The Missing Link in Christianity
With Elizabeth Clare Prophet
The belief in reincarnation is ancient and widespread. In 1886 the Reverend W. R. Alger wrote A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life. It became the standard Christian work on the subject of immortality.
In his book Alger wrote: “No other doctrine has exerted so extensive, controlling, and permanent an influence upon mankind as that of…metempsychosis [another word for reincarnation]–the notion that when the soul leaves the body it is born anew in another body, its rank, character, circumstance, and experience in each successive existence depending on its qualities, deeds, and attainments in…preceding lives.”
Before the advent of Christianity, reincarnation was a part of the spiritual beliefs of many of the peoples of Europe, including the early Teutonic tribes, the Finns, Icelanders, Lapps, Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, early Saxons and the Celts of Ireland, Scotland, England, Brittany, Gaul and Wales.
The Welsh have even claimed that it was the Celts who originally carried the belief in reincarnation to India. Author Ignatius Donnelly suggests that the Celts’ belief in reincarnation was derived from the inhabitants of the lost continent of Atlantis who migrated to Ireland.
In ancient Greece both Pythagoras and Plato believed in reincarnation. In the sixth century B.C., Pythagoras taught that the soul had many incarnations, which were opportunities for the soul to purify and perfect herself. “The human soul is immortal,” he said, “for it resembles the heavenly stars, and (like them) is involved in perpetual motion.” According to biographer Diogenes Laertius, Pythagoras claimed that he had been embodied in the past as Aethalides and Euphorbus, who died at the hands of Menelaus at Troy.
In the fourth century B.C., Plato taught that the soul is immortal and that its circumstances in its current life depend on its disposition formed in a previous life. In book 10 of The Republic, he tells the story of a group of souls about to embody who are advised by a prophet: “Virtue owns no master. He who honors her shall have more of her, and he who slights her less. The responsibility lies with the chooser. Heaven is guiltless.”
According to some scholars, statements made by the first-century Jewish historian Josephus indicate that the Pharisees and Essenes believed in reincarnation. Others believe these are references to the resurrection of the dead in new bodies.
In his Wars of the Jews, Josephus writes, “[The Pharisees] say that all souls are incorruptible; but that the souls of good men are only removed into other bodies–but that the souls of bad men are subject to eternal punishment.”
And in The Antiquities of the Jews, he says, “[The Pharisees] also believe that souls have an immortal vigor in them, and that under the earth there will be rewards or punishments, according as they have lived virtuously or viciously in this life; and the latter are to be detained in an everlasting prison, but that the former shall have power to revive and live again.”
Reincarnation was also taught by students of the Kabbalah, a system of Jewish esoteric mysticism that flowered in the thirteenth century. Reincarnation is still a part of the religious beliefs of the Jewish Hasidic movement, founded in the eighteenth century.
Some tribes of American Indians as well as numerous tribes in Central and South America have believed in reincarnation. Today the belief in reincarnation also exists among over one hundred tribes in Africa as well as among Eskimo and Central Australian tribes and many peoples of the Pacific, including Hawaiians, Tahitians, Melanesians and Okinawans.
1. W. R. Alger, A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1886), p. 475, quoted in Joseph Head and S. L. Cranston, comps. and eds., Reincarnation: The Phoenix Fire Mystery (New York: Julian Press/Crown Publishers, 1977), p. 8.
2. David Christie-Murray, Reincarnation: Ancient Beliefs and Modern Evidence (1981; reprint, Bridport, Dorset: Prism Press, 1988), p. 17.
3. Ignatius Donnelly, Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, rev. ed., ed. Egerton Sykes (New York: Gramercy Publishing Company, 1949), pp. 251, 254-55.
4. Pythagoras, quoted in Continuum: The Immortality Principle (San Bernardino, Calif.: Franklin Press, 1978), p. 19.
5. Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers 8.8.4.
6. Plato, The Republic 10.617, trans. Josiah Wright, quoted in Head and Cranston, Reincarnation: The Phoenix Fire Mystery, p. 216.
7. Josephus, The Wars of the Jews 2.8.14, in The Works of Josephus, new updated ed., trans. William Whiston (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1987).