Many people believe in past lives and reincarnation. This isn’t a new concept. The ancient Greeks and the Celtic Druids believed that when they die that they would come back. It is also a common belief in religions such as Hinduism and Sikhism. According to recent studies, about 24 percent of Christians in the United States are taken by this idea.
Ian Stevenson is a psychiatrist who spent most of his life researching reincarnation. He believed that a person’s specific traits could carry over into the next life. Ian was born in Montreal in 1918. He was raised in Ottawa and owned many books on theosophy. These books interested Ian because of his own preoccupation with the supernatural. These books refer to an occultist religion that teaches reincarnation. This was when he started getting interested in reincarnation.
During the ’50s, Ian began studying psychoanalysis. At the same time, he became the head of the University of Virginia’s psychiatry branch. When he published a paper about personality being more plastic in children, it was not received well by his peers. Ian didn’t let this put him off, and he continued with his research. He ended up finding children who could remember their past lives, and they were willing to open up to Ian about these memories.
During his research, Ian found surprising patterns in these children. First, he discovered that the children who remembered their past lives told their stories between the ages of two and five-years-old. By the time the children were eight or nine-years-old, these memories began to fade. The children who did have memories of past lives remembered having vivid memories of dying violently. Ian believed that their past lives could explain a person’s phobias or deformities.
Ian wrote an essay titled, The Evidence for Survival from Claimed Memories of Former Incarnations. He wrote the essay in 1958, and his world included 44 examples of people who claimed to have had past life memories. His essay ended up taking first prize in a contest hosted by the American Society for Psychical Research. An Irish medium named Eileen Garrett took an interest in Ian’s article, and she wanted him to continue to explore his theory. She offered to fund a trip to India, where Ian was able to conduct an interview with a child who had claimed to remember a past life.
During his trip to India, Ian was able to find 25 children who claimed to have memories of a past life. In 1966, he wrote a book called Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation. Shortly after, the inventor of xerography, Chester Carlson, was introduced to Ian by his wife. After the meeting, Carlson agreed to fund Ian’s future work. In 1968, Carlson had a fatal heart attack, and he left $1 million to the University of Virginia so that Ian could continue his research. At first, the university didn’t want to take the money, but in the end, they accepted it, and Ian was named the Carlson Professor of Psychiatry.
Thanks to the funding, Ian was able to continue with his research full-time. He started traveling regularly to find new cases. During his research, he traveled 55,000 miles each year, and he interviewed around 3,000 children from all over the world.
Successful Case Study
Ian managed to find a young girl that proved his theory. She was from Sri Lanka, and she discussed a town that she had never visited and that her mother had never mentioned. She claimed that she drowned in a river due to the actions of her intellectually challenged sibling. The girl told Ian that in her memory, she had a father named Herath, who was a bald florist. She remembered living in a home with a skylight, with a large Hindu next door. She also remembered dogs being in the backyard, and people breaking coconuts on the floor outside the temple. When she told Ian her story, he worked to confirm the details. In his research, Ian discovered that a florist was living in the town. He had a two-year-old daughter, who drowned while playing with her mentally challenged brother. The man did have dogs, and his house was next door to a temple. Part of their religion was to break coconuts for offerings. Not everything about the little girl’s story was accurate. The man whose daughter died wasn’t bald, but his father and brother were. Ian checked out 30 facts given by the girl, and 27 of them were correct. This led Ian to believe that he was on the right track.
Birthmarks and Deformities
Ian believed that birthmarks and deformities were associated with reincarnation. He thought that children with rare body defects at birth and strange birthmarks or birthmarks in peculiar places were related to past lives. His paper, Reincarnation, and Biology focuses on over 200 reports of kids with past-life memories who had these strange physical features.
Ian wanted to prove that these anomalies lined up with the physical injuries that a child sustained in the memories of their past lives. He was able to confirm his theory using autopsy reports from the deceased person. He also consulted photos of the corpses. A child from Turkey had an underdeveloped face and had a memory of a man being killed with a shotgun. A child in Thailand that Ian spoke with had birthmarks on the front and back of his head. The boy claimed to remember being shot in the head with a rifle. A girl who was born with only one leg claimed to remember being hit by a train in a past life. Ian spoke to a boy in India who was born with a stubbed hand, which was said to be a very uncommon deformity. He remembered having a mechanical accident in his past life and lost his fingers.
Not Every Child Has These Memories
Ian believes that the children he spoke to were being honest, but not every child has memories of a past life. Reincarnation is widely accepted in India, and only one in 500 children have memories of past lives. Ian believed that adults couldn’t extract memories of past lives through direct questioning. They need to be remembered by a child. These memories were often triggered during an external event. In most of the children he spoke with, they remembered dying violently. Ian believed that it was these intense emotions that allowed the child to carry the memory to their current life.
During his research, Ian discovered that reincarnation didn’t happen right away. There were often several years between the past life and the new one. He did notice; however, the individuals’ souls often remained local. He also believed that there was a link between phobias and past lives. Those who had memories of drowning in their past life were often afraid of water.
Evidence in Adults
Ian didn’t discover evidence of past lives in just children. He spoke to a woman in Burma who had a previous life experience. The woman said that she dreamed of an old sage. The sage told the woman that a man who had recently died would be entrusted to her. The next day, the dead man’s wife went to see the woman, and she claimed to have dreamed of the sage as well. She told the woman that she would soon bear her dead husband. Shortly after the meeting, the woman got pregnant. Ian believed that there were too many coincidences in this story not to take them seriously.
Many people didn’t believe in Ian’s work or his theories. In an obituary for The New York Times, Margalit Fox wrote that his detractors saw him as “dogged and earnest.” It also said that he was led to his beliefs strictly due to wishful thinking. Others believed that what Ian was hearing from the children was just wild stories that were created by their own imaginations. People thought that he was naive, and claimed that his findings lacked cultural context. While some people in the psychiatric and scientific community didn’t believe in Ian’s work, Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf, and award-winning physicist, endorsed her death in 2010. Before she died, she said, “The Statistical probability that reincarnation does, in fact, occur is so overwhelming that cumulatively the evidence is not inferior to that for most if not all branches of science.”
Fact Or Fiction
According to a psychologist, this is proof that past lives are real. Some believe that his research is too damning not to believe. Others believe that his theories are just wild stories made up by a man who needed something to believe in.