Reincarnation as an Element in Visionary Fiction: Part 1

By Victor E. Smith

“The story oftentimes uses reincarnation, dreams, visions, paranormal events, psychic abilities, and other metaphysical plot devices.”  This is the second characteristic of Visionary Fiction listed on the VFA Home Page. Rather than merely adding a sensational or fantastical ingredient to VF works, I perceive these elements, when presented sensibly,  to be an essential part of the visionary realm about which we write, contributing integrally to both “growth in consciousness” (the 1st characteristic) and making the plot “universal in its worldview and scope” (the 3rd characteristic).

In this 3-part series, based on a presentation I made to the Tucson chapter of the Institute of Noetic Science (April 3, 2015) entitled “Exploring Reincarnation through History and Fiction,” I would like to focus on the role of reincarnation, one of the more complex of the paranormal phenomena encountered in the visionary environment.  With it as an example, I hope to illustrate that the various psychic elements (telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and psychokinesis, to name a few) are actual features in the visionary realm we inhabit, just as stars, planets, mountains and oceans are part of our physical environment.

Part 1: Overview and History of Reincarnation

Reincarnation Defined

reincarnationIn various cultures over the eons, reincarnation has been depicted in many ways from the sublime to the absurd. In this discussion I suggest we adopt the succinct definition given by Dr. Charles Tart in The End of Materialism, How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together:

Reincarnation or rebirth is the belief, held by a large proportion of the world’s population, that some essential aspect of one’s living self, the soul, survives physical death and, and after some period of varying length in an afterlife state, is reborn as the soul of a new being. Beliefs in reincarnation usually include a belief in some form of karma, a psychic law of cause and effect, so that actions in one lifetime will eventually, when circumstances are ripe, have effects in a later lifetime.

So, reincarnation, to be plausible, requires:

  • a soul (an immaterial aspect of the self),
  • a framework of existence beyond the physical world,
  • and some operating law governing the relationship or continuity between the two universes (e. g, karma).

Consider the sleeping-dreaming-waking cycle to get a tangible idea as to how this model, which expands the one life/one death paradigm to a continuous sequence of lives, might work.  Our consciousness can be said to undergo a mini-reincarnation daily.

A Brief History of Reincarnation in the West

Reincarnation was not invented by New Age folks. A glance through the Wikipedia article on the subject shows its history and role in world religion and philosophy as ancient and complex. Eastern populations have been living with some awareness of it for all of written history. And evidently some Westerners, especially prior to the Christian era, did likewise.

Following is a telling quote from a surprising source: none other than Julius Caesar in his famous history of the Gallic Wars. Here he is speaking of the Celtic Druids he encountered in France and Britain, also credited as the source for the later Arthurian Grail tradition:

The principal point of their doctrine is that the soul does not die and that after death it passes from one body into another….. the main object of all education is, in their opinion, to imbue their scholars with a firm belief in the indestructibility of the human soul, which, according to their belief, merely passes at death from one tenement to another; for by such doctrine alone, they say, which robs death of all its terrors, can the highest form of human courage be developed.

While several remnants of belief in reincarnation remain in the biblical Gospels, (see Geddes MacGregor,  Reincarnation in Christianity for one) most references to it are said to have been expurgated from the New Testament for reasons covered below.

But if authors from Plato to Julius Caesar wrote about reincarnation of old and poets like the Grail chroniclers and William Wordsworth have celebrated it more recently, why are so many Westerners either oblivious to the concept or consider it a primitive belief that has been supplanted by the dogma of Heaven/Hell?

A Personal Anecdote about the Blinding Effect of Education

The author at H.D. Thoreau's Grave, Concord MA

The author at H.D. Thoreau’s Grave, Concord MA

I was raised and educated as a Catholic; the word reincarnation has long been “disappeared” from that religion’s lexicon.

Early in life, I became enamored with the famous piece from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden that began: “I went to the woods” and continued on with “because I wished to live deliberately…to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience—” But that’s where I always stopped, not even noticing it was mid-sentence.

enry David Thoreau's Tombstone

Henry David Thoreau’s Tombstone

It was only after I had been introduced to the possibility of reincarnation that I finished reading that last sentence to the end: “…or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.” Thoreau, a transcendentalist with reincarnation an integral part his life vision, just assumed he would return to tell the rest of the story. But before my mind was opened to the idea, my eyes did not see the phrase in my next excursion on the page.

I was chagrined, to say the least, to discover at the age of 20 that I had such enormous blind spots. It wasn’t that no one had written about reincarnation; I just didn’t see what was in front me. I was momentarily depressed but then realized that half the planet suffered the same selective blindness.

Justinian and the Council of Constantinople

I smelled foul play here and went on a furious research and reading campaign to discover what happened here.  Soon, I was writing a sketch of the later Roman Emperor Justinian and his role in the Council of Constantinople in 553, which declared the doctrine of reincarnation a heresy. This obsession, fittingly, grew into my first major work of historical visionary fiction, The Anathemas, A Novel of Reincarnation and Restitution.

The book tells the whole story, but we can summarize the religious controversy that led to the anathematization of reincarnation with vignettes and quotes from the two opposing sides.

Origen 184-254 AD

Origen 184-254 AD

Origen was one of the most revered, influential and prolific theologians in the formative years of Christianity, which featured a struggle to balance Jesus’ original teachings with the need to conform to the mores of the Roman Empire.  Unfortunately for Origen, already long deceased, his writings were deemed to contain teachings that did not fit the orthodox pattern when Christianity was adopted as the state religion under Constantine in 325. Reincarnation was one of them.

We know that the soul, which is immaterial and invisible in its nature, exists in no material place without having a body suited to the nature of that place. Accordingly, it at one time puts off one body which was necessary before, but which is no longer adequate in its changed state, and it exchanges it for a second; and at another time it assumes another in addition to the former, which is needed as a better covering, suited to the purer ethereal regions of heaven. ORIGEN, CONTRA CELSUM, BOOK VII

Justinian 482-565 AD

Justinian 482-565 AD

But Origen had a committed following, the neo-Platonist and Gnostic sects among them, and some three hundred years after the theologian’s death, Emperor Justinian, for complex political reasons detailed in my book and elsewhere, decided it was high time to declare Origen and his offensive writings as definitively heretical. Pope Vigilius proved reluctant, so Justinian had him kidnapped from Rome, brought to Constantinople, locked up, and finally forced to sign the Council’s decrees. The first item was this on reincarnation:

If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it: let him be anathema.

 The Council issued 15 Anathemas against Origen, the remaining banning other Gnostic teachings that he was seen as upholding. The root heresy in Gnosticism was its claim that the individual had the right to observe and decide for himself based on his experience of God within rather than submit with blind faith to the dogmas promulgated by authority.

Emperor Justinian wrote The Anathemas against Origen and a church Council ratified them. Reincarnation was heresy. All references to it were purged from church literature, and discussion of it was prohibited. The anathemas became part of Canon Law and remain so today.

Here was the answer to source of my blindness. Why did I and so many Westerners not know anything about reincarnation? Because we weren’t supposed to know.

 

NEXT: Part 2: The Renaissance of Reincarnation: There’s an odd thing about truth… It is resilient; it keeps coming back…

 

 

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About Victor Smith

Victor E. Smith, a lifelong generalist with a diverse resume, sees himself as a scribe of the realm “in-between.” Writing largely visionary and historical fiction, he seeks to observe, absorb, and express those close encounters between the spiritual and material universes that form the unique adventure called human life. Vic is the author of The Anathemas: A Novel of Reincarnation and Restitution (2010) and Channel of the Grail (May 2016). He is a core team member of the Visionary Fiction Alliance. For further information, visit his website, victoresmith.com.
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35 Responses to Reincarnation as an Element in Visionary Fiction: Part 1

  1. Bob Edward Fahey says:

    Wonderful commentary. Thank you. This as quoted in my own reincarnation-based book (not to be seen as in any way similar to, or in competition with yours), "The Mourning After"
    “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
    The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
    Hath had elsewhere its setting,
    And cometh from afar:
    Not in entire forgetfulness,
    And not in utter nakedness,
    But trailing clouds of glory do we come
    From God, who is our home:
    Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
    Shades of the prison-house begin to close
    Upon the growing Boy,
    But he beholds the light and whence it flows,
    He sees it in his joy;
    The Youth, who daily farther from the east
    Must travel, still is Nature’s Priest,
    And by the vision splendid
    Is on his way attended;
    At length the Man perceives it die away,
    And fade into the light of common day.”

    – William Wordsworth.

    – I will now definitely be looking into your book. May I share this on my Facebook page?:

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  2. reanolanmartin says:

    victor, this is fantastic! I too have explored the origins of reincarnation in catholic doctrine and found them early on in st augustine's works, scartered about. an excerpt from Confessions:
    "Did my infancy succeed another age of mine that dies before it? Was it that which I spent within my mother's womb? . . . And what before that life again, O God of my joy, was I anywhere or in any body?" Confessions of St. Augustine, Edward Pusey, translator, Book I.

    I believe the idea in eliminating it was to get people to comprehend that each life's journey mattered deeply (figuring at some point the journeys end), so seek enlightenment now and don't put it off to abother lifetime. but that could just be my own assessment. terrible that it was entirely eliminated from all teaching, since so many travesties in life can only be explained that way. things cerrainly don't add up in a single lifetime!

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    • Thanks, Rea. Interesting, and kind, take on the banning of the doctrine of reincarnation by the church. I saw it as the ultimate control gambit: do as we say and you go to heaven. Don't, and it's the hot place for you.

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  3. Bob Edward Fahey says:

    Being a theosophist, I research everything, search in all disciplines and inspirations, to find how it all ties together. In this I have found that ancient seers revealing aspects of the kali yuga and of the transitions between the Ages of Pisces and Aquarius, seem to be pointing to a time of great civil and personal unrest as heavy-handed, paternalistic churches, political forces, and such may be losing their tight grips on our souls. Those who have wanted to tell US we need THEM to find our own highest truths, inner peace, and freedom – those who often lead by terror and suppression – are being challenged openly and sometimes en masse. As the world shifts toward the awareness that we can find our own souls one-by-one, each in his own way, they will fight back. And they will have all the gathering forces of ignorance and darkness behind them.
    But ultimately, truth will out. I have had no less a source than a recent president of the Theosophical Society in America tell me she loved my book on reincarnation, but it is sad that it will fall on a world that doesn't want to believe in the concept.
    I have found quite the contrary, however. As more and more discover it, love it, and bare their hearts to me, I find little kids are everywhere coming in with memories, and parents are learning to question.

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    • 'I have found quite the contrary, however. As more and more discover it, love it, and bare their hearts to me" Agreed! I've found more reviews and reader responses that enjoy my stories BECAUSE of the reincarnation element than otherwise. It seems to be hitting a current nerve at least. Very well said.

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      • Bob Edward Fahey says:

        "One final whisper of day.
        Wild birds sing their joys to the setting sun,
        and again as it rises in the morning.
        Ends and beginnings, all the same."

        – From "The Mourning After"

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  4. tuilorraine says:

    We use the word "universal" so often, so the mathematics is important here. We don't just live on a planet. We live in a universe and science has now proved that our universe contains countless other planets. Given the time since the beginning of the universe, coming from the past and going on into the future, and given the number of places in the universe where we might be reincarnated, the maths suggests we'd be unlikely to have revisited the same planet twice. This makes it all so much more interesting.

    What kind of world might we re-visit next? My characters go to all sorts of cool places after finishing their lives on Azure, (Earth).

    I also suspect there are two kinds of beings, those with PLM (Past Life Memory) and those without. Humans are among those without. I like to include beings from both levels in my stories. No being is reincarnated with PLM until their spirit has reached the advanced level of maturity required to cope with such complexity. In my own fictional visions, the only beings with PLM on Azure are marine. There are none among the land-based beings. I just like it that way and if feels right.
    How could any mere human cope with remembering all their past griefs? We're just not there yet. But our spirits continue and one day, perhaps we will arrive.

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    • Have often wondered if past life memory is a stage in personal evolution for the human being. The past lives have always been there, but the ability to recall and retain the memory has to be developed. I like the direction you take with this.

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  5. Vic, although I don't personally believe in reincarnation, I confess I have always found the idea of "rebirth" fascinating nonetheless, enough so that reincarnation and the phoenix (a symbol that I also like very much) was written into my VF, albeit with a modern twist. I have found your introduction to the removal of reincarnation from Christian tradition most interesting too. I'm looking forward to reading more, and I wonder if you will also offer a theory as to why it features so frequently in VF, irrespective of the personal beliefs of its authors.

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    • Bob Edward Fahey says:

      I have been hypnotized into recalling a definitive moment in one of my past lives. Others have generated spontaneously. Like the little kid said to the old man, "I didn't believe in reincarnation either when I was your age."

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      • Fair point Bob – I haven't experienced it – or recall it, depending on one's perspective – and this of course contributes towards my unbelief. Not that it stops me from being intrigued by the subject. 🙂

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    • A fascinating request at the end there, Saleena. Since I don't "believe" in reincarnation either but have observed enough phenomena to consider it a reality (this will come in Part 2) in the "in-between" or visionary realm, it seems inevitable for it to turn up in VF. A great one for further discussion.

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  6. So much to think about, Vic. Due to this post, I purchased Dr. Charles Tart's The End of Materialism, How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together. I've never given reincarnation much thought; dismissed it as fantasy. Your book, THE ANATHEMAS, A Novel of Reincarnation and Restitution inspired me to look into this concept/belief more deeply. Thanks, as usual, for an eye-opening piece.

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  7. I'm enjoying your blog and the ensuing discussion. I was a devout Catholic, until 11th grade when I learned of the church's direct role in the establishment of colonialism. Since then, every so often, I learn more and more of its obscurations and lies. Yet, I recognize the truth of the spiritual experiences of many individuals from Joan of Arc to the Theresas and so on. Reincarnation I find particularly interesting though, because when I was a little girl, 9 – 10 years old, the thought came to me, "I always was and always will be." Of course, being a Catholic then, I couldn't tell anyone because we were taught that only God always was. But, I've been practicing Tibetan Buddhism for 20 years now and reincarnation is more than belief, it's been verified for generations. Looking forward to the continuing discussion.

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    • Thanks, Skywalker. Good points. I find it ironic that the "Dark Ages" followed almost directly after Justinian (died in 565) and lasted almost 1000 years until the Renaissance. That's putting the kabosh on progress.

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  8. Wonderful post, as usual! When I told my father how I'd died in my last life, he got really upset and said, "We don't believe in reincarnation." Then he asked my mother what kind of nonsense she wa filling my head with.

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    • Bob Edward Fahey says:

      I kinda figure when I kick off, my tombstone may just read, "Well – Looks like Bob's gone and died again."

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    • Glad you listened to your mother, Theresa!

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      • I didn't listen to my mother. I just remembered. Neither one of them believed me. Made me take some steps back.

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        • Bob Edward Fahey says:

          In the conversations with formerly troubled readers my own book has opened up, Theresa, I find this discussion can be very healing. As long as parents tell their child they're imagining these things that feel so real to them, there can be a distancing, and somewhat of a breakdown in trust. What I find happens AFTER reading a friendly supportive story on the subject, however, (because in my story,
          the little boy narrating is confused, doesn't know what is going on, and his dad especially is not there for him) is that the mom feels like someone is finally there on that child's side (even if it is some strange foreign author). The mom feels relieved that her child isn't crazy, and they open a dialogue.
          The dad may remain less than open to the subject, however.

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  9. Denial is often linked to self interest, but "Acceptance of reincarnation is also hindered since its application likely isn't universal. Six/John believes it is self-selective as a matter of simple logic, since no purpose would be served in reincarnating those with negative karma–unworthy souls who fail to use their talents to act virtuously, or those so blinded by hubris and ego that they misperceive their fundamental human obligations and role…" From "The Angel of Amar," of the Worthy of the Star Series, which tells of one man's struggles to accept the truth of his past lives.

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  10. "Consider the sleeping-dreaming-waking cycle to get a tangible idea as to how this model, which expands the one life/one death paradigm to a continuous sequence of lives, might work. Our consciousness can be said to undergo a mini-reincarnation daily"….I find that a fascinating perspective, one I'd never thought about. I feel the wheels of shift of consciousness and imaginative possibilities spinning! True VF effect. Thank you, Vic!

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  11. Bob Edward Fahey says:

    From a theosophical perspective, all things are cyclical. The entire universe, and all of eternity, is just one life in a series of awakenings and forever-sleeps. Pralayas and manvantaras. The great wakings and sleeps. All reincarnates.
    The Big Bang was just another morning.

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  12. jacklynlo says:

    A human being during his life experience generating and accumulating different types of energies.

    The law of conservation of energy states that the total energy of an isolated system cannot change.

    Making an assumption that the isolated system is our Universe we are coming to a logical question: where the energy disappearing when the human dies?

    The reincarnation theory is providing an excellent explanation – the concentrated energy is stored in the depot, which we call a human’s soul. The soul works as a carrier reincarnating again and again each time with more accumulative power.

    This is theory based on the law of the physical world. Other proof could be found beyond that world.

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  13. Appreciate the feedback on this exercise. One of the ways I taught myself to "image-ine" the reincarnation process.

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  14. Bob Edward Fahey says:

    Technically there is no such thing as "negative" karma since ultimately that re-balancing serves Higher purpose. – And there is profound purpose in reincarnating those who haven't figured it all out and come into full use of their clarity and goodness. In fact, this is basically what reincarnation is all about.

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    • heidi skarie says:

      Karma is an important part of reincarnation. It is what keeps bringing us back to earth. Karma is cause and effect to teach soul to become more God like. So in that sense there isn't any "negative" karma. But from the human consciousness the bad things that happen seem negative.

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  15. Pingback: Reincarnation as an Element in Visionary Fiction: Part 2 | Visionary Fiction Alliance

  16. Pingback: Reincarnation as an Element in Visionary Fiction: Part 3 | Visionary Fiction Alliance

  17. You're right. We weren't supposed to know about reincarnation and other Gnostic beliefs but some slipped in such as the teaching by Jesus that the Kingdom is within. Great article!

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  18. drstephenw says:

    Catching up on articles from the summer. What a great intro to the subject, Vic, and a wonderful set of comments. For my series, I planned to look into the early Christian reincarnation beliefs and their suppression, so I'm excited to read The Anathemas for research and pleasure. And now, Pt 2 and 3!

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