"Metempsychosis" or "transmigration of souls" are the labels I've seen most often applied in the 1860s to what we'd call "reincarnation," and it was discussed in connection with eastern religions and ancient beliefs held by famous people such as Pythagorus. It didn't grip the popular imagination as much as spirit rapping or other ways of contacting the dead, but it wasn't unknown.

The same sensations that inspire thoughts of reincarnation today were recognized then:

"...there are certain familiar psychological experiences which would serve to suggest and to support the theory of transmigration, and which are themselves in return explained by such a surmise. Thinking upon some unwonted subject, often a dim impression arises in the mind, fastens upon us, and we cannot help feeling, that somewhere, long ago, we have had these reflections before. Learning a fact, meeting a face for the first time, we are puzzled with an obscure assurance that it is not the first time. Travelling in foreign lands, we are ever and anon haunted by a sense of familiarity with the views, urging us to conclude, that surely we have more than once trodden those fields and gazed on those scenes; and from hoary mountain, trickling rill, and vesper bell, meanwhile, mystic tones of strange memorial music seem to sigh in remembered accents through the soul's plaintive echoing halls, 'Twas auld lang syne, my dear, 'Twas auld lang syne. Plato's doctrine of reminiscence here finds its basis. We have lived before, perchance many times, and through the clouds of sense and imagination now and then float the veiled visions of things that were. Efforts of thought reveal the half-effaced inscriptions and pictures on the tablets of memory. Snatches of dialogues once held are recalled, faint recollections of old friendships return, and fragments of landscapes beheld and deeds performed long ago pass in weird procession before the mind's half-opened eye. We know a professional gentleman of unimpeachable veracity and distinguished talents and attainments, who is a firm believer in his own existence on the earth previously to his present life. He testifies that on innumerable occasions he has experienced remembrances of events, and recognitions of places, accompanied by a flash of irresistable conviction that he had known them in a former state. Nearly every one has felt instances of this, more or less numerous and vivid.... The belief in the doctrine of the metempsychosis, among a fanciful people and in an unscientific age, need be no wonder to any cultivated man acquainted with the marvels of experience..." (from "The Transmigration of Souls," The North American Review, January 1855)

Hank Trent

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