Heaven and Earth
Christianity has its heaven. Buddhism has nirvana. Where do witches go when they die? Many of them believe that their souls go to Summerland, a resting place before reincarnation into new bodies, in an ongoing cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth.
Generally speaking, witches and Wiccans accept the idea of reincarnation, a belief that has also existed in numerous cultures and faiths for a very long time. Some African tribes claim the soul goes into the belly of the earth to await rebirth. In China, the spirits of the dead are said to wait in the underworld (which is not hell, but simply a place for spirits). Hindus believe that the spirit, freed from the physical body, waits to be reborn from the stars.
If your soul previously inhabited other bodies, why can't you remember your previous lives? It seems that between death and rebirth memories of past lives are veiled, perhaps to prevent confusion or to enable you to enter into a new lifetime with a fresh perspective. Many people say their memories of previous existences have reawakened in dreams, during meditation, through hypnosis or regression therapy, or as a result of some type of traumatic experience.
Perhaps you've had a déjà vu experience or encountered someone you felt you'd known forever, even though you'd just met. These common occurrences are often explained as evidence of reincarnation. Indeed, a great deal of research has been conducted over the years that supports the idea. Regardless of whether you recall your past lives, the events of previous incarnations shape your present existence.
Memories of previous incarnations may be awakened by someone or something that ties into the past life experience. The information that comes through from that past life is usually pertinent to what is happening in the here-and-now.
And what about animals? Do they come back? Can humans be reborn as animals? No one knows for certain. If you ask some pet owners, they'll tell you animals display uncanny psychic abilities and seem to have a soul or spirit. Witches often have exceptionally strong ties with animal companions whom they call “familiars.” Although Hindus believe humans can reincarnate as other species, witches generally accept that human souls come back to earth in human bodies.
Earth as a Classroom
The witch's body houses his soul. Witches who believe in reincarnation — and most do — regard earth as a place of learning. Their time on this planet is spent gaining and applying knowledge in ways that can only be accomplished on the physical plane. The eventual goal, however, is to stop the cycle of reincarnation so the soul can return to the Source. The earth, its creatures — everything in this world — are seen as teachers, and all experiences are considered opportunities for growth.
How long a soul waits between incarnations is uncertain. Several years, or perhaps decades or centuries, may pass between sojourns in this world. Many people believe you choose the time, place, and conditions into which you are born, or that you decide in concert with a divine plan that extends throughout the universe.
Gnostics, Hindus, Buddhists, Kabbalists, and Druids alike subscribe to the idea that human beings are not merely mortal shells. After the body dies, the indestructible soul is released into another dimension, where it waits to be reborn on earth and begin the process of learning again.
You may have a specific “task” or “reason” for assuming a particular lifetime. Karmic issues incurred during previous existences influence your present and future lifetimes. Consequently, your soul might have to wait until conditions on earth are optimal for you to undergo the spiritual growth you seek before you can re-enter a physical form.
Reverence for Nature
The worldview of most witches bears a similarity to that of the shaman. Like shamans, witches see the earth as a living, breathing entity to be honored and protected, not a place to conquer and control. Every living thing in this world — and the planet itself — possesses a spirit, a unique energy pattern or resonance. As a result, witches tend to think globally, and attempt to live in harmony with nature and the universe.
The word shaman is thought to derive from either of two sources. In Tunquso-Manchurian, the word saman means “one who knows.” In Sanskrit, the term sranaba was used to describe an ascetic who depended on spirits to provide information, insight, and guidance.
With this in mind, most witches strive to weave their magick in accordance with natural laws, working in partnership with the planet instead of fighting it. Many witches are strong proponents of protecting the land and wildlife, feeling that the destruction of either is a crime against Gaia (or Gaea), one name for the earth's spirit; in Greek mythology, the goddess of the earth.
Stewardship of this planet doesn't end with donations to environmental causes or recycling efforts. It also involves magickal practices. Witches often send out positive energy through spells and rituals to help heal the planet and its inhabitants. The energy may be aimed at protecting a particular place or species or the whole world. Perhaps that sounds rather grand, but magick is only limited by the practitioner's perception of what it can and cannot do. If, as the Buddha said, “With our thoughts we create the world,” there is no reason magickal energy cannot encompass the whole globe, like a giant hug.
“It's sacred ground we walk upon with every step we take,” many witches sing. The idea is that you need to move gently, to respect all life, and to honor the sacredness in all things and in each other, in both your magickal and mundane life.