That birthmarks occur in many reincarnation cases is well known. These birthmarks often match death wounds in location and appearance, but they may replicate many other things also—surgical scars, tattoos, and so forth. As Ian Stevenson showed in Reincarnation and Biology, almost anything can provide the stimulus for a birthmark on the body of the next life.
In this post, I want to discuss a special class of birthmarks, which Stevenson called “experimental birthmarks.” Unlike other birthmarks, the stimulus for experimental birthmarks is a mark made intentionally on the body of a dying or deceased person, for the express purpose of producing a birthmark and thus following that person into his next life.
Jim Tucker and another field researcher, Jürgen Keil, wrote a journal paper about 18 experimental birthmark cases they had investigated in Thailand and Myanmar (Burma). They report a 19th case elsewhere. Stevenson reported 20 cases with experimental birthmarks in Reincarnation and Biology, all also from Thailand and Myanmar. Two of Stevenson’s cases are unsolved, leaving 37 solved cases reported from Thailand and Myanmar. Experimental birthmarks have been reported from India, Tibet, China, and Japan as well. Altogether, I know of 50 solved cases (cases in which the previous person has been identified) with experimental birthmarks, from six Asian countries.
Dr. K. S. Rawat described three cases from northern India in posts for my Signs of Reincarnation group on Facebook, and I will use one of his cases as an example. On December 4, 2014, he wrote:
“When her father died, the grieved daughter suddenly recalled that many a times she had been told that when somebody reincarnates his body would bear the same physical features like shape or marks etc. Mrs. Bharat Veer Singh told us that she got curious: ”If I put some mark on the body of my father would he bear the same when he is reincarnated ?”But, there was no much time to plan, she just put her thumb near his right knee.
“Mrs. Singh was pregnant. After some days she saw her father in a dream that he would be coming back as her son. He gave a particular day of delivery. When she consulted a doctor, she was given a date which did not tally with the one given by her father. Eventually, Mrs. Singh told us, a son was born on the day her father had predicted in the dream. Instead of looking at the face of the newly born she immediately looked at the knee. There was clearly a dark mark near the right knee.”
This case has several features typical of experimental birthmark cases. The mark was made on the body after death and then appeared on the body of a child born into the same family. Often the mother is aware of the experimental mark; sometimes she saw it being made, and occasionally (as in Dr. Rawat’s case) she is the one who made it. This has led many people to wonder whether the mother herself is responsible for producing the birthmark on her child’s body during its gestation in her womb, in a process called “maternal impression.”
There is some evidence that maternal impression is possible. The stimuli are usually emotionally salient things for the mother, and things she has seen. This is not true of many experimental birthmarks, however. Sometimes the mother is unaware the mark was made, even when the reincarnation is in the same family. In 22 (44%) of the 50 solved cases with experimental birthmarks, the case subject’s mother had not seen the experimental mark on the previous person’s body, and in 16 cases (32%) she was unaware that the mark had even been made.
I’ll give an example of an experimental birthmark in a stranger case from first-millennium China, described by J. J. M. De Groot in Vol. 4 of his The Religious System of China. After a child, Tsui-Lin died, his father and grandmother
“mark his right upper arm with red, and over his eyebrows they make a black mark, and thus they bury him. Next year, [his father] is invested with the dignity of prefect of Kia-ming in Li-chieu. There he serves his time, then settles in that part. Once he sees in the house of a certain Wei-Fu, a secretary in military service, a girl approach him with polite curtsies. It strikes him how closely she resembles Tsui-Lin. He goes home, and informs his mother of it. She has the girl fetched to see her, and forthwith the latter, exhilarated, says to her kinfolk: ‘These people here are my family.’ Then they look for the painted marks, and find them all just as they have been made. The family of the girl send their men to fetch her back; but the affection she has taken to her former kinsmen is so intense that she cannot forbear to leave them.”
We are not told what colors the birthmarks were in this case, but usually the birthmark is of the same or similar color as the mark made, and resembles it in shape, as well as being in the same location. In a Burmese case, the mark was made with red lipstick by the back of the left ear, and the birthmark was a red area in the same place. Red lime or red ochre are the favored marking substances in Thailand, and the corresponding birthmarks are red or brown. In one Thai case, the mark was made with a white paste, and the birthmark was hypopigmented (it had less color than the surrounding skin). The Dalai Lama has written that a younger brother who died in infancy was marked with a white paste, then the next child born in the family had a pale mark in the same place.
In the majority of experimental birthmarks from Myanmar and India, the substance used for marking is grease or soot from the bottom of a cooking pot, charcoal, or cooking oil, and the mark is brown or black. In Japan, the marking substance may be Sumi ink. In one interesting case related by Lafcadio Hearn in his book Kwaidan, the boy’s name, Riki-Baka, was tattooed on his hand after he died. Later, when a boy was born into a stranger family with the characters as a birthmark on his hand the name allowed his previous family to be traced. A curious ritual was used to remove the birthmark: The boy’s family took clay from Riki-Baka’s grave and rubbed it into their son’s skin. That was believed to be the only way to remove characters that appeared as birthmarks, Hearn tells us.
Among 48 cases with information about relationship between the previous person and the case subject, there were genetic family connections in 37 cases (77%), acquaintance relationships in 5 cases (11%), the families were unknown to each other in 3 cases (6%), and in another 3 cases ( 6%) the families were either acquaintances or strangers. Experimental birthmarks were made after death in all cases except for a few from Myanmar. In these exceptions, the mark was made on a body of a person on the verge of dying. In Thailand and Myanmar, marks are usually made on chests, backs, upper arms, legs and feet—parts of the body that are normally covered by clothing. In India, however, they are often made on the face. In some cases, children born with experimental birthmarks later speak about memories of the person who was marked, recognize people from the past life, and behave in ways reminiscent of them, as children in other reincarnation cases do.
We have no information on how often experimental birthmarks are attempted, but fail. Stevenson described what appear to be experimental birthmarks in two unsolved cases, but we hear mainly about the successful ones, those related to solved cases. Stevenson at one point arranged to have a series of experimental birthmarks made in Sri Lanka, but no corresponding marks were reproduced on any children he could discover. Sri Lanka is not a country from which the practice has been reported, though, and so seems an odd place to attempt such an experiment. The majority of solved Sri Lankan cases are stranger cases. The experimental birthmarks could have appeared on children in stranger families, but because the children later did not talk about past-life memories that came to Stevenson’s attention, they went unrecognized.
If maternal impression does not account for successful experimental birthmarks, how can they be explained? Stevenson proposed two ways that birthmarks might be transmitted—through something like an astral body he called the psychophore, and by direct mental impressions of images carried in the mind. It is not clear to me how the psychophore transmission would explain those marks made on a deceased body, so I prefer the hypothesis of mental influence. This is consistent with the idea that what survives death and reincarnates is a stream of consciousness continuous with the consciousness we enjoy during embodied life. We know from many cases of intermission memories that perception (presumably by ESP) is possible after death. If a discarnate mind saw the mark made on its late body, the resulting mental image might be enough to cause that mind to reproduce the mark on its new body.
We might expect this especially in those cultures in which the practice of marking a body experimentally is known and accepted. Therefore, it might be good to repeat Stevenson’s experiment in a place in which the practice is widespread, like Thailand or Myanmar. If the process of producing experimental birthmarks can be documented under controlled conditions that would include woman of child-bearing age not knowing about them, we may have found a way of producing replicable evidence for reincarnation.