The unspoken part of the fairytale
By Angharad Wynne
I ended a life on Saturday night. I feel raw from it, and sometimes writing is a way of processing.
I was walking a small group of brave, hardy humans along a dark lane, heading for a vigil site in a friend’s wood. It was raining and my head torch cast a spotlight on a pale underbelly, bloody, smashed head, amphibious legs and arms swimming the air. The frog had collided catastrophically with something, and there was no chance it could survive and so it was dying slowly and possibly/probably painfully in the road.
I’ve been in the kind of intense physical pain that you want to end at any cost. Thank goodness for morphine and anaesthetics. I only had the comfort of a Swiss Army knife blade to offer. I sent the group on and knelt to the beautiful creature; my heart ached at the throbbing of a precious life pulse in its moon-pale throat. What a thing it is to end a life, even if it seems the kindest thing to do. I wept. I still weep thinking about it now.
Many of our ancestors had rites and rituals to atone for and rebalance creation when they took a life: made offerings, gave thanks and honoured the prey they took to feed and clothe the tribe. They kept the understanding of the importance of maintaining this balance in the stories they told, and perhaps even in the images painted on cave walls. We’ve forgotten how to do this – we’ve even forgotten that there might be a need to do this! I struggled to find my way in the moment, to find anything that felt adequate. My best attempt was to carry the body to the hedge, lay a flower on it and utter a small prayer for its soul flight. Perhaps writing this is a part of it too. I’m not sure.
In general, we’re desensitised to the death of animal kin. OK, maybe not to elephants, dogs and kittens, but of cows, sheep, pigs, poultry etc. As consumers of animal produce, modern eaters of animal flesh, benefactors of the meat industry, (even if we’re vegetarian, vegan or supporters of high-welfare farming), we’re enmired in an unsurmountable death toll. Our hunter-gatherer forefathers and mothers are no doubt appalled, their shamans frenzied by the unassuaged soul-burden we carry. No wonder there is so much dis-ease among our species.
I’m not preaching vegetarianism nor veganism here, I’m just feeling into the depth of the choices we’ve made by de-souling the world, by continuing with the post Enlightenment way of viewing the universe, and our ongoing reluctance to re-embrace the possibility of an animate creation. I’m coming up sharp as I examine the experience of ending a life verses the weight of billions of lives taken in an unconsidered way.
I sat tending the vigil fire in the rain as Saturday turned to Sunday. The rain was good. It felt right. Gods thundered in the night sky and the sadness and guilt I was grappling with, was laid bare by the regular lightning strikes that lit up the woods. These feelings journeyed with me to the prayer fire the next morning and are still moving through. It feels a little like grief.
More than anything, I’m left acutely aware of the precious beauty of a pulse, of life’s yearning for itself, and the burden of silencing a heart and setting a soul free. And I’m still processing… and yes, writing helps a little.
Words and photography: @AngharadWynne2022
Angharad is one of the facilitators on the Contemporary Animism programme at Embercombe. This retreat is an exploration into our re-connection with our animate world. It is a foraging of the old ways, an apprenticeship steeped in native British traditions and practices and those of the tribes of South Africa, but also of indigenous cultures across the world through the knowledge and experience of guest tutors. It is a reclaiming of deep connection, of ritual and ceremony and the wild in us all. It is coming home to the web of life.
For more information on the Contemporary Animism Programme visit: https://embercombe.org/contemporary-animism-an-apprenticeship/