My final hours were filled with death. I was besieged in a beautiful vaulted church along with 100 knights. Smokey candlelight glinted off their armour. Some knights were praying, others resting.
As dawn broke over the city they readied themselves for the final conflict with an implacable foe. Even the most devout were terrified. All knew that only a handful would survive the coming day.
I watched their preparations for battle. The sharpening of swords and lances. The reinforcing of shields and armour. But most of all, I prepared for my own death. As a monk in a city of Muslims, my chances of surviving the coming assault were slim.
Soon after the knights left the church, I retreated to a small side chapel to pray. I was desperate for forgiveness. I had travelled from a small monastery in Kent to the Holy Land so that I could kill Muslims. Although I still hated Islam, I found it hard to love my ‘own’ side. The decadence and corruption of the Crusaders had sickened me. Now I wanted to be left alone to live in peace. But it was too late.
I watched as the flames roared up the sides of the chapel. I hoped it was only purgatory but feared it was hell. Soon I, too, was on fire and burning like a Roman candle. I didn’t feel any pain – I knew I was going to die and that my Lord would make it swift.
Out of the blackness I could see a burning white light. A calm voice asked me what I had learned from my life and whether there was any knowledge I wished to carry with me to the next.
It was the voice of David Wells, a past-life regression therapist who had put me into a trance and guided me back to my ‘former incarnation’.
To many, the idea of reincarnation will seem like bunkum, but it is garnering a surprising degree of respectable scientific support. Today in London sees a major international conference on the subject in memory of the late Dr Ian Stevenson, an American scientist who spent decades studying the discipline.
Dr Stevenson amassed an astonishing amount of evidence for reincarnation. He tracked down over 3,000 children who claimed to have lived before. Many were able to give their previous names and the manner and of their death. They could recall the names of friends and family members, many of whom Dr Stevenson was able to track down through birth records. Others even knew intimate details known only to family members.
“Reincarnation is the most likely explanation for the strongest cases,” says Dr Jim Tucker, Medical Director of the Child and Family Psychiatric Clinic at the University of Virginia and one of Dr Stevenson’s co-workers.
“My view is that the evidence points to a ‘carry over’ of memories and emotions from one life to another. That could be termed reincarnation.”
Obviously the idea of reincarnation is highly controversial not just amongst scientists but between different religions too. Broadly speaking Christians, Muslims and Jews do not believe in it while Hindus and Buddhists do.
I decided to investigate it for myself through what’s known as ‘past-life regression therapy’. Practitioners of this discipline claim that we have all lived before and that we can be taught to remember our former incarnations.
I was initially highly sceptical of the idea of reincarnation, let alone being able to remember a former life. I also remembered stories of people who traced their family trees only to discover that they were descended not from Royalty – but horse thieves. What if I was a murderer or a rapist in a former life? Or Heaven forbid, one of Hitler or Stalin’s henchmen? I was not very keen on the prospect to say the least.
After a little more research I learned that past-life regression is straightforward but it does require the skills of a trained therapist to guide you through the process. It is not without risks. The psychological shock can overwhelm some people. Others can be left with an all-pervading guilt for the misdeeds ‘they’ perpetrated in a former life.
David Wells, author of Past, Present and Future: What Your Past Lives Tell You About Yourself, agreed to guide me.
First off, I was led into a darkened room and coaxed into relaxing on a big, soft, comfy chair surrounded by burning incense and scented candles. David then asked me to imagine myself floating above my house. I mentally drifted off into space and turned back to face our beautiful planet. Slowly the earth stopped turning and began to reverse direction. This symbolised flying backwards through time. I returned to Earth at the time of my former life – just in time to re-live my death.
The regression experience was strange and perplexing to say the least. I felt as if I was living in two worlds at once. I was aware of my current life but the world of Jerusalem in 1276 was, if anything, equally real. I could feel the clothes I was wearing and the sandals on my feet. I saw my surroundings in vivid detail, right down to the moonlight streaming through church windows and the fear etched onto the knights’ faces.
It felt more powerful and spontaneous than a mere memory, more realistic than a dream, but not quite as solid as the waking world.
When David asked me questions about my past life, things became even stranger. It felt as if someone else was replying. I was merely a back-seat driver. The answers I gave were so spontaneous and specific that it certainly didn’t feel like I was dreaming them up on the spot, or trawling through memories of Hollywood films set during the crusades.
It is well known to psychologists that the human mind is adept at fooling itself. Memory is all too fallible too. So was my mind playing tricks on me?
Professor Chris French, a psychologist at Goldsmiths, University of London, thinks it probably was. He says: “All too often people who undergo hypnotic regression conjure up false memories. It’s not a magical key for unlocking hidden memories.”
“There’s mountains of experimental data which shows that people produce a story for themselves based on their own beliefs and expectations, and their imagination and fantasy. Often people will come out with a Hollywood version of historical events such as life in Roman Britain or Medieval Europe.”
Still, the evidence for reincarnation remains tantalising.
Dr Stevenson’s team at the University of Virginia documented several thousand possible cases of reincarnation involving children over a 40-year-period. They focused on children because they thought their stories were less likely to have been contaminated with false memories.
Most of the team’s evidence was gathered in the Middle East and Asia where a belief in reincarnation is accepted. One case was of a Lebanese girl who could accurately recall the names of 25 people from a previous life. But not only that, she also knew the relationship between the individuals.
Even more intriguingly, researchers have discovered that children can have birthmarks or deformities at the site of the injury that killed them in a former life. A mole on the chest over the heart may correspond to a bullet’s entry point, for instance. Researchers have recorded hundreds of such cases.
The case of Semih Tutusmus from Turkey, unearthed by Dr Stevenson, is typical. Semih was born with a serious deformity in his right ear which, from the age of two onwards, he claimed resulted from the time he was shot by a man called Isa Dirbekil. Semih gave the name he possessed in a former life as Selim Fesli. He also gave the names of his wife and six children.
At the age of four, Selim made his way to a neighbouring village and found the house he had lived in during his former life and then introduced himself to ‘his’ family. When he saw Isa – the man who he claimed had shot him – he threw stones at him. A short while later, Isa confessed to the shooting (he claimed it was an accident) and was jailed for two years.
Even more interesting is the case of Jenny Cockell, who now lives near Northampton. Jenny first began recalling a past life when she was a toddler. Visions of a small village in Victorian Ireland repeatedly flashed into her mind. She became convinced that she’d lived in the village between 1898 and the early 1930s, that she had seven children, and had died giving birth to an eighth.
During past-life regression, images of her past life became so vivid that she was able to draw maps of her home village. She was able to mark shops, main roads, a station and the beautiful cottage in which she lived. After studying a map of Ireland, she felt drawn to the village of Malahide, north of Dublin.
Jenny visited Malahide and followed a trail of clues that ultimately led her to discovering her ‘former identity’ – Mary Sutton, a farm labourer’s wife. She learned that upon Mary’s death, her eight children had been given up to orphanages across Ireland. Jenny then embarked on an odyssey to track down her lost children and reunite her family.
Sonny Sutton, her eldest ‘son’, was the first of the children traced by Jenny. When they made contact, her son was 34 years her senior.
“I didn’t know what to think,” said Sonny. “We were all Catholics and Catholics don’t believe in reincarnation. But when she got out of the car I could see my mother in her. There was a bond between us from the beginning.”
To dispel the inevitable doubts about her story, Jenny took the sensible step of contacting Dr Stevenson and the BBC before she approached Sonny. Gitti Coats, a BBC researcher, exhaustively interviewed both Jenny and Sonny before they actually met each other so that any evidence wouldn’t be contaminated.
“The two sets of memories tied together very well,” Gitti says. “Nearly everything tallied.”
There were even occasions when Jenny prompted Sonny’s memory, such as the time Mary scolded him for snaring a hare, with its coarse and unpalatable meat, rather than a rabbit.
Jenny then focused her efforts on tracking down her ‘daughter’, Elizabeth, whom she died giving birth to in her former life. After months of strenuous effort she was traced to the Dublin mountains. She had been reared by an aunt and uncle, and Elizabeth was totally unaware of being adopted – until informed by Jenny.
Elizabeth has more doubts about reincarnation than her brother, but has accepted a local priest’s explanation that her mother is working through Jenny to reunite the family. Elizabeth now sees Jenny as a close friend and part of the family.
“I can’t see her as our mother like Sonny,” she says. “Although I do think my dead mother is causing her to have these dreams. Some people might say she’s making these things up, but she’s proved they’re real. Sonny told me she knows things nobody else knows.”
Step by step Jenny managed to track down six of her eight children but sadly two of them had died. She’s still searching for the remaining two.
Do cases such as that of Jenny Cockell and the children identified by Dr Stevenson really provide proof of reincarnation? As far as some scientists are concerned they just might – but there are several other equally odd explanations.
Jenny and those like her may possess the psychic ability known as super-psi which allows them to reach back in time and access other people’s memories. There is an even more disturbing possibility, that she was possessed or influenced by the spirit of Mary.
Dr Peter Fenwick, a neuropsychiatrist at Kings College, University of London, says: “The phenomena seems real but its origins are open to interpretation. We simply do not understand this phenomena yet.”
Written by Danny Penman, source: newsmonster.co.uk