Whenever I hear an anti-hunter rant about how unnecessary it is to hunt and kill animals, how in the modern age we’ve evolved past the need to hunt, or about how we can survive just fine on a diet of vegetables and fruits, I just have to laugh. Anti-hunters just don’t get that the act of hunting goes so far beyond simple bloodlust or the need for meat. They think of hunting as a barbaric practice and of hunters as primal cave people who have reverted to a more animalistic, primitive, or unenlightened state. They just don’t understand the spiritual connection that we hunters find in the woods and how some of the most enlightened and advanced societies in history were in fact hunters.
It’s been well documented that many hunters give thanks to some ethereal force after a successful day in the field. But, few seem to know that this act of giving thanks which represents a belief that the fate of our hunt doesn’t entirely depend on our skills as a hunter nor simple luck, but rather on the favor of some benevolent deity granting us a favor has been a part of every major civilization – and almost every organized religion – since the birth of mankind. No matter your heritage or your current beliefs, somewhere in the past one of your distance ancestors gave thanks and paid homage to a hunting God.
From The Beginning
In ancient Africa – the cradle of mankind – ancient cave paintings dating back more than 40,000 years depict dozens of different hunting scenes, including some that show a large, overseeing, human-like presence cradling the hunters in its arms. It’s believed that these paintings were made by some of the earliest members of the Khoisan, or “Bushman” as they are now known today, one of the oldest organized tribes recorded. Like Christians, Khoisans believed in one all-knowing deity who was responsible for creation, maintaining life, and prosperity in general, especially in the hunt. Their God was called Tsui-//goab or Cagn, and the Khoisan believed that they had to gain his favor through prayer and sacrifice before heading out on the hunt.
During the same era the Khosian’s were making their sacrifices and saying prayers to Cagn, the Egyptians to the north, one of the earliest mass civilizations, were creating their own empire – building the pyramids and the Sphinx; feeding their workers wild game harvested, they believed, through the grace and favor of Neith, the Egyptian god of war and hunting. Before going out to the field, Egyptian hunters would pray to Neith and thank her for their successes in the field, believing not only that the Goddess helped them in their efforts but that after their deaths, Neith would guard and protect their bodies and their hunting weapons.
Outside of Africa, in ancient Mesopotamia – home of the Sumerian’s – an area of land encompassing everything between Iraq and Turkey where some of the worlds oldest cities and earliest known art and literature originated, hunting was a part of everyday life. To find success in the field, Sumerian hunters prayed to their own hunting God. Ninurta, or Ningirsu, was an ancient God of hunting, war, and farming, who hunters dedicated not only their hunts but often their very lives to honoring, with many Sumerian hunters taking their own lives from the shame of dishonoring Ninurta after a failed hunt. Such was the Sumerian’s dedication to Ninurta that when the ancient Romans conquered Mesopotamia in 150 BC, they destroyed effigies of the deity immediately, from fear of incurring the God’s wrath.
To The East
Speaking of Romans, that ancient warrior culture whose empire stretched from eastern Asia to Western Europe and are probably responsible for more technological advancements than any other ancient civilization, had their own hunting goddess they prayed to for success, Diana. Also identified as the Greek God Artemis, Diana is the goddess of nature, crossroads, and hunting. So intertwined with hunting was Diana that effigies and paintings of the goddess often depict her with a bow alongside wild animals such as deer, goats, boar, and other animals that were regularly hunted by Roman society. Shrines were built, sacrifices were made, and the very success of the Roman empire was founded through feeding its people the meat that they believed Diana provided.
The ancient peoples of Eastern Europe also believed in their own hunting God’s. The Anglo-Saxon people of Germanic and Nordic culture, who found ways to traverse the sea and built new ships able handle deep water travel, had several Gods whose favor they depended on for success in the hunt. The Ancient German people prayed to Woden, whose name evolved into Viking society as Odin. The God of the dead, inspiration, battle, knowledge, and the hunt. Odin was believed to have commanded his Wild Hunt across the skies of Mid-Winter. As depicted in many ancient paintings and writings from Nordic society, Odin’s Wild Hunt swept through forest, across the sea, and through the air in search of all non-believing mortals and immortal enemies of Asgard, the home of the Norse Gods, capturing and dragging them to the underworld. The Germanic people’s believed in this so much that they depicted it on their own hunts. Twice a year they would ride in unison through the forest, driving animals before them and killing all once cornered, both providing meat for their families and, they believed, protecting themselves from Odin’s wrath. In Norway and Sweden where Odin evolved more into the father of all gods, Norse culture worshiped and prayed to two different gods, Skaoi and Ullr, who they made sacrifices to whenever they hunted alone with a bow or a spear, believing that each God granted favor for using each of the different weapons.
To The West
In Western Europe, the Celtic cultures in Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales – who waged constant war against Vikings and would later build some of the longest lasting dynasty’s in history, resulting in some of the greatest art, literature, music, and culture – prayed to their gods of the hunt. Cernunnos was a massive, bearded, and stag antlered god associated with hunting stags, bulls, and serpents. Nodens was a lithe, long haired god, associated with hunting seals and hunting with dogs. And Arawn, who appears holding a branch and is the god who grants hunters luck in the forested realm. These gods were all depended upon for success in the hunting world and none of these Celtic societies would have become what they are without them.
All Around The World
The fact is that almost every great ancient society; from the Aztec and Mayans who sacrificed to Mixcoati and Opochlti, to early China where they prayed to Fu Xi and Jiang Ziya, to the Hindu’s who called upon the powers of Banka-Mundi, across the entire ancient world there were hunting deities who were prayed to and depended upon to advance society and ensure the survival of their people. So the next time you hear an anti-hunter spewing out their rhetoric about how hunting is uncivilized and ignorant, just remember that person only exists to say that stuff because somewhere in their past an ancestor of theirs prayed to a god of the hunt – and be proud to continue the tradition.