Reincarnation is a standard concept in Hinduism and pretty common in the wider Pagan world, but I have long been agnostic about it. As a kid it didn’t make much sense to me, but then, neither did the ideas of heaven and hell.
The afterlife was a giant unknown – no one ever came back to tell us what really happens, so why let the hope or fear of an afterlife encourage us in the here-and-now? Any devotion to a god should be done for the virtue and blessings in this life. The concept of being a Christian so that one could get into heaven always struck me as sucking up to the popular kids to get invited to the cool party – really shallow and likely to be disappointing.
Reincarnation didn’t make sense because there are WAY more humans now than there ever have been, so maybe bugs are really living right and advancing quickly? Most people I heard or read about when talking about their past lives were always Exotic and Awesome. We can’t all have been Cleopatra or Julius Caesar, John Dee or Queen Elizabeth.
I made peace with reincarnation when I started contemplating the Cycle of Life. We die, dissolve into the earth, feed the worms and birds and bugs, they in turn feed other creatures and the soil. We eat animals and vegetables that ate that land or those creatures and they become part of us. What we eat literally becomes part of us: our bones, our blood. While pregnant that point was driven home even further, as a baby is built from my bones, my blood, my flesh. This seems like a form of reincarnation, even if it’s the most scientific of understandings.
As for the recycling of souls….. I’m not sure. I don’t have a good grasp of how all the Parts break down after death.
However, off and on throughout my life I’ve wondered if maybe……. just maybe….. there’s something to this reincarnation thing. I don’t understand where my almost obsessive drive to dive into the spiritual realm comes from. It doesn’t make sense in the context of my upbringing. Sure, becoming a Christian in modern America feels like a religious rite of passage. But my longings go much deeper than wanting to be Right about God or being saved or wanting a happy church community (the last two are perfectly fine goals; the first one leaves a lot to be desired, but is sadly all too common). I’ve meandered through mainstream evangelical Christianity (please note the lower case e) to Eastern Orthodox Christianity to liberal feminist Christianity to dabbling in general paganism to Feri to Feri AND traditional witchcraft AND Tantric Hinduism. What the hell am I doing? And why am I doing it?
I’ve been in the middle of an ongoing and extremely helpful discussion on devotion with my spiritual teachers. One of them said something to me that got me thinking about this topic once again. Perhaps this drive for devotion and spirituality is because I’ve been working at this for many lifetimes. I’ve often thought that if reincarnation is real, then I was likely a monk or a nun, or one of each. I have a strong scholarly drive, but once I was working on my PhD I realized that it is not the life for me. I feel a little bit like ‘I’ve done this before, I don’t need to do this again.’ With Christianity I feel as if I’ve gone as far as I can go.
Some might explain the urgings of my heart as God calling to Himself. But I know many people – spiritual and non – who don’t have these urges. If there is One God then this reason smacks of predestination, which is, in my opinion, the theology of an asshole god.
Maybe the urges of my heart are louder and clearer because I’m listening and so many people ignore their own heart (or don’t have the privilege to listen), so I hear the Universe calling to Itself. Oh maybe. But my husband will tell you that I’m only just getting the hang of this listening thing.
Ultimately I don’t know, and ultimately it doesn’t matter.
Perhaps my past as a monk is the reason that being a mother is so challenging and so important for me in the here-and-now. I don’t have quite the right temperament for the job and as a woman of my time and place, I certainly didn’t need to become one. Yet I’ve chosen it willingly and consider it an intrinsic part of my Self, my life and my practice. I wonder if my past lives of monks, nuns, and priests needed to balanced by being a householder.
Which leads to into my next post: Priest vs Householder.