Reasonableness of Metempsychosis

Many writers on the subject of Metempsychosis have devoted much time, labor and argument to prove the reasonableness of the doctrine upon purely speculative, philosophical, or metaphysical grounds. And while we believe that such efforts are praiseworthy for the reason that many persons must be first convinced in that way, still we feel that one must really feel the truth of the doctrine from something within his own consciousness, before he will really believe it to be truth.

One may convince himself of the logical necessity of the doctrine of Metempsychosis, but at the same time he may drop the matter with a shrug of the shoulders and a “still, who knows?” But when one begins to feel within himself the awakening consciousness of a “something in the past,” not to speak of the flashes of memory, and feeling of former acquaintance with the subject, then, and then only, does he begin to believe.

Many people have had “peculiar experiences” that are accountable only upon the hypothesis of Metempsychosis. Who has not experienced the consciousness of having felt the thing before–having thought it some time in the dim past? Who has not witnessed new scenes that appear old, very old? Who has not met persons for the first time, whose presence awakened memories of a past lying far back in the misty ages of long ago? Who has not been seized at times with the consciousness of a mighty “oldness” of soul? Who has not heard music, often entirely new compositions, which somehow awakens memories of similar strains, scenes, places, faces, voices, lands, associations and events, sounding dimly on the strings of memory as the breezes of the harmony floats over them? Who has not gazed at some old painting, or piece of statuary, with the sense of having seen it all before? Who has not lived through events, which brought with them a certainty of being merely a repetition of some shadowy occurrences away back in lives lived long ago? Who has not felt the influence of the mountain, the sea, the desert, coming to them when they are far from such scenes–coming so vividly as to cause the actual scene of the present to fade into comparative unreality. Who has not had these experiences–we ask?

Writers, poets, and others who carry messages to the world, have testified to these things–and nearly every man or woman who hears the message recognizes it as something having correspondence in his or her own life. Sir Walter Scott tells us in his diary: “I cannot, I am sure, tell if it is worth marking down, that yesterday, at dinner time, I was strangely haunted by what I would call the sense of preexistence, viz., a confused idea that nothing that passed was said for the first time; that the same topics had been discussed and the same persons had stated the same opinions on them. The sensation was so strong as to resemble what is called the mirage in the desert and a calenture on board ship.” The same writer, in one of his novels, “Guy Mannering,” makes one of his characters say: “Why is it that some scenes awaken thoughts which belong as it were, to dreams of early and shadowy recollections, such as old Brahmin moonshine would have ascribed to a state of previous existence. How often do we find ourselves in society which we have never before met, and yet feel impressed with a mysterious and ill-defined consciousness that neither the scene nor the speakers nor the subject are entirely new; nay, feel as if we could anticipate that part of the conversation which has not yet taken place.”

Bulwer speaks of “that strange kind of inner and spiritual memory which so often recalls to us places and persons we have never seen before, and which Platonists would resolve to be the unquenched consciousness of a former life.” And again, he says: “How strange is it that at times a feeling comes over us as we gaze upon certain places, which associates the scene either with some dim remembered and dreamlike images of the Past, or with a prophetic and fearful omen of the Future. Every one has known a similar strange and indistinct feeling at certain times and places, and with a similar inability to trace the cause.” Poe has written these words on the subject: “We walk about, amid the destinies of our world existence, accompanied by dim but ever present memories of a Destiny more vast–very distant in the bygone time and infinitely awful. We live out a youth peculiarly haunted by such dreams, yet never mistaking them for dreams. As memories we know them. During our youth the distinctness is too clear to deceive us even for a moment. But the doubt of manhood dispels these feelings as illusions.”

Home relates an interesting incident in his life, which had a marked effect upon his beliefs, thereafter. He relates that upon an occasion when he visited a strange house in London he was shown into a room to wait. He says: “On looking around, to my astonishment everything appeared perfectly familiar to me. I seemed to recognize every object. I said to myself, ‘What is this? I have never been here before, and yet I have seen all this, and if so, then there must be a very peculiar knot in that shutter.'” He proceeded to examine the shutter, and much to his amazement the knot was there.

We have recently heard of a similar case, told by an old lady who formerly lived in the far West of the United States. She states that upon one occasion a party was wandering on the desert in her part of the country, and found themselves out of water. As that part of the desert was unfamiliar even to the guides, the prospect for water looked very poor indeed. After a fruitless search of several hours, one of the party, a perfect stranger to that part of the country, suddenly pressed his hand to his head, and acted in a dazed manner, crying out “I know that a water-hole is over to the right–this way,” and away he started with the party after him. After a half-hour’s journey they reached an old hidden water-hole that was unknown even to the oldest man in the party. The stranger said that he did not understand the matter, but that he had somehow experienced a sensation of having been there before, and knowing just where the water-hole was located. An old Indian who was questioned about the matter, afterward, stated that the place had been well known to his people who formerly travelled much on that part of the desert; and that they had legends relating to the “hidden water-hole,” running back for many generations. In this case, it was remarked that the water-hole was situated in such a peculiar and unusual manner, as to render it almost undiscoverable even to people familiar with the characteristics of that part of the country. The old lady who related the story, had it direct from the lips of one of the party, who regarded it as “something queer,” but who had never even heard of Metempsychosis.

A correspondent of an English magazine writes as follows: “A gentleman of high intellectual attainments, now deceased, once told me that he had dreamed of being in a strange city, so vividly that he remembered the streets, houses and public buildings as distinctly as those of any place he ever visited. A few weeks later he was induced to visit a panorama in Leicester Square, when he was startled by seeing the city of which he had dreamed. The likeness was perfect, except that one additional church appeared in the picture. He was so struck by the circumstance that he spoke to the exhibitor, assuming for the purpose the air of a traveller acquainted with the place, when he was informed that the church was a recent erection.” The fact of the addition of the church, seems to place the incident within the rule of awakened memories of scenes known in a past life, for clairvoyance, astral travel, etc., would show the scene as it was at the time of the dream, not as it had been years before.

Charles Dickens mentions a remarkable impression in his work “Pictures from Italy.” “In the foreground was a group of silent peasant girls, leaning over the parapet of the little bridge, looking now up at the sky, now down into the water; in the distance a deep dell; the shadow of an approaching night on everything. If I had been murdered there in some former life I could not have seemed to remember the place more thoroughly, or with more emphatic chilling of the blood; and the real remembrance of it acquired in that minute is so strengthened by the imaginary recollection that I hardly think I could forget it.”

We have recently met two people in America who had very vivid memories of incidents in their past life. One of these, a lady, has a perfect horror of large bodies of water, such as the Great Lakes, or the Ocean, although she was born and has lived the greater part of her life inland, far removed from any great body of water, She has a distinct recollection of falling from a large canoe-shape vessel, of peculiar lines, and drowning. She was quite overcome upon her first visit to the Field Museum in Chicago, where there were exhibited a number of models of queer vessels used by primitive people. She pointed out one similar in shape, and lines, to the one she remembers as having fallen from in some past life.

The second case mentioned is that of a married couple who met each other in a country foreign to both, on their travels. They fell in love with each other, and both have felt that their marriage was a reunion rather than a new attachment. The husband one day shortly after their marriage told his wife in a rather shamed-faced way that he had occasional flashes of memory of having held in his arms, in the dim past, a woman whose face he could not recall, but who wore a strange necklace, he describing the details of the latter. The wife said nothing, but after her husband had left for his office, she went to the attic and unpacked an old trunk containing some odds and ends, relics, heirlooms, etc., and drew from it an old necklace of peculiar pattern that her grandfather had brought back from India, where he had lived in his younger days, and which had been in the family ever since. She laid the necklace on the table, so that her husband would see it upon his return. The moment his eyes fell upon it, he turned white as death, and gasped “My God! that’s the necklace!

A writer in a Western journal gives the following story of a Southern woman. “When I was in Heidelberg, Germany, attending a convention of Mystics, in company with some friends I paid my first visit to the ruined Heidelberg Castle. As I approached it I was impressed with the existence of a peculiar room in an inaccessible portion of the building. A paper and pencil were provided me, and I drew a diagram of the room even to its peculiar floor. My diagram and description were perfect, when we afterwards visited the room. In some way, not yet clear to me, I have been connected with that apartment. Still another impression came to me with regard to a book, which I was made to feel was in the old library of the Heidelberg University. I not only knew what the book was, but even felt that a certain name of an old German professor would be found written in it. Communicating this feeling to one of the Mystics at the convention, a search was made for the volume, but it was not found. Still the impression clung to me, and another effort was made to find the book; this time we were rewarded for our pains. Sure enough, there on the margin of one of the leaves was the very name I had been given in such a strange manner. Other things at the same time went to convince me that I was in possession of the soul of a person who had known Heidelberg two or three centuries ago.”

A contributor to an old magazine relates, among other instances, the following regarding a friend who remembers having died in India during the youth of some former life. He states: “He sees the bronzed attendants gathered about his cradle in their white dresses: they are fanning him. And as they gaze he passes into unconsciousness. Much of his description concerned points of which he knew nothing from any other source, but all was true to the life, and enabled me to fix on India as the scene which he recalled.”

While comparatively few among the Western races are able to remember more than fragments of their past lives, in India it is quite common for a man well developed spiritually to clearly remember the incidents and details of former incarnations, and the evidence of the awakening of such power causes little more than passing interest among his people. There is, as we shall see later, a movement toward conscious Metempsychosis, and many of the race are just moving on to that plane. In India the highly developed individuals grow into a clear recollection of their past lives when they reach the age of puberty, and when their brains are developed sufficiently to grasp the knowledge locked up in the depths of the soul. In the meantime the individual’s memory of the past is locked away in the recesses of his mind, just as are many facts and incidents of his present life so locked away, to be remembered only when some one mentions the subject, or some circumstance serves to supply the associative link to the apparently forgotten matter.

Regarding the faculty of memory in our present lives, we would quote the following from the pen of Prof. William Knight, printed in the Fortnightly Review. He says: “Memory of the details of the past is absolutely impossible. The power of the conservative faculty, though relatively great, is extremely limited. We forget the larger portion of experience soon after we have passed through it, and we should be able to recall the particulars of our past years, filling all the missing links of consciousness since we entered on the present life, before we were in a position to remember our ante-natal experience. Birth must necessarily be preceded by crossing the river of oblivion, while the capacity for fresh acquisition survives, and the garnered wealth of old experience determines the amount and character of the new.”