We were talking over dinner tonight, to a background of renaissance Christmas music (mostly Giovanni Gabrieli) and the subject of reincarnation came up – as it does with us not infrequently.
As regular readers will know I don’t believe; I don’t believe in very much of the non-ethereal variety. Except that, to quote Shakespeare, “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (Hamlet, Act I, scene v). One of the things which I do consider at least likely is some form of reincarnation. No, I know it doesn’t make sense; I just have this inner feeling that it is so, at least in some way, although quite how I have no clue. It’s real gut feeling stuff; and because I have this feeling it makes me reluctant to be very prescriptive about other peoples’ beliefs being completely wrong – who is to say that their beliefs aren’t right (at least for them) – rather than just not something I can feel the need for.
Anyway Noreen and I were remarking on the fact that we still don’t understand how we ever got together and have stayed together – even to the extent of enjoying good sex at 5.30 this morning (and that we calculate is 30 years almost to the day since we first had sex). Noreen also commented that while not understanding how we have got this far, she feels we may well have done it before. Hmmm, yes, maybe so. Although maybe not this way round; who knows we could have been a couple of Tudor gay boys?! And even maybe not as humans.
Noreen went on to comment on the fact that I have the feeling of having been a religious in a previous life. Well yes. It might account for my “irrational” liking for the traditional Latin Catholic liturgy, despite my lack of belief. (Mass is a spell; and it is especially potent in Latin.) I do have the feeling that it is all just too familiar and I could well have been a catholic priest; although not necessarily in England; perhaps Venice or the like around the time of Gabrieli or Monteverdi? I don’t know! Not really much more than that.
I also have the feeling of connection with the Chapel Royal at around the time of William Byrd (so late 16th century). (Byrd is one of my heroes. Why?) Again it just feels all too familiar and comfortable. I doubt that I was Byrd himself and I am doubtful that I was a Tudor recusant (although both are possibilities). More likely I was a singing boy or perhaps another of the Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal, or even a priest associated with the chapel establishment. What I can be fairly sure about is that if I was a priest at this time, it was not the same priesthood as the one I mentioned above – because remember that at the time of William Byrd England was protestant and although considerably more catholic than we traditionally think, it was wholly Prayer Book and not Latin Tridentine. Again I can’t pin this down any better; which leads me to feel there is a good reason why and that I shouldn’t try.
I do also wonder why it is that I find some aspects of other religions comfortable and familiar: some aspects of Buddhism; odd glimmers from Zen; some pieces of Shinto. (Why else am I drawn irrationally towards Japan?) Have I had lives in these environments? Similarly have I lived another life in Norway, to which I also feel drawn? I have no idea. Except that I have no illusions that I would likely have been a peasant wherever I was; maybe a priest or monk or some similar in some places/times (that’s just another gut feeling). We can’t all have been Henry VIII or Cleopatra!
It is interesting too that I feel I've likely not always been male. Maybe not always human, but I’m less certain about that. Why should I always have been male in any previous life? If I have been a woman at some time(s) then it might explain why I have this curiosity about what it is like to be a woman (a curiosity which my late father also professed). No, I have no illusion that I would have enjoyed/preferred being female, or it would have been better – I’m sure I wouldn’t; different, yes, but unlikely to be better or worse; but I would like to have that understanding.
Yet there are some eras for which I have no feeling and little interest: the Age of Enlightenment; the Victorians; the Romans; Egypt and Arabia; Africa. Maybe I was never there; or I was too abused? Who knows? Who will ever know about these things?
My only other feeling is that reincarnation – if it indeed exists – isn’t simple. It isn’t “my soul from this life is passed entire to someone in a future life”. (Let’s leave aside the Hindu possibility that we can become other animate beings -- cows, flies, fish, whatever. In passing I once had a Hindu colleague who was strict vegetarian; he wouldn’t even eat an egg because it might be his grandmother reincarnated!) No, I have this feeling that our souls may well subdivide, and possibly combine with bits of other souls, before being “re-implanted” for the next life. However a quick search has not led me to any religious system which expresses reincarnation in this way.
That is about as much as I know; if indeed I know that much. And it is all based on absolutely nothing apart from some (some will say, delusional) inner gut feelings and wonderment at why some of these things are so comfortable and familiar. Nothing at all concrete to go on – but then which of us has? Deeply unsatisfactory for a scientist, a heretic and an unbeliever!
(I've put a fair few links in this item in the hope it may help others to understand some of the background.)