Several religions ascribe souls to all living things, not just humans but animals and plants as well. Shintoism ,the ethnic religion of Japan, believes that rocks, trees and places possess kami (spirit, essence), which I take to mean they have a soul. It is a view I somewhat empathize with. After all. who has not felt in awe looking at a majestic redwood tree or a towering sequoia or a spreading banyan tree? Or a magnificent monolith such as the colossal Ayers Rock in Alice Springs ( Australia)? I am not sure that is the same as thinking these things have a soul, but they definitely seem to have something above and beyond their physical reality.
I was taken aback, however, to read in a book* by Marie Mutsuki Mockett that some Japanese used to believe that even man-made objects such as chairs or tables acquired a soul if they had been around for a hundred years! Consequently, people often disposed of things that turned ninety-nine to avoid having to deal with them after they got a soul. This created a new problem because the discarded objects, indignant at having been deprived of their chance to get a soul, often became malignant spirits thirsting for revenge on their former owners. What a predicament! ( LOL). The author’s mother explained that this belief should not be taken too literally. The real message was that one should take care of things like umbrellas with respect because even an inanimate object deserves to be treated with dignity and that how you care for objects is an indicator of how you care for the people in your life. That I can understand.
I don’t for a minute think that man-made objects can acquire a soul but I started wondering about things I had that were a hundred years old or more. There are only two. One is a falling apart copy of The Parent’s Assistant by Maria Edgeworth. It is a book of moral tales intended teach young children the virtues of thrift, hard work, modesty etc. It used to belong to my maternal grandmother and dates back to the 19th century; I loved to read it as a kid. The other item is a gold medal that my paternal grandfather earned for standing first statewide in his medical exams. It is safely stowed away in a satin pouch. If it has a soul, it won’t be mad at me because it is as comfortable as can be. The book is another matter. It is shut away with other books in a cardboard box in the attic and is probably furious at me.
Old things may not have a soul but we treasure them for other reasons, usually for their connections with the people they used to belong to. In my case, these are usually books. For instance, there is a book of poetry that my mother studied in her college days, the flyleaf of which is inscribed in her bold hand with her (maiden) name. There are three bound volumes of recipes, dating back to the early seventies, from the long defunct Illustrated weekly of India which my parents lovingly collected and gave me when I first came to the U.S. I don’t often cook from those recipes( almost never, in fact) but I will always treasure those books. Then there is the copy of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables which my wife was awarded for being the best student in her class, circa 1967. And my son’s second grade essay on George Burns from 25 years ago, complete with his depiction of a smoking cigar, which earned him a ” Great job!” from Mrs. Reid.
All these things, except the gold medal, have no intrinsic value and do not mean anything except to me. The gold medal I will pass on to my son but the rest will be consigned to the trash by someone one day and that is the way it should be. They have been treasured in their time and that time is over.
* Where the Dead Pause and the Japanese Say Goodbye. Marie Mutsuki Mockett. ( Norton 2015)