Cultures and Traditions

Reincarnation in Various Cultures and Traditions

This page attempts to list down lesser known cultures and traditions, past or present, that embrace the idea of reincarnation.

Ancient Egyptians

“. . . the Egyptians are also the first who reported the doctrine that the soul of man is immortal, and that when the body dies, the soul enters into another creature which chances then to be coming to the birth, and when it has gone the round of all the creatures of land and sea and of the air, it enters again into a human body as it comes to the birth; and that it makes this round in a period of three thousand years. This doctrine certain Hellenes adopted, some earlier and some later, as if it were of their own invention, and of these men I know the names but I abstain from recording them.” (Herodotus, Euterpe, Bk II, Sec. 123)

Ancient Egyptians believed in the afterlife and reincarnation

Ancient Egyptians believed in the afterlife and reincarnation

 Tlinggit (Alaska)

The Tlingit people are native Americans who settle in the northwest area of North America (Alaska and Canada). There are estimated to be 16,000 of them today. Below is a description of their belief system on the afterlife:

“Spirits went to an afterlife in accordance with their morality throughout their life, similarly to heaven and hell in other religions. Those who withheld a high standard of morals were sent to Kiwa-wa, and others were sent to Ketl-kiwa. However, this afterlife only lasted for a short duration; individuals would eventually return as a reincarnation of a deceased maternal relative.” (The Tinglit People)


Tlingit people, Alaska (Source: Anchorage Museum)

Igbo (Nigeria)

“The modern Igbo of Nigeria, even when adhering to the Christian religion, have preserved many features of Igbo traditional religion. The belief in reincarnation seems to be particularly strong. The Igbo believe that reincarnation usually occus within the same immediate or extended family. They try to identify the reincarnated ancestor by means of birthmarks, statements a child makes when it becomes able to speak, and behavioral resemblances between the child and the deceased person of whom it is the presumed reincarnation. Oracles are frequently consulted to make or confirm an identification. The Igbo believe that deceased persons inhabit a discarnate realm, but they conceive this as an undesirable limbo from which discarnate souls are eager to return to a new terrestrial life. The Igbo concept of reincarnation includes belief in a group of souls called ogbanje who are born, die in early life, and are reborn in the same family, often repeatedly.” (Ian Stevenson, “The Belief in Reincarnation Among the Igbo of Nigeria,” Journal of Asian and African Studies, XX, 1-2, 1985)

Igbo Nigeria

Modern Igbo society (Source: Wikipedia)

Edo (Benin) People, Nigeria

The Edo or Benin people are an ethnic group in Nigeria.

The newborn infant is critically studied by the parents and other relatives to ascertain his or her resemblance to a deceased relative, who is then said to have “come back” in this or that child. Their judgement finds expression in the naming ceremony for a child, which customarily takes place seven days after it is born, and fourteen days after birth if it is a child of the royal family. Everyone is believed to come back (to be reincarnated in another person) fourteen times. Of course, no one is sure which of the fourteen times is represented by any one reincarnation. (Flora Edouwaye S. Kaplan, “Some Thoughts on Ideology, Beliefs, and Sacred Kingship among the Edo [Benin] People of Nigeria, ” in African Spirituality: Forms, Meanings, and Expressions, ed. Jacob Olupona (New York: Crossroads Press, 2000), 119.)

Cathars (France)

The Cathars lived in the southwest of France and developed their belief system that departed away from the Catholic Church in the 12th and 13th century. Efforts of the Catholic Church to reconvert them failed, until finally the Church launched a crusade against them and massacred the entire Cathar population. Bernard of Clairvaux was reported to have acknowledge that the Cathars led very good lives.

“The Cathars . . . did not believe in a Last Judgement, believing instead that this material world would end only when the last of the angelic souls had been released from it. They believed in reincarnation, and that souls could take many lifetimes to reach perfection before their final release.” (Karen Ralls, Knights Templar Encyclopedia, “Cathars”)

Cathars massacre

Massacre of the Cathars, 13th century (Source: Wikipedia)