Rosicrucian Writings Online


THE
THOUGHT OF THE MONTH

DO ANIMALS HAVE SOULS?

 By THE IMPERATOR
[Ralph M. Lewis]
 
[From The Rosicrucian Digest October 1947]
 
 
IT IS generally presumed that a soul is something that cannot be objectively perceived like horns or hoofs. Consequently, some agreement first must be had as to the nature or substance of soul, before it can be determined whether animals possess it.
 
To many persons, soul is but a tradition, a dogmatic religious definition of some intangible quality of their beings. The soul's origin and function are historically accepted by them just as they believe some incident in history of which they have no personal knowledge. Frequently, to such persons, the soul is a mysterious entity conferred upon them at birth, which, often by incomprehensible means, they must keep intact and return to its source at death.
 
To others, soul is an intimate experience. It is the psychic life. It is a strange inner existence which is different from and yet nevertheless as definite a reality as their physical one. To these persons soul is the aggregate of all sensations, all feelings associated with the "I." Thus, to them it is conscience, moral discernment, compassion, the sense of humility which they experience before nature, and self-consciousness generally. It becomes an undeniable, ethereal, spiritual entity in contradistinction to the body and its functions. Then, there are also those who deny soul but who nevertheless attribute these same characteristics to life force and to the organic functions.
 
The content of soul, we find, then, is an extremely disputatious subject because in its absolute state, it is unknowable. To the individual it is either an inherited idea or it is defined in accordance with his intellectual capacity. There are two elements of general agreement, however, which emerge from a survey of the theory of soul: first, that the soul is of supernatural or divine origin, that it transcends the limitations of the finite world; second, that it produces similar manifestations in all of mankind. It is this second element which affords the basis for the determination of whether animals possess souls. In other words, if it can be perceived and demonstrated that animals possess those qualities or attributes which are thought to characterize soul, then, certainly they have it.
 
Among the ancient Greeks, the highest function of man was declared to be reason and this was identified with soul. Aristotle held that each living thing had its entelechy or final function, which constituted the end or purpose of that being's nature. This function was the soul of that being in contrast to its physical form or substance. The greatest soul of a living thing, because it was the most complex function, was reason. Since man prominently manifested this faculty of reason, he was considered to be endowed with the most developed soul. With the advancement of science and a more enlightened understanding of the functions of brain and reason, the faculties of mind have become divorced from the nature of soul. They have been disqualified, we might say, as being strictly physical, organic functions not worthy of such a spiritual prominence as soul. However, even as late as the seventeenth century, Descartes, eminent French philosopher, was reluctant to attribute thinking to animals because he still associated this faculty with soul, which he ascribed to man alone. He said, "The greatest of all the prejudices we have retained from infancy is that of believing that brutes think.... I am not at all disturbed in my opinion by those doublings and cunning tricks of dogs and foxes nor by all those things which animals do, either from fear, or to gain something to eat, or just for sport. I engage to explain all that very easily merely by the conformation of the parts of the animals."
 
Leibnitz reduced all substance, all things that exist, to minute centers of force which he called monads. The force of these parts was consciousness and inherent intelligence. Each little monad had a job to do of which it was aware. They were graduated in a scale so that each monad merged into another, thus accounting for the unity in nature. The monads highest in the scale, Leibnitz called soul, because they had self-consciousness. Consequently, by this reasoning, animals were possessed of monads similar to those of man. They had many of his faculties, but they had not attained the highest monads; namely, self-consciousness or soul.
 
Man's Affinity to Animals
 
Man has always been aware of his kinship to animals. It is this relationship that has made it difficult for him to consistently deny that animals have souls. Among primitive men, animals have been referred to as "brothers" because of their help and guidance of man. The Hopi and Navajo Indians, in their rituals of the snake dance, refer to the reptiles, because of certain of their characteristics, as "our little brothers." The primitive mind is particularly conscious of its dependence upon animals for subsistence. The aborigine is obliged to hunt them, combat their skill, ferocity, and strength. He observes firsthand their often almost uncanny adaptation to environment and their powers of perception. Such phenomena, often inexplicable to the savage, have seemed to relate animal life to the supernatural and caused a reverence for animals equal to that of mankind.
 
Men extol the virtues of human society as proof of man's divine attribute of soul. However, Plutarch points out: "Examples not inferior to the observances of society are to be found among lions, for the younger carry forth the slow and aged, when they hunt abroad for their prey. When the old ones are weary and tired, they rest and stay for the young that hunt on." Again challenging man's exalted opinion of his exclusive divine status, Plutarch asks: "What virtues do they (animals) not partake of in a higher degree than the wisest of men? How free from craft and deceit they are, and how, with open and naked courage, they defend themselves by mere strength of body ... will the lion be a slave to a lion or the horse to the horse, as one man is a slave to another, willing and patiently embracing servitude?"
 
A common primitive belief, found often in religions having fairly well-developed concepts, is that the souls of humans pass into animals at death. This is known as the doctrine of transmigration. Sometimes it is alleged that this is an intended degradation of the soul, a punishment for some evil done in this life. In the Solomon Islands a man tells his family in which animal his soul will reincarnate. The Aztecs sacrificed a red dog to carry the soul of the king across a great river or to announce his arrival in the next world.
 
The ancient Egyptians had the habit of adding the hieroglyph for god to the name of any creature that possessed an unusual faculty or characteristic which aroused their admiration. Animals having a faculty parallel or seeming to transcend that of man, were thought to be imbued with divine powers and were thus deified. Admiration and fear were the basic reasons for exalting animals to a position of worship. The bull and the ram gained this prominence because of their strength and virility, the cow for its fertility, the jackal for its cunning, and the baboon for its wisdom. These animal cults, or practices of animal worship, were the religion of the superstitious masses and did not represent the esoteric mystery schools of the period. They are similar to the religious superstitions that prevail among the ignorant masses of our present times and are not representative of the higher concepts of our era.
 
The ancient Vedaic chants imply that there is a world for the souls of animals. The horse and the goat were immolated at a Vedic funeral. They were thus sacrificed that they might precede the deceased and announce the coming of his soul. In the year 1370, there was a trial of three sows that were accused of killing a shepherd. The trial was conducted in all seriousness, and eventually the sows, found guilty of murdering the sheepherder, were convicted and executed. The moral sense of the sows, their conscious responsibility, was made an issue in the trial.
 
From the foregoing, it must be apparent that man is hard pressed to claim soul as an unique quality for his own kind. If soul is substance, in that it is an essence that emanates from God or the Cosmic to man, and if it cannot be objectively perceived, then it must be realized by man through its manifestations in his being. These manifestations, as we have shown, man defined according to his level of consciousness throughout the ages. Quite often the disturbing factor to him, as Plutarch pointed out, has been the evidence of these same characteristics in animals. Among the ancient Aryans and other early peoples, this problem was overcome by conferring upon animals an equality of soul. We cannot even fall back, as did the ancient Greeks, upon our superior reason as an attribute of soul for that, as we also have seen, has now been removed from the attributes of soul.
 
The Doctrine of Incarnation
 
Christianity, in its doctrine of incarnation, expounds that the divine puts on flesh only in human form. In other words, the divine essence of which soul is said to be is clothed only in mortal form. Celsus, sagacious opponent of early Christianity in the second century, said that this church doctrine of incarnation was "absurd." "God stands in no special relationship to man as against animals." Celsus was thus advocating that all living things, all creation, are the result of the will and the omniscience of God. Therefore, man had no right to assume that his form was especially selected to be the only channel for the infinite wisdom and power of God. Celsus charged human vanity alone as being the cause of such a belief.
 
Christianity finds solace in the Book of Genesis for the belief that man, alone, is the possessor of soul: "and God created man in his own image." Then, further, we are told that man has "dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." This obviously posits the question of what is meant by the phrase in his own image. The advanced thinker discards any anthropomorphic conception that God is humanlike or, in fact, has any form. What, then, is meant by the parallel? What attributes of man are like those of God and are possessed by no other living thing? Is it soul? Once again there arises speculation upon the content of soul, which changes as man better understands himself. In all probability, two centuries hence, many of the qualities that mankind now attributes to soul will be shorn from it because of man's more profound comprehension of his mental and physical natures.
 
Universal Life Force
 
Buddhist philosophy and psychology suggests a way of answering the question of whether animals have souls. The ideas are ones in which Rosicrucians, I feel sure, will also concur. We are told that not all sentient beings are thinking beings. In other words, everything that has a consciousness of its surroundings is not necessarily capable of thinking about its sensations. Further, all thinking beings do not reach that stage in which the faculty conceives its own nature and purpose. Millions of persons can think; they can come to conclusions as to the relation of their sense experiences to their needs. Comparatively few, however, are capable of abstraction, of analyzing their own constitution and beliefs, and of developing a philosophy of life. Nevertheless, all sentient beings, the Buddhist philosophy continues, all those capable of objective perception, endure suffering, because all are subject to old age, decay, and death. It is this experience, we are told, that forms the connecting link between beings which otherwise have little in common. "... it is the bridge that unites the human and animal kingdom, ... it is the foundation of a universal brotherhood."
 
According to Buddhism, animals have a primitive form of consciousness which makes them undeveloped human beings. A study of nature reveals that the plant is more conscious than the mineral; the animal, more conscious than the plant; and man, more conscious than the animal. This amounts to conferring upon life force, with its attribute of consciousness, the designation of the divine essence in living things. It makes life force an anima mundi or universal soul which pervades all organisms. In every form this universal soul strives for complexity or development of that organism. The more complex, the more physically developed the organism, the more evolved the manifestations of the consciousness. It is not that the quality of life force and consciousness in man is essentially distinct from that of a dog, but that the organism of man is capable of greater response to them. It is these more complex responses which give man his prominence among animals. For analogy, a room with one window is darker than one with a dozen windows. The light entering the room which has many windows has no greater luminosity than that entering the room having a single window. In the room having many windows, however, there is the opportunity for a greater amount of light to effect its characteristics. In man there is the more complex and developed brain and nervous systems by which there can be a greater response to life force and by which consciousness may express itself more fully than in the lower animals. The law of evolution is the law of complexity, an expansion of form to accommodate the infinite essence underlying it.
 
Though these remarks may be theologically controversial, we advance the proposition that there are no distinctly human souls, nor is there a variation of soul essence. That from which the soul springs, the positive Cosmic energy which engenders life and brings forth consciousness, is immutable. It is the same in all men and alike in all fellow living things. If humans display characteristics in which they excel other living things, it is an indication that they have gradually attained to a greater response to the divine essence within their being. Look upon the animal not as one devoid of soul, but rather as one yet incapable of realizing it. Soul is in all living things, but only in self-consciousness does it have its greatest expression.
 
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Webmaster's Notes:
 
1. The Rosicrucian teachings distinguish between "soul" and "soul personality". For an explanation of the difference, see the answer to the second question in Idiosyncrasies [Apr 1929].

 
2. For further reading, there is an interesting article, "Do Animals Have Souls?" by Ross Robertson, published in the March-May 2006 issue of What is Enlightenment? magazine. The article is on-line here (external link).
  

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