Interested in Early Jewish and Christian Beliefs about Reincarnation?
In both Judaism (with the exception of the Sadducees, who didn't believe in any kind of afterlife) and early Christianity, reincarnation was understood and accepted. Carol Hubbard's Reincarnation Truth website exists to help traditional Christians get the facts about reincarnation beliefs in the Western supernatural religions -- but all seekers of truth are welcome to visit there.
Selections on Reincarnation in History
In the modern Western world, reincarnation has generally been seen as a subject for anthropologists, theologians, spiritualists, hypnotists, cultural historians, and, more recently, some psychologists. The vast majority of Americans think of it as a naive fantasy of aboriginal tribes, a supernatural belief of Hindus and Buddhists, or a minority religious belief among ancient Jews and early Christians. Polls show only a fifth of the U.S. population is open to the idea of reincarnation, while the rest consider it outside modern science or incompatible with their religious beliefs.
However, oral traditions and written legends around the world make it evident that reincarnation has been an integral part of human worldviews from the early days of civilization. They document perennial beliefs in the existence of spiritual beings who assume human form and survive death to appear in subsequent lives. In the ancient cosmologies, sequential lifetimes gave a larger sense of purpose to each human life.
For instance, the traditional Yoruba people of West Africa saw reincarnation as intergenerational and often within the same family. A child born in a family where the death of a grandparent had recently preceded its birth was sometimes thought of as the re-birth of that being. The child might be called Babatunde for "Father has returned" or Yetunde for "Mother has returned". [See John Ferguson's Encyclopedia of Mysticism.]
In Bali the pregnant mother asked the village healer to help her dialogue with the unborn child to discover its identity and purpose in this lifetime. Australian Aboriginals believed the spirit of the child existed before this incarnation (in a transcendent realm they called Dreamtime). The father was made aware of the spirit's desire to incarnate before conception and the mother considered it her role to provide a temporary haven for a being with a pre-birth identity. They thought the spirit entered the fetus about ten weeks after conception.* [The Hindu Tirumantiram 460 suggests the soul is involved at conception, but remains passive until the fetus starts kicking in the womb.]
These examples come from Anne Maiden, a social psychologist who has studied many cultures relating to child-birth and -rearing practices. [* Reported by Richard Heinberg in Intuition Magazine, Vol. 1, Issue 4.] Also according to Maiden, an 11th century text called Tibetan Medical Paintings shows that culture believed that by its 26th week in the womb the fetus became aware of its former lives.
The Mbuti pygmies of central Africa, according to anthropologist Colin Turnbull, believed that potential human beings existed in a nonphysical state for long periods before conception. Cherokees thought that the soul chooses a family where it believes its gifts may flourish, and where it can complete a cycle of learning.
Scholars report that traditional Teutons, Celts, and Gauls accepted the "reality" of reincarnation.* Other historical sources referring to reincarnation include the sagas of the Northmen, the lore of the Druids, Eskimos, Sioux, Zunis, and Incas, and the tales of the Pacific peoples of Hawaii, Australia, and the South Sea.** In the Orient, including Japan and Eastern Russia, such reports are pervasive and detailed. *[The Enigma of the Hereafter, Paul Siwek], **[Reincarnation: The Hope of the World, Irving S. Cooper]
Many other accounts demonstrate that beliefs similar to these were widespread in ancient times. Given the partial historical records and difficult-to-interpret ancient languages, modern scholars cannot construct a complete and reliable history of all the worldviews that encompassed what we call the principle of reincarnation.
We can, however, reasonably conclude that such references may have been a universal response to actual human experiences. Perhaps they noted similar physical traits, apparent past-life knowledge and skills, and the other kinds of evidence discussed in the following chapters. There is no reason to assume that ancient people would not have arrived at conclusions similar to soem of those in this book.
It is also clear that concepts of reincarnation have waxed and waned over the millennia. However, the prevailing Western belief systems in the modern era have rejected the reincarnation hypothesis. To understand that development, let’s review the evolution of these worldviews from at least their “cradle”, if not their birth.
The Cradle of Western Civilization. Four river valleys are associated by modern historians with the rise of civilizations whose cultures shaped the way Westerners think. The ancient Indo-European kingdoms that gave the Western peoples their languages, alphabets, institutions, science and religions flourished along the Tigris-Euphrates, Nile and Indus rivers. (The birth of East Asian culture is placed in the Huang-He-Yangtze river system of China.) The oldest (Vedic) texts from this “cradle of western civilization” indicate belief in a transcendent atman (what we call soul).
These texts, alleged to be Hindu records of traditions more than 5,000 years-old passed from the rishis (sages) through generations of Brahmins, clearly discuss reincarnation (sometimes referred to as transmigration or metempsychosis). The Satapatha Brahmana (Brahman of 100 Ways) describes specific forms in the process of rebirth. The 3,500 year-old Upanishads have many such references:
The wise soul is not born nor does it die. This one has not come from anywhere nor has it become anyone. Unborn, eternal, constant, primal, this one is not killed when the body is killed.... (Katha Upanishad 2)
Know the soul as lord of a chariot, the body as the chariot. Know the intuition as the chariot driver, and the mind as the reins.... (Katha Upanishad 3)
In one Vedic text, the advanced being known as Krishna, who allegedly taught the South Asian humans much about the universe, told them "many a birth have I passed through, and so have you." This Hindu view of reincarnation as the means through which humans can reach enlightenment is shared by Jainism and Sikhism.
Buddhism on Reincarnation. The reformist teacher Buddha (c. 500 BCE) retained the same basic concept as he attempted to urge Hinduism’s return to its simpler, more natural worldview. However, the concept in Buddhism is called re-birth or re-becoming (Punarbhava in Sanskrit). This places the on-going focus on the consciousness embodied in an individual instead of the physical body.
The Buddhist text known popularly as the Tibetan Book of the Dead, teaches that incarnations of the soul involve the principles of birth, life, and transition. These cycles repeat themselves as the soul progresses toward "enlightenment". The Buddhist believes that if the soul does not make sufficient progress during a series of physical incarnations it must keep returning for further development. Only by achieving “enlightenment” can the soul escape the wheel of birth and rebirth.
Ancient Chinese texts are quiet on the subject of reincarnation, although the I Ching from about 2,500 BCE refers to enternal cycles of life and multidimensional development that could involve many lifetimes. About 200 years after Buddha the concepts described in the previous paragraph was incorporated into Chinese Taoism.
Mesopotamia and Persia. The Zoroastrian Avesta, analogous to the Hindu Vedas, represents the oldest (1,000 BCE or earlier) worldviews from the tribes of Persia (Persians, Medes, or Parthians). This cosmogony includes the view that souls are judged on their actions in life by advanced beings known as Mithra, Rashner, and Szaoshe. While the Avesta appears to draw much from the earlier Vedic era, it does not explicitly and prominently incorporate the reincarnation concept as we know it.
However, some Avesta scholars, including Zoroastrian ones, interpret possible references differently. A few see intentional references to reincarnation in some ambiguous phrases.* The best argument against such an interpretation seems to be that the Zoriastrian concept of resurrection precludes the reincarnation of a single soul in successive bodies. Resurrection theology clearly states that the soul will be reunited in “heaven” for eternity with its original, perfect body fashioned by Ashura Mazda. (This argument also plays a role much later in the development of the Catholic and Protestant Christianity’s denial of the possibility of reincarnation.) *[A Zoriastrian Educartion Insititute at www.vohuman.org and Zoriastrian Cosmogony at www.frashogard.com.]
Mesopotamia historically included Sumer, Babylon, and Akkadia. In this region, from 6,000 to 4,000 years ago, elements of reincarnation theory were widely accepted. However, later documents from the Middle East describe a struggle between worldviews that encompass reincarnation and those that do not. As we’ll see in the following discussions, by the 6th and 7th centuries CE the earlier beliefs in reincarnation had been dogmatically rejected by all Western supernatural religions.
An Egyptian Perspective. Writers like Siwek referenced above believe the primal Egyptian texts speak of the soul's metaphysical or immortal existence, but do not make an explicit case for the sequential lifetimes of reincarnation. For instance, the Egyptian Book of the Dead describes a soul's passage to a subsequent existence (Hades) after death, but does not suggest it reincarnates in another human life.
On the other hand, contrary evidence comes from the jackal-like Egyptian hieroglyphic for the word me-su (to be born). The Egyptians used totem animals as symbols for natural phenomena, with the jackal associated with the process of death and birth. Thus, the me-su symbol, consisting of three jackal skins, suggests multiple rebirths or reincarnation.* (The jackal-headed funerary AB named Anubis played a symbolic role in embalming and burial practices.) *[From Light Into Darkness, Stephen S. Mehler (Adventures Unlimited Press: Kempton, IL, 2005) p. 109, 146.]
The Egyptian concepts of Ba and Ka also suggest reincarnation. The term Ba seems to imply a phenomenon like the transcendent soul described in this book. The term Ka apparently refers to an aspect of the Ba which is individuated and linked to a physical body, an in a soul-incarnate. The familiar Egyptian symbol ankh [include symbol here] has been interpreted to signify the human soul's immortality.
The idea of reincarnation seems to have flourished while the Egyptian culture was ruled by “gods, demigods, and kings”. However, by the end of the Old Kingdom, after the advent of pharoahs, the appearance of elaborate ritual mummification (about 2,600 BCE) indicates a growing belief in the notion that an individual's soul had only one physical life. (This concept of “one-life, one-judgment, one-after-life, for eternity” became the cornerstone of Roman Christianity by the 4th century CE.)
The Greek Worldview. For the earliest known Greek writers on the subject of reincarnation we turn to 8th-century BCE poets Homer and Hesiod, also likely the first Greek cultural historian.
Homer, in his version of classical poems taken from more ancient oral traditions, reflected a natural perspective of the cosmos. In his universe both ABs (advanced beings) and humans experienced cycles of death and resurrection. While the ABs were more powerful, they possessed the same emotions and war-like traits as humans. In The Odyssey and The Iliad, his historical AB characters such as Zeus, Apollo, etc. interacted directly with humans - not unlike Krishna, Mithra, Ishtar, and Toth in other cultures.
Hesiod's Theogeny describes his understanding of the then-absentee "gods" (ABs)* alleged to have been involved in the earliest history of the Achaens who settled the Greek peninsula around 4,000 BP, and of the Dorians who arrived there about 3,000 BP. By the time Achaens moved to Greece from the Black Sea or farther East, the "gods" were no longer physically present in the lives of these proto-Greeks. However, the knowledge of multiple incarnations the AB’s shared with humans lived on in the Greek oral traditions as it had in the early Vedic cultures.
[*Note. It must be recalled that the Greek word for the "gods" at that time was "deos" (derived from "devas" in the earlier Sanskrit) which referred to the advanced beings who flitted around Earth in flying vehicles . They were seen as very much flesh-and-blood beings, not unlike humans, but more advanced technologically and in their knowledge of multidimensional reality.]
Hesiod, and later Heraclitus (in 544-484 BCE), wrote of cycles of incarnation, with “mortals” becoming “immortal” and “immortals” becoming “mortal”. Pindar (518-438 BCE) gave us a Greek perspective on the profusion of various cults and the manner in which they described reincarnation, karma, and transformation. For instance, the Dionysian cult representing a naturalistic tradition espoused the doctrine of reincarnation. Pindar and (later) Pericles, Thucydides, and Socrates, appear to have expressed their beliefs about reincarnation in natural, not mystical terms.
Plato, in his early transitional dialogue Meno, has Socrates introduce the Orphic and Pythagorean idea that souls are immortal and exist before our births and after death. All knowledge, he explains, is actually recollected from this prior existence. In his 'theory of reminiscence', he wrote "Knowledge easily acquired is that which the enduring self had in an earlier life, so that it flows back easily". In perhaps the most famous passage in this dialogue, Plato has Socrates elicit recollection about geometry from the past life of one of Meno's slaves.* [Meno, 81a-86b]
In his hypothetical dialogues in Phaedo, Plato (429-348 BCE) wrote "The soul is older than the body. Souls are continuously born over again into this life." He believed, as the Gnostics later taught, that the soul had two options: Achievement of full memory of one’s many human experiences (gnosis) to rejoin the universal soul (as in the Buddhist nirvana), or to ignore the lessons from multiple lives and be forced to continue perpetual incarnations.
Plato taught that only by living “a philopspher’s life” could individuals gain immediate liberation from the cycles of life and death. This parallels the Eastern concept (moksha in Sanskrit) of achieving enlightenment to break the chain of reincarnations. His other books reinforced the arguments for reincarnation.* [Plato's Phaedo includes the scene where Socrates utters his final words before dying from the self-administered libation of hemlock. In it Socrates spoke of his journey to “that other world” and “the joys of the beyond”. He expressed no fear of judgment in Hades and looked forward to the opportunity to speak with other great minds. Similar accounts of the transmigration of souls may be found, with somewhat different details, in Book X of the Republic and in the Phaedrus, as well as in several dialogues of the late period, including the Timaeus and the Laws.]
These and other Greek writings during the period from about 1,500 BCE until the 6th century CE suggest Western sages shared the Hindu view on reincarnation. These philosophies held that the thinking human intuitively feels himself or herself a seeker of deeper and deeper knowledge. Further, that the reflective person learns from each lifetime and builds on that experience in successive reincarnations.
Orthodox Versus Esoteric Judaism. Reincarnation (gilgul in Hebrew) is not explicitly mentioned in the Torah. Thus, most orthodox Jews today do not believe in the notion of reincarnation discussed in this book. A few traditional Jewish scholars accept that some souls may be sent back to Earth (up to three times) until under divine guidance they perfect their observation of the Torah’s law. They may refer to Genesis 38:8 that impllies Yehudah and his sons believed in reincarnation and acted accordingly.
The Torah and other Jewish texts were slowly evolving, being adapted to fit a supernatural monotheism, up to the written Masoretic version done at the beginning of the Current Era. Nevertheless, they still today contain many references that seem to imply the concept of a natural principle of reincarnation. Some independent and Kabbalah scholars take the view that early-era (a period of about 1500 years BCE) Torah’s oblique references to reincarnation appear to be congruent with Eastern concepts, even to the notion of karma.
For instance, in Ecclesiastes 41:8-9, Solomon in referring to people who disobeyed Hebrew dicta said if you have “forsaken the law” and “if you be born (again), you shall be born a curse”. Jeremiah 1:4-5 implies one’s birth involves a transcendent soul: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart.” These and others may indirectly refer to reincarnation.
Flavius Josephus (37-93 CE), noted Jewish Pharisee commander and historian, wrote in his history Jewish Antiquities of reincarnation as follows:
The bodies of all men are, indeed, mortal, and are created out of corruptible matter; but the soul is ever immortal, and is a portion of the divinity that inhabits our bodies. . . . Do not you know, that those who depart out of this life according to the laws of nature . . . enjoy eternal fame; that their houses and posterity are sure; that their souls are pure and obedient, and obtain a most holy place in heaven, from whence, in the revolution of ages, they are again sent . . . into bodies; while the souls of those whose hands have acted madly against themselves are received by the darkest place in Hades? * [From The Works of Flavius Josephus, translated by William Wiston and quoted at http://www.reincarnation.ws/reincarnation_in_the_old_testament.html]
Other prominent Jewish writers of the period just prior to and during the time of Jesus also taught the doctrine of reincarnation. They included Philo Judaeus (of Alexandria), the Chaldean sage Hillel who led the Pharisees in Jerusalem during the 1st century CE, and Jehoshuah ben Pandira. This theory survived into the 13th-century through the Kabbalist tradition when it re-surfaced in commentary on the Torah by Moses de Leon in his Sefer ha-Zohar (Book of Splendor). In the Kabbalist view “reincarnation takes place so that people may progress spiritually through healing or correction (tikkun in Hebrew)”.* *[http://www.lcms.org/graphics/assets/media/CTCR/Kabbalah.pdf]
This ancient Hebrew tradition’s concept of reincarnation involved working towards a reconnection with the creative source of light. It is not unlike the Hindu/Buddhist notion of achievement of enlightenment (awakening to the light). The Kabbalist saw achievement of enlightenment, “illumination” or “awakening” as rising to the level of a co-creator of the universe - along with other creator-beings. Some of the earliest followers of the teacher Jesus, known in Greek as Gnostics, shared this cosmology.
Jesus and Reincarnation. In the absence of confirmed contemporaneous records of Jesus’ comments on the subject, we cannot definitively describe his views on reincarnation. However, from a number of references in the Gospels (first written down decades after his public teaching), one can reasonably assume that Jesus embraced or passively accepted the early Hebrew view of reincarnation.
Even after several “official” revisions, involving Aramaic, Greek and Latin texts, the orthodox Gospels still have numerous references that encompass reincarnation. Matthew 11:14-15 and 17:12-13 indicate John the Baptist was the reincarnation of Elijah. “I tell you that Elijah has already come and people did not recognize him... Then the disciples understood that [Jesus] was talking to them about John the Baptist.” Such texts show Jesus’ unquestioning acceptance of tradition.
Other references include: John 9:1 reads “The disciples asked Jesus 'Teacher, whose sin caused him to be born blind? Was it his own or his parents?' This implies not only reincarnation, but also includes the notion of karma. John 3:6 reads “A person is born physically of human parents, but he is born spiritually of the Spirit.” This remains consistent with the Eastern concept of soul incarnation. Galatians 6:5-8 reads “Each man should examine him own conduct....measure his achievement by comparing himself with himself...”
During the period when early followers of Jesus’ teachings were developing their various retrospective views of them, a lively debate about reincarnation took place. The Greek Plutarch (46-125 CE) who was associated with the Gnostic inclination, clearly stated in his Moral Essays "...the soul is indestructible...(and) it will alight back in the body again birth after birth..." He allegedly urged his wife (upon the death of their daughter Timoxena) to remember the Dionysian view that the soul is indestructible and is reborn eternally
Origen (185-254 CE), an early Christian philosopher, was a well known example of attempts to reconcile long-standing Indo-European views on reincarnation with the "one-lifetime/one-salvation" view of the Roman-oriented followers. Rooted in the Hellenic natural tradition and influenced by Neo-Platonism and Gnosticism, he struggled to incorporate reincarnation into the newly evolving dogma that required belief in Jesus' death and resurrection as the sole path for humankind's resurrection.
Unfortunately for him, Origen's concept of free will (by which a being learns from its mistakes) did not fit into the Roman theology where only an eternal Hell awaited those who did not accept the Christ-salvation route to reunion with God in this life. Origen desperately wanted to be part of that Western branch of the faithful, so much so that he castrated himself to meet Gospel writer Paul's admonition to avoid burning in hellfire. Little good it did him in the long run because Byzantium Emperor Justinian (527-563 CE), at the Council of Constantinople in 543 CE, had Origen's principle of reincarnation declared heretical and ordered his texts burned.
Gnostics and Reincarnation. One, among the many groups of early Jewish followers of teachings associated with Jesus, was the community known as Gnostics. They did not find that Jesus’ teachings contravened traditional views on reincarnation. They saw YHVH (labeled in the Gnostic writings as Yaldabaoth or Yave) and other beings, including the archons as tangible entities. Like the early Hindu and other Indo-European worldviews, they did not confuse such beings with the ineffable, infinite consciousness or spirit of creation (Brahma or Daemon). They, as most Jews of the time, did not believe Jesus was the predicted physically-incarnated supernatural messiah whose coming would herald a return of the Elohim (the gods). In their view, Jesus was a living example of the potential each human has to re-join his/her "Eidolon" (incarnated self) with the "Daemon" (universal soul).
The Gnostics' Exegesis of the Soul suggests a pre-existing soul incarnates, but then seeks to reunite with its spiritual source. During earthly life, these souls are continually drawn to heaven like beams of light to the sun.That such a mystical rejoining in this lifetime could be achieved through "gnosis" (gaining knowledge) set the Gnostics squarely in the mainstream of reincarnation. Like the Buddhist, a Gnostic could gain enlightenment/gnosis through his efforts.
The Secret Book of John described a human’s two options in Gnostic terms. The author of John taught that a soul (1) continually reincarnates until (2) it "is saved from its lack of perception, attains Gnosis, and so is perfected ..." [after which] "... it no longer goes into another flesh." The Gnostic sage Basilides believed that "...Gnosis was the consummation of many lives of effort".
The 2006 translation of the Gnostic text known as the Gospel of Judas* has Jesus saying to Judas, “...you will sacrifice the man the clothes me.” It makes the point that the physical body only clothes the soul which survives death. This view was compatible with the Eastern assumption that physical incarnations involved a conscious and self-directed process in which the soul could master this level and rejoin the universal Daemon to "rest in the place of pure light" (or nirvana).
Orthodox Christianity. I believe it accurate to say that up to the Council of Nicea in 325 CE, most followers of Jesus likely continued to include reincarnation in their worldviews, even if only a passive acceptance of it. However, the newly-converted, Roman emperor Constantine’s consolidation of disparate Christian groups and their contradicting views ending up favoring the belief that a soul only incarnated once.
The leadership of the Rome/Constantinople axis decided that Jesus (as the Christ) was the unique soul (direct from the Godhead) who incarnated to suffer and die as a human in order to release all other humans from the wheel of (karmic) justice. In opting for this "ritualistic redemption-for-all-time" concept, they rejected the idea that pre-existing souls could embody in human form, live to the best of their ability, learn their life’s lessons, and reincarnate to experience the consequences.
It then became the task of the Church's formative theologians to discredit the idea of reincarnation. Unfortunately, given the widespread knowledge of human evidence that supported the reincarnation hypothesis, they had to resort to ad hominem assaults on the idea and the character of people who talked about it. The Latin side of the house (St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose (bishop of Milan), and Lactantius) rejected out of hand any support for reincarnation, calling it "heretical", "stupid", and a "fable".
The Hellenic side of the house, to the shame of that culture's noble intellectual tradition, did no better. St. Gregory of Nyssa called it a "fable"; St. Basil the Great attacked it as "unreasonable; St. Cyril labelled it an "absurdity". St. Irenaeus and Tertullian, originally from Carthage, charged that accounts of past-life memories were no proof of past lives. Clement of Alexandria charged it was "arbitrary" evidence and Basilides said it was " misinterpretation of Scripture".
Islamic Worldview on Reincarnation. Almost universally, Islamic theologians and scholars declare that "There is no reincarnation; death and resurrection happen only once." This stark Muslim statement captures the essence of the above described Roman Catholic view contemporaneous to the prophet Mohammed. By the 7th century CE, when Mohammed directed the messages he allegedly channeled from the angel Gabriel be written down, the increasingly supernatural Middle East had widely suppressed the earlier traditions of reincarnation.
Not surprisingly, the Qur'an generally followed the widespread Christian view that a soul would only rise one time, on the day of judgment when the dead will be lifted up and justice will be rendered to all. Sura ___, reads "Allah hath caused you to grow forth from the earth and afterwards He maketh you return thereto, and He will bring you forth again." This phrasing seems to imply each human is born new from matter, decays back into the soil, and is brought forth on the day of final judgment. This would accord with the Christian "one-incarnation/one resurrection" scenario.
This Islamic vision of resurrection and judgment, like the Christian one, involves a future date which only Allah knows. The Qur'an calls this day of reckoning by many names among the 67 Suras that discuss the subject of Resurrection. The judgment rendered will depend on whether a person believes in the Muslim faith (as in the Christian notion of salvation through belief in the church's definition of Jesus), and whether one followed the "right path" and acknowledged Allah's blessings.* (A Guide to the Contents of the Qur'an. Faruq Sherif. Ithaca Press: London, 1985. pp.97-8/p. 103)
The soul is a stream whose waters disappear into the sands of the desert. Once the soul surrenders itself into the arms of the wind and loses itself within it, it will be borne aloft and lifted over the sands and into the clouds. Then it will fall as rain and become a stream again. Its true essence will never be lost.
The Dark Ages. In the era some historians call the Dark Age (5th through the 10th century), the orthodox bodies of Judaism, Christianity and Islam had all decided in favor of a dogma that focused on a single incarnation per soul. In their view it had one lifetime and one possible route (through their theology) to determine if it would rejoin its creator. This theology strengthened the hand of religious leaders who wanted to maintain the role of spokesmen for and gatekeepers to their God.
The notion of a transcendent, unique soul charting a self-learning journey through many lifetimes provided too much scope for free will and self-accountability. When the Albigenses and Cathars revived discussion of reincarnation within the broader community of Christianity in the 12th and 13th centuries, they were as decimated by Papal-directed inquisitions as were the Gnostics and Manicheans in earlier days.
In the 15th century, Neo-Platonists resurrected earlier concepts of reincarnation, but in a mystical manner that did not threaten the supernatural religions. In the next century, the likes of Italian philosopher Tommaso Campanella and cosmologist Giordano Bruno (burned at the stake in 1600 for his views) incorpoated reincarnation into integral models of the natural universe.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Enlightenment scholars like Henry More, Lessing and Hume combined the tools of science with mysticism. Romantic poets like Percy Bysshe Shelly and William Blake energized private discussions about reincarnation, but the established religions still dismissed it. Open discussion of it was only possible in esoteric traditions like the Rosicrucians and the Theosophists.
It remained to the poets to keep the concept alive in the Western World. William Wordsworth (1770-1850) wrote of reincarnation in "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: The soul that rises with us, our life's star, Hath had elsewhere its setting, And Cometh from afar." In the early 20th century Arab poet Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931) popularized the theme of reincarnation: "A little while, a moment of rest upon the wind, and another woman shall bear me."
Not until the second half of the 20th century did scientists begin to re-focus their techniques on evidence in our everyday world for human reincarnation.
Copyright 2008 - Paul Von Ward, author of The Soul Genome.