Past Life & Soul Path Therapy in Glastonbury - By Atasha Fyfe BA (Hons) DHP
The dramatic tale of how Emperors and Popes tried to kill belief in reincarnation - and how it came back to life anyway!

 The 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.
The 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 heritage.
In nearly every region of the world, for as long as the people can remember, ideas about rebirth have been an integral part of their culture. 

From 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.
The 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…’

From 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 Mohammedan era, the Imams 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.’

Judaism 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.’

In 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. 

The 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 years ago. 
Although 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.
Possibly 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.

Plato’s 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’. 

Explaining 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 their destiny. 

He 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. 

 Ancient 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 previous lives. 

Although 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.

In 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 Testament (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.
When 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 the prophets.

The 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.
The 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’.

‘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.

This belief  was thus firmly a part of  Christianity in the first few centuries CE. St Augustine and other early church fathers openly espoused it. 

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 choose.

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.

Belief in rebirth also undermined secular authority - especially royalty, with its pretensions to divine right. Reincarnation meant that everyone is equal, because anyone could be reborn as a prince or a pauper. This made a mockery of the supposed superiority of those in power.  

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. 

In 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’.
At 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. 

Under 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 Justinian’s henchmen. 

These 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 Inquisition. 

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 France.

Catharism 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 Europe. 

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 reincarnation.

One 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.’

Of 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 disinformation.

Church scholars went to work  discrediting the Hermetic Fragments, saying they were forgeries that had been plagiarised from Christian records.

By the time the Renaissance was over, these tactics had effectively erased reincarnation from the minds of the general public.

For nearly 400 years it lived on only in the secret worlds of mystics and occultists such as the Qabalists, Alchemists and Rosicrucians.
And 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.

Of 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 element. 

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. 
By 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. 

But 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. 

After 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 worked.

Cayce’s 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.

 Then 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.

Bernstein’s 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….’) 

All 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. 

The 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.

Author 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’.

But 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 reincarnation.

In 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.

In 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.’

His 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.’ 

Dr.Cannon’s 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. 

Despite 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.

The 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. 

The 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.

As 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.’
In 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.

Most 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 traceable details. In 1978 Dr.Wambach finally announced ‘I don’t believe in reincarnation – I know it!’

Dr.Guirdham, 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. 

In 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. 

In 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 regression.
After 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.’
The 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 his checklist.

His 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. 

In 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.

He 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.

Bowman has been one of many researchers outside academia who have also made significant contributions to this field. Another was Arnall Bloxham, a 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.

In 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 surprisingly low.’ 

One 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’.

 Out 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.’

This 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. 

One 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.
The 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 future lives.

In 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.

These 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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