When an animal dies, another of the same species may cling to the body, eat the body, or look bored. Bees expel dead bodies from the hive or, if that is impossible, embalm them in honey. Elephants "say" a ritualistic good-bye, and touch their dead before slowly walking away. Corvids often accept the death of a companion without much fuss, but they at times have 'funerals, ' where scores of birds lament over the corpse of a deceased crow. But it is a bit odd that people should investigate whether animals 'comprehend death, ' as if human beings understood what it means to die. Is death a prelude to reincarnation? A portal to Heaven or Hell? Complete extinction? Union with all life? Or something else? All of these views can at times be comforting, yet people usually fear death, quite regardless of what they claim to believe. In the natural world, killing seems a casual affair. Human beings, of course, kill on a massive scale, but most of us can only kill, if at all, by softening the impact of the deed through rituals such as drink or prayer. The strike of a spider, a heron, or a cat is swift and, seemingly, without inhibition or remorse. They pounce with a confidence that could indicate ignorance, indifference, or else profound knowledge. Could this be, perhaps, because animals cannot conceive of killing, since they are not aware of death? Could it be because they understand death well, far better than do human beings? If animals envision the world not in terms of abstract concepts but sensuous images, the soul might appear as a unique scent, a rhythmic motion, or a tone of voice. Death would be the absence of these, though without that absolute finality that we find so severe. Perhaps the heron that snaps a fish thinks his meal lives on, as he one day will, in the form of currents in the pond.
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We poetically construct our identity as human beings, together with our values, largely through reciprocal relationships with animals. They provide us with essential points of reference, as well as illustrations of the qualities that we may choose to emulate or avoid in ourselves. Any major change in our relationships with animals, individual or collective, reverberates profoundly in our character as human beings, in ways that go far beyond immediately pragmatic concerns. When a species becomes extinct, something perishes in the human soul as well.
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Monsters' can help us by giving a tangible form to our secret fears. It is less widely appreciated today that 'wonders' such as the unicorn legitimize our hopes. But all imaginary animals, to some degree all animals, are ultimately both monsters and wonders, which assist us by deflecting and absorbing our uncertainties. It is hard to tell 'imaginary animals' from symbolic, exemplary, heraldic, stylized, poetic, literary, or stereotypical ones. What is reality? Until we answer that question with confidence, a sharp differentiation between real animals and imaginary ones will remain elusive. There is some yeti in every ape, and a bit of Pegasus in every horse. Men and women are not only part angel and part demon, as the old cliche goes; they are also part centaur, part werewolf, part mandrake, and part sphinx.
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Every animal is a tradition, and together they are a vast part of our heritage as human beings. No animal completely lacks humanity, yet no person is ever completely human. By ourselves, we people are simply balls of protoplasm. We merge with animals through magic, metaphor, or fantasy, growing their fangs and putting on their feathers. Then we become funny or tragic; we can be loved, hated, pitied, and admired. For us, animals are all the strange, beautiful, pitiable, and frightening things that they have ever been: gods, slaves, totems, sages, tricksters, devils, clowns, companions, lovers, and far more.
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Simply raising the theme of animals in the Third Reich means that our narrative is no longer only an account of what human beings have done to one another, but also about our relations with the natural world. If, viewed against the magnitude and terror of historical events, our personal lives appear almost trivial, the lives of animals may seem more so, and even to raise the subject can at first seem either insensitive or pedantic. At the same time, this new dimension places the events in an even vaster perspective still, one in which even the greatest battles and horrendous crimes can begin to fade into insignificance. This is the standpoint of evolutionary time, in which humankind itself may be no more than a relatively brief episode. Perhaps the focus on animals may help us to find a more harmonious balance between the personal, historic, and cosmic levels, on which, simultaneously we conduct our lives.
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We writers constantly try to build up our own confidence by getting published, making sales, winning prizes, joining cliques or proclaiming theories. The passion to write constantly strips this vanity aside and forces us to confront that loneliness and the uncertainty with which human beings, in the end, live and die.
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Snakes can have dozens of young at a time, and so they are often symbols of fertility. They resemble vegetation, especially roots, in their form and often in the green and brown of their skins. The undulating form of a snake also suggests a river. A point of muscular tension passes through the body of a snake and drives the animal forward, like a moment moving along a continuum of days and years. Like time itself, a snake seems to progress while remaining still. In addition, the body of a snake also resembles those marks with a stylus, brush, or pen that make up our letters. Ornamental alphabets of the ancient Celts and others were often made up of intertwined serpents. It could even be that the tracks of a snake in sand helped to inspire the invention of the alphabet. The manner in which snakes curl up in a ball has made people associate them with the sun.
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