Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about animal sacrifice, where my meat comes from, and how to butcher an animal. Burkert’s Homo Necans has always been one of my favorite books on ancient Greek religion, and lately, thinking about what it means to be a priest had me once again thinking about sacrifice. It is legal in the US according to the Supreme Court, and with the rise in popularity of sustainable and ethical farming, there is a part of me that really wants to learn how to safely and humanely slaughter an animal and make use of its flesh for consumption. On a very odd whim, I decided to check out videos about how animals are butchered and slaughtered for food, including animals slaughtered according to Biblical or Koranic law, which is the closest most of us in the West get to animal sacrifice.
I have to say, I wasn’t really amazed at how we raise and slaughter our food; I was pretty aware of the sometimes awful conditions animals are put in before they’re slaughtered. When I was younger, I had seen a sheep slaughtered on a PBS reality show that had people living in a reconstructed Jamestown colony, living as they must in the 1600’s. What I was kind of shocked at was that many people were so kind about killing. One woman slaughters and dresses a chicken like it wasn’t a thang, but her compassion for the animal was nonetheless moving. Many people would give a last meal to the beasts before slaughter, and would try to make the situation as comfortable as possible. Most of the acts I witnessed were quick and seemed relatively painless.
What did surprise me was how similar Islamic slaughter is to the methods Burkert describes in Homo Necans. The animal must be raised in good conditions, ensuring it becomes neither diseased nor injured. The animal is then separated from its flock or herd and led away with prayers. The animal is made to submit, and you may not kill an animal that is not relaxed (each system uses different methods, but the parallel is uncanny). Before slaughter, the animal may not see the weapon that will be used to kill it. Then, after the animal is relaxed, a very fast, deep cut severs the carotid artery (great slaughterers do this without cutting the windpipe, which speeds blood loss).
After that, the animal is drained of blood, skinned, and butchered for all to eat. In Greek religion, the bones, fat, and entrails are laid on the fire, while a priest looks at the liver for omens. For many families in the ancient world, sacrifices were their only chance to get meat other than fish (which was only common in port towns and islands). Wealthy citizens would provide the sacrificial animals, making this one of the first and most common forms of welfare or charity. As always, death brought people together; in this instance, it is the purposeful death of an animal.
I understand not all modern Hellenists will be keen to revive the practices of animal sacrifice. However, I feel everyone should be aware of where their food comes from, meat-eaters especially. To that effect, I’m going to share some links below, both on slaughter and butchery, but also on how to find local farms near you that sell fresh produce and meat. Be aware that many of the slaughter/butchery videos are VERY graphic, so viewer discretion is advised.
How to Slaughter and Dress a Chicken:
How to Slaughter and Butcher a Cow (long!):
How to Slaughter and Butcher a Rabbit:
How to Butcher a Pig:
How to Butcher a Deer:
Farms in the US:
Sorry, couldn’t really find any for Europe or elsewhere abroad