How Animals Talk: And Other Pleasant Studies of Birds and Beasts
There’s no way William J. Long (1866-1952) was a pagan like us. But How Animals Talk, originally written in 1911, demonstrates a Gaian sensibility that will certainly resonate in the hearts and minds of modern pagans. A liberal theologian who studied at Harvard and took a Ph.D. in theology at Heidelberg, Germany, Long lived in Connecticut and spent his vacations camping, exploring, and fishing, activities that inspired and grounded his writings as a naturalist. This reissue of his book includes a foreword by biologist and morphologist Rupert Sheldrake, who tells how reading Long’s books led to his own investigations into animal telepathy and morphogenic fields. Sheldrake also relates how President Theodore Roosevelt, exponent of “sturdy manliness” (which means shooting every animal in sight), attacked Long’s ecological approach to nature. In his preface, Marc Bekoff (cofounder with Jane Goodall of Ethnologists for Ethical Treatment of Animals) likewise praises Long’s knowledge of animal behavior, “especially their emotions and sentience.”A century ago, of course, people lived more rural lives than we do today, and Long tells story after story about his encounters with crows and bears and deer and other wild animals that have long since learned to stay away from mankind. How do animals, both wild and domestic, talk to each other and to us? They have languages that Long says we can learn to almost understand. How can we learn, as Dr. Dolittle says, to talk to the animals? We can speak heart to heart because we’re all related. We have a commonality, we participate in an aliveness that links everything on the earth. Long calls this aliveness chumfo, a word that he learned from a tribe living near Lake Mweru in Africa and which has no English equivalent. Chumfo, Long writes, “refers in a general way to the animal’s extraordinary powers of sense perception”: Every wild creature is finely “sensible” in the true meaning of the word, his sensitiveness being due to the fact that there is nothing dead or even asleep in nature; the natural animal or the natural man is from head to foot wholly alive and awake. And this is because every atom of him, or every cell, as the biologist might insist, is of itself sentient and has the faculty of perception (p. 33).Long’s writing may be old-fashioned, and he holds opinions that we no longer hold, but in his sensibility—his awareness of chumfo—he’s as up to date as any modern author of “animalspeak” or artist who draws cards of animal totems. This book is highly recommended.~review by Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D.