Do Animals Have Souls?
University of Kentucky neurologist, Kevin Nelson concluded animals can experience spiritual events like humans. Nelson has performed over 30 year’s research into OBE (out of body experiences) and has published a book “The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain: a Neurologist’s Search for the God Experience.”
Scientists recently declared human and animal consciousness the same. Would you agree that to have a soul requires consciousness? This is certainly thought-provoking.
We all have belief systems. Some have faith in the concept of a soul and afterlife. Others count on reincarnation and some are convinced after the body dies there is nothing but a big, black abyss. But if you are one who believes humans have a soul, do you also feel that an animal has a soul?
Nelson’s hypothesis is drawn on the fact that research in humans has shown mystical experiences of wonderment originate in the more primitive parts of the brain called the limbic system. All mammals share similar brain structure, therefore he concludes animals can have spiritual experiences similar to humans.
Some religions believe animals have souls and reincarnate. Others teach animals do not have souls because humans are the masters of the earth and its animals. In 1990, Pope John Paul II said in a shocking statement at the time, he believed that animals do have souls. The Pontiff said animals are “…fruit of the creative action of the Holy Spirit and merit respect.” In the Catholic school I attended as a child, the nuns drummed it into us that only people have souls.
In the Jewish faith, author Yanki Tauber talks about souls on Chabad.org.
The Chassidic masters speak of two distinct souls that vitalize the human being: an “Animal Soul” and a “G-dly Soul.” The Animal Soul is driven by the quest for self-preservation and self-enhancement; in this, it resembles the soul and self of all other creations. But we also possess a G-dly Soul”–a soul driven by the desire to reconnect with its Source. Our lives are the story of the contest and interplay between these two souls, as we struggle to balance and reconcile our physical needs and desires with our spiritual aspirations, our self-focused drives with our altruistic yearnings.
These two souls, however, do not reside “side-by-side” within the body; rather, the G-dly Soul is enclothed within the Animal Soul–just as the Animal Soul is enclothed within the body. This means that the Animal Soul, too, is vitalized by the “part of G-d above” at its core. Ostensibly, the two souls are in conflict with each other, but in essence they are compatible.
Hindu belief states all life forms are manifestations of God and therefore have souls that can achieve salvation. Animals, plants and inanimate objects are believed to possess a soul. The difference is in the level of a soul. Human souls are considered the most evolved due to the level of consciousness. After a soul lives many lives as an animal, it will eventually be allowed to reincarnate into a human body and continue to evolve in understanding God and Godliness.
Muslims believe a soul has different parts: the plant or vegetative part of a living being, the animal or sensitive part, the rational part as well as totality of all three parts. The Qur’an states a soul is a creature of Allah.
It [the soul] is blown into every human being when it is just a foetus of 120 days old, it remains in contact if not inside the human being throughout its life on earth, and at the point of death it departs from the body to reside in the heavens.
During their journeys through this universe, the soul and its body travel through four different worlds:
1. The womb – where the soul joins its body.
2. This world – where we all live for a limited period only.
3. The grave – a ‘Barzakh’ period.
4. The Hereafter – The final destination of all human beings.
I find it intriguing how the different religions are so similar in its teachings, don’t you?
Next Page: Personal Stories of Animal Spirituality
Personal Stories of Animal Spirituality
I’d wager many pet guardians have a story or two about feeling the presence of a deceased pet. Personally, I will never forget the day I felt the spirit of my dog Spanky walk right through my soul. At that moment I knew he had died and I was devastated to find it true. I felt a sudden sense of peace from Spanky. I believe he was telling me good-bye and reveling in his sudden sense of freedom from all the worries and fears he had carried inside him for so long.
My sister and brother-in-law had two very elderly Schnauzers who grew up together. When Nicky was 18 he succumbed to heart disease, diabetes and kidney failure. Willie, who died two years later at 20, spent more than two weeks after Nicky’s death going to his grave, throwing himself on it, literally crying. The grave wasn’t marked and Willie — being blind and deaf at this point — had not seen Nicky being buried. He simply knew where Nicky was and was mourning his brother.
Having worked in Hospice in the past, I’ve seen many a pet be the protector of their dying companion. One family told me at the moment of death of their loved one, the individual’s dog — sleeping on the bed with the patient — stood up and quietly looked up at the ceiling as if he were watching the person’s soul exit their body. Then he lay quietly down next to the body and licked the patient’s face.
Animal communicators claim to understand the thoughts of an animal through the pictures the creatures show them. Since animals do not have expressive human speech ability – many do understand language, like the hand signing chimps or your dog when you tell her to sit, stay or roll over – they must communicate in different ways with us mere mortals.
With the change in attitudes about pets in recent years, it is not surprising that pet loss support groups have become more common. Dogs and cats and other domestic animals are thought of as family members, not merely possessions. If you ever have the need, attending a pet loss support group can be very beneficial in dealing with the grief of losing a beloved pet.
Books to Consider Reading
The Soul of Your Pet by Scott S. Smith – Interviews with people who have lost pets. Includes a chapter on the major religions’ beliefs about the afterlife of animals.
Animals as Guides for the Soul: Stories of Life-Changing Encounters by Susan Chernak McElroy – With personal experience and compelling true stories of others, McElroy explores the questions animal lovers ask themselves. Are pets our prisoners? Is it moral to eat animals? … and more.
The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case for the Existence of the Soul by Mario Beauregard and Denyse O’Leary – Beauregard’s research compellingly makes a case that spiritual experiences are created by God and not the brain.
The Divine Life of Animals: One Man’s Quest to Discover Whether the Souls of Animals Live On by Ptolemy Tompkins – A search of 20,000 years of history and myth to find the answer to: Do animals have souls? Explores the religious teachings of East and West to discover profound meanings about the animal soul.
The Souls of Animals by Gary Kowalski – Kowalski talks about animal souls through the qualities he considers spiritual: playfulness, capacity for love, altruism, and awareness of death.
Animals in Spirit by Penelope Smith – As an interspecies communicator, Smith explores the process of dying from the viewpoints of animals and their humans. She posits animals choose their paths in each life, and leave behind knowledge for their humans. Using true stories as well as meditations she shows how it is possible communicate with animals in the spirit realm.
The Art of Racing in the Rain: A Novel by Garth Stein – Fiction, not science but told through a dog named Enzo as the protagonist, this story will make you believe.
Questions to Consider
The question of whether or not animals have souls is one we will continue to ask for years to come. If animals do have souls is it fair to keep them imprisoned in zoos? Is it okay to eat them or wear them? Should we use them for entertainment? How about horse and dog racing? Should they be made to carry our burdens over long distances? Should they be bred only to be sold for profit?
Will there ever be scientific proof animals have souls? Or, is it a matter of faith? What do you think? Please leave your own stories about spiritual experiences with animals.
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Photo credit: Wolf Spirit Sanctuary via Flickr