August 29, 2014 by Labrys
I’ve believed in the possibility of reincarnation since I was seventeen. Now, I won’t say I believe in the classic Eastern religious definition of the ins/outs and hows/whys of it. For me, it is more a speculative concept — as I said, a possibility. If human life is viewed as a vital energy, if energy is not created or destroyed — where does it go when our physical bodies fall down finished? (Yes, now I have doubtless offended hard science sorts — get in line with the hard polytheists, please.) Why would it not be possible that some less ephemeral bit of us be recycled?
Mind you, I don’t think it is necessarily the only option. I have a bit of an issue with the ‘either/or’ and ‘all or nothing’ simple bits that my nation seems so fond of; you can blame my doubtless incomplete notions about quantum physics for this: particle or wave (or more!) means CHOICE to me! And my mind merrily goes off singing “In microcosm, so in macrocosm; as above, so below.” Shoot me, I’m a panentheistic pagan with a light side of science. But IF you shoot me? I won’t necessarily be gone.
I could be, in some sense, the tree seedling that comes up the next spring…or the wind that moves its leaves. Some of me could be the raindrops that fall on said sapling, the water that was me evaporated in my cremation to rejoin clouds overhead. Even if all there is a physical recycling, I am content. So why do I think reincarnation is something that can happen? Surely you knew there would be a story, right?
When I was seventeen, the summer after my high school graduation, I woke shaking and sweating after a very vivid dream. The dream itself had a surreal calm about it; though I recall, in the dream feeling like a moth caught in a bottle and wanting to scream. In the dream, I was somewhat like myself — fair skinned and blonde, but much taller. I was standing in the rain in a much trampled muddy yard surrounded by barbed wire. I felt a sense of complete unreality, as in “This simply cannot be happening to me.” About three meters away stood two soldiers, smoking and talking and I could understand them perfectly. They were speaking German and their uniforms were those of the Third Reich.
Now, as a child, I had spoken German for three years; at 17 I still had a child’s vocabulary for the most part — and degraded from lack of use. It should not have made what the words of the guarding German in my dream intelligible to me. But I remember it vividly: “Sie ist zu hübsch, sie kann nicht jüdisch sein. Und sie is so blond.” (She is too pretty, she can not be Jewish. And she is so blond.)
My own words, with a voice raised to carry over the rain-patter, were what made me want to scream, even in the dream-state I was filled with horror and shame hearing myself speak them: “Aber ich bin jüdisch, sagen sie mir; wie kann es wahr sein? Ich komme aus Berlin?(But I am Jewish, they tell me; how can it be true? I come from Berlin.)
I woke just as they stepped towards me, smiling. I was filled with shame and sure that I had been on my way to a concentration camp, a German Jewess who doubtless fucked her way to freedom. For months the dream haunted me and I had trouble sleeping. I told myself this was just the result of rather overmuch study of WWII history in my senior year. Slowly, I dismissed the notion that I had seen something revelatory of another lifetime.
Then, years later, in the Army, I returned to Germany. I had never been to the walled city of Berlin as a child, a military brat who lived in Stuttgart when the Wall around East Germany went up as we practiced bomb drills in school. And yet, Berlin felt peculiarly familiar to me. Believe me when I say, not any place in Germany is alike — even the German spoken in Berlin was not the same as the childhood dialect I used in Bavaria. Berliners thought I WAS Bavarian — until they were told I was American. And yet, I felt so at home that I was happier than in the last decade of my life. Until the dreams resumed.
For most of the next three years vivid dreams would wake me – sometimes screaming, and sometimes in German. Not only was the content disturbing, but the sensual reality was beyond normal dreams. Not only visual, these dreams — but with taste, smell, hearing and even sensations of pain, all intense as waking life.
I dreamed of running through dark streets, hearing shouts behind me, “Halt, Hände hoch!” I dreamt of a gap-toothed goon running his filthy hand up my leg beneath my dress as I sat handcuffed to a bench. I dreamt of running though woods, smelling snow. I dreamt of being in Israel carrying a pistol and smelling cordite in the air. I dreamt it was 1948, in May when the British were leaving. I dreamt I died, gunshot as I tried to rescue someone (a lover?) from a make-shift APC that was a-fire in the streets. I believe I died in Israel in 1948. I’d really prefer to believe that I had seen the movie “Exodus” once too often — but since I had NOT seen the film or read the book till AFTER I returned to the United States in 1979, it’s hard to blame that as a cause.
Every time I relax a bit, tell myself dreams can mean anything or nothing? Something comes along and head-slaps me. I can’t watch Holocaust related films; though I did see many documentaries in high school. Such things now? Make me get cold, nauseated, and sometimes almost paralyzed feeling. It freaks me the fuck OUT, so I avoid such material…or get thoroughly shit-faced before attempting to watch. (Ask me how bizarre it was for my husband, while in Berlin, to be an extra in the mini-series “The Holocaust”, playing an SS troop attacking the Warsaw Ghetto.)
But it gets me anyhow, unexpectedly. Earlier this summer, I engaged in the ‘summer novel’ — a recreation of the Sherlock Holmes genre by Laurie King. She makes her female lead, Mary Russell, the daughter of a Jewess. It didn’t seem a big part of the story until the tale took them to Israel to hide out from a villain. Mary suddenly recites, as she lands in Jerusalem: “Simchu eth Yerushalaim w’gilu bah kal-ohabeha.” I had not even read the translation of the Hebrew (Rejoice for Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her.) when tears suddenly sprang into my eyes and a shiver shook my body. I felt utterly certain I had spoken those words at some time in my past — my past life.
Imagine my surprise to learn, later in my study of several religions, that some branches of Judaism do teach that reincarnation can occur in special circumstances. And there are those who believe the victims of the Holocaust did reincarnate to get the lives stolen from them in hatred and horror, even if not re-born Jewish. So, yes, “R” is for reincarnation and I am stuck with my own unverified personal gnosis (UPG) of what might have been my last life before the one I was born into in 1953. I did not, like some others who believe they are reincarnated Holocaust victims, hate all things German. I hated myself, for surviving the Holocaust to die later in Israel. I think I wanted to die, I was foolhardy and too much into taking risks in that last dream. When I felt the punching sensation in my chest and looked down at my own blood on my chest-clasping hand, I had the only sensation of peace and satisfaction that existed in any of the serial-dreams.
I had my sons circumcised, not only for medical reasons and because their father was similarly ‘snipped’ ….but out of a deep sense of solidarity with those who suffered and died because of the unmistakable evidence of “otherness.” My children grew up celebrating Hanukkah and learning some basics of Judaism so they wouldn’t be anti-Semitic shitheads.
And my last time in Germany? I met a lovely Jewish woman whose Polish parents had hidden her with a Catholic family so she would survive what they did not. She embraced me, weeping, when my youngest son was born and circumcised over the objections of the doctors at the German hospital where he was born. She lit candles at Hanukkah with us and brought my children gifts as if they were her own grandchildren – she never bore children in the world that had eradicated her own family.
I will never see Israel in this lifetime — and I am angry at the nation for acting as harshly as those that once sought their ending. I do not believe I was an observant or religious Jew in that life; but I believed in surviving, obviously. “Live and make better the world,” is a singular commandment I could honor. No matter how many lifetimes it takes.
(My entire personal pagan alphabet can be read by clicking HERE.)