Other Creations: Rediscovering the Spirituality of Animals

By Christopher Manes
New York: Doubleday, 1997. Hardback, xii + 240 pages.

Compelled by his daughter's innocent question regarding the death of her pet rabbit, author Christopher Manes embarked on a study of the connection between animals and religion. Not satisfied with his own answer about the rabbit's fate-a journey to "rabbit heaven”- Manes realized that the question was "merely the tip of a vast iceberg concerning our spiritual relations with animals."

The book begins with an account of animals' involvement in early religious systems, including Roman, Judeo-Christian, and Native American. Citing a work entitled the Physiologus, probably composed by an Egyptian monk about 300 AD, Manes gives examples of the historical role of animals in human spirituality. This book was the predecessor of the many Western bestiaries used by Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton. In the second section of his book, "Animal Pans," Manes examines such topics as healing with the aid of animals, meat-eating, animal sacrifice, exorcism through swine, kosher dietary laws, and the Lamb of God.

Often poignant, always insightful, Manes takes the reader on a journey through the wilderness, observing animals in such diverse roles as tribal protectors, children's playthings, and sacred spirits. One such animal is the bear, whose image is the epitome of strength in battle, yet whose cuddly face is as familiar as a stuffed toy. The bear's power is so great that its very name is unspoken, the animal being referred to only as "the brown one" from earliest Germanic times. In other cultures, the bear is known as "winter sleeper," "forest master," "beewolf," or simply the "unmentionable one."

From the caves of Lascaux to the camera lens of James Balog, Manes examines the use of animals in both art and spirituality. Rich with poetry and metaphor, the stories Manes relates touch a sacredness often overlooked in an increasingly mechanical environment. Through these stories, Manes involves us in the question of how we can "again embody our spirituality in the living, organic world of bird wings, coyote music, and the inexplicable migrations of frogs under the garden gate." Manes emphasizes that "we discover spiritual values through animals," rather than merely embody religious themes in animal imagery. Animal lovers, theologians, and literary students will find material ranging from alphabets to zoology in this broad-minded, well-researched, and thought-provoking book.


May/June 1999