Animal rights – A spiritual view on how to treat animals - part1

Michiel Haas – the Netherlands


In three articles I want to provide an overview of how we treat animals and how things could be done differently. In our society, animals are used as an efficient production tool in a way that is no longer in line with the scientific view that animals are conscious to varying degrees, have feelings and can suffer pain.

Should we use animals? 

Who gives us the right to use animals as a production tool and often not treat them as living beings with feelings? Is that a biblical right? God said "Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground" (Genesis 1:28). But does it give us a licence to treat animals badly? No, definitely not. God even gave the Israelites laws for animal welfare. They had to get plenty of rest and food, to be assisted when in need and to be protected from injury (Exodus 23: 4, 5; Deuteronomy 22:10; 25: 4). The Koran is also clear about this. "He it is who made you successors in the earth. " (Quran 35:39), but still, He is clear that this responsibility is not unconditional. For those who fail to meet the conditions that limit this responsibility, the following applies: "Then we return him to the lowest of the low" (Quran 95: 5 ... ..). In short, although the sacred books make man ruler of the animals on Earth, those books are equally clear that such a responsibility is comes with duties. It certainly looks like today's society disregards those duties.

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This idyllic image of cows in a meadow is becoming increasingly rare (photo © MilieuDefensie)

Do animals have feelings? 

Today, most scientists agree that all vertebrates, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, are aware to varying degrees, have feelings and can suffer pain. Until recently, they thought differently. Those who can’t speak, feel no pain: for a long time, this was the consensus in the scientific world. Until the 1980s, doctors operated on babies who could not speak without using anaesthesia. Fortunately, we now know better. Animals don't talk, but they do suffer just as much. Animal suffering is affecting us more and more. Yet the awareness of the way in which animals suffer, because of us, is sadly very limited.

The vast majority of animal species have neural warning mechanisms that are known by the general term "nociception" (pain sense). This ensures that they are sensitive to what can damage or kill them. When they are scared, the heartbeat of vertebrates increases. They have brain structures that resemble our limbic system, the areas that control emotions. Their behaviour and their brain structure are proof that animals have consciousness. This means they feel pain. According to current scientific knowledge, two groups of animals meet these criteria: vertebrates and squids.

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Images of grieving elephants are well-known, but many more animals are capable of such feelings

The fact that animals can grieve and therefore also have emotions is known about elephants. Monkeys, whales, killer whales, giraffes, ducks and a whole host of other species, from farm animals to pets, also show mourning behaviour. In the summer of 2018, the grief of the killer whale that kept her baby on the surface for seventeen days and made a 1,500-mile journey with her dead offspring became widely known. Then she let go and began to hunt for food again with the group in which she lived.

Do animals have personalities?

For people with pets it is a well-known fact: cats, dogs and horses have their own personality, while they do have the same breed characteristics. For science this was still a difficult point to acknowledge. Biologists have long ignored such individual variation in behaviour. In their eyes, behaviour was flexible and the differences between individuals were accidental deviations. The now retired behavioural physiologist from Groningen, Jaap Koolhaas, was one of the first to oppose this. He studied social behaviour in mice and rats and noticed that there were major differences between individuals. "Some animals always behave more aggressively, are more curious and braver than their counterparts," he recalls. His colleague Ton Groothuis, chairman of the Behavioural Biology department at the University of Groningen, mostly studied tits, and he thinks that knowledge of the hormonal and brain activity that drives behaviour is not sufficient to explain it. But what would they call those individual differences in their publications? Social styles? Behavioural syndromes? Or just "personality"? They settled for the latter. "Everyone immediately understands what that means," Groothuis explains. "Moreover, the choice was also strategic: "individual differences", that does not appeal to the imagination, but ‘personality’ does.”

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Through the study of great tits, much insight has been gained about their differences in personality (source: Wageningen University & Research)

 In his inaugural address in February 2019 as extraordinary professor of Animal Personality at Wa-geningen University & Research in the Netherlands, Prof. Kees van Oers outlines how we can treat animals better if we know their personality. The personality of people largely determines their happiness, health and success. And because personality is so essential in humans, the legitimate question arises: why should that not apply to animals?

Piek Stor, a Dutch medium that communicates with animals via telepathy, from ants and ticks to elephants and cows, knows the many different personalities between the animals well and says we can learn a lot from animals. There are very wise animals amongst them, wisdom that is also valuable to us humans. An example of the wisdom of a parrot: "Animals have a range of feelings. People often deal with it so bluntly. The world needs to know about this form of communication. Tell people about us. [...] We want to be heard. Listen to animals! People do not have the exclusive right to speak.’ [1]

Do animals have a soul? 

Do animals have souls? In Judaism, people believe that animals have a soul. However, many Christians don’t believe this. Yet there are clear indications in the Bible that animals have a soul. "And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. "(Genesis 1:24). Unfortunately, the idea that animals don't have a soul has often led to many forms of animal abuse. The soul is seen in Judaism as a secret of God and reveals the deeper layer of life. A soul knows joy of life and happiness, but also fear and pain.

The American Stephen H. Webb, former professor of religious sciences, said that heaven is a 'restored paradise' where, like Adam and Eve, humans and animals live in harmony with each other. Webb, author of a study "On God and Dogs: a Christian Theology of Compassion for Animals," invoked statements from Old Testament prophets such as Amos, Ezekiel, and Micha. According to the theologian, every good relationship between humans and pets is a reflection of the situation in the afterlife. "All animals go to God."

Hinduism and Buddhism regard the animal world, from the big four-legged friend to the tiny insect, as their "younger brothers." H.P. Blavatsky writes in her article "Have animals souls?", The Theosophist, January 1886:

"Verily when the world feels convinced – and it cannot avoid coming one day to such a conviction – that animals are creatures as eternal as we ourselves, vivisection and other permanent tortures, daily inflicted on the poor brutes, will, after calling forth an outburst of maledictions and threats from society generally, force all Governments to put an end to those barbarous and shameful practice.”

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Lioness adopts an antelope young

According to Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophical society, there is an important difference between humans and animals. Man has an individual ego, while this does not apply to animals. Members of a (non-human) animal species all share the same collective ego. In that sense there is therefore no soul for each animal individually, because an animal has no self of its own. However, both an animal and a human have an astral body.

Piek Stor, animal communicator mentioned earlier, fully supports theosophical vision in a very nuanced way. In her conversations with the animals, the animals usually indicate that they are part of a group and that there is a spokesperson that represents the group soul. But that does not apply to all animals, there are absolutely real individuals present, for example when she talks to a lion or a bison or an elephant, but also the cat and the dog are often true individuals, who are only connected to the group soul with a long line. She also sees a big distinction between species, ants are busy and very aware, a tick is hardly aware and only wants to suck and then drop down again and then wait and start over again. So, a very low level of consciousness. 

Can animals reincarnate? 

Radha Burnier, international president of the Theosophical Society for 33 years, was very concerned about animal welfare, but had no trouble killing a mosquito. They reincarnate quickly was her explanation.

The Tibetans were in the habit of sifting the ground before a temple was built so that no living creature, not even a worm, would be harmed. The Tibetans believed that souls can reincarnate in any living form and that a worm in a previous life could have been your mother. A modern Tibetan Buddhist would probably say that your mother is unlikely to reincarnate as a worm. These Tibetan actions are symbolic to illustrate how we should feel compassion for all living things. Treat them like our beloved family. It also questions whether our souls climb an evolutionary ladder across many species.

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Will the author’s dog Jasper, who sadly passed away in 2019, choose to come back to his boss? 

Craig Hamilton-Parker is a well-known British psychic medium. He shows clairvoyance on television in England and the United States and is the author of many books about paranormal and dream interpretation. In his article "What Happens to Animals When They Die?" He writes the following:

"My spirit guide has told us about what happens to animals when they die. They say that animals don’t all survive as individual identities after death. Some merge to what he calls a “group consciousness.” Their spirits return to a collective awareness for that particular species and from this pool of awareness different animal souls are born. It is only when an animal becomes self-aware that its soul continues after death and starts the long process or climbing the evolutionary ladder towards human and angelic consciousness.

This image is confirmed by many other mediums.

Because there is hardly any scientific research into reincarnation in animals, we have to get our information mainly from mediums. A wonderful story about a dog's reincarnation comes from the book "Pets have souls too" by Jenny Smedley, an English reincarnation therapist. In the book she tells a story of Teacup the dog, a small and ugly mutt with a naughty character. The dog was part of the family, he sat at the table in his own chair and had a very bad habit. She loved custard-cream cookies and would do anything to get one. So, she would sneak up from behind the chair and beat the cookie out of your hand at the speed of a thieving seagull and eat it. But one day she died, leaving a big gap in both her owners’ hearts. They didn’t want to get another dog because it felt like they would be betraying Teacup. A few years later the couple went on holiday to a deserted area in the Lake District, where they had been going on holiday for years. One day they heard scratching on the door and found a beautiful fur ball outside the door, wanting to go inside. The woman opened the door and the dog ran inside and jumped on a chair at the table and sat down opposite the man who was still sitting at the table for breakfast. As if he had always done that. They asked around the neighbourhood if anyone knew this dog, but no one had lost a dog, so they took him home after the holiday. And here comes the moment where we could almost speak of evidence of reincarnation. The man made a cup of tea for his wife in the afternoon and came out of the kitchen with the cup and two custard-cream cookies. Like a bolt of lightning, the dog shot off the seat next to her, clutching the cookies in his mouth, and disappeared behind the couch to enjoy it. 


A large number of scientists come to the conclusion that all vertebrates, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, are conscious to varying degrees, have feelings and can suffer pain. From a spiritual perspective there appears to be a strong suggestion that animals have a soul, often a group soul, but there are certainly animals that have already been individualised. And there are clear indications of reincarnation of animals, as appears from conversations with these animals. All this knowledge should have consequences in our dealings with animals.

[1] Piek Stor: In the silence you hear everything.

To be continued

[This article also appeared in the October 2019 issue of The Theosophist]

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