Most Wiccans believe in some form of reincarnation. The idea is that the cycles of life, death, and rebirth we see in nature also apply to us since we are a part of nature. Therefore, we too live, die, and are reborn on this earth.
I’m going to give my personal reasons for why I do not believe in reincarnation and why I believe this is still consistent with Wiccan philosophy. Right at the start, I want to say that I don’t believe in oblivion after death, and I don’t believe in hell. In fact, it is my belief that we aren’t obliviated after death that makes reincarnation seem incorrect to me.
Buddhism teaches that we have no self, and that realizing that, truly realizing it, is part of enlightenment. I’ve heard the analogy of using one candle to light another, and the flame that passes between them is the reincarnated person; lighting the candle and yet they are two different candles. With this belief, reincarnation makes sense. If we truly have no self, no individuality, then truly it doesn’t matter if we are a female in this life and male in the next, or if we are poor in this life but rich in the next. None of the experiences, biology, all the things that shape you into who you are; none of those affect who you permanently are because there is no permanent “self”.
Wicca, however, does believe in the self. We don’t deny our nature, we are grateful for it, we honor it, we take care of it. We do not believe spiritual progress comes at the cost of denying our individuality. And we recognize that all that goes into making you who you are makes you a completely unique person. We are an expression of the Divine. We are of the Divine. An expression that only you can manifest.
Does being male or female or non-binary shape who you are? Would you experience and see the world differently if you were a different race than you are now? What about the home you lived in, growing up? If your home environment was different, for better or for worse, wouldn’t you be a different person? Marriage, divorce, being a parent, not being a parent, the career path you chose…all these things make you into who you are. You are the only person with the unique combo of your natural traits, your experiences, and your beliefs and thoughts.
Reincarnation denies that. Everything that makes you yourself is lost when you die. In a very real sense, it is oblivion. Whatever makes me “me” dies at my bodily death. So what passes on? Opinions on this differ, but the one thing that is agreed on is that it is not who you are in this life. All those experiences were there to learn from and shape you, but then the you that experienced them is thrown off like an old coat and discarded.
Many say reincarnation is necessary to grow and to learn. However, since the knowledge and the growth you went through do not follow you, it’s hard to see how you can benefit from learning lessons in a past life. Some people claim to remember quite an amount of their past lives, but no one remembers all of it or all of the lives they lived. So, how is it possible to truly learn from the past if the past is inaccessible?
Then there is the belief in karma, which is another belief most Wiccans share. Karma is supposed to be fair, almost brutally so at times. Whether you believe in the “rule of three” or not, the energy and the actions you put out there do come back to you. You, not someone else. And if we would not accept the idea that I’m paying for my parents’ karma, or my child is paying for mine, how is it ok that a completely different person is paying for it who is separated from the actual events by quite a bit of time? I may struggle with health issues because I was a corrupt doctor in another life (to give a theoretical example) but if I can’t remember that, there is no way to connect the dots and see the picture.
I can predict some of the objections.
Then how is justice served? If we don’t pay in some way for the bad deeds we did in our life- how is that justice? Wicca denies the existence of hell. We believe that, no matter how atrocious someone is in this life, an eternity of eternal conscious torment is unjust and unfair and not worthy of the Divine. Wicca, for most things, is focused on this life. You experience the Divine now, you don’t have to wait until you die. We haven’t nailed down a lot of the details of reincarnation (we do not have as philosophical of a theory on it as do Hindus and Buddhists) because we believe it is through focusing on what we can learn in this life and the good we can do and the growth we can achieve that truly shapes the person.
So, that being the case, how is someone else paying for our deeds in another life just? How is that fair? I am aware that many would say we are the ones to pay because we’re the ones reincarnating, but that goes back to the lack of the self and the problems that come along with that. There is a statement that I would say Wiccans hold to that says there are no sins in this life, only mistakes. We aren’t running up some tally in some book that the Divine keeps and that will need to be expunged before we can receive eternal life. We don’t believe the Universe works that way in other religions, so why do we believe it of our own?
What about nature? Doesn’t nature teach us the cycles of life, death, and rebirth? How can you learn from the Wheel of the Year if you don’t believe in reincarnation? Nothing says the rebirth has to be in this plane of existence. The Summerlands, after all, is a non-physical reality that happens to not be as dense as ours. If anything, coming to exist in a different plane where our physical reality changes but the soul stays the same is in line with the lessons nature teaches us. Things are born and they die, but their physical nature simply changes form. Nothing really ever dies or disappears physically. Its atoms just change form. The density of its existing changes form. The deer whose body becomes food for the predators and nutrition for the soil that will grow the plants in the spring- its atoms still exist. That, if anything, seems to me to indicate the eternal life of our souls, our selves, just in a different form like the kind of form we would take to exist in a non-physical reality.
What about those who remember their past lives? Are you saying they’re lying? No, I am not saying that- at least not for the vast majority of people. I think there are several possible explanations.
- The lessons from those memories are meant to represent something else but are misinterpreted as past lives.
- The memories are simply mistaken. Psychology has shown that you can alter a person’s memory by adding one word to a description. If you ask someone “What was the speed of the car that drove by?” instead of “What was the speed of the car that zoomed by?”, studies have shown that they will give two different speeds- the “zoomed by” description getting the faster speed, even if the car was going the speed limit. Memory is a very fallible thing.
- Experiences at a young age, outside of the person’s normally conscious memory, such as astral projection, are brought to their conscious memory and are interpreted as past lives.
- You believe in reincarnation and therefore you are interpreting situations such as a phobia of something to a past life because that is the explanation that makes the most sense to you.
There are, I’m sure, many other possibilities that I have not thought of. One real possibility is that some of the people who say they experienced these things are lying. I’m thinking of particular cases that get a lot of public attention. There are “false prophets” in Wicca just like any other spirituality.
People have had near-death experiences and have claimed to have gone to hell. Why don’t we believe those experiences? Why do we still hold on to our belief that there is no hell? If anything, a near-death experience is something more verifiable than something seen in meditation, because of what is physically going on in the body (the person was either nearly dead, or they weren’t). We don’t believe because we recognize that not every experience should necessarily shape belief, and that a lot of things could have been a factor in that person having the experience they had.
Ultimately, we can’t know until we die. And if I’m wrong, and when I die I find out that reincarnation is true, then I’ll have the answers to the questions I raised- but they are, I think, valid questions that the theory of reincarnation doesn’t answer satisfactorily. What we do agree on is that this life isn’t the end. There is more. I realize that my belief is that of a small minority of Wiccans. In fact, I’ve only met one or two people who share it. I still, however, feel it is completely in line with Wicca for the reasons I have covered in this article. If Wiccans can disagree on something as basic to our religion as the exact nature of the God and the Goddess, there is certainly room for disagreement over what happens when we die.