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The Soul passes from form to form; and the mansions of her pilgrimage are manifold.
Thou art old, O Soul of Man; yea, thou art from everlasting.
Book of Hermes
Every soul… comes into this world strengthened by the
victories or weakened by the defeats of its previous life.
Origen (De Principiis)
Live so that thou mayest desire to live again –
that is thy duty for in any case thou wilt live again.
From my experience, it seems to be that most people in our Western civilization don't believe that our souls reincarnate. Although far more are now open to its possibility than a couple of generations ago, still the belief is often perceived as a quaint Eastern misconception that has been adapted by various offbeat outliers in the West.
But what is the history of this belief and why has a large portion of the world's population affirmed this reality for millennia, while so many in the Western cultures have remained closed to this possibility. Is it because we in the West believe we are only mortal bodies that somehow, in some spontaneous, unexplained way, came into existence out of the primordial slime by time and chance, just as Darwin and our supposedly enlightened scientists would tell us?
However, Eastern traditions such as Buddhism and Hinduism that believe in the soul's immortality, have always espoused various concepts of our returning to earth from time to time. Even certain Middle East religions, including Islamic Sufism and Hesiodic Jewry, teach that souls reincarnate,
So why not in the West; what do we know that they don't? Or what do they know that we don't? Certainly, for the materialist, atheist, agnostic, where the notion of us being a soul is rejected, there is no possibility for such a belief. Once your body is dead, you're dead, so there's nothing there to survive after the death of the body. As the West became increasingly secularized over the last few centuries, belief in the spirit/soul waned in place of scientific materialism, naturalism and humanism.
But that doesn't explain why most Christian religions have continued to remain opposed to the concept of reincarnation. When we look into history, however, we see things didn't necessarily start that way in the first few centuries. In spite of the past, there has been much interest expressed recently on the topic of prior lives. Even in the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian denominations, there seems to be much greater tolerance towards those who are open to the possibility of reincarnation, even among their own adherents.
Personally, I don't think this is my first rodeo, at least not anymore. I wasn't that interested in the topic until I became aware of the research that had been done among young children who had astonishingly graphic memories of their prior lives. It was the investigative work of Dr Ian Stevenson (1918-2007) and Dr Jim Tucker, both Professors of Psychiatry and Neuroscience Behavior at the University of Virginia that caused me to take the topic seriously about 25 years ago.
Over several decades this university department thoroughly investigated reports of hundreds of children throughout the world who recounted their prior life experiences. Particularly interesting were reports of the children being in relationship with others they could never have known, often nowhere near where they had been born. These studies employed the highest standards of scientific research to confirm the details. One of the books on this topic is, Children Who Remember Past Lives, by Dr Stevenson.
Recently a bestselling book was released called The Boy Who Knew Too Much, written by Cathy Byrd, an evangelical Christian in the USA who had to deal with her three-year-old son telling her he was Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees from almost a century ago. Even though she didn’t believe in reincarnation at the time becaue it was against her church's beliefs, the boy continued to shock her, citing facts that he could never have known at that age, including his stormy relationship with Babe Ruth.
In fact, it was Dr Tucker of the University of Virginia that went to their home to interview the young boy so his story may be documented for ongoing research into the study of reincarnation.
It's a fascinating read that I highly recommend to all readers who are interested in the subject of their pre-existence.
For our purposes, perhaps the best way to examine the controversy surrounding reincarnation and the pre-existence of our souls is to consider an excerpt I've written in Book Two of Elysium's Passage: Surreal Adventures, (which I'm now editing for future publication).
The dialogue below involves the protagonist James, who is the first person narrator, and his two companions, Mo and Eli.
'From what I’ve seen,' I said, 'the world often presents rather difficult challenges for almost everyone at one time or another. If we reincarnate, as you both suggest, it makes me wonder if humanity has some inherent masochistic tendency to keep returning to this sorry state of existence.'
‘And yet,' Eli said, 'we only return because we come to understand there are very good reasons for doing so. If there is more to be gained each time we return that helps us develop the quality of our souls, then why not? It’s a free will universe.’
‘But that makes it sound like the world’s one huge cosmic boot camp,’ I said. ‘A lifetime on earth seems a rather long time to be in training, especially when you consider how badly we often fair in the end.’
‘I wouldn’t say a long time… not really,’ he said, ‘from Elysium's perspective it’s just a flash in the pan.’
‘Understand, there’s an important incentive to keep returning,' Mo said. ‘When it becomes known what splendors are available, many wish to advance towards unfolding more of the divine essence of our being. We come to realize it’s only our limitations that preclude us from experiencing the splendors that are ours to experience. Having said this, at some point we no longer consider this necessary when we are able to ascend on our eternal journeys without the unique resistances of our world. Also, I might add, this is often the case throughout lower dimensions of the Multiverse such as earth.'
‘Of course,’ Eli said, ‘there’s also the risk that one's time spent on earth may be counter-productive to one’s progress should anyone prefer to align their soul with the darker affections of the world’s illusions. To this extent the light is shut out. If they identify with darkness, then the darkness becomes their illusory self, but never in their divine essence. The divine Self can never be darkened, only hidden, overshadowed and forgotten in one's mortal slumber. One of my favourite philosophers, G.I Gurdjieff stated in his typical wit and enigmatic wisdom: A man may be born, but in order to be born he must first die, and in order to die he must first awake.
‘However you may wish to interpret that, it would be wise if everyone would ask themselves if they are contracting or expanding their soul’s capacity to assimilate the vast treasures available from Elysium’s store of infinite possibilities. Whether they remember it or not, that’s why they came to earth, or from whatever other world they have dwelt. Still, in the Infiniverse, there are no mistakes; only lessons learned.’
'And so,' Mo said, 'it’s obvious that all lifetimes on earth have value, no matter how long or short they may be; there is no failure, only delay. As Eli suggested, all experiences are learning experiences, even when it seems they aren’t. That’s why so many are called to return again and again to lower spheres of existence. From Elysium’s perspective, a lifetime on earth is just an instant, albeit, a very important instant.
'In the final analysis, time has no meaning or reality, only an impression of what feels like a linear series of events not necessarily reflecting time outside of time in the true nature of reality. As Albert Einstein so beguilingly remarked, The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once.’
‘But still,’ I said, ‘I find it hard to believe there aren’t better ways of making gains then having to be born into a hell-hole like earth. Okay, it’s not always like that, but at times it sure feels that way to me.’
‘That’s because,’ Eli said, ‘you are still looking at this from a linear earth plane perspective. In reality, our earth life is much like going on a spiritual retreat for the weekend. Although it’s true, for some it may be experienced more like a spiritual fitness camp, as you say, but others may not wish to come back so much for their own benefit, but that they may help others advance while on their earthly journey. And in this process, they too would refine the quality of their own essence being.’
‘Well that’s most jolly to hear,’ I said, ‘but why didn’t anyone do this for me? There have been plenty of times I could have used a little help along the way.’
‘And how do you know someone didn't,’ Mo said, ‘or still won’t in your future earth life? Who knows, a child may come to help you one day… perhaps your child.'
‘Now that’s an intriguing thought’ I said, 'considering that I don't have a child!'
‘Not yet,' he said. 'Every human soul who comes to earth seeks their own unique experiences, often in a soul family that may include relatives and friends and maybe even some enemies. Some might have gone together on these journeys to earth hundreds of times before. We can never be certain of the reasons or circumstances why certain souls may choose to be born, only that it probably has to do with their recent past life experiences or possibly unresolved problems from the distant past. On the surface, it may seem unfortunate that anyone should be born into a culture of poverty, ignorance and fear.
'But how do we know that’s not what was chosen before coming to earth, particularly when material riches in the past may have impoverished their souls? Perhaps being born into a less advantaged life is what they deem necessary to make their big breakthroughs from past karmic blockages where they remain stuck on their spiritual journey. In any case, their life circumstance are not for us to judge.
'Our soul’s most inward conatus concerns itself with whatever is highest and best for it to progress towards more of what we have been created to grow towards as conscious beings. And that’s why every soul becomes involved in scripting their future lives to be lived on a lower plane of existence such as earth. But, as the poet Robert Burns once stated so eloquently, The best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley.’
'So if everyone already was a soul before coming to earth where our plans gang aft agley,' I said, 'why doesn’t anyone believe in the pre-existence of souls in the western civilization?'
'But surely as a professor of philosophy,' Mo said, 'you must understand what historical events brought about this ignorance.'
'Perhaps I should,' I said, 'but we don’t overly concern ourselves with such matters in philosophy today. Although, I think most of us realize that many or most of our ancient Greek predecessors believed in reincarnation, including Pythagoras, Plotinus and especially Plato with his Myth of Er in The Republic.
'The truth is; much of the world understands what was obvious to unprejudiced minds. Buddhists and Hindus are two examples of major religions that believe in reincarnation, along with various regions in the so-called civilized world in ancient times with their various expressions of esoteric faith. In fact, belief in pre-existence of souls is found in Muslim Sufism, Jewish Hasidism and Christian Gnosticism.'
'So,' I asked, 'what do you think brought the big shift in the West’s thinking about this: Christianity?'
'It’s not as simple as that,' Mo said. 'Ultimately it was the Latin Church that shut down speculation on reincarnation and the pre-existence of souls. But it wasn’t always the case. In fact, even today there still remain a few enigmatic references to this in the scriptures, even after writers, thinkers and teachers often expunged what they didn’t approve while interpolating what they did.
'Realize that most of these shenanigans occurred hundreds of years after the actual New Testament events. Finally it was decided what writings should form their holy writ, determined not long after the Nicene Creed at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.’
'I must confess I know little of what’s in the Bible and realize that's reprehensible for a philosopher, but it seems there aren’t many these days in our department who care about such literature except for which they can use to ridicule religion. But is there anything in the Judeo-Christian scriptures that might give some veiled reference to reincarnation?'
'First of all,' Mo said, let's just say there's nothing overt in the Christian scriptures that censors the idea. In fact, there are even a few references that seem to imply the notion of reincarnation. Of course, most theologians and philosophers would deny what might be implied in certain passages regarding pre-existence of souls.
In case you are interested, we have a copy of these scriptures here for you to look at should you be so inclined. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for you to do since the Bible has served as the foundation for western civilization.’
‘I think you’re right, Mo, I really don’t know that much and should make a concerted effort to learn more. Perhaps you can lend me that copy while I’m here since I’m not sure if I’d want to read it should I return home.’
‘Oh, I think I know where it is,’ Eli said, as he went to look in the back room of the cabin where they often stored all kinds of surprises such as this.
Immediately he returned with a leather bound copy which he handed to Mo.
‘Ah, here it is... a quote you may wish to consider,’ Mo said after finding what he was looking for. This passage describes a scene where the disciples ask Yeshua about Elijah. Let me paraphrase these verses from the Gospel of Matthew. Why then say the scribes that Elijah must come first? Then Yeshua replied to them: I say to you that Elijah is come already, and they knew him not. Then the disciples understood that he spoke to them of John the Baptist.' (5)
'If this sounds very much that Yeshua was clearly referring to the person John the Baptist as being the Elijah who had lived on earth as a prophet several centuries prior, it’s because he was.'
'Really,' I said, 'you’re saying that the soul of the prophet Elijah actually was John the Baptist?
'Not just me,' Mo said. 'Yeshua stated that in the Gospel of Mathew and why would I want to disagree with him? Even John didn’t seem to know who he was other than a voice of one calling the wilderness. But Yeshua knew more and so there’s nothing figurative about what he affirmed here, even though many leaders in the church today would, in effect, prefer to believe John that Yeshua on this question of identity. Of course they wouldn't put it that way in choosing to believe that Elijah’s name was being employed to symbolically describe John’s mission to the world. They often say the "spirit" of Elijah, rather than the soul of Elijah. To me, that’s a distinction without a difference.'
'I say let them believe as they wish,' Eli said. 'But isn't it interesting that John would wear the same camel hair clothing as what was described in the Old Testament about the prophet Elijah.'
'And Eli should know,' Mo said. 'Remember Eli is really short for Elijah, just as you imagined when you first saw us on the Summit. So what if Eli’s the same guy?'
'Yeah... what if?' I said laughing.
'But consider Eli's wild hair,' Mo said.
‘That’s right,’ Eli said, ‘all I need now is to find my old camel hair suit before I get a haircut.’
‘But seriously,' I said, 'what’s their problem? Why did belief in the soul's pre-existence suddenly become so objectionable to Western civilization that they need to do these gyrations to explain away what should be obvious?'
'That’s a good question,' Mo said. ‘But as I’ve indicated, one can come up with most anything to prove one’s point on either side of a theological question just as in philosophy. For example, there's an enigmatic quote from the Jewish scriptures that states: He has chosen us before the foundation of the world . Does that suggest there’s an acknowledgement of the soul's pre-existence? I’m sure many Bible scholars would vehemently disagree, at least until they arrive in Elysium.
‘Unfortunately, much of the early literature on this and other topics was destroyed when the writings didn’t conform to what was being canonized by the Latin Church. Not many realized how many of these valuable writings were suppressed in the early centuries, at least until some of these authentic Gnostic Gospels  were unearthed near Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945.
'Now, after almost two millennia, these writings have become an embarrassment to orthodox scholarship which seems to have done its best to distance itself from the contents of these Gnostic teachings of Yeshua and others, including his teachings on the pre-existence of souls.'
'Okay,' I said, 'but why deny the obvious? Is it just because these are not acceptable to established theological dogmas; I mean, where’s the honesty in that?'
'I’m coming to that,' Mo said. 'But first realize what the philosopher/theologian Origen  had to say about this in the third century AD.'
'I’m familiar with the name Origen,' I said, 'but once again, I must confess to not knowing much about him since my knowledge of religious history is wanting.'
'Yes, we certainly need to work on that with you if you wish to be considered a philosopher worthy of the name. To be a true philosopher it is also necessary to be a theologian… which explains why there are so few legitimate philosophers in the world today. Just because most of your intellectual peers are not aware of their historical roots, doesn’t mean you have to be. Atheism or agnosticism is no excuse for remaining ignorant. History is history.
'It’s important to be knowledgeable of how the most formidable minds in history thought, even if you don’t agree with them. To ignore them is sheer intellectual ineptitude and cowardice. By the way, please feel free to pass these sentiments on to your colleagues after you return. No offense intended, even if what I say sounds a tad pugnacious… but only to the guilty. My remarks may not make you many friends, but at least it will raise the bar… if there still is one.'
'I’ll be sure to do that… but only after I receive tenure. So tell me, what did Origen have to say on the matter of the soul’s pre-existence?'
'It was extraordinary, considering how he was regarded as one of the early church fathers,  arguably with the greatest intellect. St Jerome called him the greatest teacher of the church after the apostles, and Gregory of Nyssa referred to him as the prince of Christian learning in the third century.'
‘That’s most jolly,’ I said, ‘but just tell me what he said.'
‘Let me give you some specific examples,’ Eli said. ‘I just happen to have found this history book so you can brush up on your early church history. Here’s one of Origen’s quotes from Contra Celsum: The soul, which is immaterial and invisible in its nature, exists in no material place without having a body suited to the nature of that place; accordingly, it at one time puts off one body, which was necessary before, but which is no longer adequate in its changed state, and exchanges it for a second.
'And then on this page there are another few lines on the topic of reincarnation from De Principiis: The soul… has neither beginning nor end… every soul comes into this world strengthened by the victories or weakened by the defeats of its previous life.’
'That’s most astonishing!’ I said. ‘How many scholars are even aware of these quotes? If Origen said this, then they ought to be considered extremely important to Western thinkers.’
‘I suspect there aren’t many theologians out there that would be very interested,’ Mo said. 'In case you didn’t know it, it was centuries after Origen’s death that he came to be regarded as a bit of a heretic by some in the consolidated Latin church establishment in Rome. This was often among those who considered his theology to be too Greek for their Roman tastes. Being from Alexandria, his thinking was obviously influenced by certain ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato. Even in his own time he got into some trouble with doctrines such the universal salvation of souls.’
‘For most of history,’ Eli said, ‘the church in its various forms has never found such a position to be that helpful for their power base. They would prefer the competition to be damned, quite literally, so only they could be God’s favoured. In fact, later on in the medieval era, the Roman Church raised money for itself by selling what they called Indulgences. This was some favour you could purchase from the Church that would supposedly save your soul from hell. It was quite the scam they had going until Martin Luther called them out on their scheme.'
‘So you’re saying the reason they don't care for the idea of reincarnation is that it doesn't do much for them if you get to have more kicks at the can. You get to have one chance in this life, but if you blow it... then to hell with you! It’s all over baby. That's why you need them since they hold the keys to the Kingdom that saves you from God’s wrath. At least that’s what my lovely Sister Máire seemed to imply even though she tried hard not to put it in those specific terms.
'Your interpretation might be a tad cynical,’ Mo said, ‘but I’m sure that’s what many might have experienced because that’s what they believed.’
'In any case, there was a lot of about Origen’s theological interpretations, but it wasn’t until after a few hundred years after his death that a powerful leader came along to put an end to Origen’s intellectual legacy, including the persecution of all those who followed his teachings. In fact it was exactly three hundred years after his passing that Byzantine Emperor Justinian  instigated several anathemas against his teachings in 553 AD, including all reference to the pre-existence of souls.'
'That sounds a bit harsh,' I said. 'Why would the Church do that to one of its most prominent leaders after esteeming him for hundreds of years?'
‘From what we know, these anathemas never were recognized by Pope Vigilius. The whole affair was a set up in Constantinople by this powerful despotic emperor. Though the anathemas did occur, the Pope refused to attend this Fifth Ecumenical Council even though he was present in the city while it was being convened by Justinian. Though he demanded equal representation, Justinian had other plans.
'In fact, only seven bishops from the Roman Church attended but 165 bishops from Justinian’s jurisdiction were there to vote overwhelming with the Emperor. Of course it was rather expedient that they should do so. Also, at that time, Rome was being attacked and was in a vastly weakened position. To survive these brutal times, they depended on Justinian’s powerful army to recapture Rome and keep the Goths at bay.’
‘So would you say Origen and his teachings were officially anathematized or not,’ I asked.
‘There is a lot of ambiguity with this question among scholars, even to this day. Some say the anathemas were ratified by the next Ecumenical Council while many others say they were excluded. But one thing is for certain; Pope Vigilius suffered several indignities at the hands of Justinian and almost lost his life. A couple of years after the Council in 554 he passed away after being held in Constantinople for eight years. As should be obvious, theology in the day was mostly about politics, especially those of the emperor.'
'Wasn’t Justinian the darling who rounded up about 30,000 unarmed citizens during the Nika riots and had his soldiers slaughter them all in the Hippodrome? I remember hearing about this infamous massacre while I was docked in Istanbul.’
‘Indeed he did this,’ Eli said, ‘in fact, in just two days. But then I guess it was worth it to him. Not only did he save himself, but he went on to build the spectacular Hagia Sophia. As you know it’s still an architectural wonder in the world. It can’t be argued that Justinian was a daunting conqueror at the time, albeit a megalomaniac both at home and abroad. However, it seems he was something less than a saint or theologian, even though he considered himself both.'
‘Other than in his own mind, Justinian could hardly be compared to Origen,’ Mo said, ‘who was possibly the most brilliant of all Christian thinkers.'
‘Actually, too brilliant for his own good,’ Eli said. ‘In seeing past much of the rigidity already setting in the emerging church, I suppose it was just a matter of time until someone would try to take him down by having him posthumously condemned. And yet church history sided with Justinian’s raw might rather than Origen’s brilliant understanding of spiritual concerns. But for Catholic Christians, this isn’t as big of an issue anymore  where many of its laypeople increasingly accept the pre-existence of souls and possible reincarnation.'
‘However,’ Mo said, ‘if you should ever tell a churchman in most Christian organizations that you believe this, and then wonder why you get a smug, condescending look, well, this is why.’
‘You mean it all goes back to Emperor Justinian?’
‘And Athanasius and the religious politics of the time,’ he said. ‘It’s never just one person or event. Even so, most religious antagonists today could never tell you specifically why you and the Dali Lama are wrong about this belief. Often they will say the Bible and history proves reincarnation wrong, even though they know neither.'
‘Well at least that much I'm aware of,’ I said. ‘Hardly anyone knows why they believe why or what they believe, and whatever historical forces were behind the events that led to their beliefs. Obviously, not even a philosopher such as me. In fact, I didn't even know about Emperor Justinian's role in these anathemas.'
'And yet,' Mo said, 'it forever changed history in the West and the philosophical implications are everywhere. How can you ignore something like that?'
'Still,' I said, 'I’m sure there are many scholars who would dispute what you just said about Origen and Justinian.'
‘I’m sure they would,’ he said, 'but in any case, I trust you will pass this tidbit of information along when you return since I’m sure not many scholars realize any of this.'
‘Not likely,’ I said. ‘In fact, I doubt it I would ever have stumbled on this information on my own, even as a professor.’
‘We are delighted to help you understand more clearly how things are on earth,’ Eli said, ‘since old dogmas and entrenched biases can make history seem rather murky.'
 George Gurdjieff, (1872-1949) Russian esoteric philosopher. See Appendix ‘C’ in The Summit
 The concept of conatus means to endeavour in Latin. It has been used by philosophers throughout the ages with varying degrees of meaning. Descartes defined it as an active power or tendency of bodies to move, expressing the power of God. Bergson names this principle élan vital, (vital impulse).
 Which is to say: The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry. Robert Burns (1759-1796). To a Mouse, (1785)
 After Emperor Constantine (AD 306-337) decriminalized Christianity, he convened the First Council of Nicaea in AD 325. However, it wasn’t until AD367 Athanasius’ Festal Letter listed 27 books to comprise the New Testament. In 397 the Council of Carthage established these 27 books as the orthodox New Testament canon.
 Matthew 17:10-13 Mo’s quote was from portions of these verses
 Ephesians 1:4. He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world. (KJV)
 Officially known as the Chenoboskion Manuscripts
 Elaine Pagels, the highly acclaimed scholar from Princeton University has written two highly acclaimed books on the topic: The Gnostic Gospels (1979) and Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of St Thomas (2004)
 Origen (184-253) was born in Alexandria, Egypt.
 Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement, Ignatius were among the influential early church fathers but Origen is considered by many scholars to have been the most intellectually formidable.
 Justinian I, was the Eastern Roman emperor from AD 527 to 565 and is traditionally referred to as Justinian the Great.
 Anathema means accursed. The first of these stated: Whoever says or thinks that human souls pre-existed, i.e., that they had previously been spirits… shall be anathema. The second one stated: If anyone says or thinks that the Lord pre-existed and was united with God the Word before Incarnation and Conception of the Virgin, let him be anathema.
 Justinian also took on the title of Saint Justinian the Great in the Eastern Orthodox Church.
 In the Catholic Encyclopedia, in Vol. 11, under Origen and the Councils of Constantinople concerning the Fifth Ecumenical Council, it seems to be acknowledged that belief in reincarnation is not an obstacle for Catholic Christians.
The Summit, the first book of the Elysium's Passage series has now been released and is available in hardcover, softcover and eBook through Amazon.com
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If you wish to read about the series' intriguing How it Came, you may request it under the comment section below or email me at email@example.com
SUMMARY OF ELYSIUM'S PASSAGE: THE SUMMIT
This the first in a series of five Elysium narrations regarding a young British philosopher named James Phillips who finds himself living in an altered state of reality while still remaining on earth.
After experiencing a near fatal fall while climbing to the summit of a remote mountain in the Andes, James awakens in a new dimension. He soon encounters two mysterious beings who provide him with a very different perspective on the nature of his existence. Over the next year, before his body recovers from the coma, he is challenged to re-examine his understanding about life’s meaning and purpose far beyond anything he previously believed, or could believe.
An engaging and sometime surreal adventure with intimations of impending romance, the narrative explores the most important questions about life, death, reality and our ultimate destiny.
The Plains of Elysium (Champs-Élysées) was described by Homer, Hesiod, Virgil and many other poets as the paradisiac afterlife realm reserved for heroes. As the title suggests, this is about a journey through a passage that leads towards Elysium’s exciting realm of existence.
PENDING PUBLICATIONS IN THE ELYSIUM PASSAGE SERIES
The Summit, will be available for purchase in March or April 2018. With the exception of the last novel, the other three have been written but still require more editing before publication.
The following titles in the Elysium's Passage series are projected to be released as follows:
THE SUMMIT early 2018
SURREAL ADVENTURES fall 2018
MYSTICAL ROMANCE spring 2019
HE ELIXIR fall 2019
THE RETURN sometime in 2020