Category Archives: Between Death and Birth

Life planning during the intermission

I have been thinking about the evidence we have for life planning before we are reborn. That we plan out our lives in detail, and even make a contract with ourselves or with God, before we resume corporeal embodiment, is a widespread idea in New Age metaphysics. It seems to be confirmed by many reports of memories during regressions to previous lives under hypnosis, especially in those described by Michael Newton in his popular books, Journey of Souls and Destiny of Souls. Newton draws a picture of healing showers, staging areas, waiting rooms with soul cluster groups, and tribunals before which spirits evaluate how well they met the goals they set for their last human lives and formulate plans for their next.

However, judging by the spontaneous case data, all this is quite fanciful. There are no healing showers, staging areas, or soul cluster groups, and spirits do not assess their past lives or plan their future ones, in memories of the intermission (the interval between lives) that surface spontaneously, in the waking state or dreams. We do see some degree of personal choice in the selection of parents, and sometimes of sex, ethnicity, place of rebirth, etc., and assisting spirits sometimes present slates of options and even provide glimpses of what the upcoming lives will be like, but none of this reaches the level of detailed life planning that has become the popular conception of the interlife state.

Spontaneous prebirth memories—memories of the womb or discarnate existence, without accompanying past-life memories—are reported much more often than intermission memories, and so we find a greater variety of phenomena in them. We hear about more detailed life planning occasionally in prebirth memories, but it does not appear to be common with them, either. How are we to account for this situation? If life planning before reincarnation is the rule, why do we hear about it regularly in regression accounts but seldom in spontaneous memories?

Let’s start with what we know about spontaneous intermission memories. Iris Giesler-Petersen and I made a study of 85 published intermission memories that is now in press in the Journal of Near-Death Studies and should be out later this month. Although many of the case subjects—most of them young children—talked about how they came to their parents, we did not find life planning mentioned in any of the cases in our sample. Life planning is not mentioned by Poonam Sharma and Jim Tucker in a 2004 study of intermission memories in Burma (https://med.virginia.edu/perceptual-studies/wp-content/uploads/sites/267/2015/11/REI31.pdf), either, nor in a survey undertaken by Masayuki Ohkado and Akira Ikegawa in Japan (http://ohkado.net/articles/ohkado_ikegawa_2014.pdf).

Thirteen of Ohkado and Ikegawa’s 21 subjects did talk about why they decided to return, but their reasons do not sound like life planning. Three said that it was to meet or help their mothers; five said that it was to help other people; two said that it was to become happier than they were in their previous lives; three said simply that it was to enjoy life; and one said that there was a reason, but he forgot what it was when he was born.

What the intermission memories and other features of the spontaneous cases suggest is that although there are choices many of us can make about where and even when to reincarnate, these choices are limited. They appear to be driven above all by emotional factors—ties to people we were with before, parents to whom we are attracted to for one reason or another, sometimes the country or ethnic group into which we want to return. Such choices are not invariably available, though. When death is violent and unexpected, there is often less evidence of control, as if the psyche had become befuddled by the lack of preparation for death. In some cases, a nonhuman spirit entity assists by providing guidance or a choice of options, but we seldom hear of reflections over past deeds or planning of the circumstances of the next life, except in the limited arenas of choice over parents, sex, etc. I provide examples of the choices we see in the book I wrote with Erlendur Haraldsson, I Saw a Light and Came Here.

The intermission may be broken down into five stages: (1) Death and its immediate aftermath; (2) Discarnate existence; (3) Choice of new parents; (4) Life in the womb; (5) Birth and its immediate aftermath. Memories of all five stages have been reported, although no subjects remember all of them, and most memories relate to Stages 1-3. Prebirth memories are very much like intermission memories, and may be a subset of them. They lack Stage 1, but that may be only because it is not remembered. Maybe everyone goes through all five stages, but not everyone remembers all of them.

On the other hand, it is possible that prebirth memories without memories of Stage 1 represent pre-existence without an earlier embodied life. This may sound strange, but actually it is a very old idea in Western religion and philosophy. It was argued about in early Christianity and pre-existence of the soul, not its reincarnation, is what led to the anathematization of Origin in the 500s CE. Perhaps surprisingly, the idea is still around. It is the position taken by Richard Eyre, who in his book Life before Life says (on p. 13), “our spirits lived long before they inherited our bodies—not in other persons, but in another place, in a pre-mortal realm where we each developed and became who we are and from where we foresaw this physical life as a continuing phase of our experience and our spiritual progression.”

Given the possibility that Eyre is right about some cases, could that difference account for differences between prebirth and intermission memories? What are those differences, other than the absence of Stage 1? I need to be careful here, because although many collections of prebirth memories have been published, and many more such cases have been reported in Internet forums such as PreBirthExperience.com (http://www.prebirthmemories.com/), we don’t yet have careful analyses of these cases. We don’t have a good understanding of their characteristics, just impressions gained from reading many accounts.

There are some differences which may or may not be important. First, unlike intermission memories, most prebirth memories have been reported from culturally Western countries. Second, they haven’t been nearly as well studied as intermission memories. Most of them are anecdotes told by one person, often the experiencer when he or she reached adulthood and is recounting memories from earlier in life. Phenomenologically, though, intermission memories and prebirth memories are very similar. Case subjects recall meeting the spirits of deceased people and nonhuman entities in both, and in both they talk about how they came to their new parents.

Probably because most prebirth memories come from the West, they refer to a discarnate existence in heaven. This fits with one of the things Iris and I discovered about intermission memories: Western accounts usually talk about heaven, but Asian ones refer to time spent in a terrestrial environment. For the most part, in prebirth memories there is no talk about life planning, just as there is none in intermission memories. Nor is there much talk about life reviews, judgments, or penalties paid after death, in either prebirth or intermission memories. So prebirth and intermission memories are pretty much indistinguishable, except that prebirth memories do not refer to Stage 1 of the intermission experience.

There is one major exception to this observation, and that is Cosmic Cradle by Elizabeth and Neil Carman. In that collection, a great deal is made of life planning, and there are several case examples of it. I have not yet studied all these closely, but I have noticed what seems to be a pattern. When life planning is mentioned, it seems to be by adults who are recalling memories from childhood, sometimes after a lapse of years. One 35-year-old woman said that she had tried as a child to hold onto her memories of her birth, but they had slipped away. Later, on a meditation retreat, she had retrieved her intermission memories (she believed). Her account includes detailed memories of life planning, including how she was going to relate to the various people in her life, etc.

Although it needs to be supported through further research and analysis, I now have a working hypothesis of what is going on: I think the idea of detailed life planning in advance of reincarnation is something that has been imagined by our culture. It certainly does not seem to be something that all people do, unless it is something that almost everyone forgets about, while they remember other things. Adults trying to recall things they remembered as children, and people under hypnosis, may be especially likely to draw on the cultural expectation and draw the idea of life planning into their experiences. The same thing might also impact some genuine intermission experiences, if our cultural values are carried into death and influence what we experience then, as does seem to happen very often.

We should look closely at prebirth memories to see if there is more sign of life planning with them than with intermission memories. If there is, that could be evidence of pre-existence without prior incarnation. It may indicate that life planning is important at the beginning or early stages of one’s reincarnation career, but not so important later. We also need to know exactly how many prebirth memories there actually are, and we need to see more of them from non-Western countries. Many, probably most, collections of prebirth memories include past-life memories, and if not past-life memories as such, then memories of being in a womb before, but having one’s body lost to a miscarriage or abortion. When there are true prebirth memories, they are often vague or brief, about time spent in a discarnate state, or choosing parents, or in the womb, or birth, but very rarely all of them together. If there are a lot of prebirth memories where Stages 2-5 are all recalled, and only Stage 1 and past-life memories are absent, I will be more inclined to think that perhaps pre-existence without prior incarnation does occur some of the time. However, based on what I have seen to date, I think it more likely that the other stages and past lives occurred, but simply are not recalled.

Possibly hypnosis is able to reach levels of memory that cannot be brought to mind without it. This is what Newton claims for his method, and many who champion regression memories take this position as well. However, there are many problems with the regression material. Subjects under hypnosis are known to be very suggestible, and will often produce what the hypnotist expects. Moreover, hypnosis is known not to be a good memory-enhancer, which is why testimony based on hypnotically-retrieved memories is not allowed in courts of law. There are other things about the regression material that should raise suspicions too. Memories of reincarnation in the same family are common in spontaneous cases, but unknown in the regression material.

The structure of the prelife or interlife experience is also very different in spontaneous memories and in hypnotically-induced ones, and with spontaneous memories, there are accounts of perceptions of the material world and of interactions with it and living people, through dreams, communications through mediums, poltergeist activity, and apparition sightings. Iris and I found veridical perceptions during all five stages of the intermission experiences, and they have been reported in all stages of the prebirth experience too (and in NDEs, for that matter)–and yet, so far as I am aware, they have never been reported by anyone undergoing regression. Why is that? If interactions with people and the material world are regularly reported in spontaneous memories, why should they not be reported in memories brought up under hypnosis too?

Putting all these things together, I can’t see any reason to think that accounts of the intermission under regression would be more reliable than spontaneous memories, so where they are differences, I am inclined to go with the spontaneous memories. I can easily accept that there is a degree of personal choice in reincarnation, but I do not see evidence for routine reviews of lives just completed or detailed planning of the life to come. Reincarnation choices appear to be much more limited and are largely informed by emotion rather than rational thought. At least that is what the spontaneous case data seem to be telling us. My conclusions are tentative, though, and I could be wrong about them. As always, I am led by data, and if data emerge to take me in a different direction, I will go there.

This post was revised from a post in the Signs of Reincarnation group on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/965923533422836/permalink/1709936275688221/

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Announcing and Departure Dreams

This post is about announcing and departure dreams in reincarnation cases. These topics have come up in several earlier posts, but we have not had one devoted to them specifically. There is a lot to be said about them, though.

Announcing dreams are dreams had by pregnant women or sometimes their husbands or someone else close to them in which a spirit presents itself, often declaring its intent to be reborn to them. Departure dreams are dreams that occur to a member of the previous person’s family, in which the spirit lets them know he has been reborn and may tell them where to find him.

In announcing and departure dreams, the spirit usually appears as the person he or she was in the previous life, not as a child, although the child born after the dream may bear some resemblance to that person. Sometimes the spirits bear physical marks related to the previous person which correspond to birthmarks on the baby. Almost always the sex of the person in the announcing dream is the sex of the baby, so at the very least, these dreams are successful in predicting the sex of the child to be born.

Announcing dreams are among the most common signs of reincarnation in tribal societies and sometimes past-life identifications are made on the basis of them alone. The anthropologist Sir Edward Burnett Tylor recognized the importance of announcing dreams as signs of reincarnation and in his book Primitive Culture, first published in 1871, mentioned reports of them from the Tlingit (an American Indian tribe of Alaska) and the Lapps. Ian Stevenson heard of these dreams everywhere he studied cases, but interestingly, there were cultural variations in their content, their timing, and how common they are.

Stevenson noticed that Tlingit announcing dreams tended to represent a person known to the dreamer, generally a relative, arriving at her home. In a twist on this theme, a woman who had lost her father and several other relatives dreamed that her father got off a boat carrying suitcases and visited her at a bakery she was running. In the dream, she explained to him that he was dead, but he replied that he was coming to stay with her and so were others of her deceased relatives. Shortly thereafter she gave birth to her first child, a boy, and went on to have several more children. None of these children related any past-life memories, but often in cases with announcing dreams, they do.

The statement of intention to be reborn to the dreamer is typical of announcing dreams, although in Western cases especially, a spirit may simply appear without any express intention to be reborn. It is only later, when a child starts speaking of a previous life, that the connection is made. In Burma, rather than stating his intention, the spirit usually asks permission to be reborn to a woman. That is not invariably the case, though. Several Burmese children have recalled being Japanese soldiers who were killed during the Japanese occupation of Burma during the Second World War. In one of these cases, the mother-to-be dreamed repeatedly of an army cook she had known and befriended. The cook told her that he was coming to be reborn to her, but did not ask her permission.

Intermission memories in the cases of the Japanese soldiers killed in Burma differ from the Burmese cultural norm in another respect. In Burma, announcing dreams tend to precede the pregnancy rather than coming during it, as they do among the Tlingit and in most other societies. In the Japanese-soldier cases, though, the intermission memories occurred while the pregnancy was underway. In some societies, for instance among the Sinhalese Buddhists of Sri Lanka, announcing dreams are uncommon, perhaps because of the belief that karma and not the individual determines where one is reborn. Announcing dreams are rare also among the Druze, who believe that reincarnation occurs immediately at death, the spirit moving at once into the body of a baby being born. Druze announcing dreams sometimes occur before the person to be reborn dies, the only instances of this that Stevenson encountered.

These various characteristics suggest that the spirit seen in the announcing dream is the responsible for the dreams. They are not ordinary dreams, the products of the dreamer’s imagination. Announcing dreams are one of our lines of evidence of conscious awareness and the ability to think and act during the intermission. They also show how our actions after death are shaped by the ideas we had while living.

In some places, the spirit is almost invariably someone known to the dreamer, whereas elsewhere it is not. In tribal societies like the Tlingit, the spirit is usually a relative of the dreamer. In India, also, all reported announcing dreams occur in cases of reincarnation in the same family line or, much more occasionally, among acquaintances. In most of Asia and also in Western countries, the spirit is unknown to the dreamer, however. The dreams may nevertheless convey veridical (factual) information. In one American case, a pregnant woman heard a name in a dream, and this name turned out to be the name of the girl her daughter (born of that pregnancy) later remembered having been.

Departure dreams are much less common than announcing dreams. They occur when the reincarnation is into a stranger family and a spirit wants to let his former family know he has been reborn. Typically, they also tell the family where he may be found. Jürgen Keil studied a case like this from the Turkish Alevi. The previous person’s mother dreamed that he had been reborn in a certain house. She and later two of his brothers went there, but they were not allowed to see the boy, and only confirmed his identity years later, when he began to speak about the previous life.

Announcing dreams usually but not always are had by a woman shortly before or while she is pregnant, although they may occur to her husband or a relative instead. Occasionally, they do not involve the spirit to be reborn directly, but the spirit of another deceased person or even another sort of entity. In the Italian case of Alexandrina Samona, Alexandrina’s mother dreamed that her deceased daughter would be returning to her, bringing along someone she had met in her discarnate state, and her mother gave birth to twins. In a Burmese case Stevenson studied, a man in white monk’s robes who claimed to arrange for the reincarnation appeared both in an announcing dream to the mother-to-be and in a departure dream to the previous person’s widow.

On occasion, announcing dreams occur after birth, and serve the purpose of alerting the dreamer to the past-life identity of a child. Departure dreams, on the other hand, almost always come after birth. I know of only 6 postnatal announcing dreams, out of hundreds. Of 17 departure dreams, 12 occurred postnatally and 5 antenatally.

Children occasionally remember having “sent” dreams to their mothers or others from the discarnate state. Apparitions are sometimes seen in the same roles and there may also be mediumistic communications in which the intention to be reborn to certain women is declared. These related phenomena make it even clearer that announcing and departure dreams are important features of the intermission period and we can and should consider them alongside intermission memories in trying to understand what goes on between death and rebirth.

This post appeared originally in my Signs of Reincarnation group on Facebook. See https://www.facebook.com/groups/965923533422836/permalink/1360787850603067/

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Do We Change or Evolve Between Lives?

Do we change or evolve between lives? That we do is a belief that goes back to the classical Greeks in Western culture. Plato believed that there was 1000 years between lives, during which time we did penance for our sins before reincarnating. But many investigated cases of past-life memory suggest that this may not be true and that we make the most progress while embodied, not between lives.

Wijeratne was a Sri Lankan boy born with a stunted right arm which he blamed on his having used his arm to kill a girl to whom he was betrothed when she decided against going through with her marriage with him. The man whose life Wijeratne recalled had been tried for the crime, found guilty, and hung, 18 ½ years before Wijeratne was born. But Wijeratne had not made peace with his crime during this period. He spent much of his youth in and out of mental hospitals, diagnosed with schizophrenia, the episodes brought on by contact with young women he identified with the woman he had killed in his previous life. Eventually he did work through his conflicts, however, and settled down into a happy marriage.

A Burmese girl who was born with a severe case of ichthyosis, or plaque psoriasis, recalled the life of another girl afflicted by the same disease. This girl had recalled the life of a monk who had died in a monastery fire. The girl who was the subject of the case believed that she had carried over the disease because she had not come to terms with it. She determined to do that in her present life, and the condition gradually lessened, to the point she believed it would not reoccur in her next life.

Young children often display personality traits and behaviors related to the previous life when young, then grow away from them later. So it seems that the intermission period may not be a time when we necessarily grow and change, despite what we often hear. It appears that it can happen, though, perhaps depending on the individual. I have heard of an Indian case in which a man had a series of dreams about a friend who died tragically in an auto accident. In these dreams, his friend told him that was now healed and was ready to return as his son. That has not yet happened, so we don’t know whether these are true announcing dreams or not.

Individual variation might explain why we see influences from past lives carried forward more profoundly in some cases than others and is another indication that reincarnation is fundamentally a psychological process.

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Pregnancy Cravings in Reincarnation Cases

 

Unusual food cravings and behaviors are fairly common during pregnancy and most have no discernible reincarnation connection. However, when the children born of those pregnancies crave the same foods, one has to wonder if they were influencing their mothers in some way while in the womb. The phenomenon becomes even more intriguing when the children recall previous lives that can be verified and it turns out that the people whose lives they remember were fond of those foods.

In one case Ian Stevenson studied, that of a Thai boy named Bongkuch Promsin, not only was the Bongkuch fond of a certain noodle dish that his mother had craved during her pregnancy,  it turned out the previous whose life he recalled had been fond of the same dish—and that person’s mother had had the same craving when she was pregnant with him. It looks as if the liking for this dish was so strong that it has persisted over at least three lives, influencing two pregnancies! In another of Stevenson’s cases, a woman whose son recalled the life of an alcoholic had an intense desire for alcohol during her pregnancy, controlled only with great difficulty.

It is not just food preferences that may impact pregnant women. Some women become intensely interested in certain activities while enceinte, and those things turn out to be interests of their children later and also of the people whose lives they recall. One woman experienced an increased interest in music during her first three pregnancies and her children showed an aptitude for music, then with her fourth child she was intensely interested in sewing and cooking, which turned out to be concerns of that child.

Pregnant women may also show aversions for things they normally enjoy, but which are disliked by their children after birth and turn out to have been disliked by the previous persons also. One woman normally enjoyed gambling at cards, but not while she was pregnant. Not only was the child born of that pregnancy opposed to the games that resumed after she was born, but she remembered having been a woman with strong religious attitudes and moral dislike for such activities.

I describe in my forthcoming book with Erlendur Haraldsson, I Saw a Light and Came Here: Children’s Experiences of Reincarnation, how an American woman from Philadelphia, Patricia Stein, experienced an intense craving for hot and spicy foods while she was pregnant with her first son, Stephen. Patricia did not much care for these foods, had not eaten them before her pregnancy, and after she delivered Stephen, they went away.

It turned out that Stephen was very fond of them, however. The discovery came about by accident one evening when he was 3 years old, and Patricia and her sister took him to a Mexican restaurant. Since Patricia and her husband did not enjoy these foods, this was the first time Stephen  had had the opportunity to eat them, but he liked them so much that after that he was treated to them on birthdays and other special occasions. Now in his 30s, he still enjoys Mexican foods.

That night at the Mexican restaurant when he was 3, Stephen also revealed something else. He and his mother and aunt were seated at a booth at the back of the room, where there was a large map of Mexico on the wall. While Patricia and her sister talked, he was studying this map. When their waitress came up, he pointed to a small town in the north-central part of the country and said that is where he was from. He pronounced the name perfectly, according the waitress, a Spanish major in college, and she asked Patricia if she teaching him Spanish. She was not and did not know the language herself. She had studied German and her sister French. Stephen’s father  had studied French and Latin. No one in their family had any acquaintance with Spanish and Stephen had had no exposure to the language.

Phenomena like these are among the signs of reincarnation researchers look for, though they are reported in only a few cases. We need better studies of these influences in relation to cravings and aversions in general to better understand how they might relate to reincarnation. But when they are related to reincarnation, how would this work? We know from many cases that beliefs, preferences and various personality traits can carry over from life to life, but how are these transferred to mothers from within the womb? Are the children influencing their mothers psychically? Perhaps. While Patricia Stein was pregnant with Stephen, she felt impelled to give that name to her baby, although it was not one she and her husband had been considering. I have heard of another case in which a pregnant woman became impressed with a name that turned out to be the name of the deceased person whose life her daughter later recalled. That, however, is a subject for another post.

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