I remember the first time I killed a living animal for food. I was a college student. I was traveling with other students on a month-long backpacking trip along the Sea of Cortez in Baja, Mexico. It was a very long time ago, yet the experience was so impactful that the memories are etched into my being.
Truth be told, my prey wasn’t all that sexy. It was scallops. There are certain benefits to “hunting” scallops. They have no legs or fins to force someone into a chase, no arms to fight back, and no reproving eyes to haunt dreams. All fairly milquetoast. Or so it appeared to me on the surface.
The way to harvest scallops is straightforward. They are made up of two shells, the lower one is plastered to rocks in the water. The upper one moves up and down by pivoting on a membrane. A diver plunges into the depths of the sea to find them. Then a diver inserts a knife between the two halves of the opened shells in order to cut the membrane at the back. There is delectable meat inside both shell halves. The top shell will come free to be taken to the surface. The meat is cut out of the lower shell, which is immovably attached to the rock.
Alas Mama Nature does not leave her children without defenses, even those as quietly quiescent as scallops. These particular shells were attached to a rock that was quite deep into the sea. We had snorkeling equipment, but the depth made it hard to get down low enough not only to reach the shells but then to do the work necessary. After nearly breaking my nose from the ricochet of harpoon I was trying to learn to use, I was given this task because it was deemed the easiest and safest by my group. On my first dive, I forced myself into the depths to find the rock that was filled with a wealth of scallop shells. I picked one out and plunged my knife between the two open shells. Hurrah! But then I was shocked and surprised when the two shells immediately slammed shut on my knife. The knife was held fast and I didn’t have enough air in my lungs to stay under water to figure out what to do. I left my trapped knife behind and headed for the surface to gulp some air. It took me 4 trips before I managed to shimmy the knife back and forth enough to cut the back membrane. With each dive, my breath seemed to get shorter and shorter. With practice, I did get better, but it continued to be a struggle with me constantly gulping for breath.
Finally, I had enough scallops to feed our small group (while leaving enough to reseed the colony). We put together a make-shift ceviche with ingredients we had foraged or carried with us. It is quite special to eat food you have caught yourself. That night, however, I couldn’t sleep. Something was bothering me. Heretofore, my food had only come neatly trimmed and packaged from grocery stores with no obvious signs of the life that it had once been. The experience of participating in a life/death struggle in its rawness, even in the form of a mollusk, was a visceral reminder of its power. It was not comfortable at all. In fact, that is likely why I couldn’t catch my breath as I worked. I had never thought too much about life and death issues before this. In my gut, I had come to realize that in the cycles of all life/death struggles, that it is my destiny that someday I would be the one to die. Definitely not a comfortable thought. In fact, a downright fearful one.
I believe this experience was the driving force for my joining a modern-day mystery school many years later. The school was modeled on the Greek mystery schools of Delphi and Eleusis. The main teachings of mystery schools were meditations on the issues of life and death. They provided experiences designed to teach initiates not to fear death. An inscription at Eleusis makes this clear; “Beautiful indeed is the Mystery given us by the blessed gods; death is for mortals no longer an evil, but a blessing.”
Mystery Schools were found throughout many cultures in the ancient world. The schools in Egypt were even older than those from Greece. The tools and the lessons remained the same, even as they crossed cultures and time periods. The lesson of the ear of wheat is one of the most well-known; the seed must die off the plant in order to fall into the soil and “enter the Order,” or to “bringeth forth much fruit.” In other words, the cycle of life that includes life and death also includes rebirth. See how this lesson shows up both in Egypt and then in the New Testament:
Whether I live or die I am Osiris
I enter in and reappear through you . . .
The gods are living in me for I live and grow
in the corn that sustains the Honored Ones,
I cover the earth,
whether I live or die, I am Barley.
I am not destroyed
I have entered the Order (Cosmos).
Egyptian Coffin Text #330
Verily, verily, I say to unto you,
Except a corn of wheat falls into the ground and die,
it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.
In my next blogpost I will write about my own personal experiences with the modern-day mystery school. Through the teachings and experiences of the school my life has been enriched innumerable ways. I can’t say, though, that I’ve completely conquered my fear of death.
 Quoted in Mircea Eliade, From Primitives to Zen; 300.
 Quoted in Edward Malkowski, The Spiritual Technology of Ancient Egypt; 362-363. C 1700 BCE
Janet Rudolph is a twice ordained shaman, the latest as an alaka’i which is a Hawaiian spiritual guide. Rudolph has walked this path for over 20 years traveling around the world to learn and experience original teachings from differing cultures. Using a technique she calls “spiritual forensics” which includes cross-cultural explorations and ancient Hebrew translations, she has delved into the Bible’s pagan roots to uncover its hidden magic. Rudolph has written three books on the subject of ancient Biblical Teachings. One Gods: The Mystic Pagan’s Guide to the Bible, When Eve Was a Goddess: A Shamanic Look at the Bible, and the just recently released book, When Moses Was a Shaman. For more information visit her website at /www.mysticpagan.com/.