A Blessing in Disguise


Virginia is home to a large fan-base of hunting clubs because of the ideal landscape that provides for many foxes and other game. Fox hunting has taken a large role in my life because of my passion for horse back riding. Since the age of 4, I have been riding recreationally as well as competitively. One of my favorite events that happens every Thanksgiving is “The Blessing of the Hounds”.  Every year, people from far ranges of the East Coast, sometimes even Great Britain, come to this traditional ceremony at Grace Episcopal Church in Keswick, Virginia to watch the Keswick hunt club bless their fox hounds. Fox hunting is a popular pastime of some of Charlottesville’s oldest citizens. Locally, fox hunting is recognized as a highly regarded sport and many people participate in the weekly hunts that happen between the months of October and February.

The Blessing of the Hounds has been a tradition for decades now and it is something that the Charlottesville community looks forward to. But before I get into detail about the ceremony and the connection it makes to religion and animals, I feel that it is important to outline the objective of the fox hunt. Fox hunting started in the United States when Robert Brooke, a British huntsman, imported his hunting horses and hounds to the United States in 1650. The objective of the hunt originally was to start the hunt and end with a kill of the fox. However, throughout the years, there have been modifications to the tradition because of the Animal Cruelty societies and the objective of the hunt is to now trap, and release the animal without any harm. The way a hunt is structured is that there are three main individuals. There is: the hunt master, who precedes over every individual during the hunt and makes sure that everyone follows the path to the trapping of the fox; there is the “first flight” individuals who choose the paths less taken, which means they go over rough terrain, unsteady jumps, and streams with their horses – this is for the more experienced riders. And lastly, there are the “second flight” individuals who bring up the rear of the hunt pack and travel on the paths that are less rugged. The fox hounds always lead the hunt.

The Blessing of the Hounds ceremony is only performed in 4 established hunt clubs in the United States, and it is usually more common in Great Britain. The idea of the blessing is to pray for a profitable and exciting hunt to begin Thanksgiving and to give appreciation to the fox hounds and the horses of the hunt. I chose to focus on the Blessing of the Hounds for it is a ceremony so highly regarded in my community because it brings the animals onto the same stance as human individuals. Throughout our readings we discussed the dynamic relationship between the oppression of women and animals, and the similarities between the two with: medical and scientific technologies taking advantage of animals for testing, trafficking for commodification, the domestication of animals as a model of oppression, etc. Although we can look at the domestication of the foxhounds and their training as well as the domestication and training of the hunt horses, however, it is important to note that with this religious acceptance into the church, these animals are now on equal par with their domesticators. The priest goes along to each horse, and every hound with a blessing for each one. The morning of the Blessing is very special because this day symbolizes an appreciation for the animals, which eliminates what we defined as “alienation” or speciesism (79, Gruen) through the social roles.

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