The new issue of Journal of the Society for Psychical Research contains an interesting case of the reincarnation type. It’s from Germany, which is unusual as there are relatively few such cases from Europe. Evidentially it’s not particularly strong, but it’s intriguing in some respects, and also rather dramatic.
The case concerns a psychotherapist from the town of Erlangen near Nuremberg, named here as ‘Mrs Wolf’, and her third child ‘Rolf’, aged 14 at the time of writing. This is a brief outline:
Mrs Wolf was involved in a late-night accident on the motorway, in which the car in front of her hit a pedestrian, a young man, who had apparently strayed in front of the traffic. She stopped and pulled him off the road. He seemed to be aware of her, but then lost consciousness.
He began bleeding from the mouth and nose, but not very much. The lower part of his right leg was at an unnatural angle. Mrs Wolf took him in her arms and felt his pulse, which was becoming progressively weaker. Fearing he was about to die she said to him: ‘Don’t be afraid. Go into the light and accept the facts as they are.’
When she finally managed to get to sleep later that night, she dreamed that the young man in the accident came to her. He seemed to have formed an attachment to her, to the extent that he wanted to adopt her as his mother. The same happened on the following two nights. In the dreams she understood that he wanted to reincarnate into her family, and she vehemently resisted the idea.
On the third occasion she was surprised to see him, in her dream, standing by a picturesque lake near a cemetery where a funeral was taking place. He explained it was his birthplace in Italy, and the funeral was his own. This surprised her as he had been fair-haired and blue-eyed, and not typically Italian in his looks. He was still insistent about being born to her, and by this time she had softened somewhat. In the back of her mind she reassured herself that she was not in a relationship with anyone, and even if she did have an unplanned liaison she would use contraceptives, so there was little chance of her becoming pregnant.
Shortly afterwards she contacted the boy’s mother, having discovered the contact details from a published press article. The mother explained that his name was Mario, and he was aged 18. The parents, one German, the other Italian, lived in Erlangen where they ran a shop, but spent part of the year in Italy near a lake where Mario was buried. On the night of his death, it appeared, Mario had been driving his mother’s car which he had crashed near a slip road to the motorway; it was uncertain whether he had wandered onto it in a state of confusion, or whether he planned to kill himself.
Nine months later Mrs Wolf accidentally became pregnant and in due course gave birth to a fair-haired blue-eyed boy whom she named Rolf. By this time she had forgotten about the previous incident, and had had no further contact with Mario’s mother. But one day, when the boy was three or four years old, he said spontaneously to her: ‘I have lived before. I died in a traffic accident, but it was not so terrible. I was bleeding a little bit on my head and my leg was hurting.’
That’s it as far as the sequence of events goes. Mrs Wolf’s belief that Rolf was – or at least might be – the reincarnated Mario, came to the attention of a paranormal investigator, Dieter Hassler. He interviewed the two of them, also Mario’s parents, who were divorced. As it turned out, Rolf had no memories of a previous life (which was to be expected, as he was now long past the age when these memories typically start to fade), and was unable to recognise Mario’s parents’ shop, or any of Mario’s possessions that were shown to him. Mario’s father did not have much to say; however his mother, who like Mrs Wolf believes in the possibility of rebirth, was quite forthcoming.
Much of the interest of this case lies in the startling match between the two boys’ personalities. Rolf is quite effeminate: his mother describes him as very fashion-conscious; trendy clothes are very important to him, particularly American ones. He is vain about his appearance, uses perfumes, and spends hours doing his hair. He has a mincing gait aimed at getting people’s attention; and so on. His mother also says he is ‘very helpful’, ‘adored by girls’; and ‘charming - knows to twist everyone round his little finger’.
When Hassler interviewed Mario’s mother, a similar picture emerged. Mario was mad about clothes, particularly American ones. He was very meticulous about his hair, used perfumes, walked with a feminine gait, and was popular with girls (whose advances he rejected). Hassler also lists other similarities: both boys are good at drawing and painting; have practical abilities; show an interest in religion - all of which are general enough to be purely fortuitous, however. There is also one major difference: Mario was good at languages, which Rolf is not.
Investigation yielded a certain logic to his death. Mario was bullied by his father and sister (which one supposes was because of his obvious sexual orientation, which he realised when he was 13). He had a strong relationship with his mother; however shortly before his accident he learned that they had decided to divorce, which apparently would have meant he would have more contact with his father and sister, and less with her. That evidently depressed him, possibly to the point of wishing to kill himself. Whether it was suicide or an accident, there is perhaps a motivation on his part, being now deceased, to try again in a different family.
Mario’s mother described some rather striking psychokinetic events following Mario’s death:
She said she was in the habit of listening to soft music on CDs when driving her car. When Mario was with her he would protest at this, and switch it to radio-mode and a station transmitting pop music. Three weeks after Mario’s death, when his mother was driving along a road they had taken regularly together, she was thinking about Mario, when the radio spontaneously switched from CD-mode to radio-mode without her intervention and started playing pop music. She interpreted this as having been initiated by Mario. Nevertheless, she asked a garage technician whether the radio could switch on automatically and was told that it was impossible.
Some weeks later all the lights went out in her shop and the surrounding area. The utility services were not aware of a power failure but promised to send a technician.
Having already had the experience with her car-radio she suspected that Mario could be involved, so she said aloud: ‘Mario, stop that nonsense. You cannot switch off all the lights with customers present.’
The immediate result was the return of power and the lights coming back on. She phoned the utility services a second time, but they could not give any explanation.
As Hassler himself notes, the case is not particularly evidential. He points out that there are very few solved European cases that are not ‘in-family’, which are inevitably weaker than those that involve different families, particularly those separated by some distance. Although this is potentially one such (since the two families are separate), with the original contact between the mother and the previous personality, and later with his mother, and the announcing dream, that advantage is lost.
There were no witnesses who could corroborate Mrs Wolf’s dream experiences following the accident, or Rolf’s single statement about a previous life. There was only a single informant on the side of the previous personality. One could argue that the fact of Mario being gay, and Rolf quite likely to be (although this was not known at the time of writing), is not a very surprising coincidence. In theory Mrs Wolf could be fantasising, and although Hassler thinks she is genuine, being apparently truthful and having nothing to gain from a hoax, in purely formal terms that’s just his opinion. Parts of the story, as told by him, read like a synopsis for a television drama.
That doesn’t mean it lacks value, however. If rebirth occurs, we naturally want to know, what are the drivers for it? Here one gets the sense of a person who loves his life, but who is being obstructed in the living of it, and having, whether by accident or design, brought it to an end, wants to resume it on the same terms, but this time under the protection of someone he instinctively trusts.
To me, this is one of those many instances which are too weak to justify belief in an anomalous phenomenon on their own, but which – assuming that belief is justified by much stronger evidence – potentially deepen our understanding of it.