When Elephants Weep – Masson and McCarthy

When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals
Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy
Dell Publishing, 1995
292 pages

While this isn’t strictly a “pagan book”, it’s one I’ve been wanting to read for some time. As a totemist and animal magician, I believe it’s exceptionally important to study the natural history of animals as well as the more abstract mythology, lore, and UPG.

This book explores the emotions of species of animals ranging from ants to whales. Numerous anecdotes are given, particularly involving primates, cetaceans, and African gray parrots. These are used to put forth discussions and considerations of the debate as to whether or not nonhuman animals have emotions, and to what extent they share emotional states and expressions with us. We are not told what we must believe; the authors make their arguments, but they are not entirely dogmatic. Instead, they present their case, give their examples, and beseech the reader to consider what they have offered up. Responsibility is placed in the hands of the reader; we are not spoonfed the answers.

Let me make something clear: this book was not written by scientists. If you’re looking for hard scientific evidence for animal neurology and related fields, this isn’t it. One author has a PhD in Sanskrit; the other has degrees in journalism and biology. (Of course, I have a B.A. in English, so perhaps according to some I’m unfit to judge the scientific integrity of a work in my mere layman’s understanding.) However, I don’t believe science has all the answers, and the authors point out numerous places where science has perhaps been quite blind. We are called not just to think, but to feel–a more complete way of observing and considering emotions themselves. After all, it is strict adherence to left-brained thinking that justifies everything from vivisection of unanesthetized animals to extermination of entire species.

What I consider important about this book is that it can get the average person to think about how we approach animals and their emotions, and reconsider the practice of anthropomorphization. It may make you angry, it may make you cry, or it may make you nod and say “Yes, I agree with this”. But as long as you’re thinking about your position on animals as emotional beings instead of just reacting with your usual routines, I think the authors have done their job.

Five pawprints out of five.

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4 Comments

  1. Solo said,

    February 27, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    Totally agreed with this.

    I actually have several of Masson’s books, and he really hits on quite a lot of points with regards to quite a few things. Since you also identify as a canine-therian, I’d also recommend his book “Dogs Never Lie About Love”, which explores the emotional lives of domestic dogs, but also gets into their wild cousins, too.

    Also, if you liked his books, I’d also recommend books by the author Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, as well as Marc Bekoff. I have several of their books and they are also great writers and workers in the field of animal ethology and the reexamination of anthropomorphism, let alone Jane Goodall. I can recommend you a few titles, if you like.

    I think that these sorts of books should be required reading for anyone working with animals, be it physical, emotional, or in the case of the audience of this blog–metaphysical. Especially so. I get so frustrated at the amount of pagans and therians that spout off over their deep and emotional connections or workings with animals, but don’t seem to know a lick about how they think, feel and behave beyond what they read on the internet or in superficial ‘animal magick’ books.

    Ha. That sparked a rant. Sorry about that!

    ~Solo

  2. lupabitch said,

    February 28, 2008 at 11:47 am

    Solo–Thanks for the recommendations! It’s good to know there are more books where this one came from. Yay, more good reading material!

  3. Helen said,

    March 11, 2008 at 7:26 am

    I think that a PhD in Sanskrit may qualify the author a lot more than one might think. I don’t know any Sanskrit, but I do know someone who speaks it, and from what I’ve been able to understand, it is a language that is much closer to emotion and image than modern languages are.

  4. Seraphyna said,

    July 14, 2008 at 10:45 am

    I read this book for a sociology class in college, and I loved it. It really covers all of the “emotions” and evidence for said emotions existing among animals as well as human. It also provides a very good background of the history of the search for emotions in animals and the beliefs that were held way back when and now. I particularly liked their more scientific approach to the subject, instead of just taking certain events at face value and slapping an emotional tag on them.


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