by Robert T. James, J.D.
After completing a written survey inquiring into demographics and religious beliefs, 104 adult subjects were separately hypnotized in an attempt to regress them to past lives. Eighty-one subjects did regress to what seemed to be past lives. The results were subjected to a Multi-variate Analysis of Variance (MANOVA) and to other statistical analyses. In this article Dr. James presents a summary of some of his findings.
Whether or not we survive physical death and are reborn again would seem to be two of the most important questions we can ask ourselves. Indeed, the reports from every known society indicate that our ancestors seemed to concern themselves with such questions as far back as there is recorded history and probably beyond. However, in researching the literature on this subject, I was surprised at the lack of attempts to acquire empirical, replicable data on these subjects using modern scientific methods.
There have been a number of reports of individual case histories over the past 40 years of persons who have regressed to what seem to be past lives while in hypnosis, such as those reported by Bernstein (1956), Fiore (1978), Weiss (1988), Moody (1991), and others. These reports are intriguing and are certainly suggestive that we have indeed lived before this lifetime, and that our personalities survive our physical death.
The reports of these past-life experiences while in hypnosis have not gone without intense criticism, some even malevolent and with little regard for objectivity. Some critics have charged past-life regression therapists with fraud, incompetence, and ignorance of hypnotic phenomena. They have also warned of the supposed dangers of past-life regressions.
However, studies and analyses such as those made by Stevenson (1977), Anderson (1981), and Venn (1986), while not necessarily supporting the use of hypnosis in regressing to what seem to be past lives, do attempt to examine survival and rebirth questions more carefully.
Venn particularly hones in on the use of hypnosis in regressing back to what seem to be past lives. Venn advocates what he calls a more “…conventional hypothesis based on modern theories of hypnosis.” He emphasizes “…normal factors such as suggestion, role-playing, loss of inhibition, dissociation (including cryptomnesia), and desire to please the hypnotist” as better describing the experiences of those who report past lives while in hypnosis. He also criticizes, sometimes justifiably, the reports of case histories as not having been adequately researched and claims that negative findings as well as positive findings have not been reported.
Of recent popularity concerning survival after physical death have been the books and articles on the near-death experience. The near-death experience generally refers to the experiences of persons who were apparently clinically dead, but were then revived. The common elements of these near-death experiences as they are reported are that after “dying,” the person hears a loud ringing or buzzing noise and experiences traveling rapidly through a long, dark tunnel, finding themselves outside their physical bodies, but being able to see their former bodies. Then other disembodied people come to greet and help them. They usually also encounter a “being of light,” some sort of divine spirit, who shows them a review or playback of their lives.
As pointed out by Moody (1975), the above sequence of events is not everyone’s experience, but is a composite of experiences. In some of the near-death experiences, people reported seeing gardens, green grass, flowers, and beautiful buildings. Some saw religious figures that they identified as St. Peter, God, Christ, Hindu messengers of death called Yamdoots, and some heard Angels singing. These would seem to be cultural artifacts.
Morse and Perry (1990) believe they have discovered (or rediscovered) the neurological explanation for the near-death experiences. They report that Dr. Wilder Penfield found that electrical stimulation near the area of the brain known as the Sylvian fissure, in the temporal lobe, caused out-of-the-body experiences similar to the near-death experiences.
Stevenson, Cook, and Clean-Rice (1989-1990) examined the medical records of 40 patients who reported near-death experiences and found that only 18 patients were judged to have had serious, life-threatening injuries, concluding that “…it seems likely that an important precipitator of the so-called near-death experience is the belief that one is dying—whether or not one is in fact close to death.”
These near-death experiences in any event are only anecdotal stories, reported to the investigators, and although certainly interesting, don’t seem to rise to the status of empirical, replicable data. The subjects really weren’t dead in the usual sense of the word.
Of all the material reviewed preparatory to the conducting of the research project reported in this paper, the reports of Dr. Ian Stevenson and Dr. Helen Wambach seem most clearly to fit into the category of traditional, modern research.
Stevenson’s research mainly involves investigating and authenticating past-life memories that arise spontaneously, not involving the use of hypnosis or any form of altered states of consciousness. He does report two cases that he investigated, where the subjects were regressed using hypnosis (Stevenson, 1974c, 1984). In both cases the subjects conversed intelligibly in languages presumably unknown to them. Stevenson considers these cases “suggestive” of reincarnation.
Stevenson’s articles and books indicate that he has investigated and authenticated hundreds of examples of people, usually children, who reported memories of past lives, some exhibiting responsive xenoglossy, the ability to speak and respond in a foreign language to which they were never exposed (Stevenson 1961, 1974a, 1974b, 1976, 1977, 1980, 1984; Stevenson and Pasricha 1979, 1980). His extensive research into his cases are models of what all past-life researchers would probably like to duplicate, if there were adequate time and resources to do so. One case that did not involve hypnosis but that did involve responsive xenoglossy is that of Uttara Haddar, who was born March 14, 1941, in Nagpur, India. Her language was Marathi. The personality of Sharada emerged spontaneously early in 1974 while she was in her 30’s. Hypnosis was not involved. Her behavior changed and she developed a tendency to wander away saying she “Wanted to go to a place where she thought she belonged.” As Sharada, she was unable to speak her native language Marathi. Instead she spoke in Bengali, a language different from Marathi. She also modified her dress and her conduct to conform to that of a married Bengali woman. As Sharada, she preferred the foods of Bengal and had a knowledge of the Bengal foods not expected of a woman of West Central India. She also exhibited a familiarity with the names and locations of small towns in Bengal. Her parents and Uttara had no knowledge of the Bengali language or customs.
The Sharada personality could speak Bengali fluently and a substantial number of her statements about her life as Sharada have been verified. Sharada gave many details including names of her prior family in Bengal, and a family corresponding to Sharada’s statements has been traced in the part of Bengal where she said she lived in the 1820’s (Stevenson and Pasricha, 1980; Stevenson, 1984).
Stevenson’s second recently reported case arose in the 1970’s, in the Eastern United States. A Methodist minister hypnotized his wife Dolores, and gave her the suggestion that she should regress to “previous lives.” While in hypnosis, she assumed the personality of Gretchen Gottlieb, a young German girl living in the past in Eberwalde, Germany. Gretchen reported that she died at the age of 16.
Investigation revealed that none of Delores’s family or ancestors were German, and that she, Dolores, had no knowledge of the German language. Stevenson not only researched her background at great length, he also had Dolores take a polygraph test that affirmed her denials of knowledge of German before the regression. Gretchen not only spoke German, but she spoke German responsively; that is, she gave sensible replies in German to questions put to her in German.
In the case of Gretchen, Stevenson reported that “It has not been possible to trace any person whose life corresponded to Gretchen’s statements.” (Stevenson and Pasricha, 1980). Xenoglossy seems to be the most compelling aspect of the Gretchen case.
Wambach (1978, 1979) conducted her very extensive research by assembling different groups of subjects in workshops at different times, and after putting them into hypnosis, regressed them back through five time periods 1850, 1700, 1500, A.D., and 25 and 500 B.C. She allowed each subject to chose one of those time periods to explore. She then asked questions concerning such matters as the regressed subjects’ social class, race, gender, the architecture of the place, clothing, footwear, food, eating utensils, and their death experience. After awakening, she had them fill in data sheets detailing the information concerning the matters they had observed. This data was tabulated and checked against known sources where available. Wambach concluded that “All the data described…tended to support the hypothesis that past-life recall accurately reflects the real past rather than it represents common fantasies.” She worked with a total of 1,088 subjects in this project.
Some of the individual case studies of a past-life experience while in hypnosis have been well researched since Venn made his complaints in 1986. A remarkable example of an individual case, substantially verified by research, is the case reported by Tarazi (1990).
Tarazi’s patient L. D., regressed while in hypnosis to the life of a Spanish woman named Antonia, born November 15, 1555. L. D.’s ancestry is German and her religion is Protestant. She is married with two children. In some 36 formal hypnotic sessions, she described her romantic and adventurous life as Antonia, with great detail as to names, places, and dates. Tarazi spent over three years researching the life of Antonia, “…in two dozen libraries and universities, travel to Spain, North Africa, and the Caribbean; and correspondence with historians and archivists.” She verified well over 100 facts stated by L. D. as Antonia, but uncovered no errors. Much of L. D.’s information could be located only in old, obscure Spanish sources, and some was found only in Spanish archives. Some of L. D.’s information given as Antonia correctly corrected the authorities. L. D. did not exhibit compelling xenoglossy while in the personality of Antonia.
Tarazi had used hypnotic regression in therapy sessions before the L.D. case arose, and she stated “…nearly all of the ‘previous personalities’ evoked during these sessions are unverifiable and almost certainly derive from fantasies on the part of the subject.” After her experience with L. D., and after considering psychodynamic factors, fraud, cryptomnesia, role playing, dissociation or multiple personality, genetic memory, racial memory, clairvoyance, precognition, retrocognition, telepathy, mediumship, possession, and reincarnation, she concurred with L. D. who accepted reincarnation as the explanation of her experience.
Reviewing the existing case reports and the research of Stevenson, Wambach, and Tarazi, there seems to be valid empirical evidence, that (1) either we have lived before this lifetime, or (2) that we somehow under certain circumstances seem to be able to access information concerning the lives of persons who have lived before us, and with whom we identify.
It seems plausible to assume that evidence of survival after death and rebirth, if this is reality, could therefore come from other sources than just spontaneous recall, such as comprised the bulk of Stevenson’s research. If in certain circumstances we do have memories of past lives while not in hypnosis, why does it seem suspect that those memories can be accessed under other circumstances, such as hypnosis? If valid evidence of survival and rebirth could come while a person is in a satisfactory state of hypnosis, this would greatly enlarge the scope of the investigations into the subjects of survival and rebirth. This area of research seemed to be worthwhile.
A number of questions arose from my literature search that seemed amenable to further research. As examples, a number of the subjects in the individual case reports involved persons seeking assistance with mental or emotional problems. Is the experiencing of past lives while in hypnosis the normal capability of a healthy mind or only an artifact of therapy?
In some of the reported cases, the authors seemed convinced of the reality of past lives. Is the subject, knowing of the belief of the hypnotist, merely responding to the hypnoidal relationship and trying to please the hypnotist? Would the results of the regression be the same if the hypnotist was a skeptic; neither a believer nor a disbeliever?
Would the religious beliefs and the extent of the involvement of the subject in religious activities affect the results of a hypnotic regression to a past life?
How about the effects of the gender, age, and education of the subjects on the past-life regression?
Would the expectations of the subject affect the results of the hypnotic regression?
Would the past-life experiences tend to confirm or rebut the experiences of those reporting near-death experiences?
After conducting my literature research, I had so many questions that it seemed most appropriate at this point to design a research project in the nature of just a basic inquiry into the phenomena, rather than trying to hypothesize on the relationships between many variables.
I advertised for subjects in a Colorado Springs, Colorado, monthly magazine, using an ad which began “Have you lived before this life time?” and called for volunteers who would be willing to subject themselves to a study using hypnosis which would attempt to explore whether or not the subject had any past-life memories which might be revealed through the application of hypnotic regression techniques. Though no attempt was made to discourage skeptics and scoffers—indeed, their participation was encouraged—it was a given that the very nature of the ad would be more likely to attract respondents who were predisposed to accept the concept of past lives and the statistical analysis of the results supported this hypothesis. (Editor’s note: the author has been encouraged to replicate this study, limiting the subject population primarily or perhaps exclusively to skeptics and scoffers to determine what differences, if any, would result from using a population having a mirror-image skewing. Any readers who would be interested in assisting Dr. James or in conducting their own studies on this topic are encouraged to contact the author by addressing their correspondence to Dr. James c/o the Journal). 166 people responded. Each person who responded was sent a letter explaining the nature of my research, information concerning many common misconceptions about hypnosis, and an Information Survey consisting of 33 questions which I asked that they complete and return. Of these, 107 returned completed questionnaires and agreed to be subjects for the project.
The Information Survey inquired as to age, gender, education, religion, degree of involvement in religious activities, belief in an after-life, belief in reincarnation, health status, prior experience with hypnosis, whether or not they expected to recall past lives while in hypnosis, and several other minor matters. It also contained a consent form to participate in the research. I advised the prospective subjects in the letter that it would be inadvisable for them to participate if they were under 21 years of age, currently in therapy, or suffering from a serious physical disorder.
After receiving the Information Survey, I called each subject and arranged an appointment for the hypnotic session. All sessions were recorded.
At the outset of each session, I emphasized, (1) that hypnosis was voluntary; I could lead them into hypnosis, but I could not force them into hypnosis; (2) that I was not in control of their mind while they were in hypnosis and they could terminate the hypnotic trance at any time; and (3) that while in hypnosis, they would not be unconscious and they would be aware of the activities around them.
Prior to placing each subject in hypnosis, I had the subject participate in a susceptibility test, where the subject stands with eyes closed, hands outstretched. I suggest that they visualize that I place a book on one hand that is forcing his/her hand downward, and that I tie a helium-filled balloon to the other hand, drawing that hand upward. I rated the results as no response, light response, medium response, excellent response, and negative response.
I placed each subject into hypnosis twice. I induced a hypnotic trance in each subject first, just to give the subject the experience of hypnosis. After deepening, I placed the subject on a white cloud and had the subject travel on the cloud on a short fantasy trip. Second, I again placed the subject into hypnosis, and after deepening I placed the subject on their traveling cloud, regressing them back to the ages of 15, then 5, then back before birth to a past life of their choosing.
I instructed the subjects that if they saw themselves in a past life, the cloud would stop and they could descend, continuing to speak to me in English or in any other language that they might encounter.
This first past life encountered by the subject was explored in terms of age, gender, clothing, race, family, food, eating utensils, significant experiences, names of rulers and location. The subject was taken forward to the time of death. The death was experienced and then passed through. The events that occurred immediately after death and the period between that death and their next life were explored.
The subject was then taken to just before being born again and inquiry made as to was the subject choosing to be born again, was anyone or anything helping in the choice, why the subject was being born again, and was the subject choosing his/her next parents. The subject was then given an opportunity to select another life time and was regressed to explore that life time, including the death experience.
The subject was then brought back to the present time and place and awakened. On the way back to the present time, each subject was asked to look up at all the stars and the planets and report whether or not they had ever lived on another planet.
In both hypnotic sessions an attempt was made to deepen the subject into a medium or medium/deep stage of hypnosis before the regression. The Tart self-report scale of hypnotic depth (Tart, 1970) was used as an aid in determining depth. (0 being awake—10 deep).
Immediately after awakening, the subjects were asked if they felt the past lives they experienced were real or imagined, if they had any knowledge or interest in the time and place of the regressions, and if they felt the experience changed any of their feelings about death or their religious beliefs.
The information from the Information Survey and the results of the susceptibility test and the hypnotic sessions were coded into usable raw data and analyzed using a Multi-variate Analysis of Variance (MANOVA) computer program.
No compensation was offered, paid to, or received from the subjects. I did offer to make a copy of the recorded session for each subject and mail it to them if they would furnish me with the tape.
From the 166 responses to my advertisements, I was able to contact and attempt to hypnotize and regress 107 people. Three did not go into any degree of hypnosis so I excluded them from my research as they did not fit the criteria of the phenomenon I was researching, that phenomenon being the response of a subject who was regressed while in hypnosis.
Of the 104 subjects who did go into hypnosis, 81 regressed beyond birth and seemingly encountered lives that they had lived before their present lives. Twenty-three did not regress beyond birth even though they mostly were in a satisfactory state of hypnosis. Almost 80% of the subjects had had some college. Approximately 39% were college graduates. Three had Master’s degrees and two were Ph.D.s. All of my subjects were Caucasian except for one black woman and one woman of Japanese ancestry.
I attempted to determine the causes of deaths at the conclusion of the subjects’ prior lifetimes, but the answers were so vague that they were impossible to evaluate. Many reported “just old,” or “sick.” I was able to determine that 12% died from accidental means in their first past lives and nine percent in their second past lives. Eleven percent died violently in their first past lives and 15% died violently in their second past lives.
In all cases, the consciousness of the past-life personality continued on after death in the past life. Almost all reported that in some form they just “floated up” out of their bodies after their deaths. They could all see their deceased bodies from up above. Generally, the subjects reported a sense of well being after their deaths in past lives.
Nineteen percent of the subjects regressed to being of a different gender in their first past lives, and 31% regressed to a different gender in their second past lives.
Twenty-eight percent regressed to being a different race in their first past lives, and 29% regressed to being a different race in their second past lives.
I worked with 78 variables in my research. The general demographics of my subjects are shown in the following table.
|Variables||Characteristics||Number of||Percentage of|
|a. Age||21 – 30||21||20%|
|31 – 40||35||34%|
|41 – 50||33||32%|
|51 – 60||12||12%|
|c. Years in college||0||21||20%|
|1 – 3||44||42%|
|5 – 6||8||8%|
|7 – 9||8||8%|
|f. Belief in life after||Yes||59||80%|
|g. Belief in||Yes||59||57%|
|h. Expect to recall||Yes||36||35%|
|past lives||Probably Yes||26||25%|
|i. Susceptibility||No response||8||8%|
|hand test||Light response||19||18%|
|j. Depth report||1 – 5||33||32%|
|6 – 8||58||56%|
|9 – 10||9||8%|
|k. Past-life review||Yes||0||0%|
|l. See light after||Yes||8||8%|
|m. Others with||Yes||27||26%|
|n. Special being in||Yes||2||2%|
|o. Regress beyond||Yes||81||78%|
|p. Enlightened in||Yes||10||12%|
|q. Punished in other||Yes||0||0%|
|r. Rebirth after past||Chose rebirth||39||48%|
|life death||Didn’t choose rebirth||23||29%|
|s. Help with rebirth||Help with choice||14||17%|
|choice||No help with choice||25||31%|
|t. Know people from||Yes||21||26%|
|past life in this life||No||3||4%|
|u. Prior knowledge||Extensive||2||2%|
|of past-life||Some knowledge||14||17%|
|v. Opinion of past||Imagined||8||10%|
|w. Lived on another||Yes||30||37%|
Only two of my subjects spoke at length in what seems to be a language with which they have had no prior contact. A Caucasian woman who regressed to being an oriental man living in a small fishing village by a river, in response to my request to repeat a conversation she had with another oriental in the same language, spoke at some length in what seems to be an oriental language.
Another Caucasian woman who regressed in one past life to being a black woman living in the jungle in a very primitive life style, in response to my request to repeat a conversation, spoke at some length in what seems to be a strange, clicking-sounding tongue.
The data generated by my research indicate that a person’s religious beliefs, religious involvement, education, and whether s/he expected to recall past lives, had no significant effect on whether or not s/he regressed beyond birth while in hypnosis and made contact with a past life (p > .05). Once again, the skewed nature of the population, with its lack of a significant percentage of scoffers, does not permit the data generated to be truly generalizable. However, the data from my research indicate that the depth in the hypnotic trance that a person achieved did have a significant effect on whether the person regressed beyond birth, and also had an effect on the amount of detail given in the regression.
Depth of Trance compared with Regress Beyond Birth produced a statistical significance (p < .05). Further analysis using analysis of variance revealed that the Depth of Trance achieved by those persons who did not Regress Beyond Birth was significantly different when compared to the Depth of Trance of those who did Regress Beyond Birth (F (1,99)=8.30, p < .01).
Persons who did not Regress Beyond Birth reported a mean of 4.68 for the Depth of Trance Response. Persons who did Regress Beyond Birth reported a mean of 6.79. These results strongly suggest that a person with a depth score of 5 or lower on Tart’s self-report depth scale would be less likely to Regress Beyond Birth than a person who has a depth score of 7 or above.
Depth of Trance compared with Degree of Detail in Regression also produced statistical significance (p < .05). Further analysis using Pearson’s Product-Moment Correlation disclosed a positive relationship between the Depth of Trance reported and the Degree of Detail given in the Regression Beyond Birth (r = .34**p < .01). In other words, as the Depth of Trance increases, the Degree of Detail in the hypnotic regression increases.
Also of possible special interest to hypnotists was that the Susceptibility test described above that I performed with the subjects before inducing hypnosis—when compared with the subjects’ ability to Regress Beyond Birth—produced a statistical significance (p < .05).
As mentioned in the Introduction to this article, this research project was not designed to prove or disprove any particular hypotheses. However, there are some aspects of the research that seem evident. Most of the 104 subjects (78%) did regress to what seem to be past lives while in hypnosis, indicating that such phenomena is a common occurrence among adults, and is not a unique experience.
None of the subjects was in therapy or suffering from a serious illness, tending to indicate that experiencing regression to what seems to be past lives while in hypnosis can be a phenomenon of healthy minds.
Looking at the educational backgrounds of the subjects, it would appear that an interest in survival and rebirth is compatible with intellectual competence.
Each of the subjects who regressed beyond birth encountered what seemed to be two past lives, for a total of 162 past lives. These past lives were, in almost all cases, fairly mundane considering the time periods in which they appeared to live. No Napoleons, Cleopatras, or high priestesses.
Some examples: One woman with graduate degrees regressed in one life to being a young boy herding goats on the side of a mountain. A 40 year old woman regressed to being a 36 year old male, living in 1894 in a cabin in the mid-west, eating on tin plates and using tin cups, with a sick wife who died unattended by a physician. A woman in her mid forties, college graduate, regressed to being a 54 year-old black pygmy woman, living in the jungle. She died in a canoe accident. This same subject in her second past life was an oriental man living in a small fishing village.
A 35 year old man regressed to being a young man living on a farm near Atlanta, Georgia, in the early 1860s. Lincoln was President “…but we aren’t happy with him.” He died at age 19, a soldier in the Confederate Army. He was shot by his captain for refusing to fight. A 32 year old woman of oriental ancestry regressed to being a 35 year old Scandinavian woman, living in 1862, married to a man named Robert. She died by jumping off a cliff because Robert had died and she was all alone.
One woman regressed to being the daughter of a farmer in mid-America in the 1800s. Her mother died and she stayed on the farm to take care of her father. She never married and died of old age on that farm. A woman in her mid-forties, in graduate school, regressed to being a 23 year old woman, with brown skin, wearing a robe and sandals. She was in a small boat heading for Italy in the year 16. She and others were escaping from Egypt because they were being persecuted for being Christians.
In addition to being quite mundane, none of the past-life experiences that I encountered were erotic or sexual in nature. These experiences would seem to contradict the claims that the subjects are merely fantasizing, exhibiting an unconscious desire for adventure and romance to liven up otherwise drab and dull lives.
These past lives are fairly representative of all the 162 past lives that I encountered. However, the facial expressions, emotions, inflections, nuances, pauses, and the like exhibited by most all of the subjects are not evident from a mere recitation of their experiences. Most subjects, although not all, seemed to be reliving the past-life experiences as the experiences were encountered. The changes of personalities and the emotions exhibited by the subjects while experiencing what seemed to be past lives in the trance state were very compelling and seemed very real to the observer.
In all cases but two, the regressed subjects identified themselves as the persons in the past life being experienced. One woman stated that she seemed to be seeing people and images as if in a picture. Another person seemed to be more of an observer than a participant in the past-life experience.
Certain areas that I planned to explore produced no meaningful results. I tried to explore how long the subjects spent in-between lives, but the subjects consistently seemed to have no conception of time in that realm. I also tried to determine when the surviving personality joined the fetus in the new mother. Again I received no definitive answers.
The death experiences of the subjects who regressed beyond birth were not the same as the reports of the near-death experiences. None heard a ringing or buzzing noise after death. Only one subject saw anything resembling a long, dark tunnel. None had a review of their past life after death. Eight saw some bright lights after their deaths, but not in the context of a “being of light” waiting at the end of a tunnel.
Twenty-six percent of the subjects saw other disincarnate beings immediately after their deaths, but only two encountered what might be called a “special being” after their deaths. One of these, a woman, saw a female form which she stated must be an angel.
The other subject, a woman with graduate degrees, in her mid-forties, had been raised in Middle America in a Protestant home. She was an excellent hypnotic subject and reported 30 on the Tart depth scale. I had to lighten her trance state so she could talk more easily. As I did with all subjects, while in the in-between life stage, I asked if she had received any instruction or had acquired a greater understanding while there. She responded “yes.” I asked her where this instruction or greater understanding came from and she answered “Sometimes it just comes on—sometimes—ah—sometimes just when you leave your body—sometimes there’s God—and he lets you touch him.” She reported that she acquired a greater understanding when she touched God.
Many of the subjects volunteered information when in a regressed past life that seemed to indicate a reliving of the experience. One 62 year old woman regressed in her second past life to being a woman living in England in the early 1800s. At age 25 she had a mate and a young son. I asked her what her little boy’s name was, and instead of directly answering my question, she turned her head downward, smiled broadly, and said “He’s pulling on my dress.”
A 31 year old man regressed to being a 15 year old boy, living on a farm. When I asked him what he was wearing he said “Overalls and a shirt.” Then he volunteered “My sleeves are rolled up.” I asked if he was wearing anything on his feet. He replied, “Work boots. Kind of a—yellow leather.” Then with disgust “Don’t much like ‘um.”
A 39 year old woman regressed in her first past life to being a 32 year old woman, living in Kansas in 1836. When I asked her to look around and tell me where she was, she replied “In a cabin.” And then with a pained expression, wrapping her arms around herself, she said “It’s so cold.”
In the post-hypnotic interviews I conducted immediately after bringing the subjects out of hypnosis, many subjects gave me more details about what they had experienced than had come out in the hypnotic session. Quite often the subjects saw things in their past lives that I had no way of knowing that they had seen, and therefore didn’t ask about. The woman who regressed to being a black woman in the jungle mentioned in passing that she had been a pygmy in that lifetime. It had not occurred to me to ask that while she was re-experiencing that past life.
In reviewing the literature, there seem to be certain recurring criticisms of using hypnosis as an investigative tool into the past-life phenomenon. Criticisms seem basically to fall within the categories of fraud and deceit, or assertions that past lives are fantasies based on information to which the subjects were once exposed but have forgotten (cryptomnesia), genetic memory, extrasensory perception, spirit possession, the effects of trance suggestibility, or that gaps in memories are filled-in with memories that are false but which the subject accepts as true (confabulation).
When you consider the large number of apparently emotionally stable and mature subjects with whom I worked, who sought no personal gain from the research, and who will remain anonymous, fraud seems extremely unlikely. There was a lack of motivation or opportunity for fraud or intentional deception.
The concept of cryptomnesia would hold that each of my subjects who regressed to what seemed to be past lives (81 out of 104) had somehow come into contact with the information, persons, and/or incidents given in their past lives, and had then forgotten the source, and fantasized it in the regression. This claimed explanation of the past-life phenomenon would seem to have more merit with my subjects than it does with Dr. Stevenson’s subjects, who were mostly young children. All of my subjects were adults and many had attended college. Presumably most had read many books, attended movies, watched television, traveled, and engaged in other activities that would give them a great deal of background information.
This was one of the reasons I did not attempt to take the subjects back to specific time periods or places as did Dr. Wambach, as this could conceivably give rise to speculation by the subjects about what those times and places would be like.
Cryptomnesia hardly seems borne out by the subject’s mundane past-life experiences. If the subjects were using past-forgotten information to fantasize, it would seem that they should have been more important people than they turned out to be. Their fantasies should have been more interesting.
Of my 104 subjects who were in hypnosis, 23 did not regress beyond birth. Presumably these 23 non-regressors had also read many books (73% had attended college), watched television, traveled, been to movies, and engaged in other activities that would give them a great deal of background information. Thirteen of these 23 had reached at least a medium-deep state of hypnosis. If cryptomnesia was a significant factor in the past-life phenomena, it would seem likely that these non-regressors would also have regressed and fantasized their past lives with this once learned but forgotten information like the others, if such were the case.
In post-hypnotic interviews, very few of the subjects indicated any knowledge or interest in the time periods or places that appeared in their past lives. If indeed some information had been previously obtained and then forgotten, it would seem probable that the past-life regressions would have acted like a cue to help them remember obtaining some past information similar to that brought out in their past lives. However, I cannot assure the reader that some cryptomnesia might not have taken place in one or more of the past-life regressions.
Genetic memory is advanced by some as a possible explanation of the past-life phenomenon. This is the concept that somehow, through the genes we inherited from our ancestors, the memories of lives our predecessors lived survived and were passed down to us. Genetic memories, if they exist, require the unbroken passage of genes through our ancestors and then down to us. In my subjects’ past lives, they seemed to remember surviving their deaths, floating out of their bodies into another, non-earthly realm, reciting incidents that happened in this non-earthly realm, and being reborn again. Obviously, no genetic material could have been passed down of events that occurred after the death of their bodies, and perhaps more importantly, after the past-life personality had reproduced. And some did not reproduce. These factors make a genetic explanation impossible.
If extrasensory perception (ESP) is at work here, it must be available on a very large scale. My 81 subjects who regressed had at least two past lives, each life being in a different time-period and place than the other. Frequently a subject regressed to being of a different sex and race in each past life. If ESP is involved here, such ESP must be available on demand, at least in hypnosis. Most investigators of ESP limit such unusual powers to just a few persons, and even then the power is usually not available on demand. I cannot say with certainty that ESP is not at work here. However to say that each of my subjects who regressed received the information concerning each of their past lives by ESP, and then identified with the personalities in their past lives, is to extend ESP theories beyond any limits that I have seen claimed.
One claimed explanation of the past-life phenomenon while a subject is in hypnosis is that the subject is just responding and complying with the suggestions of the hypnotist. When a subject is in a medium or deep state of hypnosis, dissociation occurs; that is, the conscious and subconscious minds are divided and can then be utilized as interdependent yet independent entities. In such a state, there is generally an increased responsiveness to suggestion. This responsiveness, however, is not to be confused with gullibility or non-critical acceptance of suggestions.
I am neither a believer nor a disbeliever in the doctrines of survival and/or rebirth, and the subjects were so advised in the interviews before the hypnotic sessions. There would seem to be no motivation on the part of the subjects in this study to regress to please the hypnotist.
If would be difficult to attempt to reduce past-life regressions to merely a compliance with the hypnotist’s suggestions. If this were so, why didn’t most of the 23 non-regressors who were in a medium-deep state of hypnosis also regress? If regression while in hypnosis is all suggestion, how does suggestion unlock true information previously unknown to either the hypnotist or the subject, as in the case put forth by Tarazi (1990)?
Errors in memories occur to all of us in non-hypnotic states, and it would be fallacious to assume that they don’t also occur to a person when in hypnosis. Memories are not stored with exactness like a voice on a tape recorder. Memories are stored on the basis of perception and are subject to the same distortions as other perceptions. Hypnosis won’t generally improve the original perception of what was encountered. What is being recalled is only how the person experienced it at that time.
Confabulation can also occur. Confabulation is generally defined as the filling-in of gaps in actual memories with memories that are false, but which the subject accepts as correct. Confabulation can occur both in and out of hypnosis, without any deliberate attempt to mislead or deceive. Any experienced police officer or attorney can confirm that this happens. As with cryptomnesia, I cannot assure the reader that there were no errors in the subjects’ memories of past lives, or that some form of confabulation did not occur. Because of the large number of subjects in my research, however, it seems improbable that memory errors or confabulation occurred in all or in a majority of the past-life regressions.
I agree with the conclusion drawn by Stevenson (1977): “…the evidence of human survival after death is strong enough to permit a belief in survival on the basis of the evidence.” I would add to that that the evidence of rebirth after our physical death is also that strong.
My research is certainly consistent with the concepts of survival and rebirth.
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