St. Francis and Spiritualism
“He lifted up his eyes and saw certain trees by the road with an almost infinite number of birds; whereat St. Francis marvelled, and said to his companions: "Ye shall await me here on the road, and I will go and preach to the birds my sisters"; and he went into the field and began to preach to the birds which were upon the ground; and anon those which were in the trees came to him, and all of them stood still together until St. Francis finished preaching.” The Little Flowers of St. Francis
One of my favorite aspects of American Spiritualism, is that it’s near universally accepted that animals have spirits and souls. Although Spiritualists aren’t alone among the world religions in affirming this, American Spiritualism has really embraced the idea of accepting animals as family members, complete with animal friendly services, funerals for pets, allowing public prayer for family pets in services, and the belief that animals can come through in mediumship just as well as any loved one.
These beliefs go back to the early Reform Movements and the Victorian era where companion animals, and the animal welfare movement and vegetarianism became popular among the middle class, especially Spiritualists. Spiritualism offered an alternative religious tradition to the prevailing traditions of the day, where animals tended to be viewed as property or things rather than individual creatures capable of thought and emotion.
An early work of popular Spiritualist inspired literature Animal Ghosts Or, Animal Hauntings and the Hereafter by Elliott O'Donnell presented both traditional folkloric ghost stories involving animals as well as those submitted by individuals who encountered spirit visitations from beloved pets as well as farm animals.
More recently, popular beliefs such as the ‘Rainbow Bridge’ the blissful garden of the afterlife where pets and owners are reunited are heavily influenced by the peaceful Spiritualist idea of Summerland a land of eternal spiritual ‘summer’ where souls are in communion with God.
The Spiritualist community of Lily Dale, NY is an excellent example of Spiritualist kindness to animals. The Lily Dale Spiritualist Camp had a pet cemetery built very early on for it’s animal residents, cats are safe to walk the streets, squirrels are as well fed as any household pet, and within the last few years a dog park was built.
It’s therefore really no surprise that St. Francis of Assisi the “little poor man” who preached to the birds, universally loved, has entered into Spiritualism via this love of animals, and all of creation. Not only was St. Francis extremely aware of the presence of God as Creator in the laws of nature, he was very much in tune with his brothers and sisters the animals, and has become somewhat of a spirit guide for pets and animals among Spiritualists.
The famous Prayer of Saint Francis is found in the NSAC Hymnal set to music, and a small shrine to him is located in the center of the Lily dale pet cemetery. Many Spiritualist churches will also have a special pet blessing service on or near his feast day in October.
Though this love of St. Francis tends to transcend denominations, he’s truly found himself among friends with Spiritualists.
The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
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