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Traditional beliefs

Transmigration is the belief that the soul departs from the body at death and returns to another body to live another embodied life.

In Eastern religions, the equivalent term is reincarnation. In the Western tradition, the belief in transmigration first appears in Orphism (5-6th century BCE) and later with the Pythagoreans.¹ Western philosophy also uses the equivalent term, metempsychosis. And some New Age enthusiasts and laypersons advocate some form of transmigration, sometimes with a few more complexities added to reflect current theories derived from subatomic physics.

Many people claim to have flashback memories that they assume come from former lives. Documented cases tell of individuals in trance states dictating details about homes and places in distant countries that they have not visited. Some claim to be drawn for no apparent reason to certain ideas, interests or historical sites like the Egyptian pyramids.

Others strongly identify with a person who’s passed. The Canadian musician K. D. Lang apparently once toyed with the idea that she was a reincarnation of the American singer Patsy Cline. And John Lennon and Yoko Ono

consciously adopted the image of themselves as the reincarnation of Victorian poets Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning for Milk and Honey; the album jacket even reproduces verses by the Brownings next to lyrics by John and Yoko.² 

Alternative explanations

Many assume that unusual experiences or strong identifications with the dead are ironclad proof of a past life. But there are other possible explanations for these types of experiences, ranging from occult/paranormal, theological, relativistic and mystical:

1- So-called vampiric or tramp souls influence and even possess individuals in the present, infusing memories and past desires into the minds of sensitive or impressionable living persons. The upshot is that living persons believe they have reincarnated, without really reflecting on other possible causes for their experience.

2 – From the perspective of traditional theologies, Satan apparently uses supernatural trickery to deceive people into believing in reincarnation, which deflects them from the true path to heaven. Whether or not this deflection is permanent or temporary depends on the theological belief. For instance, Catholics believe in purgatory, so the severity of the distraction would be a factor.

3 – In a less traditional and malefic vein, it’s conceivable that some individuals psychologically pierce through the veil of space-time to connect with other souls from other times. But these individuals misinterpret their experience as proof of transmigration. This hypothesis assumes that the past, present and future somehow exists as an interactive field. Given the relativity theories of Albert Einstein, this idea might not be too far fetched. In fact, it might even be taken for granted, even capitalized on, by future generations. Distant future generations, that is…

4 – Another explanation could be that the living are not connecting with evil beings or with those living in other space-times, but merely with ordinary persons who’ve passed. And this experience is wrongly interpreted as proof for reincarnation.

A bigot is a bigot is a bigot

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While these alternative theories are no easier to prove than the idea of transmigration, many seem to embrace transmigration as if it were not just another belief or theory, but fact. And when asked to consider alternative hypotheses, some reincarnation believers condescendingly act as if they know it all—there’s nothing left to say.

To me, that seems just as narrow-minded and bigoted as any other kind of religious fundamentalism. And the dynamic probably isn’t that different. People interpret some kind of numinous or unusual experience according to their cultural or intellectual biases. For whatever reasons, they’re unwilling to step back and question further.³

¹ For more historical examples see


³ For a good exposition on the benefits of Edward de Bono’s so-called lateral thinking see “Redesign my Brain”

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