Whether we’re searching for food or love, we’re all hunters in some form – but it’s how we choose to fulfil that instinct that determines our fate and the lives of those around us, says Caspar Walsh who believes that by taking a life he saved his own
London is not a place you would associate with hunting, but growing up in the 70s, it was all around me, day and night. The threat of the hooded claw coming through my door kept me awake at night, right up to the point the door actually came in. Crime was how my father made a living and the consequences of that career choice meant our house was constantly under threat from raids from other criminals and the police.
I concluded that the world was a dangerous place, full of predators, out to get us. I cut myself off emotionally from a world I couldn’t trust and soon headed down the same destructive path as my father. I came within a hair’s breadth of a long-term prison sentence.
Slowly, over time, I emerged from drugs, alcohol and violence, onto a path of rehabilitation. This path led me to working with young men who were growing up in an identical environment to the one I had. Ours was a shared rite of passage. Not as ancient tradition would have it, but done in the absence of men we could trust to guide us from boyhood to adulthood, we initiated ourselves. And that was only ever going to end badly.
“We all hunt. For food, shelter, love. We have a choice. We can hunt with mindless violence and no regard for the sanctity of life or we can hunt with respect and dignity.”
My drug-, alcohol- and crime-free life was a far better one. It was an inspiration to the young men in prison we worked with. But I still couldn’t fully trust or connect to other humans. Nature had always been a place of escape and solace and this was where I retreated and where we took the young men we worked with. We walked, talked, sat round fires, shared stories and journals and poetry. We found connection and solace. But it still wasn’t enough. For each of us something was still broken and needed healing.
One summer I headed for the south Devon coast to camp with a group of friends who were foraging and hunting to eat and survive the week. On the second morning I headed down to the water with a friend’s spear-fishing outfit: wet suit, weight belt, fins and gun. Despite having been hunted all my life and in turn hunted others for what I needed, I had never actually hunted a living creature for food.
A few moments after entering the clear ocean, on the white sand floor beneath me, a creature appeared – in broad daylight – that should not have been there. The lobster beneath me was over two feet long. I was later told it was probably around 70 years old. I was filled with fear and trepidation. I pulled the trigger and the spear went through the animal. I felt distressed but was determined to give it a quick clean death. I brought it to the beach with a mixture of pride and shame, killed it cleanly and brought food to my friends.
In the coming weeks I noticed something was changing in me. I continued to hunt for fish. Continued to feel the same conflict in taking an animal’s life. I would only eat animals if I was prepared to hunt them and to do this with the utmost respect. What was changing in me was unexpected: a deeper feeling of connection to other humans, to animals, to the planet. I was discovering the meaning of a word I had heard many times but had always been left puzzled by: empathy. This was a rite of passage I could pass down.
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The group of young men we took to East Prawle had that morning been in their prison cells. It had taken a little time for them to acclimatise to the beauty of the beach. We gave them each a fishing rod and they bounced down to the shoreline. They took to it like they had been doing it all their lives.
A young lad soon caught a small fish. He brought it back proudly to the fire and held it up. He was keen to kill it. We said if he was going to do this with us, it would have to be clean, quick and respectful. He would then have to cook and eat it. There was a pause, in that moment his face changed from blood lust, to deep thinking, followed by recognition. He killed the fish, cooked and ate in pensive silence.
Later that day he came to us and said something ‘massive had happened’ for him in the moment he took the fish’s life. For the first time in his life, he felt empathy for the victims of his crimes. Empathy and compassion. His recognition was a lot quicker than mine. In the coming years, this experience with the young men we brought to the ocean to fish repeated itself over and over.
Hunting for me is an ancient rite of passage that has been central to communities across the planet for millennia. In the west, it has largely been lost. In the absence of a community they can trust, young men are initiating themselves. This is dangerous, often lethal territory. I have worked with many young men imprisoned for gang violence. These crimes have been committed by human beings who feel themselves on the margins of society and life. They believe they have nothing to lose. They know that something dramatic and life changing is meant to happen to them at this point in their life – it is in their DNA; their ancestral memory.
“I was discovering the meaning of a word I had heard many times but had always been left puzzled by: empathy.”
You do not have to kill animals to understand the transformational power of conscious hunting. The young people we work with also take part in archery. This involves targets and animal replicas.
Although slower than taking an animal’s life, the same realisation and transformation takes place. The same recognition and transition from ‘I’ to ‘we’. We see it time and time again.
We all hunt. For food, shelter, love. We have a choice. We can hunt with mindless violence and no regard for the sanctity of life or we can hunt with respect and dignity, taking only what we need. We will all be food for something when our time is up. This is essential knowledge and connects us to the cycle of life; gives us a respect and understanding for nature that goes beyond a scenic vista.
Understanding this connects us to ourselves, to each other and to the wider, planetary ecosystem.
More and more young men are signing up to wars and causes they don’t fully understand because they are looking for belonging, for a tribe. Understanding the human hunting drive in every possible form, internal, external, predatory and conscious is key to changing this catastrophic life path. By connecting to nature, by understanding the place of hunting in our lives we understand more who we are, what makes us tick and what place we have in the world.
Look to those in your communities who need you. The young people you pass or cross the street to avoid. That wild, un-tempered energy you see is searching, hunting for focus, direction and healthy nourishment from life. This is something every single member of society must take part in, one way or another. Only you know what part it is that you play in the support of these young people.
We are hunters to the core, always have been, always will be. We need a 3D awareness of the place of conscious, sacred hunting in society and bring it back into the centre, to how we eat, work, treat ourselves, each other and interact with the natural world. Conscious hunting gives us a clear route to saving the planet from the current path it is heading down. We are wild to the core and this wildness, disciplined, channelled and acknowledged, can be a force for creative, collective, global transformation.
Photo title: Caspar Walsh's work includes teaching young men archery to try reconnecting them with themselves and the natural world
Photo credit: © Caspar Walsh