Another line of evidence regarding reincarnation involves past life recollections by persons during meditation, or similar recollections produced by hypnotherapists on hypnotized subjects. Seeking past life recollections has become a popular pastime used for entertainment, and a number of psychiatrists also use past life regression to treat their patients, sometimes with spectacular success.
MOST of the past lives recovered during regressions appear to be fantasies fabricated by the subject in a trance or in a meditative state, as a form of wish fulfillment or as an unconscious wish to please the hypnotist. While nearly all of the cases studied by Ian Stevenson involved the reincarnation of persons who were deceased within less than a decade of the birth of the living subject (15 months is the average) almost all cases of hypnotically regressed past lives involve personalities who supposedly lived a hundred or even thousands of years prior to the hypnotic session that produced them.
However, a minority of both the entertainment and therapeutic cases do produce information which, after painstaking research, are found to be historically accurate. Some display knowledge of arcane customs, real historical people and accurate descriptions of locations unlikely to be within the knowledge base of the subject.
Critics attribute these true memories to cryptomnesia, (also called “source amnesia”) which is the technical term for forgotten memories. An example of cryptomnesia might be a woman who read a historical novel when young and then had totally forgotten about it when she got older. She then “remembers’’ information from the book during meditation or a hypnotic trance, but attributes it to a past life experience rather than to memories of the book itself. Many historical novels are written by scholars, and the forgotten recollections might contain quite a bit of historical detail including obscure facts about a historical period that are not common knowledge. An account such as this would be very impressive, leading anyone listening to wonder how any ordinary modern person could know so much about a historical period without actually having lived during that time.
A true example of cryptomnesia involved an illiterate maid in Germany who was said to have recited proper Greek and Hebrew for hours during a fever. At first, this was thought to be the result of true paranormal xenoglossia (the ability to speak a language previously unknown to the subject), but it later was revealed that she had worked as a child for a Hebrew scholar who was in the habit of reading aloud. She had no education in these languages, and as an adult, barely remembered the scholar and consciously remembered nothing of what he said.
There is, one caveat to the arguments against reincarnation regarding hypnotically produced cryptomnesia. It turns out that it’s fairly easy to find the source of the falsely remembered material simply by asking the hypnotized subject where the hypnotist can locate confirmation of the subject matter, or as in the case above, where the subject first heard the foreign language spoken. In most cases, the subject will simply reel off the name of the author or the title of the book, or the incident in their life where they came into contact with it.
However, a number of well researched hypnotic regression cases have produced evidence about real past life personalities who are not famous historical persons but just ordinary commoners who have been dead so long that no one living remembers him or her and whose only record of existence is hidden in birth and death records, regimental rosters, historical broadsheets and arcane academic books. All of the information conveyed during these regressions would be extremely difficult to attain except by paranormal means, unless the subject had been getting the information from the same historical documents the researchers used to verify it. These cases support the reincarnation hypothesis.
In addition, cryptomnesia cannot account for the success that past life regression therapy has in curing some patients of their psychiatric problems. The uncovering of arcane and evidential information, and the therapeutic success of past life hypnotherapy are often cited as evidence for reincarnation.
Once again, however, both sorts of evidence may also be explained by spirit obsession. Hypnotic trances and meditative states lower a person’s psychic defenses facilitating contact with discarnate personalities. It is possible that a “drop-in” spiritual entity is conveying the circumstances of his or her past life through the mouth of the hypnotized subject.
In addition, hypnosis of persons with damaged auric defenses produces a mental state which can call fourth an alien spirit with which the patient is already infected and allow it to speak independently. In the minds of both a hypnotized subject and a confused alien spirit, neither one would know just whose thoughts belonged to whom. The patient would assume (as would the therapist) that the alien thoughts belonged to a past life personality instead of to an infecting spirit.
Finally, the success of therapists using past life regression in curing their patients is not really very different than the technique that Dr. Wickland used in his practice to remove obsessing spirits form his mentally ill patients. The presence of obsessing spirits could very well have been the reason for the symptoms that drove the patient to see the therapist in the first place. Dr. Wickland found multiple instances in which a spirit who had been crippled in its past lifetime afflicted a living patient with its deformities and pain. Removal of the offending spirit from the patient also removed the relevant symptoms, both mental and physical.
Accounts by psychiatrists using past life regression relate the need for exposure of multiple past lives in order to bring about relief for their patients. This parallels the need for the Wicklands to remove multiple spirits from their patients in order to cure them. Therefore, this line of evidence for reincarnation is not as strong as it first appears. It could well be just another line of evidence for spirit obsession.
To reiterate, none of this is proof that personal reincarnation does not happen. The point of this chapter isn’t so much to debunk the concept of reincarnation as it is to point out that there are multiple explanations for the reputed evidence which is taken to be proof of reincarnation in modern spiritual literature. I leave it to the reader to decide for themselves.