The Return of Souls – A Science Fiction Theme

“I believe we don’t stay dead long”, said Robert Forbisher, a talented composer created by David Mitchell for his epic novel, “Cloud Atlas”.

cloud-atlas

I recently watched for the second time the complex and potentially disturbing movie adaptation of “Cloud Atlas”. The first time I watched it I simply held on for the ride, trying to make sense of the action and changing plots and characters. On second viewing, it was still a page turner, so to speak.

During my second viewing I noticed, apparently for the first time, that short sentence uttered by Robert Forbisher; “We don’t stay dead long”. It was an introspective comment in a letter directed to his lover, and pretty much summed up the entire movie.

In spite of the perplexing current interest in a zombie apocalypse, the “Cloud Atlas” book and film is not about the undead. It’s about reincarnation.

In my opinion there are two themes in science fiction that make for almost limitless possibilities — time travel and reincarnation.  “Cloud Atlas” uses the latter theme as a platform for topics far more meaningful than the tired theme of man meets giant worm, worm eats man, man’s friend kills worm, and so on. Regardless of what I or anyone else thinks about souls or reincarnation, they do make for interesting theater.

Another bit of narration from the movie, this time from Zachry Bailey (played by Tom Hanks) struck a chord with me for it accurately reflected a seriocomic theme in one of my previous posts, Conversation with a Cloud.

In Bailey’s words, “Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies, an’ tho’ a cloud’s shape nor hue nor size don’t stay the same, it’s still a cloud an’ so is a soul. Who can say where the cloud’s blowed from or who the soul’ll be ‘morrow?”

In my own less artful words, quoting a sentient and telepathic cloud that knows it will die at the end of the day, “I am not a cloud. I am moisture. A cloud is my physical appearance, but that changes throughout my life. And regardless of how I look, what I am, vapor, still exists.” 

Fire in the skyIf we accept that almost all religions propose the survival of a soul after death, then the essential question raised by David Mitchell’s story is whether or not an eternal soul is granted only one chance to incarnate.

If you accept the concept of a soul, then you may accept the concept of a God who created  souls. And I would be a very presumptuous man to decide what God would or would not do with one of his creations throughout an eternity of time, an eternity that I cannot even imagine.

Unfortunately, there is no data with which to debate the return of souls. That is, there isn’t if you ignore what seems to be documented anecdotal accounts such as a recent one involving a three-year old Druze boy who seemingly identified his murderer, with supposedly witnessed proof of the crime.

That story, and others like it, make for interesting and mind challenging reading for those steeped in western religion, like myself. As I understand it, in Eastern and Middle Eastern regions such stories are rather commonplace.

Of course the story of the Druze three-year old could be fictitious, an elaborate deception. Regardless of the truth of the existence of souls, and soul mates (a currently popular meme with a subtle assumption of reincarnation) there is a literary aspect to consider. To state the obvious, fiction does not have to be true to be entertaining.

If I were capable of writing a sequel to “Cloud Atlas”, (which I am not), I would be unable to resist adding Karma to the mix. The notion that you get what you deserve, in this life or the next, is simply too enticing to ignore, whether it be truth or fantasy.

For instance, suppose a chapter in a sequel covered the life of Jack the Ripper, of both historical infamy, and future infamy; except in the future, his would-be victims are packing heat (carrying a gun). Jack’s story of infamy would end abruptly.

Based on such a karmic premise, the literary possibilities are endless. With the proper writer in control, they could also prove endlessly entertaining.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Searching for Native American Roots

A few years ago I sat next to a half Native American woman at a family Thanksgiving dinner. Among our conversation topics was reincarnation; she believed in it, strongly. That interested me enough to do a little research, whereupon I discovered a book called  “Amerindian Rebirth: Reincarnation Belief Among North American Indians and Inuit.” It was published in 1994 by the University of Toronto Press, edited by two anthropologists, Antonia Mills and Richard Slobodin.

I had no idea that American Indians ever believed in reincarnation.

Shortly after that discovery, I began work on the manuscript for a science fiction novel that includes segments on the Osage Tribe in Oklahoma. The Osage were originally from the Missouri River valley, later “relocated” to Oklahoma, close to the location of the Cherokee Nation.

One of my first discoveries on the Internet was a set of historic photos in various archives. Two of them, immediately below, struck me as being particularly noteworthy.

Click for a larger image.
Click for a larger image.

The first photo of a young Osage mother with a child (pappoose) on her back continues to hold my attention. Although the mother is only in profile, the way her baby is looking toward the photographer is particularly fetching.

As I studied the mother’s face, I realized that she had what I perceived to be, in my ignorance, a European appearance. Her cheekbones were high, her nose appeared slim and her face looked silky smooth, showing none of the effects of the rigorous native lifestyle I would have expected. Her skin tone, her clothing, and the manner in which she carried her child were the only signs that identified her as Osage. Her overall appearance was one of lustrous youth. The second photo also showed a young mother; and I would guess the ages of both girls as no more than sixteen.

As I write this, I remember that I used to call my two young children “pappoosem”. I don’t know why, but it was obviously a term of endearment.

A Cherokee in Osage Country

My interest in the Osage compelled me to travel last year to Pawhuska, OK, the seat of the Osage Nation. My only disappointment was that there appeared to be no Osage in town, at least on the weekend.

The Osage aren’t mentioned in “Amerindian Rebirth”, but many closely located tribes are, like the Ponca, even the Seminole. They’re both tribes on reservations near the Osage Nation, although presumably they’re not closely related, genetically. And to be fair, once the Tribes became Christians, many of their former beliefs became hidden.

Now, as my family of descendents is enlarging, my daughter and I are searching for possible Native American relatives. Both my granddaughters are reputed to have relatively close genetic ties to various tribes, one being Cherokee, and the other from an unknown tribe from the North.

Even my wife’s family has an oral tradition, on the female side, of a Georgian who married a Cherokee Princess. I am dubious of that claim, since my genealogical research has so far turned up nothing. And besides, I suspect Cherokee Princesses were few and far between back in the 1700s, when my wife’s relatives were in contact with the Cherokee.

But we’re still looking.