by Robert T. James, J.D., C.Ht.
In the Journal, VII, 1 (1993), Dr. James presented the “first wave” of his research on the prevalence and types of past-life phenomena among the general population. In the paper below, he continues that research with a new group of subjects and includes new data about the kinds of past-life experiences reported. There are surprising connections between some of Dr. James’ findings and those of Ms. Lamb as reported elsewhere in this issue of the Journal.
In 1991-92, prior to conducting the research I wish to report on in this article, I worked with 107 healthy, adult subjects, conducting a general research project investigating the phenomenon that most people, when in a medium or deep state of hypnosis, can be regressed to what seem to be lives that they have lived before. Three of the 107 did not go into hypnosis, and of the 104 who did, 81 regressed to what appeared to be lives that they had lived before.
In their experiences, those subjects who regressed to apparent past lives appeared to relive rather than just recall their past lives, exhibiting emotions appropriate to the events being experienced. Those experiences seemed consistent with the concept that they were experiencing actual lives that they had lived before, rather than merely reciting information previously acquired, forgotten, and then fantasized in the regression.
The subjects in that prior research were volunteers who responded to an advertisement, and the sample was therefore necessarily skewed. Seventy-five percent of the subjects were female; 80% had some college with 39% being college graduates. The age distribution, however, fell into a fairly normal bell-shaped distribution.
The statistical analysis of the data in my earlier research indicated that regressions to what seem to be past lives while in hypnosis are common occurrences among healthy adults and are not unique experiences. The data also indicated 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 to past lives while in hypnosis (p > .05). The analysis of the data showed that the depth into the hypnotic state that the subject achieved did have a significant effect on whether the subject regressed to past lives, and also had an effect on the amount of detail given in the regressions. The past lives reported by the subjects were fascinating, and generally appropriate for the time periods and locations in which they seemed to occur. My prior research was reported in detail in the December 1993 issue of the Journal (James, 1993).
Because of the general nature of my prior research, no specific attempt was made to obtain verifiable data, and very little data was obtained that could be verified using resources readily available to me. Like most research, it gave credence to some propositions, but also gave rise to a great many questions. The most important question seemed to me to be whether or not verifiable data of past lives could readily be obtained from subjects regressed before birth while in hypnosis.
I emphasize readily be obtained, because there are now a good number of cases, from a number of different sources, where the existence of a past life as recalled by a subject has been authenticated. But as I understand the reports, those verified cases didn’t arise by plan, but were randomly encountered.
Dr. Ian Stevenson, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Virginia, has been investigating and attempting to authenticate past-life cases for many years, usually dealing with past-life memories that arise spontaneously, not involving the use of hypnosis or any form of altered state of consciousness (Stevenson, 1974a, 1974b, 1980; Stevenson and Pasricha, 1980). Stevenson has, however, also thoroughly investigated cases where the subjects were hypnotically regressed and spoke in languages unknown to them, a phenomenon known as “xenoglossy.” The most notable of these are the Jensen case (Stevenson, 1974c), and the Gretchen case (Stevenson, 1984).
Two excellent recent cases, well researched and authenticated, where the subjects were regressed using hypnosis, are the cases reported by two therapists, Linda Tarazi (1990) and Rick Brown (1991). Tarazi’s subject “L. D.” regressed to being a Spanish woman named Antonia, born November 15, 1555. Tarazi spent over three years researching the life of Antonia and was able to verify that such a person lived and that most of the factual data she gave was correct.
Brown’s subject “Kelly” regressed to being a Navy crew member named James Edward Johnston aboard the U.S. Submarine Shark, who died when the submarine was sunk in 1942, in World War II. Through military records and interviews with Johnston’s relatives and friends, Brown was able to verify that Johnston lived and had the life experiences recalled by Kelly in regression. Brown’s case was published in the Journal, V, 1 (1993).
Unless a person dogmatically adopts the approach that “These cases can’t happen, therefore they didn’t happen regardless of the evidence,” the Stevenson, Tarazi, and Brown cases, along with others, appear to give valid empirical evidence, that 1) either we have lived before this lifetime, or 2) 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 was with my prior research and these authenticated cases in mind that I decided to design and conduct another research project with the primary object of regressing each subject to the lifetime they seemed to experience just prior to their present lifetime, and to explore that lifetime so as to try to obtain verifiable data. Second, I also planned to regress subjects to the first time they ever lived on earth in any form, and to explore certain pre-birth experiences. If the subjects reported that they had ever lived on another planet, I planned to also explore those experiences.
The methodology I pursued in my current research was very similar to that which I used in my prior research. I advertised for subjects in a Colorado monthly magazine; 73 persons responded initially. Each was sent a letter explaining the nature of my research along with information concerning many misconceptions about hypnosis. They were also sent an Information Survey consisting of 34 questions, which I asked that they complete and return. Of the original 73, 60 (82%) returned completed questionnaires and agreed to be subjects for the project.
The Information Survey inquired as to age, gender, education, health status, belief in an after-life, religious affiliation, degree of involvement in religious activities, belief in reincarnation, belief in evolution, prior experience with hypnosis, whether or not they expected to recall past lives while in hypnosis, and several other such matters. After receiving back the completed Information Survey, I called each subject and arranged an appointment for the hypnotic session. I was able to arrange sessions with 50 subjects. All sessions were recorded. The belief in evolution was added to the Information Survey this time; it was not in the Information Survey used in the prior research. The Survey also contained a consent form to participate in the research.
I advised the prospective subjects in my letter that I was neither a believer nor a disbeliever in the existence of past lives. I also stated that they should not participate if they were under 21 years of age, currently in therapy, or suffering from a serious physical disorder.
As in my first research, prior to placing each subject in hypnosis, I had the subjects participate in a susceptibility test: Eyes closed, hands rising or falling in response to suggestions. I rated the results as No Response, Light Response, Medium Response, Excellent Response, and Negative Response.
In each session, I placed the subject into hypnosis twice. First, after inducing hypnosis using a rapid induction technique and after deepening, I placed the subject on a “safe” cloud, giving the direction “You will not sink through or fall off.” I then took them on a short fantasy trip. The purpose of this was to give the subject experience with the hypnotic state and to establish rapport with the subject.
Then I placed the subject into hypnosis for the second time, and after regressing the subject back to ages 15 and 5, I suggested that they go back on their traveling cloud before birth to a lifetime that they had lived before. I did not suggest a time or place for this first experience. I advised the subjects that when or if they saw themselves in a past life, the cloud would stop and they could descend, continuing to speak to me in English or any other language they might encounter. I briefly explored this lifetime, and then I took the subjects back to the first time they had ever lived on Earth in any form and I explored that experience. Next, I took the subjects to the lifetime that they had lived just prior to their present lifetime and that lifetime was probed with the object of attempting to obtain data that could be verified using facilities available to me. Thus, each subject was directed into three past lives: The first, brief experience; the lifetime immediately prior to their present life; and the first they had lived on earth.
After examining these lifetimes, I took the subject into their mother’s womb just prior to their present lifetime. I tried to determine when the subject entered the fetus and if they were aware of their mother’s feelings and emotions while there.
On the cloud returning to the present time and place, I had the subjects look up into the sky, seeing all the planets and stars, and I inquired if they had ever lived on another planet. If they reported that they had, I attempted to regress them to their life on that planet and to investigate that experience. When a subject had regressed to another planet, I inquired concerning their environment and their life-form. In some cases, where their life-form seemed very unusual compared to earth-like biological forms, I inquired as to how they reproduced their species.
Immediately after awakening, the subjects were asked if they felt the past lives they had encountered were real or imagined, and if they had had any prior knowledge or interest in the times and places of their regressions. We also discussed their experiences, and in response to my requests, several drew sketches of things that they had seen and experienced.
The information from the Information Surveys, the results of the susceptibility tests, and the hypnotic regressions were coded into usable raw data and analyzed using a statistical computer program.
In establishing both hypnotic trances for each subject in each session, the Tart self-report scale of hypnotic depth (Tart, 1970) was used as an aid in determining trance depth. (0 being awake, 10 deep).
No compensation was offered, paid to, or received from the subjects. In my letters to 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 a tape.
Of the 50 subjects that I worked with in this second study, only one failed to go into a hypnotic state. Eight achieved only a light trance (4 or below on the Tart scale), with 41 or 82% achieving a medium or deeper level. Some of the subjects’ basic demographics are: Forty-three of my subjects were women, seven male, 47 were Caucasian, two were African American, and one was Japanese American.
The subjects ranged in age from 18 to 69. For those of you who are statistically oriented, the mean age was 44.58, the median was 45.5, only one point larger, and the age distribution closely matched a normal distribution. Fifty-six percent had had two or more academic years in college, 26% were college graduates, and 18% of those who had attended college had pursued graduate studies.
Thirty-six percent were Christian, 6% were Jewish, 42% reported “other” religious affiliations, and 16% stated they had no religious affiliation. Fifty-eight percent indicated they had no active involvement in religious activities. Eighty-eight percent of the subjects indicated on their Information Surveys that they believed in some form of life after physical death; 74% indicated a belief in past lives with 24% stating they were uncertain of having lived before. Thirty-eight percent believed in human evolution, 34% said they were uncertain, and 26% said they did not so believe.
Forty-four or 88% of my subjects regressed while in hypnosis to what seemed to be lives that they had lived before. Forty-eight percent of my subjects regressed to being of a different sex in a past life and 52% regressed to being of a different race.
As mentioned above, my primary objective was to regress the subjects back to lives they had lived just before their present lives, to see if verifiable data could be readily obtained. However, in regressing the subjects, I first took them to a lifetime of their own choosing. I did not suggest a time or place and I did not generally spend much time there or expend much effort in probing that experience.
I had found in my prior research that as the hypnotic regression proceeded, the subjects seemed to get more “in the experience” and concurrently deeper in hypnosis, and they disclosed more detail about their experiences. I had hoped that by taking the subjects first to a past life of their own choosing, it would help in both the hypnotic depth and recoverable detail later in the session.
Similar to my first research, the first past lives to which most of the 44 subjects who regressed seemed to go were generally quite mundane and ordinary, considering the periods and locations they selected. The time periods to which they regressed ranged from 1563 to 1914, but time periods were unobtainable in many cases. The locations, when stated, were as varied as Holland, United States, Israel, Rome, France, England, Scotland, and Australia. Examples of the situations in which the subjects found themselves: Three were slaves, one a prisoner, one a spirit, one a Catholic bishop, one was the wife of a shopkeeper, two were soldiers, and one was a monk. Most lived and worked in rural settings.
One unusual experience in this first life to which a subject regressed involved a woman who regressed to being Jessie Fremont (1824-1902). Jessie Fremont was the daughter of U.S. Senator Thomas Hart Benton; she married John Charles Fremont in 1841. Her father, Senator Benton, served as Senator from Missouri from 1820 to 1850. John Fremont, Jessie’s husband, rose to the rank of Major General in the United States Army and died in 1890. All three of these people’s lives have been well-documented.
I was able to verify most, not all, of the detail given by this subject from encyclopedias and books readily available. The subject is a well-educated and well-read woman and she had some general knowledge of John Fremont before her regression. Several years ago, she had also read a popular book published in 1983 about the life of Fremont. Because of the subject’s prior knowledge, her case, although suggestive of a past life, is compromised because of the possibility of cryptomnesia.
In pursuing my primary research objective, 19 (38%) of my subjects, when regressed to past lives just prior to their present lives, experienced what seem to be past lives that, if true, could possibly be verified, giving names, locations, dates, etc. Some of the subjects, when regressed to the lifetime just before their present lives, did not have experiences in locations or time periods, or did not generate enough detail, to be subject to verification.
Of special interest were three subjects who regressed in their lifetimes just prior to their present lifetimes to Jewish individuals who died in the Holocaust. I briefly describe their experiences below.
One 45-year-old woman, who is Jewish in this lifetime, regressed to being a Jewish woman of 25 named Nadia Shuman, living in Berlin in the years 1936-7. She died of starvation in a German concentration camp.
A 50-year-old woman, a Christian in her present lifetime, regressed to being a 20-year-old Jewish woman named Jeron Christofsky (phonetic spelling) living in Germany in 1940. Being Jewish, she had to wear a bright-colored star on her clothing. She died by being gassed in the “showers” in a German concentration camp. After her death in that lifetime, while still in hypnosis, she commented “The smell of the gas killed me.”
A third woman, not Jewish in her present lifetime, regressed to being a 6-year-old Jewish boy named Isaac Brokowitz (phonetic spelling) living in Poland in 1930. He was shot to death along with a large number of others. He stated that the men who shot them were in uniform and had stars on their hats.
(Editor’s Note: Regression therapists are increasingly reporting clients with past-life connections with the Holocaust. This has also been addressed by Rabbi Gersholm in his book Beyond the Ashes (1992).)
One other regression where the subject regressed to the lifetime he experienced just before his present life that was particularly unusual and fascinating was that of a 41-year-old man, married and a college graduate, who regressed to being a pilot, killed in a crash along with the others in his craft. The unusual part of this otherwise not-too-uncommon incident was that he was the alien pilot of an unidentified flying craft that crashed in New Mexico. The incident seems very much like the Roswell, New Mexico UFO event that occurred in July of 1947. He described his appearance and the appearances of the others in the craft as having oval heads, big eyes, white skin, and said they all wore some kind of flight suits with silver boots. His craft was oval shaped, and was “out of balance” when it crashed. The pilot and all occupants were killed in the crash. Their bodies were taken away by men who arrived in military vehicles.
When regressed to the first time they had ever lived on earth, 30 subjects appeared to be Homo Sapiens, 5 were apparently some form of hominid but not Homo Sapiens, two were clearly animals, two were in spirit form, and one was in a form that I cannot classify or describe. Six subjects did not regress to this first lifetime and four who did gave no meaningful data concerning that period.
One subject who regressed to being an animal the first time she ever lived on earth reported in her Information Survey that she believed in evolution, and the other subject who regressed to an animal state stated she was “uncertain” as to a belief in evolution. These numbers are obviously too small to be the subject of any meaningful analysis.
Thirteen subjects reported that they had lived on another planet at some time in the past; five were uncertain. Ten of those who reported living on another planet were able to regress to that existence and report on their appearances and environments. The environments were generally not earth-like. Some reported very barren terrains. One reported living in a heavy gas-like environment. One reported that everything was orange, and one saw two moons in the sky. Another reported living among very large plants, unlike earth-like plants.
Their life forms on these other planets were unique. Two were very similar in form: Humanoid-shaped and short, with white skin and very large eyes, reminiscent of the UFO abduction reports. One of these two reported that they reproduced like humans. One subject reported that she was very short (about two feet high) with visual appurtenances and a mouth like a flexible beak. She stated that they had a language and communicated with each other. They reproduced more like plants than humans. One reported having very long limbs, segmented in form, and they also reproduced much like plants. One was clearly animal-like, and another looked like an aquatic-like animal with a fish-like mouth. She said they reproduced by laying eggs.
While in hypnosis, after regressing to what seemed to be past lives, 60% chose to be reborn again and 18% did not so choose, although all those who regressed were reborn again, choice or not!
After their death in what appeared to be the past life just prior to their present life, I took the surviving spirit into their mother’s womb. One entered the womb at conception; for 10 subjects the fetus had not assumed human form at the time the spirit entered it, 25 entered during gestation, and one subject entered the fetus at birth. Of those who entered the womb in some manner, 13 were aware of the fetus’ development, and 30 were aware of their mothers’ feelings and emotions. One entered a fetus that miscarried, but re-entered a fetus in the same mother at a later time.
While in hypnosis while experiencing what seemed to be a past life, 38% of my subjects reported recognizing a person in that past life as someone they knew in their present lifetime.
Although I worked with only about half the number of subjects in this research project that I worked with in my prior research, many of the results were very similar. My current research data 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 s/he regressed to past lives while in hypnosis (p > .05). My current data also indicate that the depth into the hypnotic state that a person achieved did have a significant effect on whether the person regressed to any past lives (p < .001), and also had a significant effect on the amount of detail given in the regression, including possible verifiable information (p < .004).
Of possible interest to past-life therapists was that the susceptibility test that I performed with each subject before inducing hypnosis, when compared with the subject’s ability to regress to past lives, produced a strong statistical significance (p < .0001). However, because the subjects in both of my research projects were volunteers responding to advertisements, they may have constituted skewed samples and are not necessarily representative of the population as a whole, which renders generalizations difficult.
Verifiable Past Lives
As to my primary objective, whether or not this research has produced verifiable data authenticating any past lives, this is as yet undetermined and possibly will be for some time. The case of Jessie Fremont mentioned above illustrates some of the very many problems inherent in the search. So many of the details of the life of Jessie Fremont were confirmed that the possibility of coincidence is almost completely eliminated. However, the availability of those details in popular references and books compromises the authentication. The case hardly rises to the authenticity of the cases reported by Tarazi and Brown, where the authenticating details were obscure and generally unavailable to the public.
My 19 cases which, if true, could possibly be verified involve subjects who seemingly regressed to the following locations and times: St. Louis in the 1940s, Kansas 1868, Kansas 1891, North Carolina 1863, North Carolina 1920, New York City 1922, New York 1941, Georgia 1895, Texas 1924, Colorado 1955, Missouri 1963, Indiana 1859, Connecticut 1914, Connecticut 1920, Vermont 1914, Ohio 1910, New Hampshire 1845, Philadelphia 1928 and Philadelphia in 1784. These are all located in the US and are the most feasible for me to investigate. As a start, I am currently searching the U.S. census records to see if some of these persons can be located. As the complete census records are only released to the public every 72 years, and the latest available are for 1920, the process will obviously be very time consuming.
First Time on Earth
When I regressed subjects back to the first time they had ever lived on earth in any form, I encountered a surprising variety of experiences. Some of the subjects regressed to much earlier times, but in environments that could be called “modern,” meaning within the last few hundred years. A number of the subjects regressed to very primitive life-styles which seemed consistent with the evolutionary development of modern humans. Two subjects regressed to cultures in which they had no names, no language, and they were hunting large animals with spears.
Illustrative of several of the primitive culture cases: One woman regressed to being a humanoid male. He was “very hairy” as were his companions. He described his people as having small eyes and bushy eyebrows. They had a language: “Just a couple of words, just pointing, mostly a lot of hand movements.” He was wearing “some kind of fur-looking thing.” Many of his people wore no clothes. When I asked him where he lived he replied “I don’t live anywhere.” He had a mate who was “very unpleasant.” There were children around but it was “hard to tell” if any of them were his. He and the other men went hunting at night and killed a large reptile; their weapons were pointed sticks.
Sometime after the hypnotic session, I sent this subject photocopies of drawings of a number of large pre-historic animals that I had obtained from the library. She identified the reptile that they had killed as a Komodo Dragon; this animal still exists in Indonesia. The library references state that it looks like some of the long-extinct reptiles of pre-historic times.
Another woman also regressed to being a man in a very primitive culture. He had dark, brown-black skin, wore a loin-cloth made of skin, beads around his neck and feathers around his feet. “I like the feathers.” He had a sling-shot and a spear as weapons. He described the spear as being just a pointed stick. Apparently to make the point sharp, “You hold (the point) in the fire and you rub and rub for a long time.” When I took the subject forward in time to some kind of a ceremony or ritual, he started coughing. When I asked him what was the matter, he stated he was too close to the fire and was standing in the smoke. When I moved him back, he stopped coughing. He and his people hunted a large animal that sounded something like a water buffalo. He stated a “lot of us die killing the animal.”
I have described five of the first-time-on-earth personalities experienced in regressions as “subhuman.” I mean by this a very primitive hominoid. An example of this is that of a woman subject who regressed to being a female, wearing no clothes, completely covered with hair, slanting forehead, heavy brows, but walking upright. Her people had clubs for weapons and ate berries, other animals and others like themselves. They lived in caves and did use fire.
Of the two subjects who regressed to being animals, one regressed to being lizard shaped, very small, who reproduced by laying eggs. The other regressed to being a large male lion. He was the major lion in a pride and one of his experiences was driving off a competing male lion.
The above examples are at least consistent with evolutionary concepts. One subject’s regression experience was not consistent. A woman of 33 regressed to being an alien the first time she had ever lived on earth. After she signaled me that the cloud had stopped and that she was there, the following dialogue occurred (repetitions omitted):
RTJ: Come on down from your cloud. Look down at yourself. What do you see?
Subject: (very emotional) It’s dark…It’s different…I’m not me.
RTJ: What do you see when you look down at yourself?
Subject: A short, short, short person. (Then she exclaimed) Not a person.
RTJ: Look at yourself. What are you?
Subject: I’m not from here.
RTJ: Where are you from?
Subject: Somewhere else.
RTJ: Look down and tell me, what do you see? Do you have arms and legs?
RTJ: Are you in human form?
Subject: Kind of.
RTJ: Look down at your arms. What color is your skin? Do you have skin?
Subject: It’s gray. Long arms.
RTJ: Are you wearing any kind of clothes?
RTJ: Are you a male or female?
Subject: I’m not either.
RTJ: Are there any other people around that look like you?
Subject: No. (Then with emotion) They left me.
RTJ: Why did they leave you?
Subject: I don’t know.
RTJ: What did they look like before they left you? Did they look like you?
Subject: They had on helmets, I don’t.
RTJ: How did they come and go? How did they leave?
Subject: They left in a gray…(subject sobbing). They pushed me down the ladder.
RTJ: Was it some kind of a flying machine?
Subject: Yes (subject sobbing).
RTJ: All right. You’ve just been pushed down the ladder. Look up at the machine. What’s it look like?
Subject: It’s long. Oval kind of (crying). They’re leaving.
RTJ: Why are they leaving? Do you know?
Subject: I don’t know.
RTJ: Where are they going?
Subject: (very emotional) I don’t know.
RTJ: Where did you come from?
Subject: My home (with strong emphasis).
RTJ: Is your home on this planet?
Subject: No (crying).
When I took her forward to the time of her death, she reported “I’m just shrinking–I’m dying. I’m not supposed to be here.”
In setting forth the above verbatim dialogue, it is hard to give a feeling of the subject’s experience as I heard it. The facial expressions and the emotions exhibited by the subject are not readily evident from a mere recitation of her experience. Regardless of what may be happening in the regression, because of the actions and emotions exhibited by the subject, which are consistent with what the subject is experiencing, she seems to be reliving an actual experience.
In almost all cases where the subjects seem to be reliving their experiences, the chances for deliberate fraud and deception seem remote. However, as I mentioned in my first research, I cannot eliminate cryptomnesia or errors in recollection in the regressions. In answering some inquiries while regressed, such as the date of an occurrence, the subjects often answer with an up-inflection in their voices, as if they were questioning their answers, giving rise to the conclusion that the answer might not be based on memory.
In my first research, I encountered no subjects regressing to being spirits, pre-human life forms, or aliens, which may give rise to some of challenges to their established concepts of reality. However, I may not have asked questions that would have elicited such past lives.
I would greatly encourage and hope that some qualified person or persons would replicate this research. In the meantime, I am continuing to investigate these regressions for verifiable data. As always in this fascinating field, my own research leaves me with more questions than when I started it.
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