We take a look at some of the past lives of the Mother. These reminiscences also reveal certain deep truths about the memory of past lives and the work of the Divine upon Earth.
Words of the Mother
In principle, after a few thousand births, one should have every possible experience, provided one goes to the trouble of remembering. That would be the advantage of reincarnation; you can’t do everything in one lifetime, but with a few thousand lives, it’s possible to pass through all the states.
One should be able to remember.
Naturally, at the beginning you remember very, very little. As you advance, you remember more – I am referring to the experience of the psychic being.
Of course, I am not speaking of what the universal Mother can know, that’s quite another category! I am speaking of the experience of the psychic being, the purely terrestrial experience. Well, very few things seem … in fact, none of them seem alien or unknown to me. The human state of mind, ah yes! Since my early childhood, I have been flabbergasted by the way people think and feel – it seemed monstrous. But as for the circumstances and events of life, that’s all more or less old hat.
The experiences that left the most acute impressions on me (Mother makes a poignant gesture) – you know, the kind of things that make you say, “Oh, no, not that again, I’ve had enough!” – are connected with my lives as a monarch: empress, queen and the like … oh! Those are painful impressions, the most painful of all. And I have a keen memory of a resolution taken in my last life as an empress: “Never again!” I said. “I’ve had enough, I want no more of it! I’d rather be” … not even “I’d rather be,” I chose deliberately: “I want to be an obscure being in an obscure family, free at last to do what I want!” And that’s the first thing I remembered this time: “Yes, it’s an obscure family, an obscure being in an obscure milieu, so I may be free to do what I want; there isn’t a horde of people watching me and spying on everything I do and plaguing me with rules about what I ought to be doing.”
It didn’t last long! (Mother laughs.)
Meaning you never escape your destiny! Although it’s not official here, there’s still a wide margin of freedom.
That’s the first thing I told Sri Aurobindo: “This was the resolution made by my psychic being” (my psychic being was in a certain person – I know who). “And when I left, it declared categorically: ‘I want no more of this!'”
September 5, 1962
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All those vibrations that contribute to the development of the being “weigh the psychic down….”
No, it sifts them. That’s precisely what happens: the psychic doesn’t retain things in their totality: it sifts them – it sifts the vibrations as they come along.
The psychic memory is a sifted memory of events. In previous lives, for instance, there were moments when, for some reason or other, the psychic was present and took part, and it thus keeps the memory of just one circumstance. But the memory it keeps is the psychic life of that moment; so even if it retains the memory of a scene, it is a simplified scene, translated in the psychic consciousness and according to the psychic vibration of all those present….
Before I had the knowledge, before I met Théon and knew about those things, I had had memories that had always struck me because of their special character…. It’s like having, not exactly an emotion, but a certain vibration of emotion associated with an occurrence. And that’s what is full, what remains and lasts. And along with that, you have a perception – a bit vague, a bit fuzzy – of the people who were there, of the circumstances, the events, and that makes up a psychic memory.
What remains isn’t often the events that the mind regards as the most memorable or the most important in a life, but the moments when the psychic took part – consciously took part in the occurrence. That’s what remains.
I could have narrated many such memories, it’s very interesting. I had many in Italy. I traveled in Italy with my mother when I was fifteen, and I had lived a former life in Italy which was very conscious. So when I saw the places, it [the psychic vibration of emotion] would spring up suddenly. And it would come along with the scene…. What’s in the foreground is the psychic movement (the word “emotion” isn’t good, but anyway), it’s the psychic movement which is in front and is important – that’s what comes; the rest is like a background reflection: that is, forms, situations, circumstances…. I noted some down. Did you ever see something I wrote about a life in Italy? An old, old thing…. Fifteen – I had that experience when I was fifteen…… When I met Théon, I understood my experience because it was explained to me (I didn’t say the thing, but I understood afterwards, once I knew about the states of being, their working and all that), so I understood that was what a psychic memory was.
Before I knew anything mentally, I had had a considerable number of memories from past lives, but in that way: real psychic memories, not mental fabrications. And what comes first is emotion (“emotion”: the psychic feeling), it’s vivid, strong, you know, very strong; then, as a sort of background setting, there are the forms, appearances, circumstances, with something like the quality of a nebulous memory, and they come along with the psychic feeling.
I had that experience in Italy when I was fifteen, while traveling with my mother, and it struck me very much – it was very striking indeed! It was the memory of having been strangled in the Doges’ prison. Quite a story. Afterwards I inquired; I inquired about the names, the facts, the events (I was able to inquire in Italy about what had happened – it was in Venice – and it tallied marvelously). But the interesting thing, from an external point of view … I was visiting the entire Palazzo ducale with my mother and a group of travelers shown about by a guide: they take you underground, where the prisons were located. Then the guide started telling some story (which didn’t interest me) when, all of a sudden, I was seized by a kind of force that came into me, and then, without even – without even being aware of it, I went to a corner and saw a written word. It was … But then, there came at the same time the memory that I had written it. And the whole scene came back: I was the one who had written that word on the wall (and I saw it, saw it with my physical eyes, the writing was still there; the guide said that all the walls with writings on them made by the Doges’ prisoners had been kept intact). Then the scene went on: I saw, I had the sensation of people entering and catching hold of me (I was there with a prisoner – I wasn’t the prisoner: I was visiting him). I was there, and then some people came and seized me and … (gesture to the neck) tied me up. And then (I was with a whole group of about ten people listening to the guide, near a small aperture opening onto the canal), then, the sensation of being lifted and thrown through the aperture…. Well, you understand, I was fifteen, so naturally…! I told my mother, “Let’s get out of here!” (Mother laughs)
It was hard to restrain myself. We left.
But afterwards I made inquiries, I questioned and researched (we had some family there, I knew some people), and I found out it was absolutely true. It was a true story, with the names and all (now it’s all gone). A doge had imprisoned his predecessor’s son as a living danger to him, as he had tried to replace his father. So the doge, who had taken the father’s place, sent the son to prison. But the daughter of this doge was in love with the son, and she found a way to go and visit him. Then the doge, in his rage, decided to have her drowned. The whole story was there. And it was really spontaneous: I knew nothing of it…..
I’ve had many such memories (but that one was interesting), a great many, so that I know precisely the nature of the things that stay on and are part of the development of the psychic being.
There was another experience I had a little later (a little later, around eighteen or nineteen), in which I suddenly found myself riding a horse, in a man’s costume, leading armies to a fantastic victory; and it was the glory of the sense of the presence of the Force of Victory that made me lead the army to victory. Afterwards, I remembered the costume I was wearing, the people’s costumes, everything, and … I saw it was Murat’s famous victory. I was … (how can I put it?) the victorious spirit in Murat. And nothing more. So when people tell you, “I was this person, that person,” it’s all tales: it’s forces, states of consciousness that manifested in certain individualities at certain moments in their lives and which, at such moments, touched Matter concretely. And all that is gathered, collected together little by little, gradually, till it produces a conscious being.
Now, this [Mother’s being] is a rather special conscious being…. The psychic of this life (laughing) was rather collective! Memories of Catherine the Great, memories of Elizabeth, memories of two lives at the same time (!) in the age of Francis 1,88 memories … innumerable memories, and quite diverse. Each one … It’s not that you were in such or such person for his or her whole life: you were the important psychic Moment in those lives.
I stopped paying attention to all that when I came here – it was part of occult knowledge, not of spiritual knowledge. I stopped paying attention to it. But now that everything is being gathered together, it comes like that, like a part of the work, because … the cells participated to some extent when I had those visions, in the sense that they had the vibration in themselves; so all those vibrations have participated in the formation of all these cells, and now they relive it all. It gives them a possibility of breadth, of diversity, of synthesis and coordination of many, a great many things. And the sense of having thus lived for a long, long, long time……
Before I came to India for the first time, I was twenty-two and knew nothing of spirituality or anything else, but I spent a month in Egypt, and for a month I lived in a state of extraordinary emotion, without knowing why.
I was in a state of constant emotion: everything held me spellbound. Egypt made an extraordinary impression on me.
Ah, but we lived together in Egypt. I’ve known you from the time of Egypt, I know that. You are one of those to whom I said in Egypt, “I promise you that you will be part … that you will be on earth at the hour of realization.” There are a few of them – not many (Mother makes a gesture of being scattered across the world). But I know that!
I made that promise to a certain number of people – not all in the same age: at different stages….
I don’t generally talk about these things because it fastens people to the past: they try to relive what they lived, so you understand, that spoils everything…..
I have, for instance, an impression (a strong impression) that in the Assyrian age they had a means, they had found a means to record and preserve sound. It must have been destroyed, it disappeared. But it’s a very strong impression, linked to certain memories and [psychic] impressions like the ones I said: they aren’t ideas, but … [vibrations]. There was a capacity to make the invisible speak, you understand. They had a machine. It must have been destroyed with the rest?
The oldest memory we have is the first Chinese attempts. It’s in China that a machine to reproduce sound, to preserve and reproduce sound, was first found.
The Chinese were very inventive.
I had a very strong impression, which, so to speak, crystallized when I went to China (I know nothing of China: a city or two, a port or two, that’s nothing; but still you pick up a bit of the atmosphere): the origin of those people is lunar. There must have been beings living on the moon, and they (or a few of them, I don’t know) took refuge on the earth when the moon was dying. And that was the origin of the Chinese race…..
July 15, 1967
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As a child, when I was around ten or twelve years old, I had some rather interesting experiences which I didn’t understand at all. I had some history books – you know, the textbooks they give you to learn history. Well, I’d read and suddenly the book would seem to become transparent, or the printed words would become transparent, and I’d see other words or even pictures. I hadn’t the faintest idea what was happening to me! And it appeared so natural to me that I thought it was the same for everybody. But my brother and I were great chums (he was only a year and a half older), so I would tell him: “They talk nonsense in history, you know – it is like this; it isn’t like that: it is like this!” …..
I found out many, many things about Joan of Arc – many things. And with stunning precision, which made it extremely interesting. I won’t repeat them because I don’t remember with exactness, and these things have no value unless they are exact. And then, for the Italian Renaissance: Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa; and for the French Renaissance: François I, Marguerite de Valois,[[Of whom Clement Marot said: “Body of a woman, heart of a man, and face of an angel.” ]] and so forth….
Almost all my memories of past lives came like that; the particular being reincarnated in me rises to the surface and begins acting as if it were all on its own! Once in Italy, when I was fifteen, it happened in an extraordinary way. But that time I did some research….
All those kinds of things came to me just like that, without my looking for them, wanting them, or understanding them, without doing any sort of discipline, nothing – it was absolutely spontaneous. And they just kept on coming and coming and coming.
“One after the other, these vital beings came,” you say, “and some of them have even been in men….”
One of them was in Murat, on the day of his great victory.[[Is the battle in question here that of Eylau (February 8, 1807) or Friedland (June 14, 1807)? ]] It was a vital force that took possession of him and remained just for that victory; and it came into me, so I saw it all! I saw its entry into Murat’s body and the whole battle scene – I lived through it all. And once the battle was over, it left him. It was very interesting.
I wanted to clarify something…. I don’t know if Mona Lisa and Marguerite de Valois were your incarnations, but weren’t they contemporaries!?…
Yes, but I told you – four at once!
Four at once. And, in general, they were the different states of being of the Mother – the four aspects. Generally one aspect in each embodiment (when there were four). Or else this or that aspect might have been less present in one embodiment and more present in another. Sometimes there was a fairly central presence and then at the same time less central, less important emanations. But that has happened several times – several times. On two occasions it was particularly clear. But I have often sensed that there wasn’t merely ONE embodiment, that the course of history may have crystallized around this or that person, but there were other embodiments less (how to put it?) … less conspicuous, somewhere else.
They are the different aspects of the Mother.
* * *
But with this present incarnation of the Mahashakti…. She is the Supreme’s first manifestation, creation’s first stride, and it was She who first gave form to all those beings. Now, since her incarnation in the physical world, and through the position She has taken here in relation to the Supreme by incarnating in a human body, all the other worlds have been influenced, and influenced in an extremely interesting way.[[Some days later, Satprem again brought up the above passage, asking whether the Mother hadn’t been active on earth since the beginning of time and not merely “with this present incarnation of the Mahashakti.” The reply: “It was always through emanations, while now it’s as Sri Aurobindo writes in Savitri – the Supreme tells Savitri that a day will come when the earth is ready and ‘The Mighty Mother shall take birth’…. But Savitri was already on earth – she was an emanation. So they were all emanations? They were all emanations, right from the beginning. So we have to say: ‘With the Present incarnation.'” ]] I have been in contact with all those gods, all those great beings, and for the most part their attitude has changed. And even with those who didn’t want to change, it has nonetheless influenced their way of being.
June 30, 1962
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… Personally, I have nothing to say.
You know, mon petit, I said one day that in the history of earth, wherever there was a possibility for the Consciousness to manifest, I was there[[“Since the beginning of the earth, wherever and whenever there was the possibility of manifesting a ray of the Consciousness, I was there.” March 14, 1952. ]]; this is a fact. It’s like the story of Savitri: always there, always there, always there, in this one, that one – at certain times there were four emanations simultaneously! At the time of the Italian and French Renaissance. And again at the time of Christ, then too…. Oh, you know, I have remembered so many, many things! It would take volumes to tell it all. And then, more often than not (not always, but more often than not), what took part in this or that life was a particular yogic formation of the vital being – in other words something immortal.[[Each of these formations had an independent, immortal existence. ]] And when I came this time, as soon as I took up the yoga, they came back again from all sides, they were waiting. Some were simply waiting, others were working (they led their own independent lives) and they all gathered together again. That’s how I got those memories. One after the other, those vital beings came – a deluge! I had barely enough time to assimilate one, to see, situate and integrate it, and another would come. They are quite independent, of course, they do their own work, but they are very centralized all the same. And there are all kinds – all kinds, anything you can imagine! Some of them have even been in men: they are not exclusively feminine…..
Before I met Sri Aurobindo they would come and come and come to me, night after night and sometimes during the day – a mass of things! Afterwards I told Sri Aurobindo about it, and he explained to me that it was quite natural. And indeed, it is quite natural: with the present incarnation of the Mahashakti (as he described it in Savitri), whatever is more or less bound up with Her wants to take part, that’s quite natural. And it’s particularly true for the vital: there has always been a preoccupation with organizing, centralizing, developing and unifying the vital forces, and controlling them. So there’s a considerable number of vital beings, each with its own particular ability, who have played their role in history and now return.
But this one [the tall white Being] is not of human origin; it was not formed in a human life: it is a being that had already incarnated, and is one of those who presided over the formation of this present being [Mother]. But, as I said, I saw it: it was sexless, neither male nor female, and as intrepid as the vital can be, with a calm but absolute power…. Ah, I found a very good description of it in one of Sri Aurobindo’s plays, when he speaks of the goddess Athena (I think it’s in Perseus, but I am not sure); she has that kind of … it’s an almighty calm, and with such authority! Yes, it’s in Perseus – when she appears to the Sea-God and forces him to retreat to his own domain. There’s a description there that fits this Being quite well.[[A whiteness and a strength is in the skies… Virgin formidable In beauty, disturber of the ancient world! … How art thou white and beautiful and calm, Yet clothed in tumult! Heaven above thee shakes Wounded with lightnings, goddess, and the sea Flees from thy dreadful tranquil feet. (Perseus the Deliverer, Cent. Ed., VI. 6.) ]]
June 27, 1962