"Be very wary when people tell you you're suffering for a reason."
— Ray Brassier
I've always been deeply uncomfortable with the idea of reincarnation. I never liked the popular belief that Earth is a school, where everyone is here to learn and suffering is the best fertilizer for spiritual growth. To me, it's always seemed cruel and merciless, but few appear to have an issue with this supposedly natural, so-called "divine" order of things.
The idea that reincarnation is for our spiritual development is an almost exclusively Western notion. Buddhism in its most traditional form, for example, is ultimately about escaping the cycle of suffering that existence guarantees. The Buddha viewed personhood as a problem and rebirth a tragedy that needed to be ended. He didn't even believe in souls, but the regeneration of matter. That's the difference between rebirth and reincarnation: one means there's an eternal soul that passes from incarnation to incarnation, whereas the other is simply the re-emergence of consciousness.
What exactly do so many people find appealing about reincarnation? If you add up the statistics, acknowledging that we live in a largely corporate-friendly, capitalistic world that will keep benefitting a small elite at the expense of the people and the environment, chances are your next life won't be one of good health and happiness, but struggle and disease and heartache that follow you to your death bed. You're far more likely to be born into poverty with ailments that plague you for life than abundance and freedom.
Yet, most believers will deny this. They insist that, because there are things we don't and won't understand, reincarnation is necessary and natural. Therefore, it must be good. The universe wouldn't allow any corrupt, nonhuman-run system to exist, would it?
Some believe reincarnation is a trap. The most popular theory goes that souls are an energetic food source for alien entities, usually called "Archons," that deceive us into reincarnating here so they may feed on our emotional energies. Robert Monroe, author of Far Journeys, mentions having encountered similar beings feeding on "loosh" during an out-of-body experience.
When I discovered this conspiracy theory many moons ago, I felt as if everything had fallen into place. Finally, I understood why I was actually here and why we were made to forget our past lives. For someone who never felt "at home" on Earth, who longed to return to bits and pieces of memories from elsewhere, and who could not find it in herself to justify so much suffering, it all made perfect sense.
I would've called myself a gnostic had I known about gnosticism at the time. Gnostics believe this universe was created by an amoral demiurge and we are its playthings, and the only way out is through death, the moment when the soul is supposed to be free to escape. With arcane knowledge gleaned from states of gnosis, you would be guaranteed to break out of here and never have to return.
At least, that's what gnostics believe. Me? I think it's all a little more complicated, but the reality is nonetheless quite grim.
It seems as though the vast majority of humans cannot function without some kind of "higher" order, no matter how oppressive it may be. This is why many Christians make excuses for an apparently hateful deity that condemns its creations to eternal fire for mostly trivial reasons. This is why New Agers, among others, romanticize suffering and reincarnation and essentially blame the victim for their circumstances. Humans are afraid of living in a chaotic, indifferent universe devoid of meaning and will go to horrifying lengths to deny it.
As an otherkin who recalls a place without reincarnation and involuntary death, I've always felt as if I had stumbled into (or been condemned to) a sort of backwards universe. Entropy reigns supreme here and humans, a species that has proven to be generally ill-suited to a world with finite resources and a delicate ecosystem such as Earth, tend to look to gods in hopes that they will be spared of death and insignificance. I don't think all gods are bad. I also don't think they're the only ones pulling the strings.
Every living thing, matter and spirit, is wired for survival. Matter feeds on matter. Spirit feeds on spirit. The gods demand offerings because worship helps sustain them. What is a god without devotees? In some forms of polytheism, inflicting punishment on the gods was possible by ceasing to worship them. Lesser spirits, too, seek offerings as well as places and people with certain energies. Spirits can also “die” and be recycled into the aether, just as bodies of flesh and blood return to the ecosystem after they’ve expired. It’s safe (albeit unfortunate) to say that the circle of life includes the spiritual.
I believe Robert Monroe had glimpsed a very unpleasant half-truth. Any spirit worker worth their salt knows that this world is creeping with trickster spirits looking for a free meal, or even to get their sociopathic rocks off. What better way to persuade us to go into the light and keep reincarnating than to masquerade as our allies, disguising themselves as angels or loved ones? Humans are suckers for things that look, sound, and feel nice. Another lifetime of struggle and suffering seems like a breeze when you’re on the outside looking in through rose-colored glasses, convinced that your soul needs the experience to evolve because you were told it did by something supposedly more enlightened than yourself.
Why are these beings drawn to us? What’s so special about humans? Nothing inherently, in my opinion, but there is a clue: we have bodies and spirits do not. We are spirit and matter, and so we have the power to interact with both worlds. We have a rich set of experiences at our fingertips that can sustain us physically as well as spiritually. Human bodies are more enviable than you think.
Now, I am not a Mormon, let alone religious, but there can be gems of truth in even the wackiest ideologies. Mormon scripture describes postmortal spirits by saying, “The dead had looked upon the long absence of their spirits from their bodies as a bondage.” Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, also said, “All beings who have bodies have power over those who have not.” If you ask me, these are telling insights into the nature of spirits that explain why humans, especially those who interact with the spirit world, are sought after.
Is reincarnation a process that is always orchestrated by greedy spirits? I used to think so, but after further study I’ve concluded there's more nuance. For starters the soul is, at least in my opinion, not necessarily something you’re born with, but something that needs to be cultivated if you wish to preserve some remnant of your current identity and memories. Spirit workers such as traditional witches, for example, cultivate their souls by making pacts and connections with spirits. Dedicating oneself to a god is another one-way ticket to salvation. The catch to these seemingly safer exits is that you must sacrifice a certain amount of personal freedom if you want to endure physical death. Truly, nothing in life is free.
What is the point of reincarnation, then? Do we not learn anything from our incarnations? Well, no, because we don’t remember them, and if we do, they're only bits and pieces unless we attempt past life regression meditations, which may or may not result in the creation of false memories. The purpose of reincarnating seems to be to based in the survival of the soul rather than growth. For those who have nowhere else to go if they wish to continue on, reincarnation isn’t a trap, but a last resort.