Era Denmark, Contributor
This article would be a book if we traced the origins of reincarnation theory back through every culture and epoch. Because of that and because of the inadequacy of language, we would do better to begin by considering incarnation and reincarnation by looking at the imagery and feeling that these words evoke.
The accepted use and definition of “incarnate” evokes images of something individual descending from one place, down into matter. This is spatial and temporal thinking unique to the human mind that most easily grasps 3rd dimensional realities of time and space. Most people will imagine incarnation as an individual unit of consciousness (that they call the “soul”) leaving it’s place and moving, like an orb of light, down to the earth sphere and then residing in and around the human body.
But what if there is another way of thinking about this?
Allow me to begin with two statements:
1. Just because a teaching is old, doesn’t make it true.
To highlight this, imagine that 10,000 years from now, a group of humans discovered the Georgia Guidestones during an excavation. Would you advise them to view this as ancient wisdom or truth given to mankind by sages? Or would you suggest instead that they consider the possibility that the stones were placed there by a billionaire with fascist leanings?
2. Anecdotal evidence and subjective experience are not proof of a thing.
This subject matter deserves to be handled both delicately and with assiduity. This involves the examination of both the origin of reincarnation theory (tracing backwards to the conditions of the epochs of which it arose) and its implications. That is, following the concept forward to its logical conclusions and implications. What does it imply about the nature of reality and the condition of the human-state?
Let’s try an exercise in allegory and imagination to view incarnation from another perspective.
In this exercise you are an observer, independent to the scene described:
Imagine that you are on a grassy knoll. There is no civilization around, only nature. The sky is clear and the sun is shining brightly. You are facing north, the sun is southwest, behind you, over your left shoulder.
Floating in the air a short distance from you are seven magnificent mirrors. These mirrors are not truly physical as they are also not truly mirrors but, for the sake of this exercise we will imagine them this way.
Each mirror is unique in its beauty. Each has a different frame and shape. The glass in each mirror is equally unique. There are waves and forms, areas that are concave, some convex and colours, beautiful arrays of colours.
You then become aware that over your right shoulder stand seven white columns. They are also unique in their height, circumference and shape but the material from which they are made (sand, limestone and white clay) is pretty much the same, although some variations are present. Unlike the mirrors, the columns are physical and subject to entropy.
Suddenly something to your left glimmers and you see there, suspended in mid-air, a diamond of such brilliance that it blinds you at first. Then the most extraordinary thing occurs.
The sun’s light hits the multi-faceted diamond creating a spectacular effect of light and colour. One ray of the sun enters the diamond but seven rays are projected out of the front face and each ray hits a corresponding mirror.
Now the mirrors, due to their nature, automatically reflect the sun’s light. When the light hits each mirror, the effect is wholly unique. Depending on the shape and unique lines and colour in the glass, the light that each mirror projects is individual to it. This light never stops shining and each mirror never stops reflecting it.
Now your attention turns once again to the seven columns. You turn to look and see the most amazing effect. The unique light reflected by each mirror has found a target on the columns. Each mirror has found a corresponding column on which to project its reflected light.
Mirror 1 is projecting onto Column 1. The effect is that Column 1 becomes aware of itself. She is given a name, let’s call her Alice. Alice looks down at herself, at her beautiful colours and glimmers of light and says, “Look at me! Look at my colours of orange and rose and my unique forms of light. This is me. I am my unique individuality.” She is unaware of the mirror that is projecting light, she is unaware that she is a composite of that individual ray of light, the uniqueness of the mirror that projects it and the physical form of the column. She only sees the effect, not the cause. And therein lays her error.
This phenomenon continues down the line as each column become self-aware.
As time goes by the columns begin to notice entropy of their physical form. The wind and rain have worn them on them. One day, Alice, our Column 1, crumbles and the dust remaining is carried away by the wind. To the other Columns who have witnessed this event believe she has disappeared. Without a target for the light from her corresponding mirror to hit, it appears as if her light is gone, as if it shines no more.
But Column 1 witnesses and experiences something different. Her self-awareness, her consciousness lingers there for a moment. She then experiences the sensation of moving upward along the ray of light of which facilitated her awareness. As she moves, it appears as if she is traveling through a tunnel to a point of bright light at the end.
She now perceives a sense of “arriving” and in front of her is a magnificent Being of Light. It is the mirror. She doesn’t look back. This unit of consciousness and temporal self-awareness re-joins the mirror as memories and experience.
Note: She, this soul “container” (so-to-speak) or “unit of individualized consciousness” never descended down to the column. She was created when the light from the mirror found a target and a composite was formed. The projected light was never retracted and the mirror never actually left home. The mirror did not incarnate, only the light projected by the mirror, with all of its unique properties, experienced existence as a composite of form and light for a short while.
We are the “mirrors”, immortal spirits that are direct emanations of the Divine.
The “mirror” will find another target and in fact, can find multiple targets at once and experience multiple states of being, some more physical than others.
This exercise is meant to illustrate that there are more ways to think about the concept of incarnation or reincarnation as currently understood in the west.
The differences may be subtle but the implications are profound in light of recent claims that reincarnation is a trap.
Reincarnation as Understood in the Past
The doctrine of reincarnation, known by other names such as, rebirth, transmigration of the soul, metempsychosis, metensomatosis and palingenesis is a concept that generally implies the immortality of the soul and cyclic manifestation of Being through incarnation, both physical and non-physical.
Most of the ancient notions of reincarnation are surprisingly incongruent with the modern view on the subject. This is a pertinent point to note for it reflects a vital truth…Human beings have been evolving through ages and this evolution of consciousness and soul directly implies an evolving understanding of the universe and the human’s place in it.
Let us consider a few variations on the reincarnation theme:
The Mesopotamians believed in the Eternal Return, a concept that for them, while similar to the current Western view of reincarnation, was not the same. The Mesopotamian notion of “descent to the Underworld” involved “descending and ascending” as cyclic phenomena. To quote Adapa from his Treatise on Sumerian Religion, “reincarnation is a concept suitable for the Mesopotamians because it was so real and explicit that it was not worth reporting the strikingly obvious.” The Mesopotamians took painstaking notes of the coming of the sunrise and sunset every day, the return of the seasons, the planets and the stars, always revolving and returning to charted points in the skies. Thus, they did believe that everything was cyclic, and probably considered life and death as such as well’. This viewpoint is confirmed by the Assyriologist Jean Bottero in his work “Mesopotamia: Writing, Reasoning, and The Gods”.
Hinduism is not a religion unto itself but rather a tessellation of religions. There was no central founder or authority. Although the transmigration of soul (from one body to another) has an extraordinarily firm hold on the people of India, the Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs, the theory of reincarnation does not appear in the Vedas. The Vedic religion did not have this belief. It teaches instead, the theory of re-death (punarmyrtyu) or “new death”.
The earliest mention of transmigration is found in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. According to the Upanishads rebirth or reincarnation of the souls can take place in a series of physical bodies (normally in human bodies but also in animals and even plants) or in a series of astral and preternatural bodies (sun, moon, planets, stars, angels or demons), depending on one’s karma. The Kaushitaki Upanishad expresses it more clearly: “He is reborn here either as a worm, or as a butterfly, or as a fish, or as a bird, or as a lion, or as a serpent, or as a tiger, or as a person, or as some other being in this or in that condition, according to his works, according to his knowledge”.
Who is the “he” that the Upanishad refers to here? Does “he” refer to the True Self or is this allegory used to explain the cyclic nature of conscious evolution? The Upanishad is a philosophical text, written by fallible humans.
Why do so many westerners accept eastern teachings to be absolute truth?
In his various works, philosopher René Guénon, illustrated that the belief in reincarnation held by the Hindu religion and by Buddhism, are misinterpretations of two completely different processes; metempsychosis and transmigration.
This manifestation of a Being (True Self) from state to state is called ‘transmigration’, although in reality, the Being has nowhere to migrate to; it is always home it never leaves home. It is more a case of innumerable lives manifesting at once due to the Being’s mere existence.” [refer to: “A Case Against Reincarnation,” p. 31, para. 8)
The problem with the theory of reincarnation that holds sway over the minds of Hindus, Buddhist and many westerners today, is that it assumes the primacy of incarnating into a human body. This is an absurd idea considering that the universe teeming with life at all levels.
Although Druidic tradition forbade the inscribing of their teachings, Caesar, Lucan and Pomponius Mela recorded accounts of their contact with the ancient Druids and their beliefs, especially regarding life and death. For the Druids, the goal of human experience was to reach the Otherworld. This Otherworld barely resembles exoteric Christian descriptions of heaven. The Romans had no concept of the continuity of existence that compared to the Druidic belief. “The Druids believe that souls do not die but pass after the death of the body into another” (Ceasar VI, 14).
Disconcerted by the Druidic belief in the soul’s immortality, Caesar, a cunning strategist, deemed it a shrewd move by the druids because it was, “suitable for exciting courage while suppressing the fear of death” (VI, 14). Pomponius Mela agreed, “[for the druids] Souls are immortal and there is another life among the dead, this makes them more courageous in war”. Despite the Romans astonishment, the authors of antiquity, without exception, testified to the druidic belief in the immortality of the soul. The important distinction here is that for the Druids, the concept of “rebirth” implied “re-entry” into the Otherworld) and/or “rebirth” to another life elsewhere. To the Druid mind, none of this occurred in a linear fashion (as in subsequent incarnations) nor forcibly on earth as a human being. The spirit chose when and where to experience life and is indeed, “incarnating” in both past and present, in multiple worlds, at the same time.
To the druids, this Otherworld is the intemporal and nonspatial place where the world imagined by the Divine Plan is realized. Human beings were active components of the whole, of God and its Becoming. Their beliefs were congruent with the Pythagorean system that exalted the individual soul. Individuals were entirely free to assume their destinies and choose their own paths. The individual assisted the Divine Plan by engaging, as a human being, with the world and acting upon it.
Zoroastrianism conveys a unique expression of reincarnation very similar to the ancient Germanic tribes and wholly different from the Eastern view. In the sixth paragraph of this essay it is written, “The accepted use and definition of ‘incarnate’ evokes images of something individual descending from one place, down into matter. This is spatial and temporal thinking unique to the human mind that most easily grasps 3rd dimensional realities of time and space”.
Zoroastrianistic thought did not account for or include linear time. For the Indo-Aryans, time was cyclic in nature. They lived in the present moment, the Here and Now. While there is no direct mention of reincarnation, Zoroastrianism infers a state of “multiplicity of being”.
The Zoroastrian understanding of incarnation is more like that of the Germanic tribes than that of Eastern thought.
From the 19th Century Onwards
The notion of metempsychosis became popular in Europe in the 19thcentury, most notably among European Intellectuals. This appears to have influenced Helena Blatvasky’s Theosophy in addition to her interpretation of Eastern concepts.
Rudolf Steiner, an esoterist and philosopher was first influenced by Theosophy before breaking away from the organization for various reasons, most notably because of Theosophy’s hostility towards the Christ (Christ Being and Christ Impulse not exoteric, orthodox Christianity which Steiner also objected to). This is an important point that we will come to in the latter portion of this essay).
Rudolf Steiner saw the cycles of human reincarnation as an evolutionary process, an evolution of the individual and of the whole of humanity, the universe, and the divine. According to Steiner, each human comes into the world with a fully unique personality, which cannot be reduced to genetics or familial and societal environment. The reality of the individual spirit is central to Steiner’s philosophy.
Steiner spoke of four bodies: the physical body; the etheric, or life, body; the astral, or soul, body; and the “I,” or spirit body. He further taught that, although the spirit of the individual is real and eternal, the complete human born each lifetime is unique, and work done in one particular incarnation cannot be achieved in the same way in another.
While Steiner spoke of the theory of reincarnation in terms thatseemed to correspond to the Theosophical view there were differences. Steiner stressed that reincarnations was a theory, whereas Theosophy proclaimed reincarnation as an absolute truth.
When studying Steiner’s work, it’s important to remember that Steiner was attempting to explain immortality and the development of humanity in terms that most people could understand.
The average person in the early 20th century had no notion of quantum physics and concepts like “all lives, past, present and future, are occurring at once”, would have been very difficult to understand. Nevertheless, Steiner alluded to this more than once. Reminding his students that thinking in terms of “past and future lives” would be in error.
Steiner offered techniques for receiving impressions of past lives but these were only impressions connected to a specific experience or lesson in one’s current life. There were no great details of the previous life (name, place, date and so on). The purpose of these exercises was to assist a person in better understanding their current situation, their strengths and weaknesses.
René Guenon (who critized Steiner but also admired him) saw such anecdotal evidence of reincarnation differently.
I quote; “Guénon explains the occurrence of anecdotal evidence of reincarnation (remembering past lives): He suggests that these phenomena are caused by “psychic residue,” which are the energies or subtle parts of one’s organic being. These energies are then separated or jettisoned from the body when a person dies, and while they slowly disperse and decompose, they can seemingly take on a life of their own.”
This also accounts for ghostly phenomena and instances in which mediums communicated with the recently departed.
“These residues can take the form of the body that they once inhabited, thus forming apparitions or ghosts, and they can also be picked up by individuals, sensed in dreams, manifesting as visions or even cause individuals to be possessed.”
Helena Blavatsky and Rudolf Steiner also stated emphatically that it is impossible for a departed soul to communicate with those on Earth through a medium. What Guenon referred to as “psychic residue” Blatvasky and Steiner called “astral shells” when a human dies they leave behind what can be called an “astral shell”. This is the remnant of consciousness left lingering after death. This is not the actual individual soul but is simply a senseless subjective form which eventually disintegrates, usually within a few decades at the most. This “shell” contains a large portion of memories and knowledge which the individual possessed during that lifetime but has no individual consciousness or Being behind it.
Blavatsky said that, “these astral shells or ‘Kama Rupas’ roam senselessly around in the Kama Loka (the astral) and are easily contacted by those with mediumistic tendencies or psychic sensitivity. Since they are able to senselessly repeat and recite certain pieces of information and knowledge which the individual possessed during its life on earth, they are easily mistaken by many to actually be the real soul.”
Guenon confirmed this as well. He wrote that “Since these energies are not unified through a physical body, they generally appear in a fragmentary manner, like the broken shards of a personality that once lived in another body in another time. However, without the constant renewal supplied by the physical body, these energies slowly dissipate; but they can and do continue to exist for long periods of time. Yet such a partial or fragmented entity, even though it is sensed and perceived in dreams and visions [or under hypnosis], and seems real and meaningful to the observer, it does not originate from one’s own self. The apparition, however seemingly real, is only the fragmentary residual energy of a completely different person who happened to live in another time and place. Ghostly phenomena are the effects of mindless and soulless entities, since the True Self or Being that acted as the core of such an entity was retracted back into the Universal Being upon the death of the physical body.”
Some may now ask, “But what about the work of hypnotherapist who regress people to past lives, isn’t that valid? Those people are in deep trance state so surely they aren’t making things up? Where is it coming from?”
Hypnosis is a form of spiritualism (referring to spirits not spiritual); it is purely psychic in nature, not spiritual in nature. This doesn’t make it “wrong” but the distinction must be made and all that is experienced in this state should be considered subjective.
Anecdotal evidence can be interesting but it doesn’t disprove or prove reincarnation as the majority understand it today.
Regarding past life memories, here is the crux of the matter: We interpret what we see, we interpret everything that we experience and filter these impressions through our current belief system. Heightened human consciousness is capable of great expansion; it’s capable of peering into other realities and getting glimpses of Parallel States of Being. But as soon as we attach a narrative to these experiences, we limit our perception of truth.
One may do well to contemplate the following: “How do I know that the glimpse of what we call a “past life” was or is actually me? Can I prove this? Could it be that I am merely experiencing sensations and images from someone else’s life?”.
To reiterate, hypnotism, channeling, spiritualism and mediumship are all psychic in nature. It’s important to distinguish between the psychic and the spiritual. They are different realms and different impulses possibly guided by different beings. This is important to note because evidence points to forces at work in our world that seek to incite confusion and might have, dare I say, their own agenda. .
We can’t go any further in this endeavor without considering these forces. Namely, Lucifer and Ahriman.
Steiner, as well as ancient authors (from Dionysius the Areopagate, pupil of St. Paul) spoke of at least nine orders of Beings — which are called the “hierarchies”. They in no way represent the totality of Beings in the universe but are directly tied to humanity and earth’s destinies.
The proceeding seven paragraphs are not the writing of this author, they are taken directly from an excellent essay entitled, The Advent of Ahriman that can be read in whole here.
“These [aforementioned] spirits are not all “angelic”, in the sense of “good and holy”. Some, sometimes, oppose the regular, good world-order. Ahriman (“the Unjust Prince of this World”) is a “retarded” Spirit of Form, working as an Arch, opposing (in a sense) the good world order. (Yet, this opposition is not purely “evil”, as I will discuss below.) Since Ahriman is a spirit of opposition, we might begin to understand his nature by understanding what he opposes: the Gods’ plan of earthly and human development. But the situation is not as simple as a two-sided contest; basic to competent understanding of the world-process is the recognition of at least three kinds of spiritual influence upon the evolution of mankind and the cosmos. (We must be clear that this “evolution” is something very different from the random, meaningless, material process conceived by the Darwinists and suchlike theorists. I mean by “evolution” a thoroughly purposeful, thought-filled process of development initiated and guided by spiritual beings.)
The normal gods (the regular hierarchies) create and nurture the evolution of the world and mankind, so as to bring about the possibility of Men attaining the status of divinity as “Spirits of Freedom and Love” — the tenth hierarchy. (At the present stage of evolution, the Man progresses through alternating periods of earth-lives and purely spiritual lives: birth, death, and reincarnation.) As the name implies, essential to the fulfillment of mankind’s task is the realization of freedom, meaning not so much political freedom as spiritual freedom — that Men should become independent, unique individuals acting consciously as the originators of their own deeds. Occult wisdom, independently rediscovered and made public by Steiner (and greatly simplified here, to put it mildly), explains this evolution as being created and guided through seven great cosmic ages. We are now in the fourth great age, called the “Earth” Age.
Besides the normal Spirits, a host of abnormal spiritual beings, called “Luciferic”, also influences earthly evolution. In a sense, these oppose the normal Gods’ plans for evolution. The Luciferic beings try to draw mankind away from the normal earth-evolution to their own abnormal psychic-spiritual cosmos of light. In the human soul they inspire pride, egotism, disinterest in one’s fellow Men, fiery emotionalism, subjectivity, fantasy, and hallucination. In the human intellect they inspire generalization, unification, hypothesizing, and the building of imaginative pictures beyond reality.
A third spiritual influence working into human and earthly evolution is the Ahrimanic (also known as “Satanic”). The intention of Ahriman, and his hosts, is to freeze the earth into complete rigidity, so that it will not pass over to the Jupiter, Venus, and Vulcan ages, and to make the Man into an entirely earthly being — unindividualized, unfree, and divorced from the normal Gods’ cosmos. The essential Ahrimanic tendency is to materialize; to crystallize; to darken; to silence; to bring living, mobile forces into fixed form — in other words, to kill that which is living. This tendency in itself, within proper bounds, is not evil; the dead, material world is necessary for the regular Gods’ plan of human and cosmic development. The Ahrim