Reincarnation among the Norse: Sifting through the Evidence
Published Online, 2006
This short article looks at the possibilty of reincarnation as a common alternative concept of life after death among Germanic heathens and then as a possible non-standard alternative belief. References in the Old Norse literary record are reviewed and compared to data from the non-Norse literary and historical record and ﬁnally the archaeological record. The evidence is then sorted to propose a model to explain the existence of the belief in the Eddas.
Germanic heathenry is known as a modern ’alternative religion’ which stands in singular position that it espouses variety of afterlives. Certainly, by the end of the Viking Age, there were at least four afterlife concepts which are documented in various manuscripts. There are several others which may have actually developed after the Scandinavia’s conversion to Christianity. However, this article deals only with one speciﬁc form of afterlife — reincarnation.
Reincarnation is very popular these days probably because it adds symmetry and harmony to an otherwise confusing life. The current direction in developing scientiﬁc ﬁelds has undermined the dominant Christian concept of an afterlife, and the idea of a complete transmigration of souls feels comfortable and can thrive in spite of scientiﬁc andvances. At the presnt time, there are a large number of belief systema espousing a belief in reincarnatiion, most notably, wicca, which, due to its nature, comes in a variety of cultural ﬂavors. The general modern belief at least in the USA states that ’after a person dies, his soul will be transfered to a holding area1 where the soul awaits, the conception of a child. The soul is then injected into the fetus at some point prior to birth.’ This particular version of reincarnation owed its existence to the religions and worldviews of the Orient, but it has been modiﬁed signiﬁcantly so that being reincarnated as an animal is generally considered a low probabability.
The American version diﬀers from the oriental forerunner in that there is more control placed in the hands of the individual. First, the modern soul, conceptually, is comprised of ego + subconcious + ’a form of transpersonal self so that when a person is ’reincarnated’ or born again the entire self is just as if he had never died. Some versions talk of a more advanced self, improved through experience, but the idea remains the same: the personality will be reborn in a cosmic game to gain more experience.