Nobody knows whether there is reincarnation, and equally one does not know that there is none. Buddha himself was convinced of reincarnation, but he himself on being asked twice by his disciples about it, left it quite open whether there is a continuity of your personality or not.
~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Pages 103-104.|
I was an English Literature major and have read the requisite classics, but horror has been my genre of choice for decades. And if the plot takes a psychological twist, like Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, so much the better.
I finished reading Hologram: a Haunting by James Conroyd Martin a few weeks ago, and its premise has, aptly, haunted me ever since. Spoiler alert: The main character moves into a haunted house and starts “remembering” incidents that she never experienced. A psychologist who has conducted research on the subject advises her that she is drawing these memories, which belong to the previous owner of the house, from the “holographic universe” (aka the collective unconscious).
According to the editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica:
Collective unconscious, [is a] term introduced by psychiatrist Carl Jung to represent a form of the unconscious (that part of the mind containing memories and impulses of which the individual is not aware) common to mankind as a whole and originating in the inherited structure of the brain. It is distinct from the personal unconscious, which arises from the experience of the individual. According to Jung, the collective unconscious contains archetypes, or universal primordial images and ideas.
I have been fascinated with the concept of the collective unconscious since I first heard the term when I was 15. And the thesis of Hologram: a Haunting made me wonder: Are my past-life memories “mine” or drawn from the collective unconscious?
At this point, I feel compelled to say that, yes, I have experienced vivid past-life memories. With one exception, they all came to me unbidden when I was in my mid-teens. Each memory was like a movie clip of a pivotal moment in that “life,” such as “my” murder by short sword at the hands of a Roman soldier in Britain.
At the time, these memories cost me dearly. I was a born-again Christian growing up in a small town in the Bible Belt. How could I reconcile the teachings of my faith with what I had experienced? Reincarnation wasn’t something that I could discuss with my pastor or my classmates for fear of being ostracized. I finally found comfort and support in the writings of the Edgar Cayce, a devout Christian who, “…gave psychic ‘readings’ to thousands of seekers while in an unconscious state, diagnosing illnesses and revealing lives lived in the past and prophecies yet to come.” Edgar Cayce’s A.R.E., November 26, 2017.
In each of my past-life memories, I was female. In all but one, I died or suffered at the hand of a man who wielded power. If these were “my” memories, what did I need to learn? What did I need to avoid, or do differently, in this life to break that cycle?
Moreover, what if these memories aren’t mine at all? What if they were drawn from the collective unconscious? Would that make them any less real, any less meaningful to my current life and the lessons that I’m supposed to learn? If they’re from the collective unconscious, why did I access these specific memories? Were they random? Were they intended for me at all, or did I just happen to “tune in” psychically to the Collective Unconscious Station?
Evidently, Hologram: a Haunting isn’t the first fiction to tackle the reincarnation vs. collective unconscious theme.
Jack London’s novella “Before Adam” specifically refers early on to the reincarnation versus collective unconscious question. The narratorial voice states that reincarnation is not true, although the subjects believe they have lived before; what they have really experienced is memories from the collective unconscious. [emphasis mine]
— S. C. Flynn, “SFF, The Collective Unconscious and Reincarnation,”
Nor is this topic relegated to fiction. A myriad of books, websites and reincarnation discussion boards examine the possibility that people who “remember” past lives are actually accessing the collective unconscious.
Catching a glimpse of someone else’s past life via the collective unconscious is decidedly less dramatic than being able to say, “I was Cleopatra.” It’s passive, like watching TV or a movie. But could we not learn the necessary “life lessons” from either scenario?