Landscapes, Memories, and Past Lives – I am often asked about landscapes. How some landscapes that we have never seen before feel familiar, reassuring, or threatening.

They feature strongly when I conduct past life regressions.

Four years ago, I visited the Callanish Stones on Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. It was a profoundly spiritual experience. Not only did the standing stones cast a spell, but crucially, the landscape around is wholly undeveloped and unpopulated.

What I was seeing was what the people who built the stones saw. No-one knows exactly why they were built when they were built (probably around 5000 years ago), or what they were for. That only added to the sense of place and mystery.

One of our deepest needs is for a sense of identity and belonging. We can find that identity in the landscape and place.

Landscape, therefore, is not simply what we see, but a way of seeing: we see it with our eye but interpret it with our mind and ascribe values to landscape for intangible – spiritual – reasons.

Landscape should not be looked on as simply a pretty picture: rather it is part of a process by which identities are formed.

The connections, therefore, between landscape, identity, memory, thought, and comprehension, are fundamental to our understanding of landscape and human sense of place.

But the memory of landscape is not always associated with pleasure. It can be associated sometimes with loss, with pain, with social fracture and sense of belonging gone, although the memory remains. The Welsh have a word, hiraethfor which there is no direct English equivalent. It is used to describe a sense of homesickness and nostalgia for a place, experienced as an earnest longing or desire, tinged with a sense of regret of not being in that place. The Cornish and Breton equivalents are hireth’ and ‘hiraezh’. How such a wonderful word does not exist in modern English I do not know.

The past lives on in art and memory, it shifts and changes as the present throws its shadow backwards. The landscape also changes, but far more slowly; it is a living link between what we were, and what we have become. This is one of the reasons why we feel such profound anguish when a loved landscape is altered out of recognition; we lose not only a place but ourselves, a continuity between the shifting phases of our life.

Landscapes are the repository of intangible values and human meanings that nurture our very existence. This is why landscape, and memory, are inseparable, because landscape is the nerve centre of our personal and collective memories.

We are familiar with relic and fossil landscapes. But cultural landscapes are living landscapes where changes over time result in a montage effect in front of our eyes, or a series of vertical layers, each layer able to tell the human story and relationships between people, and natural processes.

I am very fond of the Heights of Abraham, Matlock, Derbyshire, hills which have been mined for 2000 years and worked methodically since Roman times. When you visit there, you also visit the history of England. Landscape and identity are inherent components of our culture.

A few years ago, I visited Welshpool castle with my young grandchildren, the youngest, Jacob, of whom was three. Three is an interesting age, a child is relatively articulate but unable to read or be influenced by the media. They say what they see and experience. Children love castles, they are big, physical places to be enjoyed, and explored, combining open spaces with mysterious nooks and crannies. Jacob was loving it until we began to enter a hall which looked no different from any other, we had visited before. He scampered up to me, holding me around my neck, pressed tight.

“I am not going in there,” he declared.
”Why not?”
“It’s scary.”

I gave him to my partner and ventured inside. It featured displays of torture and punishment from the dungeons. He had no possible way of knowing this – yet he knew. 

This demonstrates that a sense of landscapes, and buildings, holding memories is with us from a very early age. It was described by Sir Edward Tylor as animism in 1871, who recognised it as one of anthropology’s earliest concepts, a belief found in tribes and ancient civilisations around the world.

So, do landscapes have memories?

They certainly hold the memories of what has gone before. The rocks in their strata, the soil in its layers, the polar ice in its water content. When we remember past lives, past landscapes are an essential part of that. Often providing a connection between the past and the present.

For a past life regression to visit your landscapes and memories contact:

If you want inspiration for places which hold special memories, Unesco’s world heritage sites are a good resource:

For more information on Sir Edward Tylor and animism, he is featured in my book “The Golden Age of Spiritualism:

Jane Osborne

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