[Transcript] – Sacred Hunting, Convict Conditioning, Rites Of Passage, Plant Medicines, Rekindling Ancient Spiritual Practices & More With Mansal Denton.

Affiliate Disclosure


From podcast: https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/podcast/mansal-denton-podcast/

[00:00:00] Introduction

[00:00:52] Podcast Sponsors

[00:07:26] How A Stint In The Clink Became A Rite Of Passage For Mansal

[00:20:10] Ben's Preferred Style Of Hunting And Why

[00:30:53] Podcast Sponsors

[00:33:51] When The Hunt Took On Its Sacred Form For Mansal

[00:44:08] An Insider's Look At The Sacred Hunting Experience

[00:59:50] Why It's Especially Empowering That Sacred Hunts Occur With Men Only

[01:02:36] How Plant Medicines Can Enhance The Hunt

[01:06:07] What Occurs After The Animal Is Killed

[01:12:16] Closing the Podcast

[01:17:25] Legal Disclaimer

Ben: On this episode of the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast.

Mansal: It's one thing to go hunt by yourself, it's another thing to hunt with a tribe of men just like our ancestors would have done.

Things that are sacred are the things that pull at our heartstring. And, that tension, that feeling a deep sense of sorrow of killing. So, if anyone who's listening to this maybe is a little skeptical about what higher power means, or God, or whatever the case is. It is so often simply–

Ben: Health, performance, nutrition, longevity, ancestral living, biohacking, and much more. My name is Ben Greenfield. Welcome to the show.

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[00:03:33] Podcast and Guest Intro 

Well, you guys, you know if you've been listening to this podcast for any period of time that I occasionally like to get out and poke around with my bow. I like to hunt. I started firearms hunting about, oh gosh, seven or eight years ago and switched to bow after a few years of that. And, typically go out a few times a year and harvest an animal and enjoy God's great creation. And, I suppose sometimes I get a little bit of flak from either, A, people who might feel that that hunting is not supremely ethical or B, I'll sometimes get kicked back from folks who I think have the impression of a hunter being a redneck who dumps a bunch of corn on the ground and then climbs up into a tree and plays Candy Crush on their phone while waiting for a deer to walk underneath the tree and then shoot them with a giant weapon. Or, perhaps the people in Texas who go hunting from helicopters with AK-47s after pigs. There's obviously a lot of different ways that one can hunt.

And, my guest on today's podcast, he is the founder of an organization called “Sacred Hunting.” I began to look into Sacred Hunting a few months ago and even got a chance to read my guest's book about Sacred Hunting. His name is Mansal Denton. And basically, he's kind of studied up on honorable ways to harvest animals, to feed your family or yourself, and also how to really tap into the sacredness of hunting as his company's name implies, Sacred Hunting. And, he wrote this book called “Sacred Hunting: Rekindling an Ancient Spiritual Practice,” which is just a fantastic exploration of hunting as a rite of passage and hunting as a deeply spiritual experience. And, hunting is something that goes beyond just say putting meat on the table or god forbid, sitting in a tree stand playing Candy Crush and waiting for an animal with a giant bazooka.

And so, Mansal is somebody that I really wanted to get on the show for a few reasons. First of all, because I know that obtaining food that sustains life is something that for many people is either a foreign concept or something that you really if you already hunt haven't begun to associate with the deeply spiritual and sacred act that hunting actually is. And, I also wanted to get Mansal on the show because we are actually going to be putting a hunt together. We're going to be doing a sacred hunt down on the Hawaiian island of Molokai where there was over 20,000 axis deer and some amazing hunting and hunting experiences. And so, not only are you going to learn this podcast a little bit more about what Sacred Hunting is, but you'll also learn about how you could even potentially join Mansal and I in that experience if it's something that you want to do whether you've never hunted in your life or whether you are a hunter but you kind of want to tap into a different flavor of hunting so to speak, a more sacred and I think appropriate experience.

So Mansal, welcome to the show, man.

Mansal: Thank you. Thank you for, yeah, sharing all that and your own experience with hunting. And honestly, thank you for initially supporting my journey into hunting in the first place.

Ben: Yeah. Yeah, for sure, man. I've been pleased to see that many of my friends especially in the health and fitness sector who have never hunted before have actually connected with you and gone on hunts with you and had a really good experience from the reports that they brought back.

But, I actually want to start with something super fringe because I met you a few years ago and we didn't stay in contact too much. And then, the last I heard about you until I finally got your new book and started to tap into what you're doing now was that you were in prison. And so, I know it's a weird place to start a podcast, but how the heck did you wind up in prison, dude? What happened?

Mansal: Well, the story that required a lot of introspection and reflection was basically that in my high school years, I think a lot of men, I felt confusion, a lot of self-doubt, questions about my worth. Clearly, that shows up most in relationships with girls and things like that. And so, when I was in high school, I had a relationship with a woman who lived in Switzerland. And, when I graduated high school, I wanted to move to Europe and go be with her. So basically, I stole some historical documents that were part of a museum that I was an intern in at that time. And, I sold them and I went to Europe for two years. And so, this was 19 years old. Definitely did not have a fully developed brain and unfortunately made not only bad choices but really skewed my sense of morality in order to seek what I thought was some type of solace for this not good enough, not feeling good enough in myself.

Ben: Wow.

Mansal: And, it took a few years, but between those three and a half years, that's when we met. And, the time that I went to prison, the case was coming to some type of fruition. But, I did get sentenced to prison and spent time in prison. And, it was one of the greatest rites of passage that I could have asked for and parallels actually some indigenous cultures that have today considered prison to be a rite of passage such as a lot of the aboriginal people in Australia. So, I'm grateful for it, but that's how a lot of this journey started.

Ben: And, to clarify, you don't mean that you think some parent listening in should ensure their child does something illegal to wind up in prison so they can go through a rite of passage. But, what you're saying is that people who have wound up in prison have experienced something very similar to something like a rite of passage that say a young man might have gone through in ancient times, a spartan warrior going off for a series of ego disillusion nights of loneliness out in the wilderness is something that one might experience kind of sort of a similar type of, I guess, feeling when they went up in prison.

Mansal: Totally, yeah. Obviously don't encourage that in your children. I would never wish it upon anyone. But specifically, I spoke with an indigenous elder in Australia. And, for those who aren't familiar, Australia had aboriginal people that were pretty marginalized similar to the indigenous in North America. And, crime is so high among aboriginal communities now. He basically told me a lot of their cultural rites of passage have been substituted for prison now. And, they have unintentionally started to see that as a rite of passage. So yes, I totally agree, don't emphasize that.

Ben: Right.

Mansal: If you don't have to, there's other more healthy ways of doing it, But, you know how life is with the type of personality trying to grow and learn, you just start to see things, even challenging things as opportunities for that.

Ben: Yeah. And, I want to hear more about kind of what happened for you mentally or psychologically in prison that kind of shifted you towards becoming interested in sacred hunting in the first place. But, back to that whole rite of passage thing, hunting in and of itself, and correct me if I'm wrong, has long been an element of a rite of passage. Meaning that going off into the wilderness to harvest your first animal is something that specifically a young man would often experience as a way to prove that they were ready to be able to provide and protect, right?

Mansal: Exactly. There's a lot of anthropological reports of South American tribes where they have different words for a male that transitions from boy to man and it's completely dependent on their ability to successfully hunt. And obviously, it makes sense because in these tribes where you're a part of your family in such a close-knit way, basically, you don't leave your parents as a male until you can adequately feed yourself and others to create your own family. And so, not only is it culturally very important to have this as a rite of passage, it's a pragmatic thing that's very deep in our DNA to have hunting be a rite of passage into the next stage of life.

Ben: Yeah, yeah. And, I mean even in the U.S., it's considered kind of a red-blooded American male thing as a kind of sort of rite of passage to beg your first buck with a rifle. And, I, unfortunately, think that there are so many missing components of that type of hunt especially in say a westernized context where you're going out, you're maybe having a beer with your dad and pointing a BoomBoom stick at an animal and firing and literally causing bloodshed, and maybe cooking a backstrap over a fire that night. But, there's not a whole lot of sacredness worked into the experience or even acknowledgment that you've taken a life which technically you have. And, I know that there's a lot of American hunters who kind of, I think, they scoff and kind of ridicule the whole idea of maybe kneeling over the animal and saying a prayer, or even preparing yourself in the way that I know that you organize with these sacred hunts which I actually want to get into. Yet, I think that we still see hunting as something that's practiced as a rite of passage interestingly in a culture that seems to have lost connection with the whole importance of a rite of passage again, especially for a young man. And so, I would love to see more American hunters who are already going out and hunting anyways when a boy and sometimes a girl is 12 or 13 or 14 years old being able to weave some of these practices that you've discovered and kind of woven into the practice of sacred hunting into their hunts. It would be very cool to kind of see the modern western hunting begin to incorporate some of these practices.

And, I know we'll get into what some of those practices are. But, I want to get back to prison. And, I thought that that's something I would imagine you love to talk about. But, what happened in prison that kind of got you interested in either hunting or some of the thought processes that eventually developed behind your so-called sacred hunting experience?

Mansal: Yeah. So, my experience in prison was really a perfect–it was very fertile ground for me to explore my relationship to myself, my sense of sovereignty, my perspective on an outlook on challenges, and things like that. And, Victor Frankl has a really beautiful quote. And, I won't try and put it verbatim but basically, he says, “The last of the human freedoms is the ability to choose your mindset no matter the situation.” And, he was in a concentration camp during the holocaust and he speaks and writes about how he could maintain this level of equanimity while in such a challenging situation. And, when I was in prison, my experience was broken into two very distinct segments. The first segment was characterized by so much resistance. I counted the days before I was going to get out. I was eating anything that was palatable that would give me some pleasant sensations in an unpleasant situation. I was watching movies to try and kill time, counting down the days. There was just so much resistance that was going on for me.

And, there came a time I considered to be kind of a rock bottom moment where I found out some things about my family, some family members that were going to die before I got out of prison, and it just struck me as being too much. And, I had a moment, I covered myself up with a blanket, and I just cried. And, even though the myth that you don't cry in prison does have truth to it, I didn't really care at that point. And, it was such a drastic and hopeless moment of despair that on the other side of it was a certain level of surrender.

And so, the second half of my prison experience was characterized by surrender. Basically, my perspective was this is where I am and I have got to do everything in my power to make the most of it. And, that meant working out with calisthenics, reading every single book that I could get my hands on. I was fasting in prison. And–

Ben: By the way, there's some pretty good prison workout manuals out there that I've actually got a few on my bookshelf. And, there's some pretty hardcore workouts you can do in a very small space.

Mansal: Oh, totally. And, I was using other inmates, inmates with nicknames like Cutthroat, for example. And, I was doing bodyweight exercises with their body weight on top.

Ben: Yeah.

Mansal: So, there's some funny stories about how much respect and status I got from those workouts that I did. But in any case–

Ben: Yeah, they call them them–what's the one book? I think one of the first ones that existed, it was a “Convict Conditioning,” I think, was the name of that initial manual.

Mansal: Yeah, yeah. And man, it got me a nickname “Doctor” and “Professor” because they were so enthusiastic about how much I knew about bodyweight activities and things like that. But, on the whole, what it did was it almost gave me a scientific experiment of what my mind is capable. Because here's the same environmental conditions and you've got that baseline experience in prison. On the one side, I have, what, resistance, struggle, and scarcity looks like. And, on the other side, I have what does abundance, sovereignty, agency feel like.

Ever since then, I have a certain added confidence in myself and awareness that no matter what happens in my life, I always have the opportunity to take responsibility and make the best of it. And, people can learn that intellectually, they might hear this podcast is probably not the first time that they've ever heard that. But having such a visceral experience makes it much easier for me to embody that wisdom.

Ben: Yeah, yeah.

Now, had you been hunting before you went to prison?

Mansal: No, I hadn't been hunting. And, in fact, I had not been hunting basically until I was 26, 27 years old even though my father was an avid hunter as a child. I didn't even know that he hunted his childhood due to familial trauma that was in his family. So, it was a new practice that came to me after I went to prison.

Ben: Yeah. My upbringing in North Idaho kind of makes some people think that I grew up with a rifle in my hand like most of the North Idaho Rednecks I grew up with did. But honestly, my dad was from Miami and my mom was from Detroit. Now, I kind of grew up in a big city family in a rural area and we eventually kind of got into shooting snake shot at rattlesnakes and going out after rabbits with 22s and eventually went on a couple of whitetail deer hunts with a 30 out 6 by the time I was about 14 or 15 years old. But, I never really formally learned to hunt. My dad wasn't into it. I went out with a couple of my dad's friends a few times. And, my initial hunt was when I was, gosh, 30 years old. I'm like, “Dude, I live in an area that's got tons of amazing hunting and wonderful areas to actually go out and harvest an animal.” And, I eventually bought a hunting rifle and went out after whitetail actually on the land that I live on.

Now, I live on 10 acres out in Eastern Washington. And, I bought this acreage because I initially had asked permission to hunt on it and I just fell in love with the area. And, every time I'd come up here to hunt, I saw this spot where I was like, “Man, I could build a home right there.” And, I actually offered the guy who owned this 10 acres money to just buy his land and wound up buying 10 acres for 90,000 bucks, and eventually built this house on it. And, I still hunt out here sometimes even though the whitetail deer around here we almost consider pets and I'd rather get up north or hunt on Spokane Mountain. But yeah, I didn't really grow up with much hunting at all.

And, I remember the first animal that I field dressed, the first white-tailed deer that I field dressed, fortunately, I'd taken a lot of anatomy classes in university education and had dissected six humans before I dissected my first animal. But I remember I was just literally hunched out in the snow over this deer that I'd shot on this property with a YouTube video pulled up on how to field dress and got an animal and was just basically out there for an ungodly period of time. It took me five hours to do my first field dressing of a whitetail just because I had no clue what I was doing but wound up eventually coming home with me. And, ever since then, like I mentioned, I've been going out a few times a year. But yeah, I didn't really grow up as much of a hunter myself despite being in an area where people hunt all the time.

So anyways though, you got out of prison. And, where did hunting begin to enter into the scene for you?

Mansal: So, if you remember when I talked about going to prison, one of the things that came up was this feeling of not being good enough especially as it relates to relationships with women. And, what occurred to me after I came out of prison was and especially today, this kind of hole in terms of what does it actually mean to be a man and what does it mean to have a healthy role model for masculinity? Because my father was physically present and he did the best that he could, but there was a lot of things that he didn't teach me. And, our ancestors, they never had one male figure as the only way to learn about masculinity, it was all the uncles, it was all the grandfathers. 

And so, I personally and I believe a lot of western society and Americans, for sure, really aren't modeled what is a healthy integrated masculine role model and what are the practices that allow us to practice those virtues that are related to masculinity. And, sports bring out some things which is good and a great start, but there's a lot more rites of passage, et cetera, that we miss. And so, I didn't realize this, or I couldn't verbalize this at that time, but that wound around masculinity led me to start seeking physical practices where I could actually start to embody masculine traits. And, I'm not talking about what are considered stereotypically like macho masculine traits, but I mean actually embodying a certain set of virtues that are very masculine in nature. And, I'm sure people listening to this have experienced men where they feel, “Wow, this guy is clearly a masculine being.”

And so, I did jiu-jitsu, I did a bunch of combat sports, and hunting started to come onto my radar after I saw some of your hunts actually and started to bring my interest, garner my interest. And, for much of my life, I've always been guided by what is calling me, so to speak. And, for whatever reason, hunting was something that was interesting, it was something that was new and foreign, but it definitely resonated on many levels. And so, I stepped in and said yes to go hunting. And, because of my experience in prison, I couldn't use a gun. So, it actually set me up to be a bow hunter right away which not only was challenging but made it far more intentional and meaningful as well.

Ben: Yeah, I think that bow hunting and I won't spend too long unpacking this because I've said it before on podcasts is it's almost the spearfishing equivalent of fishing. I get super bored fishing out of a boat or fishing from shore. Yet, when I put on a wetsuit or even just a Speedo and tie a weight set around my belt and dive into the water with a sling gun and actually get down there with the fishes, and you're cold, and it's physical, and you're more close to the animal and it seems it takes a lot more physicality and almost skill to get in there and find the fish, and duck under rocks and get intimately connected with your breath and the cold, and where to actually dive when you compare that to say rifle hunting or firearms hunting versus bow hunting, it's very similar. I love the physicality of it. The fact that you have to get closer to the animal. It's a little bit more of a fair fight so to speak. There's more tracking and scent covering, and wind detecting, and camouflage that's required for a bow hunt. You have to, in my opinion, practice more than you have to practice with a firearm in terms of your bow siding and your setup and being able to shoot at an ethical yardage. I fell in love with the bow when I switched to bow hunting.

And, actually what got me into switching to bow hunting wasn't really any of that, it was the fact that one of my buddies started this organization called Train to Hunt which is basically obstacle course racing with a weapon where you are running up a hill with a heavy backpack on and crawling under barbed wire and then doing these sandbag lifts, and then firing at a target, and then putting your backpack back on and running to the next target and shooting under pressure. And, they call that the obstacle course part of the competition. And then, there's what's called the meat pack part, which is supposed to simulate getting your animal out of the mountains. And so, you'll put 100 pounds in a backpack. It's a 4-mile race over the mountains. And then, they also have what's called a 3D shoot where you're spending about four to five hours weaving through the forest where they've hidden all these different targets and you're with other competitors and you're taking shots at 40 yards or 60 yards, or sometimes you're shooting straight up into the trees or sometimes you're doing a shot where you got to draw lunging and then stand to shoot, or draw kneeling and stand to shoot, or perhaps you have to draw and then rotate around and swivel your entire body and shoot at something that's off to your left.

And so, I entered into one of these competitions having never actually bow hunted before and trained a ton for this competition. And, I already had fitness because I was a triathlete, an obstacle course racer. And so, I just had to figure out how to shoot. And, I trained and I trained and I trained. I did these competitions and I wound up doing a dozen of those trained hunt competitions. And, it wasn't until after my third one that I actually went hunting with a bow. And fortunately, I was super successful on my first hunt because I just been practicing so much shooting when gassed, shooting under pressure, hauling meat, getting comfortable with my backpack set up. But initially, for me, I just kind of started shooting a bow, so I could do these competitions and then transferred that over into hunting. And since then, I haven't been interested in firearm hunting much at all. Although, I did just get for Christmas one of those–it's kind of a crossbow but it's basically called an air gun, and it's a rifle with a scope that shoots arrows. It spits out arrows like 455 FPS, so super-powerful gun. It's legal for big game hunting in some states. I'm actually planning on doing my elk hunt in Idaho this year with that rifle down on the Palouse. So, I'm going to do a little hybrid firearm arrow hunt this year in addition to the hunt I'm going to do with you down in Hawaii. But yeah, I also didn't initially start with a bow and eventually convert it. I just think bow hunting is kind of top of the totem pole.

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So, you got into bow hunting. And then, where did the sacred hunting part of this begin to fit into the scenario for you?

Mansal: Well, it started to fit in accidentally in my experience of it. My spiritual teacher says the plants chose you and that'll make more sense as I describe it. But basically, a month before I went hunting, I was already practicing with a bow. I knew that it was going to be pretty challenging because archery is far more of a commitment than a rifle. And, I didn't mean for this to happen but I scheduled a week-long ayahuasca retreat that was with a close group of men. So, it was a men's retreat using ayahuasca. And, in some of those ceremonies, I had really profound insights around not just the intellectual part of killing an animal, which I knew that I was going to do and I had justifications for why I was going to do it, but really feeling the magnitude of what it means to take the life of a sentient being and especially one as magnificent as a deer.

As you know from hunting, deer are far more social than we give them credit for. They have more mannerisms. They show more play than we give them credit for. In a lot of ways, they're a lot like us. And, in seeing that likeness and then being on ayahuasca and seeing the animal in my mind's eye just thinking about the fact that I was going to kill it, I started to weep and really kind of mourn this tension that I felt between this is something that I have to do, this is something that is just and at the same time, this is something that is sad. And, I grieve the loss of this animal.

And, someone once told me that the things that are sacred are the things that pull at our heartstrings. And, that tension of needing to kill but feeling a deep sense of sorrow of killing is really what brings a lot of that sacredness into it. And so, I went through this ayahuasca experience, and for the first time in my life, I actually had a relationship to higher power that I felt and asked for guidance and sought some support on the hunt. And, when I went hunting, basically the exact thing that I asked for came true. And so, there was some type of a closing of a loop in that. And, it all came together to really shape hunting as not only just a hobby or a pastime to do something pragmatic or utilitarian in my life but a spiritual practice.

There's the quote, “The way that you do one thing is the way that you do everything.” And, for me, as I have explored hunting, it kind of became a portal to a relationship with a higher power. And, you can have a spiritual practice that includes everything. I mean, literally there's a book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” You could turn motorcycle maintenance into a spiritual practice. But, my argument and I have found this to be true in my experience is that hunting is kind of the original one, it's the thing that we've been doing since before we were even a species. And so, it's very deeply embedded in us to have an openness to treating it like a spiritual practice.

Ben: Yeah. Tell me about your first hunt.

Mansal: Well, my first hunt was in Texas and I helped get that set up through a mutual friend, Mark Warnke. And basically, I was hunting for blackbuck, antelope, and whitetail in the Texas hill country in December, first time that it had snowed. As you know, bow hunting is just so hard, especially for a beginner. So, it took me probably four days. And, even if I was close enough to an animal to take a shot, it wasn't the right shot. If animals were in my view, they weren't close enough. And so, I was getting some early guidance there as far as when to take a good shot and not. But on the final day, I had an opportunity and I shot a blackbuck antelope straight through the heart.

Ben: Yeah. Blackbucks are good. That's a very beautiful deer, the blackbuck. Yeah. Well, people could probably google image what it looks. But the rack is this big, I don't know how you would describe it, Mansal, it's a spirally single almost a unicorn protrusion. There's two of them on this blackbuck deer and the whole top is black and the bottom is white. It's a very, very cool-looking animal. So, it sounds like you had a good ethical clean shot and a good experience.

Mansal: Yeah, absolutely. And, I mean that experience, it was really pivotal for me as I went to do another ayahuasca retreat with the skin of that antelope and really started to explore my relationship with death and so many other topics of my life that witnessing that death and being a part of it brought up for me. But over time, I really started to see it as such an incredible catalyst in my life in the way that I view myself and masculinity, of course, which is how I went down that route. But also, my relationship to nature, my relationship to higher power, my relationship which by the way in most indigenous cultures and even in Christianity depending on how you look at it, connection to nature was the relationship to higher power. So, if anyone who's listening to this, maybe a little skeptical about what higher power means, or God, or whatever the case is, it is so often simply just a deep connection to nature. And, that was one of the many things that I got from that experience.

Ben: Well, the Bible says that God reveals himself to us through nature like some of the most profound experiences I've had praying to God, or speaking to God, or listening to God have indeed been when surrounded by the awe of nature, whether under a waterfall or in the forest, or even just under a giant tamarack near my home. And, I know that many people say that they feel just fine worshiping God in nature and that's the only thing, they need to find God. And, I tend to differ with that opinion. I think that God has called us to be in communion with other people and in fellowship with other people and that sharing religious experiences and sharing worship and taking of communion or the seeing of songs as one might do on a Sunday morning at church are also integral parts of deepening your connection with God and your experience with God, yet I think that these nature experiences are certainly something that are formative and I would argue even necessary for really truly experiencing God in all of his completeness.

Mansal: Yeah.

Ben: Now, the one thing that you said that I didn't quite understand, so I would imagine maybe some of my listeners wouldn't really understand and I would love for you to explain what you mean by that. You said you took the skin of that first animal that you hunted and then you went and did an ayahuasca ceremony with that. What does that even mean?

Mansal: Well, it means I freaked out a lot of my friends. But basically, you can tan the hide, so I took the hide from this blackbuck antelope that I hunted and I actually left the head on. So, many people might see a skin from an animal and it just looks kind of a rug. Well, this is a little bit different because it still has the head with the ears, with the nose, and all that stuff. It's flat. It's just the skin, but it's all together. And so, I took that after it was finished tanning and I went down to Mexico. Again, I didn't plan for this, I just already had another ayahuasca retreat planned. I went down to Mexico and I sat for a week. And, I had so much come up for me around death that I was reading books like “The Denial of Death” by Ernest Becker. I was reading “When Breath Becomes Air,” which is about a surgeon who is basically diagnosed with brain cancer. And so, he writes this book.

Ben: Yeah, I read that book a long time ago, it's beautiful. 

Mansal: Beautiful book. So, there's just a lot around death. And, I wanted to really commune with the spirit of this animal that I had killed with ayahuasca. And so, I took the skin and I put it next to me during the ceremony, And, multiple times, I would just open my eyes when I was in the middle of ceremony and I would just have this animal looking back at me that I had killed and I would remember that experience. And, it was a very, very profound way of relating to the spirit of that animal.

Ben: Interesting.

So, in terms of all of these books that you've read, your experience with plant medicine, your experience with God, and this exploration that you've taken into hunting as you've gone through or after you've gone through that ego dissolving rite of passage type of experience in prison, I would love to get into a little bit of the nitty-gritty now, the boots on the street so to speak in terms of what a sacred hunting experience actually looks like. Let's say someone is listening into this and it sounds kind of two bros who have been either smoking weed or doing ayahuasca talking about hunting deer and they're curious how this actually fleshes itself out, like what does an actual sacred hunting experience look like.

And, I haven't been on one of your hunts, I can't say that I've actually done what you might call a sacred hunt though I certainly, when I harvest an animal, where my sons and I harvest an animal, we pray over it and we thank God. As we field-dressed the animal, it is a very sacred and reverent experience. There's actually not a lot of joking or whatever, you cutting out the esophagus and pulling the liver out and tossing into a garbage bag and just getting the hands bloody and not really pondering the deep significance of having taken a life nor do we necessarily eat that animal or piece of that animal later on and not acknowledge be it via prayer and gratefulness to both the animal and to God for that life that was taken. Yet, I would love to hear you actually detail what this sacred hunting experience actually looks like.

Let's say somebody is going to join in with you and I and go hunting in Hawaii with us. I know we're actually opening up this hunt to any of my listeners who want to join in on the hunt that you and I are going to do or some of the other hunts that you organize. So, walk me through what a sacred hunting experience actually looks like when someone shows up because I know you weave in things like fasting and certain practices both before and after the hunt that allow it to be more deeply meaningful. But I would love to hear you unpack how it actually goes.

Mansal: Yeah. Well, one of the things that I'm really a proponent of is just having everybody feel that they can create intentionality and sacredness within their own hunting practice. So, by no means do I think that I'm the only one who can kind of create the container. I'll share some of the things that I do that really support the creation of the sacred element. And, one of those things is just intentions and really taking the time to prepare in a way that creates added meaning to the process of killing an animal.

One of the reasons why archery is so much more fulfilling for people is because when you are practicing every single day with multiple arrows, I like to say that each arrow that I send is a prayer for that animal. Because in that moment, I'm putting all of my awareness, all of my attention on this one arrow, and the intention of this arrow is to be accurate so that I can kill an animal ethically. And, the same is true for many of the practices that I invite men on sacred hunting trips. Even if they're using a rifle which oftentimes I recommend for a first-time hunter just for ethical purposes, they can go through fasting. I'll have people fast for 24 to 72 hours the week before they come on a hunt. I'll have people utilize abstinence practices for a week before they come on the hunt. And, all of these things–

Ben: You mean abstinence practices similar to–well, for example, my wife and I will sometimes go on a couples retreat where we will do plant medicine together as a way to deepen our connectivity as a couple and sit in a different space kind of an altered state of consciousness together. And, that's the time when a lot of times we'll make family plans and business plans and personal plans. And typically, there's three or four days carved out afterwards for us to journal and continue to pray and talk and go on long walks. But typically for a week going into that, we don't have our evening glass of wine, we often switch to a kind of cleaner more plant-based diet. We avoid anything marijuana or any other substances in sort of what we'll call a “dieta.” Is that what you're saying that leading into someone showing up for a sacred hunting experience that you're recommending to them certain practices that they would engage in from an abstinence standpoint?

Mansal: Exactly, yes.

Ben: Okay.

Mansal: So, many of the practices specifically come from different indigenous people. So, for example, there are tribes like the Cherokee that might include abstinence from any kind of sexual activity specifically in order to honor the animal. So, it's giving up this source of pleasure for the intention of honoring the animal. The same is true for the fasting practices, giving up this nourishment and pleasure in order to be grateful for that which comes from the death of an animal. And so, it's very similar to what you've described with your partner and very similar for those who have done ayahuasca. There is the “dieta,” which is kind of literally diet in Spanish but it's a set of practices, a way of eating, a way of behaving before doing ayahuasca which has practical value to purify the body before using the substance but it also has the purpose of really setting the intention for going into the ayahuasca experience.

And, I think that in and of itself is one of the reasons why ayahuasca is so powerful for people because you can totally do ayahuasca and do it in a somewhat not necessarily a party environment but a less intentional setting.

Ben: It's like Molly, right? You could pop Molly at a rave or you could take MDMA and sit with your partner for six hours in a deep and meaningful conversation. It's all set in setting.

Mansal: Exactly, yes. And so, we want to start the intention and we want to start the sacredness of the experience before they even show up in person with each other. And so, that's what a lot of that instruction comes from.

The second piece is I really want to encourage people, me in particular to find a way or start to create the connection both with the animal and with nature before they arrive. And so, everybody who comes on a sacred hunting experience, I actually send them a special gift. I won't name exactly what that is, so I'll keep the surprise. But basically, there's an opportunity for them and there's specific instructions for them to go out, block off some time, no phones, no distractions, no nothing, and spend some time in nature. And, that is starting this conversation that they're going to be having between themselves and nature before they arrive. So, there's a lot that goes into them coming and just the whole preparation.

And honestly, people who are coming from other places, et cetera, it's a journey. It literally is a journey to be traveling to hunt to get all of the, even just practical things situated like guns, rifles, and all that kind of stuff. So–

Ben: Right, because the hunt–yeah, and just to interrupt real quick from a logistical standpoint. Our hunt is scheduled in August on Molokai?

Mansal: Yup, August 16th to the 19th.

Ben: Okay. And, by the way, I'll put all the details at BenGreenfieldfitness.com/SacredHuntingPodcast. That's BenGreenfieldfitness.com/SacredHuntingPodcast. So, those who want to join in, the reason we're releasing this podcast at the time that you're hearing it is because I think if someone's–let's say you've never shot a bow and this is your very, very first time, I think you need at least three months of daily shooting practice to really get yourself up to a decent 30 to 50-yard shot. We would be hunting axis deer which tend to be pretty quick wily animals and they kind of jump when you shoot them, so in my opinion, you got to aim a little bit low when you're shooting vitals on an axis. At least in my experience, I've harvested four axis deer, and almost all of them, I've always aimed a little bit low because they seem to hear that arrow coming off the string, and they kind of leap a little bit.

And, I'll ask you this momentarily, Mansal, but I think you've got the opportunity for people to hunt firearm as well. But regardless whether it's firearm or bow, I think you need at least three months of practice. But then as you were just describing, Mansal, it is a journey. You got to buy a boat case. You need to get a TSA-friendly lock. You need to be able to take your bow down and put it back together and actually put it, check it in and get it on the plane and then fly down there. And so, yeah, there's a lot of logistical aspects. It's like when I used to race triathlon. Yeah, racing in Ironman is one thing, but getting your bike, and your wetsuit, and your shoes, and your gear, and your food to the event is a whole different experience in of itself.

Mansal: Yeah, totally. And, that's all part of they say when you do a 10-day vipassana meditation retreat, the moment that you sign up, your journey begins. And, the same is true for hunting experience, sacred or not, if you really are intentional about it, then it starts the moment that you decide that you're going to commit to that kind of a practice.

So, once we get into the actual container of sacred hunting, we're all in person. Or, again, if someone's doing this by themselves, there's a few things that I think really make the container as sacred as can possibly be. One is a very introspective relationship to the practice of what's being done. And, that can mean taking some time to thank the land. And, I often bring tobacco and have a moment where myself and all the participants say a prayer, thanking the land, asking permission from the lands to be there, so it's a certain act of humility even though we humans think that we own things and we dominate land in a lot of ways. And, at least in the western context, my spiritual teacher says his home basically the land chose him to pay its taxes. That's how he views that.

And so, we come here and we really relate to nature in humility understanding that there's things that can happen, accidents, all kinds of things. And so, we're asking permission and we're asking for safety, et cetera.

Ben: By the way, to interrupt you just real quick, how many people?

Mansal: Usually it's between six to eight people that I have. So, very intimate. I'll usually have two to three guides with me as well. So usually, it's one to two kind of ratio.

Ben: Right. Okay, got it. Alright, so you show up and you begin by just preparing yourself in terms of your relationship with the actual earth that you're hunting upon, in this case, Molokai, Hawaii.

Mansal: Yeah, exactly. And, that sometimes that means also understanding the people that were on that land beforehand and really not only paying a tribute to them but understanding their practices, understanding their perspectives and things like that. Because a people is shaped by the land. The word “indigenous” literally means “of a place.” And so, for example on Hawaii, I am connected to a 16th generation Hawaiian. He's got all kinds of amazing tattoos, and his name is [00:57:14]_____ and he shares all of the culture, the native Hawaiian culture on Molokai, the sunrise, singing to the sunrise that was done for hundreds of years. And, we go through that whole process and we learn from them what it means to relate with that land before we even start hunting. So, it's really important to connect with the land and connect with people that were there, connect with your own sense of gratitude and humility, and being on that specific land, wherever that might be.

Ben: Yeah. And, by the way, Molokai is actually one of those places, correct me if I'm wrong, where you do kind of have to have an in with the locals to be able to hunt. When I've hunted, there was a similar experience where I had some friends who frequent that island and also some locals who lived there who guided us through the area. I was down there both bow hunting and spearfishing. It's just that wonderful, beautiful experience hunting out there amongst everything from deep bogs way back up in the mountains to being walking along the steep cliffs beside the ocean because these axis deer. Well, there's a lot of them, they're all over there. There's like, I think, what, how many, 40,000? On Molokai, there's 40,000 or 20,000, I forget.

Mansal: There's 22,000 deer.

Ben: Yeah, it's a lot.

Mansal: And there's 7,000 residents.

Ben: Right, right. And so, despite there being huge herds of axis deer, there is a lot of ambushing, a lot of waiting behind trees as the herds follow their daily migration patterns from the water to the open grassland, there's a lot of spotting and stocking, there's a lot of preparation. Sometimes you're out there for a few days before you actually harvest an animal. And so, you're out there, you're preparing and you are kind of setting yourself up as far as the sacred relationship with the earth, you've done a dieta leading in, you've gotten all of your equipment to the island. Do people have the option to shoot with either a firearm or a bow?

Mansal: Yes, they have the option. I always encourage people, especially complete beginners to start with a rifle. But people who have been practicing who want to take the challenge of doing archery, that's totally fine, too. On Molokai, it can be really challenging because although there are so many animals, they often are in big herds which means that you've got a lot of eyeballs that can potentially see you, which closing the distance can be really tricky.

Ben: Yeah.

And so, when you're there and you are preparing on that first day to go out on the hunt in the subsequent days, what else is happening from a ceremonial standpoint that would be kind of different from a sacred hunting perspective?

Mansal: Yeah. So, one thing is acknowledging that there's so many different themes and there's so much value that comes from having these experiences and specifically having them together with men. There's not a lot of containers in western society where men can really share authentically and vulnerably how they are feeling, what's going on for them. And so, in these sacred hunting experiences, I attract introspective people. And so, having the time set aside to really share in brotherhood what is going on in your life. And, that could be something that relates to a partner, it could be something that relates to work. Whatever the case is, it could be something completely different than the experience of hunting. But simply, being in that container of brotherhood is so powerful and so healing. And again, it's a very, very old thing.

It's one thing to go hunt by yourself, it's another thing to hunt with a tribe of men just like our ancestors would have done where we're sitting around, we're talking about our life, we know we're there to do a job but there's a sense of connection, camaraderie, and more importantly, there's a sense that we're all in this together. And so, on all sacred hunting trips, all of the meat that is brought back by everybody is split evenly amongst everyone. That is a participant on these hunts, which means that I'm rooting for you to succeed and you're rooting for this other person to succeed because your success is everyone's success. And, there's few places in our world to have that kind of zero-sum brotherhood involved. So, that's another huge component to the sacred hunting trips.

Ben: Right, right. So, this is all men. Any boys, you getting men that bring their sons or anything like that?

Mansal: I definitely have men who have brought their sons, Liver King and his son came for their first time with me. And, there's a wide range of men who bring their younger sons as well.

Ben: Okay, okay, got it.

Now, I realized that we do need to be careful from a legality standpoint talking about these type of things, but I know that many indigenous cultures will do things like combo, for example, the frog poison in order to amplify their sensory experience and their endurance before going out for a week of hunting where you'll burn holes in the side of the arm and literally put combo on the burns and kind of vomit violently for 20 minutes and pass out and then wake up and you're kind of like a superhuman for a week or two. Other cultures will microdose with something psilocybin or sniff Rapé or something like that prior to a hunt in order to amplify their sensory perceptions.

Does anything like that go on to any extent as a part of this experience?

Mansal: Yeah. I definitely bring multiple plant medicines into the experience. The word “entheogen,” it means to have a connection to or of God. And so, many of these indigenous peoples, they utilize these substances to create a connection to higher power to create obviously more success on the hunt. It's considered to be “hunting medicine.” And so, I bring those medicines into the container of sacred hunting for a number of reasons. One is to simply have more context for what it is to be taking the life of an animal, connecting to because there's oftentimes, at least for me, I live in such a kind of a hectic or busy city environment life where I don't always have such ready access to my emotions. And so, when I go somewhere and I'm going to go hunting, there's a part of me that treats it like I might treat work where I'm there to get a job done. And, the plant medicines really emphasize slowing down and feeling what is alive for me in this moment, what does it mean to be taking the life of this animal, and to feel that more fully and to see where there's different perspectives showing up that can provide me insights within my life. And, that creates an opportunity for people to really transform their life through hunting.

When someone says, “What do I do?” I say, “I facilitate transformation.” Hunting and plant medicine and ceremony, they all are tools that do that, but it's really transformation that we seek. And, those plant medicines are critical, vital really, in order to providing that.

Ben: Yeah, yeah. Okay. So, someone heads out with their guide, they're out there on Molokai, they're hunting. Let's say they successfully harvest an axis deer.

Once the animal is down or once someone has followed the blood trail and gotten to their downed animal, what occurs that is unique from a ceremonial or a sacred hunting standpoint at that point?

Mansal: So, when an animal is taken off the land, although we are there and we're doing a positive thing for the land by killing these deer by many accounts overpopulated on Molokai and as people will find out are kind of hurting the native foliage and things like that, we're still taking an animal for our benefit that is removing it from the ecosystem, from the family. And, taking a moment to be in gratitude is incredibly important. And so, like we have tobacco for expressing our thanks and asking permission to be on the land, there's also tobacco for killing an animal and taking that. And, we use the tobacco as kind of an offering. I'm going to take this animal and in return, I'm leaving this tobacco and a prayer of intentionality that this animal is something that we're grateful for, and we're really going to show and experience that gratitude.

So again, coming back to slowing down, that is one of the key components because when things move so quickly and you kill an animal and then you're excited and high-fiving and everything, and then you go right into butchering the animal, you just move through, you don't allow any of the feelings and the sensations and the introspection to come through. So, the tobacco forces a level of gratitude and humility and it also just slows down the process because there's a very palpable feeling that comes over anybody who experiences killing an animal and witnessing it. That experience of having a living animal, that then passes into a different form. Its soul or spirit, whatever you want to call it, leaves its physical body. You can feel the presence of the Grim Reaper for lack of a better term, but some kind of extra energetic feeling that's associated with that experience. And, it's a powerful thing if you take the time to actually experience it.

Ben: Yeah, very powerful, I agree. When I've hunted in Hawaii before, typically because I always like to harvest as much of that animal as possible, I eat nose to tail and harvest the liver, the kidney, the heart, sometimes even the testicles, pretty much every part of the animal possible, I have actually afterwards gone to a local store and purchased coolers, small cooler bags frozen all of the parts of the animal that I want to bring back and then actually checked them onto the plane and flown back with the meat, which sounds a lot to go through. But, I've never really had much difficulty with it and typically need to pay about 100 to 200 for extra check bags to fly back. Is that something that you provide the opportunity for people to do or do you simply leave the meet with the locals?

Mansal: Yeah, people will definitely get the meat. Generally speaking, it's really easy to have the men bring a cooler with them that's empty and then it's all taken care of on the island. Now, it's important that we actually break the whole animal down. We'll gut it. We will skin it. We'll quarter it out. We'll take meat off and we'll cook that meat and we'll eat some of those organs at night. And, especially on an island Molokai, which is super remote, it's one of the best sources of food that there is is actually just killing an animal. It'll be a really important part of the whole process to actually go through that and share that together with all the men, share an animal that had been alive only a few hours before. And then, anything that is remaining, I have some great, great native Hawaiians that I know out Molokai who they take care of vacuum sealing in, all that kind of stuff and freezing it and then they ship it to each of us. And, it'll just be in the cooler–

Ben: Oh, wow. They'll actually ship it, huh.

Mansal: Yup, they got some discounted FedEx rate. So, it's actually much cheaper.

Ben: That's super convenient. Wow, I've never actually done that. That's very convenient. Where are you staying out there? Is it tent camping? Is it a cabin type of scenario? Or, what do you guys have as far as a lodge or lodging?

Mansal: Yeah, it's a cabin type of scenario. It's definitely primitive cooking on a kind of a propane burner and all that kind of stuff. It's quaint, but it's really peaceful and really nice. There's no power out there. There's a generator if you need it, but it's really just kind of a peaceful nature situation. And, whether there is the same year-round and really great pretty much. No need for air conditioning or anything like that, but no need to bring tents or anything.

Ben: Yeah. And, access me just for those of you who haven't experienced that is considered amongst hunters to be some of the best tasting wild game meat on the face of the planet. So, it definitely even without a long marinade or a fancy sous-vide or a smoker or anything like that winds up being really, really great meats.

I love, Mansal, how you're weaving together these indigenous rites and rituals, plant medicine ceremonies, a dieta, a ceremonial aspect of honoring the animal and honoring the earth, harvesting the entire animal, making sure that the meat doesn't go to waste. It's just so much different than whatever heading off on some rich efforts, Safari to Africa to go beg a rhino or come back with some kind of a trophy. It's different than like I mentioned earlier hunting over a corn feeder in Nebraska with a gun in your iPhone. Even though I haven't yet gone on this hunt with you, I have to say I'm really excited to actually experience this for myself to go back to Molokai again and to hopefully bring a few podcast listeners along on the journey.

I don't even have the dates in front of me that we have this experience planned. Do you have the exact dates in front of you? I know it's in August, but I don't have it in front of me.

Mansal: Yes, it's August 16th through the 19th.

Ben: Okay. So, it's basically a three-day hunt. Meaning, someone would probably arrive. Well, it depends if someone would want to island-hop and go a few other places or whatever. But basically, you'd probably arrive, what, the 15th and head back on the 20th, something like that/

Mansal: Yup, exactly.

Ben: Okay. Alright, got it. Well, I'll put all the details at BenGreenfieldfitness.com/SacredHuntingPodcast in terms of the shownotes and everything. Or, you could just go straight to the sign-up for from my hunt with Mansal at BenGreenfieldfitness.com/SacredHunting.

Are there any details that I have forgotten to ask you about when it comes to things that people should know about Sacred Hunting in general or this particular experience, Mansal?

Mansal: No, you did a really good job of covering it. But, I think that it's just really important for me to reflect on how much of an experience of transformation that this can be if you take the time and you really allow it to be. And, I had a phone conversation with an Israeli guy who came on a hunt with me basically last November. He said it was the most profound experience of his life since basically other than having his baby girl. And, he stopped therapy afterwards. And, I'm not saying that everyone's going to experience this, but what's really critical about his story was he recently just spoke with someone at the farmer's market and went on a hunt that was not sacred. He just kind of went hog hunting because he had already done it before. And, he said that experience was so hard for him. It took him four days where it really kind of didn't fit well with him that he had been unable to make it a sacred experience.

Why bring that up? Is because there is a difference between hunting and sacred hunting or forget my specific consideration for it, you can call it conscious hunting or spiritual hunting. Whatever you want to call it, there's a very real difference. And, the more that you invest into that practice and it doesn't have to be necessarily in my experience, the more you're going to get out of it. I really encourage people to tap into this incredibly ancient practice for transformation that so many of us in the modern world have missed.

Ben: Wow. Well, I'm excited. And, the last thing I would leave people with is that like I mentioned, Mansal, you wrote a book that I think would be a good read for you if you are considering doing this yourself, if you are considering joining us on this hunt, if you're considering maybe just taking the hunting that you already do or you plan to do and weaving sacred hunting components into it. That book's called “Sacred Hunting: Rekindling an Ancient Spiritual Practice.” I'll also put that in the shownotes at BenGreenfieldfitness.com/SacredHuntingPodcast where you can leave your comments. If you have questions about logistics, things like that, you can also leave your comments there. Your questions for Mansal or I, we'll read them all and we just love to keep the conversation going over there. So, that's all at BenGreenfieldfitness.com/SacredHuntingPodcast.

Mansal, I'm glad you're not in prison anymore. I'm glad you've put this together. I think there's a real, real need for it. So, thank you and thank you for coming on the show.

Mansal: Absolutely, Ben. Yeah, I appreciate you being the initial seed that was planted for me to hunt and coming full circle and giving me the platform to share it with others. And, I look forward to walking you through this process in August and all the other people who might participate. So, thank you.

Ben: Awesome. Awesome. Well, folks, I'm Ben Greenfield along with Mansal Denton signing out from BenGreenfieldfitness.com. Have an amazing week.

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My guest on this podcast, Mansal Denton, also known as “Little Beaver,” is the founder of Sacred Hunting, host of the Mansal Denton Podcast, and the subject of an upcoming documentary BELOW THE DROP, which explores the relationship to life and death through hunting. 

Feeling insecure in early life, Mansal chased a woman to Europe, which led him to prison. Struggling with shame and confusion of what it meant to be a man, he found his calling with the sacred art of hunting. He now desires to share this practice with more men.

Mansal Denton's indigenous name comes from a Crow Sun Dance chief. His spiritual lineage is derived from six years of mentorship from a Muskogee/Creek medicine man named Will “Star Heart.”

What is Sacred Hunting? It's a practice that's intended to lead you back to your origins. Sacred Hunting is also…

…a reminder that, for your ancestors, obtaining the food that sustains life was a spiritual act involving bloodshed.

…a reconnection to nature and the earth that gave us birth.

…an opportunity for connection and tribal brotherhood.

…a transformative encounter with death.

Mansal Denton, like the men he leads on wilderness quests, was raised in a culture alienated from its sources of nourishment and sustenance. A youthful indiscretion that led to a prison cell fundamentally altered his life’s trajectory. Here, Mansal shows the power and vitality that the hunt can bring into men’s lives in this perilous time when rites of passage are notably absent. Sacred Hunting brings the richness of his hunting experience, and that of the men whose journeys he facilitates, into inspirational focus.

During our discussion, you'll discover:

Sacred Hunting: Rekindling an Ancient Spiritual Practice by Mansal Denton

-How a stint in the clink became a rite of passage for Mansal…07:23

-Ben's preferred style of hunting and why…20:08

-When the hunt took on its sacred form for Mansal…33:51

-An insider's look at the sacred hunting experience…44:08

  • Create intentionality within one's own practice; no one-size-fits-all approach
  • Each arrow sent is a prayer for the animal being hunted
  • Fasting and abstinence prior to the hunt (around a week)
  • Create a connection with animals and nature before arrival
  • Click here to sign up for a sacred hunting experience with Mansal
  • Thank the land; ask permission of the land to be there
  • Usually 6-8 participants plus a couple of guides
  • Option to hunt with a rifle or a bow

-Why it's especially empowering that sacred hunts occur with men only…57:52

  • All the meat hunted is split evenly among the group
  • Modern men lack community and opportunity to be men

-How plant medicines can enhance the hunt…1:02:344

  • Emphasize slowing down, making it less like a job or task

-What occurs after the animal is killed…1:06:07

  • Express gratitude for the animal who's been killed
  • Tobacco
  • Extra energetic feeling felt when you take time to acknowledge the death of the animal

-And much more…

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