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The Early Races

By "Reincarnation" we mean the repeated incarnation, or embodiment in
flesh, of the soul or immaterial part of man's nature. The term
"Metempsychosis" is frequently employed in the same sense, the
definition of the latter term being: "The passage of the soul, as an
immortal essence, at the death of the body, into another living body."
The term "Transmigration of Souls" is sometimes employed, the term being
used in the sense of "passing from one body into another." But the term
"Transmigration" is often used in connection with the belief of certain
undeveloped races who held that the soul of men sometimes passed into
the bodies of the lower animals, as a punishment for their sins
committed during the human life. But this belief is held in disrepute
by the adherents of Reincarnation or Metempsychosis, and has no
connection with their philosophy or beliefs, the ideas having sprung
from an entirely different source, and having nothing in common.

There are many forms of belief--many degrees of doctrine--regarding
Reincarnation, as we shall see as we proceed, but there is a fundamental
and basic principle underlying all of the various shades of opinion, and
divisions of the schools. This fundamental belief may be expressed as
the doctrine that there is in man an immaterial Something (called the
soul, spirit, inner self, or many other names) which does not perish at
the death or disintegration of the body, but which persists as an
entity, and after a shorter or longer interval of rest reincarnates, or
is re-born, into a new body--that of an unborn infant--from whence it
proceeds to live a new life in the body, more or less unconscious of its
past existences, but containing within itself the "essence" or results
of its past lives, which experiences go to make up its new "character,"
or "personality." It is usually held that the rebirth is governed by the
law of attraction, under one name or another, and which law operates in
accordance with strict justice, in the direction of attracting the
reincarnating soul to a body, and conditions, in accordance with the
tendencies of the past life, the parents also attracting to them a soul
bound to them by some ties in the past, the law being universal,
uniform, and equitable to all concerned in the matter. This is a general
statement of the doctrine as it is generally held by the most
intelligent of its adherents.

E. D. Walker, a well-known English writer on the subject, gives the
following beautiful idea of the general teachings: "Reincarnation
teaches that the soul enters this life, not as a fresh creation, but
after a long course of previous existences on this earth and elsewhere,
in which it acquired its present inhering peculiarities, and that it is
on the way to future transformations which the soul is now shaping. It
claims that infancy brings to earth, not a blank scroll for the
beginning of an earthly record, nor a mere cohesion of atomic forces
into a brief personality, soon to dissolve again into the elements, but
that it is inscribed with ancestral histories, some like the present
scene, most of them unlike it and stretching back into the remotest
past. These inscriptions are generally undecipherable, save as revealed
in their moulding influence upon the new career; but like the invisible
photographic images made by the sun of all it sees, when they are
properly developed in the laboratory of consciousness they will be
distinctly displayed. The current phase of life will also be stored away
in the secret vaults of memory, for its unconscious effects upon the
ensuing lives. All the qualities we now possess, in body, mind and soul,
result from our use of ancient opportunities. We are indeed 'the heir of
all the ages,' and are alone responsible for our inheritances. For these
conditions accrue from distant causes engendered by our older selves,
and the future flows by the divine law of cause and effect from the
gathered momentum of our past impetuses. There is no favoritism in the
universe, but all have the same everlasting facilities for growth. Those
who are now elevated in worldly station may be sunk in humble
surroundings in the future. Only the inner traits of the soul are
permanent companions. The wealthy sluggard may be the beggar of the next
life; and the industrious worker of the present is sowing the seeds of
future greatness. Suffering bravely endured now will produce a treasure
of patience and fortitude in another life; hardships will give rise to
strength; self-denial must develop the will; tastes cultivated in this
existence will somehow bear fruit in coming ones; and acquired energies
will assert themselves whenever they can by the Law of Parsimony upon
which the principles of physics are based. Vice versa, the unconscious
habits, the uncontrollable impulses, the peculiar tendencies, the
favorite pursuits, and the soul-stirring friendships of the present
descend from far-reaching previous activities."

The doctrine of Reincarnation--Metempsychosis--Rebirth--has always been
held as truth by a large portion of the human race. Following the
invariable law of cyclic changes--the swing of the pendulum of
thought--at times it has apparently died out in parts of the world, only
to be again succeeded by a new birth and interest among the descendants
of the same people. It is a light impossible to extinguish, and although
its flickering flame may seem to die out for a moment, the shifting of
the mental winds again allows it to rekindle from the hidden spark, and
lo! again it bursts into new life and vigor. The reawakened interest in
the subject in the Western world, of which all keen observers have taken
note, is but another instance of the operation of the Cyclic Law. It
begins to look as if the occultists are right when they predict that
before the dawn of another century the Western world will once more have
embraced the doctrines of Rebirth--the old, discarded truth, once so
dear to the race, will again be settled in popular favor, and again move
toward the position of "orthodox" teaching, perhaps to be again
crystallized by reason of its "orthodoxy" and again to lose favor and
fade away, as the pendulum swings backward to the other extreme of

But the teaching of Reincarnation never has passed away altogether from
the race--in some parts of the world the lamp has been kept burning
brightly--nay, more, at no time in human history has there been a period
in which the majority of the race has not accepted the doctrine of
Rebirth, in some of its various forms. It was so one thousand years
ago--two thousand--five thousand--and it is so to-day. In this Twentieth
Century nearly if not quite two-thirds of the race hold firmly to the
teaching, and the multitudes of Hindus and other Eastern peoples cling
to it tenaciously. And, even outside of these people, there are to be
found traces of the doctrine among other races in the East, and West. So
Reincarnation is not a "forgotten truth," or "discarded doctrine," but
one fully alive and vigorous, and one which is destined to play a very
important part in the history of Western thought during the Twentieth

It is interesting to trace the history of the doctrine among the ancient
peoples--away back into the dim recesses of the past. It is difficult to
ascribe to any particular time, or any particular race, the credit of
having "originated" Reincarnation. In spite of the decided opinions, and
the differing theories of the various writers on this subject, who would
give Egypt, or India, or the lost Atlantis, as the birthplace of the
doctrine, we feel that such ideas are but attempts to attribute a
universal intuitive belief to some favored part of the race. We do not
believe that the doctrine of Reincarnation ever "originated" anywhere,
as a new and distinct doctrine. We believe that it sprang into existence
whenever and wherever man arrived at a stage of intellectual development
sufficient to enable him to form a mental conception of a Something that
lived after Death. No matter from what source this belief in a "ghost"
originated, it must be admitted that it is found among all peoples, and
is apparently an universal idea. And, running along with it in the
primitive peoples, we find that there is, and always has been, an idea,
more or less vague and indistinct, that somehow, someway, sometime, this
"ghost" of the person returns to earthly existence and takes upon itself
a new fleshly garment--a new body. Here, then, is where the idea of
Reincarnation begins--everywhere, at a certain stage of human mental
development. It runs parallel with the "ghost" idea, and seems bound up
with that conception in nearly every case. When man evolves a little
further, he begins to reason that if the "ghost" is immortal, and
survives the death of the body, and returns to take upon itself a new
body, then it must have lived before the last birth, and therefore must
have a long chain of lives behind it. This is the second step. The third
step is when man begins to reason that the next life is dependent upon
something done or left undone in the present life. And upon these three
fundamental ideas the doctrine of Reincarnation has been built. The
occultists claim that in addition to this universal idea, which is more
or less intuitive, the race has received more or less instruction, from
time to time, from certain advanced souls which have passed on to higher
planes of existence, and who are now called the Masters, Adepts,
Teachers, Race Guides, etc., etc. But whatever may be the explanation,
it remains a truth that man seems to have worked out for himself, in all
times and in all places, first, an idea of a "ghost" which persists
after the body dies; and second, that this "ghost" has lived before in
other bodies, and will return again to take on a new body. There are
various ideas regarding "heavens" and "hells," but underlying them all
there persists this idea of re-birth in some of its phases.

Soldi, the archaeologist, has published an interesting series of works,
dealing with the beliefs of primitive peoples, who have passed from the
scene of human action. He shows by the fragments of carving and
sculpture which have survived them that there was an universal idea
among them of the "ghost" which lived after the body died; and a
corresponding idea that some day this "ghost" would return to the scene
of its former activities. This belief sometimes took the form of a
return into the former body, which idea led to the preservation of the
body by processes of mummifying, etc., but as a rule this belief
developed into the more advanced one of a re-birth in a new body.

The earlier travelers in Africa have reported that here and there they
found evidences and traces of what was to them "a strange belief" in the
future return of the soul to a new body on earth. The early explorers of
America found similar traditions and beliefs among the Red Indians,
survivals of which exist even unto this day. It is related of a number
of savage tribes, in different parts of the world, that they place the
bodies of their dead children by the roadside, in order that their souls
may be given a good chance to find new bodies by reason of the
approaching of many traveling pregnant women who pass along the road. A
number of these primitive people hold to the idea of a complex soul,
composed of several parts, in which they resemble the Egyptians,
Hindus, Chinese, and in fact all mystical and occult philosophies. The
Figi Islanders are said to believe in a black soul and a white soul, the
former of which remains with the buried body and disintegrates with it,
while the white soul leaves the body and wanders as a "ghost," and
afterward, tiring of the wandering, returns to life in a new body. The
natives of Greenland are said to believe in an astral body, which leaves
the body during sleep, but which perishes as the body disintegrates
after death; and a second soul which leaves the body only at death, and
which persists until it is reborn at a later time. In fact, the student
finds that nearly all of the primitives races, and those semi-civilized,
show traces of a belief in a complex soul, and a trace of doctrine of
Reincarnation in some form. The human mind seems to work along the same
lines, among the different races--unless one holds to the theory that
all sprang from the same root-race, and that the various beliefs are
survivals of some ancient fundamental doctrine--the facts are not
disturbed in either case.

In the last mentioned connection, we might mention that the traditions
concerning Ancient Atlantis--the lost continent--all hold to the effect
that her people believed strongly in Reincarnation, and to the ideas of
the complex soul. As the survivors of Atlantis are believed to have been
the ancestors of the Egyptians on the one hand, and of the Ancient
Peruvians on the other--the two branches of survivors having maintained
their original doctrines as modified by different environments--we might
find here an explanation of the prevalence of the doctrine on both sides
of the ocean. We mention this merely in passing, and as of general
interest in the line of our subject.

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