The Souls of Animals

May 14, 2008

The Souls of Animals by Gary Kowalski

New World Library, 2007 (Stillpoint Publishing, 1999, 1991)


“For ancient peoples, the soul was located in the breath or blood. For me, the soul resides at the point where our lives intersect with the timeless, in our love of goodness, our passion for beauty, our quest for meaning and truth.”

— Kowalski


I picked this book up on a whim; it really isn’t what I usually read. I read occult/religion or science. Mixing the two rarely results in anything worthwhile; occultists trying to explain how their practices can be applied to scientific concepts is usually a joke (and/or a plea for legitimacy), and when scientists write on the occult they just can’t hide their biases. (I also don’t see how science and religion aren’t compatible, but that’s a whole other topic.)


Once I got past my initial fears that this book would turn out to be some New Age crap and got around to reading it, I found it to be a sensible, sensitive inquiry on the possibility of a spiritual nature of animals. I think what prevents this book from falling into the above problems is that it stays light on the science, drawing on it where applicable, but not trying to force it to justify a spiritual concept. The author, a Unitarian Universalist minister (aka not a scientist) doesn’t try to use science to prove his points, but references the appropriate journal articles where he found his information as examples.


The result is a series of compelling (and often tear-jerking) stories of animal behaviour. They leave you wondering just how much of it could be passed off as instinct, especially with examples of animal altruism towards other species. Other topics include animal awareness of death, morality, and the supernatural, artwork done by animals, and whether animals are conscious of themselves.


It would be interesting to see a more scientific perspective on these topics, perhaps taking some of the stranger incidents as examples and trying to explain them. My favourite parts of biology classes are when my professors share some of the odder stories of animal behaviour, such as the chimp that watched a sunset every evening, and wonder what that means for science. The book isn’t by any means a tirade against eating meat or animal experimentation, but it does make one wonder how humans can justify so much cruelty towards beings that aren’t entirely unlike ourselves. All in all, it’s a worthwhile read for an animal lover, or for someone who enjoys philosophizing about souls and who, if anyone, has one.