Queer I Stand
Reincarnation: The Old Normal?
To return to the issue brought up by my friend's question, though, I suspect that there is a reason that modern Pagans rarely discuss reincarnation: past life experiences are profoundly personal. In general, they often have great relevance for those who are involved with them, but not much for others. In fact, past life experiences clearly fit the broad definition of "personal gnosis" that is sometimes used derisively (particularly by reconstructionist polytheists) to dismiss the personal experiences of other practitioners. Putting the debate over the validity of personal gnosis and its exact definition aside, however, past life experiences are certainly of a personal nature.
The fact that so-and-so might have once been the Proconsul of Asia when Mithraism began in the waning decades of the Roman Republic might be an important reason why they are now engaged in reviving the Mithraic Mysteries. However, it probably doesn't mean that they know more about those mysteries than anyone else. Past life experiences may provide motivations, explanations for certain interests, or even proficiency at certain skills or other propensities. Yet, there is no authority, necessary implications about identity, or anything else that automatically flows from these interests or talents. That someone engages in an activity in their present life—whether within a spiritual context or in more quotidian affairs—due to some aspect of a past life has no more significance than the fact that they continue to engage in an activity that their grandfather taught to them in childhood. Though both past life and current life experience may be important and cherished, I have yet to hear anyone claim superlative fishing ability because their grandfather taught them to fish when they were young.
I suspect that many modern Pagans and polytheists have realized that this is the case. The value of past life information (if, indeed, that is where such information originates) is not that much greater or lesser than any other form of information, and thus not usually worth discussing publicly. Similar to the once-prolific "grandmother stories," which sought to give authority to "traditional" or "family" practices within a modern Pagan context, the assertion that "I was Cleopatra's toenail painter" likewise carries much less mystique and importance today than it would have a few generations ago.
On a more personal note, I am greatly conflicted on this matter. I've met modern Pagans who used past life matters manipulatively, and when I was interacting with them (in my earlier, far more naïve days, mind you!), I believed in them fully. Later, when I was more sensible and removed from the situation, I mostly dismissed those experiences. However, I have had subsequent, entirely personal and private, uninfluenced-by-others past life experiences that don't seem to have any other explanation—apart from possible coincidence combined with clairvoyance. As much as I'd like to just leave it at that, I'm very curious as to what other people's traditions have to say on these matters, and what the opinions and experiences of other modern Pagans are on this issue.
If you feel so inclined, what do you think about reincarnation? Is it the "old normal," or is it still with us and just not spoken of very often?
P. Sufenas Virius Lupus is a metagender and a founding member of the Ekklesía Antínoou (a queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist religious group dedicated to Antinous, the deified lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and other related gods and divine figures). E is a contributing member of Neos Alexandria and a Celtic Reconstructionist pagan in the filidecht and gentlidecht traditions. Follow Lupus' work on the Aedicula Antinoi blog.