by Victor E. Smith
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.
Click link to read/review Part 1: Overview and History
Part 2: The Renaissance of Reincarnation
The stranglehold that Justinian’s Council of Constantinople placed on the concept of reincarnation and the Gnostic approach to truth through personal experience held fast for about a millennium. But there’s an odd thing about truth, especially those dealing with fundamental principles. It is resilient; it keeps coming back until it is recognized as valid. And so it happened with the doctrine of reincarnation.
For a thorough study of its eventual re-emergence in the West, we would have to examine several centuries’ worth of history: from the medieval Cathar rebellion and suppression, the subject of my forthcoming novel, Channel of the Grail; through the Renaissance in which hermetic principles and pre-Christian classical works were reintroduced to Europe; through the Enlightenment that saw the triumph of empirical science and technology; through the period of Romantic literature that gave rise to poets like William Wordsworth in England and the Transcendentalists (Emerson and Thoreau) in America; and through the 19th century with the introduction of Eastern philosophies and practice to the West, the phenomenon of spiritualism, the development of theosophy, incipient scientific paranormal research, and the emergence of the “scientific religions” like Christian Science and New Thought. Would that we had time; it’s all interesting and relevant.
Instead , I’ll use the single case of a historical figure to introduce a fascinating and useful pattern that has become a mainstay in my own research and writing on the paranormal.
Heinrich Schliemann (1822-90) was a German businessman and a pioneer of field archaeology. He was an advocate of the historical reality of places mentioned in the works of Homer. Schliemann was an archaeological excavator of Hisarlik, now presumed to be the site of Troy, along with the Greek sites of Mycenae and Tiryns.
Schliemann’s story figures only as background in both my novels, but by studying and pondering it, I came up with the pattern that seems to demonstrate how prior lifetime knowledge seeps into the present well before the person’s normal consciousness is aware of it.
Schliemann started his archeological search for Troy on a hunch. He tells that, when he was only seven, he saw a picture of Troy in flames. That image stayed with him and fostered the idea that the Iliad and the Odyssey were history, not myth as was commonly believed, and he became convinced that he knew where the ruins of the ancient city lay buried.
Schliemann was so certain of his intuition that he spent years amassing the money to finance the excavations, learned Greek and several ancient languages, and even found a Greek woman to be his wife and co-explorer.
In 1871, the self-financed adventurer discovered nine layers of ruins at the suspected site in Turkey and identified one as Homer’s Troy to the satisfaction of many former skeptics, including the English Prime Minister Gladstone.
Schliemann’s story is well documented with several biographies (listed on my website). Also in an excellent biographical novel, The Greek Treasure, by Irving Stone.
In his story I noticed a particular pattern:
- Early INTUITION (the picture of Troy in flames),
- CONVICTION (that the objective, however foolish to others, was attainable), and
- ACTION (he went there and dug until he found what he wanted).
The ancient mathematical symbol of the intersecting circles, the Vesica Pisces, is useful to illustrate the human condition in the cosmos. Humans are caught between two worlds, the material and the spiritual, like it or not. The drawing shows the supposedly ideal intersection. But for each individual, the intersecting portion varies from not intersecting at all (with a No Man’s Land between the two) to completely overlapped (Unity, Oneness). Both extremes can be considered out of range to the ordinary human.
At the bottom are three available positions one can adopt as a cosmic view:
On the left, The Materialist: No life or spirit or thought; just stuff colliding randomly and if anything seems to make sense, it is illusion. There are enough people around expounding this viewpoint that we don’t need to go there.
On the right, The Idealist: There is only life, spirit and thought. All stuff, including the entire physical universe, is an illusion. Wonderful to believe, perhaps, until you walk into a wall and smash your nose because your eyes are closed. No need to go there either.
Which leaves the center option, The Traditionalist, the prevailing viewpoint in Western Christian culture. We have just this one life. We can move somewhat to the left or to the right in the course of it, but when our time is up, that’s it—forever. If you’ve been good, you go to Heaven. If you’ve been bad, you go to Hell. No further development occurs after death.
If you were required to choose from among these three, which would you pick? Regardless of your viewpoint now—I acknowledge that this is an enlightened readership—you will probably pick the viewpoint into which you were first educated this lifetime or its opposite. And I’ll guess that, no matter which one you chose, you don’t feel quite comfortable with it.
Now here’s a cool thing about this diagram. So far, we’ve been looking at it two-dimensionally, two flat circles overlapping. But if you adjust your eyes, so you can see it three-dimensionally, it looks like a tunnel or tube open on both ends. The tunnel walls show the Spiritual Universe on the inside and the Material Universe on the outside—two sides of the same wall.
Now imagine an arrow (it could go in both directions) passing through that tunnel. It represents a fourth option: CONTINUING LIFE, another term for reincarnation.
The Scientific Method Applied to Spiritual Research
As recently as 30 years ago “application of the scientific method to spiritual research” was considered an oxymoron. But that has now changed considerably.
American philosopher, Ken Wilber, in The Marriage of Sense and Soul differentiates narrow empiricism (allowable evidence from sense data only, what Charles Tart calls scientism as opposed to genuine science) and broad empiricism:
“…there is sensory experience, mental experience, and spiritual experience—and empiricism in the very broadest sense means that we always resort to experience to ground our assertions about any of these domains (sensory, mental, spiritual).” From Chapter 11 What is Science?
According to Wilber, practicing science in the broad sense involves three steps:
- specify an experiment (hypothesis, injunction),
- perform the experiment and observe the results,
- Verify/falsify the results with others who have done the same experiment.
Current Status of Psi (Paranormal) Phenomena
According to Charles Tart, such a system has already been applied in much Psi (paranormal) research. After reviewing experiments into paranormal phenomena over the past 100+ years, he concludes that the “big five” (telepathy, clairvoyance or remote viewing, precognition, psychokinesis, and psychic healing) have proven out as fact, so much so that we can quit asking “Are they real?” and start researching how they work. These phenomena are simple enough that they can be verified under strict laboratory conditions.
He puts the more complex Psi phenomena (Post Cognition, Out-of-Body, Near Death Experience, Postmortem Survival, Mediumship, and Reincarnation) in a less certain status, not for lack of valid instances but because they don’t lend themselves to testing under standard lab conditions, at least not at today’s level of trained scientists and funding. Nevertheless, considerable progress has been made. Gone are the days when these phenomena were pushed aside with some a priori dogma that states that they simply don’t exist and brands those who claim to observe such things as deluded or agents of the devil.
How all of this ties directly into the process of creating and developing visionary fiction is more the subject matter for Part 3, but here I would like to reference an experience of my own, found on The Parapet page of my website in which the previously mentioned pattern— INTUITION, CONVICTION, ACTION—was clearly in play as I was writing the novel, The Anathemas.
In hindsight—it took 30 years for me to reach these conclusion—it’s fair to compare my experience to Schliemann’s. The pattern is there: INTUITION (the parapet image at age 20). CONVICTION : the image stayed with me for three decades and a half-dozen unsatisfactory versions of the story); ACTION (finding the parapet in modern Istanbul and then completing and publishing the book).
The committed materialist would discount my examples as accident or perhaps observer delusion. The convinced idealist might call them miraculous. The traditionalists—well, they don’t talk about Reincarnation because they don’t see the word even if it is in neon lights. But we are writers and readers interested in the deeper study of the nature of consciousness. We may not be able to explain how the fourth alternative, Continuing Life, works completely, but we are involved enough to know that it exists and that it can be experienced.
Charles Tart: Why Reincarnation?
What I have presented here is merely an appetizer to what is a vast subject that will become more prominent in study and practice in the years to come. I barely touched on the hard science involved. For that I recommend again Tart’s The End of Materialism, from which I will cite here only his simple practical conclusion to his chapter on Reincarnation:
NEXT: Part 3: Reincarnation in the VF Landscape