What do Mickey Mouse, Ganesh, a leopard-skin pillbox hat, A Lion Called Christian, and the Aflac duck have in common? They all represent human beings' deeply ingrained connection to the animal kingdom. In Being With Animals, anthropologist Barbara King unravels the complexity and enormous significance of this relationship.
Animals rule our existence. You can see this in the billions of dollars Americans pour out each year for their pets, in the success of books and films such as Marley and Me, in the names of athletic teams, in the stories that have entertained and instructed children (from The Cat in the Hat back to well before Aesop created his fables), in the animal deities that pervade the most ancient forms of religion (and which still appear in sublimated forms today), to the paintings on the cave walls of Lascaux. The omnipresence of animal beings in our lives--whether real or fictional--is something so enormous that people take often it for granted, never wondering why animals remain so much a part of human life. It has continuously maintained a powerful spiritual, transcendent quality over the tens of thousands of years that Homo sapiens have walked the earth. Why?
King looks at this phenomenon, from the most obvious animal connections in daily life and culture and over the whole of human history, to show the various roles animals have played in all civilizations. She ultimately digs deeply into the importance of the human-animal bond as key to our evolution, as a significant spiritual aspect of understanding what truly makes us human, and looks ahead to explore how our further technological development may, or may not, affect these important ties.
BARBARA J. KING is Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at the College of William and Mary. She has studied monkeys in Kenya and great apes in various captive settings. She writes essays on anthropology-related themes for bookslut.com and the Times Literary Supplement (London). Together with her husband, she cares for and arranges to spay and neuter homeless cats in Virginia.
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A Holy Procession of Animals
. . . .
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
--William Blake, The Lamb, 1789
EVERYONE COULD FEEL IT. Anticipation weighted the air as the Saint Francis Day church service unfolded at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Finally, the massive front door swung open. Into the largest of all cathedrals in North America flooded an early-autumn light, a light that illuminated the creature that walked first through the door: a camel, head held high, its single hump garlanded with flowers.
Anticipation turned to reverence, and twelve hundred people turned their gaze as one. Behind the camel and its white-robed caretaker came a royal yak, a tundra reindeer, a baby wallaby and a baby ape, and a black sheep named Marvin. A giant tortoise named Oscar rode on two pillows arranged on a wagon. Birds of prey, and a host of smaller creatures from bunnies to hermit crabs, were carried or pulled on carts.
Slowly, with calm and dignity, the Procession of Animals made its way to the front of the church. There the animals were blessed by waiting clergy. As much as the individual animals themselves, it was the animal-human relationship that was celebrated. The choir sang, and young girls lined the aisles, waving colorful flags. As the animals slowly turned to move back up the aisle, the human congregants sang and moved in harmony with the music.
As I watched the ritual, I saw how the joys inherent in sharing the world with animals lighted people's faces and enriched their voices. Throughout the church, people bent forward to whisper a word to the dog by their side, or to re-settle into their carriers a cat or a rabbit. People not only came to the ceremony in the thousands, they also brought their own animals along. When the service concluded, people and animals walked, two by two, into the cathedral's garden so that clergy could bless each pet with loving words and touch.
The blessing ceremony at St. John's is the most elaborate and famous of any in the world, but many smaller ceremonies in other towns and cities take place on the first Sunday in October, a day set aside to remember the patron saint of animals. People attend not to watch passively but to participate actively, to bring into alignment and harmony their love of animals and their love of God.
Rituals like this, whether focused on the Christian God or some other modern God or gods, mark an emotional connection between animals and people that stretches far back into human prehistory. Our species, Homo sapiens, became human by being with animals.
Deep inside a cave in prehistoric France, early Homo sapiens people gathered in near darkness. Artists in the group had adorned the walls with pigments, rich reds and jet blacks, in order to create spectacular animal images. Now the group assembled in dim light, singing and moving rhythmically together.
As they lost themselves in the pulse and the beat, some people began to experience a slightly altered consciousness and a heightened connection with the living creatures whose representations graced the walls. Hunters felt at one with the animals they would stalk the next day. A skilled healer stared at a half-man, half-bird image cruder than the others. Feeling the first stirrings of a transformation, he knew he would soon be released from his earthly moorings and in contact with otherworldly creatures and forces.1
In prehistoric Turkey, at the village of Catalhoyuk around 8,000 years ago, a man was buried together with a lamb. The bodies, one person and one animal, were kept slightly separate in death by an unusual, contorted position of the lamb and by the placement of a mat or blanket between the two. Yet, in a place where animals were routinely domesticated but not usually buried, the lamb was placed in a gravesite used traditionally for human ancestors: a pit dug beneath a house floor. In subsequent years, three other people were buried there as well.2
At around the same time in Israel, people at a place called Kfar HaHoresh constructed a large mosaic. The material used was not tile, but the carefully positioned bones of humans and gazelles. The image (when viewed from above) is the profile of an animal, perhaps a boar, an aurochs, or even a lion. Elsewhere at the site, a human skull was buried underneath the floor of a rectangular structure and just above a headless gazelle carcass.3
In ancient China, a hermit called Zhuangzi entered a game park and took aim at a magpie. Preoccupied with a cicada, the magpie did not notice Zhuangzi; neither the cicada nor a nearby preying mantis noticed the magpie. The magpie "swept down on its prey in high excitement and gobbled them both up." A feeling of compassion welled up in Zhuangzi: here in the certainty of death was the essence of life. For months, Zhuangzi felt depressed, but also enlivened by new thoughts: Life is about endless transformation, and death should not be feared; realizing this, Zhuangzi felt an "exhilarating freedom" that changed his life.4
In modern-day California, a small group of people shared an amazing encounter with a fifty-foot-long, fifty-ton whale. In the waters beyond San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, a female humpback whale became tangled in equipment used by crabbers, about twenty crab-pot ropes, each 240 feet long and with weights attached every sixty feet. Unable to free herself, and struggling to keep her blowhole above the waterline, the whale was in real peril.
When rescuers arrived by boat, they determined that the best hope of saving the creature would be to cut her free, working in the water. To swim and dive right near such a powerful--and frightened--sea mammal presented serious risk. The procedure to free the whale took an hour, but the mighty creature remained calm throughout, and emitted what rescuers described as a strange kind of vibration. Once freed, she did not bolt for the open sea. Rather, she circled her four rescuers in a way that struck them as joyful. She then approached each person and nudged each in turn. Diver James Moskito said later, "It felt to me like it was thanking us, knowing that it was free and that we had helped it. . . . When I was cutting the line going through the mouth, its eye was there winking at me, watching me. It was an epic moment of my life. . . . It was an amazing, unbelievable experience."5
These examples tell a fundamental truth about how we humans make sense of the world: we think and we feel through being with animals. Utterly unique to the human-animal realm is an emotional kind of mutual relating. Yes, the ever-shifting light on the walls of the ancient Grand Canyon or on the cypress trees swaying gently in a Tuscan breeze may move us profoundly. Yet neither the light, the canyon, nor the trees will ever actively engage with our admiring gaze, or with our emotions. They will never give back emotionally as animals can.
To feel that mutual kinship with another creature is a special experience, one that brings us into attunement with the whole world. It's a feeling deep in the chest, resonant in the heart: I share with all creatures a way of being in this world. All animals, in their own ways, struggle to live, and feel their lives in different ways. I belong here in this world, with them.
We know these things, and in a sense we may even take them for granted. After all, we live in a time and place where animals infuse our lives. We share our homes with animals, and make ourselves mentally and physically healthier by doing so. We vacation in national parks and other animal-rich areas because we want to witness our companion animals' wild counterparts and their behavior. Most of us eat animals and dress ourselves with animals. The sports teams we root for take on animals as symbols, and the cereals we buy are sold to us by talking animals. The tales we read to our children are inhabited by animals who impart wisdom; the poems, novels, and adventure stories we read may ignite our felt connection to nature.
But why should it be this way? Why are we humans emotionally invested in, and sometimes transformed by, close encounters with animals? Why does a multimillion-dollar pet industry in the United States thrive even in tough economic times? Why do most major cities invest in a zoological park and an aquarium? Why are sports teams--not only the Lions, the Tigers, and the Bears, but also the Jayhawks, the Mud Hens, and the Marlins--so often named for animals? Why are the television shows Animal Planet and Nature so enduringly popular? Why is an animated mouse named Mickey recognized instantly around the world? Why do our emotions at being with animals so often spill over into religious experience? In Being with Animals, we will journey through prehistory and history, and across the globe in the present day as well as the past, in order to answer these compelling questions. As we go, we will bring animals, emotion, and evolution together with religiosity, humans' expression of religious awe. We will look over the shoulders of scientists who offer the latest insights from anthropology, archaeology, and studies of mammals and birds.
For me it's a natural, bringing together these four threads. I'm an animal lover, and have been since childhood. My personal life revolves around family, which we define to include a rather stunning number of domestic cats (and the occasional rabbit). My professional life as an anthropologist is chock full of monkeys and apes; I lived for fourteen months in Kenya in order to track and observe baboons, and more recently have observed gorilla and bonobo groups closer to home. I teach and write about evolutionary matters, with a focus on humans as the apes who became upright walkers, speech talkers, and believers in the supernatural.
I believe that one of our most profound connections with animals lies in our emotional experiences of the world and each other. For one animal, Homo sapiens, that world of emotion became a world of religious ritual, and it fascinates me how that happened and ...
“Being With Animals is a remarkable work, and the deconstruction of “man the hunter” is worth the price of the book alone! ....The author has amassed and digested an enormous range of literature, and has a special take on just about everything involving animals and spirituality. It was fascinating reading.”
—Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, Author of When Elephants Weep and The Face on Your Plate
“A fascinating history of the relationship between humans and animals. Explores the importance of animals both in the religion and the daily lives of people around the world.”
—Temple Grandin, Author of Animals in Translation and Animals Make us Human
"Full of profound insights, King's book sparked my curiosity and left me pondering its philosophical questions and remarkable stories long after I finished it. I loved this book and will be recommending it to everyone."
--Stacey O'Brien, Author of Wesley the Owl
A well researched, thought provoking book which underscores the vital importance -- to human well-being -- of expanding our positive connections to the natural world.
-- Richard Louv, author of "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder"
"In BEING WITH ANIMALS, Barbara King masterfully guides us through the complicated love affair humankind has had with animals since our species began. A fascinating read." —Diane Hammond, Author of Hannah's Dream
"Being With Animals discusses the significance of human-animal bonds that cross spans of time, cultures, gender, and ages and is a must read as we head into the century of the animal. Read it carefully, share it widely, and celebrate that fact that we ourselves are animals." --Marc Bekoff, University of Colorado, Author of The Emotional Lives of Animals and Wild Justice
“Ever striving to remain the object and skeptical scientist, King nonetheless finds herself arriving again and again at the inevitable question -- is there a transcendental or spiritual connection between humans and animals that ennobles both? Although she astutely avoids a direct answer to this question, she manages to raise it in a compelling manner that will inevitably leave the reader personally pondering over the answer, which is precisely what all great books should do.” --Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, Author of Kanzi: The Ape at the Brink of the Human Mind
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Book Description Harmony, 2010. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0385523637
Book Description Harmony, 2010. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0385523637
Book Description Harmony, 2010. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Prompt attention. Free tracking. New. Bookseller Inventory # MER-160405070807-1058
Book Description Harmony, 2010. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110385523637