It seems that whenever the topic of reincarnation comes up on this blog, some rather intense conversations ensue. People clearly have strong feelings about reincarnation; some loathe the idea, while others are quite comfortable with it.
Of course, it doesn't help that mediums have conveyed decidedly mixed messages on the subject, with some saying everyone reincarnates dozens of times, others saying only certain people reincarnate, and still others insisting no one reincarnates!
If we take mediumship seriously, we have to wonder why there are such large discrepancies over such an important issue. One answer could be that reincarnation works differently for different people, and that it's more complicated than standard theories would suggest.
This is the approach taken by the communicator purporting to be F.W.H. Myers in Geraldine Cummins' book Beyond Human Personality (text online here). I've written about "Myers' " views on the etheric double in the two posts that immediately precede this one. What "Myers" says about reincarnation is also of interest. The excerpts below are taken from Chapter 4.
I am quite clear that those human beings who live almost wholly in the physical sense while on earth, must be reborn in order that they may experience an intellectual and higher form of emotional life. In other words, those human beings I have described as "Animal-man" almost invariably reincarnate.
Some of the individuals I have designated by the term, "Soul-man," also choose to live again on earth. But metempsychosis does not involve a machine-like regularity of return. I have not noted any evidence of a continual progression of births and deaths for any one particular soul. I do not for a moment believe that the individual returns a hundred times or more to the earth. This is indeed, a wrong assumption. There may, of course, be certain exceptions which you are more likely to meet with among those primitive beings who seem incapable of aspiration -- of desire to rise above their physical nature. But the majority of people only reincarnate two, three or four times. Though if they have some human purpose or plan to achieve they may return as many as eight or nine times. No arbitrary figure can be named. We are only fairly safe in concluding that, in the human form, they are not doomed to wander over the space of fifty, a hundred and more lives.
They do not, it may be suggested, gather any proper share of experience from the few earth existences that are thus allotted to them. But provision has been made for the ignorance that is necessarily incurred through the whole span of lives covering but a fragment of typical experience.
Beggar, jester, king, poet, mother, soldier. I mention only six of the varied roles that would seem to provide lives entirely different in condition and in kind ...
However, it is well to be agreed that, even if we run the race of life on earth six times, we touch but on the fringe of human experience. We have obtained only a certain discipline. We have not plumbed the depths or scaled the heights of being; we have not covered all the space of human consciousness, of human feeling. Yet I can assure you that until we have harvested many times the fruits of lives spent on earth we shall not, save in exceptional cases, live on the higher planes beyond death.
It is not necessary for us to return to earth to gather into our granary this manifold variety of life and knowledge. We can reap, bind and bring much of it home by participating in the life of our group-soul. Many belong to it and these may spread themselves in their journeys over past, present and future ...
Through our communal existence I perceive and feel the drama in the earthly journey of a Buddhist priest, of an American merchant, of an Italian painter, and I am, if I assimilate the life thus lived, spared the living of it in the flesh.
You will recognize how greatly power of will, mind and perception can be increased through your entry into the larger self. You continue to preserve your identity and your fundamental individuality. But you develop immensely in character and in spiritual force. You gather the wisdom of the ages, not through the continual "Sturm und Drang" of hundreds of years passed in the confinement of the crude physical body, you gather it through love which has a gravitational pull and draws you within the memories of those who are akin to your soul, however alien their bodies may have been when they were on earth,
This existence within the memories of others is a form of experience scarcely understood by human beings. The soul resembles a spectator caught within the spell of some drama that is strange to its actual life. It does not therefore suffer or indeed thrill with the joy that direct physical experience would offer it of such a period in time. It perceives, however, all the consequences of acts, moods, thoughts in detail in this life of a kindred soul and so it may -- though feeling and emotion are now of a very different coinage and kind -- in this communal group-state, win the knowledge of all typical earth existences, of all the fundamental phases of being when the intelligence is bound to the flesh, the captive of the five senses and the brain with its myriad cells.
I do not write as one having authority. This little sketch of the soul's journey in relation to earth, is written out of my own experience and knowledge. It cannot, by any means, be said to be the last word on the subject. I am prepared to admit errors if I meet any souls of a wider experience than mine who can demonstrate effectively and beyond a doubt that the transcendental materialism of the early Theosophists is a sound and true doctrine, that the recurring cycle of births and deaths for one soul, goes on and on through many centuries, perhaps for a very long time ....
There is no set law concerning reincarnation. At a certain point in its progress, the soul reflects, weighs and considers the facts of its own nature in conjunction with its past life on earth. If you are primitive, this meditation is made more through instinct -- a kind of emotional thought -- that stirs up the depths of your being. Then the spirit helps you to choose your future. You have complete free will but your spirit indicates the path you should follow and you frequently obey that indication.
Bear in mind that the power behind each human being is imagination. It preserves the past in the form of memory, and unless temporarily fixed in a mould of its own making, is creating in the present, adding to itself, taking away from itself.
Recognize always the power for fresh creation that is inherent in each center of consciousness. In that power lies the hope of man's future, however low the level of his spiritual life.
The student of the journey of the soul will therefore perceive infinite variety if he considers the travels even of his comrades in the world after death -- the passing and re-passing over the frontiers, the existence in the physical and in the etheric state. For each soul differs from all other souls. No two are the same in character and nature. Their creative fancy will invariably produce variety, difference.
This being so, there can be no law which covers the whole field of conscious life in connection with the theory of reincarnation. The dogmatists, when faced with this problem, had better remain silent, folding their hands in reverence for the Divine Mystery which has, in its creation, ordained that those centers, the souls of living things, shall each in their varied ways find their road home to God, to that blissful, and ever creative life contained within the Cosmic Imagination.
A soul that, for the first time, enters a material body is, usually, related spiritually to some member of its Group and, so close is its relationship, it may take on the karma of the older soul. The latter has, perhaps, experienced four or five incarnations on earth. It is not yet wholly purified, has not gained all the terrestrial experience necessary to its spiritual evolution. It acquires it, however, in two ways: (1) through its entry into the group-memory, the conditions of which I have described: (2) through its psychic connection with a young soul which takes up the karma, takes on the pattern created by its previous earthly life or lives.
It will be recognized then, that it is bound psychically to this kinsman who is, indeed, in part its creation and so it is a witness of the earthly career of this traveller and its own spiritual life is enriched thereby.
In this post, Michael Tymn talks about the group-soul idea, including "Myers' " discussion of it in Cummins' earlier book The Road to Immortality. Referring to the mediumship of Maurice Barbanell, Tymn quotes the spirit entity Silver Birch as saying, "... there are what you call ‘group souls,' a single unity with facets which have spiritual relationships that incarnate at different times, at different places, for the purpose of equipping the larger soul for its work."
Tymn goes on:
Silver Birch also likened the soul to an iceberg in which one small portion is manifesting and the greater portion not manifesting. He apparently was referring to what others have called the "Higher Self," the "Greater Self," or the "Oversoul" ...
However, he stressed that the individuality of the "facets" within the Group Soul is maintained.