Souls are weird things. They’re collections of memories and experiences and energy that are tangled up in a matrix of interactivity with the world around them, including and especially other souls. When a normal person dies, it takes their soul a little while to dissipate, for all its component parts to break down and rejoin that matrix. There are a lot of things that can halt that breakdown, including certain types of magical energy in the area, what relationship it has metaphysically to other souls in the area, and the adherence of the various components of the soul to each other. Whichever of these is the reason for a given soul, it’s how we get things like ghosts and other revenants, and it’s also how objects and places get haunted. And it’s also how reincarnation ends up happening.
Whatever the reason why a soul sticks, some souls stick. And some souls, rather than sticking around where they died, go back into the matrix without breaking down into component parts. When that happens, they eventually come back out and get attached to another person. This is what we call reincarnation: when a new soul emerges from the matrix with a substantial amount of the structure of an older soul as part of it.
In almost all cases, a reincarnated person is their own person who, despite their soul being metaphysically similar to the soul of someone who died a long time ago. They have their own thoughts and memories and lives, and in almost all cases, they never know that they used to be another person. It’s not uncommon for some of the characteristics of the previous version of them to carry over; for example, a person reincarnated from someone prone to anger might find themselves having bursts of rage that they can’t explain. Of course, the question then becomes whether they are having angry outbursts because of reincarnation or simply because some people get angry sometimes. Reincarnation is an imprecise phenomenon.
Some reincarnated people, though, are more affected by their past lives than others. Memories will resurface, which can create cognitive dissonance if it’s clear that they’re someone else’s memories. The power of the reincarnated soul determines its strength and its ability to sway the new incarnation. In extreme cases, the new incarnation will be completely subsumed under the personality of the old soul. On the level of the soul, when this happens, the elements that made up the new person’s soul are gradually dispersed into the matrix while they’re still alive, leaving only the older soul after a few years.
Because their reincarnation depends on attaching to a new soul, in almost all cases, reincarnation does change the reincarnated soul as well. Only the very strongest and most strongly adhered souls don’t end up becoming more and more like the person or people they’re reincarnated as, which in most cases erodes the stability of the soul over lifetimes. Most reincarnated souls don’t live more than four or five lifetimes before finally dissolving into their component parts and returning properly to the matrix.
When the Right Hand started incarnating as a series of mortals, I was hopeful that reincarnation logic would mean that its genocidal tendencies might be mollified over a few rebirths. The Right Hand isn’t a mortal soul and isn’t bound by the same rules that guide mortal souls, but it does exist in the world and while it’s bound here, it has to obey some of those rules. It can’t be broken up and dissolved like a mortal soul can, but it can theoretically be influenced by those souls and have its perspectives and intentions changed. Hopefully. There hasn’t been much evidence of this yet, but it’s also an ageless omnipotent cosmic force, so it’s going to take more than a few lifetimes. Not to mention that it’s so heavily bound that in most of its incarnations, its tendencies only surface as a minor obsession with rules and regulations and order.
Every so often, of course, the Right Hand is closer to the surface with specific hosts. Nathaniel Harkness’s personality fragmented increasingly over his lifetime as the Right Hand tried to assert itself, and his mirror Nathen Jerrel De’Kerken was the same way. Nathen is an interesting case though, because he had a really strong personality all his own, and subsequent incarnations of the Right Hand have all also been reincarnations of him as well, which is…problematic because he was the most crazy and violent host the Right Hand ever had. At the same time, though, his current incarnation is a really strong personality as well and he’s nothing like Nathen, which makes me hope that future incarnations will be less dangerous.
As a god, Nathen’s soul is also going to take a long time to break down through human reincarnations. If he’d been reincarnated as another god maybe, but since he wasn’t and never has been since he died, it’s up to the power of mostly human souls to break him down. Reincarnation very rarely crosses species barriers except that gods can be and have been reincarnated as many different species on Nova. The soul makeups of different species are too different for leftover souls to attach themselves to the soul of a different species. Or at least that’s my working hypothesis. Gods’ souls are malleable and so it’s easier for them to change into what’s necessary to be reincarnated. That said, because Nathen has been reincarnated as a human so many times, it’s unlikely to see him reincarnate as anything other than a human as long as those are available (but not impossible; one of his reincarnations was half-orc and then eight cycles later he was a full orc for a lifetime).
I tend to get fixated on the Right Hand’s reincarnation and forget that it and subsequently Nathen, but reincarnation isn’t that uncommon, especially on Nova. I think this is probably because of the mess of different types of magic that are all over the planet and the mess of catastrophes that plague its entire history, plus whatever its now-extinct original inhabitants were up to with ley lines (fonts of the Right Hand’s power are naturally repellant to most souls, but that means that they tend to behave in unpredictable ways when they die). Most of the time this really doesn’t matter. Sometimes it does, because in very rare cases, especially if someone has been reincarnated from a god, suddenly their previous nature’s powers will erupt and that can cause problems. On the other hand, it can cause solutions. I’m pretty sure Odrick Dekath He’Matkar has been reincarnated, which might be a good thing because he was really good at preventing the malenvar from destroying the world back in the day and that is a skillset that’s becoming increasingly relevant again.
Despite reincarnation being really fucking important, how it works is too complicated to describe in language. I’m hoping that this entry will be a trigger for you to remember what you need to remember, kid. If not, don’t worry, you’ll get there.
From “A Journal for Future Me,” by Rawen Janaj He’Matke, IP 2275.
4 thoughts on “Friday Lore Post: Reincarnation”
Hmm. So no afterlife, as such? Just either reincarnation or dissolution/recycling?
(Or immortality, I suppose.)
There is actually a form of an afterlife! The matrix that Rawen mentions sort of serves as one, and dissolution into it takes certain elements of the person’s memories and soul and sends them Somewhere, while other parts are recycled, but it’s not entirely relevant to the topic of what reincarnation is, so Rawen didn’t mention it here (and also, to be honest, I completely forgot about it myself and didn’t think to include a mention of it, oops).
Thank you for asking!
Is this anything like the concept of soul dualism, where there’s a soul that is the seat of thought and identity that leaves the body upon death (and often also during dreams, trances, and meditative states) and a soul that is the seat of vitality, instinct, and passions that remains in the body?
Or like the ancient Egyptian conception of the fivefold soul?
Yes, it is a little bit (or a lot) like those concepts, actually! The soul is pretty much split into the parts that are uniquely you and the parts that make it a soul that can inhabit the universe, and the former parts go to what we would call an afterlife upon death, whereas the latter parts get recycled to make new souls. The memory/thought parts are inherently connected to other things in the world, which is why they sometimes get stuck and get reincarnated, but it’s also what causes necromancy to be possible, because those connections are what allow someone to summon a ghost, for example, even if that ghost has already gone to the afterlife. There is usually a point at which the memory/thought soulstuff can no longer be accessed through necromancy, but that tends to take quite a while. Meanwhile the stuff that powers the soul is always accessible, but can’t really be formed into a person without some of the other stuff.
Maybe I should do a lore post on the metaphysics of death someday. Thanks for asking! 😀