Previous Life Memories, Discourses, and the Construction of Identities
Edited By Gebhard Fartacek
This book follows the journey of Druze individuals who can remember their former lives and go on search for their previous families. For the Druze, an ethno-religious minority in the Middle East split between different nation-states, such cases and related discourses embody ambivalent bridges between personal, familial, and ethnic identities.
The contributions in this book, presented by Eléonore Armanet, Nour Farra Haddad, Gebhard Fartacek, Tobias Lang, Lorenz Nigst, and Salma Samaha, draw on ethnographic inquiries and illuminate the broad field of Druze conceptions of rebirth and group coherence against the backdrop of everyday challenges and recent conflicts in the Middle East and beyond.
The Different Appearance of the Identical: Some Thoughts About How the Druze Discourse on Transmigration Connects Lives (Lorenz Nigst)
The Different Appearance of the Identical: Some Thoughts About How the Druze Discourse on Transmigration Connects Lives
J’ay remarqué une chose que quelque pauvre qu’on soit, on laisse toujours quelque chose en mourant.2
Blaise Pascal, Pensées
In the Druze3 communities of the Middle East, like in any other society, people are born, live and die. The Druze perspective on life and death differs from that of other groups insofar as they generally believe in the transmigration of human souls or reincarnation, which is commonly referred to as taqammuṣ.4 More specifically, Druze assert that a person’s soul (rūḥ, pl. arwāḥ),5 at the moment of his or her death, moves into the body of a newborn, where it lives on as a different human being.6 The individual souls thus complete not one but successive sojourns in this world, with each individual life corresponding to only one life-circuit (dawr or jīl)7 of a soul that was preceded, and will be succeeded, ←73 | 74→by innumerable other life-circuits. From the Druze perspective, manifesting in a different form in each of its life-circuits, an identical soul thus “is” someone now, “was” others in the past and “will be” yet more others in the future. The person who is alive as a soul’s current manifestation is dead as the soul’s previous manifestation; the person who corresponds to a living member of one group as the soul’s current manifestation is another dead member of another group. There is thus an objective relation between the successive, transient human beings as whom an individual soul completes its life-circuits. Their lives somehow are “connected”.
The Druze discourse on taqammuṣ, in all of its complexity, rotates around that perception. Druze have their ideas with regard to these connections, including the reasons why the soul transmigrates to a particular body (divine justice) or from where to where it migrates (within the confinements of the confessional and gender group). But many people have more or less personal experiences of transmigration, notoriously, in the form of concrete cases of “speaking” (nuṭq). Children are mostly the ones to “speak” (naṭaqa) about a previous life as someone else who as a rule passed away “too soon”, typically through accidents, lethal injuries, disease or murder. The “speaking” individual may “retake” his or her “previous-life” place in another family. In these cases, the continuous disappearance of individuals that “are” the soul in each of its successive life-circuits plays out as a double presence – through “speaking”, an individual lost to death in a sense “returns” (see also Nigst 2019b). Cases of “speaking” are about living the connection (or in some cases, the fear thereof or the frustration of not being able to do so). Inevitably, they generate not only unique opportunities but also difficulties, such as reconciling someone’s presence as both a living and a dead person. But such cases are crucial: When talked about and circulated, they feed back into and corroborate the general ideas about taqammuṣ and its functioning (see Nigst 2019b).
The Druze ideas of what taqammuṣ is constitutes the backdrop against which cases of “speaking” children make sense. Taqammuṣ is an abstract and quasi-theoretical assertion (Bouveresse 2007: 233) or set of assertions regarding what transmigration is, how it works and which purpose it fulfils. In contrast to this assertion is the experience of reality it lays claim to, which logically is the experience of human beings situated in (social) space and time.8 ←74 | 75→If life-circuit follows life-circuit, from the human perspective, the full line of these life-circuits is never visible and can never be overlooked in its entirety. Only when someone claims to remember a previous life is a small section of that line thought to become accessible.
If one were to write a biography of each of the human beings as which a soul manifests, one would state who they are, that is, one would touch upon their personal and social identity; one would gather memories of them and recount what they did and what happened to them, and so forth. The more abstract the discourse on transmigration, the more all of this recedes into the background. Conversely, the more, through “speaking”, the focus is on particular and contingent lives, the more questions of personal identity, personal memories, etc. take the centre stage. Thus, in Druze discourse, transmigration of souls brings lives into relation from a complex mixture of human and non-human perspectives; it encompasses both thoughts about no-one in particular and reports about particular instances of “speaking” and human beings.
Taqammuṣ as a set of abstract assertions
Druze discourse breaks up human beings into a (perishable) body and an (eternal) soul. However, it also brings body and soul into a highly distinct and close relationship. Druze scholar Zayn ad-dīn ʿAbdalghaffār’s (d. 1557 CE)9 “book of points and circles” in this process, Kitāb an-nuqaṭ wa-d-dawāʾir, perhaps constitutes the best vantage point in this respect. Reflecting on the relation between body and soul, ʿAbdalghaffār states that the body is the “veil” (ḥijāb) of the soul through which the soul, at the same time, “manifests” and “hides”.10 This fundamental idea is the context in which transmigration operates. The individual manifestations of a soul are related in two ways: a relation of identity of the soul and a relation of difference of the manifesting bodies. More specifically, a relation of identity is “hidden” behind the “manifest” relation of difference. Any claim regarding the identity of the soul in its successive manifestations is a claim about something that is there in the form of difference. Furthermore, in the Druze view, the soul is always in a body.11 It “cannot exist outside a human ←75 | 76→body”12 and is in constant “need of a body”.13 It cannot function as a moral agent without the body (“lā taksibu khayran wa-lā sharran illā bihī”),14 and it feels, acts, comprehends and so forth only through the body. It is a part of the world in and with the body.15 This need of the soul for a body surfaces in the Druze explanations of how transmigration works insofar as Druze often emphasise that the soul leaves the body immediately16 after death and “as fast as the electric current runs through a wire”17 moves to the body of a newborn. As a result, departing equals arriving,18 and birth and death are only “front and flipside of one and the same reality” (Armanet 2011: 150).19 This is reflected in the prevalent Druze claim that the dying breath of an individual always corresponds to the first breath of a newborn20 – “not one breath gets lost”, as Shaykh Salmān al-Miṣrī puts it.21 Thus, from the Druze perspective, the soul cannot not manifest, and the individual human being is only the current manifestation (ẓuhūr; pl. ẓuhūrāt) of a soul, which has manifested in a myriad of different bodily forms before its current life-circuit and will manifest in a myriad of different bodily forms after its current life-circuit. Remaining identical in itself, the soul takes on, or moves, from one transient bodily form to another and this way completes its successive life-circuits (see also Firro 2011: 88).
These two key elements of “manifestation” and “migration” are reflected linguistically in Druze discourse. The lexeme taqammuṣ, normally used to express ←76 | 77→the notion of “transmigration” in Arabic, is semantically related to the Arabic noun qamīṣ (pl. aqmiṣa), which denotes an “envelope”, “vestment” “shirt”. More specifically, taqammuṣ is the verbal noun of the Arabic verb taqammaṣa, the literal meaning of which is “to put on a shirt” or “to wear a shirt”.22 In the context of transmigration, qamīṣ, in principle, denotes the individual body (jasad, pl. ajsād).23 In one regard, the term is connoted with the “mortal body”, or even the “corpse”, which is left behind when someone dies. This is tantamount to devaluating the transient body in comparison to the eternal soul (see also Rivoal 2000: 352).24 Just as someone wears a shirt and replaces it when its time is up, the soul puts on a body and wears25 it until it is destroyed and immediately replaced by a new, different body, which corresponds to the beginning of a new life-circuit. As one of our interview partners said with regard to this belief, the Druze are forever “to be continued” – like in an endless TV series, there will always be another episode. In the words of another interview partner, Druze souls were continuously “recycled”.26
In another regard, the term qamīṣ is connoted with “manifestation” in the sense that the body (qamīṣ of the soul) appears before people’s eyes,27 or the ←77 | 78→manifest form (ṣūra; pl. ṣuwar) something has taken on, which is at once hidden by that form. The Epistles of Wisdom (Rasāʾil al-ḥikma), for example, explicitly speak of “manifestations of different form” (ẓuhūrāt mukhtalifāt aṣ-ṣuwar) in this context.28 In essence, this latter understanding of qamīṣ reflects the cyclical conception of history propagated in the Druze scriptures with their characteristic doctrine that something identical manifests in different bodily forms, or “shirts”, in different epochs.29 As such, the term is of considerable conceptual importance in Druze thinking.
The conceptual element of “migration” is referred to by lexemes derived from the Arabic root n-q-l, such as intiqāl, nuqla or naqliyya.30 In particular, intiqāl al-arwāḥ (the “souls’ change of location”) is a common expression which people use to refer to transmigration. Similar expressions such as taqammuṣ al-arwāḥ or, to a much lesser extent, tanāsukh al-arwāḥ occur.31
In the sense outlined above, taqammuṣ corresponds to a discursively claimed reality – it simply is the way things are thought to work. Human souls complete successive life-circuits, and one identical soul migrates from one body to another; the qamīṣ simultaneously “manifests” and “hides” that soul. Looking at two different things thus may mean looking at the same thing in two different forms. Transmigration produces life-circuit after life-circuit, and the individual manifestations are transient and perishable. In a sense, every human being objectively is a return of a soul in different form. This reality, which one “knows” to be the case, may be represented schematically as follows:
←78 | 79→The key elements outlined above occur regularly, and more or less completely, when people explain the meaning of the term taqammuṣ, with our interview partners being no exception.32 The Druze perspective, that two different things might be the same thing in two successive outer forms, creates unique possibilities and difficulties. If the same soul manifests through different bodies, this establishes an objective relation between successive human beings and lives. In the mind, these can be placed side by side to form a line of human beings, or lives, that somehow seem to belong together. This raises questions. Most notably, why did the soul move from just this body to just that body? Does all this serve a purpose? Is the individual itinerary completely random, or does it follow a certain logic?
Why do souls migrate? The discourse of divine justice
From the perspective of situated human beings, the successive life-circuits completed by a particular soul are neither synchronously present nor equally knowable. The reasons that inform a soul’s itinerary must remain obscure. ←79 | 80→Significantly, some Druze explanations of transmigration substitute the human perspective with a divine one, from which all successive life-circuits are known and can be connected in a stringent and reasonable way. More specifically, the claim that individual souls migrate to a particular body each time for a reason which is dictated by the principle of divine justice (al-ʿadāla al-ilāhiyya) is pervasive (see also Nigst 2017: 64–65). Most notably, Druze often state that every soul has to pass through all conditions of life (jamīʿ aẓ-ẓurūf al-ḥayātiyya) and possible states (ḥālāt, sg. ḥāla), such as poverty, wealth, health or disease,33 in order for justice to prevail. In this dimension of the Druze discourse on divine justice, a soul’s successive life-circuits as different human beings suffering, or enjoying, different living conditions are all trials (ikhtibār, imtiḥān) to which the soul has to be exposed for the final judgement passed on the soul to just be. Amīn Ṭalīʿ asks: “Is it just that (final) judgement is passed upon a poor man while he has never lived in affluence? Or upon him who is sick and who never knew what it means to live in health? Or on a child who passed away before he or she could distinguish right from wrong, how could a final judgement be passed on him or her?” (Ṭalīʿ 2001: 18).
In similar fashion, the peculiar working of divine justice is sometimes used to explain the seemingly random, and therefore potentially disruptive, distribution of coveted goods, living conditions, looks, etc. This apparently unjust and unequal distribution seems to make sense in the logic of transmigration that reaches beyond the limits of an individual lifetime and “evens out” apparent inequalities.34 This notion of divine justice is “additive”. It is predicated on a totalising view from above, where all successive life-circuits can be seen together – and the reasons for the itinerary of the soul determined. More specifically, the relation between all life-circuits equals divine justice. Seeming injustices are simply the limited human perspective on divine justice as it materialises. The heart of the matter here is “moving on”. Transmigration means that the soul leaves behind an old life and that innumerable new lives are lined up to be lived. What matters is that the soul has another, new life-circuit, in which it can live again. It was in that body then, but it is in this body now. It ←80 | 81→had a chance then, and has a new chance now; it was a trial then, and is a trial now. In each life-circuit, the soul can, or cannot, relate to God.
Remarkably, Druze discourse also refers to a different notion of divine justice according to which people through their moral behaviour “make their own fate” across the boundaries of an individual life-circuit, as one of our interview partners put it. This view assumes causal chains that transgress the limits of an individual lifetime, opening up unlimited, but inexplorable, explanations for why a particular soul moved to a particular place where it suffers, or enjoys, a particular existence. The focus is on individual responsibility and accountability, and the body receives a function in the soul’s requital for good and bad deeds that surfaces in the quality of life of the respective life-circuit. The notion of “debt” (dayn) is related to this: generally speaking, a gigantic metaphysical relay of causalities that allocates bodies to souls, lets bodies come about, decides where a given soul is going to move, etc. (see also Armanet 2011: 217–219). It seems that Druze discourse thus encompasses a retributive notion of divine justice, where present suffering is caused by previous acts.
It is worthwhile underlining that the retributive notion of divine justice surfaces in historic Druze discourse in the context of “proving” the existence of taqammuṣ because the latter is utterly unobservable in itself (“intiqālhā fī l-abdān amr khafī”), as is underlined by the Kitāb an-nuqaṭ wa-d-dawāʾir (Seybold 1902: 32). Thus, even those who believe in transmigration always arrive “after the event” and are confronted with its “result” (i.e. human beings). Prima facie, nothing about a human being suggests that his or her soul was “somewhere else” before, and the claim that souls transmigrate requires justification. Mobilising an array of premises, proofs, life experiences and the authority of the Druze scriptures to make the claim that transmigration actually occurs (see Seybold 1902: 32–33), the author of Kitāb an-nuqaṭ wa-d-dawāʾir states that some phenomena in the world do provide evidence for taqammuṣ; otherwise, the premise that God is just could not be upheld. Most notably, the suffering of children is perceived to be indicative of previous sojourns of the same soul. Children have not committed anything in their young lives that would require punishment, so upholding the premise of divine justice requires assuming that a soul is suffering in the body of a child to atone for acts perpetrated in a previous life when he or she was an adult.35 Similar statements were occasionally made by our interview partners.←81 | 82→
Trust in the working of divine justice and the sense of things at a higher level is sometimes commended as an ideal by Druze when they reflect on inexplicable suffering and inequalities that do not involve them emotionally. At an abstract level, this ideal stance may offer an altered perspective on suffering and conflict that relativises the importance of the transient human beings involved. This stance does not always work; and the less it works, the more the focus is on the particular human beings related to oneself. The more these human beings disappear in an unexpected and tragic way, the less the detached stance that focuses on the necessity of what happens seems to work (see Nigst 2019b). By definition, transmigration is not only about manifestations but also about human beings in social space – about people who belong to families; beloved human beings. Accordingly, it also brings human beings into relation; they not only take their places in society, but one maintains emotional bonds with them and has memories of them.
Where do souls migrate to and from? Bringing human beings in relation in society
In one of its dimensions, the claim that the soul cannot not manifest and is always in a body (see Ṭalīʿ 2001: 16–17) looks at the human body in an instrumental light, emphasising that the soul with the body not only relates to God but also perpetrates neither good nor bad actions except through the body. From this perspective, human beings are not considered in terms of their places in the social world. Yet they take their places, regardless of which metaphysical logic is assumed to have caused a particular soul to migrate to a particular body. Druze discourse thus necessarily has to address the issue that transmigration de facto establishes a connection between human beings with a place in the social world. There is always that which Isabelle Rivoal has called “l’individu social, particularisé” (Rivoal 2000: 382). In this context, it is important to understand human beings take their place in society in different modes.36
Luc Boltanski’s study on abortion offers important conceptual tools to explore this problem. The Foetal Condition focuses on engendering – “that is, the creation of new human beings who come to take their places in a world inhabited by already-present living beings and also by the memory of the dead” (Boltanski 2013: 24). Based on “different manners of treating and considering ←82 | 83→human beings” (Boltanski 2013: 39), Boltanski proposes that people do not just take their places in society because they belong to different categories or groups, but each must “constitute a singular being, that is, a unique being for whom no other can be substituted” (Boltanski 2013: 28). Engendering thus requires “producing beings that can be singularized” (see Boltanski 2013: 24). Processes of singularisation are essential for bringing about the personal identity of a human being, that is, the fact of being identified individually “without any possibility of being confused with another” (Boltanski 2013: 28–29): “[T]here is no society in which human beings are not objects of a process of singularisation that assigns them one or more names designating them specifically as individuals, and that offers each one a unique place in a ordered set (most often in a kinship system)”. As such, processes of singularisation must be distinguished from the processes of forming a human being’s social identity. These are not about bringing about a singular place but about recognising that one has something in common with others or belongs to the same group. As a result, there are “two modes of grasping human beings in society”, the “general” and the “singular” (Boltanski 2013: 35). Each human being is constantly associated with equivalence classes (“generalisation”) and singularised (“singularisation”) – this is how “social life shapes the human condition” (Boltanski 2013: 36). One can be a “man”, a “woman”, a “Druze”, a “child”, “one-legged”, “rich” and so forth; and one is the “Amjad”, “Ashraf”, or “Ṣafwān” and so forth, who belongs specifically to those people (with these names) and not to others.37 If taqammuṣ creates relationships between human beings, who are the successive manifestations of ←83 | 84→the soul, when the soul migrates, it retains membership in certain categories, but each human being occupies different unique and singular places.
Transmigration “from within”: Unknown connections between a person and a place in society
Transmigration objectively establishes a relation between all the human beings which, as manifestations of one identical soul, have taken their place in society. This raises questions about the social and personal identity of those human beings. Fig. 9 above does not literally illustrate the perspective of any human being. “From within”, taqammuṣ is experienced by agents who are necessarily situated in (social) space and time. Normally, people can only be related to one life-circuit of a particular soul, which is “current” for a particular human being and the people they influence or are influenced by, belong or belonged to. One “knows” that other life-circuits have taken and will take place – as the abstract assertion claims38 – but, normally, that is all. Someone “knows” that his or her soul will be somewhere else, but that is all. Likewise, if a family loses a member, they “know” that the soul of their lost relative will transmigrate to another body, but that is all. People have neither a name nor a location nor any others details regarding the future place.
The same holds true for a family to whom a child is born. They “know” that the soul, which now manifests as their child, was someone else who now is another family’s “dead”, but they do not have any details as to who that person was, where he or she lived and so forth. In both directions – the future for those who have lost someone, the past for those to whom a child is born, there extends an unknown which, apart from the one’s understanding of how taqammuṣ works, is largely impenetrable. Likewise, the human being in whom the soul is currently manifesting itself does not know who he or she was previously or will be in the future. Hidden behind the human being who one is or whom one knows or knew are entire worlds of life-circuits that are utterly unknown. Although, owing to the Druze idea that every death is only the flipside of a birth (see Armanet 2011: 150), taqammuṣ conceptually involves a family which loses a member and another family to whom a new member is born – normally, the individual does not know who he or she was, the two families do know each other.39 The two different personal identities of the human beings ←84 | 85→as which the soul manifests in the two life-circuits do not become enmeshed. Eléonore Armanet has shown that her Druze interview partners regarded newborn children as adults and as strangers who have been the son or daughter of someone else (see Armanet 2011: 151). This clearly relates to these worlds which are unknown to situated human beings. If only one life-circuit is known and accessible, except for knowledge gained through cases of “speaking” can nothing be said about the itinerary of the soul? Is there nothing more specific to say about those who died, those who live and those who will be born?
From where to where? Predictions about a person’s connections with a place in society
It is characteristic of the Druze taqammuṣ discourse to attenuate this unknown. It does so by claiming that there is some degree of predictability owing to permanent forms of group membership, that is, the social identity of the human beings as which the soul manifests in its successive life-circuits is thought to be determined, stable and predictable in important respects. More specifically, it is thought that membership of a gender and confessional group is permanent (see also Nigst 2017: 63–64). “Distinguishing between the sexes”40 taqammuṣ is deemed to operate in such a way that a soul will always manifest as a human being of the same gender; likewise, a soul will always manifest as a Druze, with the same holding true for Muslims, Christians, Jews and so forth. Conceptually speaking, this produces the effect that a soul is thought to be a part of the world constantly either as a “male Druze” (etc.) or as a “female Druze” (etc.) (see Nigst 2017: 62–64). For the most part, this is how taqammuṣ is supposed to work and the resulting predictability of the soul’s sojourn with regard to gender, and confession regularly forms part of the explanations of taqammuṣ.41 Apart from mitigating the lack of knowledge about a soul’s identities apart from its current one, confining transmigration to the same gender and the confession, and minimising, if not explicitly denying42 changes of membership in these groups, also removes the potential that entirely “unregulated” transmigration would have to subvert some of the most deep-seated categories that structure the social world.←85 | 86→
Remaining within the boundaries of one gender and confession, the itinerary of the soul is claimed to respect two forms of categorical membership, both of which are considered primordial. Most notably, the perception that transmigration happens within the boundaries of one’s own confession fulfils important conceptual or ideological functions. If Druze souls are thought to remain Druze, this constitutes a soul-based form of being related to each other (qarābat ar-rūḥ) and thus a unique form of cohesion (see Armanet 2011: 210–215). This is the logical effect of the claim that the soul, in its successive life-circuits, cuts across the boundaries of the familial groups to which each of its manifestations belongs and thus produces the effect that Druze are “born in each other’s houses” (see Oppenheimer 1980). If one were to remove the idea that “Druze always stay Druze” and assume that the soul moves to any human being regardless of confessional membership, the connective effect of qarābat ar-rūḥ43 would be severely damaged. Instead of “consisting” of the same souls that joined the Druze in the eleventh century CE44 and remained Druze in all successive life-circuits, the Druze collective would be reduced to the assembly of those who are currently Druze. But if one thinks that Druze souls forever move within the Druze collective, the latter corresponds to the ever-changing manifestation of the same pool of souls. Every birth or death only changes the ←86 | 87→current form of the collective. If the itinerary of that collective can be located because, in the long term, the transmigratory activity of the souls furthermore draws the map of where the Druze are.
Are there exceptions to this rule of immutability in gender and confession? According to both our interview partners and the scholarly literature, there are no known cases where taqammuṣ crossed the gender boundary. Some of our interview partners, who were generally critical of the outlined forms of predictability, said that the idea that a “male” in this life-circuit always was and will be “male” in the other life-circuits might be shattered in the future (see Nigst 2017: 64). This implies that these interview partners see a societal influence on the cases which are reported. Regarding transmigration across confessional boundaries, the situation is less clear. It is plausible that most people deny that “Druze” souls cross the boundaries of the Druze collective. Again, there are exceptions.45
While some might simply accept them, it is worthwhile pointing to explanations for them, which rather explain them away. Leaving aside the theoretical problem that someone could have joined the Druze in the eleventh century CE in an act of hypocrisy and dishonesty, or turned his or her back on them, “errors” could happen – the soul simply ended up in the wrong confessional group by mistake.46 In both cases, a non-Druze soul transmigrates within the Druze collective.
Many Druze seem to insist that this erroneous group membership will end at some point because souls want to return to the group to which they truly belong (see also Rivoal 2000: 36). Significantly, they claim that this happens through marriages of Druze to non-Druze, where a supposedly “Druze” soul returns to where it actually belongs by transgressing the rule of endogamy.47 The thought that taqammuṣ is susceptible to “errors” also occurs with regard to sex in one specific respect. Israeli Druze interview partners occasionally brought up the idea that homosexuality might be explained through “errors” during the process of transmigration, the idea being that, for example, a “male” accidentally ←87 | 88→ended up as a “female” in the next life-circuit, retaining “male” inclinations, which turn her into a lesbian.48
Manifestly, permanent membership of one gender and one confessional group is problematic with regard to the discourse on divine justice, which rests upon the premise that the souls must experience all states. The problem of what to do with a soul that constantly manifests as a “male” and never experiences being “female”, or as “Druze” without ever having another confession, is for the most part skipped. This makes sense – whereas differences between “rich” and “poor” Druze are potentially disruptive, they can be transfigured into a requirement of how divine justice works. With its insistence that people get what they deserve, or have to be exposed to all states, a particular Druze discourse justifies the respective inequalities but does not shatter the perception that all are Druze. Logically, transmigration across the confessional boundaries implies that Druze can become non-Druze and vice versa, which would put an end to that unique form of cohesion based on membership of the same pool of souls.
This latter notion of taqammuṣ, according to which Druze are always “reborn” as Druze, seems to have acquired central importance within the later (post-Rasāʾil al-ḥikma) Druze tradition (see de Smet 2007: 66), plausibly due to historical developments. Originally a radically messianistic and antinomian (see de Smet 2007: 67–70) “missionary” movement shaped intellectually mainly by Ḥamza b. ʿAlī from 1017–1018 CE onwards, which paid little attention to transmigration, the Druze “missionary” activity (daʿwa; see the term iqfāl ad-daʿwa; Rivoal 2000: 35; de Smet 2007: 67) was ended after roughly 25 turbulent years in 1042–1043 CE with the retreat of Bahāʾad-Dīn al-Muqtanā (see de Smet 2007: 34). From that time onwards, it was no longer possible to join the Druze movement (at least according to the Druze doctrine; historically speaking this does not rule out conversions). The reservoir of Druze souls was then closed (de Smet 2007: 67), and Druze were only those who had responded to the Druze daʿwa between 1017–1018 and 1042–1043 CE (“illi mā ʾabil barrā”). The idea of taqammuṣ became increasingly important; it enabled preserving the idea of a closed community that formed in the first half of the eleventh century CE ←88 | 89→and perpetuating this community that has ruled out conversion (see Rivoal 2000: 33–34).
From where to where? Connections becoming known through “speaking”
In Druze discourse, the boundary between the previous and the present life-circuit of one identical soul is always a little blurred. It is thought that for some time the soul clings to its previous life-circuit and is emotionally attached to it – “letting go” of the old life and growing familiar with the new life takes some time (see Nigst 2017: 77). This finds expression in a poetically developed element of sadness which Druze discourse associates with taqammuṣ. Taking up the pain of losing the place one loves (one’s old life), it draws an analogy between “soul” and “bride” (see Armanet 2011: 248). While it is characteristic of the Druze to detect this form of attachment in everyday life,49 it is rare for the not-entirely-clear-cut boundary between life-circuits to surface more explicitly.50 People do not often speak about a previous life-circuit, refer to a particular personal identity that could be identified or have episodic memories that could be “verified”. Consequently, life-circuits and personal identities normally do not overlap. People simply live their lives. Many people seem happy about this because the unknown worlds of their previous lives make them anxious. They do not want to know who or what they “were” in other life-circuits.
Regardless, it is an integral part of the social reality and experience of taqammuṣ in Druze communities that in exceptional cases, souls do remember (tadhakkara) a previous life to the extent that those memories are verbalised.51 This happens in a phenomenon termed “speaking” (nuṭq) in local parlance. Typically, children aged two to four start to “speak” (naṭaqa/yanṭuqu) about ←89 | 90→previous lives which often ended unexpectedly or violently.52 In the Druze communities, such “speaking” children are referred to by the active participles nāṭiq (masc.) and nāṭiqa (fem.) – “he or she who speaks”. Owing to TV shows, or to the celebrity of one of the individuals involved, some of these cases are widely known.53 According to our interview partners, “speaking” children must be understood as souls remembering and clinging to their previous life-circuit to such an extent that their current manifestation (the “speaking” child) claims to really be someone else (the individual who they were before that person passed away). As a consequence, the relation of difference that hides the identity of the soul is present in such a way that one family’s living member claims to be another family’s dead member. Considering that remembering and being able to refer to oneself in the first-person are “person-making characteristics” (see Quante 2002: 19–23),54 claiming a different personal identity and having memories of this are related.
Despite being only a subset of all cases, these instances of “speaking” have come to dominate the idea of what transmigration “is” for the Druze and the non-Druze alike. This is plausible as cases of “speaking” make taqammuṣ “palpable” (shī malmūs). Through the often peculiar impression made by children who claim to be in the “wrong place” (see below) and the events these claims may set in motion, taqammuṣ is “really there” (see Nigst 2017: 75–76).55 Because situated human beings have no knowledge regarding another life-circuit, “speaking” is the only case where the abstract assertion that souls migrate ←90 | 91→produces palpable results. “Speaking” is also crucial insofar as it, for the most part, also corroborates the predictions made with regard to gender and confession. The phenomenon is sometimes characterised as “popular” by Druze intellectuals (ẓāhira shaʿbiyya). It is certainly true that “speaking” is something the wider Druze population believes in (“yuʾminu bihā ʿāmmat an-nās min ad-Durūz”).56 Many cases of “speaking” furthermore seem largely independent of the religious establishment. It is worth stressing that, for theological reasons, (accessible) Druze scriptures explicitly dismiss the idea that a soul could remember a previous life.57 Obviously, this does not imply questioning transmigration as such.
Connections coming to light: Annoying and odd dimensions of the “return”
In the context of “speaking”, a deceased individual in a sense “returns” in the form of the “speaking” child who claims to be that individual. Owing to the inevitable differences and discrepancies between the previous life and the current life, this “return” often has a certain oddity about it; the connection between two life-circuits and the double presence of a soul come to light in characteristic ways. Most notably, people mention the feeling of being “in the wrong place” (see also Bennett 1999: 88; Nigst 2017: 65–67, 2019a). Most important in this context are the age categories (see Stevenson and Haraldsson 2003: 286), considering that taqammuṣ for the most part shifts previous-life “adults” to present-life “children”. People talk about “speaking” children who find it annoying to be treated like children again because they (their souls) were “adults” in the previous life-circuit. They are reported to protest against wearing children’s clothing or to be furious about what they perceive to be unseemly treatment, such as being reprimanded in public (see Laṭīf 2014: 194). Typically, “speaking” children may want back individuals who belonged to their previous “adult” life, such as husbands, wives or children.←91 | 92→
Shifts with regard to other categories also occur. Taqammuṣ may cast a human being into another socio-economic status – according to the Druze claims that divine justice requires that an individual is exposed to all possible states, this must occur. Regardless, “speaking” children are said to complain about a lesser socio-economic status.58 They may come across as decidedly “un-childlike”, and one can perceive the “adult” who has been transported back to being a “child” again (see also Laṭīf 2014: 265; 275) through the way they speak, the language they use or their tone. Often, one can sense times long gone by because the language the “speaking” children use, or the things they like, are outdated (ʿando shī min zamān). People sometimes report feeling that they are in the presence of a child who is not really a child,59 and “speaking” children are said to prefer to be among the adults they feel themselves to be. Some report skills one would not expect from children.60 Not least, there are numerous cases of inexplicable linguistic skills (“xenoglossy”).61 The Druze perception that taqammuṣ may shift memories, habits or skills that belong to a previous life-circuit to the present also explains why taqammuṣ, to a certain extent, allows for the integration of individuals that are “weird” – such weirdness makes sense as a form of behaviour that was “normal” in a previous-life circuit. Similarly, taqammuṣ explains phobias62 or may take away the onus of justifying oneself for less “normal” predilections – dating back to another life-circuit, they are not really “one’s own fault”.63 In this context, people regularly bring up the possible influence of a previous life with regard to children who have not “spoken” ←92 | 93→but who seem to be especially bright or have learning difficulties. While such a “child” may never ever actually start to “speak”, the perception that a previous life might be responsible for his or her extraordinary condition is “in the air” and those around the child discuss it, often extensively.64
However, cases of “speaking” are felt particularly strongly when “speaking” children refer to another personal identity and voice the much more profound complaint that they “are someone else”. People tell about upset or crying children who claim that their current personal name is wrong, that their parents are not really their parents, that they live in the wrong house, that their real mother was more beautiful, and so forth; in short, individuals who want to return to their previous place.
Finding out about the previous personal identity: The “return” of someone lost to death
It is an integral part of the Druze experience and understanding of “speaking” that the personal identity of a previous life-circuit may become known and found out about. The “speaking” individual may “return” to a specific social place. Owing to either a conscious effort on the part of (one or both) of the families involved,65 or to pure chance (b-ṣ-ṣudfa) when an individual at some point stumbles across someone66 or something from his or her previous life, which may happen later in life,67 “speaking” may lead back to the family in which the previous life was lived. The previous life may have been lived in a ←93 | 94→remote village or close to where the current life-circuit is lived. “Speaking” does not always or automatically lead somewhere. Parents may either stall the “speaking” of their child (see below), or their “speaking” children engage and identify with their previous life, ask them questions about it and encourage them to refer to that life,68 without establishing contact with the previous-life family, either because they cannot or are not sure whether they really want to deal with the consequences.69 That is, they claim to know who the others are but prefer to steer clear of them. Nonetheless, Druze communities experience that “speaking” sometimes leads to real-life relationships between the “speaking” individual and family members from the life that they claim to remember. More specifically, if contact with the previous-life family is established, contingent upon “proof” (see below), that family may recognise that the soul manifested in the “speaking” child is identical with the soul that manifested in the family member they lost to death, who in a sense has “returned”. In this case, there are individuals who know who they “were before” and there are two families which know who their member was when he or she belonged to others in a previous life. Although such cases are the most notorious, sometimes even worldwide,70 they are not the rule, but constitute a small subset within the cases of “speaking”, which are a subset in themselves (see French 2016: 91). This situation, which jumbles up layers of time and corresponds to the double presence of one soul, is complex in manifold ways and raises many questions.←94 | 95→
“Speaking”: Referring to an additional frame of reference
In the context of transmigration, each life-circuit of the soul constitutes a frame of reference for a particular human being. Within this frame of reference, people belong to, or know, this human being; they have memories of him or her. As long as “speaking” does not cross the boundaries of that life-circuit, everything stays within this frame. In this case, references are univocally to this human being. If that human being says “I”, “me”, “mine” and so forth, he or she univocally refers to the person present; by saying “he” or “she”, the others do the same or refer to someone who was present in this way.
In the context of “speaking”, the first-person references of the “speaking” individual cross the boundary into another frame of reference and become ambiguous because they refer not only to the human being present but also to another human being, life-circuit and frame of reference. Characteristically, “speaking” “switches on” an additional frame of reference; all statements of the “speaking” individual that contain a reference to the self encompass or span two71 frames of reference. In statements such as “My name is not Amjad, I am Ashraf”, or “You are not my mother”, the self-referent pronouns are characterised by this double reference to two individuals, one present and one who has died.
←95 | 96→It follows from the Druze idea of how transmigration works that the difference that exists between two human beings hides the identity of the soul involved in each of the two life-circuits. Most notably, if they end up associating two nameable human beings, cases of “speaking” make this abstract idea palpable. But when “speaking” reaches into another frame of reference, it (potentially) also knocks on the door of living others who have the lost family member the “speaking” individual claims to be. This way, it touches upon the memories and emotional bonds these living others have with their lost relative, which explains why the phenomenon is highly ambivalent. Likewise, it touches upon the feelings of the present-life family.
Returning to a unique place: Making the relation of identity “real”
It follows from the Druze assertion that the soul is always in a body that the relation of identity claimed by taqammuṣ cannot be “real” except in the form of a relation of difference. This also shows in the concrete occurrences of “speaking”, in which the “speaking” individual becomes associated with another deceased individual based on the idea that both are different manifestations of the same soul. One end of that relation (i.e. the person who has died) by definition is not there anymore. Under these circumstances, the association of two different human beings, with whom the soul is necessarily identified in real life, can become a sociological and recognised reality only through the family of the person who has died. The departed person occupied his or her singular place in that family and which survives his or her death.
←96 | 97→This singular and unique place is not a given but had to be bestowed upon the deceased individual. More specifically, it requires that as a child continues to be caught in a “singularisation process”.72 Initiated long before birth (Boltanski 2013: 20), this process enables the “access, after birth, to a singular position in society” (Boltanski 2013: 49) and allows the human being in question to be identified individually “without any possibility of being confused with another” (Boltanski 2013: 28–29). At the bottom, this requires that the human being in question is not only human “in flesh” but is “taken up in a symbolic mode” and “in speech” (see Boltanski 2013: 37).
To put it differently, if in the cases of “speaking” the identity of the soul is claimed with respect to two particular human beings, and the only thing that links these two people is the “speaking” child’s claim that both are manifestations of one identical soul, the need arises to reconstruct or establish the relation of difference. Logically, since one individual has passed away, the only way back into the “previous-life” frame of reference is through the singular place that the deceased individual left behind. The “speaking” individual has to be allowed to reoccupy that place, associating him or her with it. Only then can the claimed identity of the soul become “real” at this level. However, that requires that the singular place be opened and that the “speaking” child be “let in”. Recognition or confirmation by the family (or individual family members) of the deceased individual appears to be the only way for this to happen.←97 | 98→
Thus, when the previous life is “switched on” by “speaking”, self-referent terms such as “I” cross the boundaries of the frames of reference that constitutes the current and the previous lives. Consequently, if the “I” which, according to Druze discourse, is trying to make itself heard through “speaking” shall be “real”, it must be recognisable and recognised as a particular “he” or “she” who has passed away.73 This requires resituating the “speaking” individual within the frame of reference of the life of the person to which the “speaking” refers. Yet, because that individual is gone, this singular place and frame of reference can only have any “reality” and be “opened” through those who belonged to him or her, in whose fold singularity was bestowed upon him or her, who survived him or her and who have memories of him and her. No other force in the universe could ever hoist the “speaking” individual into that singular place.
This necessity of recognition by the previous-life family is significant because it corroborates that singularity, and singular places are not a given but have to be bestowed upon a human being. The phenomenon of “speaking” brings this fact out much more forcefully.74 The previous-life “I” can only be there in a unique place. The surviving relatives of the “speaking” “I” confirm his or her identity through accepting narratives that encompass things he or she owned, secrets only he or she knew, memories he or she verbalises, etc. Paraphrasing Anne Bennett, taqammuṣ is about reconciling the past with the present (see Bennett 1999: 103), but this past can only be accessed and “real” through the presence of those who belonged to that past.
Logically, this form of recognition also requires that the family of the “speaking” child let it happen. That is, the claims made by the “speaking” child can become “real” only if people from both frames of reference accept that the ←98 | 99→pronouns and names with which they refer to the “speaking” child or deceased individual apply to more than one frame of reference at the same time.75 For this unique form of recognition to happen, the relations and emotional bonds that link individuals with the families to which they belong(ed) need to be reconciled with, subordinated to or used for the sake of the other relation and “spiritual reality” of the identity of the soul involved, which is at odds with the transient relations that link the individual with their families.76
If having episodic memories is a person-making characteristic, is having “real” episodic memories of a previous-life contingent upon having a recognised ←99 | 100→singular place? Is having recognised episodic memories a form of belonging?77 Rather than episodic memories “proving” personal identity, does having a personal identity “prove” the episodic memory and give it “reality”? Is the “reality” of the previous memories, and thus the “return”, time socially constituted?
Proving the connections: “Returning” to the proof
The singular place that the deceased individual occupied is not available all that easily, but retaking it requires proof. The centrality of the act of “giving proof” (ithbātāt, sg. ithbāt; adilla, sg. dalīl) within the retellings of individual cases of “speaking” seems to be all but coincidental, but it reflects how counterintuitive the “speaking” child’s claim to be another particular person actually is. The feeling of being in the wrong place is considered indicative of the truth of the “speaking” child’s claim. Decisive forms of proof are different.78 These require ←100 | 101→“returning” to highly specific memories and items. Despite the centrality of giving proof in the narratives about the recognition process, much more research needs to be dedicated to what actually happens here. Which emotional, social, political and other factors play a role?79 In any case, many elements in the Druze discourse stress that no cynicism is involved. Although sometimes parents are suspected of “making their children speak” (naṭṭaqa), people consistently describe the experience that “speaking” happens beyond anyone’s control and simply washes over people. In a sense, the fact that “speaking” is unwanted “proves” its truth (see Nigst 2019a). Likewise, emphasising their utter lack of cynicism and genuine feeling of being overwhelmed emotionally by cases of “speaking” that affected them, several interview partners in Israel showed us the goose bumps on their arms. Emerging even many years after a “speaking” child first activated that additional frame of reference in which one found the lost relative again, they were presented as the best proof of sincerity.
Living the connections: Living the “return”
It is plausible that the connections between two life-circuits made palpable through “speaking” engender both difficulties and unique possibilities. In a way, the possibilities are the difficulties and the difficulties are the possibilities. The conceivable instances of relating across the boundary between two frames of reference outlined in Fig. 13 simultaneously represent a field of possible consolation and union and of fears, anxieties, worries, contradictions and possible conflict. This form of relating across two frames of reference is “nice, and not so nice at the same time” (ḥelu mush ḥelu),80 as one interview partner put it. By definition, “speaking” begins with the unexpected and “untimely” loss of a family member with whom one maintains continuing bonds. Thus, recognising the “speaking” of a child may transform or expand these bonds into new real-life relationships, entailing the perception that the relative lost to death has “returned” (his or her soul has returned in different form). One ←101 | 102→interview partner in Lebanon told us that her previous-life mother both kissed and touched the photographs of her departed daughter and kissed and hugged her, which she found less and less to her liking (see Nigst 2019a).
Going beyond the scope of this chapter, we need much more research into how people engage with this double presence of a human being and how they reconcile their grief and the continuing bonds they maintain with their lost family member with the new bodily presence of the “speaking” individual. Besides the sociological reality of the singular place, there is the emotional reality and the question of how individual family members manage to disconnect the personal identity from the body or can perceive their lost relative behind the new body. Are there people whose continuing bonds and feelings lead to not wanting a “speaking” child to “retake” the singular place of their departed relative and who cannot or will not accept that the new relationship eclipses the reality of the lost life?81 Furthermore, if the previous-life family recognises the “speaking” individual, the ensuing fact of occupying two singular places and having two belongings has potential not only for intimacy and joy but also for all sorts of difficulties. It is ambivalent in many respects.
Despite the positive descriptions of cases of “speaking” and reunions that are happy and lasting, many people experience these ambivalent, or even negative, consequences, which are eminently real by virtue of the social forces involved, since these forces allow the previous-life place to be reoccupied.82 To begin with, Druze often mention in interviews that while having vague memories that have not yet led to a previous-life family might be difficult enough, actually reoccupying an additional singular place requires even higher levels of coping with the inner conflict and the contradictions (tanāquḍ) of (objectively) competing familial belongings (see Bennett 1999: 103).
The affected individual threatens to “become like two personalities” (ṣār ʿindak izdiwājiyye bi-sh-shakhṣiyye; biṣīr mithl shakhṣiyyatayn)83 and “to get lost” (biḍīʿ il-walad; biʿīsh bi-ḍ-ḍayāʿ) in a “gigantic maze” (matāha ṭawīla ʿarīḍa).84 They insisted that it was “not good to grow up like that” (ḥarām ←102 | 103→tikbar hēk), wanting to be “here” and “there” at the same time, and they often underlined the potential psychological damage (khaṭīr bi-nafsiyyit il-walad) resulting from such a situation. Considering that one of these two personal identities is the “outdated” previous life, our interview partners occasionally emphasised that the previous-life family was responsible for ensuring that a previous life-circuit did not encroach on the present life of their child. They explicitly discouraged resituating the “speaking” child an additional, and objectively competing, frame of reference. Many of them seemed to believe that “having been” someone else with another family did not have the same force as “being” someone now; they emphasised that the present and the previous life were different. They expressed this thought in a variety of ways, mostly referring to someone’s “old person” (shakhṣo al-qadīm) and “new person” (shakhṣo l-jdīd). They repeatedly stated that someone lived with a “new mind” (bi-ʿaqlo l-jdīd) or a “new brain” (bi-dimāgho l-jdīd) or “thinks in a new way” (bifakkir bi-ṭarīqa jdīda’) (see also Nigst 2019a). In their view, not letting the “outdated” previous-life circuit encroach upon the present life was tantamount to “protecting” the life of the child and ensuring an “undamaged” (salīm) upbringing, not to mention that the death was often violent. The present-life family should “protect” the life of their child (ḥārisīn ḥayāto) and shield him or her from being dragged into an alternative and competing form of belonging that has had its time (see Nigst 2017: 78).
Recognition of a “speaking” child through the previous-life family forces a form of proximity on both the families involved and the “speaking” individual, which may be perceived as pleasant at some times (and sought out of strategic reasons), but not at others. “Like any familial relationship”, the relationship based upon the recognition of a “speaking” child is “alternately a source of both anxiety and delight” (Bennett 1999: 92). When the previous-life family recognises the “speaking” child, the present-life family may perceive that their child is pulled into another familial orbit and that to an extent they are losing him or her. Since “speaking” leads to the double presence of the soul in the form of two of the transient manifestations that the worldview claims, each manifestation is a loved human being that belongs to one particular family and not another. It is plausible that some families prefer that this unique belonging stays unique. As one interview partner stated, “[a] family always loves its child, and they want it to belong only to them, and not to two families”. Present-life mothers are said to be especially distressed by the perception that their child, to an extent, has become associated with others (dāʾiman il-imm bitḥibb ṭifla) ←103 | 104→(see Dwairy 2006: 35).85 Even in cases where the parents encouraged their child to “speak” and identify with the previous-life family, the present-life family may have the impression that the previous-life family is “stealing” the child (see Dwairy 2006: 44). Notwithstanding such negative feelings and fears, it is crucial to underline that cases of “speaking” potentially allow relations between families to be established that otherwise could never come about, or would certainly be different. It would be surprising if belief in the “speaking” could not accommodate the interest in forging such relations.
In any case, it is remarkable that Druze themselves clearly insinuate that some parents were paving the way for their children to “speak”.86 Not least, this leads to the situation that sometimes more than one “speaking” child claims to be the same departed person, which has been criticised by members of the Druze religious establishment.87 At times, people seem to claim strategically that their “speaking” child is the reincarnation of an individual who had accumulated substantial socio-religious capital or belonged to an important family.88
Suppressing connections: “Silencing” the “speaking” child and stalling the “return”
Although some people do not think that concrete cases of “speaking” are something to be too worried or alarmed about (rawāq), it makes sense that, faced with the myriad difficulties that “speaking” may entail, others attempt to “silence” (sakkata) their “speaking” children and “prevent them from speaking” (manaʿa min al-kalām).89 They opt for supressing the “speech” which is switching on the competing frame of reference. Since for Druze, “speaking” corresponds to the verbalisation of memories, “silencing” equals “making the ←104 | 105→child forget” (ansā).90 Our interview partners frequently mentioned that many people tried to “deafen” (biṭarrsho) their children with regard to the voices of the past, although they said that this did not always work.91 Children who were unsuccesfully encouraged to forget became “difficult” (mashkaljī), more and more angry and vengeful (nāqim) because their present-life parents were reluctant to find out about their previous-life personal identity and unique place. As one of our interview partners suggested, the decision to “silence” a “speaking” child is often also motivated by the wish not to “have a child who is not a child at the same time” (ṭifl huwa mush ṭifl). According to several of our interview partners, forgetting was necessary because people “cannot not live two lives at the same time” (mafrūḍ yinsā; mā fīhi yaʿīsh ḥayātān maʿa baʿḍ). The result would be confusion, and many families do not want the feeling of being “torn between two families” (Dwairy 2006: 40).
Acquiescing to the connections: Accepting “return” as a need of the “speaking” child
“Silencing” children is not the only way of responding to the pull of another singular position. Closely mirroring the poetic developments mentioned above, according to which the soul remains emotionally attached to its previous life-circuit for some time and cannot “let go” instantly, our interview partners suggested that even in cases where the previous-life family recognised the “speaking” child, the pull of the previous life was not necessarily constant because the memories of that life, like other memories, naturally faded away with time. Growing more familiar with his or her present life (biṣīr yitʾaqlam ijbārī) and developing emotional ties with the new family (yikūn yitʿallaʾ b-ʿayle jdīde), the child’s intense desire to return to the previous life may lessen or fade away entirely. As a result, “speaking” children may emerge in another familial context but may disappear from it again (see Nigst 2017: 76–78, 2019a).
In this context, identifying “as” and “with” someone do not necessarily coincide. For the personal identity of the “speaking” individual, the more important element seems to be identifying with someone, positively or negatively. If a “speaking” child grows up, he or she may still identify as the deceased individual, but less and less identify with him or her. Even if one already identifies as that person, fear of meeting the previous-life family could be motivated by the difficulty of identifying with one’s previous-life self. One of our interview ←105 | 106→partners told us that he was not a good person in his previous life and avoided establishing contact with the previous-life family. This meant that he could not be recognised by that family, leaving him in limbo. If “speaking” is tantamount to entering an additional frame of reference, belief in “speaking” is tantamount to taking that form of relating seriously and let it guide one’s actions, whether acknowledging a “speaking” child as one’s lost relative, seeking to suppress the “speaking” or accepting that such double feelings of belonging are normal for a soul which has lost its previous place and may go away again.
Meaningful “returns”: Retributive and reparative justice
For most Druze, transmigration is not a random or meaningless “change of shirts”.92 It is divine justice at work. By definition, this idea operates at a high level of abstraction and generalisation – silently and in an additive or retributive sense, divine justice materialises with regard to each individual soul. While situated human beings can never perceive the full itinerary of a soul, “speaking” highlights a smaller section of this itinerary through making accessible two concrete life-circuits. As a result, “speaking”, and narratives about it, can fulfil purposes enmeshed and articulated in a concrete social situation involving particular human beings. It can make sense in a way the abstract notion of divine justice cannot.
If the idea that divine justice materialises in an additive way redefines inequalities and suggests that things happen just the way they had to happen, “speaking” creates more concrete opportunities for making transmigration meaningful. Narratives about individual cases of “speaking”, often somewhat legendary ones, may communicate a moral lesson (see Rivoal 2000: 384), inculcate notions of honour by bringing to light blameworthy or dishonourable behaviour or “use the conception of a migrating soul in order to construct edifying narratives that provide an ideal picture of society” (Rivoal 2000: 382–383). In some Druze accounts, “speaking” ends conflicts between families because the soul cuts across the boundaries between them, rendering questions of “us” and “them” absurd.
Druze also narrate incidences of “speaking” that solved cases of murder or in which the murder victim “returned” to take revenge (see Nigst 2019b). These narratives of revenge for the most unexpected and violent forms of death generally involved in cases of “speaking” (see Bennett 2006: 90–92); this revenge ←106 | 107→corresponds to an effort at (re-)establishing justice. This form of justice is retributive.
Murder constitutes injustice par excellence. Nonetheless, other forms of unexpected death also feel unjust as under different circumstances the deceased individual could still be alive. Everday language highlights this perception of injustice clearly; people often state that a death “just was not fair”.93 If someone lost to unnatural, violent,or unexpected death “returns” in the forms of a “speaking” child, this not only enables happy reunions with the previous-life family, as Druze often point out.
More specifically, in these cases the injustice that someone did not live the life he or she could have lived is perceived to be set right and “repaired”. A Syrian interview partner illustrated how this reparative character of “speaking” was recognised by the previous-life family: “He continues with his life as if he were still alive” (see Nigst 2017: 70). Manifestly, this reparative function is also at work where the “return” serves as retributive. Druze discourse looks at the difficulty and pain of having been ripped out of life unexpectedly from the perspective of the soul, which has agency. People simply respond to the soul’s needs or try to avert the difficulties by turning “speech” into silence. It seems plausible that through its reparative and retributive functions, “speaking” is a way of bringing some peace to those suffering from the sudden loss of a relative or to communities that cannot find peace due to an unpunished murder.
The perception that the successive and transient life-circuits of an individual soul are “connected” is present in Druze communities and discourse at different levels. On the one hand, the transient presence of the soul is considered as functioning within the working of divine justice. In this case, transient manifestations and the connections between them are imagined as making sense in the light of a divine regard. On the other hand, the perception that the soul in each of its life-circuits manifests as a distinct human being who not only is a member of groups but also occupies a unique place in the world leads to a different set of problems that cannot be reduced to the workings of divine ←107 | 108→justice. Most notably, it raises the question of who the “dead” were and what they share with the (future) “living”.
Owing to the lack of knowledge regarding the precise whereabouts of the soul’s next or previous sojourns, Druze discourse focuses on the social identity of the soul’s transient manifestations and looks at aspects of this identity which are replaceable or alike (confession, gender). Whoever the Druze soul was, or will be, it will be a “male Druze” or a “female Druze” again. This is what a Druze shares with their “dead” and “future” community members. This makes it possible to glimpse the eternal reality of the Druze souls hidden behind the transient bodily reality of the human being. This eternal reality constitutes a different form of existence and cohesion of the Druze community that does not consist of social and particularised individuals (see Rivoal 2000: 382) whose body is left behind on death.
In contrast, “speaking” brings connections between the transient manifestations to the surface as a link between two human beings with a name and a concrete familial belonging. Apart from often legendary Druze narratives about “speaking” that teach a certain moral lesson, in cases in which people are emotionally invested, “speaking” allows the “return” of someone lost to death and “repairs” the wounds caused by death that came way too soon. Most individuals referred to in cases of “speaking” died unexpectedly or violently – the perception that a human being is irreplaceable is probably never greater than when that person dies suddenly.
Recognised “speaking” implies a variety of things: that the memories voiced through “speaking” individuals are heard and the voice legitimate; he or she really belongs and the lost person lingers on in a more palpable way; a central element of the belief system which may not be relatable in any other way is corroborated; the continuity of the Druze collective and its boundaries is beyond doubt. “Speaking” also implies that the Druze idea that the identical always hides behind and manifests as the different needs to be worked out in real life. This requires coping with the weight of the particular human beings brought in relation through “speaking” who are the concrete living and dead of someone; someone’s fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons or daughters who cannot be put aside and relativised as easily as the transient manifestation of a soul for the sake of the identity claimed by the abstract assertion.
While real-life relationships established through “speaking” may be fulfilling and comforting, the very same reality is full of tensions and contradictions that seem to reinforce the decision of many not to go beyond the confinements of one life-circuit. The choices, difficulties and fears involved in making this decision are a reminder that it is not easy for a human being to take or disappear from ←108 | 109→his or her place. Not least, it may be asked if the focus on “speaking” may eclipse more silent, but no less real, forms of continuing bonds. More simple-hearted or exaggerated stories of “speaking”, or all-too-obvious attempts to forge relations, seem almost frivolous in comparison to the tremendous exercise of coping with the loss of a beloved person, even if, unlike in most “speaking” cases, this loss was not tragically unexpected.
- Bibliothèque nationale de France, Arabe 1429.
- Bibliothèque nationale de France, Arabe 1436.
- Armanet, Eléonore 2003. “Le Livre druze, entre corps et narration,” in: Studies in Religion / Sciences Religieuses 32/4, pp. 395–408.
- Armanet, Eléonore 2011. Le ferment et la grâce: Une ethnographie du sacré chez les Druzes d’Israël. Toulouse: Universitaires du Mirail.
- al-Bāshā, Muḥammad Khalīl 2009. At-Taqammuṣ wa-asrār al-ḥayāt wa-l-mawt fī ḍawʾ an-naṣṣ wa-l-ʿilm wa-l-ikhtibār. Aṭ-ṭabʿa ath-thāniya. Bayrūt: Nawfal.
- Bennett, Anne 1999. Reincarnation, Marriage, and Memory: Negotiating Sectarian Identity among the Druze of Syria. Dissertation, University of Arizona, USA.
- Bennett, Anne 2006. “Reincarnation, Sect Unity and Identity among the Druze,” in: Ethnology 45 (2), pp. 87–104.
- Boltanski, Luc 2013. The Foetal Condition. A Sociology of Engendering and Abortion. Cambridge and Malden: Polity Press.
- Bouveresse, Jacques 2007. Peut-on ne pas croire? Sur la vérité, la croyance & la foi. Marseille: Agone.
- Bradbury, Ray 2013. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Simon & Schuster.
- Carbó, Antoni Gonzalo 2004. “La teología doblemente negativa de Hamîd al-Dîn al-Kirmânî y Moisés de León.” Conferencia pronunciada el 12 de febrero de 2004 en el Aula de Grados de la Facultad de Filosofía de la Universidad de Sevilla, dentro del ciclo titulado «Estudio comparado de las Tradiciones Espirituales: La Temporalidad Sagrada» («Seminario Permanente de Hermenéutica Comparada»), Sevilla, enero-marzo de 2004.←109 | 110→
- de Smet, Daniel 2007. Les Épîtres sacrées des Druzes: Rasā’il al-Ḥikma, vols. 1 et 2, Introduction, édition critique et traduction annotéedes traités attribués à Ḥamza b. ʿAlī et Ismāʿīl at-Tamīmī. Leuven, Peeters.
- Dwairy, Marwan 2006. “The Psychological Function of Reincarnation among Druze in Israel,” in: Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 30, pp. 29–53.
- Firro, Kais 2011. “The Druze Faith: Origin, Development and Interpretation,” in: Arabica 58, pp. 76–99.
- French, Christopher C. 2016. “Reincarnation Claims,” in: D. Groome and R. Roberts (eds.): Parapsychology: The Science of Unusual Experience. London: Psychology Press, pp. 82–95.
- Haraldsson, Erlendur and Majd Abu-Izzeddin 2002. “Development of Certainty About the Correct Deceased Person in a Case of the Reincarnation Type in Lebanon: The Case of Nazih Al-Danaf,” in: Journal of Scientific Exploration 16 (3), pp. 363–380.
- Kastrinou, Maria 2016. Power, Sect and State in Syria: The Politics of Marriage and Identity amongst the Druze. London: IB Tauris and Co Ltd.
- Laṭīf, Ilyās Laṭīf 2014. At-Taqammuṣ wa-tadhakkur al-ḥayāt as-sābiqa: intiqāl al-rūḥ am adh-dhākira? S.l.
- Naṣr, Mursil 2004. Maʿālim al-ḥalāl wa-l-ḥarām ʿind al-Muwaḥḥidīn «ad-Durūz ». S.l.
- Nigst, Lorenz 2017. “Being One and Two and Druze: Problems of Belonging in the Remembrance of Previous Lives,” in: International Forum on Audio-Visual Research / Jahrbuch des Phonogrammarchivs (8), pp. 56–81.
- Nigst, Lorenz 2019a. “Entering a Gigantic Maze: The Ambivalent Presence of Previous-Life Memories in Druze Discourse,” Social Compass 66(2), pp. 273–288.
- Nigst, Lorenz 2019b. “Druze Reincarnation through Fiction: Anīs Yaḥyā’s novel Jasad kāna lī as a Source for Literary Anthropology,” Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies 19, pp. 15–34.
- Oppenheimer, Jonathan W. S. 1980. “‘We Are Born in Each Others’ Houses.’ Communal and Patrilineal Ideologies in Druze Village Religion and Social Structure,” in: American Ethnologist 7(4), pp. 621–636.
- Pascal, Blaise 1683. Pensées de M. Pascal sur la religion et sur quelques autres sujets, Qui ont estés trouvées après sa mort parmy ses papiers. Edition nouvelle, Augmentée de beaucoup de Pensées, de la Vie du méme Autheur, & de quelques Dissertations, marquées dans la page suivante. Amsterdam: Abraham Wolfgang.←110 | 111→
- Prager, Leila 2016. “The Miracle of Rebirth: Stigmata, Transmigration, and the Remembrance of Former Lives in Alawi Religion,” in: S. Kurz, C. Preckel, and S. Reichmuth (eds.). Muslim Bodies, Body, Sexuality and Medicine in Muslim Societies. Münster and Berlin: LIT, pp. 281–310.
- Quante, Michael 2002. Personales Leben und menschlicher Tod. Personale Identität als Prinzip der biomedizinischen Ethik. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
- Rivoal, Isabelle 2000. Les maîtres du secret: Ordre mondain et ordre religieux dans la communauté druze en Israël. Paris: Éditions de l’École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales.
- Rivoal, Isabelle 2016a. Druzes de la montagne libanaise. Monographie originale présentée en vue de l’Habilitation à Diriger des Recherches. Vol. 2 / 3. Paris: Université Paris Ouest Nanterre la Défense.
- Rivoal, Isabelle 2016b. Études et recherches. Sélection de travaux et articles présentés en vue de l’Habilitation à Diriger des Recherches. Vol. 3/3. Paris: Universtié Paris Nanterre la Défense.
- Sattig, Thomas 2017. “The Sense and Reality of Personal Identity,” in: Erkenntnis (online September 2017), pp. 1–18.
- Schmucker, Werner 2000. “Muḥammad Abū Hilāl (‘ash-Shaykkh al-Fāḍil’), ein Drusenheiliger,” in: Hallesche Beiträge zur Orientwissenschaft 29 (2000), pp. 145–169.
- Seybold, Christian 1902. Die Drusenschrift: Kitāb Alnoqaṭ Waldawāir. Das Buch der Punkte und Kreise. Leipzig: Kirchhain N.-L.
- Silvestre de Sacy, Antoine-Isaac 1838. Exposé de la religion des Druze tiré des livres religieux de cette secte, et précédé d’une introduction de la vie du Khalife Hakem-Biamr-Allah. Vol. 1–2. Paris: Imprimerie royale.
- Stevenson, Ian 2001. Children Who Remember Previous Lives: A Question of Reincarnation. Revised edition. Jefferson and London: McFarland & Company
- Stevenson, Ian and Erlendur Haraldsson 2003. “The Similarity of Features of Reincarnation Type Cases over Many Years: A Third Study,” in: Journal of Scientific Exploration 17 (2), pp. 283–289.
- Swayd, Samy 2006. Historical Dictionary of the Druzes. Landham, Toronto, and Oxford: Scarecrow Press (Historical Dictionaries of Peoples and Cultures, No. 3).
- Ṭalīʿ, Amīn 2001. At-Taqammuṣ. Aṭ-ṭabʿa ath-thāniya. Buqʿāta: Maʿriḍ ash-shūf ad-dāʾim li-l-kitāb.←111 | 112→
- Tucker, Spencer C. and Priscilla Roberts (eds.) 2008. The Encyclopedia of the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A Political, Social, and Military History. Vol. 1–4. Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio.
- Yaḥyā, Anīs 2002. Jasad kāna lī. Bayrūt: Dār al-Farābī.
- Carbó, Antoni Gonzalo 2004. “La teología doblemente negativa de Hamîd al-Dîn al-Kirmânî y Moisés de León.” Conferencia pronunciada el 12 de febrero de 2004 en el Aula de Grados de la Facultad de Filosofía de la Universidad de Sevilla, dentro del ciclo titulado «Estudio comparado de las Tradiciones Espirituales: La Temporalidad Sagrada» («Seminario Permanente de Hermenéutica Comparada»), Sevilla, enero-marzo de 2004; accessible at: https://ibnarabisociety.es/index.php?pagina=35&lang= (accessed 11 June 2018).
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_lp647E19A (accessed 17 April 2018).
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yKaVQl5AljA (accessed 15 May 2018).
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2DMK0YSfj8 (accessed 15 May 2018).
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_v2Pb9jopo (accessed 19 May 2017).
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kp_kNBIyykc (accessed 09 May 2018).
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2tEy3mjXD8s (accessed 17 May 2018).
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uN4levEgl0Y (accessed 01 June 2018). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fr5T4TTBr6w (accessed 01 June 2018).
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5TnlGOody1A (accessed 05 August 2017).
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euEbPA-3iaA (accessed 07 May 2017).
- www.annahar.com/article/395204 (accessed 29 November 2016).
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGN-TgQ-0iM (accessed 07 April 2017).http://www.aljoumhouria.com/pages/view/19492/2799 (accessed 19 May 2017).
1Lorenz Nigst is currently working with the KITAB project, a project that has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Grant agreement No. 772989).
2“I have come to realise one thing – that, however poor one may be, one always leaves something behind when one dies”. Pascal (1683: 28).
3For the Druze, see, for example, Oppenheimer (1980), Rivoal (2000, 2016a, 2016b), Armanet (2003, 2011), Bennett (2006), Firro (1992). For Druze theology, see, for example, de Smet (2007) and Firro (2011).
4For socio-anthropological studies taking up the topic of taqammuṣ, see, for example, Rivoal (2000, 2016a, 2016b), Bennett (1999, 2006), Armanet (2011).
5The term nafs, pl. nufūs also is used, see, for example, Talīʿ (2001: 16–17).
6This is expressed explicitly in the Kitāb an-nuqaṭ wa-d-dawāʾir: “idhā naqalat nazalat wa-idhā fāraqat ittaṣalat”. See Seybold (1902: 31).
7For these terms, see, for example, Talīʿ (2001: 17–18). Our Druze interview partners often used the translation “generation”. For the term jīl, see also Yaḥyā (2002: 19). In the Druze scriptures, the term kawr (pl. akwār) also occurs, see, for example, Seybold (1902: 33).
8For this point, see Boltanski (2011: 59): “Having a body, each individual is, of necessity, situated—first of all, as the phenomenology of perception teaches, in as much as she is located in a moment of time and a position in a point of space where events appear to her—but also, as we learn from sociology and economics, in that she occupies a social position and has interests; finally, if we follow psychoanalysis, in that she has desires, drives, dislikes, an experience of her own body, and so forth. It follows that each individual can only have one point of view on the world”.
9For ʿAbdalghaffār, see Firro (2011: 95–97).
10For similar ideas in other theological contexts, see, for example, Carbó (2004: 3).
11See Seybold (1902: 30–31).
12See Firro (2011: 88).
13See Seybold (1902: 30): “iḥtiyāj an-nafs ilā l-jism”; the soul is in constant need of the body “lā tastaghnī ʿanhu ṭarafat ʿayn”. See also BNF Arabe 1436, 30r: “[…] dhātahā mawjūda fī badan jusmānī lā tufāriquhū abdan bal kullamā dhahaba badan intaqalat ilā badan ākhar”.
14BNF Arabe 1436, 30r.
15See also Zayn ad-dīn ʿAbdalghaffār’s Kitāb an-nuqaṭ wa-d-dawāʾir where he explains that the soul cannot act, imagine, think (etc.), without the body. See Seybold (1902: 30).
17Talīʿ (2001: 17).
18See Seybold (1902: 31): “idhā naqalat nazalat wa-idhā fāraqat ittaṣalat”.
19See also Rivoal (2000: 382).
20See Nigst (2019a).
21https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kp_kNBIyykc (accessed 19 April 2018); min 01:24 ff. For the notion that the soul enters the body through the mouth after birth, see also Seybold (1902: 31): “ammā wurūduhā ʿalā l-jism fa-tashruqu ʿalayhi baʿda khurūjihī min baṭn ummihī ilā fasīḥ ad-dunyā wa-tadkhulu mina l-fam”.
22See also Talīʿ (2001: 11) where taqammaṣa is explained as labs al-qamīṣ.
23Needless to say, synonyms are used such as jism (pl. ajsām) or badan (pl. abdān). Some people also use the term qālib for body. This term is clearly connoted with the notion of “outer form” or “vessel” as is best reflected in the lexical pair qalb/qālib.
24For the notion of an eternal soul see also Talīʿ (2001: 11). With regard to the lexeme qamīṣ in the sense of “body”, the Rasāʾil al-ḥikma contain a fascinating passage where the fellow believers are warned against fearing the destruction of their bodies. Literally, the passage speaks of tamzīq aqmiṣatihim, the “tearing up of their shirts”. The full passage reads: “Al-ḥidhr al-ḥidhr an takūnū mimman yakhshawna ʿalā tamzīq aqmiṣatihim wa-ghaybat ṣuwarihim fa-yūqiʿu bihim mawlāhum mā yakhshawhu wa-yaḥdharūhu dhālika li-qillat thiqatihim bi-mawlāhum wa-khashyatihim min ʿabīdihī”. See Rasāʾil al-ḥikma, no. 35.
25See Talīʿ (2001: 11); see also BNF MS Arabe 1429, 83v.
26While insisting that taqammuṣ affecs humanity as a whole, people often talk about the phenomenon as if it affected only the Druze – which reflects that, in terms of a real presence of transmigration in community discourse in the sense of a shared belief that makes people do certain things, taqammuṣ is for the most part limited to the Druze communities.
27In contemporary Modern Standard Arabic, the expression taqammaṣa shakhṣiyyat XY means “to impersonate someone”. The common element with taqammuṣ in the sense considered here is palpable. It is about “putting on” some outer appearance or personality behind which something else disappears. See, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_lp647E19A (accessed 17 April 2018).
28See Rasāʾil al-ḥikma, no. 67.
29The Druze hold that the five hypostases (ḥudūd) which form the centre of their cosmological recit, manifest in different forms. It is explicitly stated in the scriptures, for example, that God moves the universal intellect (al-ʿaql), His first creation, into every epoch and time with a specific name and specific qualities: “qāla ayḍan ʿan il-ʿaql al-kullī ṣalawāt allāh ʿalayhi yanquluhu l-mawlā subḥānahū fī kull ʿaṣr wa-zamān bi-sm wa-ṣifa”, Seybold (1902: 33). See also Firro (2011: 88).
31Most Druze reject the term tanāsukh for taqammuṣ. The reason seems to be that tanāsukh is connoted too strongly with theological propositions they reject, most notably the ʿAlawī one that souls can migrate to non-human bodies. See, for example, Talīʿ (2001: 12). For this point, see also Bennett (1999: 93). For the ʿAlawī view on transmigration, see, for example, Prager (2016).
32Online, see, for example, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2DMK0YSfj8 (accessed 15 May 2018), min 07:53 ff; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yKaVQl5AljA (accessed 15 May 2018), min 02:33 ff.; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kp_kNBIyykc (accessed 09 May 2018), min 01:09 ff. (“intiqāl ar-rūḥ min jasad ilā ākhar baʿd al-mawt”). See also Tucker and Roberts (2008: Vol.1, 306): “the rebirth of souls in a new body”. For more complete explanations, see Swayd (2006: 162), or Bennett (1999: 93). Note that the Druze also understand the relationship between soul and body through other metaphors, most notably the soul as leaven passed along when making bread (see Armanet 2011: 127 ff.). For many of our interview partners, reflecting upon taqammuṣ was an occasion for much wider thoughts about what life meant. Owing to the fact that taqammuṣ is linked to the Druze cosmology, according to which all that exists emanates from the universal intellect, there is ample room for thinking beyond the limits of one’s own existence, or casting a different light on the latter.
33See Talīʿ (2001: 19).
34Members of the Druze religious establishment sometimes refer to this discourse. For example, Shaykh Mursil Naṣr writes in his book Maʿālim al-ḥalāl wa-l-ḥarām ʿind al-Muwaḥḥidīn “ad-Durūz” (2004: 224) that some people held fast to taqammuṣ as a doctrine because they wanted “to solve some of the inconsistencies and questions that surround the apparent inequalities between people speaking in terms of intelligence, wealth, or health”.
35See Seybold (1902: 30): “ḥaythu anna r-rabb ʿādil wa-ajrā al-jazāʾ bi-l-khayr wa-sh-sharr ʿalā l-ghayr bāligh wa-laysa lahū ʿamal ḥādir yastaḥiqqu ʿalayhi l-jazāʾ fa-dulla min dhālika anna lahū ʿamalan sābiqan fī ghayr al-jism al-ḥāḍir”.
36For the following passage, see Nigst (2017: 59–61).
37A passage which evokes several important elements with regard to having a place in the social world is contained in an epistle entitled Ar-Risāla al-mawsūma bi-l-asrār wa-majālis ar-raḥma li-l-awliyāʾ wa-l-abrār found in manuscript form in a volume of Druze scriptures held by the French national library (see BNF Arabe 1429, 83r ff; see also Silvestre de Sacy 1838: vol.2, 407 ff). While it is unclear how the epistle fits within the larger corpus of the Rasāʾil al-ḥikma, the passage spells out the idea that God, when creating the world, created it exactly as it is in the present (mithl mā tarāhu fī hādhā l-yawm), comprising “men and women, old men and young lads, old people, young people, children, thousands and thousands, in numbers that only He can count”. This remarkable reflection on the fact that people have their place in the world suggests that God “made people see in their minds” (awrāhum [sic] fī ʿuqūlihim) that they had fathers and grandfathers, professions or teachers. They visit graves, stating that the graves belong to a particular relative of theirs, or some other concrete person. They talk about teachers, trades, children, and so forth (see BNF Arabe 1429, 83r).
38Druze Shaykh Bahjat Ghayth states: “I know through my belief that I existed [before this current life]” (baʿrif ḥatman bi-īmānī innī kint). See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2tEy3mjXD8s (accessed 17 May 2018), min 01:10 ff.
39See also Haraldsson and Abu-Izzeddin (2002: 363–364).
40Talīʿ (2001: 19): “at-taqammuṣ yumayyiz al-jins”.
43Mobilising the terminology of kin, the term qarābat ar-rūḥ demonstrates how much the perception that souls migrate from one human being to another encompasses the perception of a real “connection” between those people.
44On the contract (mīthāq walī az-zamān) signed by each and every Druze when they joined the movement at the time of Ḥamza b. ʿAlī, the central founding figure of the Druze community and manifestion of the universal intellect at his time, see, for example, Rivoal (2000: 32). For the integration of the original act of signing that contract in the religious and community life of the Druze, see, for example, Rivoal (2000: 150–151). The mīthāq walī az-zamān forms part of the so-called canonical scriptures (Rasāʾil al-ḥikma) and has been commented upon numerous times. One commentary, which is held in manuscript form by the French National Library, describes how the contracts signed by both the Druze/Muwaḥḥidīn and the apostates are kept in a safe place until the Day of Judgement: “wa-hādhihī l-mawāthīq al-muktataba ʿalā l-muwaḥḥidīna wa-l-murtaddīna maḥfūẓa fī amākin maḥrūsa lā tablā wa-lā tataghayyaru muṣāna bi-ṣiyānat rabb al-ʿālamīna ilā yawm al-jazāʾ fa-idhā tajallā r-rabb taʿālā yawm al-qiyāma bi-l-ʿaẓama wa-l-jalāl wa-ḥaḍara bayna yadayhi ṣafīyihī [ṣafīyuhū] dhī [dhū] sh-shraf wa-l-kamāl wa-nushirat al-khalāʾiq li-l-ḥisāb ʿinda dhālika yaʾḏinu llāhu subḥānahū bi-ẓuhūr al-mawāthīq mina l-amākin allatī fīhā l-ān fa-tanẓuruhā n-nās wa-kullu man kutiba ʿalayhi l-mīthāq”. For the passage, see BNF Arabe 1436, 7v–8r.
45A passage in the novel Jasad kāna lī by Anīs Yaḥyā implicitly suggests that according to some, suicide pushes a soul away from being Druze for several life-circuits: “al-muntaḥir yashqā fī ṣaqīʿ aḍ-ḍalāl ṭīlat sabʿat ajyāl dūn an yakūna ʿindahū ḥaẓẓ bi-stiẓlāl shajarat at-tawḥīd”.
46Personal communication by Maria Kastrinou to the participants of the workshop “Reincarnation and personal identity in the Middle East”, 30 November – 1 December 2017, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna.
47See also Rivoal (2000: 36). On endogamy, see Armanet (2011: 210 ff).
48The possibility of change from “male” to “female” and vice versa seemed to be a “taboo” subject and clearly sexually connoted. At least, the question prompted laughter on several occasions. For explanations of homosexuality and gender reassignment through the rūḥ al-ḥayāt among the ʿAlawīs, see Prager (2016: 301).
49Many interview partners explained to us that seemingly inexplicable behaviour of newborn children, such as unmotivated laughing or crying, made perfect sense against this backdrop (see Nigst 2017: 77).
50It is rare with respect to the total number of transmigrations. This is not to say that cases of “speaking” are an extraordinary event in the Druze communities. On the contrary, every Druze can easily narrate cases he or she knows, and they flare up literally everywhere. Regardless, our interview partners stated that some communities have especially many cases, while others have no cases at all. The latter was claimed by interview partners about their village Ain Ksour in Lebanon in October 2016.
52Online, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uN4levEgl0Y (accessed 1 June 2018, min 00:44 ff.) where a young woman says that as a child she referred to an accident that killed her in her previous life and to the surprise of her mother, said things like “Boom! Blood! Accident!” (Bumm, dam, ḥādith!). On violent death, see also Bennett (2006: 90–93); Stevenson and Haraldsson (2003: 286–287); Rivoal (2000: 350 ff).
54For a recent philosophical contribution which contends that the episodic memory teaches us nothing at all about personal identity, see Sattig (2017).
55This also shows in terminology. As implied by the term subset, every case of “speaking” (nuṭq) is a case of taqammuṣ, but not every case of taqammuṣ is a case of nuṭq. Accordingly, every “speaking individual” (nāṭiq) is a a “reborn individual” (mutaqammiṣ), but the reverse is not always the case. Regardless, it is quite common in local parlance for people to use the terms nāṭiq and mutaqammiṣ interchangeably, that is, they use the term mutaqammiṣ in order to refer specifically to a nāṭiq. Grammatically speaking, mutaqammiṣ is the active participle of the verb taqammaṣa/yataqammaṣu.
57Not least, the Kitāb an-nuqaṭ wa-d-dawāʾir (Seybold 1902: 33) anticipates the question why souls do not remember other life-circuits if they have actually lived them: “in qāla qāʾil mā lanā lā naʿrifu mā maḍā min al-adwār wa-l-akwār qāla l-muḥtajj bi-l-ḥaqīqa…”
60Interestingly, people often mention knowing how to pilot an airplane. Boys’ professions in the previous life often seem to be the ones which boys typically dream all over the world such as truck drivers, or caterpillar excavator drivers. Something children most certainly can identify with at that age.
61Especially in Northern Israel, there seems to be a recent upsurge in such cases.
62For example, someone killed by a fire in a previous life might be afraid of fire, or someone who died in a car accident might be afraid of reckless driving (Laṭīf 2014: 274).
63One interview partner explained that she had already been a vegetarian in her previous life; another explained his preference for wearing his hair long with his previous life.
64For example, we visited a little girl and her family in Northern Israel in August 2017. The girl spoke English with a strong US American accent and was said to never have been exposed to the language enough to explain this linguistic skill. The people present were extremely attentive to her vocabulary, wondering whether individual words she used would give clues as to who she was before, which profession she had, and so forth.
65Conscious efforts at identifying the other family were mentioned by our interview partners. For this point, see statements made by Druze Shaykh Sāmī Abī l-Munā in a TV appearance (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGN-TgQ-0iM (accessed 7 April 2017), min 50:40 ff. A mother consciously looking for her lost son has been described in an article published in the Lebanese newspaper Al-Joumhouria, http://www.aljoumhouria.com/pages/view/19492/2799 (accessed 19 May 2017).
66This may include stumbling across one’s own murderer.
67One interview partner told us that by chance he saw and remembered the drive that led to his previous-life house. Another told how his little brother suddenly spotted his previous-life mother in the market.
68The impression that people encourage their children to “speak” also touches upon the question whether they make them do so. One interview partner in Northern Israel (in August 2017) explicitly stated lack of belief in taqammuṣ and insisted that his nephews, who both “spoke” about previous lives as children, originally had no memories at all and did not “speak” but were enticed to do so by their father. This interviewee was remarkable as he broached topics which were systematically denied by others such as possible financial gain through the relationships forged with other families through “speaking”. He said that “one might as well stop working” when a previous-life family recognised a child because “people always picked wealthy families” for their “speaking” children.
69We visited a family in Northern Israel/Galilee that had a “speaking” boy who claimed to remember a previous life in which he owned a caterpillar excavator. The family was very encouraging towards those memories, and constantly asked the boy what he remembered, even helping him to do so. Nonetheless, they stressed that while they had found out who the previous-life family were, they had not sought to contact them.
70Most notably due to research by Ian Stevenson and Erlendur Haraldsson, descriptions of individual cases of “speaking” Druze children are far more known than the Druze as an ethnic-religious community.
71Or occasionally more than two.
72On singularity, see Boltanski (2013: 29–49).
73Beyond the scope of this chapter, we need to reflect more carefully upon “speaking” from the perspective of speech act theory. Uttered in the appropriate socio-religious context, “speaking”, and the other forms of speech that respond to it, has consequences. They do something. Neither the claims made by the “speaking” child nor the recognition that may be granted are simple factual statements. Only after a more or less longwinded process can phrases like “A used to be B in his previous life” be understood as stating the facts.
74The fact that only the previous-life family can bestow the recognition, without which the “speaking” child cannot “really” occupy the singular place of the deceased individual is corroborated by the reports about how “speaking” children gave “proof” that the were the deceased individual. This proof-giving always seems to involve family members of the deceased individual. This is significant given the “forensic” terminology involved. If “proof” as such was the only issue, this could be delivered by anyone, non-family-members included.
75It is remarkable how often people say things like: “This is me in my previous life”; “I know that my son was with other people before”; “In this moment, I knew that he is my son”.
76Significantly in this context, Druze Shaykh Bahjat Ghayth distinguishes between a person’s “spiritual life” (ḥayāt rūḥāniyye) and “everyday life”: “il-insān ilo maslakayn fī ḥayāto ilo ḥayāh yawmiyye mutaʾarjiḥa mutaqallibe w-ilu ḥayāh rūḥiyye kawniyye azaliyye thābite”. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2tEy3mjXD8s (accessed 17 May 2018).
77Apparently only surviving relatives of the deceased person that the “speaking” individual claims to be can grant the recognition necessary for turning their claims into something “real”. This bears upon the perceived authenticity of a particular case. Our interview partners occasionally mentioned that some people claimed to have the memories of famous historical figures such as Druze Sultan al-Aṭrash. Unlike cases where previous-life family members recognise the “speaking” child, the authenticity of such cases tends towards zero. Not least, this is because the “speaking” individual simply cannot reoccupy that singular place by his or her own will, and no family members that could grant the recognition are alive. These different categories of claims are worlds apart. One interview partner from Lebanon told us how her previous-life mother was happy to have found her again. At the same time, she claimed to also have memories leading back to chronologically much earlier times when the French were present in the region, that is, when her soul had been in yet another body. It is hard to describe the different “flavour” of these two stories, one of which cannot involve a vis-à-vis whereas the other is engrossed in the complex emotional situation where a previous-life mother maintains continuing bonds with the daughter she had lost and has to reconcile – and combines – her love for that lost daughter with her love for the other person as which her daughter now manifests.
78For the thematic complex of “proof”, see French (2016: 90–91), Haraldsson and Abu-Izzeddin (2002: 372–375), and Nigst (2017: 68–70). Significantly, proof considered decisive mostly consists in knowledge of things or events that occurred between the individual whom the “speaking” child claims to be and his or her relatives, which no one else “could possibly know”. As one interview partner stated, the “speaking” child might know the “secrets of the family” (see Nigst 2017: 69). Veritable topoi occur frequently in retellings of such cases, such as knowledge of where valuable items, money, or weapons are buried; of sentences said in private, or of stillborn children. But many other things occur. One interview partner recalled the suffering of his previous-life mother when he had to give himself injections for a chronic disease. Remarkably, even in cases where the recognition of the “previous-life” family is lacking, these topoi occur. One interview partner told us how he dug up a box which he had buried in the garden of his previous-life house while his previous-life family, who he did not want to meet, was not at home. In such cases, the unique previous-life place is claimed to have been identified, but there is no recognition “by speech”.
79For these questions, see also Bennett (2006: 94–95).
80This closely corresponds to Anne Bennett’s accurate characterisation of taqammuṣ as “bittersweet” (see Bennett 1999: 108).
81For an example in the Lebanese media, see Nigst (2017: 74).
82The statements documented in our research project thus largely corroborate Anne Bennett’s observation that most of her interview partners emphasised the “less pleasant aspects of the experience” (Bennett 1999: 108).
86See, for example, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGN-TgQ-0iM (accessed 15 June 2018), min 49:00 ff. (“man yufsiḥ al-majāl amām aṭ-ṭifl li-yatakallam”). For the context of this statement, see also Nigst (2019a).
88The important Druze religious figure Muḥammad Abū Hilāl (ash-Shaykh al-Fāḍil) (d. 1640 CE) rejected the claim spread in his honour that he was the reincarnation of the famous Druze Dāʿī ʿAmmār. To all appearances, he considered this claim a temptation (Schmucker 2000: 162).
89See Bennett (1999: 88); Dwairy (2006: 40); see also Laṭīf (2014: 267).
90The motives for such “silencing” are not necessarily clear, however. See Nigst (2019a).
91On “silencing”, see Nigst (2017: 76–78) and Nigst (2019a).
92See also Rivoal (2000: 384).
93This clearly contrasts with passing away as an old person whose death was to be expected and who ideally should have taken ascetically minded steps away from the world and acknowledged the transient character of all the entanglements that (“falsely”) seem to matter (see Oppenheimer 1980: 627).