Anthropology Friday: Animal Souls

I hear the Pope has declared that dogs can get into Heaven, now. (I guess technically he can do that? Like, the opposite of excommunication? But don’t only humans have souls under Catholic doctrine? Can some Catholic expert clarify?)

Continuing with Edward B. Tylor’s Primitive Culture:

“In now passing from the consideration of the souls of men to that of the souls of the lower animals, we have first to inform ourselves as to the savage man’s idea, which is very different from the civilized man’s, of the nature of these lower animals. …

“Savages talk quite seriously to beasts alive or dead as they would to men alive or dead, offer them homage, ask pardon when it is their painful duty to hunt and kill them. A North American Indian will reason with a horse as if rational. Some will spare the rattlesnake, fearing the vengeance of its spirit if slain; others will salute the creature reverently, bid it welcome as a friend from the land of spirits, sprinkle a pinch of tobacco on its head for an offering, catch it by the tail and dispatch it with extreme dexterity, and carry off its skin as a trophy.

“If an Indian is attacked and torn by a bear, it is that the beast fell upon him intentionally in anger, perhaps to revenge the hurt done to another bear. When a bear is killed, they will beg pardon of him, or even make him condone the offence by smoking the peace-pipe with his murderers, who put the pipe in his mouth and blow down it, begging his spirit not to take revenge.

S”o in Africa, the Kafirs will hunt the elephant, begging him not to tread on them and kill them, and when he is dead they will assure him that they did not kill him on purpose, and they will bury his trunk, for the elephant is a mighty chief, and his trunk is his hand that he may hurt withal. The Congo people will even avenge such a murder by a pretended attack on the hunters who did the deed.

“Such customs are common among the lower Asiatic tribes. The Stiens of Kambodia ask pardon of the beast they have killed; the Ainos [Ainu] of Yesso kill the bear, offer obeisance and salutation to him, and cut up his carcase. The Koriaks, if they have slain a bear or wolf, will flay him, dress one of their people in the skin, and dance round him, chanting excuses that they did not do it, and especially laying the blame on a Russian. But if it is a fox, they take his skin, wrap his dead body in hay, and sneering tell him to go to his own people and say what famous hospitality he has had, and how they gave him a new coat instead of his old one. The Samoyeds excuse themselves to the slain bear, telling him it was the Russians who did it, and that a Russian knife will cut him up. The Goldi will set up the slain bear, call him ‘my lord’ and do ironical homage to him, or taking him alive will fatten him in a cage, call him ‘son’ and ‘brother’ and kill and eat him as a sacrifice at a solemn festival. …”

Ainu bear sacrifice
Ainu bear sacrifice
Ainu bear hunt
Ainu bear hunt

“Even now the Norse hunter will say with horror of a bear that will attack man, that he can be “no Christian bear.” …

“Men to whom the cries of beasts and birds seem like human language, and their actions guided as it were by human thought, logically enough allow the existence of souls to beasts, birds, and reptiles, as to men. The lower psychology cannot but recognize in beasts the characteristics which it attributes to the human soul, namely, the phenomena of life and death, will and judgment, and the phantom seen in vision or in dream. As for believers, savage or civilized, in the great doctrine of metempsychosis, these not only consider that an animal may have a soul, but that this soul may have inhabited a human being, and thus the creature may be in fact their own ancestor or once familiar friend. …

“North American Indians held every animal to have its spirit, and these spirits their future life; the soul of the Canadian dog went to serve his master in the other world; among the Sioux, the prerogative of having four souls was not confined to man, but belonged also to the bear, the most human of animals. The Greenlanders considered that a sick human soul might be replaced by the sorcerer with a fresh healthy soul of a hare, a reindeer, or a young child. Maori tale-tellers have heard of the road by which the spirits of dogs descend to Reinga, the Hades of the departed; the Hovas of Madagascar know that the ghosts of beasts and men, dwelling in a great mountain in the south called Ambondrombe, come out occasionally to walk among the tombs or execution-places of criminals. The Kamchadals held that every creature, even the smallest fly, would live again in the under- world. The Kukis of Assam think that the ghost of every animal a Kuki kills in the chase or for the feast will belong to him in the next life, even as the enemy he slays in the field will then become his slave. The Karens apply the doctrine of the spirit or personal life-phantom, which is apt to wander from the body and thus suffer injury, equally to men and to animals. The Zulus say the cattle they kill come to life again, and become the property of the dwellers in the world beneath. …”

“Animals being thus considered in the primitive psychology to have souls like human beings, it follows as the simplest matter of course that tribes who kill wives and slaves, to dispatch their souls on errands of duty with their departed lords, may also kill animals in order that their spirits may do such service as is proper to them. The Pawnee warrior’s horse is slain on his grave to be ready for him to mount again, and the Comanche’s best horses are buried with his favourite weapons and his pipe, all alike to be used in the distant happy hunting-grounds. 1 In South America not only do such rites occur, but they reach a practically disastrous extreme. Patagonian tribes, says D’Orbigny, believe in another life, where they are to enjoy perfect happiness, therefore they bury with the deceased his arms and ornaments, and even kill on his tomb all the animals which belonged to him, that he may find them in the abode of bliss; and this opposes an insurmountable barrier to all civilization, by preventing them from accumulating property and fixing their habitations.

Certain Esquimaux, as Cranz relates, would lay a dog’s head in a child’s grave, that the soul of the dog, who is everywhere at home, might guide the helpless infant to the land of souls. In accordance with this, Captain Scoresby in Jameson’s Land found a dog’s skull in a small grave, probably a child’s. Again, in the distant region of the Aztecs, one of the principal funeral ceremonies was to slaughter a techichi, or native dog ; it was burnt or buried with the corpse, with a cotton thread fastened to its neck, and its office was to convey the deceased across the deep waters of Chiuhnahuapan, on the way to the Land of the Dead. The dead Buraet’s favourite horse, led saddled to the grave, killed, and flung in, may serve for a Tatar example. In Tonquin, even wild animals have been customarily drowned at funeral ceremonies of princes, to be at the service of the departed in the next world. …

“Among the nations of the Aryan race in Europe, the prevalence of such rites is deep, wide, and full of purpose. Thus, warriors were provided in death with horses and housings, with hounds and falcons. Customs thus described in chronicle and legend, are vouched for in our own time by the opening of old barbaric burial-places. How clear a relic of savage meaning lies here may be judged from a Livonian account as late as the fourteenth century, which relates how men and women slaves, sheep and oxen, with other things, were burnt with the dead, who, it was believed, would reach some region of the living, and find there, with the multitude of cattle and slaves, a country of life and happiness. … It is mentioned as a belief in Northern Europe that he who has given a cow to the poor will find a cow to take him over the bridge of the dead, and a custom of leading a cow in the funeral procession is said to have been kept up to modern times.”

EvX, here: Turning to the European intellectual tradition on the subject of animal souls, Tylor observes:

“Although, however, the primitive belief in the souls of animals still survives to some extent in serious philosophy, it is obvious that the tendency of educated opinion on the question whether brutes have soul, as distinguished from life and mind, has for ages been in a negative and sceptical direction. The doctrine has fallen from its once high estate. It belonged originally to real, though rude science. It has now sunk to become a favourite topic in that mild speculative talk which still does duty so largely as intellectual conversation, and even then its propounders defend it with a lurking consciousness of its being after all a piece of sentimental nonsense.”

Sentimental nonsense, and may it remain that way.

Advertisements

8 thoughts on “Anthropology Friday: Animal Souls

  1. All things have a “soul” in the sense of having an Aristotelian form (including rocks and the computer I’m typing this on). The key is having the form of a rational animal, that is to say, the ability to perform abstract reasoning, grasp propositions (which remain true regardless of the amount of matter involved), and so on. I don’t know how far you want to get into philosophy of the mind, but, essentially, non-material operations not dependent upon mechanistic instinct and not reducible to matter.

    The question is whether or not non-Homo sapiens animals can do this. The most interesting debate I had in university was from a Christian (catholic) perspective whether or not non-Homo sapiens members of the homo genus had rational souls, largely based on the extent to which the paleontological evidence pointed towards propositional thinking.

    I’m pretty sure though, that the orthodox (and I do not use the term in a negative sense) position is that most if not all animals other than Homo sapiens do NOT in fact have this ability. However the issue of other (mostly theoretical) species having rational souls has been discussed since the Middle Ages, at least.

    Like

  2. The traditional doctrine of Christianity is that after the Final Judgement Eden will be reconstituted here on Earth, and we and all other organisms will have immortal, disease- and pain-free bodies, Viz. the Resurrection of the Body (Apostle’s and Nicene Creed). Heaven, as such, is a temporary holding bin for the Saints.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s