I am often asked what the position of the Starry Bull tradition is with regard to metempsychosis or reincarnation.
We don’t have one.
This may strike some as peculiar since we place such a strong emphasis on eschatology but there is nothing within our system of belief which depends on or is refuted by reincarnation, therefore it remains a matter which each member must make their own decisions about. (An approach which, incidentally, reflects the custom of our ancient Bacchic Orphic predecessors who were in universal agreement on almost nothing.) For every quote you dig up that’s pro you can find another that’s con. Most, in fact, are so ambiguous that they can be read in any number of ways depending on the preferences of the interpreter.
I tend, for instance, to interpret many of these quotes as referring to metempsychosis but not reincarnation.
Originally this word meant the transfer of a soul from one body to another. Obviously reincarnation (wherein a person dies and their soul gets reborn in a different body) is a type of metempsychosis but it is not the only type. For instance it could also refer to things like sending one’s soul out to take possession of another person’s body, the transformation of an individual (whether here or in another realm) into an animal or bird, the generation of some kind of spiritual body or it could be a metaphor for the start of a new life and identity post initiation. None of these require the catalyst of a physical death.
Indeed, there are plenty of reasons to reject the notion of reincarnation, particularly as it is understood in the West so often with a radically reductionist view of the soul. The majority of ancient Greeks, whether they held to a more traditional Homeric view or aligned with marginal folks like Empedokles, Aristeas, Parmenides and Pythagoras, did not conceive of man as just a ghost in a fleshy machine. Man is made up of many parts, including various spiritual bodies and non-localized organs of intelligence, perception and emotion. Some of these are bound to the body until death and after; some may separate and roam free even in life; some only come into being once the person has crossed over to the other side. Which, of course, begs the question – if all of these different parts have different destinations how much of “you” gets recycled into a new body? And if everyone automatically gets reincarnated why do we make offerings to ancestors, heroes, daimones and restless spirits? For that matter, how can the dead walk the earth once more on Anthesteria, Lemuria, Samain, Día de Muertos or Yule? (Depending on your tradition and locale.)
Now, of course, none of these preclude at least some type of reincarnation from taking place (part of what we are going to simplistically refer to as the soul may go on to abide with the ancestors while a different part gets implanted into a gestating fetus) but that is largely irrelevant for the Bacchic Orphic who intends to spend at least some portion of eternity in drunken carousel with Dionysos and his Retinue. The whole point of initiation is to prepare us for that underworld journey and the dangers and obstacles we shall encounter upon the way. (It also keeps us whole so we can remember who we are.) There’s no lock on the door, however. You can wander off any time. Explore other parts of the underworld, or the endless corridors of the Labyrinth and all the places they lead; if you wanted, you could even put on another meatsuit and see again what exquisite pleasures and suffering the world of the living contains. Sometimes birth is a punishment for wicked deeds; sometimes an accident. And sometimes you enter at different points in the stream of time. (Like, what if past lives are actually future lives, man? *bong hit*)
Maybe. Maybe not.
I’d never pretend I have it all figured out. Hell, I wouldn’t want to know all the secret mechanics of life and shit even if I could.
That’d be boring.
So what do you think will happen when you die?
4 thoughts on “A wandering soul”
You may find the following intriguing.
Parapsychologists who study the topic of “survival,” i.e. survival of consciousness after death (they don’t like to call it “soul” since they’re trying to be scientific!), look into things like mediumship, but also reincarnation. There is an impressive body of “solved” reincarnation cases, where the preponderance of evidence suggests that a child with past life memories or other indications of a previous life can be confirmed with the biographies of a pre-deceased person (and often their surviving friends or family members). A great deal more of these cases occur in cultures where reincarnation is part of the prevailing religious system at work in that culture, so there are more in India, China, and amongst some Native Americans, for example, but they do also occur amongst Europeans and white Americans as well. The one aspect of belief about reincarnation that people most often think of, probably because many of the Indian-derived systems rely on this idea, is that of karma. However, in all of the confirmed cases, what the researchers have found is that has absolutely no role to play in things, or in the social or other status of the person into which one is reborn.
Of course, as interesting as all of this is, there are some larger questions that it doesn’t answer–chiefly, even if they have an impressive dossier of these solved cases (something like 2500 over the last 150 years), why don’t we see it more often than that? If reincarnation occurs with “lower” animals that eventually become human, how can we determine that in any objective fashion (we can’t!)? And so on and so forth. But still, it is interesting that at least some of these things can be corroborated.
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That is intriguing.
I will love to see my ancestors after this lifetime, but counting on spending eternity with Dionysus.
To throw off all the lifetimes of the past, and be a maenad in the truest sense of the word.
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