reincarnation to give it a more popular name, is a belief that we, or
at least our souls, return after death to inhabit the same or another
and I, Arjuna, have lived many lives,
remember them all; you do not remember."
in the Bhagavad Gita
142, 2012 January)
belief is held by
millions of people around the world and is the doctrine of many
religions, in particular Buddhism and Hinduism. While Aristotle said,
"one of the most difficult things in the world is to attain any assured
knowledge about the soul", and other ancient philosophers were in
agreement with him about the existence of the soul, there was a
difference of opinion as to the form it would, or could enter, on its
return after physical death.
Egyptians were of
the opinion that when the body dies, the soul passes through diverse
forms of animal, bird and fish life before re-entering a human frame.
Plato envisaged the soul traversing the heavens as an angel going
through various states of probation before they choose a second life,
and Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica, says that it will assume
at the resurrection, the life of a brute if it lived as a brute in this
world, or will be borne away to the heavenly life to which it adhered
while living in the world.
Believers in the
metaphysical concept of life after death claim that just because the
soul cannot be seen it doesn't mean that it doesn't exist, pointing to
electricity, magnetism and the many radiations that cannot be seen but
nevertheless are known to exist.
have been many
documented cases of people claiming to have lived previous lives, and
those recorded under hypnosis are reputedly the most convincing, as in
the case of Bridey Murphy.
hypnotist Morey Bernstein regressed one Mrs Virginia Tighe during which
session she recalled with remarkable clarity her life in County Cork,
Ireland, in the early 19th century as an Irish girl named Bridey
Murphy. The account was published in a 1956 best seller, The Search
for Bridey Murphy, and was considered one of the most conclusive
pieces of evidence in support of reincarnation to date. The publication
sparked off a resurgence of interest in reincarnation, and Henry
Blythe, a professional hypnotist, took up this interest using a subject
by the name of Mrs Naomie Henry. His experiment was witnessed and
recorded; the hypnotist taking Mrs Henry back to her childhood and
asking questions about her previous existences. The subject spoke of
being an Irish girl, Mary Cohen, in the year 1790, and her
reincarnation again as Clarice Hellier, a nurse born in 1880.
compelling evidence for past lives received publicity in 1974, when
BBC-TV producer Jeffrey Iverson based a programme on the Bloxham Tapes,
tape recordings made by Arnold Bloxham, an English hypnotist, of
past-life regressions. Outstanding of these was the case of Jane Evans,
who under hypnosis recalled in extraordinary detail many past lives,
including one in early Roman Britain, and one as a medieval
lady-in-waiting to one of Henry the VIII's wives, Catherine of Aragon.
sleeping prophet", is often quoted on the subject of reincarnation, and
he too presents some convincing arguments in support of the belief.
Unlike the orthodox method of regressing the subject under hypnosis to
obtain information about a subject's past, Cayce claimed that while in
a trance, his own sub-conscious would pick up that information from the
subject's sub-conscious. Of the 2500 readings in which clients were
told by Cayce of their previous lives, the example of a 14 year old boy
in 1927 by the name of David Greenwood is representative. The sleeping
prophet recalled the boy's life 10,000 years ago in Atlantis, and in
Egypt, Persia, ancient Greece and 17th Century France.
professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at the University of Virginia,
and a parapsychologist, has contributed much in the way of research
material in support of reincarnation, and his book, Twenty Cases
Suggestive of Reincarnation, is quoted as affording the full
dignity of acceptance of reincarnation by a distinguished professor.
for Psychical Research has investigated more than two hundred cases
purported to be serious evidence for reincarnation and has devoted
Volume 26 of its proceedings to Stevenson's work. Many of the cases
follow a similar pattern, and involve infants recalling events
experienced in a previous existence of which they could not possibly
have had knowledge. One example is that of Shanti Devi born in Delhi in
1926 who, at the age of seven, informed her parents that she had been
born before in the town of Muttra, with the given name of Ludgi, had
been married with three children, and had died giving birth to the
this as imagination until in 1935, when a visitor to the house was
recognized by Shanti as the cousin of the man Ludgi to whom she had
been married. Subsequently Shanti Devi instantly recognized and
embraced her 'husband' in a previous life when he was brought to the
house unannounced. When taken to Muttra, she was able to point out
people and places correctly and converse in the local dialect although
she had only been taught Hindi.
The idea of life
death or the return to life in another form, is an appealing concept to
most of us. Unfortunately, the argument that reincarnation is a real
phenomenon, is based on anecdotal evidence which either lacks
sufficient detail to enable investigation, or where investigation is
possible, it does not stand up to scrutiny. Cases allegedly proving
reincarnation are numerous and usually depend on memory recall while
under hypnosis. Where a detailed investigation is possible, it is
inevitably shown that the information supposedly recalled from a past
life has in fact been culled from everyday experiences during one's
present life. The cases of Bridey Murphy and Jane Evans are classic
examples. The Bridey Murphey case was thoroughly investigated, and the Chicago
American published an expose.
Virginia Tighe clearly recalled her previous life as a young Irish
girl, could recite monologues in a heavy Irish brogue, and provide a
wealth of detail, some of which could be checked for verification.
Investigation however, revealed that as a child, Mrs Tighe had had a
neighbour who had grown up in Ireland and used to tell her stories
about life there — the neighbour's name was Bridey Murphy! Mrs Tighe
had also been involved in the theatre and, according to her former
teacher, had learned several Irish monologues.
of Jane Evans is
also cited by many as proof of reincarnation. The Welsh housewife
claimed under hypnosis to have lived six previous lives and again gave
a great deal of historically accurate detail in support. In one past
life she claimed to have been a maid to Jacques Coeur, a wealthy
merchant in 15th century France. She was able to fully describe the
exteriors and interiors of Coeur's magnificent house and even the
details of the carvings over a fireplace. This on the face of it would
seem like proof, however, it should be borne in mind that Coeur's
famous house is one of the most photographed in all of France. Evan's
account of her life in the merchant's house however provides the most
significant lie to her story. She said that Coeur was not married when
in fact he was, and had five children, something a maid in that
household would be unlikely to overlook!
could Jane Evans be
so familiar with so much detail had she not lived the life herself?
Research carried out by Melvin Harris (1986), and detailed in his book,
Investigating the Unexplained, suggests that the answer can
be found in a novel based on Coeur's life titled, The Moneyman
by C. B. Costain (1948). While the book goes into great detail about
Coeur's life it is significant in so far as it omits any mention of his
wife and children.
incarnations described by Jane Evans can be traced, sequence by
sequence, to Jane Plaidy's historical novel, Katherine, the Virgin
Widow, and to Louis de Wohl's best seller, The Living Wood
(1947). Harris (p 161), concludes that "Jane Evans has the ability to
subconsciously store vivid accounts and combine and edit these
creatively — to the point where she becomes one of the characters
Virginia Tighe and
others, who albeit quite sincerely believe that they a recalling
experiences from past lives while under hypnosis, reincarnationists are
in truth only recalling what they have seen, read or heard in their
Stevenson has written
much on the subject of reincarnation, but although his case studies are
often referred to as thoroughly investigated and authentic, the methods
used to investigate the phenomenon have been criticised as being too
inadequate to rule out simple story telling. Stevenson's investigations
of Indian children allegedly reincarnated are set down in considerable
detail, and although he presents them as strongly suggestive of
reincarnation he doesn't go as far as to claim them as evidence. When
further checks are made, the results are far from encouraging. The most
telling indicator is to list the circumstances of each subject for whom
reincarnation memories are claimed, that is, their status in life —
rich or poor, high or low caste, and alongside list the social
circumstances of the dead person whose reincarnation the child purports
to be. It becomes immediately apparent, with very few exceptions, that
the first column is representative of India's poor while the second
column features the wealthy end of the social spectrum, this can only
indicate a motive. A poor family has nothing to lose and much to gain
by representing their child as the reincarnation of a recently deceased
member of a rich family, either through direct help from that family or
addressed by reincarnationists is the exponential increase in the
world's population. In 1650, the world's population was estimated at
500,000,000. By the late 19th century it had increased to 2,700,000,000
and since then it has almost doubled. Obviously there were simply not
enough people for everyone to have been someone else. Further, unless
many famous historical personages had identical twins secreted away
from public view, when there is more than one person claiming to be say
a reincarnated Napoleon or Henry VIII, their claims are to say the
least, dubious. One philosophy (possibly based on the doctrine of
reward and punishment) suggests the possibility of people-animal
transmigration. The same mathematics apply, and I doubt whether many
would relish coming back in some of the repugnant forms which spring to
people would, in
their sober moments claim to be reincarnated or have lived previous
lives; under hypnosis however the inhibitions fall by the wayside, and
the information gleaned from the sub-conscious together with
imagination and suggestion is accorded respectability out of all
proportion to its value in establishing the validity of a claim.
as a basis for
establishing the validity of reincarnation is suspect on the grounds
that it completely disregards all the physiological implications of
procreation, learning and memory. Prior to conception, a being does not
exist — verbum sap! Therefore, no mind exists nor a conscious
or sub-conscious memory. Likewise, the pre-natal development of a child
is unaffected by the mother's thoughts, because there is no connection
between the brains and nervous systems of the mother and the embryo. As
a result of the growth already taken place before birth, the new born
infant is equipped with the responses necessary to sustain life, such
as breathing and feeding.
after random and
spontaneous physical movements leading to the development of the motor
area at about 10 or 11 months, does sensory consciousness develop. The
child learns from that around it, its concepts developing slowly
through experience. Memory therefore, which implies the capacity to
recall events and experiences can only begin at conception, or more
precisely, after birth.
hypnosis then, are the suggestion-induced fantasy creations of
imaginative subjects. Reincarnation is a make-believe game of
regression, the acceptance of which is a composite index of the
subject's attitudes and beliefs.
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C.B. 1948. The
Melvin. 1986. Investigating
the Unexplained. Prometheus Books, Buffalo, New York.
N.A. and Pratt,
J.G. 1975. The Psychic Realm. What Can You Believe. Random
N. 1967. Edgar
Cayce on Reincarnation. Warner Books.
F.W.H. 1961. Human
Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death. University Books Inc.
Bishop J.A. 1969. The
Other Side. WH. Allen. London.
A.J. 1954. Immortality:
the Scientific Evidence. Signet Books.
I. 1974. Twenty
Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation. University Press of Virginia,
C. 1973. The
Occult. Mayflower Books, London.
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Skeptic's Guide to the New Age