Animals are also part of the Divine
Jesus of Nazareth lived in a time known as the Apocalyptic Period. It was the end times, when prophets warned of an impending world catastrophic event that would usher in a new world order amidst great and horrific destruction. This Apocalypse was not a forecast for some distant future; the signs were imminent and the destruction would be ushered in within their respective lifetimes. So much so, that the early disciples were perplexed when the first members of their community began dying off.
As a student drifting off into this distant past I recall feeling at least a tad bit more enlightened than my ancestors. After all - today we know the difference between a literal interpretation of scripture and a metaphor. The followers of Jesus must have felt they had been duped – clearly the end time did not arrive.
How strange it feels, some thirty years after those classes, to be living in what appears to be the very aforementioned end times. Today’s scientists don’t use words like apocalypse or speak in parables or make use of symbolic language. What’s the symbolic meaning of near term extinction? The scientist of our day points only to measurable statistics and concrete facts, neither of which heals, both of which can drive you into the corner of any room. Feeling completely cornered one thinks - perhaps poetry might help, only to discover that the meaning of yesterday’s poem means something else today. What comes to mind today as you read these lines from Rumi? “Avoid looking for new ways to flee across the chessboard. Listen to hear checkmate spoken directly at you”.
Throughout his life Jung wrote about the dangers of “mass man”, that collective herd mentality he found so dangerous in western culture and religion. Apparently, some Jungians no longer view the collective as relevant today. In her book Boundaries of the Soul for example, June Singer proposes that the collective which Jung was referring to no longer exists:
Over the past several decades people have become increasingly
liberated from the dictates of the collective. To begin with the
collective no longer exists in the sense of the word as Jung used
it…In the sixties, when we used to speak of “the counterculture,”
the image of radical young people who used psychedelics, lived
in communes and never trusted anyone over thirty was conjured
up…today we can hardly speak of a counterculture… The point
of this is that there no longer exists anything like what Jung thought
of as the collective. Consequently, there no longer exists
a counterculture. We are all together, we members of the
motley crew of this spaceship Earth.
Now that we are all together perhaps we should consider what this motley crew has been up to since our “liberation from the dictates of the collective”. It seems the post collective
has been carrying on as usual living a lifestyle and upholding a way of being that our planet can no longer sustain. Our insatiable consumerism has depleted and scarred the earth through the exhaustive extraction of non-renewable resources. Our “all together” behavior has poisoned our fields and waters, leveled our mountains, and brought on the extinction of hundreds of species of plant and animal life. No other period in history has come even close to the present rate of plant and animal species extinction. In the words of Thomas Berry, “In the 20th century the glory of the human has become the desolation of the earth”. Are we to believe today that this insanity has no relation to what Jung thought of as the collective? Has the motley crew boarded a spaceship of collective amnesia?
Jung’s collective after all, is the name given for all those “isms” he constantly railed against. If the collective is no longer with us, how are we to explain those isms which appear to be more entrenched today than ever before? A brief list might include materialism, rationalism, anthropomorphism, nationalism, unbridled capitalism, consumerism, industrialism, and intellectualism at the expense of feeling and value. In one of his essays, Paul Levy charges that the west is suffering from a collective psychosis, a trance like state — an evil from which we must be redeemed. In Unmasking the Powers, Walter Wink comments that if a being from another planet landed in the United States today he would think we were all mad.
As it turns out we do not have to speculate on how a witness from another planet might judge the collective state of “western man”. Native peoples have been telling us for centuries as Jung himself reminds us:
See, Ochwiay Biano said, how cruel the whites look. Their lips are thin,
their noses sharp, their faces furrowed and distorted by folds. Their eyes
have a staring expression; they are always seeking something. What are
they seeking? The whites always want something, they are always uneasy
and restless. We think they are mad….I asked him why he thought the whites
were all mad. They say they think with their heads, he replied. Why of course.
What do you think with? I asked him in surprise. We think here, he said,
indicating his heart. (Jung/Jaffe 1963)
For Jung the madness began somewhere in the mid-16th century when, beginning with Descartes, human reason was split off from the heart. This inner dissociation caused a simultaneous outer split between spirit and matter, a split that has yet to be healed. Today our dissociation from nature is so severe that Thomas Berry concluded we are like autistic children who can’t see, hear or feel the natural world.
I grew up on a small Missouri farm where we raised cattle and turkeys. Back then all turkeys had black feathers which are the natural color of turkey feathers. That is to say, God made turkeys with black feathers. Somewhere along the way the industry decided that turkeys really should have white feathers. Something about the slaughtering process got complicated by those black feathers. Thanks to genetics and modern technology all farmers now raise turkeys with white feathers. God surely should have known better.
We use to raise a flock for 32 weeks to reach a max selling weight of 28 pounds. Today, my brother raises a flock for 18 weeks to reach a selling weight of 50 pounds. So how do they do this? I call it Super Feed. This feed is full of steroids, antibiotics, hormones and whatever else our Dept. of Agriculture and the FDA will allow. The corporation quickly realized that the bone structure of these turkeys cannot handle a weight of 50 pounds so they just did some more genetic alterations. Of course that doesn’t matter, it’s not like turkeys have rights or anything; it’s all about weight and production.
Almost all the farm families where I grew up were German or Irish Catholic. Before every meal we prayed; Bless us Oh Lord and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive, from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord, Amen. I recently heard a commercial on the radio that went like this: “My family and I raise pigs in Monroe Missouri. Thanks to modern technology we are providing nutritious, wholesome, pork to Cardinal fans”. We use to thank God for our pork. Native people were far more humble. Native people first thanked the pig and then God. Now it seems we thank neither the pig nor God; we thank our modern technology.
A farmer in 1960 could hope to get 60 bushel of corn per acre. Today the market demands that he produce 200 bushel per acre. How does this happen? We use more fertilizer, more herbicides, and “better” genetically altered seeds. Round Up is the brand name for the poison all the farmers coat their fields with. Now we have Round Up Ready seeds. These seeds are injected, soaked and coated in herbicide poison which makes them resistant to the same poison the farmer will be blanket spraying the ground with to kill all the weeds.
If you take a shovel and dig up a bit of soil from a field that has not been bleached with poison for twenty years, you will find all sorts of life, like earthworms and bugs. If you take the same shovel and dig from a field that has been subjected to years of Round Up or some other concoction, you will find no worms and no bugs. You will literally have dead matter.
Not that the farmer is the only one spreading poison across our once sacred ground. You can buy the same stuff at Lowes, or Home Depot, or Wal-Mart. If the subject of lawn care sounds trivial think again. In the United States 30 million acres are sprayed with toxic poisons and fertilizers every year. Our Fish and Wildlife Dept. says that homeowners use up to 10 times more chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops. Most of us think nothing of these things: in fact we feel like responsible homeowners. We just assume all this poison, available on every shelf in every store, must be harmless. We have to spray and fertilize our lawns to keep up with the neighbor’s lawn.
This says nothing of the chemical poison we fill our toilets with to clean them or make the water blue, all of which ends up in some river somewhere. The US Geology Survey reports that 96% of all the fish in our creeks and rivers have poison in their system. 100% of all water tested from our creeks and rivers contains poisonous residue. All of which begs the question; where have we become increasingly liberated from the dictates of the collective?
Native Americans to this day are saying prayers that are intended to “drive the poison out of the white man”. Consider the recent Dakota pipeline conflict with the Standing Rock Sioux. While we’ve been busy trying to convert them to our way of thinking, running rough shod over their way of feeling, they have been trying to figure out how to redeem us; how to break the spell cast upon us — before it is too late as this Lakota Dream warns us:
In the dream, the elder was joined by the animals of the forest
and desert. One by one they came to sit around him: the stag,
the bear, the mountain lion, the birds, the snakes, and others.
As they gathered around, the animals spoke of their grief and broken
hearts as they saw what human people were doing to the land and
waters. The animals had come to the elder to tell him that their
grief was so great that they were leaving the Earth. The animals
felt they had no place in a world without soul and one sculpted
bare by humans absorbed in violence and destruction. As the
tribal members listened to the elder’s vision, they too were over-
whelmed with sorrow. The elder exhorted the tribe to call the
animals back before it was too late. (Lakota)
While many of us might assume that grieving is something we do as individuals, the animals in this dream teach us that grieving should be embraced as a community. I learned this same lesson from a herd of cows on our family farm. One day I walked through the pasture and noticed a cow off in the distance by herself. I was feeling a bit uneasy because a cow rarely leaves the herd — it seems individuation is not a task for cows. Cows only wander off when it is time to give birth or they are preparing to die. When I caught up with her I found an old and tired cow suffering from a severe case of pink eye. One of her eye cavities was completely hollow and grossly infected with disease. This underweight and extremely weak cow stared directly into my eyes as if to say “please have mercy on me…please help me…please end my suffering”.
I was deeply moved by this wounded cow and immediately called my brother insisting that we put an end to her suffering. So my brother met me at the farm and with no discussion pulled out his 22 caliber rifle and shot her in the head. The cow dropped immediately and was no longer in pain. As I stood next to her I found myself mourning deeply. In fact I wanted to drop down on my knees and thank this cow for teaching me so much. How noble I thought she was in her death. I felt honored she had asked me for help. Of course I did not want to kill her but only end her suffering and honor her request.
Then something strange happened. My brother quickly grabbed a chain off the tractor and wrapped it around this dead cow’s neck. What are you doing, I asked? My brother, without answering me, hooked the chain to the tractor and began dragging this dead cow off by the neck. I just stood there as my brother drove off, dragging this cow to a place we call the dead pile, which lies atop a mountain.
As my brother was driving away the entire herd, still off at a distance in the lowland pasture, began bawling as they smelled the blood flowing from the gunshot wound. Their voices got louder and louder as they stampeded toward the tractor making its way up the mountainside with a corpse dragging behind scraping the ground through the fescue. Louder and louder the cows cried, faster and faster they ran after the tractor. My senses reached a feverish pitch as I felt, smelled, saw and listened to the power of the herd pounding the ground as they galloped past me. I was seized by this pervading sense of emotional terror hovering over the landscape as I too fell in line and began running alongside the herd up the mountain.
Having arrived at the dead pile atop the mountain my brother quickly unhooked the chain from around the cow’s neck and drove off, leaving the still warm corpse heaped upon a graveyard of cow bones. As my brother proceeded down the mountain the cows began encircling the dead pile. I was now surrounded by a very intense and profoundly loud chorus of moaning as the cows bellowed out these affects of terrorizing fear and grief. I could literally see this terror in their eyes. It’s the same fear and terror I had witnessed as a child when we would round up their calves each year. Every fall we drove all the calves into a pen where they were fattened up with grain awaiting the day of transport to the slaughterhouse. Cows moan and wallow for weeks around their penned up calves.
Now gathered with this wailing herd upon the dead pile, it was as if I were hearing a great sermon. This is how we grieve that which has been lost. We moan and wail from deep within the belly. As the symphony grew louder and deeper it seemed to reach a crescendo and in that moment I knew the cows were speaking for all the animals on the planet. The cows were wailing for the buffalo nation, the wolf and ground hog nation, for all species of the earth who suffer from the human’s indifference and disrespect.
This sermon went on for what seemed hours as I stood among them, sometimes crying, sometimes feeling a deep sense of joy and gratitude in being allowed to grieve with them.
I was struck with the realization that these cows had a language of their own and were teaching me something of profound wisdom. The cows were allowing these enormous affects and emotions to flow into feelings and move through the body. Nothing was held back or denied.
Then suddenly the moaning slowed with a releasing calmness as the cows continued to stand around the dead pile. It was as if the grieving had moved through them naturally allowing them to accept their loss. The following day the herd had returned to the pastures below the mountain graveyard, where I found them calmly grazing in the warm sunshine.
In a book by theologian and Jungian analyst Ann Belford Ulanov entitled The Living God and Our Living Psyche…What Christians Can Learn from Carl Jung, I found the following familiar quote, “Only through the human does the divine make itself known”. I wonder if our theologians are conscious of the fact that a million other animal species on the planet are completely left out of this equation. In the process we have also thrown out the Psalms, the Cosmic Christ of St Paul, and Thomas Aquinas, all of whom clearly remind us that the primary divine revelation has always been creation itself. What Christianity desperately needs to learn from Jung is the fact that it has failed, miserably, to assimilate the world’s all-inclusive and heart centered animistic, pantheistic and shamanistic religions. And while the human race has been saved through the incarnation, the rest of the natural world hasn’t. Which is exactly what Jung was after in his alchemical work which he hoped might revive Christianity:
As a matter of fact, alchemy actually takes up and carries on
the work of Christianity. In the alchemical view, Christianity
has saved man but not nature. The alchemist’s dream was to
save the world in its totality; the philosopher’s stone was
conceived as the filius macrocosmi, which saves the world,
whereas Christ was the filius microcosmi, the savior of man
alone. The ultimate aim of the alchemical opus is the apokatastasis,
cosmic salvation. (1)
Jesus said the Father and I are one. Native Americans have a Sky Father too but they live much closer to the ground. They say Mother Earth and I are one. What would they have to say about this doctrine, “Only through the human does the divine make itself known”? Perhaps they might respond as Jesus himself often did, with a kind of shock treatment intended to break the spell cast over a people. I think a Native American might respond to our Christian teaching with a question: “Did you know that trees can talk”?
Did you know that trees talk? Well, they do. They talk to each other,
and they’ll talk to you if you listen. Trouble is, white people don’t
listen to the Indians so I don’t suppose they’ll listen to other voices
in nature. But I have learned a lot from trees: sometimes about the
weather, sometimes about animals, sometimes about the Great Spirit.
Chief Walking Buffalo
These people live in a much bigger, inclusive relationship with all the earth; our world must seem so small to them. Strangely enough, I heard an interview on PBS radio a few years ago entitled “Did you know trees can talk”? The interviewer astonishingly asks a scientist, “Are you telling us that trees can talk“? “Oh yes”, the scientist responded. “They don’t speak in the way we do, with our language, but they definitely communicate with each other”. It seems these scientists were a bit shocked when they discovered a stand of oak trees communicating with each other to help ward off an approaching disease.
Perhaps an eastern guru would respond to our Christian doctrine with a simple request: “Oh very well, but you see, we have this elephant in our community that is convinced she is revealing the divine all day long. I mean she is really full of herself! Come with me now and spend three days alone with this elephant. Surely you can convince her just as your dogma teaches. Just repeat to her over and over your doctrine; ‘only through the human does the Divine make itself known’”.
If Christian theologians really want to learn from Jung perhaps they can begin by answering his very simply put question; “Where have all the animals gone from Christianity”? Jung didn’t leave anybody out, including elephants:
They say the wisest of all animals, the most powerful
and Divine of all beings, is the elephant, and then comes
the python or the lion, and only then comes man. Man is
by no means on top of creation; the elephant is much greater,
not only on account of his physical size and force but for
his peculiar quality of divinity. And really the look of wisdom
in a big elephant is tremendously impressive. (1)
Today as the elephants and countless other species are leaving the earth, our greatest act of repentance might be in showing the whole non-human world that we are grieving too, that we mourn for all that has been lost and that which is yet to come. In this time of great uncertainty and restlessness, perhaps our repentance can begin with a new version of that old prayer from St Augustine:
Our Hearts are Restless Oh Mother Earth and we shall not find rest until we rest in Thee.
1. C. G. Jung, The Earth Has a Soul, 2002. Editor Meredith Sabini. Foreword by Joseph Henderson