Animals & Spirituality: Can Animals Be Religious?April 28, 2023
Our curiosity and reverence for the animal world stretches beyond language. We can't simply ask animals around us if they believe in gods, deities, or spirits. However, through close study of animals, we can see patterns in play and ritual that would suggest that they have an interest or understanding of the mysteries of life. Read on to uncover the unique spiritual behaviors of our favorite animals—which is the most fascinating to you?
Elephants Mourn the Dead
You've probably only seen an elephant up close at your local zoo. These majestic giants are cultural icons that teach us about the thin veil between the human and animal kingdoms. Elephants can draw, mimic human speech, and have a stellar memory. However, one of the most intriguing things about elephants is their behavior when mourning their dead. These large mammals have been observed returning to their dead to touch and smell them and roaring or trumpeting with other elephants around their fallen family members. In some cases, a mother elephant will carry the body of her dead child in a sort of funeral ceremony.
Other elephants are not the only ones to receive these special treatments. Elephants are recorded burying rhinos, buffalo, and cows with food and colorful foliage. This behavior proves that elephants have extreme emotional intelligence and form strong bonds with one another and those around them in life and honor the deceased in death.
Chimpanzee Water Dances
We're not the only species that knows how to grove! Several native cultures have traditions of rain dances they use to satisfy their rain gods. Chimpanzees have similar rituals where they will dance almost as if to celebrate during heavy rains. Not only this, but chimpanzees also show a sense of wonder and awe when interacting with waterfalls. Members of their clan will start to sway rhythmically, throw heavy rocks, and sit in meditative silence, watching the water flow around waterfalls and streams. This sense of reverence for the elemental world suggests that chimpanzees have a spiritual understanding of the wonders of the earth and will show this with their complex emotions. Some apes share over 98% of the same genetics as humans, so, naturally, we would experience similar feelings about the world around us.
The Complex World of Dolphins
Dolphins are highly social animals that live in large pods. Dolphin communities are complex and show altruistic behaviors. Several reports exist of dolphins working together to support each pod member in times of hardship. Mating rituals amongst dolphins show just how elaborate their social worlds are. Male dolphins will present females with gifts like large sea sponges to get them to mate with them. On the opposite end, dolphins, like elephants, show distinct mourning behaviors. These behaviors typically vary by pod, suggesting that dolphin communities are unique and personalized. Some pods will carry the body of their deceased for several days. Others will organize a barrier around a fallen dolphin to protect it from being eaten by other marine life. Dolphins are intelligent creatures with a deep understanding of community and a sense of higher good.
Spirituality comes in all shapes, sizes, and species. Many of the animals around us are capable of complex feelings and rituals that show how connected we all are to what lies beyond.