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Some Past Life Memories

There’s quite a bit of new activity in the reincarnation research category of the Psi Encyclopedia. This piece by Jim Matlock discusses patterns that can be found in the research. Karen Wehrstein has contributed an entry on adult memories, and another on claims to have lived as a famous person.

There’s also a fascinating case study about detailed memories of a life as a sixteenth century Spanish woman, written by Stephen Braude, who for once finds it quite impressive, even though being a regression case it wouldn’t normally be considered particularly evidential. Karen is working on case studies, including two well-known and unusual Indian cases: Sharada-Uttara and Sumitra-Shiva, which will be uploaded shortly. And Erlendur Haraldsson has contributed an entry on a particularly detailed Lebanese case that he investigated, Nazih Al-Danaf, and plans to write other articles in the coming months.

I should also mention that Matlock and Erlendur have co-authored a new book, I Saw A Light and Came Here: Children’s Experiences of Reincarnation, published by White Crow. I ordered it from Amazon, and it came just today, so I can’t talk about it in detail, but it contains a number of unfamiliar cases, and a lot of what looks to be interesting analysis.

That’s the bulletin part of the post over. I’m going to hand over now to a lady called Adri D, who got in touch recently to describe her own past life memories as a child. I quite often hear from people about their experiences, and am always glad to get them, but I thought this was especially interesting, and she’s happy for it to be shared here. Thanks Adri.

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Adri D writes: When I was a young child, from about the age I could start talking until I started school (approximately), I spoke frequently about my "other family", especially my other mother. I often commented when seeing my mom do something that my "other mommy didn't do it like that" - for instance, things she did around the house, the way she prepared food, and really all matter of things. Also, I couldn't accept my name – I was insistent that my name was Jennifer.

Extended family thought it was quite funny, definitely chalking it up to imaginary friend-type talk, and admittedly I was a bright and imaginative child. However, I would often become frustrated and annoyed with the way things were done in our household and the rules my parents lay down; at other times I expressed benign surprise. My parents tolerated it and took it lightly, but did not encourage the talk.

As I got older and, I suppose, more used to being a member of my own family, the talk and references faded. However, it took me a very long time to accept both my first and last names, and I despised revealing the information to people as a child. It just felt so wrong to me. I still have vivid memories of feeling that I had another family, (even though I don't actually consciously feel that way any longer), and somehow knowing things about them. I also remember feeling that I was from someplace else, and indeed belonged somewhere else – and in fact I still feel that way, at age 38! I had cousins from Alaska who would come down and visit every couple of years or so, and Alaska became in my mind the place where I might be from. This is definitely something that I may very well have made up – I don't think it’s Alaska itself that is very significant, or perhaps even the name Jennifer, but rather this very strong feeling that I was from somewhere else, that I had another name, that I WAS someone else! 

(I do still very much want to visit Alaska, and I'm preparing for a spiritual journey there.) 

I fully admit this could all be the workings of my imagination, and have never really made a big deal out of it. I learned about the eastern belief of reincarnation when I got interested in Buddhism and certain New Age concepts as a teen, but never made any connection to my own experience and memories until I first heard of children who remembered past lives via a book I had found in my university library while searching for books on Theosophy, (I was a philosophy major, it was VERY dry) and immediately I thought to myself in a very calm way, "oh my God, that explains it."

I told my mom about it the next time I was visiting. Although we are Catholic (at least in upbringing) she has an open mind to these things, and so do I. It truly sobered her to hear the stories of the kids who'd been studied, and she revealed that she had found my talk of another life and family very creepy, and it disturbed and hurt her. She said she never encouraged it, and was relieved when it stopped. My mom is a very content woman spiritually and doesn't feel the need to research things and get too philosophical. But she definitely thinks that if anyone came out of womb yammering on about their past life, it was me.

Another perhaps odd thing about me is that I was always prepared for disaster, especially in the night. I had significant insomnia and night fear as a kid, and would lie awake for hours, listening. I would also sometimes sleep in my shoes, and sometimes my school uniform, and I would be very worried that someone would find out, but it helped ease my anxiety that I would be able to escape the house all ready to go, in case the need arose. One night when I was about 9, we actually did have to evacuate, because our next-door neighbour's car port had gone up in flames for some unknown reason. When I heard my parents shuffling around before coming to get my sister and I, I was calm and ready for action. 

Reincarnation has never fascinated me all that much – one might think it would, but in fact I can't even get through books or television programs about these kids who feel that they remember a past life- they just can't hold my attention! Not entirely sure why. (I have no qualms about accepting the possibility of reincarnation on anecdote alone, though my favourite after-life possibility is post-death survival of personality leading to a transition into complete union with God).

That being said, plenty of other topics that you address on your blog do interest me very much. I have always been a keen seeker, and consider myself to be quite psychic, intuitive, and sensitive. I’m a very late bloomer, evolving into each new stage of life very slowly and cautiously. I feel that if my memories really are indicative of a past life, it was a life in which I died young. In my most transcendent moments, and in certain dreams, I even feel sometimes that I can actually remember things from OTHER lives – it’s just a quality of feeling that arises when I think of certain dreams or visions.

I had this very strongly once when some military planes in formation flew over our city in salute, the morning of our suburb's annual air show - when those planes flew overhead I had a terrible, transcendental dizziness, and I actually peed my pants I was so scared. I was shaking for hours afterwards. It was one of the most terrifying moments of my life, but I cannot explain why, and obviously I never thought consciously that I was in any danger. A very strange experience indeed.

I’ll conclude by saying that it's not anything I feel I'll ever need an iota of "evidence" for, and certainly I would never feel I had to convince anyone of this. I have opened up about it with different people and everyone has found it very easy to accept. For other friends of mine and people I know that feel that they have experienced stuff like ghostly and alien encounters, precognition, telepathy, and communication or contact with the dead, there also seems to be this calm acceptance and not a hint of needing to prove it to oneself or anyone else.

In terms of "dyed in the wool skeptics" and people who have a very materialist view of reality, I think that this might have a lot to do with their spiritual constitution. Some people are just not cut out for experiencing the world this way, and they get intensely annoyed whenever anyone starts talking about anything that they term "woo" because it's like everyone is speaking a language they know they'll never understand.

I deal with a lot of people from Taiwan in my work, and they have a complex spiritual worldview that I find very interesting. One girl was explaining to me that whether or not you will have any kind of sensitivities or aptitude for spirit communication is something you are marked with at birth, and that's just who you are or are not. I thought that was very interesting. 

Animal Psi

The Psi Encyclopedia needs an entry on telepathy, and since I couldn’t immediately think of someone to write it, I thought I’d have a go myself. So I’ve been having a look through the literature. One particularly interesting read is Rupert Sheldrake’s Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, and Other Unexplained Powers of Animals. I bought it when it came out in 1999 but it got ‘borrowed’ (I can’t complain, I’m a terrible borrower of other people’s books), and it was good to be reminded of the sheer variety of unexplained connections, and contexts in which they appear.

Perhaps the best known phenomenon, and the easiest to test, is the anticipatory behaviour shown by many dogs and cats to the return of a person they’re bonded with. There was a lot of public discussion about the famous Jaytee case, which I devoted several pages to in Randi’s Prize, but this is no anomalous outlier – it’s a very commonly described experience. Sheldrake collected 580 reports of dogs that know when their owners are coming home, and 359 of cats. This is a typical example:

I first noted Poppet showed restlessness, excitement, ears pricked up, tail wagging, wandering between front and back doors, and she developed a special type of bark which I always called ‘a yipping’ – and surely within minutes my mother arrived. No special times or routine to her visits, but Poppet’s reaction was always the same – morning, noon or night. I gradually got to notice that I could tell whether my mother was coming via the front or back door, as Poppet would position herself at the right one. I also noted that when the telephone rang, although Poppet would look at it, she did not particularly bother, but I always knew when my mother was on the phone, as Poppet appeared all excited standing by the phone and using her special ‘yipping’ call.

The obvious explanations are that the animal responds to a regular routine, or that it receives warning by sense of smell or hearing. But, as in this example, it happens when the returns are at irregular times. The case collection includes more than twenty cases of pets alerting the parents of young servicemen to their imminent (unannounced) arrival on leave, hours or even days in advance. Smell could not be the explanation over distances of more than a mile, and even then, the wind would need to be blowing in the right direction. In fact the anticipatory behaviour often starts when the owners are much further away. Dogs do not have particularly good hearing, and even if they could distinguish the sound of a particular vehicle approaching from a distance, it would not explain their awareness of a particular individual returning by public transport.

Cats’ hearing is exceptional. But the same applies. In one case, a cat that habitually responded to the return of his teenage owner was watched by the boy’s father one night when he was expected to arrive quite late. On three separate occasions a taxi stopped in front of the building, but the cat paid no attention to any of them. The father says, ‘Some time later, he jumped down and went to the door. Five minutes later I heard the taxi arrive in which my son was travelling.’

There are a few similar examples with other pets: parrots, horses, sheep and monkeys. There are also other types of connection, although less frequently reported and not easily testable. Pets who provide reassurance to people who are stressed or ill might simply be responding to changes they pick up, but there are cases of animals said to have prevented suicide by, for instance, alerting other family members with their frantic behaviour. Signs of stress have also been observed in pets coinciding with a death or accident at a distance of a person they are bonded with.

Many pet owners are convinced the animal can sense what they are thinking. For instance some guide-dog owners believe their animal picks up their thoughts about where they want to go. Here there is an obvious explanation: the dog responds to subtle body movements that give away their intention, and it would be hard to disprove this objectively. But the owners are quite aware of this, and discount it:

I am totally blind so I cannot see the dog, and I wouldn’t be sure about direction of travel. Under those conditions I wouldn’t be making any indication as to direction or stopping or starting. I am just walking along thinking, and that is why I started to believe he is picking up something other than visual cues or other physical indications.

I mentioned here some time ago a friend who lives alone with two cats, who was offered an opportunity to sell up and live abroad. An immediate concern was that a home would need to be found for the cats. The move was just an idea in her head, something that might or might not take place some time in the future – she made no actual preparations and did not change her routine. But the cats suddenly became frantic: they followed her around, mewing piteously and wouldn’t let her out of their sight. When a few days later she decided definitively not to leave, the cats resumed their normal behaviour. That’s a one off, but many owners are convinced there’s an ongoing telepathic connection. Cats in particular are notorious for disappearing on the day of a planned trip to the vet – even in the absence of obvious preparations like getting out the cat basket.

Experiments have been carried out that suggest telepathic connections between bonded animals, in situations where there is no channel for sensory communication. In one instance, a pair of horses who lived as close companions were separated and kept out of sight and hearing of each other. One was fed at irregular times which were found to coincide with times when the other became excited and demanded food. The same reaction occurred when one was taken out and exercised. Of 119 experiments, the results were positive in 68%. In control experiments, with horses who were hostile to each other, there was only one positive result out of 15.

A related topic is the connected behaviour of certain fish, birds and insects – flocks, swarms, colonies. There’s still no clear indication of how, for instance, blind termites go about building complex structures with nests up to ten feet high, complete with galleries, chambers and even ventilation shafts. In one experiment, termites repaired breaches made in their mounds from every side, making structures that joined perfectly, even though the insects did not come into contact, and could not see each other, being blind. Even so, it’s hard to suppose they weren’t aware of what the others were doing, by some means. So in a second experiment, the mound was dissected by a steel plate, ensuring that the builders on either side had no sensory awareness of those on the other. Yet when the steel plate was removed, the structures on one side were found to match exactly with those on the other.

What about flocks of birds, the famous starling ‘murmurations’? It’s natural to suppose that each responds to moves by its neighbour, but for waves to be coordinated purely by visual stimuli would mean birds being able to sense, notice and react to waves almost immediately, even those that come from directly behind them, having ‘practically continuous, unblinking, 360 degree visual attention’. But an experiment with flocks of dunlins, a wading shorebird, found that the waves took an average of 15 milliseconds to move from one bird to the next, while in the laboratory the fastest reaction found in a dunlin, in response to a flash of light, was 38 milliseconds.

As we know, Sheldrake looks to morphic fields to explain these and similar phenomena. He sees morphic fields extending ‘beyond the brain into the environment, linking us to the object of our perception and making us capable of affecting them through our intention and attention’. In the case of collective behaviour in large groups, each unit is responding to a kind of gestalt that is available to all, instinctually playing its part to bring a form into being.

Another phenomenon that interests me is the homing ability of animals, which is well documented but remains absolutely mysterious. In the 1930s, an experiment was carried out in Bavaria with a sheepdog named Max, who was taken in a closed van by a roundabout route to a place he’d never been to before, then released, and observed by trained observers stationed along the route he was expected to take home; he was also followed by cyclists.

Max scanned the landscape in various directions, as if taking his bearings. After several trials he began to concentrate on the direction of his home, looking resolutely homewards, and after half an hour he set off. He avoided going through woods, hid from passing cars and circumvented farmhouses and villages. After travelling for just over an hour, he came out on the familiar road into his village, and galloped home. The distance he covered was about six miles.

In a second trial from the same place he took a short cut and arrived home in 43 minutes. He appeared to make no use of sense of smell, since he did not sniff at the trees or ground or try to pick up a trail, which would in any case have been pointless.

Another dog was released in the city of Munich, three miles from her home.

When she was first released, she behaved very much as Max had done; she spent about 25 minutes taking her bearings, looking principally in the direction of her home, and then trotted off in the right direction. All went well until she encountered a frolicsome dog in the Tassiloplatz who led her astray. After some time she took her bearings again, and once more set off in a direct line towards her home. The journey took 93 minutes, including the time spent taking her bearings, playing and straying. The second time, six weeks later, from the same place, she took only five minutes to get her bearings, took the same route and arrived 37 minutes later. Like Max, she was not sniffing and could see no familiar sights.

The same researcher tried similar experiments with another dog, which all failed – again, a reminder that animals, like people, differ in their abilities. The owner of two huskies observed that one had excellent navigational skills, but it was impossible to tell by watching the confident way he trotted home what clues he was following. He didn’t seem to be navigating by landmarks, since he might take different routes. But this dog’s mate often got lost: to get home she simply parked herself on someone’s doorstep and waited for the homeowner to call the telephone number on her collar.

There are lots of theories about homing pigeons, and every so often new research is declared to have cracked the mystery. But nothing definitive. One recent experiment claimed to find they followed geographical features in the landscape like roads and railway lines. This might be a partial explanation, for birds who make the same regular journey. But in another experiment, cited by Sheldrake, birds fitted with frosted contact lenses still reached their destination, so they couldn’t have been relying on sight (although they tended to crash land when they arrived.). Recently, there have been confident declarations that the sense of smell is key, based on pigeons’ loss of homing ability after having the olfactory nerve severed. But other experiments cited by Sheldrake appeared to eliminate the sense of smell, and in any case, it would not necessarily explain the ability of pigeons to home from unfamiliar places.

The phenomenon of mass bird migrations might be explained by Sheldrake's idea of a collective memory in morphic fields:

Thus when a young cuckoo sets off from England to Africa it draws upon a collective memory of its ancestors. This memory, inherent in the morphic field of its migratory path, guides it as it goes, giving it a memory of directions in which to fly, and an instinctive recognition of landmarks, feeding grounds and resting places. This collective memory also enables it to recognise when it has arrived at its destination, the ancestral winter home.

Sheldrake concedes that with homing pigeons, navigation can be aided by using the sun’s position, and perhaps even a magnetic sense, to help keep their bearings and stay on course. But he adds, ‘Without the directional pull through the morphic field connecting them to their home, they would be lost’

It struck me, while reading about all of this, how extraordinary it is to have all these curious phenomena on our doorstep, so to speak, and yet to pay them so little attention. Going back to anticipatory behaviour, the implication of Sheldrake’s research is that as many as half of dogs display it, an astonishing number, if one considers we’re talking about something that science says is flat out impossible. The fact that the other half don’t doesn’t invalidate its existence. Some dogs might simply lack that kind of sensitivity, like most humans. (I watched out for it in my own dog – now sadly deceased – but didn’t see any suggestion of it, or any other psi connections). And there could be other reasons: in cases where the owner lives alone, and there is no one to observe the pet’s behaviour, or where the bond is not particularly strong, for instance.

Even if Sheldrake’s figures are an overestimate, taking into account the number of pet owning households (nearly half in the UK, two thirds in the US) the research indicates that tens, possibly hundreds of millions in the developed world have experience of telepathy through this phenomenon. And this is not a single event – it’s observed regularly, in some cases almost daily. This is perhaps one reason why so many people in surveys say they believe in telepathy – typically a third to half. It’s not because they’re naturally superstitious, or credulous, or ignorant of science (although, sure, some of them may be). It’s just that – quite reasonably – they trust the evidence of their own repeated experience in preference to remote abstractions about what is and is not possible in nature.

A related but equally curious mystery is the paucity of research in this area. Sheldrake mentions quite a few experiments, but most seemed to be one-offs, carried out by people who had a lot to do with animals, and wanted to test their observations, but typically weren’t followed up. If one day it’s considered to be in our interests to find out what’s going on, animals will be a rich field for scientific investigation.