Stephen E Usher, Ph.D
On May 28, 2016 a three year old child fell into the gorilla habit at the Cincinnati Zoo. He fell 15 feet into water that was about 1 foot deep. The silverback male, Harambe, weighing some 400 pounds, came to the child and seemed to shelter him. Next, he dragged the child rapidly through the water, holding him by the ankle. Then Harambe seemed to play with the child; even holding his hand. Another rapid dragging through the water followed. After the film footage ends, Zoo officials say Harambe carried the child up to higher ground in the enclosure. Zoo management feared the child might be harmed. They decided to shoot the gorilla, reasoning that a tranquilizer would work too slowly and could lead to the confused gorilla's harming the child. After the child was rescued, he was taken to the hospital. Injuries were apparently minor and the child was soon at home with the family. Many people were upset at the killing of Harambe and the Zoo management had to defend their decision.
Rudolf Steiner distinguishes the death of animals from the death of human beings, explaining that they are really quite different. The human being has an individual ego on the earthy plane and that means he reincarnates and has karma. Karma implies that behavior in previous lives determines some of the things that happen to us in our present life, while other events are chance occurrences. The time between incarnations is on average about 1000 years, during which we make a great spiritual transit ascending out to the fixed stars and returning back to enter our next earthly body at conception. There is a tendency to incarnate once as a male and once as a female as the sun moves through a sign of the zodiac or two incarnations for each 2,160 years.
The gnomes are the earth elementals and were often seen by the old clairvoyants in mines. Undines are the water elementals. Sylphs are the air elementals, and salamanders are associated with warmth and fire.
With animals it is different, as they lack an individual ego on the earth. Rather, a whole species shares a group ego that resides on the astral plane. The species of lion, for example, exists on the astral plane. A properly developed seer can place his consciousness on the astral plane and converse with the lion group ego much as you and I could talk over coffee! When an individual lion dies, its essence returns to the group ego and is used to link to a newborn lion cub. Rudolf Steiner uses the analogy of a person's fingers. Each finger is like an individual earthly lion. When an individual lion dies, the finger is retracted and later dipped down into a new lion cub.
There are, however, exceptions to this rule. Where an individual animal becomes overly individualized, develops some traits differing sufficiently from the generic type, a residual essence remains after its death that can not be contracted back into the group ego. According to Dr. Steiner, this residual can become a particular type of elemental being. Four fundamental types of elemental beings were known in medieval times. These are invisible beings differentiated one from another by their makeup. The gnomes are the earth elementals and were often seen by the old clairvoyants in mines. Undines are the water elementals. Sylphs are the air elementals, and salamanders are associated with warmth and fire. Animals who gain sufficient differentiation can become salamanders according to Steiner. One friend said that her dog was so individualized that it would probably become a salamander and not merge back into the group dog ego.
Rudolf Steiner sometimes uses the name “fire-spirit” for the salamanders.
Salamanders possess an invisible physical body and something of an ego nature. I hazard to guess that Harambe, achieved Salamander status. One expert observed that silverbacks beat their chests to indicate aggressiveness. As Harambe did not do that he was was not threatening the child and the thought that he was only protecting and playing seems correct. So Harambe suffered a kind of martyr's death, which is certainly a kind of individualization. (This is not to say the Zoo management was in the wrong, as the powerful animal could easily have done serious harm to the child just by playing with him.)
Rudolf Steiner sometimes uses the name “fire-spirit” for the salamanders. He tells that the salamanders are particularly attracted to the insect world. It is by following insects in flight, particularly bees and butterflies, that the salamanders find their ego or self experience. “Everywhere they follow the tracks of insects as they buzz from blossom to blossom. And so one really has the feeling, when following the flight of insects, that each of these insects as it buzzes from blossom to blossom, has a quite special aura which cannot be entirely explained from the insect itself. Particularly the luminous, wonderfully radiant, shimmering aura of bees, as they buzz from blossom to blossom, is unusually difficult to explain. And why? It is because the bee is everywhere accompanied by a fire-spirit that feels so closely related to it that, for spiritual vision, the bee is surrounded by an aura that is actually a fire-spirit.” The text goes on to explain that the fire-spirit gains his self feeling by accompanying the bee and wishes to be completely united with the insect.
In their interaction with butterflies, in particular, the fire-spirits transform matter into the delicate colored dust on the butterflies' wings.
In their interaction with butterflies, in particular, the fire-spirits transform matter into the delicate colored dust on the butterflies' wings. This is a highly spiritualized physical substance that radiates a spiritual light far out into the cosmos. Rudolf Steiner speaks of salamanders “promoting the out-streaming of spiritualized matter into the cosmos.” And it is this shimmering forth into cosmic space that “attracts the human being to descend again into physical incarnation.”
So I try to imagine Harambe in his new activity after his traumatic departure from gorilla-hood, working with insects and sending spiritualized light into the cosmos in a way that guides souls to incarnation.
Stephen E. Usher is a Ph.D. economist, who worked as a staff economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and as consultant in an international research firm. He was, for nearly a decade, the Managing Director of the Anthroposophic Press, now SteinerBooks. Author of many articles about Rudolf Steiner's spiritual science and Threefold Social Order, he has traveled and lectured widely on the same topics.
Clips of Harambe and the zoo management: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QlkE4WrhMaI ;
Steiner sources: Man as a Symphony of the Creative Word, particularly lecture VII http://wn.rsarchive.org/GA/GA0230/19231102p01.html
; The Influence of Spiritual Beings Upon Man, particularly lecture 8 http://wn.rsarchive.org/GA/GA0102/19080516p01.html