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Some Thoughts About Reincarnation

Master’s Musings, September 2023

Some Thoughts About Reincarnation

Steven Forrest

In our Q & A session on August 23rd, our new student, “L,” asked the following question. “Most of us have had many past lives. Which past life is shown in the birth chart? All past lives perhaps? Or the most relevant past life/lives? Or the most recent past life/lives?”

I responded during the call, and if you want to watch the “live” version, remember that if you are an FCEA student or Community Member, all those sessions are recorded, indexed, and always available to you. By the way, we know that for many of you, even here in North America, the timing of these Zoom calls is somewhere between awkward and impossible. Our apologies for that. There really aren’t any good solutions to that problem, other than us seeing to it that recordings are provided.

L’s questions are so fundamental to the practice of evolutionary astrology that I wanted to explore them a little more deeply here in this newsletter. Let me start by saying that it is of course quite possible to adapt our work to accommodate clients who aren’t comfortable with the idea of past lives. We can always talk about ancestral themes, DNA, and so on — or we can just bow deeply before the unknowable mysteries of the universe, and add the observed fact that, whatever the reason, everyone arrives on Earth with an inborn nature and certain astrologically-predictable challenges. In practice, I always ask my clients if the idea of past lives works for them. Only twice, in all the years I’ve been doing this work, has anyone ever said no. One was a professor at Catholic University in Washington D.C. – and he came back three or four years later and told me it was OK to talk about past lives this time. The other was a psychotherapist in Marin County, California — go figure!

First, here’s the simple part. L writes, “Most of us have had many past lives.” I think it’s more accurate to say that we all have had many past lives. Even people for whom this is their first human incarnation have lived in animal bodies. Have you ever met someone who behaved like a baboon, for example? Or like a dog fighting over a bone? For what it’s worth, my personal feeling is that some four-footed beings are ahead of some of us two-footed ones – that the reality is not as simple as “you graduate from animal high school and go to human college.” That’s just my opinion, and many metaphysicians would disagree with me. In fact, let me be clear: pretty much everything you’ll be reading in this essay is nothing but my opinion. Much of it is informed by Buddhism, Ram Dass, Edgar Cayce, and other wise teachers, but all these things are hard to prove or even to investigate in a foolproof way. Take what you like and leave the rest. These are the best truths I know.

L had a few more questions: Which past life is shown in the birth chart? All past lives perhaps? Or the most relevant past life/lives? Or the most recent past life/lives?”

“All past lives” would probably paint your chart black – it would require such a density of symbols that you couldn’t read anything from it at all. The deep truth is that a very great number of prior incarnations in various forms has brought you to where you are today. Fortunately, our techniques of nodal analysis filter all of that past-life information in an extremely radical way. Very little of that information actually gets through. These filters work in a very practical way, only telling you what you need to know. Everything else gets left out. You may have been one of the twelve apostles. Maybe you were Geronimo. You may have been Cleopatra – but if what your soul is working on in this lifetime isn’t connected to those particular past lives, there will be no symbolism in your chart for them.

  • Maybe you were indeed “Cleopatra,” but you worked that karma out long ago. It no longer holds you back in any way. Poof – no nodal evidence for that lifetime appears in your birthchart.
  • Maybe you were “Cleopatra,” but you’re not yet ready to wrestle with that karma. You’re saving it for a future lifetime when you are wiser and more evolved than you are today. Once again, poof – no nodal evidence for that lifetime appears in the chart.

That’s how the “nodal filters” work. So much of this line of thought is contained in one phrase that most of you have heard me say many, many times: what we see via nodal analysis is unresolved karma that has ripened. “Unresolved” means it’s still holding you back somehow in terms of your evolutionary intentions for this lifetime. “Ripened” means that the time has come for you to deal with it – you’re ready, in other words.

Back to L’s questions:

Which past life is shown in the birth chart? 

Answer: the one (or ones) that are actually pressing at you in this present life.

All past lives perhaps? 

Answer: definitely not all of them!

Or the most relevant past life/lives? 

Answer: L totally nails it here.

Or the most recent past life/lives? 

Answer: not necessarily — karma often takes a while to ripen.

I always like to underscore the fact that we don’t read astrological charts the same way that we read newspapers. Symbolism is not literalism. As we do nodal analysis, our aim is to invent a story that resonates emotionally with the person’s actual karma. Liberate yourself from the feeling that you need to find the literal reality of anyone’s prior lifetimes. We can’t do that and we don’t make that indefensible claim, nor do we burden ourselves with that impossible task.

If in a prior life, you were literally a rock star, but I tell you a nodal tale about how you were a movie star, I’ve done my job – that story is close enough to ring the right emotional bells. Same thing if I tell you a story about how you were once a victim of religious persecution and the reality is that you were a victim of racial or gender prejudice. In other words, the story doesn’t need to be literally true in order to be emotionally relevant – and thus capable of triggering a cathartic reaction in the client. Remember: everything starts with the south node of the Moon – we’re talking about the history of the emotional body, not a checklist of biographical “Mercury” facts. We don’t typically remember our past lives in a concrete way. What we remember is what they felt like. That “Moon energy” is what reincarnates with us. That’s where we store the hurt. That’s what we see in the chart. And that’s where we look for the cure.

Built into this line of thinking is another practical point. Most of the time in practicing evolutionary astrology, we tell a single “once upon a time” past-life story. That simplicity may or may not reflect literal reality. Karma, by its very nature, tends to be habitual and repetitive. Might a soul cycle through several lifetimes in which it kept making the same mistake over and over again – marrying the wrong person, for example? Sure! But our single past-life tale covers all of those emotional bases and that’s the point.

Perhaps the most slippery question of them all is one that L didn’t ask. What exactly reincarnates? That’s a conundrum that keeps philosophers and metaphysicians talking until the wee hours.

Here’s how I understand it. I’ve been a Capricorn with an Aries Moon for almost seventy-five years now. After all that time, I’ve gotten pretty used to it. But at the moment my physical body dies, will I still be a Capricorn with an Aries Moon? That’s hard to answer – something of that imprint might survive in my post mortem consciousness for a while. But if we accept reincarnation, we know for sure that when I am reborn, I probably won’t be a Capricorn with an Aries Moon anymore. In other words, what reincarnates will not be my present personality.  Among people who are drawn to the idea of reincarnation, there is often a naíve attitude that “you” just come back again in a new body as if nothing had really changed. It’s obviously a lot more complicated than that. The reality is that “you” as a personality are truly dead and gone.

So what else are you besides your personality?

That brings us right back to our slippery question: what reincarnates? Your soul? Here in the western world, we often use that word. Buddhists generally don’t like it. That’s because they aren’t comfortable endorsing the idea of any kind of eternally separate individuality. Instead, they often refer to the mindstream.

In some ways, mindstream is a more rigorous concept. In other ways, I might say what’s the difference? For what it’s worth, I do use the word “soul” myself – but let me explain why “mindstream” works better when we’re wrestling with the profoundest kinds of metaphysical questions, as we are here.

At some undetermined point down the line, I won’t be a Capricorn with an Aries Moon any longer – but, for good or for ill, my mindstream will have been conditioned by all my experiences in this lifetime. In other words, something far bigger and more ancient than my personality will digest everything I’ve learned as Steven Forrest with his Capricorn Sun and his Aries Moon. It will all enter my mindstream. But underlying that immediate addition to my mindstream is another, deeper sedimentary layer – that’s all the accumulated impressions of my own prior lifetimes, digested and turned into feelings, attitudes, understandings . . . and errors, hurts, angers, and so on. My experiences as Steven Forrest will simply join that larger flow.

  • The mindstream is what reincarnates, not the personality – but underlying and shaping my future personality is that mindstream. Hopefully, as a result of being myself for all these years, it will be a little wiser and a little clearer.

Purifying that mindstream – teaching it love, not fear, generosity rather than grasping, acceptance, not aggression – is the purpose of life. Your present chart is just your particular current tack on those ancient, eternal challenges. It shows you where you’re stuck and exactly what you need to do to get free.

Think of it like a shirt you’re wearing. You may like it, but tomorrow you’ll take it off and put it in the wash. Personalities are like that. Mindstreams – or souls – are a lot more lasting.

Steven Forrest
September 2023