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.
Part 3: Reincarnation in the VF Landscape
In Part 1 of this series we posited that reincarnation, to be plausible, requires 1) a soul, 2) a framework of existence beyond the physical, and 3) some operating law governing the relationship between the physical and spiritual universes.
Now I contend that Visionary Fiction, to be true to the definition and characteristics stated under “What is Visionary Fiction?” on this site, requires these same three elements as part of its framework. Growth in consciousness can only occur to a permanent aspect of the self capable of expansion and development, a soul. Why explore ancient wisdom or propose optimistic futures if this one measly birth-life-death cycle is all there is to the story? And evolution to levels higher than the current human condition presupposes principles that support such development; otherwise, even with reincarnation, it’s all just going round and round on the same old treadmill.
Jodine Turner wrote: “Visionary Fiction speaks the language of the soul. It offers a vision of humanity as we dream it could be.” All three of the above elements shine through that now-famous description.
Reincarnation is not the only option
In the Epilogue of my novel The Anathemas, the now-reincarnated and chastened Emperor Justinian, soliloquizes:
A tragic consequence of my anathemas and of all prohibitions accepted without question from any authority is the narrowing of the human imagination. All creation mirrors divine abundance, intricacy and experimentation. Opportunities and alternatives abound in every kingdom from the plants to the stars. Everything changes and rearranges, but nothing is ever lost. Why would Wisdom turn parsimonious in allotting time and life to human beings, the crown jewel of physical creation, themselves capable of wisdom?
Perhaps continued existence does not require either reincarnation, an endless cycle of lives, or the one-life paradigm, a too-brief game of chance. More intriguing alternatives can certainly be imagined. In a universe where everyone gets exactly what they think they are going to get, energy is better spent creating improved possibilities than in seeking predetermined answers.
Visionaries who have spent time in that mysterious realm where visions are generated know that the possibilities are endless. Nothing limits us to the two universes and their relationship illustrated in the Vesica Pisces diagram in Part 2. The human condition in the “in-between” zone is certainly not the only game in town. It just happens to be the one the human race on this planet is currently engaged in. We came here to master this mode of existence. That purpose can be successfully accomplished, and we can graduate from here. And for that we can be grateful.
But is reincarnation optional?
That said, it is becoming more probable that human beings cannot pass the reincarnating phase of existence without completing the full course. We can make an analogy here with the mastery of gravity required to reach outer space. We start out bound by gravity to a single time and location (the current life); we then learn to build and fly rocket ships that can escape gravity (the reincarnation stage); only then can we explore the endless realms of the stars (life after reincarnation).
Science has not yet provided positive proof for reincarnation, but the evidence, as we have already touched on, is pointing strongly in that direction. Charles Tart summarized the groundbreaking work of Professor Ian Stevenson, who, as head of the University of Virginia’s Division of Perceptual Studies, investigated over a forty-year period three thousand cases of children around the world who claimed to remember past lives: “Stevenson never claimed that he’d proven reincarnation, but only that he’d found sufficient evidence that it needed to be looked at seriously.” Inconclusive but akin to the pope at his time giving Galileo the nod to continue his heliocentric research instead of throwing him into prison.
If we combine the laboratory work that scientists like Stevenson did and that Professor Gary E. Schwartz is now doing with the University of Arizona’s Laboratory for Advances in Consciousness and Health with the voluminous non-fiction descriptions of past lives, both spontaneous and induced with therapies, there is sufficient evidence to hypothesize that reincarnation is real—whether one believes in it or not. In other words, once we enter the human zone between the material and spiritual universes, we don’t get to exit without a diploma. It’s either mastery of the human condition or repeat until you get it right.
The tangled web of fiction and fantasy
Visionary fiction is not fantasy, which is literature about impossible or improbable events presented for entertainment. VF is visionary because it aims to predict the possible or probable from what is already known if only partially. It is fiction because it has not yet happened or is depicted as happening differently from what is commonly believed. It is anchored in some observable phenomena (experience, science), including history, and aims to effectively contribute to a better future (optimistic) through growth in consciousness.
The relationship between serious fiction and objective reality is only beginning to emerge. Take Heinrich Schliemann’s case present in Part 1. We have no record of the intent of the author, supposedly Homer, in writing the original Iliad and Odyssey. After serving as the sacred history of a civilization for more than a millennium, these works were declared pagan fantasy by another culture, which supplanted them with its own sacred history, the Bible. Schliemann’s vision and persistence resulted in the discovery of Troy, which led to Homer’s works being accepted again as history, at least in part. (To the point of this series, reincarnation and/or some paranormal form of information had to have played a role in the process of Schliemann’s discovery.)
The doctrine of reincarnation, once accepted in the West and still so in much of the world, was relegated to punishable heresy (fantasy) by the decrees of the Council of Constantinople in 553 AD. Those who still held it as truth and dared to include it in their writings had to do so under the guise of fantasy to save their skins. And so we have the Arthurian tales, sacred scripture to some including New Agers, but entertaining fantasy to everyone else, especially after Hollywood got hold of them.
Ah, the tangled web of the human condition when it comes to separating fact from fiction.
Taylor Caldwell and Jess Stearn
But I don’t intend to shunt this issue aside with T. S. Eliot’s pathetic “whimper.” Untangling the web will require a super-human effort, but let me present a dramatic example, containing both the fictional and scientific aspects, that contains an abundance of clues to the resolution of the conundrum. It pairs a prolific but underrated novelist, Taylor Caldwell (1900-1985), with a pioneer in modern paranormal research, Jess Stearn (1914-2002), journalist, best-selling author, Edgar Cayce’s biographer, and a man who chose not to have a funeral because he believed in his own rebirth.
I was a Taylor Caldwell fan well before I began exploring reincarnation, collecting and consuming her historical and alternative history novels. A favorite, The Captains and the Kings, became an NBC television miniseries in 1976. In all her works, and they are legion, there was no hint of reincarnation. I was fascinated to learn later that Jess Stearn had also noticed her uncanny ability to describe historical detail in her writings. He sensed that she had some psychic gifts and contacted the author. He wrote the story of his research with her in The Search for a Soul, Taylor Caldwell’s Psychic Lives (1972).
Initially skeptical, Miss Caldwell agreed to undergo hypnosis “in the interests of setting the theory of reincarnation to rest.” Yet once in a trance, she lapsed into memories of other lives and other places that provided the background for many of her novels, memories that suggested a wealth of experience about which she had no conscious memory or knowledge at the time she wrote them.
In her classic, Dear and Glorious Physician, for instance, about the evangelist St. Luke, she wrote with such authority about medical practice of biblical times that the eminent surgeon, Dr. Cadvan Griffiths, was amazed that she did not go to medical school. The regressions revealed that she had spent a previous life at a Hippocratic school for medicine near Athens.
A later book by Stearn, In Search of Taylor Caldwell (1981), shows that Caldwell’s psychic abilities bloomed after her regressions, evidence to the therapeutic effectiveness of recovering past life memories.
The scientific elegance of this example is that Caldwell wrote most of her fiction over a period of decades during which reincarnation was not part of her normal consciousness; she wrote without knowing where her information was coming from. Only later was the connection made. This comes close, in my opinion, to a true lab test of reincarnation.
Arthur Guirdham and “Group Reincarnation”
A dramatic example of the re-emergence of the doctrine of reincarnation and its subsequent suppression (again!) by the church came with the Cathar sect in southern France between the 12th and 14th centuries. Dr. Arthur Guirdham (1905–1992) was an English physician, psychiatrist, novelist, and writer on the Cathar sect, alternative medicine, ESP, and reincarnation. In several of his works, notably We Are One Another, he explores the “group soul” phenomena, where several individuals reincarnate as a group in the same place and time to achieve a purpose that cannot be accomplished in single lifetime. This book and several other titles of his center on a group of Cathars who successfully reincarnate as a pod of souls that recontact each other in 20th century Britain. Guirdham was able to gather and interview several of the group’s members.
Serendipitously his findings could be verified from the records of the Inquisition trials of the heretics. The chief inquisitor of the period, Bishop Jacques Fournier, later became pope and had the transcripts preserved in the Vatican archives, an act through which he immortalized the very people he had attempted to expunge from history. Truth preserves itself in extraordinary ways.
I mention Guirdham’s exposition of group reincarnation as one example of a way that the linear concept of reincarnation can branch into further avenues for experimentation by both researchers and creative writers.
(A shameless plug here for my own forthcoming novel, Channel of the Grail, previously entitled The Perfect. One of its major threads takes place in this Cathar period. I only came across Guirdham’s writings after I completed the definitive draft of the book and was amazed that his findings validated so much of my research. Such synchronicities, which I’ve come to take as normal in writing visionary fiction as well as in life, are worthy, I think of a book of their own. Sigh! Get in line. Maybe next lifetime.)
This series has ranged over many topics related to visionary fiction and reincarnation and left many ragged ends. That was intentional. Just as the scientific analysis of the possibility of life before and after the present life is in its infancy, so the use of paranormal elements, including reincarnation, as a tool in visionary fiction to promote growth in human consciousness has barely begun. We are just setting forth into a new era where access to information and communication with the vast matrix of “everything” is unprecedented. Few are the sacred cows of dogma that can avoid being grilled down to their essence on the Internet.
If reincarnation is a fact of life (or lives) as seems to be the case, a broader science will sooner or later validate it and human life will radically change. It is the role of our literature to both predict such momentous change and celebrate it as it unfolds.
For one, I have spent a major portion of this lifetime studying, pondering, and writing about a more expanded mode of living that did not begin with birth and does not end with death. Like Jess Stearn, I would prefer not to have a lugubrious funeral upon my next passing. I won’t finish all my work this time around, but, no matter, I’ll do my best and leave the rest, to borrow Thoreau’s phrase, for “my next excursion.”