Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Past lives

This is interesting: Erlendur Haraldsson, 'Children who speak of past-life experiences: Is there a psychological explanation?' [Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory Research and Practice (2003) 76 1: 55-67]. Short answer: yes, maybe, in some cases, trauma's-a-funny-thing. Worth reading, though (the link is to a pdf).
Is it their alleged memories [of past lives] that they speak so much about when they are quite young, or is this daydreaming of a pleasant, compensatory type? As most of them speak of remembering going through a violent death in the past-life, the daydreams of the former type are unlikely to be of a wish-fulfilling or compensating nature, as is implied in the rich fantasy hypothesis.
This, though, seems to me to rest upon a too-narrow understanding of what might function as ‘wish-fulfilment or compensation’ in the context of a child’s fantasy life. When I was quite young, I had persistent ‘flashbacks’ to myself in military uniform being shot three times through the chest. I wouldn’t say this was entirely a comfortable fantasy (it felt to me like something that had already happened; although obviously it hadn’t)—but it was, on some level, exciting. Don’t kids play at shooting and being shot all the time? Indeed, whilst pointing your finger and shouting bang-bang may be fun, dying melodramatically in writhing coils clutching your own torso and yelling ‘arrgh!’ is even more fun. This has to do, I suppose, with intensity rather than actual trauma; with testing (in terms of fantasy, only) the limits of the body, playing to destruction, positioning yourself at the centre of a more interesting narrative and, more obscurely, starting to think about death.

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