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The Llewellyn Encyclopedia

Reincarnation

This article was written by John Michael Greer on April 01, 2005
posted under Reincarnation

The belief that souls of the dead are reborn in other bodies, human or animal; also called transmigration. Far and away the most common teaching on the afterlife in Western occult traditions…

The rise of Christianity, with its insistence on eternal salvation or damnation after a single lifetime, forced the idea of reincarnation into an underground existence. Several Gnostic sects appear to have taught the doctrine, but after the suppression of Gnosticism in the last centuries of the Roman Empire, the orthodox ideas of Heaven and Hell defined the nature of the afterlife for nearly everyone in the Western world for centuries.

The one living tradition that retained a belief in reincarnation during the Middle Ages was the Cabala. The idea of reincarnation seems to have entered Jewish thought sometime in the first few centuries of the Common Era, but it was a minority view at best until the rise of the Cabala; most of the important medieval Jewish philosophers rejected it. In early Cabalistic texts such as the Bahir, on the other hand, reincarnation is presented as a reality, although these early writings seem unsure what to make of it. Several of these sources suggest that reincarnation is a punishment for specific sins, rather than the usual form of the afterlife for all…

Most current occult traditions treat reincarnation as a simple matter of fact. Reincarnation has also become the standard interpretation of the afterlife among modern Pagans of nearly all stripes…The theory of reincarnation has also been accepted generally among followers of the New Age movement.

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