On rebirth, reincarnation, resurrection, metempsychosis

 Reincarnation. Creative Commons via wikimedia
Reincarnation. Creative Commons via wikimedia

In the image above, we see the flow of the soul through the process of reincarnation. In some live times the soul is said to take the form of a woman, in some a man. In the last incarnation, the yogi (spiritual seeker) realizes the true nature of the Self. With this the soul is said to have achieved enlightenment and become a spiritual hero.

Carl Jung contemplates five different forms of rebirth. Reincarnation is one of the five possible forms.  A core theme of all five forms is that, through the process of death and rebirth, we may come to realize that which is essential within us. Jung’s five forms of rebirth are as follows:


Carl Jung speaks of metempsychosis as the “transmigration of souls.” “According to this view, one’s life is prolonged in time by passing through different bodily existences; or, from another point of view, it is a life-sequence interrupted by different reincarnations.” Here, Jung reference Buddhism and the Buddha: “the Buddha himself experienced a very long sequence of such rebirths– it is by no means certain whether continuity of personality is guaranteed or not: there may be only a continuity of karma.” (Carl Jung, CW 9I, para 200- 205)


“This concept of rebirth necessarily implies the continuity of personality. Here the human personality is regarded as continuous and accessible to memory, so that, when one is incarnated or born, one is able, at least potentially, to remember that one has lived through previous existences and that these existences were one’s own, i.e., that they had the same ego-form as the present life. As a rule, reincarnation means re-birth in a human body.” (ibid)


“Resurrection means a reestablishment of human existence after death. A new element enters here: that of the change, transmutation, or transformation of one’s being. The change may be either essential, in the sense that the resurrected being is a different one; or nonessential, in the sense that only the general conditions of existence have changed, as when one finds oneself in a different place or in a body which is differently constituted. It may be a carnal body, as in the Christian assumption that this body will be resurrected. On a higher level, the process is no longer understood in a gross material sense; it is assumed that the resurrection of the dead is the raising up of the corpus glorificationis) “subtle body,” in the state of incorruptibility.”  (ibid)

Rebirth (renovatio)

“The fourth form concerns rebirth in the strict sense; that is to say, rebirth within the span of individual life. The English word rebirth the exact equivalent of the German Wiedergeburt) the French language seems to lack a term having the peculiar meaning of “rebirth.” This word has a special flavour; its whole atmosphere suggests the idea of renovation, or even of improvement brought about by magical means. Rebirth may be a renewal without any change of being, inasmuch as the personality which is renewed is not changed in its essential nature, but only its functions, or parts of the personality, are subjected to healing, strengthening, or improvement. Thus even bodily ills may be healed through rebirth ceremonies.”

“Another aspect of this fourth form is essential transformation, i.e., total rebirth of the individual. Here the renewal implies a change of his essential nature, and may be called a transmutation. As examples we may mention the transformation of a mortal into an immortal being, of a corporeal into a spiritual being, and of a human into a divine being. Well-known prototypes of this change are the transfiguration and ascension of Christ, and the assumption of the Mother of God into heaven after her death, together with her body.”  (ibid)

Indirect re-birth 

“The fifth and last form is indirect rebirth. [This process] is brought about not directly, by passing through death and re-birth oneself, but indirectly, by participating in a process of transformation which is conceived of as taking place outside the individual. In other words, one has to witness, or take part in, some rite of transformation. This rite may be a ceremony such as the Mass, where there is a transformation of substances.” (ibid)


  1. The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol.9 Part 1)

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