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The Mystery of Past Life Recall

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Under hypnosis, numerous people recall the details of previous lives, even to the point of taking on the personalities of their former selves - and speaking in foreign languages!

In 1824, a nine-year-old boy named Katsugoro, the son of a Japanese farmer, told his sister that he believed he had a past life. According to his story, which is one of the earliest cases of past life recall on record, the boy vividly recalled that he had been the son of another farmer in another village and had died from the effects of smallpox in 1810. Katsugoro could remember dozens of specific events about his past life, including details about his family and the village where they lived, even though Katsugoro had never been there. He even remembered the time of his death, his burial and the time he spent before being reborn. The facts he related were subsequently verified by an investigation.

Past life recall is one of the most fascinating areas of unexplained human phenomena. As yet, science has been unable to prove or disprove its genuineness. Even many who have investigated claims of past life recall are unsure whether it is an historical recollection due to reincarnation or is a construction of information somehow received by the subconscious. Either possibility is remarkable. And like many areas of the paranormal, there is a propensity for fraud that the serious investigator must watch out for. It's important to be skeptical about such extraordinary claims, but the stories are nonetheless intriguing.

Past life recall generally comes about spontaneously, more often with children than adults. Those who support the idea of reincarnation believe this is because children are closer to their past lives and that their minds have not been clouded or "written over" by their present lives. Adults who experience past life recall often do so as the result of some extraordinary experience, such as hypnosis, lucid dreaming or even a blow to the head.

Here are some outstanding cases:

VIRGINIA TIGHE / BRIDEY MURPHY

Perhaps the most famous case of past life recall is that of Virginia Tighe who recalled her past life as Bridey Murphy. Virginia was the wife of a Virginia businessman in Pueblo, Colorado. While under hypnosis in 1952, she told Morey Bernstein, her therapist, that over 100 years ago she was an Irish woman named Bridget Murphy who went by the nickname of Bridey. During their sessions together, Bernstein marveled at detailed conversations with Bridey, who spoke with a pronounced Irish brogue and spoke extensively of her life in 19th century Ireland. When Bernstein published his book about the case, The Search for Bridey Murphy in 1956, it became famous around the world and sparked an excited interest in the possibility of reincarnation.

Over six sessions, Virginia revealed many details about Bridey's life, including her birth date in 1798, her childhood amid a Protestant family in the city of Cork, her marriage to Sean Brian Joseph McCarthy and even her own death at the age of 60 in 1858. As Bridey, she provided numerous specifics, such as names, dates, places, events, shops and songs - things Virginia was always surprised about when she awoke from the hypnosis. But could these details be verified? The results of many investigations were mixed. Much of what Bridey said was consistent with the time and place, and it seemed inconceivable that someone who had never been to Ireland could provide so many details with such confidence.

However, journalists could find no historical record of Bridey Murphy - not her birth, her family, her marriage, nor her death. Believers supposed that this was merely due to the poor recordkeeping of the time. But critics discovered inconsistencies in Bridey's speech and also learned that Virginia had grown up near - and had known well - an Irish woman named Bridle Corkell, and that she was quite likely the inspiration for "Bridey Murphy." There are flaws with this theory, too, however, keeping the case of Bridey Murphy an intriguing mystery.

MONICA / JOHN WAINWRIGHT

In 1986, a woman known by the pseudonym "Monica" underwent hypnosis by psychotherapist Dr. Garrett Oppenheim. Monica believed she discovered a previous existence as a man named John Ralph Wainwright who lived in the southwestern U.S. She knew that John grew up in Wisconsin, Arizona and had vague memories of brothers and sisters. As a young man he became a deputy sheriff and married the daughter of a bank president. According the Monica's "memory," John was killed in the line of duty - shot by three men he had once sent to jail - and died on July 7, 1907.

Next page: More amazing cases

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