I am, and always have been, a huge lover of animals. One of my favorite things to read about as a child was animals. I was endlessly fascinated by their habits, how they experienced the world, and the interesting things that made each one unique. I was especially enamored by wild animals, and read every wild animal rescue book I could find. I had dreams about raising baby critters or becoming a vet or someone who saved injured animals.
But, my dad was allergic to things with fur and feathers, so I didn't grow up with a family pet. I did have a mouse when I was in high school, and hubby and I both love cats, so we now have three lovely kitties. We have also had a few cats, who have passed over throughout the years.
I never liked the traditional concept of ghosts: being trapped souls that were stuck here on earth. I do think such a thing is possible, but I definitely don't think it's the fate of all that pass (not even in a fleeting manner). Which brings up a tricky point: how do you work with ancestors or the spirits of those gone by without interfering with their afterlife?
It's something I have thought about many times, and something that we talked about recently at our local meetup. My personal opinion is that our souls are like holograms: every bit contains the whole. When we are in a body, alive, we have that piece of our Self, but we don't really have access to the whole of it. We are quite limited in our scope of both senses and understanding. When we are not tethered to a body, we can be so much more. When we die, we loose those limitations. Our soul can experience whatever comes after, and still leave echoes that the living can connect with. These echo's still contain the essence of the soul, and so in a way ARE the person (or animal!) we knew, but they aren't the whole of them.
I think the connections we form with animals are different than the ones we form with people. I definitely don't think of them as subservient in the traditional sense, but I do feel like there is a purity there that is hard to find in people, even the people we are closest too.
When we lost our most recent cat, we had her cremated. She was the cat I have had the deepest connection to, and it is comforting to me to have her still here with us, in a way. And while I appreciated the spirit of the note that the cremation company sent with her remains, I dislike the actual idea of it.
There was a lovely little card that told a story (supposedly based on a Norse legend...but the only connection I saw was that they mentioned a rainbow bridge), about how our beloved pets will wait for us at the end of the rainbow bridge, and when we die, they will join us and go on to heaven with us (it was a strange mix of Christian and other mythology). While the sentiment is lovely, I think the idea of our beloved pets existing in some kind of limbo, just waiting for us to die so they can move on is sort of creepy.
I do feel her spirit here in the house sometimes. And I find it really interesting that our next oldest cat (who was the only one we had left when Kali passed), has picked up some of Kali's behaviors. Kali used to always lay on my chest at night, when I went to bed, and Shadow never did. Right towards the end, Shadow started sleeping up by my pillow, and after Kali was gone, she started coming to lay on my chest for a while before going back to her spot by my pillow.
There are many cultures that recognize the spirits of animals, whether it is the spirit of a specific animal (like my Kali) or the animal in general (the spirit of Wolf). Some recognize our deep connection to a particular animal, through the idea of an animal totem or a part of our spirit that takes the form of an animal. Working with these animal spirits, whether we see them as internal or external, we can find new ways of experiencing the world.
Animals see things so very differently, both physically and psychologically. I remember reading about the difference between skull structure and eye placement in prey versus predator animals. In predators, the eyes are on the front of the skull, giving them greater focus on details, particularly right in front of them. But in prey animals, the eyes are on the sides of the skull, giving them almost 360 degree vision, great peripheral vision and movement detection, but some have blind spots directly in front of them.
From a mental standpoint, things are much simpler in animal terms. We humans tend to complicate things and overthink them. We are less likely to be able to sink into the moment, we are always either thinking about things that have already happened or things that we worry/hope will happen.
As I was thinking about this blog post last night, I had this image in my head, of all the cats we have had that are no longer with us, roaming about my house. To me, this is a comforting thought, that I have made my home welcome enough that their spirits want to linger. I don't think of it as them being trapped, in the same way that when I call spirits to my circle, it is an invitation, not an order.
Many times we talk about familiars, but I think that one thing that many people overlook is the possibility for a familiar to be one that is no longer physically in this world. If a familiar's job is to help the witch, then a spirit familiar would be just as capable! I also think that spirits of our pets can make excellent guardians of the home, as they experienced the love and affection of the family while they were alive, and have a vested interest in protecting it already.
So, as we celebrate Samhain, and connect with our ancestors, let's not forget our animal friends who have also gone from this world. Remember them, make a place for them in your heart and in your home, and see what happens!