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Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia, a Sicilian Kabbalist born in Saragossa, Spain, in 1240, is considered one of the most colorful figures in Jewish mysticism. A foremost figure in ecstatic or prophetic, Kabbalism, Abulafia developed his own theory of Jewish mysticism. He sought a state of mystical union with God beyond the individual self. It is not surprising that this unconventional wandering prophet, apparently influenced by the Sufis during his travels, attracted quite a following.
This passionate prophet predicted the coming of the Messiah in 1295, then declared himself to be this very Messiah (messenger), calling himself the Son of God. Abuliafia’s rejection by the rabbis of his day did not, however, dampen his spirit and commitment. Seven hundred years before the establishment of the State of Israel, in 1280 this bold visionary addressed Pope Nicholas III in Rome to convince him of the unity of all religions and to request that the Jews be returned to their homeland. Thrown into prison and sentenced to death for his heresy, Abulafia survived and was set free after the sudden death of the pope. Never accepted by the traditional Jewish community, who refuted his audacious claims, Abulafia was exiled to the island of Malta, where he died in 1291.
Prophecy, in the eyes and heart of Abulafia, served as an expression of the love of God. Everyone who knew the name of God, according to Abulafia’s teachings, embodied the Holy Spirit and was beloved by God. It was the hunger and thirst for Divine wisdom that was capable of overcoming all earthly hindrances. To love God with all one’s heart, to recognize that all are created in God’s sacred image, to strive day and night to meditate on the Torah, and to understand that the sacred names, reflect the angels of all being sent to all those of pure devotion in order to raise them higher and higher: This was the message of Abulafia.
Abulafia offered an original technique designed to elevate the practitioner in the progressive stages of love in order to become beloved and delightful while on Earth. This method was based first on purification, then on contemplation of the letters of the name of God: YHWH. It was by constant meditation on these letters that Heaven could be attained.
Day, and especially night, Abulafia urged his disciples to detach all thoughts from the vanities of the world, to don white garments and a prayer shawl, and to partake of the gladness of the heart through deep introspection and concentration.
The combinations and permutations of the letters, undertaken with a warm heart filled with yearning for God, would then invoke the presence of the holy on high and of the exalted angels. The entire body, predicted Abulafia, would be seized with a trembling so powerful as to resemble a death rattle. Then the soul, overjoyed and filled with ecstasy, would instead be overcome with an influx of God’s spirit and love.
During the 1870s, as European-American settlers took over the land cultivated by the Paiute Indians in America’s West, a teenager called Wovoka worked for a family who renamed him Jack Wilson. Wovoka had been born around 1860 in western Nevada, where his father was a “medicine man” healer and spiritual leader. Although he joined the settler’s family in Christian worship, Wovoka refused to forgo his Paiute heritage.
An eclipse of the sun occurred on New Year’s Day 1889, and Wovoka prayed for the restoration of his people’s world. He fell unconscious, and believed God then instructed him to lead the Indians in a “clean, honest life.” They must work for the Americans but retain their own faith, and worship with song and a joyous circling dance.
Wokova began preaching his doctrine of peaceful coexistence and personal morality. It was said that if enough Indians prayed and danced together, the invaders would disappear, buffalo would cover the land again, and all their people recently dead from epidemics and battles would come back to life. This last hope gave the name “Ghost Dance” to the religious movement. Word of Wovoka’s revelation spread quickly among Indians all over western North America.
The notion of dancing Indians sweeping invaders off the earth unnerved the authorities, who feared a rebellion, particularly by the Sioux who had defeated Custer’s troops 14 years earlier. Government agents ordered Sioux leaders to surrender. At Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota, on December 29, 1890, a fight broke out between inexperienced US soldiers and resentful Sioux. The soldiers fired into tepees, killing well over 200 men, women and children.
After the Wounded Knee massacre – the last military action against American Indians – Wovoka continued to teach that the ancestral religions of the diverse North American Indians were good. He was spiritual leader to thousands of Indians in his home valley and beyond. When he died in 1932, an earthquake around the holy Mount Grant of the Paiutes signified to them that Wovoka’s soul had arrived in heaven.
Has Warnasiri Adikari lived more than once? Warnasiri was born in a village in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) about 30 kilometers from Colombo on November 9, 1957. At the age of four the boy began telling his father about a former life. In 1962 Francis Story, who was a lecturer on Buddhist philosophy, invited Professor Ian Stevenson, a well-known American researcher into reincarnation, to investigate.
When the boy met the two men he gave them details about the former life, including the village where he had lived – Kimbulgoda, 10 kilometers from his home at the time. His family never went to this village, nor did they know anyone there. But the child’s story reached Kimbulgoda. A Mrs Ranaweera recognized some of his memories as experiences of her son Ananda Mahipala, who had died suddenly on October 26, 1956. When Warnasiri eventually visited Kimbulgoda, he immediately located the place where he had lived, although the house had been torn down. He also picked out his former mother amongst a crowd of women, but could not identify his former sisters.
Reincarnation, the concept that humans are reborn again and again, is a centuries-old belief found throughout the world. The ancient Egyptians made elaborate preparations to free the soul after death and allow its rebirth. The ancient Greeks believed in many life cycles, and indigenous peoples in Africa, Australasia and the Americas have all subscribed to reincarnation in some form. The idea of continual rebirth is a central tenet of Hinduism and Buddhism.
During the Twentieth century the idea of reincarnation has taken hold in Western societies. A 1981 Gallup poll showed that 21 per cent of American Protestants and 25 per cent of Catholics believed in reincarnation. In 1979 survey in Britain found that 28 per cent believed. Views have been influenced by the spread of Eastern religious thinking as well as direct experiences that seem best explained by reincarnation.
Direct experiences may be either spontaneous or induced by age regression under hypnosis. The most thorough research on spontaneous memories has been conducted by Professor Stevenson at the University of Virginia – he has more than 2,000 cases on file. Typically, like Warnasiri Adikari, a young child will make statements about a previous life, man of which can be verified. The child may show behavioral characteristics of the former personality and may recognize the person’s belongings. Stevenson’s research even ties memories to birthmarks and birth defects associated with the past life.
Hypnotic regression has become popular since 1980 for its therapeutic purposes. Patients suffering allergies, phobias or nightmares seek cures by retracing memory to find the sources of their problems. Dr Denys Kelsey, a British psychiatrist who has worked with hypnosis since the 1950s, treated one patient with a phobia of flying, which was traced back to a German pilot killed in a raid over Britain. In “reliving” the incident, the patient made an immediate and permanent recovery.
A case involving both spontaneous and hypnotic memories was reported in Yesterday’s Children by Jenny Cockell in 1993. The patient remembered being Mary, a young Irishwoman who died in the 1930s. She identified the village where Mary had lived, and traced some of Mary’s children. She got their names wrong, but Mary’s eldest son was astonished when she remembered an incident about snaring a hare, which had stuck in his own memory from the age of six.
One explanation offered for hypnotic memories is cryptomnesia, or hidden memory, whereby a person recalls details of a book or film without conscious awareness of it. But this cannot apply to children who remember events before they can read. Other theories attribute past-life memories to spirit possession, multiple personality disorders caused by physical or mental trauma, ESP or a hypnotist’s power of suggestion.