Reincarnation class Thursday night, Aug 7, 2014 — live or by phone

I am offering a one-shot class this Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014, from 6:30 – 9:30 PM Pacific time at HCH Institute in Lafayette, CA.


Well over a billion people on the planet believe in past lives, and in being reborn after their deaths. From religion-based to culture-based beliefs and practices that are quite ancient, to relatively recent work with past life regression and spontaneously recalled past life memories, the evidence–of varying strength–has mounted up.
But how do these forms of evidence stack up scientifically? What are the best forms of evidence and cases of reincarnation?
In this one-shot class, parapsychologist Loyd Auerbach will survey all forms of evidence for (and against) reincarnation and past (and future) lives. He will focus on evidence/cases of young children who remember previous lives–cases investigated by researchers at the University of Virginia, the University of Iceland, and several more institutions from the last 60+ years.
He will discuss the value of the other evidence, including past life regression: where it’s good, where it falls short and where (and how) such practices have other positive value beyond evidence for reincarnation.
Thursday August 7th, 6:30-930 PM Cost: $50
Contact HCH either by phone: 925 283-3941, or email Paul at:
This class is available to attend in person at HCH or by telephone. Attendees will receive an mp3 recording of the entire class (within a week) and will receive additional text materials.
Please specify when you register if you will be on site or conference calling into the classes.
For questions, contact Loyd Auerbach at

About Reincarnation, part 2…

Back in 1993, Warner Books published my third book, Reincarnation, Channeling and Possession: A Parapsychologist’s Handbook. Long out of print, I recently brought it back as an ebook for Kindle and Nook. As I’m helping a television production company look for possible cases of the reincarnation type, focusing on children who remember previous lives, I thought that putting a chapter of that book up here on my website makes some good sense. [Click HERE for a post on what the show is looking for]

The following is the second piece of the chapter. Part one appears here.

Section Two: Reincarnation. Chapter Three: Field Investigation and Evidence. From REINCARNATION, CHANNELING AND POSSESSION: A PARAPSYCHOLOGIST’S HANDBOOK by Loyd Auerbach, MS. Copyright 2012, 1993 by Loyd Auerbach. May not be copied without permission.

Note: This was originally written in 1992/1993, published in 1993. It has not been updated.



             Let’s look at a related concept. PARAMNESIA is a confusion of memory often having to do with the timing of facts as they occurred versus how they are remembered to have occurred. For example, there is usually a lengthy delay between the time a child starts speaking of a previous life and when an investigator learns of the case and interviews the family. In that time, the family may have taken it upon themselves to check out the “facts” reported by the child, and may even have brought the child to visit the previous family.

            The problem of paramnesia occurs if the family failed to write down or record what the child related about his or her previous life before they began checking things out. It is not uncommon for everyone to confuse what was originally reported by the child with what they learn about the identified prior personality. In other words, were the individual details spoken of first by the child, or were they learned by the child as they were learned by the child’s family?

            Researchers of these cases are most interested in learning of any source of possible contamination of the information. Both cryptomnesia and paramnesia are potential sources of contamination. Cryptomnesia is unlikely under the conditions mentioned above, and paramnesia is less a possibility if the parents keep records of everything the child says before doing anything about checking the information. However, the problem of contamination becomes an important one if there are no records and the families of the current individual and the previous personality have already met by the time the investigator arrives.

            According to Stevenson and Samararatne:

 “In a culture having a belief in reincarnation a child who seems to speak about a previous life will be encouraged to say more. What he says then leads his parents somehow to find another family whose members come to believe that the child has been speaking about a deceased member of their family. The two families exchange information about details, and they end by crediting the subject with having had much more knowledge about the identified deceased person than he really had had.”7

             Parental expectation is an important thing to consider. While characteristics such as I’ve quoted from Stevenson earlier help parents identify a child as a previous personality, the identification, especially without a specific name, may be quite interpretive on the part of the adults. If the parents are predisposed towards believing in reincarnation, especially in a society where the belief is that all are reincarnated, the parents may be looking for signs of a prior personality and label whatever they can as evidence of such a person. If there is an announcing dream, there may be a tendency to treat the child in such a way as to foster the signs of that previous personality.

            People tend to have their expectations fulfilled. Parents who are looking for their children to have had past lives will often find this, even if the child doesn’t originate such a conclusion. In some cases, the child might consciously fulfill the recognized expectations of the parents. Often it is unconscious. Anthropologist Antonia Mills of the University of Virginia has discussed such unconscious constructs on the part of the child.8 A prior personality may be the interpretation given to childhood fantasies. It may be adopted as a response to “complex family dynamics,” or as a method of gaining attention. The child may not be deliberate in constructing this other personality. Rather, this phenomenon may flow from the familial situation, from the parental and cultural expectations, or from parental reinforcement as a method of gaining attention. The investigator needs to consider not only sources of information outside and inside the family, but also just how and why the parents identified their child as having had a prior existence or past life.

            I mentioned earlier that childhood fantasy is an explanation that can be considered. However, in most situations where this might be involved, it’s more likely the parents who interpret the child’s play as related to a past life rather than the child who makes a declaration that this is so. Of course, this may happen if the child picks up, consciously or subconsciously, on the reincarnation beliefs of the parents. With the duration of the cases though, fantasy is less than likely. Consider that the child would have to fantasize about having had a previous existence, often as an adult with adult behaviors, rather than simply pretending to be this other person. Consider as well the factual validity of some of the information, and the fact that childhood fantasies fade a lot faster than past‑life memories do. As we’ve seen, even the unsolved cases exhibit features that are difficult to dismiss as fantasy.

            Let’s move on to the issue of fraud. Fraud is an ugly issue that is raised by critics of any experience that is even remotely related to paranormal beliefs. However, one must look at the motivations that might spur the child, parents, or both to claim the child has had a past life. While a child might enjoy the additional parental attention that results from his or her claims of having lived before, keep in mind that these cases typically go on for years. It is unlikely that the child would need to (or even could) sustain a fraud for several years. In addition, it’s doubtful that a two or three‑year‑old could come up with this on his or her own. There would have to be parental interpretation.

            There are very few payoffs for families claiming spontaneous past‑life recall by their children. As with situations where individuals or families report poltergeist or apparitional experiences, there is little to be gained (unless you sell your story to the tabloids, of course). Since most of these cases occur in less developed areas where there is little chance of press coverage for such cases (though there is quite a bit of it in Sri Lanka), the publicity or fame angle yields almost nothing. It may be that the family gains some local notoriety, but nothing that would be considered sufficient cause to make the whole thing up.

            Financial gain is also unlikely. Unless an impoverished family (of the current persona) were to connect with a wealthier one (previous personality) and have the situation fully accepted, it is hard to imagine any way for them to get financial remuneration from reporting the case. In addition, it would take an enormous amount of research (like that conducted by the investigators) to put together a good enough fraud (and brief the child well enough) to convince not only the family and friends of the previous personality but the investigators as well. Of course, if you really want to find fraud, you can always plead “conspiracy.” I think not.

            Another explanation suggested for these cases is genetic memory. If we assume that memory might be transferable through genetics, there still has to be some genetic connection between the past and present individuals. It is unlikely, for example, for Uncle Harry’s memories to be reborn in little Bobby, unless of course it was Uncle Harry who was the biological father of Bobby. In other words, in order for this to happen, there has to be some sort of direct lineal descent to make the transfer of the genetic material possible. Similarly, a child claiming to be her grandmother reborn ought not to remember any experiences of that grandmother after the date of birth of her mother. If there’s genetic memory transfer, how can that include memories from a time after the genetic material was transferred to the next generation? Although some rare cases across centuries could include a familial connection in which the previous personality was an ancestor of the current person, most of the reported cases don’t include a genetic link.

            One of the main alternative explanations that has gained favor over the years is the possibility that these recollections are rooted in psi‑derived information. An ESP retrieval of the factual information might explain much in these cases -‑ then again, it may not. Let me discuss this just a bit, although I’ll be covering a super‑psi explanation for all three forms of experience addressed in this book in Section Five.

            In parapsychological research and in spontaneous psi experiences, there often seems to be an indication that psi works without regard to limits of space/distance of time. In other words, reported experiences often bring information from across vast distances, as well as through time itself. Clairvoyance or remote-viewing experiences and experiments yield information flow from distances anywhere from the next room to the next city to continents away. Telepathy and general ESP experiments were conducted by astronaut Edgar Mitchell from aboard Apollo 14 with the “receiver” here on Earth (although the experiment yielded psi‑missing). Precognition seems to indicate that information transfer occurs from some undetermined future to our present. People capable of “reading” the history of an object — psychometry ‑‑ often come up with verifiable information. Retrocognition, like precognition, brings information through time, but from the past.

            If a child or adult is capable of retrocognition, the past‑life information that comes into consciousness may actually be additional information brought into the memory from external rather than internal sources. It may be that such retrocognitively retrieved information is the root source of many reincarnation experiences. The mind of the receiver may simply misinterpret this extra information as actual memory. Since the information doesn’t fit with current life experience, it is identified as memory from a past life.

            The information may be verifiable, given that if it were retrieved through retrocognition, it came from a very real past. On the other hand, with no apparent limits on clairvoyant, real-time ability, the information may have come from current sources. In other words, the individual “remembering” a past life may be retrieving descriptive information from a distant location, perhaps even including information drawn from the very records that will be used by the investigators to verify it. If the individual is also using telepathic ability, some of that information may be drawn from relatives and friends of the person to be identified as the prior personality.

            All of this is an alternate hypothesis not only to reincarnation but also to a number of other survival‑related experiences. Because of the apparent lack of limits in this hypothesis, it’s often known as a SUPER‑ESP or SUPER‑PSI HYPOTHESIS.

            Stevenson and others have pointed out a number of difficulties in applying such a super‑psi explanation to reincarnation experiences, especially those involving children. Probably most important is the fact that psi is not shown to be in evidence in the individual’s experience in any other way. In other words, the child recalling that past life shows no sips of other psi experiences or abilities. Only the past‑life memories could fall under that heading. Given what we know about psi, it is highly unlikely that it would behave for that individual in such a single-minded way. In addition, the duration of the past‑life memories (how long they stick with the child) is so much longer and in such greater detail than other reported psi experiences that it is a stretch to apply the psi label to reincarnation.

            That many of the subjects display unusual skills brings up another point refuting the use of super‑psi in these cases. Again, in looking at the vast number of spontaneous psi experiences, skills (and even deep-seated phobias and strung attractions) don’t show up as psi‑derived information; the content of such an information transfer would likely be too complex. The super‑psi hypothesis would almost have to be some other form of ESP for it to completely cover the cases such as those studied by Stevenson and other researchers.

            Another problem in accepting this hypothesis comes from the recognition that those of us who have even very complex, informative psi experiences do not experience these as memories. Instead, we usually have a hard time identifying the source. In reincarnation cases, the individuals clearly see the information as related to a past life. Of course, the child could be led to believe the information is from his or her memory, but there are many cases where the parental expectation and influence is nil because of a lack of reincarnation belief in that culture or religion.

            How we the targets selected if this is psi? In other words, how does the mind of a child decide who to center in on as the super-psi target? How is it that the targets are deceased persons? If super‑psi were operating in these cases, at least some of them should mistakenly bring in memories of someone currently living. Could the subjects be telepathically drawing information from an apparition of that personality? This still leaves the skill and xenoglossy questions unanswered. Also, the fact that the memories seem limited to a single person additionally weakens the super‑psi explanation.

            Can super‑psi explain the transfer of birthmarks? A much more plausible explanation is that if there is some transfer of ‘”soul” to a new fetus from the prior personality, the prior personality may exert some psychokinetic influence on the developing fetus to manifest a mark. In other words, this soul or spirit is helping to create some semblance or relationship to the previous physical body. Since this personality now inhabits the new form, the continuity of memory from infancy through childhood is easier to accept as a possible explanation than super‑psi.

            Again, the experiential difference is very important. There is a continuity of existence experienced by the individual who recalls a past life. With psi experience, no such continuity exists. There are clear demarcations. Of course, Stevenson and others have suggested that perhaps the “memories” are those of a psychic dream. An individual may experience the psi‑derived information in a dream, the point of view being that the dreamer is that person who is the target of the information. The memory may be that of a dream in which the individual was the prior personality. But, the factors of duration of the memories, the lack of other psi experiences (the lack of other psychic dreams), the focus of the memories on one person, and the birthmarks erode the value of dream memory as an explanation.

            It has also been suggested that perhaps this is a particularly specific form of psi experience, which may be combined with other explanations. Combining ESP with cryptomnesia ‑‑ especially if one also brings in paramnesia and parental expectation and even fantasy as parts of the equation -‑ may create an acceptable psi explanation. However, there are still problems with the physical attributes and skill (and language) transfer, since such an explanation doesn’t fully cover them.

            Reincarnation seems to be the simplest explanation. That is, unless, as Stephen Braude has recently pointed out, one considers the fact that we have little knowledge of the limits of psi. Psi abilities may, in reality, be capable of complex tasks that might simulate reincarnation and past‑life memories. And since we have more direct evidence of psi, it may be that the super‑psi hypothesis is actually simpler to accept than reincarnation. This debate has really only just begun.

            Stevenson has also discussed another paranormal explanation: outside influence by a spirit or entity. In other words, could the “memories” be a transfer of information from an apparition to the child (cases of channeling or mediumship), or might these cases even be examples of possession? (Are you beginning to see connections between the three paranormal categories we’re exploring in this book?)

            Throughout history, mediums and channelers have typically been adults, but there have been many cases of children as vehicles for information from discarnate entities. In some respects, using mediumship or channeling as an explanation for reincarnation is superior to using the super‑psi hypothesis, given that if a spirit were to enter the body of a living person, the personality of the spirit would show through, possibly even reflecting physical and language skills.

            By defining possession as a spirit entering the body of a living person without that person’s permission, taking over all functions of the body and supplanting the living personality, one might stretch the experience to fit reincarnation. One way of looking at reincarnation is as a possession of a fetus by a discarnate entity. This personality that has survived death takes over the new human form, which, for all we know, might not have a soul to supplant. If one believes reincarnation is a recycling of existing souls, then this form of possession is reincarnation, and vice versa. Of course, most definitions of possession include a takeover of the body and a pushing aside of the soul already living in that body. Therefore, could it be that the possessing spirit enters the body well after birth and that the “memory” of a past life is just this possessing personality talking?

            While this brings an interesting twist to the reincarnation question, as does using channeling or mediumship as an explanation for reincarnation, all three fail on several counts. First of all, with most mediumistic and channeling experiences, altered states of consciousness (ASC) accompany the visiting personality. These states of consciousness do not seem to accompany spontaneous past‑life recall. With channeling, there is also an awareness that the visiting spirit is there by permission. In the reincarnation experience, the individual has memories of being that prior personality and being reborn; there is no sense that someone has merely dropped in for a time. The duration of the past‑life memories also seems to argue against accepting this as an explanation.

            With possession as a displacement of a living personality, there is no continuity from a past life. The possessing entity is from the outside, and according to such reports, behaves as a different personality rather than as the current personality’s memories of a past life. The fact that the memories of the past life fade out again throws a monkey wrench into this explanation. Here, as well, the duration issue is an important one. Given that these cases exhibit certain universal characteristics with regard to the ages at which the memories begin to manifest as well as when the memories fade, to consider (them as cases of) possession would be to believe that a possessing entity has a limited time period in which to possess the child before the child’s real personality comes through. Unlikely.

            Most important in distinguishing reincarnation from any sort of spirit medium/possession hypothesis is the experience of the subjects themselves in describing what’s going on. They are remembering past lives. They are not speaking as outsiders who have taken over (with or without permission). They were the prior personality and they are now the current one ‑- this suggests a continuity of lives simply not present in channeling, mediumship, or possession cases.

            Although clearly Stevenson has thoroughly investigated his cases and, as reviewed here, thought out a wide range of possible explanations, some have been critical of his field investigations. A primary concern is that not all of the cases (far from it) have been investigated by Stevenson directly, or by his immediate group of researchers at the University of Virginia. However, based on Stevenson’s and Alvarado’s descriptions of their work with their field investigators around the world, the investigators would appear to be fairly well trained in searching out all sources of potential contamination and fraud.

            Stevenson’s critics have raised two other important questions.

            The first is whether Stevenson and company “beautify” their work. In other words, comments have been made to suggest that not all details are available in the case reports, and that some details that might refute the cases were left out. Of course, this is a criticism that could be leveled at any field investigator, whether in parapsychology, anthropology, or sociology. To suggest that Stevenson or any field investigator leaves out details for the purpose of making the case stronger requires proof of such activities and such proof is not evident.

            The second question relates to the method by which Stevenson records the information gathered. Apparently, even in these high-tech days, Stevenson still prefers taking notes by hand rather than using a tape recorder. As a field investigator myself, I am aware that unless you write very fast (perhaps shorthand), it’s tremendously difficult to get all the information down at the same time you’re trying to make and record personal observations. Given the number of times I’ve been misquoted by reporters, whose job is to take notes of what is happening and to report it accurately, I have a hard time accepting that all the details can be recorded by hand‑writing notes. But does this mean we have to dismiss his case studies? No, I wouldn’t say that. For example, if there is more than one investigator present, each taking notes, these notes can be compared, thereby picking up additional details a single note‑taker might have missed.

            Based on the number of cases out there recorded by Stevenson (and undoubtedly an even greater number that are unreported or uninvestigated), and given the consistent features of the cases (both the universal attributes and the culturally bound and culturally consistent ones), there really does seem to be something going on that at the very least suggests reincarnation. The weight of the evidence, given the lengths to which investigators have gone in order to eliminate other explanations and possible contaminations, cannot be ignored.

            But even Stevenson considers these cases (at least in the way he reports them) only “suggestive” of reincarnation, rather than as proof of it. Proof is a very difficult thing with reincarnation, as it is, we’ve learned, with human consciousness in general. However, given the number of cases out there, these are mighty “suggestive.”

            In any event, these cases are more than a bit interesting. What’s a real shame is that unless those interested seek out the journals or hard‑to‑find volumes that report these cases (and I heartily encourage you to do so), the information most readily available to the curious is related to the past‑life experiences that are brought on through hypnotic regression. Let’s take a brief look at regression to past lives and why parapsychologists have a hard time accepting them as any sort of evidence of past lives. We’ll also look at where regression can be more appropriately applied and useful. [NOTE: to read more, pick up my ebook for Nook or for Kindle (see below)]


            7. Stevenson and Samararatrie, “Three New Cases,” Journal of Scientific Exploration, vol. 2, no. 2, 1988, p. 237.

            8. Mills, Antonia. “A Replication Study: Three Cases of Children in Northern India Who Are Said to Remember a Previous Life,” Journal Of Scientific Exploration, vol. 3, no. 2, 1989.

 REINCARNATION, CHANNELING AND POSSESSION: A PARAPSYCHOLOGIST’S HANDBOOK by Loyd Auerbach — available again as an ebook for Kindle and Nook!

About Reincarnation…

Back in 1993, Warner Books published my third book, Reincarnation, Channeling and Possession: A Parapsychologist’s Handbook. Long out of print, I recently brought it back as an ebook for Kindle and Nook. As I’m helping a television production company look for possible cases of the reincarnation type, focusing on children who remember previous lives, I thought that putting a chapter of that book up here on my website makes some good sense. [Click HERE for a post on what the show is looking for]

While most universities in the United States have rarely done any work related to psychic phenomena, especially evidence for possible Survival of Bodily Death, one exception has been the work done at the Division of Perceptual Studies in the Medical School at the University of Virginia (originally the Department of Personality Studies), where Dr. Ian Stevenson and colleagues have for many years collected and investigated spontaneous reincarnation cases. Stevenson passed away in 2007, his work having been more than ably taken up by Dr. Jim B. Tucker. Since the early 1960s, the group has collected thousands of cases of spontaneous recall of past lives from all over the world. Many of these were investigated by Stevenson, Tucker and colleagues, others by independent investigators in far corners of the world. It is the work of investigators like Stevenson, who collect and often investigate the more spontaneous recall cases (especially those with young children) which truly provide more than a mere suggestion that something paranormal may really be occurring in these cases. Luckily, these studies appear to be continuing, and now there are attempts to bring this concept to the television viewing public (maybe ghosts have seen their day in the glare of the TV cameras?).

The following is the first piece of the chapter. The remainder will appear in posts over the next week.

Section Two: Reincarnation. Chapter Three: Field Investigation and Evidence. From REINCARNATION, CHANNELING AND POSSESSION: A PARAPSYCHOLOGIST’S HANDBOOK by Loyd Auerbach, MS. Copyright 2012, 1993 by Loyd Auerbach. May not be copied without permission.

Note: This was originally written in 1992/1993, published in 1993. It has not been updated.


           “When Kemal was only about 2 years of age someone mentioned a certain Dr. Arif Eldary in his presence. On hearing this name Kemal shouted “Arif is my brother.” This appears to have been his first statement about a previous life. As he became older, and particularly when he was about 3 years old, he began to say that he was Abu Naef, meaning the father of a son called Naef, that his family name was Eldary, and that he was from Hammana, a larger village about 5 miles from El Kalaa. Kemal gradually told his family further details about the life he was remembering. He gave the names of the wife, Edma Eldary, he said he had, and those of two other sons besides Naef. These, he said, were called Abbas and Ramez. He also mentioned the name of a sister, Afafe, and another brother, Adnan.” – ‑From “Reincarnation: Field Studies and Theoretical Issues” by Ian Stevenson, p. 640. In Handbook of Parapsychology, edited by Benjamin B. Wolman. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1977, pp. 631‑663.

            The above is a quick summary of how a case investigated by Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia began. The case, which took place in Lebanon in the 1960s, is fairly typical of a number of cases involving children all over the world. Stevenson’s method of investigation, to interview all concerned and check not only the information from the children but also all potential sources for that information other than reincarnation has yielded thousands of cases suggestive of the reincarnation hypothesis. These cases are very different from those we hear about here in the United States in that they include apparent past‑life memories that arise spontaneously. Such unprompted recollection of past‑life memories occurs with adults as well, who may or may not go on to get a hypnotic regression, or who may discover the roots of their “memories” lie in something other than reincarnation.

            The following, while purely hypothetical, is something that easily could happen (and probably has):

            One morning, you wake up after a particularly vivid dream. You dreamed you were a gladiator in ancient Rome who rode chariots for the enjoyment of the emperor and the populace. The dream was quite vivid, and the content very familiar. As it happens, you have been reading up on reincarnation and past‑life regression, and conclude that this vivid gladiatorial dream came upon you because of this current interest and to fulfill your own desire to learn of your past lives. You were a gladiator in ancient Rome!

            You discuss this past life with friends who suggest you should go for a hypnotic regression to learn mom about this previous identity of your spirit. However, before you go to be regressed, a friend lends you a film about ancient Rome called Ben‑Hur. Of course, you had heard of the film, but never saw it. You watch the film and are amazed that your dream, so real and vivid, is almost duplicated by scenes of the film. After speaking with your parents, your mother remembers that they took you to see the film when you were very young. You cancel the appointment to be regressed.

            Am I making up such a scenario just to be skeptical? No, I’m afraid not. As we grow up, we come into contact with increasingly more information about the world around us. We absorb information through all our senses, and then it is absorbed by the memory banks of our brain. There’s something to say for the cliché “I’ve forgotten more than I’ll ever remember,” since we actually have much, much more information stored in our deep memories than we can consciously access. And sometimes, that buried information will peek through, both through our conscious minds, and through our dreams.

            Have you ever answered a trivia question and not been able to figure out where you picked up that information? You might have overheard it years before without even realizing it, still storing that information until it was needed (which might have been never). Because of the range of information we’re bombarded with today, when you recall a previous life, it can become an exercise in futility to try to exclude the description of that past life from this buried information you don’t even remember you once knew.

            Forgetting or confusing the source of information (where that source is a normal rather than paranormal one) is called CRYPTOMNESIA and is one of the major stumbling blocks one encounters when tying to validate past‑life recall experiences, whether spontaneous or through hypnotic regression. As with the hypothetical situation above, such “memories” of past lives may be entirely false, yet seem very real. Of course, when such memories come through, they are not always identified as related to a past life (and rightly so, otherwise from a few dreams I’ve had over the years, I might believe I was Hercules, Robin Hood, and several superheroes).

            Cryptomnesia is one of the reasons Stevenson elected to investigate the past‑life memories of children. As I’ve mentioned previously, children have much less memory (due to many fewer years of experience) that could possibly intrude upon their consciousness as false past‑life memories. Cryptomnesia, while still a possibility, is far less potent a factor with children. And, contrary to expectations, childhood fantasy also plays a more muted role in such cases than you might think. As Stevenson explains, “the occurrence of delusions and true psychotic behavior is rare in small children. Reincarnation fantasies in small children, who otherwise seem normal, intelligent, and cooperative, cannot be ascribed to hysterical dissociation or a split personality.”1

            While a few investigators in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century examined cases involving spontaneous recall, it was Stevenson who first adopted a more exhaustive approach towards investigating such cases. Stevenson began his research in 1958 with cases in India and Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon) where the beliefs were more prevalent, and has since expanded his scope to more or less the entire world. Working with his colleagues in the Department of Personality Studies at the University of Virginia, Stevenson has gathered files on more than twenty-five hundred cases; he and his group have done more to gather evidence to support the hypothesis of reincarnation than any other.

            With the decision to deal more specifically with the recall of young children, Stevenson developed a field research methodology which was relatively advanced when first instituted. This methodology of exhaustive interviewing of immediate family, relatives, and others (of both the current person and the previous personality), coupled with observation of the subject, checking of written and other records, and in-depth attempts to uncover alternative explanations, has yielded thousands of cases which are strongly suggestive of reincarnation.

            The distribution of cases in Stevenson’s files is truly international. According to parapsychologist Carlos Alvarado (a fellow alumnus of John F. Kennedy University who has worked for Dr. Stevenson) in a lecture at JFK University in November of 1983, the majority of cases (about 60 percent) at that time came from India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, and other Asian countries where there is a strong belief in reincarnation. About 15 percent have come from Europe, though no specific country and approximately 20 percent from North America, though these cases were mostly Canadian and mainly involved native tribes (a small percentage from the United States). The remainder comes from Africa and remaining areas of the world. These percentages remain about the same today.

            The number of the cases may be affected by many factors; chief among them is whether a particular society is predisposed to believe in paranormal experiences. Here in the United States and in other parts of the world, belief in reincarnation is not part of the culture or indigenous religion(s). In most Western societies, if a child were to speak of a past life, parents normally would ignore the child’s statements, attribute them to childhood fantasies, or write them off as the product of too much TV. Also, if the society as a whole doesn’t accept such experiences as “normal,” reports about their occurrence might easily be suppressed. Interestingly enough, such is also the case with other paranormal experiences (ESP, PK, and even sightings of apparitions). Since our culture frowns on paranormal experiences, they are less likely to be reported, and therefore left uninvestigated. In countries in Asia and India, there are a greater number of cases reported, and a larger number of investigators researching them, because of cultural acceptance of reincarnation. In Sri Lanka, 2 for example, newspapers typically report such cases. And, of course, the more cases that receive serious attention, the greater the chance that others may surface.

            I myself have witnessed this phenomenon here in the United States. Whenever I do some sort of interview, whether on TV, radio, or in newspapers and magazines, that details my investigations of apparition, haunting, and poltergeist cases, I tend to get an increase in the number of case reports coming in to my office. Of course, the lower number of cases reported in the United States may be the result not only of non-acceptance of reincarnation, but also of riot knowing who to call for help.

            A search of the News library in LexisNexis, which is an online computerized service capable of searching well over 750 full text news and information sources in one search, yields many more media stories on ghost investigations than it yields on serious reincarnation investigations by researchers such as Stevenson. Additionally, due to the press coverage of the more New Age regression experiences, it becomes difficult to imagine how people would even get a referral to Stevenson or others like him unless they knew enough to call organizations or places like the University of Virginia, the American Society for Psychical Research, the Institute for Parapsychology, the Parapsychology Foundation, or The Office of Paranormal Investigations. A call to most “past life” therapists or psychics is certainly unlikely to result in a referral to a research organization.

            The desire for privacy may be another factor in the limited number of cases reported here. From my conversations with people who have had other psychic experiences, from ESP to ghosts, it’s become very evident that even people who believe in these experiences may be uncomfortable talking about them to their friends (who, undoubtedly, have actually had a few of their own experiences which they’re not talking about). People generally don’t want any undue attention. In the case of a child spontaneously recalling a past life, I would venture a guess that even parents open to past‑life experiences might think twice about letting others know about such a child. If the society in general doesn’t accept the experiences as normal, it’s unlikely the parents will want their kids coming across as abnormal.

            In reality, while there are vast variations in the numbers of cases reported (and therefore investigated), Stevenson and those working with him have identified certain common features of child‑recall cases around the world, as well as some culturally bound features which may change from place to place.

            For example, these children begin manifesting prior personality memories between ages two and five (age two‑and‑a‑half to three is about the average). Over the years, the child will begin to forget the past life, or at least will talk about it much less until such memories (or discussion) end around age eight. Of course, there have been a few cases where people have grown up still remembering these memories from the prior personality, but that may have to do with the amount of reinforcement they received. Such reinforcement is a combination of how much the child talks about the past life and how much attention is focused on it by the parents and others. If constantly reminded, the child may store those past‑life memories in with current‑life experiences, much as we often remember stories told to us as children.

            Stevenson also discovered that a higher than average number of these cases involve reports of the prior personality having died a violent or dramatic death, or having died a sudden death by natural causes. The child may exhibit unexplained phobias which seemingly relate to the mode of death of that prior personality — for example, an extreme fear of fire where the prior personality was burned to death. One might relate this to other psi experiences, since there is a lot of evidence to indicate that there is a direct connection between strong emotion and the incidence and content of ESP experiences. It would seem that the stronger the emotion in a particular event or experience, the better the chance that it will be received via psi. In psi experience, the emotional content could be positive or negative, whereas in the reincarnation experience, since death is involved ‑- and most of us around the world see that as a negative ‑- it is perhaps not surprising that the deaths remembered are sudden or violent (also negative).

            On the flip side of the coin, the child may display unexplained interests, likes and dislikes in what he or she eats, and even unusually well developed skills where there has been neither training nor someone to provide an example. Prejudices that are unusual for the family setting may also relate to the past personality.

            Finally, there have been many cases reported where there is an unusual birthmark that appears to relate to the death of the prior personality, or to a similar birthmark on the prior personality (who wasn’t necessarily related). For example, if the prior person was shot, there might be a birthmark in the same spot as the old wound on the body of the child recalling that past life. Similarly, deformities have been linked to a prior personality; for example, a person who had a hand cut off being recalled by a child born missing that same hand.

            Stevenson identified several culturally bound features of reincarnation cases ‑- some due to how the culture as a whole experiences and believes in reincarnation, others to more general cultural beliefs. It is clear that the beliefs, the expectations, and the norm for a culture sets up how we learn to perceive the world around us, how we experience the world and judge our own experiences and the experiences of others.

            In many societies, the identity of the prior personality appears to be culturally determined, or at least influenced by that society’s expectations. For example, in those societies where people are reborn into their own families (or clan), such situations are reported, whereas if there is no such “rule” for reincarnation, the situation is rare. In other words, I have a better chance of being reincarnated as my descendent in a culture which strongly holds that this is the way I will be reincarnated than in cultures where this is not the accepted mode of rebirth.

            Of course, with such a family related rule, there is a greater chance that a child will be consciously or unconsciously influenced to believe he or she is a reborn ancestor. In some cultures, a pregnant woman may have “announcing dreams” which let her know a particular relative or ancestor is going to be reborn in the fetus. (Others in the family may also have announcing dreams, but the prevalence of such dreams is with the woman carrying the baby.) Since the parents are expecting their new child to be the incarnation of a deceased relative, they will latch onto any behavior of the child which reminds them of any particular relative (”Oh, look, he likes to pat his stomach and so did grandfather… he must be grandfather”). As the child grows, there may be continual reinforcement of any behavior reminiscent of that relative. The result is a child educated into believing he or she really was that relative.

            The incidence of sex change between the prior and present personalities ‑- or how often a male is reborn as female and vice versa ‑- is another culturally bound characteristic of reincarnation cases. In cultures where women are more or less second-class citizens, such as in Turkey and Lebanon, there is little or no incidence of souls undergoing sex change. In cultures where such a transference is possible and perhaps even likely ‑- among the Hopi Indians, for example ‑- the number of incidences may be much higher. In general, however, some cultures report rebirth cases, others do not. To predict whether a culture would be likely to have such cases one could simply look at whether there is a belief that this is possible or impossible.

            Changes in social status ‑ being born into a rich family where one was previously poor, or vice versa ‑ seems to vary a bit all over the world. In India, where there are still remnants of a caste system, there is a low incidence of one being reborn into a lower social status. In other places, there doesn’t seem to be a pattern.

            As an example, we might look to the case of the Dalai Lama. The current Dalai Lama is actually the fourteenth in a tradition that spans six centuries. Born in 1935, the Dalai Lama is believed to be a single soul that reincarnates shortly after each death. The previous incarnation died in 1933. A few years after the death of the thirteenth Dalai Lama, the search began for his reincarnated form. A delegation of monks began a quest that involved looking at all Tibetan boys born a few weeks to two years after the Dalai Lama’s death. Various omens narrowed the search to a single, poor family. At age two, the current Dalai Lama was identified by the delegation, put through exhaustive tests, and checked for birthmarks that would identify him positively as the vessel of the soul of their supreme spiritual leader. He was installed as the Dalai Lama at age four. (Other Lamas in the Tibetan religious “chain of command” are identified through a search process as well, and not all reincarnated forms are necessarily Tibetan by birth.)

            When do we reincarnate? Do we die and immediately move into another body? Or is there some time between lives? If so, where are we then? Can we be reincarnated anywhere in the world or just in our immediate geographic “neighborhood”? The answers to such temporal and spatial considerations also appear to vary dramatically from culture to culture.

            For example, the time separation between death and reincarnation has been reported to be as short as a few moments and as long as centuries. Some believe that the soul can move into a fully formed fetus, others believe that it is at the moment of conception that the soul moves into a new, growing form. Of course, this is similar to the differences between the beliefs of those on opposite sides of the abortion issue: Is a fetus human, does it have a soul from conception, or does such a soul develop only after several months of gestation in the womb?

            According to David Read Barker, the Druses believe in instantaneous transmission into a new form, while the Jains believe in a time interval of about nine months for the soul to go from death to conception (sort of a gestation of the soul). In Eastern cultures, the intermissions are usually fairly short, generally from three to four months, but can also last up to ten years (and, in some places, as much as twenty years). In the United States, the temporal separation can be short, but is generally around twelve years. That would be for those cases that can be solved, for the longer the intermission, the less likely the previous personality’s existence can be verified. Therefore, for those cases with intermissions reported to be decades or even centuries (thousands of years, if you include the stories of some people hypnotically regressed to lives in ancient Egypt or Atlantis), the past‑life persona may be unverifiable. According to Alvarado, the range around the world is from four to 140 months or so.

            It might be interesting to determine if those cultures with longer intermissions report a higher incidence of apparitional sightings. In most instances, there appears to be little or no awareness of the “real” world during the intermission period.

            In other words, a person who has experienced a past life rarely exhibits knowledge of events after the death of the prior personality, indicating that if there is an intermission period, it’s unlikely that the prior personality’s consciousness can just hang around as an apparition. Stevenson does have a couple of cases on record where the individual being reincarnated recalls being an apparition, and was able to relate some events that occurred during the intermission period. He also mentions cases of “announcing apparitions” where the prior personality appeared as an apparition to announce the imminent rebirth. But both these cases seem to be extremely rare.

            Geography plays a part in all this as well. In the United States, those reporting such recall experiences have traced prior lives all over the globe. This is not necessarily the case in other parts of the world. Especially in cultures that hold greater beliefs in reincarnation, there is often little spatial separation between where the prior personality lived and died and the current person’s place of residence. In India, for example, a child might recall a past life in the same village or one only a few miles away. In cultures where family members get reborn in the same family, there may be no geographic difference to speak of. In other cases, there are separations in the same country, but perhaps not rebirths into the same cultural group.

            As with the spontaneous recall experiences of adults, there are certain patterns suggestive of reincarnation in children. Some of these are a few of the universal characteristics of cases all over the world, such as unusual prejudices (though not so common), unusual interests or likes (more common), and unexplained phobias (much more common). Some have pointed to unusual skill development, as with child prodigies, as an indicator of a past life where the skill was part of the prior personality’s individuality. Another pointer has been the child speaking a language he or she could not have learned.

            XENOGLOSSY is the speaking of a foreign language, albeit one that is capable of being identified. Often confused with glossalalia, or speaking in tongues (non-intelligible language; essentially made up), xenoglossy can be indicative of reincarnation or a result of cryptomnesia. There are two categories of xenoglossy: recitative and responsive. Recitative xenoglossy occurs when an individual speaks words or phrases in a foreign language, often without understanding what the words mean. It could conceivably be a result of past‑life memory, but is more likely the mind coming up with words and phrases overheard and stored without any realization that the language was there. Channelers, when asked to speak in the native language of the supposed entity, often come up with a few words, but true facility with and understanding of the language is generally not evident. The same is often the case with words spoken spontaneously by children.

            Perhaps it’s not the child who speaks these words in connection with a past‑life memory, but rather the parents who assume too much when the child speaks words that he or she “couldn’t have known” otherwise. In reality, we all hear snatches of other languages in situations from walking by two strangers conversing in another language or dialect to watching television or listening to the radio to hearing full conversations between others around us. With recitative xenoglossy, an individual may unconsciously dredge up words from deep memory (but not necessarily a past-life memory).

            Responsive xenoglossy, which is far less common, indicates the ability of the individual speaking the foreign language either to understand what’s being said or to converse in that language or dialect, or both. While such cases are rare, there have been a few, including a couple investigated by Stevenson, where other, “normal” sources of the language in the person’s consciousness have been eliminated. This xenoglossy is coupled with other past‑life memories -‑ in other words, it’s not just that the person can suddenly speak another language; the other language is tied to the memories of a prior personality.

            There are four types of memories by which a past life might be identified, though one is less memory of mind than it is memory of body. First, there is generally informational or verbal memory of the prior personality. The child can recall and relate to others who he or she was by name, as well as provide verbal descriptions of that person’s life and death, information about the prior personality’s family, where he or she lived, dates, and possibly other factual information (which, hopefully, can be checked out with witnesses and records).

            The second category consists of behavioral memories. The person recalling a past life exhibits mannerisms, habits, likes and dislikes, phobias, skills, and other personality traits that seem to relate directly to the prior personality’s behavior patterns.

            These and the physical markers are often more than enough to identify who the prior personality was. However, investigators have also noted what has been referred to as “imaged” memories. This third category has to do with the ability of the current personality to recognize places, and people related to the prior personality. Taking a child to the location where the prior personality lived to see if he or she can identify people and locations is often part of the investigator’s methodology.

            The fourth indicator, one, which reveals past‑life memories not of the mind but rather of the body, relates to the physical patterns that have been known to repeat from life to life. Again, this would include the reappearance of birthmarks and deformities which existed in that past life, as well as the presence of current birthmarks and deformities which seem to relate directly to old injuries or to the mode of death of the prior personality.

            In investigating cases of children who remember previous lives, a researcher has to look at a number of things. It is important, first of all, that the information which the child reveals about a previous personality can be verified. The more factual information presented by the child, the better the case. (Once alternative sources of the information have been eliminated, of course.) “Yet not all these statements can qualify as satisfactory. For this to happen we must know not only that the statements am correct for events in the life of a particular person; we must also know that the child could not have obtained the information in his statements by normal means of communication.”3

            To digress a moment, unsolved cases, where the investigators couldn’t make a positive identification of the prior personality, have been reported in various journals and publications. For example, in the January and April 1983 issues of The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research,4 authors Emily Williams Cook, Satwant Pasricha, Godwin Samararatrie, U Win Maung, and Ian Stevenson discuss potential payoffs for studying such cases. Such unsolved cases may provide insight into the motivations of individuals in past‑life cases. These cases may also point to other‑than‑reincarnation explanations for rebirth cases.

            Solved and unsolved cases exhibit both differences and common features. For example, children in both kinds of cases start talking about the past life at around the same ages, but those in the unsolved cases stop talking about their previous lives at a much earlier age (possibly due to a lack of reinforcement by those around these children). For both, the frequency of recall and mention of the mode of death of the prior personality is about the same, and there is the same higher incidence of violent deaths over natural deaths. However, the unsolved cases have a higher proportion of violent deaths than the solved cases. This may relate to some feature of the death being easier to recall than other facts such as the name (which makes an unsolved case more likely a solved one).

            There are several reasons why unsolved cases exist, although some of the information in the unsolved cases may be verifiable. For example, even if the investigators can’t determine who the prior personality was, the child may have provided descriptive information about a location or people relevant to that past life which the child could not have otherwise obtained.

            Although with unsolved cases, them is a higher likelihood that the information is derived from the child’s fantasies (more on this later), there are other reasons why the case may be unsolved. Incomplete information – which could be due to poor recall or the parents’ failure to accurately record what the child said – as well as a lack of records or witnesses for the prior personality, makes verification difficult. As stated previously, it may be virtually impossible to “solve” a case even when a name is given if the prior personality lived in a time or place where there are no longer any people who knew the individual or any records of that person’s existence. Cases in the United States, whether from spontaneous recall or from hypnotic regression, can often fall under this rubric because of our tendency to recall lives from distant locations and from decades -‑ even centuries ‑‑ in the past.

            These cases, though unsolved, still yield quite a bit of information that is relevant to the investigation of all cases suggestive of reincarnation. Certain behavioral patterns, for example, while not verifiable through factual information, are suggestive of a child’s identification with a prior personality. According to Stevenson, some of these patterns include a repetition of information and specific statements by the current personality about the past life, continual requests to visit the locale of the prior personality, adult-like behavior in emotional responses and mode of conversation and address, and the display of skiffs, habits, and mannerisms indicative of the prior personality. (Of course, remember that most of Stevenson’s cases are from cultures and countries where the time and space intervals between death of the previous personality and the current one are fairly small.)

            It is not my purpose in this book to recap cases reported by Stevenson and others, but rather to introduce you to the ways parapsychologists and other scientific investigators look at the evidence. Stevenson and others have noted that while these cases cannot prove any doctrine of reincarnation, they are strongly suggestive of this. So, besides the information that may help connect a person’s current life with a previous one, the investigators also need to consider other explanations besides rebirth. Let’s recap some of the non-reincarnation theses we’ve discussed.

            Cryptomnesia ‑‑ forgetting or confusing the source of certain information ‑‑ is an ineffective argument when applied to the spontaneous past‑life recall experiences of children; the children just don’t have that much memory to draw upon.

            Other factors vitiating cryptomnesia are the lack of written records or individual witnesses the child could have encountered, the probable ignorance of the child’s parents and other family members with regard to the prior personality, and the often surprising instances of visual recognition by the child of people and places associated with a past life. (How could the child visually identify the right people and houses if he’d never even seen pictures of them?)

            Unlearned but well‑developed skills, whether physical or linguistic, would be hard to explain by either cryptomnesia or other explanations. While recitative xenoglossy can be explained in this way, responsive xenoglossy or other skills where several “facts” need to be recombined in specific ways argue persuasively against any chance of cryptomnesia. Finally, there’s no tie whatsoever between cryptomnesia and any physical patterns (birthmarks and deformities) that may repeat along with the information from the previous personality.

            It would be very difficult to explain all the universal features of these rebirth cases by using cryptomnesia as a solution. Specific cases might be explained this way, especially in countries like the United States where even very young children are bombarded with information almost from birth. Images and sounds from television and radio might explain where the information comes from, but not skills (except maybe skill with video games) and certainly not any birthmarks related to a past death.

            In addition, any identification of a prior personality by the child with cryptomnesia would have to include “dramatization of the information into a personality sufficiently plausible to impress others with the appropriateness of behavioral and emotional responses expected of the previous personality.”5 Parental expectation and fantasy might explain some of this in specific situations where the information first spoken by the child is latched onto by the parents as related to a past life. Misinterpretation by over-believing parents and reinforcement by the parents might stimulate the child to continue dramatizing the past life (or even encourage the child to believe it).

            However, according to most researchers, while still possible, cryptomnesia falls short as a plausible explanation for most of these cases “which include (a) much accurate information about a previous personality (apparently inaccessible by normal means to the subject or his family and (b) identification with the previous personality extending over years and during ordinary everyday living.”6 Cryptomnesia is far more persuasive as an explanation for déjà vu experiences, and regression cases.

FOOTNOTES for this part of the chapter:

1. Chari, C. T. K. “Reincarnation Research: Method and Interpretation,” in The Signet Handbook of Parapsychology, New York: Signet/New American Library, 1978, p. 316.

2. As shown on Arthur C. Clarke’s World of Strange Powers television – and now video – series, an episode entitled “Have We Lived Before?”

3. Stevenson, Ian, and Godwin Samararatne. “Three New Cases of the Reincarnation Type in Sri Lanka With Written Records Made Before Verifications,” Journal of Scientific Exploration, vol. 2, no. 2, 1988, p. 218.

4. Cook, Emily Williams, Satwant Pasricha, Godwin Samararatne, U Win Maung, and Ian Stevenson. “A Review and Analysis of ‘Unsolved’ Cases of the Reincarnation Type: 1. Introduction and Illustrative Reports” and “A Review and Analysis of ‘Unsolved’ Cases of the Reincarnation Type: U. Comparison of Features of Solved and Unsolved Cases.” In The Journal of The American Society For Psychical Research, vol. 77, no. 1 and no. 2 (respectively, January and April), 1983.

5. Stevenson. Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation, New York: American Society for Psychical Research, 1966, p. 300.

6. Ibid., p. 304.


REINCARNATION, CHANNELING AND POSSESSION: A PARAPSYCHOLOGIST’S HANDBOOK by Loyd Auerbach — available again as an ebook for Kindle and Nook!