by Carol Bowman
This article invites therapists and researchers to explore children’s past-life memories. Cases and observations based on the author’s six years of research support findings that some children make excellent regression subjects, easily remembering past-life stories and quickly integrating these past-life experiences in ways that change their lives. Five cases illustrate the following: 1) how children access these memories; 2) processing techniques that both therapists and parents can use with children; and 3) benefits children derive from remembering these former lifetimes.
My findings from six years of working with children’s past-life memories show that children can be willing and able subjects for past-life regression and therapy. They remember their past lives easily, and rapidly process and integrate these memories. Children can derive the same benefits as adults do from working with past-life memories: elimination of phobias and recurrent nightmares, cure of physical symptoms, resolution of emotional problems, and enhanced self esteem and awareness.
Past-life memories are so close to the surface of consciousness in some young children that they express these memories spontaneously, with no prompting whatsoever. In other cases, minimal encouragement by a parent or therapist will elicit a detailed, cogent past-life story. The themes that emerge from these stories are often the central issues for the child’s present life, and, I suspect, the beginnings of complex formations that could grow with the child into adulthood. By resolving these issues as they emerge early in life, we may be sparing the child years of unnecessary confusion and pain.
The findings I offer in this article are preliminary, based on my work with my own two children, anecdotes I collected from parents, and from some of the few therapists who regress children. Except for Ian Stevenson’s (1987) extensive research of children’s spontaneous memories, there are only a few published cases to refer to. The cases and observations below only hint at the benefits to be mined from children’s past-life memories.
Granted, not all children’s memories can be easily accessed or issues quickly resolved. Some children, like adults, are not good subjects for regression. Children whose problems have origins in the birth and early experiences of this life—for example, those who have been traumatized by sexual, physical, or emotional abuse—may need more traditional therapeutic strategies. But we should be alert to acknowledge the many children who do remember their past lives easily and look for opportunities to help them.
My work with children’s past-life memories began when my son, Chase, was five. During that year he became terrified of any loud booming sound that resembled gunshot. A hypnotherapist, Norman Inge, suggested that we try “an experiment” with Chase to see if we could discover the source of his fear. Norman had Chase sit on my lap, instructed him to close his eyes, and asked him what he saw when he heard the loud noises that frightened him. To my amazement, Chase began describing a Civil War battle scene in which he was a black soldier carrying a gun. He described in detail his uniform, his gun “with a sword at the end,” the surrounding terrain, and the cannons that were pulled on wagons by horses. Chase spoke with wisdom beyond his age and knowledge of facts and details that I knew were out of his range of experience.
When it was his turn to shoot at the enemy, Chase became agitated and curled up on my lap. He explained to us that he didn’t want to be there and shoot other people. At this point, Norman explained to him in simple language that we live many lives in which we play different parts, like actors in a play. We learn about life by playing these different parts; sometimes we kill other people and sometimes we are killed. He explained to Chase that there is no blame in being a soldier, even if he had to kill another soldier in that battle. Chase’s body relaxed and his breathing became more regular as he listened to Norman’s assurances.
As the story progressed, the soldier Chase described was hit in the wrist with a bullet and was taken to a “place where they took soldiers that were hurt—not like a regular hospital, just big poles, like an open tent, covered with material.” (See Editor’s note on this at conclusion). Chase said that he felt dizzy and could hear the sound of gunfire around him as he was being bandaged. Then he was ordered back into battle to continue fighting behind a cannon. This order upset Chase again. The images began to fade. Chase opened his eyes, hopped off my lap, and began to play.
My daughter, Sarah, who had been observing this, excitedly pointed out that the wrist where Chase had been injured in that story was the same spot where Chase had suffered from severe eczema since he was a baby. Whenever Chase became tired or upset, he scratched this wrist until it bled, forcing me to bandage it to stop his scratching. I had taken him to several doctors because of the severity of the rash, but it had not responded to medical treatment.
Within a few days after the regression, the eczema vanished completely and has not returned since. Also, Chase’s fear of loud noises disappeared.
In this case, Chase accessed the past-life story through the triggering stimulus—the loud noises—which easily brought the visual and emotional components of the memory into consciousness. No other induction technique was necessary, which I have found to be true in other cases with young children.
It was not necessary, either, for Chase to re-experience the full emotional intensity of the soldier’s trauma in order to release the debilitating emotions and the somatic reminder (the eczema) associated with it. Norman’s simple explanation of universal balance, living lifetimes as both victim and perpetrator with no blame, helped Chase resolve the anxiety and guilt he felt about his role as a soldier. With minimal processing, Chase understood his blamelessness in that situation, freeing him from his emotional burden. Surprisingly, children often understand these universal concepts more easily than adults, who are conditioned by religious training and cultural beliefs.
Fuqua (1989), Freedman (1991), and Noordegraaf (Ten Dam, 1989, 1993), therapists who have written about past-life therapy with children, concur that for past-life therapy to be effective with children it is not necessary to produce a violent abreaction to trauma. Noordegraaf advises that it is safer for children to experience trauma in a dissociated state (Ten Dam, 1989, 1993). Release and integration can be fast with children, since they do not have the additional layering of biographical material that adults have to process, and they don’t question the validity of the past-life experience.
Denning (1993) relates a case that demonstrates the ease in which children process and integrate past-life material. Nine-year-old Jennifer was afraid to go to the bathroom alone and was terrified of blood. Her fear of going to the bathroom unescorted was presenting problems for Jennifer at school.
Dr. Denning spent about an hour and a half talking to Jennifer about past lives and explaining to her that “bad things can happen in past lives, but that no matter what she saw, she would be all right.”
Dr. Denning then asked Jennifer if she was ready to do a regression. Immediately, without any formal induction, Jennifer went into a trance, grabbed her chest, and said “I’m dying of a heart attack.”
Dr. Denning: How old are you?
Jennifer: Seventy-six. But I’m not really dying of a heart attack; I’m dying of a broken heart.
Dr. Denning: What happened that you’re dying of a broken heart?
Jennifer: Ten years ago I went to this restaurant with my wife. I went into the bathroom and while I was there some men came into the place with guns and shot up the place. My wife was shot.
Jennifer described in detail the man’s feelings of guilt about not being able to save his wife. And, as soon as Jennifer saw this man’s wife lying in a pool of blood, she snapped out of the trance and exclaimed, “That’s it! That’s why I’m afraid of blood!”
Dr. Denning stated, “And that was it. And she’s never been afraid of blood or going to the bathroom alone since. It was as simple as that and as short as that, a one-time thing. It worked like a charm.” Dr. Denning explained that Jennifer integrated the experience spontaneously by herself.
As with Chase, Jennifer easily accessed her past-life story with minimal encouragement. Dr. Denning primed Jennifer with a discussion of past lives, creating a climate of safety, giving her permission to remember. Sometimes, to stimulate and resolve past-life memories, children need only the opportunity to express themselves to a receptive listener.
In cases in which past-life memories do not emerge spontaneously or with minimal encouragement, relaxation exercises, guided imagery, and various bridging techniques can be very effective (Fugua, 1989; Bontembal & Noordegraaf, 1991). I have successfully used relaxation exercises and guided imagery with children to access past-life stories. Creative imagery tailored to the child’s interests (a TV screen, a video game, a journey) followed by a transition (walking through a mist, gently landing back on earth, etc.), and then a suggestion to choose an appropriate past life will often elicit a relevant story. When working with children I am careful to use simple, clear language.
If a child already has an image of a past life, such as from a nightmare, that image will work as a visual bridge into the past-life experience (Fuqua, 1989; Freedman 1991). A somatic bridge, “a body symptom experienced as pain, numbness, restriction, itch, etc.,” (Bontembal & Noordegraaf, 1991, p. 21) can also move a child directly into the past-life experience, as shown in the following example.
Chase had been suffering from anxiety attacks after he had attended a slumber party. At bedtime he would feel sick to his stomach and anxious about not being able to get to sleep. I tried hot baths, relaxation exercises, and warm milk, but to no avail. This went on for six long weeks. We were at the point of calling a doctor for help when we both decided to try a regression first.
I waited until bedtime when the anxiety started. I asked Chase to lie in his bed and describe the feeling in his stomach. He said that it felt like an emptiness, a spinning that would start in his stomach, go to his throat, and flow back to his stomach. I asked him if he could see a color with this feeling; he reported that it was orange-yellow. He said that it was not a sick feeling (although he had vomited on several occasions), but a feeling of emptiness. I suggested that he “stay with the feelings.”
Chase then saw an image of himself manacled in a dungeon, in what he described as “castle times.” He described how his arms were stretched above him. It was dark and he was all alone. He continued to be aware of the sensations in his body as he told his story.
I suggested going back to an earlier time before he was put in the dungeon. He saw himself in a village square with many people—a market place; he was planning a theft. He experienced his hand reaching for something when he was suddenly apprehended. The next thing he knew he was in the dungeon.
I asked him to direct his attention to his feelings: “I feel guilty about what I did—sorry. It was a waste of a life to end up like this. I feel that sadness and guilt in my stomach. I can’t sleep hanging in this position. I die here.”
I asked Chase if there was any connection between what he was experiencing in that lifetime and the slumber party, when his symptoms began. He said that he was having fun at the slumber party seeing how late he could stay up when, suddenly, he became anxious and scared about not being able to sleep. That was when the sick feeling in his stomach began. He said that the slumber party was “dark and unfamiliar like the dungeon.”
Chase was able to sleep soundly that night, and has not been bothered by the anxiety and sick feeling since the regression.
The majority of children who spontaneously remember past lives do so between the ages of two and five (Stevenson, 1987), before they are acculturated by school, television, and by their parents’ attitudes and beliefs. Young children retain an awareness of the continuum of experience from birth, the prenatal period, and previous lives, including the interval between lives. They are still attuned to a level of the unconscious mind that is accessed only with great effort by most adults. Past-life memories flow in and out of children’s conscious awareness, becoming part of their reality. Before they are verbally proficient, children may express past-life memories through their behavior, single words, body gestures, and physical symptoms (Stevenson, 1987). When they acquire adequate language skills, they often persist in describing these memories in a matter-of-fact manner, as if we adults should know exactly what they are talking about.
Since most parents in our culture do not believe in past lives, they dismiss their children’s expression of these memories as fantasy or make-believe. This is unfortunate. By not properly acknowledging these memories or their behavioral or emotional manifestations, parents miss an opportunity to help their child resolve traumatic issues carried forward from the past, issues that may plague the child for many years, even into adulthood.
Not all spontaneous past-life memories, however, are traumatic or unpleasant. When benign memories emerge, it is important for the child to have these experiences acknowledged and reinforced. These past-life stories create a personal mythology that the child can use as a resource and a reference throughout life, the legacy of many lifetimes of learning.
Parents, particularly mothers, can have a powerful influence on the unconscious minds of their young children. With love and intuition, and only a rudimentary understanding of how past-life memories affect us in the present, an attentive parent may be all a child needs to resolve unfinished business from the past, as the two cases below illustrate.
One mother, Susan, was led by her therapist through her own past-life regression which, she is convinced, unconsciously stimulated her five-year-old son to have his own past-life memory. Susan had a past life as a peasant woman in rural Russia. An otherwise peaceful and uneventful life was suddenly changed when a devastating storm took the life of her baby.
Soon after, my present day son, who had no knowledge of my regression, and who had been with me as one of my other children in that life, had his first nightmare ever. I ran upstairs to him and instantly knew he was in the storm from the regression. He was crying and calling for the baby. I was amazed that he had tapped into my past life; I was equally amazed that I immediately knew what was happening beyond a question of a doubt. I comforted him back to sleep.
The nightmare happened again and I took it a step further. I whispered in his ear as he slept and tossed and cried. I told him that the storm happened a long time ago and we’re safe now. I was totally calm and soothing and he settled down. But he was not done. During his third and last nightmare I realized he needed closure on “the baby.” He had been crying out for the baby in all three nightmares. I assured my son that the baby is safe now and in a different place, that we are all okay and safe, and that this all happened long ago. He immediately settled down and slept peacefully. He was five years old then and has not had the nightmare for three years.
I feel that this is a wonderful example of how we healed each other through our unconscious connection. Trusting my intuition in the mother-son relationship was crucial. I knew instinctively what was happening and what to do. The key was in actually doing what I knew intuitively.
Susan skillfully helped her son by first validating his disturbing past-life memories, and then assuring him that he was now safe in a new body. Children need this clarification between past and present; they need to understand that these frightening events will not happen again.
Colleen, a mother from out of state, heard about my research and called me about her son, Blake, whom she felt was suffering from a past-life trauma. She explained:
I would have dismissed Blake’s story as vivid imagination, but just the day before this happened there was a therapist on the Oprah Winfrey Show discussing past-life experiences. They mentioned on the show that many times a child will relate a past-life experience. This is why I did not dismiss his story. He told me of this in a very matter of-fact manner. He acted as if I should already know that this happened to him.
At my request, Colleen put her story in writing:
A year ago, three-year-old Blake was watching his older brother waiting for the bus outside. I was in the kitchen and I heard Blake call to his brother to get out of the street. I went to investigate. When I got near Blake he told me his ear hurt.
Colleen: Why does your ear hurt?
Blake: Truck hit me.
Colleen: Who hit you with a truck? (Blake attends nursery school and I assumed a child had hit him with a toy truck).
Blake: Man did.
Colleen: Man hit you with a toy truck?
Blake: No, a big truck.
Colleen: Where were you when this man hit you with a truck?
Blake: In the street.
Colleen: What happened then?
Blake: Man picked me up, put me in his truck. He took me to a school. (I assume a hospital might seem like a school to him).
Colleen: Where did it hurt on your body? (Blake put his hand to the side of his head where he had previously stated his ear hurt).
Blake: I went under wheels.
Colleen: Where were Mom and Dad when this happened?
Blake: Gone bye-bye at the store.
Colleen then explained:
Through this whole conversation Blake was very matter-of-fact. He never gave any indication that he was making this up. I asked if this happened on TV. He stated, “No, this happened in street.” Again, very matter-of-fact. Since this conversation, Blake’s personality has changed significantly. He used to be extremely happy and playful, always a smile on his face; we used to call him “Smiley.” Since telling me about the truck, he has become quiet and reserved. He sits on the couch, sucks his thumb, and stares outside or at the TV. Sometimes I ask him to draw a picture of how he feels. He will draw a lot of lines and marks and tell me, “These are my ouches.” Almost every day, he tells me something hurts, i.e., eye, arm, leg, stomach. He never had physical complaints prior to this experience. Quite often, he will say to me, “I love you” then “I hate you.” I feel Blake is angry with me because his past-life mother was not with him when he was hit by the truck. I am doing many things with him now that seem to be helping him get back to his “normal self.” But I feel I have a long way to go. It has been a very painful experience for me and my husband. We have now learned to appreciate every smile we get from Blake.
Blake could not completely differentiate between his past-life experience and the present, as when he told Colleen he loved her and hated her, while he was re-experiencing the pain of the injuries from the accident. Some children, according to Dr. Ian Stevenson’s research, who spontaneously remember their past lives“…died young in their previous life, often in accidents or by violence…they hardly realize they are dead…” (Ten Dam, 1987, p.307) Blake was still angry with his past-life mother for not protecting him from the truck.
After assessing Blake’s situation over the phone, I felt that he was a good candidate for a past-life regression. Since it was unlikely that Colleen could find a regression therapist near where she lived who worked with children, I suggested techniques she could try on her own with Blake.
First, I assured Colleen that her love for Blake is the most powerful healing agent, and that she was quite capable of helping her son. I then instructed her to talk to Blake while he was relaxed, just before bedtime or during bath time. I told Colleen to let Blake know that she understood what had happened to him, that she and her husband love him very much, and that he is now safe in a new body.
A week later, I received the following letter:
Wanted to let you know how much Blake has improved his disposition. As you know, Blake had become more and more unhappy since he remembered a past-life experience in which he was hit by a truck. I followed your advice. I tucked Blake into bed and gave him a back scratch. Once he was relaxed I asked him if he had been hit by a truck. He stated, “Yeah.” I then explained to him that he was hit by the truck in a different life, not this life. I told him he had a different body then and that he had a different mommy then too. The look on Blake’s face was worth a thousand words! The twinkle in his eye came back. He questioned me by asking, “That was a different body, Mom? I had different mommy?” I answered “yes” to both questions and then explained how much everybody in this life loves him. Ever since having that conversation with him, he has returned to his “normal self.” He is playing all the time now. He has a wonderful sense of humor and is now back to using it to its fullest. He’s back to being full of mischief. My husband and I can’t believe the difference in him. We feared we had lost “our Blake” for good. I really didn’t expect my words to him would have such an impact. I thought he wouldn’t understand. But as you know, children are full of surprises. Also, Blake’s physical complaints have completely disappeared.”
All of these cases demonstrate the value of encouraging and guiding children through their past-life memories. Many children can easily access and integrate past-life experiences, allowing them to shed burdensome karmic baggage while still young.
An exciting opportunity is before us to research reincarnational patterns as they emerge fresh in early childhood, uncontaminated by cultural beliefs and present-life experiences. Through this research, we can develop strategies for parents to use with their children’s spontaneous memories, and regression techniques for therapists to use with their child clients.
We must reevaluate the prevailing belief that, because of their “fragile ego structures,” past-life regression is an inappropriate therapeutic strategy to use with children. On the contrary, it is highly appropriate in some cases. Many children benefit greatly, and sometimes effortlessly, from past-life therapy. If Jennifer, Dr. Denning’s client who was afraid to go to the bathroom unescorted, had not had the benefit of a regression, would she have suffered from fear and embarrassment into adulthood? Perhaps. How many more children could benefit from their parents’ or their therapist’s ability to recognize the past-life origins of their problems? I suspect many.
Past-life reports like this seem to “cry out” for validation. After hearing this story, I was intrigued by this seemingly strange description of the hospital. Consequently, I researched this and found pictures of Civil War field hospitals appearing in volume 7 of a 10 volume set of Civil War photographs. (Miller, F. T., 1911). The Photographic History of the Civil War, Vol. 7, pg. 281. New York: The Review of Reviews Co.) The pictures were of canvas hospital tents over which was superimposed a flat platform covered with cut evergreen branches, probably for cooling purposes. In one of these photographs, one of the recuperating soldiers was clearly a black man! I made copies of these photographs and forwarded them to Carol Bowman who, in turn, showed them to her son. His comment was an immediate and very matter-of-fact, “Yep, that’s the place!” Subsequently, he also readily identified Civil War photographs of black troops armed with rifles with affixed bayonets. Objectively, these do not constitute absolute ”proof,” but do present tantalizing speculations!
Bontembal, R. & Noordegraaf, T. The Holographic Model of Reincarnation Therapy. Amsterdam/Hoeven. (Self published), 1991.
Denning, Hazel Interview at APRT Conference, Florida, 1993.
Freedman, T. Treating Children’s Nightmares With Past-Life Report Therapy: A Case and a Discussion. The Journal of Regression Therapy, VI (1). 48-54. 1991.
Fuqua, E. Using Past Life Concepts in Child Therapy. The Journal of Regression Therapy, IV, 1. 53-59. 1989.
Stevenson, I. Children Who Remember Previous Lives. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1987.
——— Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation. (2nd ed.). Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1974.
Ten Dam, H. Deep Healing-The Methodology of Past-Life Therapy. (Self published), 1989, 1993.
——— Exploring Reincarnation. (Wils, A. E. J., Trans.). London: Arkana, 1987.