REINCARNATION IS BACK
By Atasha Fyfe
First published in Avalon Magazine,
The dramatic tale of how Emperors and Popes tried to kill belief in reincarnation - and how it came back to life anyway!
oldest records we have reveal that belief in reincarnation has been
part of every major and most minor world religions from ancient times to
today. The one exception has been Christianity - and even that was only
after 553CE. From that date on, reincarnation was forcibly expunged
from all official Christian doctrines and documents.
strange and dramatic story of how this universal belief came to be a
capital crime in Christendom is not generally broadcast from the pulpit,
newspapers or television. Most people have therefore no idea that
acceptance of past lives was originally a solid part of their Christian
nearly every region of the world, for as long as the people can
remember, ideas about rebirth have been an integral part of their
Australian Aborigines to Alaskan Tlingits; from ancient Incas to modern
Japanese, reincarnation is the strong thread that binds together the
different religions of the world.
The most ancient extant references to reincarnation are in Hindu
documents dating back to the 4th millenium BC. These teachings were said
to originally come from a more ancient red skinned people. Seen as
god-like in retrospect, this mysterious race was reputed to know
reincarnation as a reality rather than a faith.
oldest known printed book is full of teachings about reincarnation.
This is the Diamond Sutra, printed by Wang Chieh in 868CE. Now in the
British Museum, it was discovered in 1907 in the Cave of the Thousand
Buddhas in China. It takes the form of a dialogue between Buddha and
his disciple Subhuti. One key quotation is Buddha’s remark ‘I recall
that during my 500 previous lives…’
the earliest years of Islam, it was taught that there are three kinds of
reincarnation: Huhul, the periodical incarnation of the Perfect Man or Deity;
Rij’at, which is the return of the Immam or spiritual leader; and Tanasukh, the
rebirth of the ordinary person. After the first few centuries of the Mohamedan
era, the Immams quietly dropped teaching reincarnation to the masses. They
never refuted it, however, and it never
became a heresy. Moslem reincarnationists could always find a welcome home with
the mystical Sufis.
The Koran affirms reincarnation several times. One example
is from Chaper 14 – Sura Nahel Verses 4-0-10: ‘The kafirs (ie the perverse or
the unbelievers) have sworn by the strongest oath that one who dies shall not
be reborn. Surely they will be reborn and this law is perfect but people who do
not possess wisdom do not comprehend it.’
followed a very similar pattern. Although not mainstream, belief in
reincarnation is not heretical, and is central to the esoteric teachings of the
Kabala. The Bible of the Kabbalists is the Sefer ha Zohar or Book of Splendour,
a 13 century Jewish mystical text. This book is very clear about
reincarnation, saying: ‘All souls are subject to the trials of transmigration.
They must develop all the perfections; if they have not fulfilled this
condition during one life, they must commence another, a third, and so forth.’
ancient Greece, reincarnation was a central theme of the Eleusian
Mysteries, named after the small Greek town of Eleusis. One of their
teaching methods was the presentation of allegorical dramas. After one
of these plays, Plutarch remarked that it symbolised metempsychosis –
the Greek word for reincarnation.
historian Herodotus said that reincarnation teachings came to Greece
from Egypt. The Egyptians said those ideas came from the East eons ago.
Their legend says that Osiris (higher wisdom) was driven to Egypt from
India in the form of a spotted bull. The bull may be a reference to the
age of Taurus, which would date that at around six to eight thousand
the inner teachings of the Eleusian Schools were kept strictly secret,
descriptions have leaked out that sound like they found spiritual
insights by inducing out of body experiences. Outsiders were given
metaphors for the mysteries - such as Persephone weaving new bodies for
old souls on her loom. These schools were like mystical universities,
and from them sprung the major Greek philosophers.
Socrates taught that the soul is immortal and is reborn over and again.
One of his favourite points was that knowledge is simply recollection;
that special or outstanding abilities come from several previous lives
spent in training.
the most powerful product of that school was Plato. He remained a
philosophical force to be reckoned with many centuries after his death,
and was especially influential during the Renaissance. His Theory of
Reminiscence stated that the self is eternal, and leads many lives.
major work, ‘The Republic’, written in the 4th century BCE, is as full
of insights into the effects of reincarnation as any New Age bookshelf.
As therapists have begun to discover in only the last fifty years, Plato
was clear that a difficult past life was the cause of a soul’s ‘fall’.
how we end up with the lives that we do, he said ‘your destiny shall
not be allotted to you, but you shall choose it for yourselves. The
responsibility lies with the chooser. Heaven is guiltless.’ However, he
said it’s only the broad framework of the life to come that’s fixed.
Within those parameters, the individual can choose what they make of
asserted that each person chooses a ‘daimon’ to be their spirit guide
through life, which works as a mostly unconscious influence. Only a
select few were thought able to consciously interact with their guides –
possibly through training at the Eleusian Mystery Schools.
Greek funeral rituals were also revealing. Special messages were buried
with corpses to remind the departing spirit to ask for the water of
remembrance so that when they returned they’d be able to recall their
Greek legend said that souls must drink of the River of Oblivion before
each incarnation, causing them to forget past lives, it was also
thought that some unwisely drank more of it than they needed to.
both the Old and New Testament there are many indications of a basic
belief in reincarnation. One example is the dramatic closing words of
the Old Testment (Malachi 4:5): ‘Behold, I will send you Elijah, the
prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.’
This was treasured as an important prophecy that Elijah (translated as
Elias in some Bibles) would someday reincarnate to help the people in
their hour of need.
that hour came with the Roman invasion, many assumed that Jesus was
Elijah returning to save them from this oppression. The first book of
the New Testament refers to this prophecy three times, and the remaining
Gospels seven more times. In Mathew 16:13-14 Jesus asks his disciples,
‘whom do men say that I the son of man am?’ They replied ‘Some say that
thou art John the Baptist; some Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of
concept of Jesus as a reincarnated ancient prophet was key to his
acceptance as a leader at the time. Without that, his life might have
turned out quite differently. There are many other references to
reincarnation in the Bible, but this one is so central it’s surprising
how much it’s been ignored and glossed over.
historian Flavius Josephus said that of the three chief Jewish schools
of thought – Essenes, Pharisees and Saducees – the Essenes and the
Pharisees actively taught reincarnation. It also belonged to the more
mystical views of smaller groups such as the Nazarenes and the Egyptian
Therapeutate. Jesus probably belonged to the Nazarenes, as there was no
place called Nazareth during his lifetime. ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ is a
mistranslation of ‘Jesus the Nazarene’.
is from a Hebrew word meaning ‘branch’, so they may have been a branch
of the Essenes. In later centuries the early Christian Gnostics saw
themselves as the direct continuation of the real teachings of Jesus –
and reincarnation was central to Gnosticism.
belief was thus firmly a part of Christianity in the first few
centuries CE. St Augustine and other early church fathers openly
Origen of Alexandria was the reknowned Christian expert on
reincarnation. In his major work De Principiis (now mostly
destroyed by the church) he said ‘Every soul comes into this world
strengthened by the victories or weakened by the defeats of its previous
life.’ In the 3rd century St.Gregory of Nyssa called Origen ‘the prince
of Christian learning’.
In the early 4th century the Emperor
Constantine established Christianity as the official religion. From that
time on it slowly but steadily turned into an instrument of state
control and power. The Council of Nicea in 325 defined Christian
orthodoxy. In 380, without consulting any church authorities, Emperor
Theodosius upgraded heresy from being a mere sin to a crime that was
punishable with death. The original word ‘heresy’ means being able to
At the same time, Origen’s followers were growing stronger and more
numerous than ever. Reincarnation and other Gnostic beliefs made it
difficult for the church to have any real spiritual authority over them.
They took responsibility for their own salvation. Threats of hell or
excommunication were meaningless to them, and they had no need for
blessings or absolutions from the priests. In their confidence and
growing numbers, they were becoming a threat to the Emperor’s power base
of orthodox Christianity.
So the Empire struck back. In 529 Emperor Justinian closed the
University of Athens - a major stronghold of Neoplatonism and
reincarnation studies. The scholars fled for their lives, many finding
refuge in Sufi centres further east.
543 Justinian convened a synod specifically to condemn the teachings of
Origen. And then in 553 he issued the famous anathemas. The first of
these anathemas reads: ‘If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of
souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it:
let him be anathema’.
a stroke, belief in reincarnation had became a heresy. It was
punishable by death from that time on. The Emperor pushed this decree
through in the face of strong opposition from the Pope and most of the
Bishops. He did this by convening a Council that consisted only of the
Bishops who would support him. He kept Pope Virgilius in line by the
simple expedient of taking him prisoner.
these dangerous circumstances – his life had already been threatened -
the Pope nonetheless tried to issue his own document in protest against
the anathemas. It was to no avail. He was freed only after he’d
reluctantly signed his name to the Emperor’s anti-reincarnation orders.
On his way home, Pope Virgilius died in Syracuse - probably murdered by
events were the start of the true Dark Ages. The centuries that
followed were stained and charred by the blood and fires of the Holy
Despite this vicious oppression, unorthodox Christians
stuck to their beliefs for an amazingly long time. Although there were
many groups with some regional differences in outlook, they have all
been historically grouped together as Cathars. This included the
Paulicians of Thrace, the Bogomils of Bulgaria, the German Cathari, the
Paterenes of the Balkans and Italy, and the Albigensians of Southern
spread rapidly throughout southern and western Europe. With the
protection of the powerful Count Raymond of Toulouse, a huge swathe of
France came very close to establishing its own thriving country,
independent of papal rule - Occitania. The Albigensians who lived there
were called ‘the good people’ because of their hard work, pleasant
disposition and honourable conduct. Both men and women enjoyed a level
of education and standard of living that was well ahead of the time.
They even spoke their own language - Occitan. Occitania was a
flourishing and rapidly developing country of high culture, peace and
prosperity. As such, it was a clear threat to the Papal dominion of
In 1244 Pope Innocent III decided to crush that world and all it stood
for. He launched the Albigensian Crusade, led by Simon (‘Kill them all,
God will know his own’) de Montfort. This crusade went on for forty
years. By the end of it something like 500,000 Cathars had been
massacred. The Counts of Toulouse were crushed and dispossessed.
Occitanian education, culture and industry were trashed. The area went
into economic decline. Occitan, once a strong European voice, was
reduced to the whisper of a regional dialect. The only official sign of
its passing survives in the name Languedoc, meaning the language of the
region. Stories and legends are now all that’s left of Occitania.
But its spirit has lived on. Since then, that area of France has
remained a place that champions liberty and shelters the persecuted.
Fleeing Cathars, Jews hunted down the centuries, refugees from Spanish
wars and inquisitions, the Maquis French Resistance of World War II –
all these and more have found refuge here.
Despite all these Papal discouragements, just a century or two after
the infamous Albigensian Crusade, Neoplatonism popped back up again,
supported by the rediscovery and publication of the Hermetica. The
strong re-emergence of these philosophies became the foundation of the
Renaissance. This had the effect of reviving popular belief in
of the Hermetic Fragments states: ‘The Soul passeth from form to form;
and the mansions of her pilgrimages are manifold. Thou puttest off thy
bodies as raiment; and as vesture dost thou fold them up. Thou art from
old, O Soul of man; yea, thou art from everlasting.’
the influential Renaissance thinkers who taught reincarnation, Giordano
Bruno was especially open about it. Predictably, in 1600 the church
burned him at the stake as an unrepentant heretic.
Around that period, however, the church appeared to realise that
torturing and killing people was not the final solution. They began to
develop more subtle tactics – what we now call propaganda and
Church scholars went to work discrediting the Hermetic
Fragments, saying they were forgeries that had been plagiarised from
By the time the Renaissance was over, these tactics had effectively erased reincarnation from the minds of the general public.
nearly 400 years it lived on only in the secret worlds of mystics and
occultists such as the Qabalists, Alchemists and Rosicrucians.
there the matter quietly remained until the late 19th century. During
that time, a new interest in spiritualism began to stir. Mysticism, ouija
boards and table rapping became the fashion.
the many developments taking place then, one of the most influential
was the Theosophical Society, which Madame Blavatsky and her small group
established in New York in 1875. Theosophy brought the influence of
eastern thought to the west, of which reincarnation was an important
Rudolf Steiner was another major influence that is still felt today.
He was head of the German branch of the Theosophical Society before
creating the Anthroposophical Society in 1912. He said ‘Just as an age
was once ready to receive the Copernican theory of the universe, so is
our age ready for ideas of reincarnation.’ In the decades that followed
this statement proved to be something of a prophecy.
the early 20th century, the underground stream of heretical beliefs had
moved closer to the surface than it had been since the Renaissance. In
the 1930s belief in reincarnation spread rapidly with the fame of Edgar
Cayce, the ‘sleeping prophet’. Cayce had indavertantly discovered that
while in a trance state he could diagnose ailments and recommend cures
that had an amazingly high rate of success.
when his trance diagnoses began to include past life issues, Cayce
baulked. As a conventional Christian, the idea disturbed him and he
went into personal conflict over it.
much thought, study and meditation he finally concluded that
reincarnation could be reconciled with Christianity. He gave life
readings for many years after that, diagnosing countless problems as
having a past life origin, and continuing to recommend cures that
diagnoses foreshadowed developments of the latter years of the 20th
century, when past life therapy has been found to cure a surprisingly
wide range of ailments. The psychosomatic root of many apparently purely
physical problems was beginning to be exposed.
in the early 1950s the Bridey Murphy case was the watershed that
finally burst reincarnation back into the mainstream. In 1952 Morey
Bernstein regressed a Chicago woman, Virginia Tighe (‘Ruth Simmons’ in
the book), to the life of a woman born in Ireland in 1798. She recalled
that time in extraordinary detail. Those details were thoroughly
investigated. Although some were disputed for a while, in the end they
were all found to be historically valid.
book ‘The Search for Bridey Murphy’ was a huge bestseller.
Reincarnation became the new craze. People gave ‘come as you were’
parties, a ‘Past Life’ cocktail was invented, Paramount made a movie on
the subject, songs were even written about it. (‘It seems that we have
met before… we looked at each other in the same way then… but I don’t
know where or when….’)
this enthusiasm aroused the beady-eyed attention of those who felt
undermined by it: the church, naturally, and also a newer kid on the
block – academic psychology. These uneasy bedfellows joined forces with
the media’s thirst for sensational exposes, and a major attack was
launched against the Bridey Murphy case.
Reverend Wally White spearheaded this attack. He claimed to know
certain ‘facts’ about Virginia Tighe from her childhood – things that
would discredit the Bridey regression. But it was soon revealed that he
had met Virginia for the first time only after the book about her past
life had been published. That was when he knocked on her door to
announce that he was going to pray for her.
Morey Bernstein sprang into action, vigorously defending his and
Virginia’s integrity. With the help of a principled investigative
journalist he soon proved that all the damning points Wally White had
made were false. Although this was published, it was not quite as
trumpeted as the initial attack had been. So for the general public, the
mud stuck. Most people even today still have a vague notion that the
Bridey Murphy case ‘turned out to be a hoax’.
it hardly mattered in the end. The floodgates had been opened. Since
then there have been huge numbers of historically validated past life
regressions - just as good and often better than the Bridey case. In the
second half of the 20th century one academic, psychiatrist, researcher,
writer, therapist and journalist after another has come out with books,
papers, articles and interviews about their findings validating
1950, British Dr Alexander Cannon, who was awarded degrees from nine
European universities and a knighthood, announced that in the face of
the evidence of 1,382 volunteers he finally had to concede that
reincarnation was real.
his book ‘The Power Within’ he wrote: ‘For years the theory of
reincarnation was a nightmare to me and I did my best to disprove it and
even argued with my trance subjects to the effect that they were
talking nonsense. Yet as the years went by one subject after another
told me the same story in spite of different and varied conscious
beliefs. Now well over a thousand cases have been so investigated and I
have to admit there is such a thing as reincarnation.’
speciality was the hidden complexes and fears caused by earlier trauma.
Of this he said ‘The majority of people do not benefit from
psychoanalysis because the trauma lies not in this life but a past one.’
experience of resisting then accepting the past life factor within
psychological practice was repeated by many others. People like Dr.Helen
Wambach, Dr.Edith Fiore, Dr.Roger Woolger, Dr.Leo Sprinkle, Dr.Morris
Netherton, Dr.Gerald Edelstein, Dr.Bruce Goldberg, Dr.Raymond Moody and
Dr.Arthur Guirdham are just some of the courageous pioneers of past life
therapy in the academic world.
their initial disbelief and resistance, these and countless other
doctors found that many of their patients’ problems came from a past
life trauma. The same scene played out in one consulting room after
another. Attempting to cure a psychological problem, the unsuspecting
doctor would put his patient into a light hypnotic trance.
instruction would be given to go to when the problem began – the source
of the issue. At this point, the doctor was usually expecting some
early childhood trauma to come up. The patient’s subconscious would go
to the root of the problem as instructed – but to the surprise and
consternation of the doctor, that often turned out to be in a past life.
clincher was, once that memory was brought into consciousness, the
patient’s recovery was remarkably rapid - while all other methods had
been ineffective up until then.
Dr.Fiore remarked, ‘ If someone’s phobia is eliminated instantly and
permanently by his remembrance of an event from a past life, it makes
logical sense that the event must have happened.’
the 1970s Dr. Wambach decided to do some clinical tests on
reincarnation. She embarked on a special study in which she regressed
10,000 volunteers from widely different social backgrounds and areas of
the United States. When she analysed the results, the lives these people
recalled reflected realistic demographic charts. For example the ratio
of male to female remembered lives was 50.6% and 49.4%. This corresponds
precisely to the ratio of biological births. The number of lives
recalled as peasant, middling or wealthy also corresponded exactly to
the social demographic charts.
of the subjects remembered lives below or not far above the poverty
line. This was not only historically realistic, it also suggested that
no wishful fantasies had influenced the results. Research also
confirmed the subjects’ descriptions of past life clothing, tools, food
and other historically tracable details. In 1978 Dr.Wambach finally
announced ‘I don’t believe in reincarnation – I know it!’
a Bath psychiatrist, began with a very sceptical attitude about past
lives. To his amazement, he gradually discovered that he had once been a
medieval French Cathar heretic with one of his patients, Mrs.Smith, as
well as others in his life. When the Pope’s armies besieged Montsegur in
1244, this group were among those who chose death by fire rather than
abjure their ‘heresy’. The date of this event – March 16 – triggered the
return of those traumatic feelings. Exploring those feelings brought
the memories back.
this way, Dr.Guirdham discovered not only his own past life involvement
in that event, but also the anniversary syndrome – that certain
feelings coming up on certain days may be to do with past life events,
and can be resolved by following up those clues.
one of her regressions Mrs.Smith said that the Cathars wore blue robes.
This was doubted at first, although it wasn’t certain, as they were
believed to have worn black. But intensive research eventually revealed
that the Cathars did indeeed wear blue robes. This point had been so
deeply buried in historical archives that it would have been almost
impossible for Mrs.Smith to have dug it up herself ahead of the
much research and several books on the subject, Arthur Guirdham
concluded ‘If I didn’t believe in reincarnation on the evidence I’d
received I’d be mentally defective.’
crown of reincarnation research must however surely go to Professor Ian
Stevenson. Dr.Stevenson was the Professor of Psychiatry at the
University of Virginia. In the 1970s he began an extensive project in
which he interviewed over 4,000 children who were talking about past
lives they said they could remember. He and his small team rigorously
checked and double checked every detail of these accounts. He would
dismiss any case whenever there was the tiniest doubt about any point on
integrity and professionalism earned widespread respect and credibility
for the project.He produced a number of academic papers on the results,
and a book which he cautiously called ‘Twenty Cases Suggestive of
Reincarnation’. It’s thoroughly dry reading, not at all geared for
popular appeal, which may be why his notable achievements are hardly
heard of by the general reader.
the course of his investigations Dr.Stevenson made several discoveries -
for example the relationship of birthmarks to a person’s most recent
past life. He found that these marks often resembled the death wound of
the previous life, and would appear on the same place on the body.
also discovered that children can talk about their past life memories
from a very early age – sometimes as soon as they can speak – and that
the memories naturally fade by the age of eight or nine. These findings
were later borne out by researcher Carol Bowman, who specialised in the
study of children’s past life memories.
has been one of many researchers outside academia who have also made
significant contributions to this field. Another was Arnall Bloxham, a
Welsh hypnotherapist who taped over 400 examples of past life
regressions. In the 1970s journalist Jeffey Iverson undertook a thorough
investigation of Bloxham’s cases. He found enough historical validation
to conclude that reincarnation is real.
1976 he published his seminal book about this, ‘More Lives Than One’.
Of Bloxham’s work he remarked ‘that single famous case of regression,
Bridey Murphy, was just a tune on an Irish fiddle compared to
(Bloxham’s) symphony of voices.’ He noticed how dull and ordinary most
of the recalled lives were, saying ‘If people were fantasising about
themselves, then most were pitching their fantasies modestly and
of Bloxham’s subjects was an educated and mild mannered Swansea man.
When regressed, he described in a coarse voice his deeply unpleasant
life on a 32-gun frigate in the British Navy, where he had been forced
by the press gang 200 years ago. The obscure naval terms and archaic
slang he used were verifiable only through specialised naval records,
unavailable to the public. Their accuracy impressed Lord Louis
Mountbatten, former First Lord of the Admiralty, and uncle of Prince
Philip. He kept that particular tape ‘on permanent loan’.
of the long list of unexpected people in high places who believe in
reincarnation, another example is Lord Dowding, the Air Chief Marshal
who directed the Battle of Britain in World War II. In November 1945 his
talk to a London branch of the Theosophical Society stirred up some
controversy when he said ‘I have some reason to believe that those who
sowed the seeds of abominable cruelty at the time of the Inquisition
reaped their own harvest at Belsen and Buchenwald.’
final example is included for its Glastonbury interest. Australian
researcher Peter Ramster regressed a Sydney woman, Gwen McDonald, to an
18th century life in Somerset. Although she had never left Australia,
her regression was full of obscure local details that were verified by
subsequent research. It was such a good case that in 1983 a TV
documentary was made about it.
of the things Gwen recalled was that in those days locals used to call
Glastonbury Abbey ‘St.Michael’s’. This point was finally unearthed as
correct from old records that were hard to find here and certainly
unavailable in Australia. She also said there had once been two pyramids
in the Abbey grounds; and described Druids walking the spiral pathway
up the Tor as part of their spring ritual.
In the half century or so since Bridey Murphy burst so dramatically
back into the world there have been huge numbers of historically
verified cases of past life recall. But for many, the undeniable
therapeutic benefits of past life regression is convincing enough.
field of past life research continues to move ahead, and is rapidly
building upon those foundations.Dr.Bruce Goldberg, Dr.Chet Snow, Jenny
Cockell and others have written about the possibility of accessing
recent years, Dr.Brian Weiss, Dr.Eugene Jussek, Dr.Raymond Moody and
Dr.Michael Newton have opened up new frontiers by investigating the
inter-life period - where people’s spirits go and what they do between
their earthly lives.
researches are now confirming what Plato said all those centuries ago –
that we live again and again; we choose our own lives; and we have a
spirit guide to assist us through every life. With the help of the
scientific method, however, this may be the first time in recorded
history that these things have been so close to final proof.
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