ANSWERS TO THE BIG QUESTIONS ABOUT PAST LIVES
This article was first published in Psychic News, March 2019.
Q = Question from Psychic News Magazine
A = Answer from Atasha Fyfe
Q: Did any great civilisations of the past accept the notions of rebirth and past lives? If so, why did they fall out of favour?
A: Since ancient times, all the great religions believed in reincarnation – Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam and even early Christianity. The Bible is full of references to it.
Socrates, Plato, St Augustine and many others in the ancient world taught a lot about the effects of past lives.
Then in 553CE the Emperor Justinian declared this belief a Christian heresy, punishable by death. This increased control over the masses by replacing the reassurance of eternal life with the threat of damnation.
However, for cultures everywhere else, going back to very ancient times, rebirth was always accepted.
Over time, Islam and Judaism both dropped teaching reincarnation to the general public. Nevertheless, they didn’t refute it or make it a heresy. Belief in past lives is still part of the mystical branches of Judaism and Islam, such as the Sufis and the Kabbalists.
Q: What sparked your interest in the subject?
A: It began when I discovered Dion Fortune’s novels in my teens. I enjoyed the way she worked past life effects into her stories – it made so much sense. Then when I took up yoga I loved hearing about the Indian view of reincarnation.
Q: Can you describe a past life you recall?
A: Also in my teens, I had a very vivid dream of being executed in the French Revolution. When I put my head on the block I was shocked to feel other people’s wet blood on my throat. Then I suddenly woke up with a gasp, sitting bolt upright.
Over time, other dreams about that life would come up now and then.
Eventually I had a regression, and accessed a life as a young man in revolutionary France. I was very keen on the new ideals. But it looks like I wasn’t politically correct enough!
Q: Are children especially adept at recalling a previous life? Are they usually believed or do parents generally dismiss their accounts out of hand?
A: In the 1970s Professor Ian Stevenson, Head of Psychiatry at the University of Virginia, did some major research to find out if past lives were real. One of his discoveries was that children under the age of eight often remember their past lives quite clearly.
Until recent times, western parents would dismiss a child’s chatter about previous lives as nothing but childish babble. In places like India, where reincarnation is accepted, this kind of talk is not dismissed.
Even so, many eastern parents are not always happy to hear about other families or lifetimes that might have been more comfortable. Perhaps they fear it will make the child discontented with them.
In the western world, more people are becoming aware of this now, and are prepared to listen when their child talks about former lives.
Q; Why do most people not recall a previous existence?
A: It’s best for those memories to come up only when it’s the right time for them. If not, they might distract or interfere with the person’s purpose or path in life.
For example, recalling a negative former life could destroy someone’s self-worth just when they are meant to be rebuilding their confidence.
So it’s not always the right thing for everyone. Lack of interest or wariness about their other lifetimes works like a protective instinct for many people.
However, I think everyone benefits psychologically and spiritually by accepting past lives as natural - without necessarily having to recall any of their own.
This is because just believing in rebirth means we are less likely to over-identify with the ego. When we know that our true identity is the spirit within us that goes from life to life, we aren’t so pulled down by the issues and complexes of the temporary self.
This also releases us from fear of death, which exacerbates many other fears.
Q: What are the benefits of remembering a past life?
A: The biggest one is that it helps us to understand ourselves. We can find out where any unconscious patterns, habits, neuroses or phobias may come from. Doing that is more than half way to overcoming the issue.
It helps to understand other people in our lives, which improves all our relationships.
It can also help with health problems, as the body often carries and expresses issues from past lives in a number of different ways.
And of course past life awareness adds so much to the interest and richness of the reality we inhabit.
Q: After someone passes on, who decides if they are to return to earth again and as what? Is it always voluntary?
A: I think this differs quite widely, depending on the individual. Some come back almost immediately because the attractions of physicality are hard to resist.
People who die suddenly may also return quickly, from a sense of unfinished business. Anyone who feels a strong wish to do something – perhaps to continue studies or to follow an ideal – may soon choose another life to continue their work.
Those who have given their lives some thought, and are aware of reincarnation, are more likely to accept the help of their guides when they reach the other side. It’s still up to them if they accept that advice or not – no-one is ever forced into anything.
Q: What's the best way for someone to tap into a previous life?
A: While the most common methods are past life regression, workshops and guided meditations, there are many other ways.
Clues about our former lives are within and around us all the time. Some of these are:
- Inexplicable personal or relationship issues
- Strong likes or dislikes
- Unexpected tastes in food, clothes or décor
- Feeling either drawn to, or repulsed by, particular places in the world or times in history.
- Historical books, films or pictures may trigger a past life memory.
- Feelings of déjà vu when visiting a special place
When you’ve spotted a past life clue, you can then put out that question to the universe and your own greater consciousness, asking for more information about it.
The next step is to trust the answers that will start to arise. These usually come through dreams, messages or images received in meditation, synchronicities or sudden realisations.
Sometimes bodywork, such as massage or acupuncture, can be surprisingly effective in releasing and making conscious a former life memory that was held in the body.
Q: How would you answer a sceptic who dismisses past lives as an over-active imagination or wishful thinking?
A: While it’s clearly impossible to scientifically ‘prove’ previous lives by replicating them in a laboratory, there is enough strong witness evidence for them that would stand up as proof in a court of law.
There are countless documented cases about people who discovered past life experiences that helped to resolve all kinds of personal problems. If they were just tapping into any past life, or making it up, it wouldn’t have had this effect.
For example, one of my regression clients wanted to understand why he couldn’t lose weight. It turned out he’d once been a monk who’d resented that austere way of life. So he was now making up for it with lots of fast food. Once he realised that, it was much easier to change his diet and slim down.
There are many physical signs of former life experiences. Professor Stevenson discovered that birthmarks can look like the marks left by how someone died in a previous life. This is why some birth marks resemble bullet wounds, knife slashes or burns.
One young woman recalled a tribal life when she was executed by having to walk into a fire. Afterwards she showed me the red marks she’d always had on her feet. They looked just like flames licking up her ankles.
I’d say that people who scoff at the idea of reincarnation have probably not read much about it.
Q: Would you agree that too many people claim exotic past lives and were rarely a leper dying in the gutter?
A: The famous former life fantasy usually happens when people have just begun thinking about past lives – and before they’ve explored them properly to find out the truth.
Maybe it’s natural at that stage to wonder if they were someone important.
Also, many people may need this kind of fantasy to heal their inner wounds. This is why I’m always tactful when people confide these notions to me.
There are sometimes clues to a real earlier life underneath the fantasy – not as the famous person, but from having lived in that part of the world, or in those times.
A young man I once regressed recalled horrific experiences in the First World War. He said afterwards that this confirmed what he thought – that he was the reincarnation of a famous poet from those times.
I think if the reality of a past life is too difficult to bear, it may be psychologically necessary to gloss over it with an idealised version.
Another of my clients recalled a life in Biblical times when she was a young woman who gave up everything to join a religious group like the Essenes. She thought that meant she was Mary Magdalene.
There are many cases like this when people identify with an iconic figure because it represents a quality they may need to emulate or strengthen within themselves.
Those two are rare examples of people clinging to their fantasy after a regression. Most people who come to see if they can confirm an exotic past life through a regression are usually brought down to earth with a bump by the real memories that come up. It takes courage for them to face that, so I think a lot of them for it.
Q: What's the best researched past life you have come across where the facts fit what someone claims?
A: Although there are many great examples to choose from, one that stands out is Professor Stevenson’s case of a little Indian girl called Swarnlata.
At the age of three, while travelling in the family car over a hundred miles from their home, she suddenly recognised the area. She directed the driver to a specific house, and announced that was where she’d once lived.
When she was ten, her supposed former life family decided to test Swarnlata. They arrived unexpectedly with several other unrelated people. Then they set all kinds of tests and traps for her. She didn’t fall for any of them. She immediately recognised her past life brother, calling him by her private pet name for him – Babu.
She also recognised her husband from that life, and her son Biya who was 13 when she’d died of a ‘pain in the throat’. She reminded her former husband of 1200 rupees she’d given him and the secret box he kept it in. Only the two of them ever knew about that.
When they then took her to visit her previous home, she immediately noticed changes that had taken place since she lived there. She asked where the veranda and the neem tree had gone. Both had been removed since her death. She also correctly identified the room where she’d died in 1939.
Professor Stevenson did his usual rigorous investigations to make sure there was absolutely no possibility of fraud about this case – and passed it with flying colours.
Q: To put it very clumsily, if someone is currently having a terrible life are they paying for sins or bad behaviour in a previous existence?
A: That is sometimes true, but not always. Often a soul will take on a difficult life because it gives them an opportunity to grow quickly and forge ahead on their spiritual path.
Other times, people may be punishing themselves. It seems we are the only ones who judge and sentence ourselves – judgement doesn’t come from any gods, guides or angels.
When people have behaved in awful ways, looking at that lifetime afterwards can make them feel rather ashamed or guilty. The natural reaction is to decide to have a life suffering in the same way they made others suffer.
However, self-punishment only creates fresh wounds for that soul, as well as perpetuating negativity in the world. A better solution is to decide to then do the opposite.
For example, someone who’s ashamed of having been a bad parent can make up for it by being a good parent next time. Doing better next time may be the unconscious drive behind at least some charity workers, philanthropists and reformers.
Q: Why are some people princes and others paupers?
A: Nobody ever experiences only one type of lifetime – we go through them all to experience and learn about every side of life. And despite how it looks, privileged lives also have their tests, lessons and challenges.
I think we enter a reincarnation cycle from a joyful curiosity to find out everything we can about life – and along the way, to benefit from the personal growth every different lifetime gives us.