Friday, April 22, 2011

S is for Santorini

When I was a very small child, I was surprised to learn that people didn't remember where they had been before this lifetime.  From my earliest memories as a very young child, I clearly remember being a potter, having served as a soldier in the first World War, and have scattered memories from different places and times.  The whole concept seemed completely natural to me.  Imagine you're an instant away from coming into this lifetime.  Where are you in that moment?  How did you get there?  Where were you before that?  To me, life always seemed like a great adventure, like standing on a cliff above a swimming hole on a hot summer's day, ready to take the leap and spend some time with friends before having to go home again when the day drew to an end.

Back in the summer of 2005, I was a single dad with two kids - my daughter, Moira, and my son Gavin.  We had a family tradition where, once the warm summer weather appeared, Gavin, Moira and I would go for nightly walks together under the stars. The three of us would walk and talk, normally discussing science, focusing primarily on astronomy but occasionally drifting into biology and paleontology as well. On this particular night as we walked through the darkness, we discussed the phases of the moon and how they are made by earth's shadow, talked about asteroids and how they most likely brought about the end of the dinosaurs, and we considered the rotation of the earth and how it turns day into night.

And then the kids wanted to talk about God.

It's strangely normal in my world to discuss theology with two small children. Our conversation began with the nature of God, moved on to death and the afterlife, and considered whether there's a placed called Hell or if everyone goes to Heaven. Moira, who was six years old at the time, tried to initiate a thread of conversation regarding how our beliefs manifest our reality, but the concept was still being born within her and wasn't quite ready to be let out into the night air. I've never pushed my own beliefs on them, but instead I encourage them to find their own way. Even today, when Moira brings up the beliefs her classmates share with her, I remind her that it's okay for everyone to believe something different and encourage her to simply, "believe what's in your heart"

It was at this moment that the then four year old Gavin, who was riding on my shoulders, piped up. "Do you know what I believe? I believe that when you die you can come back again as a baby and begin a new life."

Both of the children leapt enthusiastically into the topic. They shared that this was their first lifetime and that they both felt they would come back again.  They talked about what they were doing before they were born, that they knew each other in Heaven, and the places they went and the things that they did while they were there.  Each not only agreed with the other, but would enthusiastically build on the other's memories, adding, "And do you remember this?"  They'd either immediately agree or would gently correct the other - and the other would accept the correction and concur with the change as if it was simply, "Oh yeah, you're right!"

But that wasn't the interesting part.

Long before either child was conceived, back when I was studying shamanism with Nukah, Gavin came to me while I was meditating.  The sudden appearance of his spirit caught me completely off guard.  He wanted to thank me for taking the steps necessary for him to be born and for me to become his father although he wouldn't be born for a few more years.

However, his sister, Moira, ended up being born eighteen months before her brother.

As we walked under the stars, Gavin (who had no idea about his before-being-born visit) suddenly announced, "You know what's not fair? Moira cut in line and was born first."

Laughing, Moira replied. "That's right. Gavin was playing in Heaven and I didn't want to wait anymore."

"It made me angry," Gavin stated with a serious tone. "I wanted to be born first but she got in front of me. It's not fair."

There was actually some tension in the air. I think Moira was a little shocked that her brother was so passionate about the issue and Gavin was actually pretty unhappy about the situation. It's not every family where the children's number one issue is pre-incarnation sibling rivalry and disputes as to which one of them should have entered this lifetime before the other. They play together extremely well and we have long established a paradigm where they talk through their issues before they grow into problems, usually working through whatever difficulty appears in their world without my intervention. It was unusual to see either of them so worked up about anything, let alone Gavin's accusations that his sister "cut in line" and was born before him.  Things settled down pretty quickly and the conversation turned back to the sky above us.

This conversation with my children got me thinking about my own past life memories. 

In one of my favorite past lives, I was a potter. The key memory is a simple one. I was painting a vessel when I decided to stop fighting the fading light in my first floor workshop (our home was upstairs). Rather than lighting an oil lamp, I carried the vessel to the front threshold of my home. I could see the streets, the architecture of the buildings around me, and the body of water that lay a distance to my left. As I prepared to finish painting the vessel, the woman I shared my life with came up from behind me where I sat in my doorway, pressed herself against my back as she wrapped her arms around me from behind, and together we looked out on the calm waters as she lay her cheek next to mine.

There are other memories of that lifetime. People who purchased the vessels. Vague memories of a marketplace, of friends and loved ones. Amidst the fainter memories of that lifetime is a darkness, either the dead of night or something blocking out the sun. Soot, either from smoke or volcanic fallout blackens the air. There are screams, people being piled into boats that were filled to their limits, tears and wails as lovers and families were separated.

The interesting concept behind this particular lifetime is pretty evident if you're something of a skeptic. I've seen the architecture and landscape of the city. There was a major disaster of some type that required a mass evacuation. And I was a potter. Pottery is one of the key elements used to date any civilization.  If my memories were something more than a weird quirk of a young child's mind, I should be able to identify where and when the past life took place.

As much as we are open to the mystical, traditional shaman's approach such topics in a very grounded manner and cautious manner.  After all, we're taught in our own training that our techniques need to consistently work.  That doesn't offer much room to engage in flights of fancy.  We're very open to possibility - but let's do our best to prove it.

The first place I began was with the pottery. In the key memory, I was working on a specific piece, carrying it outside to finish painting it. I had a sense that at least a portion of the vessels that I made were used for ritual libations (pouring out offerings of liquids), so whatever culture mirrored the pottery that I remembered would also need to have an established tradition in their ancient religion. To complicate matters, in some of the more vague memories, I remember different shaped vessels, so I wouldn't need to merely match one type of pottery, but at least two - and those pieces would need to be from the same culture and the same time period.

Upon searching several online archives of ancient pottery, I found a perfect match for the piece in one of the vague memories and a very close match for the piece in the key memory from the lifetime. They were both Minoan, a civilization that dominated the island of Crete, just south of Greece. The first piece is very similar to my own artistic style and features one of my favorite birds, the swallow. I've always enjoyed watching barn swallows acrobatically swooping through the air and they are commonly depicted in Minoan pottery. The second vessel is very similar to the ewer I was working on in the memory; its mouth is slightly different and I was painting it with a different design. To make things much easier, both pieces were from the city of Akrotiri on the island of Thera and from the same archaeological period, somewhere between 1700 BCE and 1450 BCE.

The next step was to see if the Minoan culture actually used ritual libations in their religious practices. After all, what good is a match on the pottery, if there is no historical evidence to support the memory that at least a portion of the vessels I crafted were used for ritual libations?

The answer came from Dartmouth University's "Prehistoric Archaeology of the Aegean." In "Lesson 15: Minoan Religion" the text references libations, libation tables or libation jugs multiple times. It also cites a 1974 text ("The Ayia Triadha Sarcophagus") which offers an interpretation of a scene painted on lime plaster applied over a limestone chest (pictured below.) "The pouring scene represents the mixing of liquids, probably wine and water, in a krater (bowl) in honor of a goddess or goddesses symbolized by the double axes mounted on either side of the krater. The birds perched on the double axes probably indicate the arrival of the deity(-ies) and have been summoned by the music of the lyre."

What's more is that there are theories that not only were the beliefs of the Minoan people very nature oriented, but they worshipped a goddess and a god (or goddesses and gods) specifically tied to nature. Stanford University's Archaeopaedia entry on the Minoan religion states, "The most important shrines appear to be cave and open-air peak shrines, set away from settlements, although religious activities were also carried out both in small household shrines and at tombs. " These are the two places where I almost exclusively do my shamanic work in this lifetime, in fact I've been doing more and more ritual work in a sea cave that I adopted earlier this year. If I'm not in the cave or on a mountain peak, I'm usually doing my ritual work at home. What's more is that Minoan religious activities seem to mirror many of my own practices in this lifetime, a path where I learned the majority of my approaches by instinct, working alone in the wilderness.

The next step, after having narrowing the lifetime to the Minoan culture based on the pottery and its uses, was to find architecture and a geographical location that matched my memories of my home from that lifetime. The University of British Columbia has an excellent "archive of archives" called Ferret that has approximately 500 photographs of archaeological digs in their Minoan Collection. After sifting through the pictures of multiple sites, including Katos Zarkos, Kommos and Pseira, I found a nearly perfect match on the island of Thera (now called Santorini), specifically the Late Minoan city of Akrotiri - the same place where the identifying pottery was found.

In my core memory, I took the pot to the threshold of my home and sat down to work on it. In the Ferret archives I found photographs of exactly the type of threshold that I sat on when I left the darkened interior of my home. What's more is that I lived in a two-story dwelling and I had no idea if this type of architecture even existed during that period of history. In photographs of the Akrotiri dig, I encountered street after street filled with multistory buildings. These were actual residences, not some other structure. Christos Doumas, Director of Excavations at Akrotiri wrote, "The houses, two- and three-storyed, were built of the material available in abundance on the island, small irregular stones and mortar of mud frequently mixed with straw. " What's more is that my workshop occupied the first floor and my living quarters were upstairs. Mr. Doumas described exactly this scenario in "Santorini, A Guide to the Island and Its Archaeological Treasures." He wrote, "On the ground floor there were workshops and store rooms mainly for foodstuffs... The residential apartments were situated in the upper storeys."

One of the things that had concerned me from the moment that I zeroed in on Akrotiri was the fact that most of the archaeological photographs showed vividly painted walls, but my memories of the my workshop (on the first floor) had unadorned walls. Mr. Doumas writes, "The apartments of the upper storeys were flooded with light through large windows. It is mainly in these rooms that the wall-paintings have been found." So even my memories of the workshop walls being unpainted seem to match-up perfectly with the structures at Akrotiri.

As I continued to dig through the archaeological materials, one memory after another was validated. The construction materials used in the buildings were as I remembered them. Each home had a mill for the grinding of grains (I have a large one of my own in my home now that I have a strong sentimental attachment to and prefer to employ a mortar and pestle in the kitchen rather than a food processor.)

The streets that I remember weren't straight or necessarily well-planned out (unlike most Minoan settlements), but were winding and seemed to work their way around larger buildings. Mr. Doumas wrote, "The system of town planning, in so far as it can be traced from the area which has been excavated to date, is more reminiscent of that of the present-day villages of Santorini than of the plan of the Minoan palatial structures. Narrow winding streets traverse the town, circumventing large building complexes. "

As I dug through the archaeological evidence, I found streets very similar to those that I remember walking down in a lifetime almost 4,000 years ago. I kept getting more and more excited as each strangely familiar photograph appeared on my computer monitor. I could suddenly remember sounds, smells, and voices in a language that seemed both familiar and foreign to me. A city with an approximate population of 30,000 people suddenly came alive after having lain silent for thousands of years.

And then, in the midst of one of the archives, I found an artist's depiction of the eruption of Thera. The sky was dark with ash. Boats filled with evacuees fled the seaside city. I stared in half-remembered horror as the feelings of that night came back to me.

It turns out that the eruption of Thera was one of the largest the earth has seen in the last 10,000 years. What's more is that it buried the city of Akrotiri and occurred during the same period that my pottery has been dated to. The eruption radically altered the shape of the island, caused a massive tsunami, and so severely altered the world's climate that at least five consecutive crops failed in China. Three to six feet of ash fell on the city of Akrotiri. No bodies have ever been found, unlike those found preserved in the ash at Vesuvius, insinuating that the population was able to escape. Almost no metal items or portable objects have been found on the island, lending further credibility to this theory. However, according to a BBC report, "Akrotiri's chief archaeologist, Christos Doumas, believes the people of Akrotiri didn't survive, and that the bodies are still to be uncovered, huddled at the harbour where they were trapped by the eruption as they waited to escape. He believes it's highly unlikely that scores of boats were waiting in the harbour to save them."

If memory serves, the vast majority of the population was able to escape. While some bodies may be found, it will not be the full 30,000 inhabitants of the city of Akrotiri. The woman that shared my life with me was loaded on the boats. We both knew that there was no more room on the boats, that those of us left behind had very little hope of escape. I guess we'll have to await the excavation of the rest of the island to know for sure.


  1. Beautiful. At times I wonder about my past lives and other times I do not. I know that any experiences and lessons from those past lives are with me and I draw on them when needed.

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. @Raven What's funny is that, for all intents and purposes, reincarnation should be a part of Christianity. Judaism actually embraces the belief.

    Here's a short excerpt from a non-fiction book I'm working on...

    Rabbi Yaakov Feldman of Project Genesis writes, "Many don't realize that reincarnation is a factor in the Jewish Tradition, but it certainly is. It's not cited as frequently or as openly as the belief in the vital role each one of us has in life, or the belief in the Afterlife. Nonetheless reincarnation is certainly a part of our Tradition. We grant you Judaism doesn't tout reincarnation as much as other religions do, which leads others to assume we don't believe in it. But not a lot is made of reincarnation because there's the concern that if we depend on it, we won't extend ourselves in our efforts for spiritual growth right here and now, since we can always 'come back and try again.'"

  3. This, and the other times that reality has folded.. are some of my favorites. I especially like seeing these points of interst from different POV... and count myself fortunate to have been reading your work for a while. As always, thank you.

  4. Thank you for sharing Jeffrey. I have memories like that as well. I look forward to sharing them too. Your memory and research into it reminded me of one of mine.

    I have a memory of standing on a beach, watching a tsunami come in, knowing that there wasn't anything I could do about it. I stood facing disaster in the arms of the man I loved. We were calm but there was a great sadness as well. I remember that we couldn't escape.

  5. @Wendy: Thank you! Just pluggin' along and trying to take care of sickies on this end. There's much more to come. :)

    @Kelly: I can feel the emotion behind your memory. Thank you very much for sharing.

  6. I think it's fantastic that you've raised your children to be so wise and open to spirituality. I hope I manage half as well with my own.

    Doing research to date past life memories is intriguing. Not something I'd have thought of, but wow.

  7. @Paul My thought is, "If this is real, then you should be able to support it." In the bigger scheme of things this one was easy simply because of the architecture and pottery involved in it.

    One of the things I used with the kids was what I referred to as "The God Box." It was a large cardboard replica of a child's building block with pictures of different animals on each side. When they first started asking about God, I explained that we all see God differently. Enter "The Box." When you look at it, you might see a horse from where you're standing but I see a dog where I'm standing - yet we're both looking at the same box. I think that validation went a long way toward encouraging them to listen to their own heart and figure out what they believe for themselves. The rest just naturally comes out of that. :)

  8. I agree that your children are very lucky to be encouraged to explore life in the way you've shown them, and to talk freely of their instincts of a fore-life. What an amazing account, too, of your tracking down the date and place of your Potters world. I imagine it must have been quite an emotional journey, and thank you for sharing it.

  9. @Karla Thank you! (And you're welcome.) I think the big thing is that no one in our family pretends we have all the answers. Instead, we present as a mystery that only you can unravel. In all honesty, I don't know how else to present spirituality to anyone regardless of their age. lol

  10. I really enjoy that fact that you share your family stories with us. I really do believe that I have lived past lives. I know of only one and have been told there are others!! Great thoughts about this I love it!! :)

  11. Of all the posts I have read during the A-Z Challenge, I think this is the one which will stick in my mind, Jeffrey. A truly fascinating post, first about your children's ideas about pre-life, and then your research about your pottery. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  13. Great post - I love the research aspect and also the parent-child conversations.

    I'm wondering, for those of us who do not have memories of past lives, do you think it's beneficial to do a "regression" session with a guide? Do you think we do not know our past for a good reason, or is it only ignorance that can or should be remedied?

  14. @Paula Thank you. :) As open as I am to the "mystical" side of life, I always want to know the backstory. Being able to track down the pottery and architecture and watching the pieces fall into place was a treat. I'm really glad you enjoyed the post. :)

  15. @Hawthorne I'm always cautious about regressions, not for anything to do with the experience itself, but because of the guide. I've watched recordings where the guide unintentionally led the person being regressed to conclusions...

    Guide: "Does the place you're in look like 14th century Paris or another place?"

    Person: " DOES look like 14th century Paris."

    It takes a great deal of discipline on the part of the guide to simply provide a blank canvas for the person being regressed while guiding them to the place where the person is connecting with such experiences.

    As far as the "good idea" angle, I think it's up to each individual. I take the "Chocolate Chip Cookie" approach to such things: If you're drawn toward it, give it a try; if not, don't. :)

  16. Thanks for the reply - now I know what to look out for. As it happens, someone came over today who used to do a fair number regressions and she seemed to really want to try it with me, so I guess the universe is saying "go for it."