My very good friend Paleo does a lot of kitchen totemism in her day to day spiritual practice. I’ll be honest – it’s not a normal part of my spiritual practice, beyond the normal giving thanks to the lives – animal and plant – that went to feed me.
However, I had a profound experience last night that has lead me to rethink this aspect of my spiritual practice and think that maybe I need to take this a little further.
A couple of weeks ago, Lona and I discovered that our local Sprouts Marketplace (organic and healthy food supermarket in our area) had an “exotic meats” freezer. There were all sorts of things in there – from ostrich to kangaroo to bison, and I WILL eventually try them all – but what caught my eye was the ground venison.
Now, I’d have preferred venison steak, but they were out of that. So I got ground venison, went home and started doing some research.
As you all know, I play a video game called TheHunter, for which I recently posted a Mule Deer Hunting Tutorial that I made for a contest the game is having. It should be noted that while I have never been hunting in real life, I am not averse to the practice and if I were certain I could physically handle it, I would likely be filling a deer tag every year at the very least.
I understand there are those that disagree with this point of view, and I respect your disagreement. This is my personal feelings, however. If you feel you will be offended by what I have to discuss here, feel free not to read – this entry contains musings on meat, game spirits, hunting, and the preparation of meat.
If you’d like to read more – please, read on!
After I brought the venison home, I had to find the time to actually cook it. This didn’t happen until the night of January 8th, when there were no plans for dinner and I wasn’t interested in eating leftovers. So that morning, I got my venison out of the freezer and put it out to thaw.
So far, I hadn’t given much thought to it except for the night of research I did when I first brought it home. I learned that venison is a very lean meat (duh), and therefore is usually combined with some other kind of meat when cooked in ground form.
A lot of sites recommended mixing it with sausage – but I really didn’t want to. I wanted the meat to be in it’s purest form of flavor when I got to taste it. After copying down several recipes, I’d decided on a modified venison meatloaf, containing minimal other things – just things that brought out the natural flavors of the venison.
I saved the meatloaf recipe I’d cobbled together in a notepad on my computer, and then forgot about it until I got the venison out that morning.
I returned to my computer and pulled up my RSS Feed reader, where I’m subscribed to Paleo’s site, among others. It had been awhile since I’d check it, and I was excited to find a new article from her – specifically one about Onion as a totem.
This started me thinking about the meal I planned to prepare that night. Venison, mushrooms, garlic, and onions would work together to create something delicious and unique. Something in the spiritual part of my mind went “ding,” for want of a better term.
As you all know, I’m a dire wolf, and I believe I’ve talked about my “carnivore bucket list” before. My desire to eat the meat of many different animals in my lifetime. It’s a purely human goal for a purely animal desire, and I find it an interesting way of balancing the wolf and the human in me. So the venison and consumption thereof was already heading toward being a spiritual experience for me.
Thanks to Paleo’s essay, I started taking things a step further. I realized I would respect the meal more if the predator in me was allowed to come out and play – so I loaded up TheHunter and headed to one of my favorite spots for White Tailed Deer.
Much like a real hunt, it was some time before one approached me. He was a pretty buck with a nice rack, and I watched him through my range finder for awhile before I felt comfortable taking the shot. I was using my compound bow and arrows, and wanted to make sure it was a clean kill.
This may sound weird to some of you out there – I’m treating a video game as if I’m doing a real thing. But I’ve recently learned that I’m not the only one who takes bits of their online/video game life and turns them into spiritual things.
I don’t think I was the first to do something like this, but it feels right to me – and that’s what I really go for. If it feels right, then I do it. If it feels wrong, I don’t.
So I drew my bow, sighted in on the buck, held my breath (a function of the game – but I do it in real life at the same moment), and fired.
The buck dropped with an arrow clean in his heart – he never knew anything was wrong.
I got down off my tripod stand, walked to the buck and knelt in front of him. This is not something I normally do – when I play this game as a game, I simply take the trophy photo and move on. But this buck was something special.
I intended to eat him.
I quieted my mind and gazed into the digital buck’s dead eyes. I thought about white tailed deer and what I know about them totemically. For ease of reference, a bit of what I know is being copied directly from Ravenari’s site, Wildspeak.com.
According to Ravenari, some of the teachings of White Tailed Deer as a totem are:
- Keen observation
- Subtleties in nature
- Surrender to the spirit
- Trust in nature
As I crouched over the buck’s body, I meditated for a short time on these qualities – qualities I would like to glean from White Tailed Deer, if it would allow me. Then I turned my thoughts to the one pound chunk of ground venison thawing out in my microwave (can’t just let it thaw on the counter – we have cats that are adept at getting into raw meat), and I mentally drew a line between the virtual deer I’d just killed, and the very real meat I would be eating.
Within a few minutes of meditation, I’d made them into one in my mind – the virtual death and the real one paying tribute to the same creature, combining into a visceral feeling of having hunted my prey, brought it down, and being prepared to consume it combined with a very real gratitude to the spirit of the deer who had died so that I might eat it.
I then pulled out my HunterMate, and claimed the trophy. Here’s the trophy photo of my buck.
After that profound experience, I closed the game down and started reading Paleo’s article on Onion as a totem again. Much like deer, I took note of several onion qualities that I’d like to request the totem’s help with in my own life. Those were:
- the ability to see the mulilayeredness of reality
- balance between all elements
- emotional release
- treasuring the “simple” joys of life
Then I suddenly remembered reading a totemic essay, also from Paleo, about Garlic some time back. I went hunting for it and found it on her Dreamwidth. Unfortunately, it’s marked private so I can’t link to it. I’ll quote what I took from it, anyway. These are the qualities I chose to meditate about on Garlic:
- guarding against negative influences
- taking care of one’s heart (both literally and metaphorically)
- finding comfort in earthy energies
As you can see, a theme was beginning to develop in my research. All the totems were offering similar lessons about observation, unity, and knowing what is really important in life. I unfortunately was not able to find anything on mushroom (common white) totemically – but plant totems are a fairly rare thing to find talked about anyway – I feel blessed to know Paleo that I can glean some of the information they’ve chosen to share with her.
However, now that I’d done this research, it was time to actually cook. As I carefully chopped the onion, I meditated on the qualities of Onion, and silently asked the plant if it would be willing to work with me on improving these areas. I did the same for garlic, and finally for white-tailed deer as I carefully kneaded the meatloaf together. It was a very spiritual feeling, my fingers kneading the meat, feeling the lean muscle give under my hands, watching all the individual things combine into what would soon be one thing.
I cooked the meatloaf, and when it was finished I offered everyone in the house tastes of it. Everyone seemed to like it, and I settled in to enjoy my dinner. I found my thoughts turning again to Garlic, Onion, and White-Tailed Deer and I thanked them again for their wisdom and sacrifice in allowing me to consume them for my own health. The meatloaf was delicious, and I felt a sense of unity and accomplishment that I’ve never felt before – and I cook a lot.
When I have the time, I want to be sure to take more time to honor the individual things that make up my meals. I felt fulfilled in a way that I can’t even describe after this meal, and it had nothing to do with how full or empty my belly was. I knew I needed to blog this experience – and, so, here I am.
For those interested in recreating the delicious and meaningful meal this turned out to be, the recipe I cobbled together is included below. Enjoy!
TYGERWOLFE’S VENISON MEATLOAF
1 LB Ground Venison
1 TBSP Lemon Juice
3 Cloves Garlic (crushed)
1/4 Onion (finely chopped)
8 Mushrooms (finely chopped)
2 Eggs (can be done with 1 egg, if leaving out mushrooms or onions)
1/4 tsp Ground Black Pepper
1/4 tsp Ground Red Pepper
1/2 TSP Garlic Salt
3/4 Cup Butter (softened)
1/2 package Lipton Onion Soup Mix
1 Cup Water
- Preheat oven to 350 Degrees, and lightly grease a glass cooking pan.
- Combine all ingredients EXCEPT Lipton Onion Soup Mix & Water into a large bowl.
- Put on gloves or thoroughly wash hands
- Smush mixture together with hands, make sure is all evenly smushed – try to ensure no pockets of butter remain. The smushing is mostly to spread the butter through the venison, which is a naturally lean meat and will dry out without the butter fat.
- Form into general “loaf” shape and place in greased pan.
- Put into oven and set timer for 1 hour.
- Now mix the Lipton Onion Soup Mix with 1 cup water, and stir up well.
- Pour a bit over the top of the meatloaf.
- Repeat this step every ten minutes while the loaf is cooking to prevent drying out (yes, even with all that butter, the venison will STILL dry out before it’s cooked all the way, otherwise).
- If you have some of this mixture left over after the final basting, just throw it out or save it for later – don’t want to put too much.
- After one hour in oven, take out, cut up, and enjoy!
Serves about four people, along with side dishes. Probably only two or three without side dishes.
This is very good with asparagus, and/or potatoes.