Our modern celebration of Halloween, with its spooky decorations and candy-munching kids, is a long way from the ancient Celtic holiday known as Samhain. Generally agreed by historians to be the origin of our Halloween tradition, Samhain marked the beginning of the winter season and the time to slaughter livestock for the meat that would help people survive the long, cold winter. The Celts believed that on Samhain the veil between the worlds was easily crossed by the spirits of their ancestors.
The Celts had a rich and vibrant spiritual tradition that included a belief in reincarnation. Various religious sects in ancient Greece shared this belief, and even many early Christians (including the Gnostics) believed that souls would be reborn in new physical bodies. Modern Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and many Sufis also believe that we reincarnate again and again, our souls traveling from one physical body to the next.
Most theories of reincarnation involve the concept of karma. Karma is not an easy concept to define, because definitions vary between differing belief systems. Some see karma as a reward/punishment system in which good deeds are rewarded and negative or harmful actions are punished, either in this lifetime or the next. Others see karma as a neutral balancing force, a way of maintaining a kind of spiritual equilibrium.
In his book The Case for Reincarnation, author J. Allan Danelek offers yet another perspective on karma. Perhaps, he writes, karma is not a factor in reincarnation at all. Much of the recent research into the phenomenon of past lives indicates that each incarnation may be a combination of random selection and a soul's choice. As in life, you may make a plan to take a trip only to end up changing the destination at the last minute due to factors beyond your control. Ultimately, where you end up is a blend of chance and conscious decision.
This theory does seem plausible, and it resolves one of the biggest reservations many people feel about the traditional punitive definition of karma. Looking at reincarnation and karma purely in terms of reward and punishment makes it easy to dismiss social injustices such as extreme poverty and rigid class distinctions, as well as the suffering of people stricken with chronic illnesses or injured in accidents.
If you take karma out of the equation, even with seemingly random reincarnation, we are still likely to experience a huge variety of life circumstances over the course of dozens of lives and thousands of years. The soul, Danelek writes,
"will experience almost everything imaginable to the human race (as both male and female and from the perspective of many races, cultures, social stations and environments) naturally, without having to plan anything at all. A soul is going to incarnate into positive circumstances and negative ones repeatedly, know difficult and fairly easy lives, and experience life from both the perspective of a sinner as well as that of a saint many times before it is through, each of which will further shape its development."
Whether or not you agree with Danelek's intriguing hypothesis, you can learn how to explore your own past lives. And one of the best places to start is Richard Webster's Practical Guide to Past-Life Memories.
Webster is a trained hypnotherapist and has regressed hundreds of clients to one or more of their past lives. In this book he details twelve different methods that anyone can use to recall past-life memories. His presentation of many different ways to access your past-life memories is what I like best about this book. Whereas many books present only one method (something you'd also likely encounter in a session with a hypnotherapist), this book has twelve.
Webster explains that one method is not the most effective for everyone. Therefore, you can try out several different methods until you find the one (or more) that works best for you.
Some people have success in dreaming their past lives, learning to "program" themselves to have a past-life dream before going to sleep, and consciously recalling the details before getting out of bed the next day. Others do best with scrying or dowsing for past-life details. Still others find that meditation is the best way to explore their soul's past. These are just some of the ways you can find out what kind of lives you've lived.
As Halloween approaches and we are reminded of the inescapable reality of death and the unknown world of the spirits, you may find yourself having strange dreams of a bygone era or wondering where a personal phobia comes from. Pay attention to these messages from your subconscious—they may just be important clues to one of your past lives.