It's not possible to give a date when the concept of reincarnation first appeared among human beliefs because it seems to be as old as humankind itself and it is present in cultures all over the world.Its first manifestation seems to be in Shamanism. From it the belief in rebirth has passed into all major religions that have developed on earth, accompanying and influencing them throughout their evolution.
Reincarnation though transcends the limits of specific, codified religious systems. Nowadays, in a more and more secularised Western society, it is science that enjoys respect and credibility, while traditional religions are constantly losing public interest: in fact people are in search direct and less structured spirituality. In this climate, interest in reincarnation is not fading but growing and this ancient, primordial belief is now receiving validation and support by just those very scientific milieux that - traditionally - have always been the antagonists of religions. I say ‘primordial belief’ because looking back to the entire history of human thought, reincarnation is actually the only worldwide concept that has shown continuity and permanence from our origins to the present day.Eastern religions are well known to hold the concept of rebirth at the very core of their teachings. What is less known is that reincarnation has also always been present in monotheistic faiths and philosophical systems of Western and Middle Eastern societies.
In classical Greece Plato, Diogenes and Pythagoras spoke of reincarnation and past life regressions.
The Ancient Jews believed that Abel had reincarnated into Moses, and in the Middle Ages reincarnation appears in the esoteric teaching of Kabbalah, developed further in later times by the Hassidic movement.
The concept of Karma was introduced to Latin Rome by Ennius, after being imported from the newly conquered Eastern territories, specially India, and Virgil describes reincarnation in his poems. Medieval Islam was also familiar with the concept of rebirth, and the Persian Sufis have preserved this belief up to the present day. The Quran itself explains the law of Karma. What about Christianity? Reincarnation was an integral part of the beliefs of early Christians and there are references to it even in the teachings of Jesus himself. Reincarnation states that we incarnate over and over again, experiencing all sorts of human conditions, and that someone who had been a king in the past could be reborn as a tramp and vice versa.
The idea of rebirth has never been extirpated and today - although the traditional religious systems are in crisis throughout the entire Western civilisation - the belief in reincarnation is growing steadily both in Europe and the USA, as the statistics of the last twenty years show. From various polls it appears that 25% of Americans believe in reincarnation, which means that one American in four believes in past lives. The European average is only slightly lower (24%) but it greatly varies from country to country, going from 15% in Norway to 33% in Great Britain. This means that in the UK one person out of three believes they have already lived in another body, in another time and - consequently - will probably come back again in the future.
Fully embracing the concept of reincarnation and living according to it will generate at least two important benefits which we are certainly in great need of: a serious environmental conscience and tolerance.