B.C. and Paganism: Reincarnation and the Afterlife


"Do you believe in reincarnation?"


"No. Reincarnation is a series of lifetimes, isn't it, one after the other, in order, on this planet? That feels a little limiting, it fits a little tight across the shoulders."

"What fits you better?"

"An infinite number of beliefs of life experiences, please, some in bodies, some not; some on planets, some not; all of them simultaneous because there is no such thing as time, none of them real because there's only one Life."

Richard Bach, Running From Safety

Most of the religious beliefs that I have are ones that have existed as long as I can remember; in fact, I believe that I was born with this set of beliefs, and cannot change them (I refer to these as my "core beliefs"). However, reincarnation is not one of these beliefs. In truth, I am a recent convert to the idea of reincarnation.

I have, however, always believed in the idea that a part of myself will live on after my physical death, and that I am have been put into the life I'm in because I'm meant to learn very specific things. Further, it's my feeling that my core beliefs are specifically oriented toward the thing(s) I'm meant to learn in this life.

So now that I've consciously chosen to accept reincarnation, I find that it fits remarkably well with my core beliefs. I've never felt the same kind of comfort with other ideas of afterlife (the idea of a utopian 'heaven', for example, just didn't seem to work for me -- too many internal inconsistencies).

Reincarnation in Modern Paganism

Jeffrey B. Russell argues that reincarnation is not a doctrine of historical witchcraft/paganism:

Another doctrine held by many witches is reincarnation, which, they claim, derives from the 'Celtic/Druid/witch tradition'. In fact, reincarnation is not an important doctrine of Western religions and has little place in Celtic or Teutonic beliefs. It is not a Druid teaching. It is of course, a common belief in some Eastern religions, and it has been widely believed by Western occultists for over a century. The witches' belief in reincarnation derives from Gerald Gardner, who drew it out of the spiritual atmosphere of his time, particularly out of the growing vogue of Eastern religion. There is, however, a difference in the way witches regard reincarnation and the way it is traditionally perceived in Eastern religions. In the East, the soul may progress towards nirvana or sink to lower levels according to its spiritual merit. In witchcraft, the soul simply returns to earth.1

The Pan Pacific Pagan Alliance, however, suggests otherwise:

Most Pagans believe in reincarnation. There is a strong affinity with the idea of cyclical life patterns, which do not cease with the death of the physical body. [...]

The Wiccan religion has what is called "The Summerlands"; a place where souls find rest before being re-born into the physical world.

The Druid belief in reincarnation is confirmed many times in classical sources; e.g. Posidonius (quoted by Diodorus): "... [Druids believe that] the souls of men are immortal, and that after a definite number of years they live a seconed life when the soul passes to another body."

Julius Caesar: "The cardinal doctrine which they seek to teach is that souls do not die, but after death pass from one to another; and this belief, as the fear of death is thereby cast aside, they hold to be the greatest invective to valour."2

More to come...

1 Jeffrey B. Russell. A History of Witchcraft: Sorcerers, Heretics and Pagans. p.161.

2 Pan Pacific Pagan Alliance "Pagan Beliefs and Pratices" This material does not provide footnotes, and hence I'm unable to check primary sources.

Copyright © 2000 by B.C. Holmes. Last updated: April 15th, 2000

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