I apologize for this being a day late. My health this week is better than it was, but I am still not 100%.
Life after death is to some extent a more complicated factor in my spiritual practice than it is for many others. There is a land for the dead that my god created for his two sons at their death, but the dead who are brought to it do not necessarily remain there forever. Many of them are effectively only “borrowed” from their own gods, and will die a second time to go on to a true resting place of their own—Heaven, Helheim, the Elysian Fields, the Duat, and so on. The only ones who remain forever are those who wish to, or those who would be moving on to a fate of suffering instead of rest.
Reincarnation, of course, is never stopped, only delayed. This seems to be my own fate, though it is not the random reincarnation that most people are familiar with. If you go back far enough among my family tree, reincarnation along family lines is a tradition for both of them. Reincarnation beliefs among the Norse can be read about in The Road to Hel if you can find a copy—I recommend looking in college and university libraries, as that is where I found it—and though pre-Christian Celtic beliefs are not as well documented as I would like, there is enough evidence to suggest a similar tradition as well. The difference between the two, mainly, is the flavor. The Norse dead seem to remain more the same when they return, less changed by death, than the Celtic dead transformed and changed by the experience of rebirth.
My experience melds the two, I suppose. Even among family who are the strictest Catholics, believing in no fate beyond Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell, it is fairly well recognized that I am the perfect repetition of a direct ancestor about twenty years after his death. My death. For those in the family who do believe in reincarnation, I have been the strongest evidence for it they have ever seen. Some things might be genetic (speech, facial expressions, gestures, habits), but then some things make very little sense, like repeating my last self and quoting myself from the moment I could speak, even though I could not have known the things I had been in the habit of talking about.
And, of course, the well-noted patterns that others have noted where the same issues we had in a previous life will repeat in the next one again. Even the abuse I survived has mirrored trauma from my last life. It doesn’t seem like I will be resolving these issues in this life, given my health. Perhaps I will overcome it the next time around.
Last night, I dreamed I was as I was in my previous life, and I was contacted by the spirit of my wife’s sister. She was upset about something, but too upset about it to manage language. This is hardly a problem unique to the dead, and when it happens, it helps to do something comforting to set people at ease. On a hunch, I planted a tree in the place that she had died. I had been thinking that a small sapling is a young living thing, and that putting young, fresh life in a place of death would be a comforting restoration of balance. She was deeply pleased by it, but not for that reason. She liked it because it cleaned the air.
There was a recurring element of miasma, pollution, invisible airborne corruption that made the living ill. At one point in her place of death before planting the sapling, I picked up a pack of cigarettes and a woman’s cigarette holder, then immediately disregarded it as an unimportant detail. My wife was upset about her sister’s death, stating at one point that it never should have happened at all.
It was only on waking and doing very basic dream followup that I discovered/remembered that she died because of smoking. She was a smart, responsible, healthy woman for her time, but I died in 1949, and before then, the connection between tobacco smoking and lung cancer was not well-known. She died from something we both would have believed was a medicinal herb with beneficial qualities.
My widow quit once the facts of lung cancer were made known in the 60s, but it was much too late for her sister. So of course, what killed her would be important to her after death, and plants and trees would be the best offering, their literal purification also ritually purifying as well.
I woke up as she was telling me what was upsetting her, and still am trying to figure out precisely what it could be. Part of the problem is that there are so many likely possibilities, from Beloved Family Member’s heart attack to another family member’s surgery complications to even my own health problems.
At least with a past life that is within a century and within the same bloodline, it’s possible to call those who are still living and test information against the memory of those who knew her when she was alive. One phone call with careful parsimony of details provided all the information necessary for proper discernment. Everything was cleanly validated, even down to elements that I was sure were inventions of dream-logic.
I spoke with my husband afterwards, and we both agreed that for now, what we can do is make a one-time donation to charities which plant trees for various purposes. Perhaps I can make an annual habit of this on her birthday.
It is a little amusing to speak with elderly Catholic relatives about the dead, and be told about what amount to detailed daily ancestor worship rites, seeking their intercession “because they’re saints—just because they haven’t been canonized doesn’t mean they’re not saints.”
Centuries of Christianization cannot eliminate tradition. Even those of us who have known nothing and done no research, we still feel in our core the importance of the dead, and recognize those who have returned.