The lost doctrine of Reincarnation
An investigation of the pre-existence of the doctrine of Reincarnation
John Temple tells us in The Mystery of Jesus—the final instalment in his excellent series of 12 articles on the Search for Truth—that "the Christian religion is nothing more nor less than the ancient Egyptian religion with the Egyptian wisdom taken OUT." We agree. One of the major strands of that wisdom was the doctrine of Reincarnation—what some have called the 'the lost chord of Christianity.' Why and how this vital doctrine came to be lost and the repercussions this has had inside and outside the Church for the last 2,000 years, is the subject of this investigation.
Regular readers will know that we discuss the truth and purpose of Reincarnation in the fourth of our occult studies course articles, so we will not repeat ourselves in this new article, except to say that to believe in reincarnation with all our mind and heart and to have enough faith to investigate it takes great courage. And this is perhaps one reason so few in both the West and the East truly believe in it, and even fewer understand it. Study that article, for there is much more within it than meets the eye at even a third or fourth reading.
In our usual afterword we examine the scientific evidence for reincarnation marshalled by psychiatrist Dr Ian Stevenson (1918-2007) and Australian hypnotherapist Peter Ramster. The German physicist Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf (1922-2010)—whose groundbreaking theories on surface physics earned her the prestigious Heyn Medal—thought that Stevenson's work had established that "the statistical probability that reincarnation does in fact occur is so overwhelming that cumulatively the evidence is not inferior to that for most if not all branches of science." Stevenson himself was convinced that, once the precise mechanisms underlying his observations were known, it would bring about "a conceptual revolution that will make the Copernican revolution seem trivial in comparison." Sadly, as we shall see, both were wrong and today material science is as far away as ever from investigating the subject of Reincarnation, never mind accepting it as a scientific truth.
Reincarnation in the West
It is not generally realised that the doctrine of Reincarnation was known in the West long before Madame Blavatsky brought it to the attention of Europe and the United States in the late 19th century through her two masterworks Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine. In the 4th century B.C. Plato taught the doctrine of Reincarnation in his Phaedo and many other books. Much later we find Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) writing that the soul of man "while she is in the body, is like a candle shut up in a dark lantern, or a fire that is almost stifled for want of air." His contemporary, the Poet Dryden who became a staunch Catholic upon the accession of James II in 1685, could still write in an ode to a Lady the following suggestive lines:
"If thy pre-existing soul
Was form'd at first with myriads more,
It did through all the mighty poets roll
Who Greek and Latin laurels wore
And was Sappho last, which once it was before."
Later still the German philosopher and theologian, Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) in his Dialogues on Metempsychosis, wrote eloquently on the subject of reincarnation. His words are well worth quoting in full.
"Do you not know great men who cannot have become what they are at once, in a single human existence? Who must often have existed before in order to have attained that purity of feeling, that instinctive impulse for all that is true, beautiful and good—in short, that elevation and natural supremacy over all around them? Have you never observed that children will sometimes, of a sudden, give utterance to ideas which makes us wonder how they got possession of them, which presuppose a long series of other ideas and secret self-communings, which break forth like a full stream out of the earth, an infallible sign that the stream was not produced in a moment from a few raindrops, but had long been flowing concealed beneath the ground?
"Have you never had remembrances of a former state, which you could find no place for in this life? Have you not seen persons, been in places, of which you are ready to swear that you had seen those persons, or had been in those places before? And such are we; we who, from a hundred causes, have sunk so deep and are so wedded to matter, that but few reminiscences of so poor a character remain to us. The nobler class of men who, living in perfect simplicity, temperate and according to the order of Nature, carried it further, no doubt, than others, as we learn from the example of Pythagoras, of Iarchas, of Apollonius, and others, who remembered distinctly what and how many times they had been in the world before. I am not ashamed of my half-brothers, the brutes; on the contrary as far as they are concerned, I am a great advocate of metempsychosis. I believe, for a certainty, that they will ascend to a higher grade of being, and am unable to comprehend how anyone can object to this hypothesis which seems to have the analogy of the whole creation in its favour."
The German poet and playwright Goethe (1749-1832) was convinced of the truth of Reincarnation. "I am certain," he remarked at the funeral of a friend, "that I have been here as I am now a thousand times before, and I hope to return a thousand times." As we pass from the 18th to the19th century we find William Wordsworth writing:
"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."
But most remarkable of all, we find the doctrine of Reincarnation mentioned in the Bible, a fact anyone with a sufficiently open mind may verify for themselves but unsurprisingly few dogmatic Christians ever attempt to do! So that is the subject of the next part of our investigation of the pre-existence of the doctrine and teaching of Reincarnation.
Tuco Amalfi — Spark of Life — oil on canvas (undated)
Reincarnation in the Bible
It is beyond doubt that Reincarnation was taught in the early days of the Church, for it was well known to the Jews from among whom many of the early founders of the new religion of Christianity came. Nor should we forget that Jesus himself was a Jew, was taught by Jewish teachers and according to several sources, spent time in Egypt where he would have learnt of the doctrine of Reincarnation first-hand from the initiates of the remaining Mystery Schools.
In the Zohar—which is a work of great weight and authority among the Jews—we may read that "all souls are subject to revolutions." This reprises the doctrine of metempsychosis taught by Plato and others. The book goes on to declare that "men do not know the way they have been judged in all time". That is to say that during their 'revolutions' or cycles of incarnation they lose a complete memory of the acts that have led to judgement. This is exactly the same as the teachings to be found in the Orphic religion which flourished in Greece more than 600 years before the birth of the Christian Church. Whilst the common people were taught that the newly dead who drank from the River Lethe would lose all memory of their past existence, those initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries would preserve it by drinking from the river of memory—personified as the Greek Goddess Mnemosyne—and so bring to an end their 'revolutions'.
That 'river' is the same as the Holy Well of Memory and Revelation mentioned in The Golden Star by J Michaud PhD, and both are metaphors referring to the hidden or occult wisdom which alone can liberate the human soul (Higher Self in our terminology) from further incarnations on Earth. The Zohar further tells us that "If she (the soul) be pure, then she shall obtain favour" (meaning a good re-birth in a righteous body). If, on the other hand "she hath been defiled (through ignorance), then she shall wander for a time in pain and despair...until the days of her purification are completed." The words in parentheses have been added by us. All this is replete with hidden meaning which would have been understood by many of the Fathers of the early Church such as Origen and Clement of Alexandria, who were well versed in Jewish Mysticism and the Pagan Mysteries, though both took pains to conceal their knowledge.
Under the name of "Din Gilgol Neshomes" the doctrine of reincarnation is constantly mentioned in the Talmud. The term means 'the judgement of the revolutions of the souls'. The Rabbi Manasseh ben Israel, a leading Jewish scholar who flourished in the 17th century, in his book Nishmath Hayem, writes: "The belief or the doctrine of the transmigration of souls is a firm and infallible dogma accepted by the whole assemblage of our church with one accord, so that there is none to be found who would dare to deny it...Indeed, there is a great number of sages in Israel who hold firm to this doctrine so that they made it a dogma, a fundamental point of our religion. We are therefore in duty bound to obey and to accept this dogma with acclamation...as the truth of it has been incontestably demonstrated by the Zohar and all books of the Kabbalists."
These demonstrations hold, as do the traditions of the primitive Jews, that the soul of Adam reincarnated in David, and that on account of the sin of David against Uriah it will have to come again in the expected Messiah. And out of the three letters ADM, being the name of the first man, the Talmudists always made the names Adam, David, and Messiah. Hence we find it stated in the Old Testament: "And they will serve JHVH their God and David their king whom I shall reawaken for them" (Jeremiah 30:9).
That is to say, David reincarnates again for the people. The Hebrew interpreters further maintain that since Adam had sinned it was necessary for him to reincarnate on earth in order to make good the evil committed in his first existence; so he returns as David, and later is to come as the long-awaited Messiah. The same doctrine was also applied by the Jews to Moses, Seth, and Abel who was slain by Cain, and then to supply the loss the Lord gave Seth to Adam; who died, and later on Moses is his reincarnation as the guide of the people, and Seth was said by Adam to be the reincarnation of Abel. Cain died and reincarnated as Yethrokorah, who died, the soul waiting till the time when Abel came back as Moses and then incarnated as the Egyptian who was killed by Moses; so in this case Abel comes back as Moses, meets Cain in the person of the Egyptian, and kills the latter. Similarly it was held that Bileam, Laban, and Nabal were reincarnations of the one soul or individuality. And of Job it was said that he was the same person once known as Thara, the father of Abraham; by which they explained the verse in Job 9:21, "though I were perfect, yet would I not know my own soul," to mean that he would not recognize himself as Thara.
All this is quite sufficient to show how entrenched the belief in the doctrine of Reincarnation was among the Jews—a belief which was shared by those who were instrumental in founding the Christian Church. For, as John Temple tells us in his article on the Facts and fictions of the Church, the first fifteen Christian Bishops were all circumcised Jews who observed the Jewish Laws and whose beliefs differed hardly at all from the Rabbis of the Synagogue. Hence it should come as no surprise to find the following confirmation of the doctrine of Reincarnation in the Bible. "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations" (Jeremiah 1:5). In Romans we find an even more compelling proof. After telling us that Jacob and Esau had not yet been born (verse 11), Paul writes: "As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated" (Romans 9:13).
When we combine this with the ideas of the people that "Elias was yet to come"; or that some of the prophets were reincarnated in Jesus or John; or when Jesus asked the disciples "Whom do men think that I am?", we are left in no doubt that the doctrine of Reincarnation universally prevailed among the Jews from the earliest times right down to the advent of Jesus. Let us now look more closely into this. Matthew chapter 11 opens with John the Baptist (who was in prison at the time) sending two of his disciples to interrogate Jesus. They begin by asking: "Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?" (Matthew 11:3). The words 'that should come' could not be any clearer proof that the reincarnation of the longed-for Messiah is what is being referred to. But wait, there is further proof. Jesus tells John's disciples that: "Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist...And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come...He that hath ears to hear, let him hear" (Matthew 11:11;14-15). Clearly, Jesus is telling John's disciples that John is the reincarnation of Elias. But the words 'he that hath ears..." suggest that they remain unconvinced, much like their modern counterparts!
Perhaps this is the reason the subject is taken up again in chapter 17? In any event, what follows makes it quite clear to us that the compilers of the New Testament were well aware that it was reincarnation that was under discussion, regardless of what modern interpreters might make of the words the Apostle puts in Jesus' mouth. "And his disciples asked him, saying, why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist. (Matthew 17:10-13).
This entire exchange is repeated in Mark, chapter 9, verses 11-13, which omits the name of John, perhaps deliberately. Neither narrative is denied elsewhere in the New Testament, nor is it one of those cases in which different Gospels contradict each other. It is not only a reference to the doctrine of Reincarnation, but also a clear enunciation of it. But there is an earlier reference in Matthew 16:13-14, which provides further confirmation of how widespread and accepted the doctrine of reincarnation was during the early days of the Church: "When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets."
You may conclude from this that some of Jesus' disciples were rather ignorant and foolish men! Many would agree with you, as John Temple makes clear in his analysis of the twelve in the afterword to Gabrielle Annunziato's humorous retelling of the Bible story of the Last Supper. Whatever the truth of the matter, Paul cannot be accused of either vice, and having been initiated into the Pagan Mysteries, would be thoroughly conversant with the doctrine of reincarnation, as the verses from Romans we quoted earlier, testify. We have left the most compelling but least obvious proof of reincarnation in the Bible until now; here it is in full:
"Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, how can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, how can these things be? Jesus answered and said unto him, art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?" (John 3:3-10).
It is interesting that we find these verses in the Gospel of John—Jesus' favourite disciple and the most esoteric of all the gospels. Of course, orthodox Christians see nothing remotely connected with reincarnation in these enigmatic verses. To them it is all about being 'born again in the spirit', whatever they may mean by this. The clue to their hidden meaning lies in the last verse: 'art thou a master...' etc. Now 'master', then and now was a synonym for a Teacher of the Eternal Verities, an Adept in the Occult Sciences, as Jesus was. In other words, Jesus is surprised that Nicodemus, a Rabbi (meaning master) is not familiar with so basic a doctrine as that of reincarnation. Once we know this, the meaning of the preceding verses is revealed. 'Born of water and of the Spirit' means matter and spirit, or lower and Higher mind—the two selves in man which we discuss in the first of our occult studies course articles, each of which reincarnates, but in a different manner. Water and spirit also refer in a concealed manner to two of the four occult elements (Fire, Air, Water and Earth) which every initiate had to pass through during his or her initiation. 'Spirit' may originally have been rendered 'Fire', but was deemed too overt a reference to the trials of initiation and hence was replaced by the word 'spirit'. This is sheer conjecture on our part, but not without precedence or foundation given the very many hands—not all of them clean—through which the Biblical narratives passed before their publication in the form we know today. Finally, the wind' which 'bloweth where it listeth' is a metaphor for the vagaries of Fate to which we are all subject during our many incarnations. From this it is clear that Jesus is talking about the selfsame 'judgement of the revolutions of the souls' which we mentioned earlier in connection with the teachings of the Talmud.
Our final piece of evidence is from the very last book of the Bible—the Revelation of St John, chapter 3, verse 12—a most significant combination of numbers for those of our readers who are interested in the science of real numerology. Here is that verse: "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out." Clearly the fortunate victor who has 'overcome' had gone out before or the words 'no more' would be meaningless. It is the old, old idea of the exile of the soul and the need for it to be purified by long wandering before it could be admitted as a 'a pillar in the temple of God'. What is more, until the ignorant and ambitious gained control of the Church and turned it from an instrument of Light to a weapon of darkness and superstition, the doctrine of Reincarnation must have been a shining jewel in the crown of the new movement. Later, at the council of Constantinople—flying directly in the face of the words of Jesus—the Church deliberately excised the doctrine from its system. Later it went still further and condemned all those who believed or taught Reincarnation as heretics, thousands of whom were burned to death for daring to oppose the superstitious hold it now exercised over almost the entire Western world.
And so, a doctrine that might have brought comfort and meaning to the lives of millions was lost; a mighty chord in a once grand symphony of Divine Truth was stilled for ever, and the 'music' of Christianity has never sounded the same since. Why was it lost? We gave you the answer above when we mentioned the ignorant and ambitious folks who took over the Church. For as we discuss in our article on 'How peace leads to war', the process of diverting Christianity to political use culminated in the 4th Century of our era when the Emperor Constantine adopted it as a state religion. Then, through the long centuries what light and truth remained in the Church was slowly eclipsed and it was made to serve the ends of political expediency and temporal power. It still does today, notwithstanding the many good and wise Christians who strive to live up to the ideals of Jesus' teaching. If the day should ever come that the Church admits that its founders believed in the doctrine of Reincarnation, and that Jesus taught it to his disciples in secret, the Light that was eclipsed by man's wilfulness and greed centuries ago may once more shine forth upon the Earth. But——we are not holding our breath!
© Copyright occult-mysteries.org. Article published 15 September 2019.
Updated 23 February 2020.