REINCARNATION IN THE AMERICAS:

REINCARNATION


μετεμψύχωσις - metempsychosis

εμπψχωύν - empsykhoun

παλιγγενεσία - palingenesia

גלגול הנשמות - gilgul neshamot

पुनर्जन्मन् - punarjanman

  • Among the Indians of North America, the concept of reincarnation is found in many tribes. Sioux physician Charles Eastman writes: “Many of the Indians believed that one may be born more than once, and there were some who claimed to have full knowledge of a former incarnation”


  • Writing in 1817 about one Lenni Lenape man, Christian missionary John Heckewelder reports: “He asserted very strange things, of his own supernatural knowledge, which he had obtained not only at the time of his initiation, but at other times, even before he was born. He said he knew that he had lived through two generations; that he had died twice and was born a third time, to live out the then present race, after which he was to die and never more to come to this country again”


  • Among the Lenni Lenape, some babies are the reincarnation of former relatives. After birth, old women will examine the baby to check for signs that the baby has lived before. These signs include keeping the body relaxed and the hands unclenched and reacting favorably to places and things associated with the dead relative


  • Among the Mandan, reincarnation was accepted and it was felt that the child chose its mother. The Mandan also had four souls, the principal soul being seen as a shooting star. At death, this soul could be seen in the sky


  • With regard to death among the Gitxsan, Shirley Muldon writes: “We believe in reincarnation of people and animals. We believe that the dead can visit this world and that the living can enter the past. We believe that memory survives from generation to generation. Our elders remember the past because they have lived it”


  • Among the Hopi, the spirits of children who die before they are initiated into a kiva return to their mother’s house to be reborn


  • The Huron feel that each person has two souls. After death one soul stays near the corpse until after the Feast of the Dead and then it is released so that it can be reborn. Some of these souls are resurrected in name-giving ceremonies. The other soul goes to the village of the dead after the Feast

Maya: The aspect of reincarnation is one strongly mentioned in Mayan beliefs and religion. The Popol Vuh gives importance to the Maize deity, and how the Mayan people themselves descended from maize people created by this god. In the Popol Vuh that the K'iche' Maya wrote, one of the few surviving codices, it tells the story of the reincarnation of the Maize god. In the tale, the maize god retreats to the underworld and with two hero twins battling the monsters and lords of the place, makes way back to the earthen world. He is reborn again, dies, and on and on the cycle continues. In this aspect, it is believed by the Mayans that the Earth itself is a living being. As they came from corn, consuming corn or having sex then brings one closer to the earth [1]:


  • The concept of the afterlife, or Xibalba, differs between the Mayan ethnic groups. Many have a generalized belief of all souls going to the afterlife, being reincarnated or having another role to participate in after death, but these ideas change dramatically with the rise of Christianity. With that came the idea of Xibalba being a location of punishment. The longer one spent in Xibalba, the worse a life they led while living. With this belief, heaven became a paradise for many to strive for. The Chontal of Tabasco are an example of this


  • To the Awakateko and the Chuj, the ancestors remain in contact and have the ability to affect the affairs of the living even in death. The Awakateko believed that the afterlife is a place where all ancestors remain, and that there is nowhere to pass on to. But to the Chuj, any contracts made with the dead are binding. If one does not follow these contracts, the ancestor can plague the one bound to the contract with illness or misfortune. To Them, they can contact their ancestors at altars, caves, or places connected to Mayan societies. The association of caves to the underworld is one intertwined with the older Mayan civilization and is an aspect continued by the Chuj people


  • There are other ethnic groups that believe ritual items are needed in order to make the journey into the afterlife. The Lakandon bury their people facing the sun, and wrapped in a tunic and hammock. Q'eqchi' bury their dead in a straw sleeping mat, with a hat, sandals and a net provided to help in the journey to the afterlife. In others it was believed a dog was needed to help make the journey through the afterlife. Often a dog was ritually sacrificed, or an effigy buried along with the deceased in order to complete this task. Usually, the goods buried with the person were what the tribe believed was needed to complete one's cross into the next, whether it be the afterlife, heaven or reincarnation


  • Other ethnic groups believed that the spirits of the dead still had tasks to complete in the afterlife. The Mam, before fully accepting Christian values thought that the dead lived within volcanoes and other places. To the Tz'utujil, souls of the dead might be reincarnated or go to assist in moving the sun across the sky. The Tz'utujil in Santiago feared that souls of drowning victims inhabited the bottom of Lake Atitlan. With this difference in the idea of what one's ancestor does in death, came a change in how and what they were buried with. Those who still had a journey or a task may need more or less items, and it depended on how those of the tribe believed on what occurred after death


  • But many ethnic groups also observed a celebration of their deceased ancestors later on. The Poqomam gather after death and hold a feast that may last for nine days. Then they pray for that deceased person every day of the dead for the next seven years. The Tzotzil of Chamula also have a similar holiday for celebrating the dead, though theirs occurs every year. Their belief is that souls return to visit and partake of food once a year, in a celebration called K'in Santo. The family members must perform a ritual to the deities to ask release of the souls of their dead relatives and to allow them entrance into the house


Inca: The Inca believed in reincarnation. Death was a passage to the next world that was full of difficulties. The spirit of the dead, camaguen, would need to follow a long road and during the trip the assistance of a black dog that could see in the dark was required. Most Incas imagined the after world to be like that of the European notion of heaven, with flower-covered fields and snow-capped mountains [1].

Reincarnation is an intrinsic part of many Native American and Inuit traditions. In the now heavily Christian Polar North (now mainly parts of Greenland and Nunavut), the concept of reincarnation is enshrined in the Inuit language. Around the world, many religious traditions teach that after death the soul is reincarnated [1] [22]: