification for going vegan or being a vegetarian and reducing the amount of animal products that they consume. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that when you do it on a personal level. What I have a problem with is someone coming to me or anyone else for that matter who has differing views and telling them that they’re wrong and they’re not following the Rede because they partake in the consumption of animal products.

Just because I do things differently doesn’t mean I’m wrong and it really, it really grates on my nerves when I see Wiccans on that extreme level who are vegan and who think that anyone who consumes animal products is just a terrible person and that they have no right to call themselves a Wiccan. Okay? I’ve, I’ve seen that happen and there are several prominent people in the pagan community who have a tendency to act like that and I try to steer clear of them because it’s just, I don’t need that in my life. But when someone comes and asks if veganism or vegetarianism is necessary and you get these people that respond like absolutely yes, it is. The Wiccan Rede says do no harm. Those are the people that in my opinion, you kind of need to stay away from when they’re telling you what to do and telling you how you need to live your life and how you should interpret the Wiccan Rede. Because after all, it is advice.

It’s not a law. Okay, so Wiccan Rede aside, that is up for your interpretation whether or not you feel like you need to be a vegan or a vegetarian or just consume less animal products. That’s a personal decision and no one should be able to interpret the Wiccan Rede for you if you follow the Wiccan Rede. Now, if you don’t follow the Wiccan Rede then I mean, do whatever you want. If you want to eat animal products, if you want to eat bacon and yogurt? Go for it. I mean nobody is stopping you. You don’t have to be vegan or vegetarian or pescatarian or whatever other “tarions” there are in order to be a Wiccan, pagan, or witch. Like that’s a complicated answer, I guess. Well no it’s not even complicated. I don’t know. The next issue that is – that I have written down in my notes here is the issue about the environment.

Now I said at the top of this episode that I wasn’t going to be debating the environmental consequences of one diet versus the other – and I’m not. I simply want to point out here that what is important to one person might not be as high of a priority to another. So, when you’re having your discussions or when you’re thinking about the diet and lifestyle that you want to live with your religion and your faith, keep that in mind. Now the last point there that I want to address is the fact that people say you shouldn’t eat animals or partake in the consumption of animal products because they are living things. They are sentient, sentient. I think that’s how you say it. They have the ability to think as far as we know and you know, follow their instincts. They’re alive. They mostly have a heart.

And a nervous system and things like that. Okay, that’s a fair point. However, there is the argument to be made of what constitutes life. Now, I know that my coffee cup that I have here is not alive. It’s inanimate. It’s a Hydroflask coffee mug, whatever. However, if I remember properly, the biological definition of life is something along the lines of if it has a cellular structure. Is that right? Life is a characteristic that distinguishes physical entities that have biological processes, such as signaling and self-sustaining processes, from those that do not, either because such functions have ceased due to death or because they never had such functions and are classified as inanimate. So various forms of life exist, and these are going to include plants, animals, fungi, protists, archaea, and bacteria. Now, I’m sure there are a million other things out there, but as far as I can remember from my biology classes, basically anything that has cells is considered life. That’s why when the astronauts or when NASA or whoever is going and looking for life on another planet, they’re not looking for people or animals. They’re looking for bacteria and like amoebas and microorganisms because technically speaking, scientifically speaking, those things are life. So if you’re saying – not you in general, but if someone is telling you that you have to be vegan or vegetarian because it’s wrong to hurt things that are alive, what about the plants that they eat?

Scientifically speaking, they’re alive. Depending on your viewpoint of the world. If you’re an animist, the plants have a spirit. The plants have a soul. So, I’d like to know someone’s perspective on that because that would be an interesting conversation. Then there’s also the other side of that where just because something is living doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its place in the circle of life and the natural order of things. I can partake in the consumption of animal products and be thankful that the animal was able to provide me with sustenance. Now that’s going to differ for a lot of people. And there is an argument to be made that if you are not actively participating in obtaining the meat by hunting means or fishing or whatever, then you can’t truly understand and be thankful for the animal and the animal’s spirit. That can be the case. But however, some people don’t have access to things like that. And for some people it’s really expensive. So, I do think it’s possible to partake in the consumption of animal products and still be respectful of the life that that animal led. So those are some basic general ideas that I’ve personally seen in the whole debate on veganism and paganism. And I know my opinion might vary from yours vastly. It might not. We might be on the same page. That’s fine. But I have some other things that I want to talk about. So, the last thing that I want to talk about here, and I’ll probably end this with my own personal diet/lifestyle story. But the last thing that I want to talk about here is a question that I’ve seen posed and that is can your spirituality change your diet? And the answer is for sure. It absolutely can. Your spirituality and the way you view the world and your truth can absolutely change the way you live your life. However, it doesn’t have to. So, if anyone out there is wondering like, well, why am I not getting the urge to quit eating chicken or something?

Maybe you’re just not. Maybe that’s not part of your truth and that’s okay. There are a load of reasons on why someone might change their diet, why someone might adopt a vegan or vegetarian diet versus an omnivorous diet. Those can be things such as health, ethics, religion, and the availability of food in their area. Now these are all very, very dependent on where you live, who you are, your socioeconomic status, how you grew up, your culture. Your diet and lifestyle is highly, highly dependent on the environment around you. And I think something that doesn’t get talked about enough in terms of veganism and living a more sustainable life and eating a more sustainable diet or a more ethical diet – and I put ethical in quotes because for some people it’s ethical and for some people it doesn’t matter. So that’s up for interpretation. But not everyone has access to those products.

I mean, there is such a thing as a food desert. Okay, in the Oxford dictionary per Google defines a food desert as an urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good quality fresh food. That’s a legitimate thing. So, if you’re trying to live more ethically based on your own personal ethics, and that involves either abstaining from animal products whatsoever or only buying organic and ethically raised animal products, you might have a difficult time depending on where you live. So, when I was like 19, 18-19 years old, I lived in a teeny tiny town in Oklahoma. And it was about 20 minutes away from the next bigger town, which was still a small town and about 45 minutes to an hour away from the biggest city. So yeah, sometimes in that area I would be hard pressed to find what I was looking for if I was attempting to live a vegan lifestyle because it’s just not something that was done there. And my shopping choices at the time were Walmart, which I mean, Walmart 10 years ago was meh. They didn’t have very many options for healthy food and vegan alternatives. So, my choices were Walmart and Dollar General for groceries. So you can see how some people can be limited and there are parts of the world, even parts of the United States where I live that are worse.

I mean if someone didn’t have a vehicle in the teeny tiny town that I lived in, their only options for food were the corner store because we had a gas station in our town. Like we had a gas station and a post office and like one little deli restaurant thing. That was it because it was so small. And food deserts are a thing. So, I guess what I’m trying to say here is when you’re having this discussion with other people, definitely give your perspective. That’s a hundred percent acceptable, but don’t be an ass about it. You know, there are people out there who can’t do what everyone else can. There are people out there who are way privileged and who have the money and the economic means, and they live in the right area to be able to eat only organic food and eat ethically raised animal products if they so choose. Not everyone has that option. And something that I see happening a lot in this discussion is shaming.

It happens a lot. Like so for my research for this episode, I was going through and looking for other people’s perspectives on veganism and paganism and I came across a YouTube video. I’ll see if I – I should be able to find the link for the video. It is kind of old. But I want to give you some quotes from some people that were responding in the comments to this video. Now in this video, this woman is basically saying, do what you want. You know, she said that she’s never liked anybody to tell her what to do and don’t let the food police tell you what to do. And there are some people who were responding in a very condescending and shame-filled tone. So, the first one, and YouTube watchers, I’ll pop these up on your screen too. The first one is a reply from about a month ago and it says, “What about ‘harm none’? Animals are harmed with meat consumption and meat consumption is destroying the earth our mother, if you’re a witch you should 100% be vegan, if we practice empathy we should be vegan.”

Okay. My problem with that response, first of all is the fact that they’re saying harm none. They’re quoting the Wiccan Rede, which may be fine for them, but in this video and in the title of the video and the description, nowhere did the original poster say, I am Wiccan. I think if I’m not mistaken, they particularly called out witches. Witches in general. Not Wiccans. Not pagans. Witches. Okay. So, then my second problem with that is they just don’t – they don’t just say like if you’re a Wiccan and you follow the Rede. They say anybody that practices empathy should be a vegan. So, does that mean that if I’m not a vegan, I’m a bad person? So, it’s all about the language here that people are using during their arguments and in their discussions about this topic. The next one that I have here says – this one’s from a year ago.

So I’m not sure if this is still relevant for anyone. But like I said, the video is kind of old. But this person said, “Hello, I’m not here to tell anyone what to do or eat because I also don’t appreciate being told what I can or cannot do. I would like to remind however, that what you do comes back to you Threefold. The way the animals are raised and slaughtered today is nothing short of horrendous. I do not want that pain and suffering in my body. And I most certainly do not want to support those who gain from the suffering of other sentient beings.” So, first off, they say, you know, I’m not here to tell you what to do. But then they shame you by saying, however, don’t forget about the threefold law. Oh, and by the way, you’re eating that bacon. Don’t you know that pig suffered, and that pain is now going in your body?

That’s their personal belief. That’s fine. But again, they’re calling out something that is very specific to one religious practice. Wicca. And I’ve talked about the threefold law before too, and I’ll link that somewhere as well. And then something else that I found on Reddit. I will try to leave this link in the description and show notes to. Someone was asking about the need to be vegan or vegetarian while being a Wiccan and this is somebody’s response. Again, this thread is kind of old, but I do feel these responses are still responses that I hear today. They said, “I am and I personally think it’s integral to doing no harm.” So, when they say I am, they are answering the question like, are you vegan? So, this person is vegan. “Vegans bake and wear makeup just like anybody else, just fyi, and most of us would object to the concept of humane unnecessary killing. Whether you or others feel that doing no harm should extend to animals is up to you, but either way I’d encourage you to put a lot of thought into the concept of humane slaughter and whether the cost in ecological damage and suffering is worthwhile.”

Someone responded to that and said, “Even more, I actually started to really learn cooking and baking thanks to veganism. There’s great vegan make-up brands too. But those are not the most important points, like you said it’s about whether one think that ‘do no harm’ should extend to animals as well or not.” So those comments, those sort of defending points for why you have to be vegan in order to be a Wiccan, I take them as very condescending, very full of shame and especially the last one. The language that they used. Words like slaughter and killing, and I mean granted that’s what, you know, that’s how our meat industry is. Animals are killed and slaughtered for people to consume, but the way they went about phrasing their comment and their reply is very – has a very heavy negative connotation to it. And if you don’t know what you’re looking for and you’re just someone who has stumbled upon Wicca and just started thinking about the diet that you have in your life, you might not have any clue that there is this whole world out there that you don’t have to do what other people tell you to do. I don’t know if that made any sense. It made sense in my head. But I don’t want you to…I don’t want you to stop having these discussions.

I think discussion and disagreements are healthy. They allow each individual to grow as a person. And when you can have a discussion in a healthy civil manner, you might change your mind. You might not, you might learn something new. You might be able to teach someone else. But don’t have the discussions and don’t reply to comments and Facebook posts and blog posts or whatever in the way that those comments did like I read. You know, there is a way to frame – what am I trying to say? There is a way to speak your mind in a respectful manner when you have an opposing viewpoint of the person that you’re responding to. It’s not impossible to have a healthy discussion or a debate about whether or not you should be vegan and what the Wiccan Rede means to you. Because let’s face it, most of the people who say that you have to be vegan to do any sort of witchcraft or be a pagan are Wiccan. Most of them follow the Wiccan Rede, and that’s where a lot of this argument comes from. But if you also look at it in a historical perspective, Wicca has been around since about the fifties right?

The 1950s, and I don’t think that Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente and Aleister Crowley – I don’t think that they were really worried about the diet of their followers and of the people who are participating in the Wiccan faith. I don’t think that was high on their priority list. And honestly, if it’s not important to you, you shouldn’t feel bad about it not being high on your priority list either. So that’s about it for this topic. I didn’t want to get too heavy into it. I know there are super extremes of like both ends of this. There are people who are militant vegans. There are people who are militant carnivores, and that’s going to happen, you know, regardless of your faith and your religion. But I don’t see this discussed very often in, you know, the Christian sphere or the, I don’t know, other religious aspects.

I only see it discussed in the manner of paganism. So yeah, that’s that. I guess I was going to tell you about my personal vegan story because, I don’t know, is it relevant? I don’t think it’s relevant, but I will tell you. So, I have been vegan in the past. I went vegan originally for my health because lots of things have been going on with my body and with my mind and I had tried just about everything except for that. So, I went vegan for health reasons. So, fast forward a little bit, you know, I work from home and I am responsible for the house. You know, we share a home with my parents, and I have taken over the responsibility of keeping the house clean, cooking all the meals and generally just doing all the house stuff because of my mom’s Sjogren’s syndrome.

So that’s my responsibility. Being a vegan in a household like I live in was kind of difficult. Actually, it wasn’t kind of difficult. It was actually really difficult because it’s hard for someone to be a vegan in a household with five total people and be the only person that’s eating that way. Now, I’m not going to force anybody in my home to eat the way that I eat. And I don’t think anybody should be forced to eat a diet that they don’t want to eat. You know? So, I was having to cook two separate meals at dinner time. We were having to buy separate groceries because there were some things that I had to sort of wean myself off of as a vegan, like cheese and lunch meats and things like that. So, there were some things that I had to buy as meat alternatives so that I wasn’t feeling like I was starving all the time.

Okay? And with the mental health issues that I have it eventually – it became too much. Way too much, and I was always so overwhelmed when it came to cooking meals and going grocery shopping and trying to figure out what I was going to eat and making sure that I could eat at the same time that my family ate, because that family time is really important to me. And sometimes what would happen is since there’s four of them and one of me, I would cook their food first because it was easier. So, I’d cook their food, then I’d go to cook my food. But if we were to eat at the same time, their food would be cold because I was waiting to cook my food. And the same thing would happen if we did it opposite, like their food would be hot, my food would be cold.

So the mental health aspect of being the only vegan in a house full of five people really got me down. So, I’m not a vegan and I didn’t go vegan for ethical reasons. I went vegan for my health. And while I do understand that there are some people out there who go vegan for ethical reasons who don’t want to eat animals or animal products, I completely respect their decision. There are also people out there who don’t want to eat animals because it can have a huge environmental impact. Now, not talking about environmental impact today because that’s a whole separate topic. Maybe I’ll talk about it at one point, but I don’t know. And there are so many ways that you can eat, like so many different diets in the world, so many different ways and things that you can eat that I think we need to be respectful of everyone.

We need to respect that maybe you are vegan. Maybe you’re a vegan for ethical reasons. I respect you. Maybe you’re a vegan for health reasons. I respect you as well. Maybe you’re not a vegan. Maybe you don’t want to be vegan and you like cheese and you like steak. I respect you too. The only thing that I ask in this whole debate, this whole conversation on what diet you need to have in order to be a pagan, is that you respect one another and you have debates and you have your discussions in a civil and respectful manner. You don’t have to be friends, but you have to be nice to each other. So, thank you for sticking around for this episode with me, and I will talk at you later. Bye for now.

Don’t forget you can watch the show on YouTube!

CLARIFICATION: When I talk about cells being a form of life, I’m talking about self-sustaining cells like single-cell organisms.

Come find out what I think, and let me know what you think!

REMEMBER: Kindness and healthy discussion is tolerated. Bullshit, bullying, and gatekeeping ARE NOT. I will block anyone who feels that they can’t have a healthy, civil discussion.  

o Tylluan Penry Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibgFQWDNZbM
o The Wiccan Rede: https://youtu.be/NIYxYONpEGI
o The Threefold Law: https://youtu.be/iM9uRdI75js
o Reddit Thread: https://amp.reddit.com/r/Wicca/comments/6x0fx9/are_any_of_you_vegans_do_i_have_to_be/  

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