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The Haibane are the souls of young children who've committed suicide, and the city of Glie is in Purgatory.
The "cocoon dream" that each Haibane has (and from which they take their name) represents their time and manner of death. Their service in the city is atonement for the "sin" of ending their own life. If a Haibane cannot remember his or her cocoon dream, they become sin-bound, their wings turn black, and they are unable to leave on their "Day of Flight" (i.e., ascend to Heaven). They are then forced to serve in purgatory as the titular Haibane Renmei, guiding the future Haibanes to their ascension — hence why the Renmei workers wear wooden wings (having lost their own), can not communicate with outsiders or each other (other than sign language) and have to live in solitude from the humans — all punishments Rakka is told she will face if she can't break from being sin-bound.
  • In support to the fact about punishment, Rakka's job was to harvest light flakes for the Haibane Renmei, and the Renmei priest gave her that job because she touched the Wall without escape intent.
  • The Haibane originally didn't have to be children for this. They could merely be turned young once they arrive in the city.
  • It's clear that at least the older Haibane are all suicides and all dreamed of their method of death, and this is a Purgatory for them; that the Haibane Renmei are those who lost the wings is a pretty good guess, and makes a lot of sense though we still need direct evidence to support it. Just two problems: how did the younger Haibane die, given they didn't have naming dreams? And what's the theological status of the humans in the town?
    • When the head Renmei was describing the fate of failed Haibane to Rakka, we're treated to a nice shot of his fake, belled wings. It's not proof, but it's a strong implication.
  • Those haibane who were born without sin are forced to stay in Glie anyway because, by living a humble, peaceful life without luxuries or vices, they have a chance to purify their souls from the sin of suicide before being accepted in Heaven.

The Haibane are just children who died before their time and have been given a chance to redeem their sins in purgatory due to their youth.
And the sin-bound Haibane are the only ones who committed suicide; they need to forgive themselves as well as serve their punishment before they can move on.

The Haibane are in Glie to learn important lessons they didn't have a chance to in life.

Haibane are not born sin-bound. Reki just got off to a bad start.
Haibane become sin-bound when they give in to despair and loneliness. Reki was born alone, trapped in a locked room. While trapped, her wings emerged, a very painful experience. Sounds like just the thing to give someone a cheerful and optimistic outlook on life, no?

Haibane Renmei is set in a Buddhist Cosmology.
A Haibane which attains their Day of Flight accends to a more enlightened world. Failed Haibane live out the rest of their days as Haibane Renmei, and maybe reincarnate as humans a few times before getting another shot at it.
  • There may be more than one road to enlightenment, the majority of souls do not become Haibane, and the Haibane Renmei are not guaranteed to return.
    • The Haibane Renmei may still reincarnate into a more enlightened world (the Renmei translator springs to mind), they just don't get a fancy lightshow.
  • Once a Haibane losses his wings and Halo, they are essentially human and can reproduce normally (Haibane are born from cocoons, remember). Consequently, there is now a colony of ordinary humans living in this waypoint for souls seeking enlightenment.

The Haibane never died in the first place.
They're people who, for one reason or another, retreated from society in the world and disappeared as a result. Hikikomori, like the eventual fate of Serial Experiments Lain and Welcome to the N.H.K., which Yoshitoshi ABe provided the scenario and design for in the former case and the original cover artwork int he latter. Their cocoon dreams are metaphors for the behavior the Haibane was in before disappearing — Rakka rejected the help of someone trying to bring her back into society hurting the person in the process, Reki had many people who would have helped her get back into society that she never paid attention to and was unwilling to ask for help, Nemu slept her life away. Their time in Old Home is designed to force them into society: they must work with people, don't remember the part of the past that caused them to leave society in the first place. Sin-bound Renmei are just those who don't go into society fully with the other Renmei or townsfolk.
  • They did not only have problems with other people, but also with themselves. Kuu tried to be someone else by buying a bigger coat, by wearing Hikari's glasses and by driving Reki's scooter. When she accepted who she was or got comfortable with herself, mainly by being Rakka's mentor, she attained her Day of Flight.

Glie is actually a domed city, created by the Washi, the Proxy who reigns over it.
No one is able to leave the town except for the Toga because the Toga are able to survive the irradiated wasteland outside. The cocoons are hand-planted by the Washi as his own form of the incubation machines used in Romdo, and the Haibane are merely the children of the human populace; the dreams are a harmless side effect and truly mean nothing. The Day of Flight just strips the Haibane of their wings and halo, placing them as a normal human, as well as possibly their memories as a Haibane.
Reki's Dream is a continuation of her real life
Reki was in the process of committing suicide by getting her run over by a train, when she was removed from "our" world and transferred to Glie. In the last episode, she continued her dream in order to finish her suicide. She could not remember her dream because she was not sure if she wanted to commit suicide anymore.
Reki's Dream is a metaphor for the consequences of her emotional hardness
Reki closed herself off from everybody else, because even though she helped other people, she never let them help her or showed them her emotions. As said in the last episode, she wanted to become a stone, because a stone does not feel pain. This started before she got to Glie. By trying to shut down all emotions inside her, and by hating herself when she still had any emotions, she effectively killed herself: She got run over by her way of coping with the pain she suffered in her life before Glie.
Glie is a consensuous hallucination
The Haibane are people who retreat from others because they have been hurt. They fantasize about a town where they are accepted and life is not without hardships — that would be too unrealistic — but peaceful and friendly. When they have become strong enough to face reality again, they have their Day of Flight.
The Haibane are the souls of abused children who died in ways related to said abuse.
Only their memories of their previous existences are lost, so they don't remember being abused, and are given a comfortable life in the town of Glie. It was mentioned elsewhere in this article that "A Be has stated that only the sin-bound Haibane have committed suicide"; assuming this theory, this would probably mean that the sin-bound Haibane killed themselves in order to escape.
The Renmei's sign language...
...was originally the Daft Hands routine ( Over time, they learned the words off by heart and no longer needed to play the music or write on their fingers, since they could all remember what it meant anyway. Over many generations, the routine mutated into a full blown language.

Reki is Paula.
Which means she's just a selfish little jerk who ended up throwing herself in front of a train. Not an interpretation of Reki that I'd like, but whatevs.

Also, they both have black hair and smoke.

Rakka was Lain
Lain was a lonely, reclusive, insecure and confused girl who thought nobody would notice her disappearance — except for Alice, who was her only friend and stayed with her until the very last moment, even when finally confronting Masami Eiri. Despite this, she deleted herself from existence anyway, and very possibly offed herself afterwards. Having offed herself with the sin of hurting Alice, she was reborn as a haibane — as the insecure and confused Rakka, that is, and Alice was the bird who tried to stop Rakka's fall. Rakka making amends with the bird, thus, was Lain making amends with Alice.

Evidence supporting this claim is the fact that Rakka looks like Lain with wings and longer and loose hair, and the fact that Yoshitoshi ABe was behind both productions. On the other hand, though, the omake found in the artbook has one of the two cocoons that appear at the end of the series turn out to be Lain.

Or, Rakka was Chisa and Reki was that train girl (HOLES!)
Supported in that Chisa died by falling from a building and the train girl died by jumping in front of a train. Then the crow may be Wired!Lain or simply Chisa's doubts about dying (supported in that she tells the crow not to stop her falling).

Alternatively, Rakka was Sheeta from Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky.
As well as Sheeta's apparent affinity for falling, the two are similar physically (especially at the end of Castle in the Sky, when Sheeta's hair is randomly shortened) and in personality. The crow in Rakka's dream and at the bottom of the well is actually Pazu. Furthermore, the glowing flecks that Rakka is harvesting inside the wall of Glie look like they could contain or be made of Volucite, a further implication that the stories' universes are connected.
The Toga are the spirits of people who are in Limbo.
The Haibane are clones.
The story is similar to the movie the Island. The Haibane are clones of people living on the outside, and their entire life is centered around work that is designed to keep them healthy for whenever a client needs to harvest their organs. The wings and halo probably work as biological monitors, like the tags on wild birds, that can track runaway Haibane and send out to cloning lab scientists how healthy the clones are for organ donation. That explains why there don't seem to be any elderly Haibane and why the lives of the Haibane are tightly restricted. The priests are actually people in costumes, not supernatural beings, and they use metaphysical trickery like a fraudulent psychic or magician to keep the Haibane in obedience.
Glie is the same place as The End of The World
Albeit maybe before or after the events in the book.

The show is in continuity with the Dune series.
The city of Glie is all that remains of a once civilized world. The series takes place centuries after the eradication of all life on Arrakis, and possibly on Arrakis itself.
  • The Toga who are the only ones who can move out of the city are using masks which are actually complex life-supporting systems. They are forbidden to touch of be touched by the people because they are heavily contaminated by the radiation. Because they are the spiritual leaders, they are Zensunni monks, and as such, the representatives of the buddhislamic authorities. They are the last descent of the Fremen.
  • The people cannot journey out of the walls because the sandworms would destroy them.
  • The Haibane Renmei organization which takes care of the Haibanes is in fact the Bene Gesserit. The entire program may in fact be a breeding program of the Bene Gesserit with help from the Bene Tleilax, and the cocoons are refined Axlotl tanks. The wings are heavy mutations caused by the saturation of the cocoons with spice. Because the exposition is strong but only occurs once, the Haibane are not subject to prescience, but a slight effect is still perceptible at the edge of their consciousness : this is the origin of the dream. Their halos are hovering devices held in the air by the Holtzmann principle.
  • The wind turbines are actually windtraps providing water for the fertile region inside the walls.
  • The walls are only able to keep the sandworms at bay because they contain a body of water protected from the sandtrouts. This is why Rakka is sent to maintain the walls, as they are the only mean of protection from the hostile fauna.
  • Crows survive by hunting sandtrouts.
  • The isolation has made the Orange Catholic Bible subject to distortion: the taboo on using sentient machines has degenerated into the Haibane being authorised only to acquire used goods and being limited to simple mechanisms.
  • It is probable that a climatic sattelite from the Guild hovers over Glie to sustain the fertile climate there (and create occasional rain). The difficulty in maintaining this situation is the reason why winter is so sudden and harsh.
  • Old Factory may be the station of the Imperial Planetologist.
  • Sandtrouts are able to sneak inside the walls and try to capture some water. When they form a pocket, they naturally explode, scattering the spice on the nearby relic. This is the white powder that Rakka has to collect.
  • Haibanes who understand their dream and ascend to a higher plane of existence are actually Haibanes who acquire full prescience and are called back by the Bene Gesserit to become Reverend Mothers. The column of light is either a space shuttle departing for space, a transportation system, or the projectors of a non-ship locating the Haibane before transporting her.
  • The program is supervised by the Bene Gesserit and the Bene Tleilax. This is why everyone at Old Home is female. Male specimens are experiments by the Bene Tleilax.
  • Reki's problems are created by her being from the lineage of the Atreides family. The railroad she sees is the Golden Path of the God-Emperor. Rakka is also an Atreides.

Rakka was pregnant when she killed herself
  • The crow is a divine messenger in Japanese lore, I believe that burying her child at the bottom of a well, which perhaps she threw it in before killing herself, was her way to purge her sin and let go of her pain.

The Haibane are reborn as the villagers
  • The librarian was pregnant and kept speaking about 'when' she would give birth, Kuu's flight coincided with her giving birth. It would also explain why the villagers think of the Haibane as lucky and protect them, only allowing them to work in certain places.
    • Nice theory but she was still pregnant in the eleventh episode and gave birth some time before the twelfth. Kuu's flight happened long before then and the next Haibane's Day of Flight was still yet to happen.

The Haibane Renmei were previously Haibane who didn't manage to reach their Day of Flight
  • The people who are currently Haibane Renmei, were once Haibane, but didn't attain redemption in time, so when their day of flight came, they just lost their wings and halos and are now working to help other Haibane attain redemption, and not end up as them. When the old man is speaking to Rakka at one point, he says that "Haibane who do not get their day of flight in time lose their halos and wings, and live separate from both humans and Haibane, until they eventually die." as he is saying that, the mark on his hood and the fake wooden wings he wears are shown, implying that he, at the very least, was previously a Haibane who failed to achieve his Day of Flight. Also Haibane Renmei do live in a place far removed from both humans and haibane, and are separate from both.

The Haibane's dreams reflect how they died
  • As gruesome and dark as this one sounds, it might explain why they have the dreams they do, and goes on the theory that Reki committed suicide and thus this is why her cocoon dream shows her standing on a train track. Which means that Nemu was likely given euthanasia (put to sleep), Hikari might have suffered from a fatal accident involving electricity (she dreams of sparkling light), Kana drowned in a river (floating like a fish), Kuu might have been asphyxiated (thus why she dreams of air), Reki's is self-explanatory and Rakka may have fallen fatally from somewhere high above. The Young Feathers: Hana (exposure to a poisonous plant like deadly nightshade), Shorta (sickness from eating too many sweets?) Again, just speculation, but if Reki's dream showed how she died, wouldn't it make sense for the other Haibane's to do the same?

The Haibane ARE dead but NOT in purgatory.
Instead, the city of Glie is a place that gives those who died tragically due to their own flaws and mistakes a chance at redemption. By being put into a friendly and caring environment, something they often lacked when they were alive, the Haibane are given the chance to grow as a person and overcome the flaw that ultimately led to their downfall. If they succeed, then on the day of their flight they are returned to the outside world a few days before their demise with their development still intact. If they fail, then they remain dead in the outside world and spend the remainder of their natural life as members of the Haibane Renmei.

The strange rules regarding ownership and money exist to ensure the Haibane do fair work and are dependent on the kindness of others for their material possessions. Becoming Sin Bound serves as a warning that a Haibane is falling back on the flaw or behavior that she/he needs to overcome.

The city of Glie changes depending on what is viewed as Utopian in the outside world.
That would explain why the place has abandoned factories and ruins of ancient looking temples. Both of those are relics from a time when large temple complexes and technological marvels were viewed as the height of civilisation.
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