Déjà Vu

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Déjà Vu

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

A French term meaning "already seen," applied by parapsychologists to those events that people feel they are reliving. The expression déjà entendu ("already heard") refers to those things that one hears, and might have heard before.

To have a sequence of events take place that one feels has happened before, with exactly the same words or events, is not an uncommon experience. It is sometimes associated with a belief in reincarnation—with the belief that the earlier experience actually occurred in a prior lifetime. Déjà vu usually occurs with no warning and may last from a brief second to a minute or more. Although the feeling is strong that the event has been experienced before, it is seldom possible to pinpoint the previous occurrence. Most Wiccans believe that it is a sign of previous lives.

Déja vu

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The literal meaning of this French phrase is “already seen.” Psychical researchers apply the phrase to those times when a person feels that a scene or event has happened before. A related term, though not used as much, is déjà entendu—”already heard.” The term déjà vu was first used by F. L. Arnaud in 1896, though the experience has been recorded as early as 10 BCE by the Roman poet Ovid.

There are many instances of people visiting a particular location for the first time but knowing, and describing quite accurately, what lies just around a corner or just over a hill. Their feeling is that they have “been there before,” though they know that they have not. Déjà vu is often used in instances when a person has a strong feeling of having experienced something in a previous lifetime. It is, therefore, frequently equated with belief in reincarnation. Psychologists try to explain it away with terms such as cryptomnesia, redintegration, paramnesia, false memory, and the like. But they don’t explain such cases as the one recorded in Martin Ebon’s book Reincarnation in the Twentieth Century (1970). Ebon details the experience of Inge Ammann, a twenty-six-year-old German woman who, in 1966, felt a strong sense of déjà vu when driving through the countryside near Germany’s border with Czechoslovakia. She was with her husband, and told him of a side road leading to a village. They took the road and then she explained the layout of the village and told him details of the life of a family that had lived there during World War II. She recognized the old innkeeper and he confirmed all that she said about both the village and the family. He told them that the family’s youngest daughter had been killed when kicked by a horse. At that moment Inge experienced a vivid recall of the event, even crying out in pain.


Ebon, Martin: Reincarnation in the Twentieth Century. New York: New American Library, 1979

Déjà vu


Déjà vu is an eerie experience in which there is a feeling that a completely unknown place is familiar, as if one has been there before, or that a new situation has been experienced before. It can characterize events, dreams, thoughts, statements, emotions, meetings, and so on. The expression itself is French for “already seen” and was coined by E. Letter Boirac in 1876. No English expression has quite the same connotations.

Déjà vu is a widespread experience. A poll conducted in 1986 reported that 67 percent of Americans had experienced the phenomenon. Other studies indicate that déjà vu occurs more often to females than males, and more often to younger than older individuals.

There are many theories that attempt to explain déjà vu. In 1884, for instance, it was theorized that one brain hemisphere registered information slightly sooner than the other hemisphere, and that this explained the experience. Other researchers have postulated similar partial delay mechanisms, such as the hypothesis that the subconscious receives information before the conscious mind. These biological explanations have not been demonstrated to actually be a part of the human physiology. A more widely accepted hypothesis, which certainly accounts for at least some such “already seens,” is that the new places or experiences that we encounter during déjà vu simply resemble familiar places or experiences.

Another explanation embraces the notion of a collective unconscious, through which one is in touch with the universal experience of the human race. From this frame of reference, a déjà vu experience may simply represent a resonance between a current experience and one of the archetypes in the collective unconscious. Of particular significance are explanations that postulate that at least some déjà vu experiences are indistinct memories of past lifetimes.

Yet another explanation is that déjà vu is a form of psychic experience related to certain dream experiences. Thus, the new but seemingly familiar places we encounter may be, for example, places we visited during out-of-body experiences while asleep. Dreams may also be precognitive and experienced as déjà vu when what was precognized occurs or is encountered.