Reincarnation is a spiritual belief that our souls are reborn many times to this physical Earth plane. These many lives give us the opportunity to experience a variety of circumstances and create karma, the law of cause and effect. Through these experiences one grows, until ultimately one’s soul reaches a level in which it transcends to another dimension. Once in these other dimensions our souls continue their evolution toward oneness with Source.
I have always believed in reincarnation myself and have explored the idea in various paintings. This painting, Many Lives, illustrates that belief. The far left figure is my present self and the other figures represent selves I might have been in past lives. But the concept of reincarnation is not as ancient as I thought it was.
It is difficult to known exact beliefs of peoples who lived before written history began but some scholars feel that ancient cultures who practiced shamanistic Earth-based religions had a concept of reincarnation. But other scholars believe that these tribes taught only of the preexistence of the soul before birth or its independent survival after death in an Otherworld.
The Egyptian Book of the Dead tells how the soul travels to the next world but makes no allusions to its return to earth. Most Egyptologists agree that the ancient Egyptian concept of transmigration of the soul do not represent the reincarnation of our current day understanding. The practice of mummification and filling of the burial chambers with objects of beauty and necessity was meant to aide the deceased in the next world not in rebirth to another physical body.
The classic form of reincarnation originated in India. One finds mention of some type of transmigration of the soul in the ancient sections of the Veda, composed between 1500 and 1000 BCE. Its first complete mention is found in the Brihadaranyada Upanishad. The fully developed idea of reincarnation and karma came in the Puranic age and was then spread though out the East through Buddhism, reaching its full flowering around 300 BCE.
The ancient Greeks developed their own concepts of reincarnation. Pythagoras (569 – 500 BCE) taught that the soul was immortal and experiences a series of rebirths. Between lives the soul rests and is purified in the Underworld. Plato (428 – 348 BCE) shared similar views as Pythagoras with one big difference. He claimed that our souls become impure during their bodily experiences. Unless these souls used their lives to improve they would end up in a place of eternal damnation. By the 3rd century AD, Neo-Platonism had adopted a belief in reincarnation similar to that of Hinduism.
Greek and Roman writers of the first century AD noted with surprise that the Druids, the priestly caste of the Celts, believed in reincarnation. Even Julius Caesar wrote about the Celts belief in reincarnation and attributed their valor in battle to this belief in rebirth.
Within the Celtic stories and myths one sees many instances of a belief in transmigration of souls and reincarnation. The Celtic belief in a world of spirit includes the belief that spirit inhabits the bodies of people, animals, plants, trees and can even manifest in places such as wells, caves, rivers, and fields. They believed that a person’s spirit could migrate between these worlds.
The concept of reincarnation is seen in the many instances of shape-shifting, otherworldly experiences, rebirth for exceptional people and the passing of a spirit through a family’s bloodline.
The story of Arianrhod, Celtic Sky Goddess, illustrates a very early belief in reincarnation. Her castle, Caer Sidi was also known as Annwn, the Otherworld, land of the dead. People were brought there when they died. As “Silver Wheel”, Arianrhod was also responsible for the souls of warriors who fell in battle. She gathered them aboard her ship, the Oar Wheel. and transported them to Emania, also know as Moonland. In the Northern sky, whirling around the enduring stability of the north star, Arianrhod presided over the fates of departed souls, nurturing their journeys between lives.
And certainly the story of Etain, illustrates the belief in reincarnation. Beautiful Etain, who was changed into a butterfly by Midir’s jealous wife, was buffeted about over rocks and sea for many years before finally she was reborn 1000 years later as a beautiful baby girl, also named Etain, to an Ulster chieftain and his wife.
Our modern concept of reincarnation seems to be heavily influenced by the 19th century spiritual movement of Theosophy. In 1875, Helena Blavatsky founded the Theosophy Society. This organization drew from earlier theosophical ideas and included concepts of esoteric eastern religions. In addition the Theosophists together with the later work of Edgar Cayce explored the idea of soul families who reincarnate together over many lifetimes, playing various roles for one another.
I have also been drawn to the idea of soul families, exploring it in a series of paintings. Soul Family, and Ancestral Gathering I illustrate my ongoing belief in the combined concept of reincarnation and soul families.
It is intriguing how spiritual concepts grow and change over time. Of course spiritual belief is a matter of faith. There is no scientific proof that reincarnation or soul families exist. But this belief gives me comfort in a world full of both pain and suffering and beauty and ecstasy. For some reason beyond reason it makes sense to me and explains many of the strange twists of fate endured by us all.
Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now. You can order your deck on Judith’s
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Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her artwork. She continues to be inspired by the Divine Feminine in all of Her manifestations. Originally from New Orleans, Judith now makes her home in New Mexico where she paints and teaches part-time. She is currently hard at work on a deck of Goddess cards. Her work, which expresses her belief in the interconnectedness of all life, can be seen on her website at http://judithshawart.com