Disregarding the largely Hebraic and Islamic belief that the soul dwells permanently within rather than external to the physical body, claims that the soul manifests at the point of death are not provable; however, there is sufficient concord between accounts of near-death experiences to suggest it is more than possible. Invariably in these accounts the soul appears in animal form and parapsychologists have spent much effort theorising why certain animal forms occur much more frequently than others and why some are only rarely found.The more hare-brained parapsychologists (I am afraid the pun is irresistible), such as Dr Lennart Östberg of Stockholm University, have argued for an astrological connection, but while many soul-forms appear among the constellations, notably the antelope, whale, goat, bear and lion, many do not, and a great number of the constellations are not named after animals at all. Moreover, as detractors of Dr Östberg’s theory point out, astrology is a subjective discipline and one cannot attempt to lever together two non-rational beliefs and create something unsustainably more than the sum of its parts.Rather better analysis – and here I cite the acknowledged expert in the field, the Slovak parapsychologist Professor Zukana Molnár – comes from the discipline of archaeology which has shown a broad correlation between the fauna of the late Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods and typical soul-forms. This, Professor Molnár argues, explains why domesticated animals, such as the pig and dog, never occur as soul-forms and why long-extinct animals, like the mammoth, do. She goes on to speculate whether this is indicative of a race memory of the time man was developing language and early forms of spiritual beliefs (universally assumed to be animist in nature) or whether it is connected to Jungian concepts of Symbolism and Archetypes; however, all the reader need understand is that a northern European is as likely to have the soul-form of a long-extinct mammoth as a weasel, whereas an indigenous Latin-American might have the soul-form of a jaguar or rhea.In her book The Perception of the Ancients Professor Molnár examined the frequent appearance of human-animal hybrids, such as mermen, centaurs, minotaurs and sphinges, in the literature of the ancient world and concluded that they were acknowledgements of the dualistic nature of man – being half rational and half bestial – and not descriptions of actual species. This acceptance of the dual nature of humankind was, she argues, common to all world belief systems before the advent of agriculture and monotheism after which humankind began to imagine itself as distinct from the lesser beasts. Concomitant with this distinction humankind could only acknowledge its innate sexual and sensual desires as sinful, and therefore to be denied or at least answerable for. According to Professor Molnár the denial of our animal nature is the cause of almost all modern psychosis and her recent work Sexual Awakening: Freeing the Beast Within raised something of a scandal among parapsychologists and even the mainstream media picked up the story and portrayed her as a sexual degenerate with the morals of an alley-cat.
Your editor, when an undergraduate at Israel College, Oxford, perhaps unwisely at the end of a long-evening in the Lamb and Flag, had my soul ‘read’ by a female student I was somewhat enamoured of who, after much hand waving pronounced that my soul was a toad. I babbled something about her confusing the Amphibia and that perhaps I was a frog – alluding to the fairy tale – but she pronounced me too ugly to be a frog. The humiliations we suffer for love and its pretenders.
Although outside the remit of his task, the editor would point the interested reader to a piece in the winter 2012 issue of The Silver Trowel discussing the argument between archaeologists and archaeo-parapsychologists over the interpretation of prehistoric cave paintings at Altamira in Spain and Lascaux in France and, increasingly, all animal representation in prehistoric art. Do such scenes illustrate, as archaeologists argue, hunting rituals, or do they, as proposed by archaeo-parapsychologists, show the ascension of the human spirit accompanied by the soul? The article in The Silver Trowel makes no definitive answer but is a comprehensive study of the evidence.In Scots folklore, and that of the other Celtic lands of Wales, Cornwall, Eireland, Mannin, and Basse-Bretagne, accounts of the soul guiding the deceased’s spirit to the afterlife are widespread. In most tales it travels by “green lanes”, said to be magickal pathways between this world and the next, variously known in Celtic lore as the Hesperides, Tir Na Og, Land O’Leel, and the Far Country inhabited by the soul.
In some tales the green lane is sunlight reflected on the ocean, in others it is the rarely seen green ray that appears at sunset, in yet more it is a shooting star or the aurora borealis; but always the soul appears at death and only rarely, usually to herald a great change or conflict, while a person lives.
My view, one that as a practising Christian I have come to after much prayer, is that the precise whereabouts and form taken by our soul is rather less important than ensuring we listen to its demands rather than demanding its lenience of our indulgences. I only regret not coming to the conclusion many years ago; I might have proved a more constant father to my son.