I don’t venture into “fiction and fantasy” often, except into myth and folklore, which is our only “literature” that extends deep into pre-Christian, pre- “modern social human” overlays onto what once was the world of humans living as an animal embedded in the natural environment.
A theme of folklore worldwide, is that of a time when animals and humans talked to each other; I believe that this was a literal ability for humans to understand animal exchange of information, just as animal species that survive together in ecosystems, “understand” each other’s calls, body language, hormonal states, movements and seasonal behaviors, and co-operate in food-finding, protection and defense.
Scientists today are trying to “recapture” some of this ability and knowledge in observational experiments in the field, where it must be done, since these behaviors are “interactive” responses to the natural environment and the complex group of animals and plants adapted to that environment. The “trouble” is in finding environments that are even remotely free of human alteration and destruction. However, the behaviors of species that are adapting successfully to urban environments also teach us “to read and understand” animal behavior as an ongoing process of animal intelligence.
Labs are also being used to “test” animal communication and learning, but interference and distortion by modern social human preconceptions, unconscious prejudice, and anti-nature, supernatural “ideologies” – beliefs about the status of animals and man, are extremely difficult to remove, as we have seen time after time, in “human” psychology studies and theories.
There were / are individual humans who have “hung on to” relationships with (usually) wild animals, throughout millennia of persecution and extermination policies carried out by increasingly “culturally poverty-stricken” social humans, who display an extreme fear of nature, its physical processes, and its living contents, and tragically, project their own modern social “magical paranoia” of physical phenomena, as hallucinatory manifestations from a nonexistent supernatural domain. This is the state of human perception that has now been declared to be “normal”.
Once the “divide” was made between “wild animals” and domesticated types, which are controllable and exploitable because they are much less intelligent and self-motivated, and as “herd breeds” are no longer able or willing to “defend themselves” from ill-treatment by humans, an “unseen and unacknowledged” domestication of Homo sapiens also took place. Wild humans, just like other wild animals and plants, (and natural and mineral resources), have been targeted for extinction during the recent development of “civilization”.
The relation of Homo sapiens to the environment was shifted by social forces (driven by climate – weather patterns; growing dependence on agriculture – increase in “food” quantity, but decrease in quality – which remains the situation today; population increase due to neotenic sexual selection – possibly a result of bottleneck drops or restrictions in population; and many other factors) from “reasonable survival for all” (a rational conservative strategy) to the exploitation of “slavery of all living things, in service to the predatory few”. This “social journey” has lead to the denial of access, for most humans alive today, to the great resources that were delivered to our ancestor’s curious and artistic-inventive brains by nature – especially by the practice of observing and copying the behaviors of our fellow animals and “appropriating” the active processes and materials all around them, by intuitive insight and persistent “tinkering” within the parameters of intuitive physics.
Animals don’t “talk anymore” because humans don’t listen anymore … to animals or to each other!
Check this out; a wonderful modern visualization of human “integration of animal qualities” as practiced by our ancestors.
From a lovely website with many illustrations:
notes from a Dartmoor studio
on folklore, fairy tales, fantasy,
mythic arts & mythic living
by Terri Windling
“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far beneath ourselves. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complex than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.” – Henry Beston (The Outermost House)
“How monotonous our speaking becomes when we speak only to ourselves! And how insulting to the other beings – to foraging black bears and twisted old cypresses – that no longer sense us talking to them, but only about them, as though they were not present in our world…Small wonder that rivers and forests no longer compel our focus or our fierce devotion. For we walk about such entities only behind their backs, as though they were not participant in our lives. Yet if we no longer call out to the moon slipping between the clouds, or whisper to the spider setting the silken struts of her web, well, then the numerous powers of this world will no longer address us – and if they still try, we will not likely hear them.” – David Abram (Becoming Animal)
“Maybe it’s animalness that will make the world right again: the wisdom of elephants, the enthusiasm of canines, the grace of snakes, the mildness of anteaters. Perhaps being human needs some diluting.” – Carol Emshwiller (Carmen Dog)
Many an old story begins with the words, “Long ago, when animals could speak…,” invoking a time when the boundary lines between the human and the animal worlds were less clearly drawn than they are today, and more easily crossed. Animals play a vibrant role in the earliest stories from around the globe: tales of animal gods and guardians, animal nurses and paramours, animal thieves and tricksters, animal teachers and ancestors. In ancient carvings and pictographs we find numerous representations of the animal kingdom, as well as images of men and women with animal characteristics: stag-men, bird-men, lion-women, snake- women, and other beings both beautiful and monstrous. Shamans and wizards were said to be able to shape-shift into animal form, attaining these powers after spending some time living with animals in the wild — sleeping in wolf dens, traveling with reindeer, learning their speech and their secrets.
Folk tales from around the world tell us that the animals communicate with each other in a language unknown to men and women — or else in a language that used to be known to us, but now is lost. The stories also tell of human beings who understand the speech of animals. Some are born with this ability, while others obtain it through trickery, or magic, or as a gift from the animals themselves, a reward for an act of kindness. In both Europe and Asia, snakes and dragons are closely associated with animal speech. In Norse myth, Siegfried tastes dragon blood and then understands the language of birds; in Arabian myth, one obtains this power by eating the heart of a snake. In eastern Europe, the snake must be white; in France it must be black or green; in Greece, the snake must merely lick the ears of the human supplicant. In some tales, humans blessed with the gift of understanding animal speech must never reveal their possession of it — and often they lose it again when a careless word or laughter betrays them. Madness and the ability to speak the language of animals has often been linked, particularly in shamanic tales where the line between madness and oracular wisdom is blurred.
In tribal traditions from all around the globe, animals are believed to have the power to cause or cure certain illnesses. Animal and their spirits are propitiated through gifts, prayers, song, dance, shamanic rituals, and the use of totemic objects. (I once watched a Tohono O’Odham friend sing to a wild hawk in the mountains near Tucson, slowly drawing the hawk within arms’ length of where he knealt. The song, he said, was “hawk medicine,” passed down in his family.) Animal tales are often told not just as simple entertainments but as teaching stories, or as part of healing rites intended to foster a proper relationship between humankind and the natural world. Today, in our rapidly urbanizing society, this teaching/healing aspect of myth — and, by extension, of Mythic Arts — has become more important than ever, while we stare ecological disaster in the face and while more and more animal species fall under threat of extinction.
Animal myths remind us that we don’t own this earth but share it with others — with our animal “brothers” and “cousins,” as many tribal groups have named them. Some early Greek philosophers argued that animals, too, could reason and love, and thus were no less favored by the gods than human beings. To insist that man was the lord of all, they said, was the height of human arrogance. The Book of Job instructs us to “ask the beasts and they shall teach thee; and the Fowls of the air, and they shall teach thee; or speak to the Earth, and it shall teach thee,” while the Qu’ran says, “there is no beast on earth nor bird which flyeth with its wings but the same is a people like unto you.”
In The Spell of the Sensuous, David Abram writes of the importance of re-learning the language of animals and re-telling the stories that bring us back into a balanced relationship with the natural world. “Human language,” he notes, “arose not only as a means of attunement between persons, but also between ourselves and the animate landscape. The belief that speech is a purely human property was entirely alien to those oral communities that first evolved our various ways of speaking, and by holding to such a belief today we may well be inhibiting the spontaneous activity of language. By denying that birds and other animals have their own styles of speech, by insisting that the river has no real voice and that the ground itself is mute, we stifle our direct experience. We cut ourselves off from the deep meanings in many of our words, severing our language from that which supports and sustains it. We then wonder why we are often unable to communicate even among ourselves.”
The late naturalist John Hay expressed a similar sentiment in his influential book A Beginner’s Faith in Things Unseen: “In a society so estranged from animals as ours,” he said, “we often fail to credit them with any form of language. If we do, it comes under the heading of communication rather than speech. And yet, the great silence we have imposed on the rest of life contains innumerable forms of expression. Where does our own language come from but this unfathomed store that characterizes innumerable species?”
There is much to study in the content of myth and folklore; innumerable clues, like the symbolic bread crumbs that lead to encounters of unknown consequence in children’s tales, clues that document the “heart-breaking” degeneration of the human experience of being alive; ancient vitality which is crushed by modern social regimes.
We have denigrated “what is real” to irrelevance by pretending that 200,000 years of human evolution is only a “pagan fantasy”. Nature as a continually creative context for human fulfillment has been perverted into a forbidden human adventure. Nature is a “bad place” that produced inherently “bad people”. Modern social humans have elevated “sick” social structures to the “highest and only possible good”; a nightmare universe of pathology and unhappiness has swept across the peoples of the planet. That’s my well-researched opinion, as well as the conclusion of my “intuitive visual” Asperger brain, which “remembers” eternal principles.