"I was telling these stories [of children who remember previous lives] to my friend Gene Weingarten, a Washington Post writer and editor and one of the most skeptical individuals I have ever known, the kind of guy who would rather feed his hand into a meat grinder than admit to believing in paranormal phenomena. Gene let me finish. Then he said, "You remember that story about Arlene's brother, right?"
"Arlene, Gene's wife, had been raised in Connecticut, the daughter of multigenerational Northeasterners. However, as soon as her younger brother, Jim, could speak, he would say, "I was born in Dixie.'"
"'It wasn't just that he kept saying it," Arlene told me when I asked her about it. "It was that word - Dixie. We didn't know anybody who used that word. Who would use that word in Connecticut in the 1960's?'"
"I asked her whether she or her parents ever thought that it might have anything to do with a previous-life memory.
"'Are you kidding?" she said. "We just figured it was more evidence that he was a weird kid.'"
"Then the family took their first road trip south, to Florida. Arlene only had a foggy memory of the trip, but thought that her mother would probably remember it clearly. I called her mom, Phyllis Reidy, who now lives just up the Florida coast from Miami.
"There was no interstate in those days, of course, so we drove all the way down old U.S. 301. Arlene was nine and Jim was six. One of the first things Jim had ever said was, 'I'm from Dixie.' He said it all the time. And he spoke oddly too. We always said it sounded like he had some kind of accent. We used to ask him if he was from Boston, and he said, 'No, I'm from Dixie.'
"Then, when we drove into the South, he got all excited, started talking a mile a minute about how his grandmother and grandfather came from Dixie and his mother and father did, too, and I said 'We're your mother and father,' and he said, "No, you're not,' just flatly, like that.
"We were in Georgia, just south of the South Carolina line, and he really started going nuts. 'I'll show you were we used to live,' he said. 'There it is! Its way up there, up that hill and in back of those trees.'"
"After that trip, he never talked about being from Dixie again. The accent lasted about two weeks after we got home, then it disappeared.""Although Phyllis said that she didn't think Jim would even remember the incident, I got his number and called him. Jim Reidy is now a television engineer living in Massachusetts.
"I don't remember much more than my mother told you," he said at first..."I could always picture that house- the porch, swing, the weeping willow, the picket fence. I also remember my parents."
"What did you make of all that?" I asked. "Did you think maybe you had been reincarnated?"
"Not really," he answered. We were Irish Catholics, and reincarnation didn't really fit into that picture. But it got me to thinking, maybe there were parallel universes, or some such thing." (Old Souls, pgs. 216-218).
As far as I know, this is not one of the 2,500 cases that Ian Stevenson, and his colleagues, have collected over the last 50 years. It was taken from a book called "Old Souls: Compelling Evidence From Children Who Remember Past Lives," which tells of a skeptic, Thomas Shroder, who accompanied Stevenson on a few of his trips around the world, searching for, documenting, and analyzing, in his characteristic methodical way, the thousands of children who claim to remember previous lives. Cases have been found on every continent (except Antarctica), although some places, such as India and Lebanon, have a much higher density of reported cases. Stevenson wrote "European Cases of the Reincarnation Type" to illustrate Western cases.
There are generally two types of cases: A case can either be a "within-family" or a "stranger" case in which the subject is claiming to be a previous personality who has no connection to his current family. In the "stranger" case, it may either be "solved" or "unsolved," meaning that the previous personality has either been identified and compared to the current subject or he has not been identified.
A model case consists of six characteristics, and to be included within Stevenson's database, located at the University of Virginia, a case must have at least two characteristics (Tucker, Life Before Life, pg. 27). I will use the example of Corliss Chotkin, Jr., whom Stevenson visited on four separate occasions, to illustrate most of these six characteristics (Stevenson, Children Who Remember Previous Lives, pg. 57-59).
1) Prediction of rebirth - "[A]n elderly Tlingit fisherman (of Alaska). Victor Vincent, told his niece, Mrs Corliss Chotkin, Sr., that after his death he would be reborn as her son...Victor Vincent died in the spring of 1946. About eighteen months later (on December 15, 1947), Mrs. Chotkin gave birth to a baby boy...When Corliss was only thirteen months old and his mother was trying to get him to repeat his name, he said to her petulantly: "Don't you know who I am? I'm Kahkody"; this was the tribal name Victor Vincent had had."
Predictions are common among the Tlingit and the Lamas of Tibet. Stevenson points out that this can sometimes weaken the strength of a case because reincarnation was already expected and the parents may have inadvertently pushed the child in this direction. However, when the prediction of rebirth is accompanied with promised identifying signs it is much stronger...
2) Birthmarks or birth defects related to the previous personality - "He showed her two scars from minor operations, one near the bridge of his nose and one on his upper back; and as he did so he said that she would recognize him (in his next incarnation) by birthmarks on his body corresponding to these scars...Corliss Chotkin, Jr. had two birthmarks, which his mother said were exactly at the sites of the scars to which Victor Vincent had drawn her attention on his body. By the first time I [Stevenson] first examined these birthmarks in 1962, both had shifted, according to Mrs. Chotkin...but they remained quite visible, and the one on Corliss's back impressed me greatly. It was an area on the skin about 3 centimeters in length and 5 millimeters in width; compared with the surrounding skin it was darker and slightly raised. Its resemblance to a healed scar of a surgical wound was greatly increased by the presence at the sides of the main birthmark of several small round marks that seemed to corresponding to positions of the small round wounds made by needles that place the stitches used to close surgical wounds."
Stevenson has written two massive volumes, consisting of 2,200 pages, on birthmarks and birth defects as providing evidence for reincarnation. These can be found here, and here , with a summary of this work here. This evidence is strongest when an autopsy or medical reports of the Previous Personality can be located to match with the birthmarks or birth defects of the current subject.
3) Announcing dreams of rebirth - "When Mrs. Chotkin mentioned Corliss's claim that he was Kahkody to one of her aunts, the latter said that she had dreamed shortly before Corliss's birth that Victor Vincent was coming to live with the Chotkins. Mrs. Chotkin was certain that she had not previously told her aunt about Victor Vincent's prediction that he would return as her son."
Another case of announcing dreams, which is particularly interesting: "A Burmese wife whose husband was away from home on a long journey had a dream in which a deceased friend seemed to be asking for permission to be reborn as her child; she did not like this proposal and (in the dream) told him not to come to them. When her husband returned from his journey, he told her that he had dreamed of the same old friend and had told him (in his dream) that he (the friend) would be welcome to be reborn in their family. In the due course a child (Maung Aung Than) was born who later made statements suggesting that his father's acceptance had prevailed over his mother's attempted veto."
4) Statements about previous life - Besides Corliss's claim that he was "Kahkody," as mentioned above, "he also mentioned two events in the life of Victor Vincent about which she [his mother] did not think he could have obtained information normally." Corliss's case is weak on statement so I will quote one the case of Sujith Jayartne, a boy from Sri Lana:
"Sujith said that he was from Gorakana and lived in the section of Gorakawatte, that his father was named Jamis and had a bad right eye, that he had attended the kabal iskole, which means "dilapidated school," and had a teacher named Francis there, and that he gave money to a woman named Kusuma, who prepared string hoppers, a type of food, for him. He implied that he gave money to Kale Pansala, or Forest Temple, and said two monks there, one of whom was named Amitha. He said that his house was whitewashed, that its lavatory was beside a fence, and that he bathed in cool water.
"Sujith had also told his mother and grandmother a number of other things about the previous life that no one wrote down until after the previous personality had been identified [unlike the preceding statements]. He said his name was Sammy, and he sometimes called himself "Gorakana Samma." Kusuma, the woman he mentioned to the monk, was his younger sister's daughter, and she lived in Gorakana and had long, think hair. He said that his wife's name was Maggie and their daughter's was Nandanie. He had worked for the railways and had once climbed Adam's Peak a high mountain in central Sri Lanka. He had transported arrack, a liquor that was illegally traded, in a boat that had once capsized, causing him to lose his entire shipment of arrack. He said that on the day he died, he and Maggie had quarreled. She left the house, and he then went out to the store. While he was crossing the road, a truck ran over him, and he died.
"The young monk went to Gorakana to look for a family who had a deceased member whose life matched Sujith's statements. After some effort, he discovered that a fifty-year-old man named Sammy Fernando, or "Gorakana Sammy" as he was sometimes called, had died after being hit by a truck six months before Sujith was born. All of Sjith's statements proved to be correct for Sammy Fernando, except for his statement that he had died immediately when the truck hit him. Sammy Fernando died one to two hours after being admitted to a hospital following the accident." (Life Before Life, pg. 87).
5) Recognizing people or things connected to the Previous Personality - Getting back to the case of Corliss Chotkin Jr., "When Corliss was between two and three years old, he spontaneously recognized several persons whom Victor Vincent had known, including Vincent's widow." He "spontaneously recognized a stepdaughter of Victor Vincent. She was at the docks in Sitka, where Corliss happened to be with his mother. Corliss, suddenly noticing her, called out excitedly: 'There's my Susie.'" In this instance, Corliss's mother was acquainted with Susie, although she had not noticed her before Corliss did. In the best of these spontaneous recognitions, the subject identifies someone who is completely unknown to any person with him."
Stevenson does not attach a tremendous amount of importance to recognition when they are made under uncontrolled situations, e.g. when the subject is tested in front of the previous personality's family to see whether he makes correct recognitions. This is due to the leading nature of the questions asked and possible hints given to the subject. However, in some cases he has been able to control for such variables.
6) Unusual Behavior Related to the Previous Personality - "Corliss combed his hair in a manner closely resembling Victor Vincent; both Corliss and Victor Vincent stuttered; both had a strong interest in boats and in being on the water; both had strong religious propensities; and both were left-handed. Corliss also had a precocious interest in engines and some skill in handling and repairing them; his mother said he had taught himself how to run boat engines."
This evidence is at best convincing when taken together as a whole; no individual match between the Previous Personality and the Current Subject is quite convincing. However, Stevenson discusses other behaviors which are more convincing: 1) Emotions appropriate for the memories he claims to have, e.g. upon meeting the family of the Previous Personality, the Current Subject ardors the sisters but dislikes the brother of the Previous Personality, just like the Previous Personality felt; 2) Behavior (phobias, tastes, interests, skills, sex-type) that is unusual in the family of the Current Subject but corresponds to the traits of the Previous Personality, e.g. the Current Subject is afraid of water and the Previous Personality died by drowning in water; 3) Xenoglossy, i.e. the ability to speak a foreign language that they have not learned normally (this is rare but not rare enough for Stevenson to write a book about it).
In an up-coming post we will discuss the suggested explanations of this well-documented phenomenon.