Introduction to reincarnation
This is the introductory welcome and orientation page to the broad topic of the process between the death and a new birth, also reincarnation. It includes many different aspects such as:
- the spectrum of death: at what age, young or old, and due to what cause people die (eg accident, disease)
- the various stages after death, how this is experienced (alone and in relationships with others), and what happens in a spiritual scientific understanding
- the influence of deceased souls on Earth
- the process of incarnation and physical birth in a spiritual scientific understanding
- the laws of karma or destiny
- the metamorphosis of the human being in the process between death and a new birth
- the doctrine of reincarnations in various cultures and religions, also historically
- an evolutionary perspective on the start and end of human physical reincarnation, and changes in the process over the various epochs
- the effect of the Christ Impulse and the Mystery of Golgotha on the process of reincarnation
- and many closely related topics such as oa the resurrection: what it is and how it is possible.
- for a jumboard page to the topic pages covering the differing topics in detail, see: Man's cycle of reincarnation
- the human Christ experience and impact of the Christ Impulse in the stages of this journey, see Christ Module 20 - After death
- not only the human I reincarnates, also the other elements of Man's bodily principles can be 're-deployed', see Principle of spiritual economy
- "it is insufficient to speak only of the reincarnation of the I .. the etheric body and astral body can also be reincarnated" (1909-02-15-GA109)
That things are never simple and many other effects coud be playing is ao illustrated by
- what is explained in 1924-08-08-GA237, regarding the confusion in karma being caused by the lack of alignment between angels.
- is the fact that souls can and/or will be able to make a choice regarding their karma towards others they are heavily indebted to, see 1922-11-19-GA218. This is related to Christ as Lord of Karma (see eg 1911-10-07/14-GA131).
.. the following possibility will arise for mankind in coming time. When at the point of descending into a next earthly life, man will be able to say to himself: ‘This is the body I have been preparing; yet, having sent it down to Earth and having now received my Karma into the ether-body which I have drawn together from the Cosmos, I see how it is with this Karma. Through something that I did in former lives I see that I have gravely hurt some other human being.’ For we are always in the danger of hurting others through the things we do. The light of judgment as to what we have done to another man will be particularly vivid at this moment when we are still living only in our ether-body, having not yet put on the physical. Here too in future time the light of Michael will be working, and the love of Christ. And we shall then be enabled to bring about a change in our decision, — namely to give to the other man the body we have been preparing, while we ourselves take on the body he prepared, whom we have injured. Such is the mighty transition which will be taking place from now onward in the spiritual life of men. It will be possible for us of our own decision to enter into the body prepared perforce by another human soul to whom we once did grievous harm; he on the other hand will be enabled to enter into the body we prepared. What we are able to achieve on Earth will thus bring about Karmic compensation in quite another way than heretofore. We human beings shall be able even to exchange our physical bodies.
FMC00.498 is an overview diagram showing the process between death and a new birth, with some (non-exhaustive) references for the various phases. This can serve as a map to organize one's study coverage and initialize one's overall understanding based on the references that provide a starting point for the different phases and aspects. As most schemas on this site, also this schema originates from a pencil drawing made along such study process (DL 2016).
Lecture coverage and references
Rudolf Steiner covered the process between death and a new birth throughout his 20 years of lecturing between 1904 and 1924. Besides the standard works (books), we can list some 45 lecture cycles that, relevant lectures taken together, contain an extensive foundation for study.
Similar as with the topic of the Christ and Mystery of Golgotha, the coverage is so vast that it's difficult to give an overview or provide a simple starting point. Fortunately, most any lecture is a starting place and one can organically broaden and deepen by reading up more and more lectures on the topic. Below is a short list to get started.
Below are some starting points selected to initialize one's understanding by studying a number of complementary perspectives:
- 1904-GA009: Theosophy
- 1910-GA013: OES or Outline of Esoteric Science
- selected lecture cycles
- first phase
- 1912-GA135 - 5 lectures
- 1912-GA130 - 3 lectures (karma)
- 1912/13-GA140 (various) - 20 lectures - excellent
- 1912/13-GA141 - 10 lectures
- 1914-04-GA143 (Vienna) - 6 lectures
- second phase
- 1923-08-GA227 (Penmaenmawr) - 4 lectures (8th to 11th) - excellent
- 1923-11-GA231 (The Hague) - 3 lectures - another perspective
- 1924-05-GA236/239 (Dornach/Paris) - 5 to 6 lectures
- 1924-06-GA239/240 (Stuttgart/Breslau) - 5 lectures
- first phase
The above lists a total of some 62 lectures to start with (first phase 44, second phase 18), that will provide a good basis and foundation.
Notes about coverage
1/ At the end of 1912, Rudolf Steiner gave an extensive courses GA140 'Investigation of life Between death and rebirth' and GA141 'Between death and rebirth', and he positions that he had been doing extensive research for a periode of two years, so 1910-1912. He thereby complements earlier descriptions already give in works such as Theosophy (1904) and Outline of Esoteric Science (1910).
2/ In the period between end 1923 and mid 1924, Rudolf Steiner comes back to this with a fresh new coverage, clear and condensed in Penmaenmawr and from a different angle in The Hague. He then picks it up the them as part of the 80+ Karmic Relationship lectures in 1924 (see also Karma research case studies).
Here we must touch on something that can be said only among students of the science of the spirit. It is customary for people, even for theosophists, to conceive the mysteries of reincarnation in much too simple a way.
One should not imagine that a soul that is embodied today in its three sheaths was embodied in the same way in a foregoing incarnation, and again in one before that, always according to the same scheme. The secrets are much more complicated.
Although H. P. Blavatsky took great pains to show her intimate pupils how complicated these secrets were, the matter is still not rightly understood today.
People think simply that a soul goes into a body ever and again. But it is not so simple.
Often we cannot fit a historical figure into such a scheme if we wish to understand it correctly. We must go about the matter in a much more complicated way.
In the domain of spiritual science — using the word in its true sense — investigation is difficult and full of complications.
Suppose a man with good sight goes to some district in Switzerland, climbs a high mountain and then, when he has come down again, gives you an accurate description of what he has seen. You can well imagine that if he goes to the district again and climbs higher up the same mountain, he will describe what he has seen from a different vantage point. Through descriptions given from different vantage points it is obvious that an increasingly accurate and complete idea of the landscape will be obtained. Now people are apt to believe that if someone has become clairvoyant, he knows everything! It is by no means so.
In the spiritual world, investigation always has to be gradual — ”bit by bit,” as it were. Even in respect to things that have been investigated with great exactitude, new discoveries can be made all the time. During the last two years it has been my task to investigate even more closely than before the conditions of life between death and rebirth, and I want to tell you now about the findings of this recent research.
In spiritual scientific research one cannot check often enough the facts one has repeatedly investigated, and about which one has spoken, for they are facts of the spiritual world that is not easily accessible and comprehensible to man. There is a constant danger of misinterpreting in one way or another, and events may be viewed incorrectly. This is the reason the results obtained must be checked again and again.
The principal events of life in the spiritual world have, of course, been known for thousands of years, yet it is difficult to describe them.
I am deeply grateful that recently I had the opportunity to concern myself more intimately again with an important aspect of spiritual science, namely, the realm of life between death and a new birth. It is not so much that new facts come to light, but that one has the possibility to present things in a more exact and accurate way.
So today I would like to speak of the period that for super-sensible perception is of the utmost importance, that is, the period between death and rebirth. I will not deal so much with the period immediately following death, the kamaloca period, descriptions of which can be found in my writings, but with the succeeding period, the actual sojourn of man in the spiritual world between death and rebirth. This description will be prefaced briefly by the following remarks.
2/ The second time that Steiner comes back to covering this subject extensively is in the approx. one year period of end 1923 to end 1924. Starting with 1923-GA227 over 1923-GA231 to the full cycle of about 80 Karmic Relationship lectures - see overview Schema FMC00.265
3/ It is interesting to note that whereas GA140 and GA141 provide a foundational coverage with 30 dedicated lectures, this would be thé reference that Rudolf Steiner refers to later.
That is not the case, however, and there is one cycle that he doés explicitly refer to again and again when covering the process between death and a new birth. That is the Vienna cycle of April 1914, held between 9 and 14 April, published first already in 1914 and 1928 as the then 'Zyklus 32' and later as part of the small six-lecture cycle in the GA as GA153, so 1914-04-GA153.
The cycle is different because it is about the inner experience of Man between death and a new birth, so rather than descriptive, or conceptual-intellectual, the human inner experience of the process id described. The cycle builds up to this with the first four lectures and then culminates in the two unique lectures of 1914-04-13-GA153 and 1914-04-13-GA153. The first covers ascent from death to midnight hour, the descond descent from midnight hour on.
Rudolf Steiner keeps referencing this cycle and lectures, because never again did he give such beautiful intense description that we can 'feel our way into', which is obviously the whole purpose of such description: to feel and not just to think and intellectually process the information.
Coverage in broad popular media in the 20th century (after WWII)
Already early, in 1950, the first influential book 'Many Mansions: The Edgar Cayce story on reincarnation' was published.
In the period 1960-1980, a number of authors started to publish their work in the area of reincarnation and research into past lives. This provided a foundation on which many more authors could build to take this work into the mainstream in the period 1980-2020.
- Ian Stevenson, and Jim B. Tucker
- Stevenson wrote his first paper with 44 cases suggestive of reincarnation in 1960. His first book dates from 1966: 'Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation'. His systematic research was published in four volumes in 1975, 1977, 1980, 1983, with follow up books in 1984 and 1987.
- Tucker followed into his footsteps and published Life before life in 2005 and Return to life in 2013
- Other well known books were eg Joan Grant's 'Many lifetimes' (1968) and Raymond Moody's bestseller 'Life after life' published in 1975
- Morris Netherton and Roger Woolger pioneered regression therapy with books in 1978 and 1987.
- Helen Wambach (1978, 1983) and Carol Bowman (1997, 2001)
- bestselling books on the theme came from eg Brian Weiss (Many lives, many masters, 1988) and Michael Newton (Journey of Souls, 1994)
This has to be put in perspective with parallel developments, in the same timeframe, in the areas of Near Death Experiences (NDE).
Kenneth Ring did research into this with publications in 1980, 1984, 1998, 1999. Another influential book was ao George W. Ritchie's 'Return from tomorrow' (1978).
This was the time period when much new material was being published on other states of consciousness: Out of Body experiences (OBE) or (OoB), astral travel, remote viewing, and lucid dreaming.
Examples illustrations are:
- Albert Taylor's 'Soul Traveler' (1996), Robert Petersen (2002, 2013) books on Journeys out of the body. As well as Robert Bruce's books (1999, 2004) such as ao 'Astral dynamics' as well as books by William Buhlman (2009, 2011) on the topic.
- Stephen LaBerge's on Lucid dreaming (1985, 1990 onwards), see refererences here.
- Joseph McMoneagle's 'Mind trek' on remote viewing (1993).
In summary, the above shows how a new wave of interest has arisen through these and many other authors bringing topics of spiritual scientific nature to the mainstream media in quite a different way then the theosophical and anthroposophical wave of say 1880-1930.
Survey mainstream media - popular books on reincarnation (2022)
A survey of 'books on reincarnation' compared the top 6, 9, 18, 25, 100 books listed on > 10 websites.
This included goodreads.com, the amazon bestsellers, etc.
Main findings of this assessment:
1/ there are about as many fiction novels and non-fiction books, in fact the fiction novels overwhelm the non-fiction literature by sheer volume. But unfortunately there is also a whole area with much non-sense including reincarnation of dogs etc.
2/ Non-fiction literature on the theme of reincarnation is by contemporary authors, and not directly about reincarnation but about individual case stories of:
- Near Death Experiences (NDE)
- Individuality-remembrance (memories of previous lives): in children, famous cases, by psychologists, and regression therapists
So the theosophical or anthroposophical or spiritual scientific literature does not appear in any mainstream list.
3/ Most lists contain classics such those by Brian Weiss, Raymond Moody, Michael Newton.
Some include Ian Stevenson, Roger Woolger, or others.
But then - mostly - the lists are filled with:
- a mixed bag of new age and/or greyzone spirituality, of the likes of the Seth material, Conversations with God, etc
- and and really mostly: numerous authors of unknown credentials whose books are marketed. The topic is used because it sells, and so would-be-mediums or spiritual teachers write books on the topic, more than one can list or want to know.
Last, to further illustrate or qualify what is meant with 'mixed bag', without applying any judgement whatsoever: this goes from the interesting 'Egyptian book of the dead', to many American 'spiritual leaders' such as Elizabeth Clare Prophet, Ballard (and the I Am activy and the Saint Germain foundation), etc.
Note  - Commentary on literature
Mostly all topics are taken together in the sources such as those under 'References and further reading'. For example Grether and Linde cover lots of ground, in an extensive and rigourous way, much more than the title of their work.
This is due to the fact that the subject is so vast with so many related fields of study so interdependent and intertwined, that it is difficult to split or organize it separately, or limited to a certain partial field of study without expanding first to an overall understanding.
Because the teachings of reincarnation are so central in Rudolf Steiner's teachings overall, so many of his direct students and well known anthroposophists have written books about it, ao Wachsmuth, Bock, Poppelbaum, Poeppig, Frieling, etc.
References and further reading
- Gunther Wachsmuth: Reincarnation as a phenomenon of metamorphosis (1937 in EN, in FR 2002 as 'Réincarnation, processus de métamorphose', original in DE 1935: 'Die Reinkarnation des Menschen als Phänomen der Metamorphose')
- Rudolf Meyer (1896-1985)
- Vom Schicksal der Toten (1934)
- Vom Sinn des Todes (1943)
- Der Toten zur Feier (1973)
- Robert Goebel: Die Brücke zu den Lebenden und Toten
- Karl König: Before birth and beyond death: the transformation of the human being (2021, various lectures)
- About those who have died (3 lectures 1958)
- Birth and death (essays)
- additional various materials
- Fred Poeppig
- Die Wandlungsmacht des Todes: Unsere Gemeinschaft mit d. Verstorbenen (1979, 305 pages)
- Unsere Toten und wir - Schulungsbriefe über die Wandlungsmacht des Todes (12 Hefte 382 Seiten)
- Note: the 1979 book bundles the same content as the earlier letters (checked, I have both)
- Ewald Grether: 'Der Mensch und sein Schicksal im Lichte der Anthroposophie' (1986), 3 volumes (printed typoscript format for a total of 1316 pages)
- Vol 1 - Karma als Schicksalsgestalt (501 pages)
- Vol 2 - Karma-Übungen und Schicksals-Erkenntnis (276 pages)
- Vol 3 - Karma und Reinkarnation (539 pages)
- Frank Linde: Auferstehung (2015) (3 Volumes, 1088 pages)
- Vol 1 and 2: Die Auferstehung im Werk Rudolf Steiners
- Vol 3: Zeitreisen und Phantom - Eine kritische Analyse
- Uwe Buermann: Die Anschauung des Karmas bei Rudolf Steiner: Ein Kompendium (2010) (2 volumes 1769 pages)
- Wilhelm Otto Rösermüller (also: Roesermueller) (1902-1978)
- Um die Todesstunde: Übersinnliche Beobachtungen an Sterbebetten (1940)
- Vom friedlichen Sterben. Eine christlich-religiöse und parapsychologische Studie (1940)
- Unsere Toten leben! (in DE oa 1968, 1989; in NL: 'Onze Doden Leven')
- Wo findet man die Wahrheit auf die Menschheitsfrage Nummer 1 : »Gibt es ein Leben nach dem Sterben»? (1973)
- Kontakte zu unseren jenseitigen Freunden und unsichtbaren Helfern (1976)
- also in NL: 'Het Hiernamaals Bestaat'
- Dr. med. Friedrich Schwab (1878-1946): Geburt und Tod als Durchgangspforten des inwendigen Menschen (original in DE 1947, various editions oa 1984 and 2017)
- Arie Boogert (1933 - 2013)
- Leonard Ragaz (1868-1945): Die Toten und wir
- Dr. Hermann Heisler: Unsere Toten und wir, in EN : Our relationship to those who have died
- Martin Burckhardt: Die Erlebnisse nach dem Tod. Eine Zusammenfassung von Schilderungen Rudolf Steiners
- Erhard Bäzner (1887 – 1963)
- Das Rätsel des Lebens und das Geheimnis des Todes
- Der Tod und was dann?
- Otto Julius Hartmann
- Wir und die Toten (1946)
- An der Pforte von Geburt und Tod (1952)
- Geheimnisse von Jenseits der Schwelle (1956)
- Andrew Jackson Davis (1826-1910): Death and the afterlife
- Friedrich Rittelmeyer: Reincarnation: A Christian Perspective
- Hermann Poppelbaum
- Sternenall, Schicksalsrätsel und Erdenwürde (1949)
- Schicksalsrätsel. Verkörperung und Wiederverkörperung.
- Rudolf Frieling: Christentum und Wiederverkörperung
- Emil Bock: Wiederholte Erdenleben
- Max Hoffmeister :
- Die übersinnliche Vorbereitung der Inkarnation' (1979)
- Reinkarnation (1984)