Reincarnation - Fact or Fantasy?

18th Congress for the fringe areas of science in Basel

Basel, Switzerland
November 25, 2000
Neue Zueriche Zeitung

Since 1983, the Basel Psi-convention has been a scheduled part of the calendar at the Basel Fair. Ridiculed at first, now and again put in question, it has turned out to be the "most significant public congress worldwide for fringe areas of science" according to the arrangers. The congress was and is more than just a forum for alien esoterics: lectures, seminars and work shops offer all kinds of opportunity to delve into various cultures on individual themes, such as spiritual healing, altered states of consciousness, spiritism or, like this year, in reincarnation. The congress which starts today was already making headlines several months ago: the Swedish woman Barbro Karlen had been invited to be a speaker because she supposedly had memories of being Anne Frank in a prior life. "Based on the reactions," stated Leonhard E. Loew, organization manager of the congress center, the business management of the Basel Fair had cancelled her invitation. They wanted to avoid making the Holocaust into a theme.

Facts, Testimonies, Sense

Reincarnation - Fact or Fantasy? Three areas of focus delineate the theme. Are there facts which prove reincarnation? Are there testimonies to that effect? Does it make sense? From there, in accordance with the congress schedule, come a number of other questions: if we were reincarnated, do we incarnate in the literal sense, that means in the flesh, as human, animal, plant, or in spiritual form? What incarnates or lives again? Many people believe that something about us survives, regardless of their religious convictions. But what is this something? The theme of reincarnation is, as Alex Schneider said in his introductory speech, "complex, confusing and muddled." That, so the president of the Basler Psi-convention suspects," could possibly be traced back to the disinterest in the theme in academic circles. This year, however, the interest of the public as well as the media has also had its limits. Reincarnation is being researched nevertheless, as can be seen from contextual contributions to the convention, empirically and acerbically. So it appears, according to the numbers presented by sociologist Edgar Wunder, that more people in the West now believe in life after death. Yet does this belief have an influence upon behavior in life here and now? According to an International Social Survey carried out in 30 countries, that is not absolutely the case. Belief in life after death does not make one happier, nor does it raise morale.

Recollections of past lives

Cases of people who recall past lives or what they did in past lives are also researched in detail. Since 1988, Icelandic parapsychologist Erlendur Haraldsson has investigated 64 former lives in Sri Lanka which were described by children. In 22 cases the identity of the past personality could be verified. A study on reincarnation is currently being carried out with participants from Austria, German and Switzerland at the University of Freiburg in Breisgau. One of the methods being investigated for evidence of reincarnation is the going-back - under hypnosis or not hypnotically. Parapsychologist Paola Giovette looks for "indices" of reincarnation; she sees them in descriptions of mother or birth and the Italian woman also sees them in child prodigies who bring specific abilities with them from past lives.

In the event we are reincarnated - why? Is one life conditional upon the next or are they cosmic coincidence? These questions will also be answered in various ways at the congress. Parallel to the congress, the associated "Aura" exhibition is taking place until Sunday. There people can find out about the effectiveness of crystals, have their horoscope read, poke about in esoteric literature and go to presentations and demonstrations.

Swiss canton licenses spiritual healing for infertile women

Basel, Switzerland
October 31, 2000

Basel (dpa) - Basel Canton of Switzerland intends to license a project with a spiritual healer which is supposed to help infertile women get pregnant. On Tuesday, a spokesman from the health department verified a report to that effect for the "Basler Zeitung," according to which 34 to 36 women, who are childless in spite of all medical efforts, will participate for the next two years in the project by the cantonal Psychiatric Out-Patient Service (EPD).

Jakob Boesch, the lead doctor of EPD, will hire a suitable medium for the attempt, said the spokesman. "Doctor Boesch is very involved in alternative methods and has organized the funding for the project by sponsors and foundations." Besides the project with infertile women, Boesch has also gotten involved in controversial healing in medical circles with severely mentally ill patients, the newspaper reported on Tuesday. However the inter-regional ethics commission, a committee of the Swiss Science Advisory council, had only approved the women's project.

Dealing with Sects not taboo for the state

Basel, Switzerland
September 22, 2000
Basler Zeitung

by Stefan Hotz

The state is not condemned to idleness in dealing with the sect phenomenon. That is the message in a new book by the private information and counseling center, "Infosekta." The neighboring country of Austria has a good example for a decisive, yet protective procedure against the sect presence.

Zurich. At the end of June the Federal Assembly categorically denied the call for a sect politic. It did that in its answer to a report in which the Business Review Commission (GPK) of the National Assembly urged stronger involvement in 1999. In a book which has just appeared, various experts question the administration's defensive attitude. The book's distributer is the private information and counselling center, "Infosekta," in Zurich, which has been observing assimilative groups with modest yet effective means.

This is doubtlessly a delicate area for state action. The concept of "sect" is not clearly delineated, and it touches upon questions of freedom of religion and conscience. That is enough reason - or excuse - for the federal assembly to keep its hands out of it. The authors express opposition to that attitude: indeed they comment that the state does not have to get involved primarily with content of belief, but more with abuse of power and methods which lead people into dependency. From the viewpoint of German law professor Rolf B. Abel, the practice of freedom of religion is under the proviso that individual human dignity and the state legal system be maintained. When those are put into question, he says, then there exists sufficient legitimization basis to take steps against sects and psycho-cults.

Although the social consequences are undisputed, the state barely reacts at all. Austria is an exception. There the federal assembly called into being a documentation and information center on issues of sects in 1998. According to its business manager, German Mueller, our neighboring country considers information work by the state legitimate when the threshold of crime has not yet been reached if a founded suspicion exists that the psychic and physical health, the free development of the personality, the integrity of family life, the financial self-determination or the mental or physical development of children or young people are put at risk. 400,000 copies of the booklet, "Sects - Knowledge Protects," from the Youth and Families Ministry, have been distributed.

But Austria is also trying to influence its own system. So-called confessional denominations are able to be entered in a public register, thereby gaining limited recognition insofar as they fulfil transparency in certain requirements (such as financing.)

There are also initiatives to protect fellow citizens here at home from organizational assimilation. In Basel, recruiting on the street has been prohibited for two years. The cantons of western Switzerland want to get together with Bern and Tessin to establish an information center. Munich went a different route: there the police created a commission for prevention and protection of victims, which, among other things, is explicitly involved in the area of sects and the occult. Their experts, in meetings with people involved or their relatives, explain whether suspicion of criminality exists and give advice for those seeking help.

In the book, the distributer formulates a thesis for the creation of a federal information and counselling center for sect issues. The forward states convincingly that the "no" from the feds was not the last word on the topic. In its documentation section, the book gives a comprehensive look into the difficult material. Most helpful is the augmentation of the detailed bibliography with a list of important internet addresses on the theme.

Infosekta (distributor) of the German-language book: «Sekten», Psychogruppen und vereinnahmende Bewegungen. Wie der Einzelne sich schützen kann. Was der Staat tun kann. NZN Buchverlag Zürich, 328 pages, 37 Swiss franks.

Niklaus Stoecklin:
"Weihnachtskugeln (1939), oil on canvas, 33x41 cm (privately owned).
Photo from: Niklaus Stoecklin 1896 - 1982 by Christoph Voegele, Wiese Verlag, Basel

[In this article, a "Christmas bulb" is a spherical Christmas ornament which is usually hung from Christmas trees.]

Basel, Switzerland
December 24, 1999
Basler Zeitung

Christmas in the times of the blown-out Christmas candles

by Lukas Schmutz

What does Christmas mean in a time in which Christianity in the Occident has lost its radiance, and Christmas is associated less and less with religion? Two pictures by Basel painter Niklaus Stoecklin from 1939 thematize this question in a manner which is still relevant today.

In 1939, Niklaus Stoecklin painted "Christmas Bulbs" [a picture of a box of a dozen round Christmas tree ornaments, one of which was broken]. At that time the European lights were going out. Hitler's regime of terror was established and his war machine was already rolling eastward. At that time, nobody could paint the complete horror of the following year, but the premonition was unsettling enough.

So it surprised few people that the Basel painter used the Christmas motif as a sign that something was broken. The candle was blown out and a Christmas tree ornament was broken. The fine, round glass surface of the burst bulb is splintered into small, sharp, pointed pieces. Both of these objects completely fit in with the atmosphere of the gray coldness of the background upon which Stoecklin set the picture, and it contrasts conspicuously with the bright colors of the ten other bulbs in the nearby package of twelve. From this contrast forcefully arises Stoecklin's theme: on Christmas in 1939, forbearance and wholeness as such -- even in a seemingly closed system -- had become questionable.

The Stoecklin study, not unjustly, indicated that the box probably also stood for a Switzerland -- so one would like to add in view of the actual historical discussion - which would have liked to pull the cover over itself. In any case, the picture's tension includes the unanswered question of whether the broken ornament comes from one of the two compartments in the box which are hidden by the lid which partly covers it, perhaps it was already broken inside the box, or whether the possibility of destruction came only from outside and could not be imagined to have taken place internally. Despite the burning historical context, the "Christmas Bulbs" are not simply a political picture. By using the extinguished candle, Stoecklin was following an ancient motif. In countless depictions of Christian art in the Occident, the candle is one of the most important symbols of the past. In Stoecklin's modern form of communication, the symbol appears in a chilling nakedness. With an exact science he detached it from the traditional context of a picture and presented it with great objectivity. That absolutely also goes for the Christmas bulbs. He brought out their objective character as if doing a geometric exhibition.

Closeness and Distance to Tradition

Several years before, in "The Three Bodies" he had set a cone, a cube and a ball in a small display case to create an icon of fascination for pure, spatial form, which point he brought out in a letter to Georg Reinhart: "All dead bodies which I intend to bring to life. A modern display case for children and philosophers. It takes time, because a virginity lives in these objects which one may not rape." The coolness of the composition, therefore, does not just come from the massive unease of the approaching political storm, but from the modernness of Stoecklin's interpretation of art. In today's view, this double access to the Christmas motif is informative. For one, Stoecklin used Christian symbolic speech to profoundly and cryptically present a non-religious context. In the other, he removed himself by using his exact, scientific style. The objective, measured look which Stoecklin cast on the symbolic objects of Christmas anticipates the distancing from religious content in the second half of this century in Occidental society. There is nothing provokingly anti-religious about it; the observation of reality is solely a result of new circumstances.

The Christmas candle has been extinguished

So Stoecklin's picture becomes two in one: an example of the unprecedented durability and renovation of the Christian symbolic language, so much it is almost indispensable when it comes to sensible expression about "final" things. And at the same time it is a clear sign of the forcing aside of religious background which any symbolic language has produced and long born in its obligatory position in the middle of Occidental society. It sets itself apart that the reference to Christianity has forfeited its importance and the reference to where it survives has become manifold, heterogeneous and individual.

Today we have advanced a great deal further in this process. At the end of the second millennium, Christianity -- at least in the Occident itself -- has widely lost its radiance. The people who maintain Christmas as a hinge point of their religious orientation are, here at home, turning into a smaller minority. Their celebrations which take place practically in social niches appear to the great majority as non-contemporary obligations. Even the culturally pessimistic warnings of the decay of values and the criticisms of Christmas consumer orgies which were with us ten years ago have largely faded. The Christmas candle, it appears, has now really gone out.

Paradox of the Present time

To that extent the picture "Christmas Bulbs" - regarded from an up-to-date viewpoint - is also very appropriate to our times. The "new objectivity," the expression, the epoch and style reproduced so admirably by Stoecklin and his contemporaries has since become outdated, so much so that the picture, which was so eminently modern in its time, could appear to one quickly glancing in the past as a nostalgic reminiscence for the good, old Christmas era. The paradox to today's concept of Christmas, though, is that the objectivity which one has enthusiastically developed has not at all influenced real-life behavior. It appears more the trend that the glittering opulence of the holiday is inversely proportional to inner participation.

That does not just relate to general welfare and buying power. Much more it has to do with the symbolism and the tradition of Christmas not just coming from Christian roots. The celebration of Christmas arose from blending diverse traditions together. The celebration of the birth of Christ was originally associated with the the Roman state holiday of December 25, the birth of the sun god; in the Germanic areas Christianity redesignated the festival of the winter solstice. The central symbol of the Christmas tree and its ornaments took place in the 16th century and primarily in the 19th century. Therefore the Christian tradition continues to bear strong underlying elements taken from natural religion.

Return to natural religion

The successively growing wave of sects, therapies and all sorts of other adventurous spiritual offers with the upcoming turn of the millennium shows unmistakably that new power is arising from this archeological stratum of European cultural history. Therefore much in today's behavior around the Christmas tree may be interpreted more from this source and less as the appearance of decadence. Of course anybody who -- as artist or as a generally reflective person -- goes back into European spiritual history looking for a reference to the world will find little. In today's necessarily individual attempt for self-reassurance, the symbolic language of the Christian tradition provides an instrument of inestimable value. A second picture by Niklaus Stoecklin shows this with the author's own precision.

For the poster of the Basel Christmas exhibition in 1939 he latterly selected the Christmas bulb as a motif. But this time it [the ball] was a projection surface for a reflected self portrait. Stoecklin showed himself in his loft at work: he was painting a Christmas bulb. The entire finesse of the presentation lies in the duplication of the motif: Stoecklin showed that he could not exactly reproduce the ornament, but that his observation of the distortion is what the ornament forces him to look at.

The ball in which he reflected himself represents the entire world which is meaningful to his artistic work. The Christian symbol world is unmistakably a part of it. The fish and the cross over the heat radiator leave no doubt as to their significance to the artist. But they do not emanate meaning for him nor do they even serve as a source of inspiration. Stoecklin imparts their meaning in that he, as he does everything else in the picture, submerses them in a cool blue with his palette and brush. For the self-assurance of the modern artist they are indispensable, though solely in the sense of a mental tool.

And Stoecklin uses them with a measured eye: the almost defiant seriousness of Stoecklin's persistent search for meaning of the Christmas season is as appropriate today as it was in winter 1939: the models of Occidental origins of meaning have forfeited their power to build reality and are, at the end of the millennium, only going around in circles. And nowhere can a substitute for them be recognized in the stockholder plans which are cheerfully offered except in silhouette.

From: "Basler Zeitung"
February 25, 1999

Pure Nonsense

Concerning the article "Police investigate Harnecker, Baz Nr. 44

The power of positive thought does not originate from the controversial caretaker of Patty Schnyder, R. Harnecker. This concept comes from the American Norman Vincent Peale, who put about it in book form in 1953.

The alleged Harnecker System of only talking over the positive experiences after a match, while he understands nothing about tennis itself, is pure nonsense. Mental training must be carried out by the person himself!

Today Patty Schnyder harbors an ego-dependency for her caretaker. A psychiatrist would say that her mental trainer has guided her into the I-catastrophe. His ego - or I - can not be lent out or imparted to someone, because it concerns the individual Self. And Patty Schnyder's caretaker is a beginner who is only bumbling about for the time being.

An unwritten law of creation goes, "He who makes his hypothetical healing powers public will lose these powers rather quickly."

Th. Kurrus, Arlesheim


Concerning the article on Schnyder and Harnecker in BaZ Nr. 43

The story about Patty Schnyder shows one again how very quickly rumors can be spread when it comes to minority religions, rumors which can produce an artificial hysteria. The tennis player's new caretaker has obviously - contrary to certain assertions - nothing to do with any religious congregation. He developed a couple of alternative methods and was immediately hit with the "sect bat." It is a pity that this theme continues to be discussed along these lines, even if he had been a member of one of those type of groups: what would that have changed? Or are members of minority religions, such as, for example, Jehova's Witnesses, Mormons or Scientologists, people of the second class who may not take part in leading sports? Would this sort of fuss have been made if he and Patty Schnyder were to pray before every game? Apparently some people get nervous when different ideas appear in leading sports.

Patrick Venzin, Basel