Even when I was a child, I remember looking into my cats’ eyes and seeing something in there. It was something numinous, something larger and greater than just the body in which the cat lived. It was the same kind of light and presence I saw in the eyes of the people in my life.
As I moved through my teenage years and began developing a more adult sense of spirituality, I came to understand that distinct quality as the presence of a soul. It was clear to me when I looked into the eyes of my cats and all the other animals who have graced my life that they had souls just as much as any human being did.
Thus, it boggled my mind when I found out that some religions don’t believe animals have souls. I know the Bible says that God gave humans dominion over the beasts of the Earth and all, but I never interpreted that to mean that animals are simply machines that eat, breathe, crap, and copulate.
And if animals don’t have souls, it more or less follows that they wouldn’t go to heaven when they died.
"Jeez," I thought. "What kind of heaven wouldn’t include animals?"
"It’s funny, if you asked whether a child has a soul, almost any Christian would say yes," said Eddie Current in a recent post on his blog. “Yet, an infant’s interaction with the environment is less coherent and engaged than, say, a squirrel’s. When a soldier and his dog are reunited, and the dog shows signs of incredible excitement and joy, we’re expected to believe that the dog has no soul. ÔÇª I don’t get it."
Yeah, I don’t get it, either.
The belief that animals have souls offered me the comfort of knowing that it’s possible I’ll see one of my beloved feline companions again -ÔÇô whether in heaven or the Summerland, at another time in my own life, or perhaps even in a future life. Like any spiritual belief, there’s no rational way to explain it; that’s why it’s called a belief and not a fact.
In most European pagan religions, animals are viewed as companions, and even helpers for practitioners when they do rituals. In some Native American practices, hunters thanked the animal they killed for sacrificing its life so that the tribe could eat. You don’t thank an animal and ask for its forgiveness if you don’t think it has a soul.
Many Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism teach a respect for all life, whether animal or human, which is one reason vegetarianism is, for some, a core tenet of these religions. In some Eastern traditions, animals are said to reincarnate, and even humans can reincarnate as animals if their karma so dictates. If this is the case, then by default, animals have souls.
If you’ve ever been present for the euthanasia of one of your beloved cat companions, or if you’ve been with an elderly cat as she draws her last breaths, you can tell the exact second when she dies. When I was with Dahlia at her euthanasia, I didn’t have to wait for the vet to check for a pulse to confirm that she was dead: I knew the moment her soul gratefully accepted its release from physical suffering and carried itself away on a whisper that I couldn’t hear but surely could perceive on some level. When I picked her up to hold her one last time, she felt heavier, as if her soul had given her living body a kind of buoyancy that was both more than and less than the sum of her physical parts.
Honestly, I think a lot of Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or practitioners of any of the world’s numerous other religions — and even people who practice no religion at all — would agree that animals have a soul, or at the very least, a coherent consciousness that makes them much more than machines with a pulse ÔÇª whether or not their religious dogma agrees.
What about you? Do you believe animals have souls? What kind of evidence or anecdotes would you offer from your own experience? And if you don’t believe animals have souls, what kind of evidence or anecdotes would you offer to support your belief?
Photos by JaneA Kelley