Reincarnation and Pre-existence Memories among young European children - Paraquest Lecture, Manchester (UK), April 16th 2006
by Titus Rivas
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I’m very honored that Paraquest has given me the opportunity to present some of our findings at this conference. I’m Titus Rivas, a qualified psychologist and philosopher, and a researcher and author affiliated with the Athanasia Foundation, based in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. Athanasia has quite a broad program as it tries to investigate and evaluate any phenomena related to the topics of personal survival after death, reincarnation and personal evolution. One of our main fields of interest is the existence of a personal soul, mind or spirit prior to its present life on earth. It is very important to establish what kind of evidence there is for such a pre-existence as this would imply the soul’s or spirit's ultimate independence from the physical body; a prerequisite for survival after death and for a personal history that extends far beyond this particular lifetime. I would specifically like to thank Stewart Greenslade and John Slater of Paraquest and my assistant Anny Dirven for making this lecture possible, and my friend Chris Canter for correcting its text.
Fortunately, the questions of reincarnation and spiritual pre-existence have long ceased to be subjects of mere speculation, because several important researchers have put some serious effort into their empirical investigation. Dr. Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia is one of the great pioneers in these fields of psychical research and he continues to be active to this very day. No serious investigator of reincarnation or prebirth memories can afford to ignore his extensive work. This has even become apparent from writings by closed-minded skeptics: Most if not all debunkers mention Stevenson’s work in their attacks on survival and reincarnation research, trying to discount it as little more than the naive and prejudiced endeavours of a "believer". Recently, child psychiatrist dr. Jim Tucker, also based at the University of Viriginia, published a book about the field in which he builds on Stevenson’s legacy. Carol Bowman, who is well known for her books and her website entitled Children’s Past Lives, also acknowledges the central importance of what’s been done by the Division of Personality Studies at the University of Virginia.
Ian Stevenson and his associates, such as Erlendur Haraldsson, Jamuna Prasad, Satwant Pasricha and Kirti Swaroop Rawat, have collected more than 3000 Cases of the Reincarnation Type or CORTs, as they are commonly called, from all over the globe. Typically, a case involves a young child, who over the course of several years claims that he or she has lived before; these claims starting between ages 2 and 4. The claims are usually accompanied by emotions and strong desires concerning the possible past incarnation and in some cases there are very concrete statements that enable researchers to link the child’s story to a specific deceased person. This process is known as the verification of the child’s statements, and if it succeeds to a reasonable degree the case is designated as "solved". If the matches between what a child claims about his previous life and a historical deceased person are too great to be satisfactorily explained by coincidence, there seem to be two possible interpretations. Either the child would have picked up normal bits of information about the personality of his presumed previous life, or there must be a paranormal or anomalous process involved, a phenomenon that cannot be reconciled with the mainstream scholarly outlook on the human condition. The latter explanation is especially relevant for cases in which the child claims to recall a past life of a person who was a complete stranger to his present family, although some same-family cases also seem to involve paranormal details.
An example of a probably paranormal or anomalous case is that of Sunita Khandelwal born in Laxmangarh, India. When Sunita was about two she first began to speak of a previous life. She asked her family to take her to Kota, a place located at some 475 km from the town of Laxmangarh. She told them that she had two brothers and no sister, and that her family owned a silver shop and a safe. Her family also owned a car and a scooter, and her mother had many saris (i.e. Indian dresses). She had a tau (which is a paternal uncle older than her father) but no chacha (meaning a paternal uncle younger than her father). She said that the river Chambal is at Kota. She added that she had fallen down “from a small height”.
She also pointed to the birthmark on her head saying: “Look here. I have fallen.” Her parents ignored Sunita’s pleas to be taken to Kota and showed a lack of interest in verifying their daughter’s statements by taking no action. By the time she was three she was refusing to eat unless she was taken to Kota, and she became so malnourished that they took her to a hospital. Sunita continued to utter specific statements about her previous life.
Only when Sunita was already about five years old, was a summary of her statements sent to Dr. Banerjee, an Indian researcher living in Jaipur who came to Laxmangarh and established a comfortable rapport with Sunita.
Her mother told Banerjee: “Sunita is always telling me that I am not her real mother and continually pleads with her father and me to take her to Kota and threatens that if we don’t take her soon she will fall from the roof and die as she did in her former life.”
Banerjee was told by Sunita that her father used to take her out on a scooter, and many times he would go to his big iron safe in his store where he kept the silver coins. She used to drink a lot of milk in her previous life and her parents took her every year to a fair near their home in Kota. When she lived in Kota her mother made a special drink by crushing some tangerines into juice, then adding pieces of tangerine into a pot of melted sugar together with some spices. In Laxmangarh this drink is virtually unknown.
The family was finally persuaded to go to Kota and Sunita became exuberant. When they had almost reached Kota, Sunita was visibly excited looking out of the window of the bus.
In Kota, Banerjee decided to test Sunita to see if she could choose the correct road. Whitout hesitating, she started to walk on the road that led towards Chauth Mata ka Bazar. She paused before a store full of silver ornaments. Someone introduced Banerjee to the shop owner, whose name was Prabhu Dayal Maheshwari and Banerjee told him the details of Sunita’s claims to a previous life in Kota.
It turned out that Prabhu Dayal had had a daughter, Shakuntala, who died at the age of seven and ten months after falling from an iron balcony at his home. He also confirmed that he had two older sons, and that Shakuntala had been extremely fond of milk and on many occasions she had watched her mother prepare the special tangerine drink for religious ceremonies and the sweet made from solidified milk mixed with cantaloupe seeds.
He further confirmed that his wife had many saris and that he kept many silver coins in a big iron safe in his silver shop. He also used to take Shakuntala for rides on his scooter and every year he took her to a fair called Dol Geras held near his home. After some confusion on Sunita’s path to her former home, she led the party to an iron rod gate and said: “This is the door of my house”, which was confirmed by Shakuntala’s father.
Inside the house she could not identify her brothers or even her mother from the previous life. She did however point at a photograph of Shakuntala and said: “This is my photograph.” She also stated that there was one more house next door also belonging to the family, which was correct.
In order to give Sunita an opportunity to recognize objects from her previous life, Banerjee took her around the house. When they reached a balcony, she clutched him tightly in fear and said: “I’m afraid I might fall down.”
Shakuntala’s mother told Banerjee: “It is from this balcony that my late daughter Shakuntala fell head-first. She died eight days later of a brain hemorrhage.” Banerjee also discovered a large birthmark on the right side of her head that looks like the mark of a healed wound. It is located exactly where Shakuntala received her injury when she fell from the balcony of her parents’ home.
All in all, Sunita made 34 statements about her previous life, of which only 2 were incorrect and 3 remained unverified. The first incorrect statement was that the family owned a car, which they did not. The second was that her father applied “mehandi” (henna) to her hands, a red dye sometimes used in a healing ritual. Not her father but her mother applied “mehandi” to both of Shakuntala’s hands, which is a fairly common practice in India.
Sunita was entirely comfortable and relaxed at Shakuntala’s home in Kota. Her Hindi seemed to have more English words than that of other members of the family. This corresponds to the fact that Shakuntala’s family was more well-to-do and therefore used more English loan words chiefly describing objects invented and developed in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The two families in this case had never met before the case had developed. Although Prabhu Dayal had previously known Sunita’s maternal uncle Radhey Shyam, a jeweler, he had never been to his house before.
The birthmark on Sunita’s head is approximately round in shape with irregular edges and about 2.5 cms in diameter. Oddly, it was bleeding when she was born; the bleeding only stopped after three days.
Evaluation of paranormal cases
Stevenson spent many pages of his numerous books and articles on the evaluation of such paranormal cases of the kind of Sunita Khandelwal. He particularly evaluated the so-called Super-PSI or Super-ESP hypotheses, which hold that children who claim to recall a past life subconsciously use Extra-Sensory Perception (telepathy, clairvoyance, and retrocognition) to get paranormal information about a dead stranger. There are critics of survival and reincarnation research who believe that this kind of theory is in fact always sufficient to explain paranormal data. Parapsychology and psychical research have collected an impressive amount of evidence for the reality of ESP, for example through the Ganzfeld technique. Although it is true that normally the range of ESP displayed is not as impressive as the one needed for the explanation of paranormal Cases of the Reincarnation Type, for these critics it is only a matter of degree. However, as Ian Stevenson and others - including myself - have repeatedly stressed, what we need is not simply a theory to explain the aspect of paranormal information in these cases, but a more general theory for the cases in all their respects. ESP alone does not explain why these children should identify so intensely with someone they have never known in their present lifetime and why this process should go on for years and be characterised by strong emotions and longings or even possible post-traumatic symptoms such as phobias or obsessions related to the claimed past life.
So, what is lacking in the Super-ESP hypothesis is an account of the motivational psychology behind a supposed identification by the child with a complete stranger through ESP. The psychological arguments against such a possibility are a lot stronger and more fundamental than the arguments against the extension of everyday ESP to the range of Super-ESP. This is why Stevenson and others like our team of Athanasia Foundation consider the reincarnation hypothesis to be the best, most suitable hypothesis for paranormal cases of children who claim to recall a past life. In other words, there is a good reason, derived from motivational developmental psychology, to believe that these children are demonstrating real memories from a previous life rather than showing special powers of ESP.
Apart from the paranormal information they supply, some children also show other paranormal characteristics related to the previous life, notably unlearned skills linked to an ability of the deceased person they claim to be, or birthmarks and birth defects that seem directly connected to deadly wounds of their previous life. As in the case of paranormal information, according to the reincarnation hypothesis, these properties really seem to be linked to the survival of the memory of their previous life. Paranormal birthmarks and birth defects matching lethal wounds would thus amount to a posttraumatic re-enactment of a traumatic event through the psychokinetic power of the mind. There actually is quite an impressive amount of evidence for psychokinetic changes in a person's own body, both from spontaneous cases and from experiments with hypnosis.
We have already seen an example of this process in the case of Sunita. Another example is the case of Neera, studied by my Indian friend Dr. K.S. Rawat. As a boy, Neera told Dr. Rawat that his name in the past life had been Kajja. As Kajja he lived in a village Shyamgarh. He had two sons and three daughters. His wife’s name was Kalli. He and one of his sons, named Babu, were killed in a family dispute over a piece of land. They were assaulted with axes and lathis (which a special Indian type of long sticks used as weapons).
At Shyamgarh, Dr. Rawat found that there really had been a family dispute over a piece of land in which Kajja and his son Babu were killed. He went to the related police station and after a long search traced the record of the crime in which Kajja and his son Babu were reported murdered by seven persons. Five of these people had been sentenced to life imprisonment. The date of the murder was June 20th 1970.
Sometime later, when all those convicted of the crime had been released after serving twelve to thirteen years of imprisonment, Dr. Rawat managed to contact two of them. It took some persuasion, but finally he could get a detailed account of the entire quarrel from them. He was told that Kajja had been assaulted by axes and lathis.
Roda, one of the murderers, told Dr. Rawat: “We broke both of his hands and legs. He did not die immediately but remained lying unconscious under a tree for some time.” From the hospital concerned, Dr. Rawat got a copy of Kajja’s postmortem report dated June 21st 1970. This report mentions a number of wounds and fractures. Neera was born with a stubbed left hand. It appears as if chopped off at the point of his mid forearm. With the background of many details matching correctly, we would expect the postmortem report mentioning a chopped-off left hand. But, it is not exactly so. The report mentions “a contused wound 1 inch by 1/2 inches, bone deep, back, left-hand mid forearm.”
Kajja was indeed assaulted by axes and lathis on both of his hands and legs but had not died instantaneously. Perhaps, after being dealt a very severe blow at the mid of his left forearm, Kajja felt as if his hand had really been chopped off. He might have died with this impression in his mind and that might have caused the birth defect that Neera bears.
Dr. Rawat concludes that the correspondence of the location of the bone-deep wound on Kajja's left mid forearm and Neera being born with his left arm growing only up to mid forearm must not be ignored.
Neera recalled many events from Kajja’s life, which were mostly correct. He was reported to have correctly recognized the wife, son and some other relatives of Kajja.
Now, such physical features are important because they cannot be explained by a process like Super-ESP either, not even in principle.
However, it should be noted that none of these cases are absolutely perfect. In fact, this is what we would expect if they are natural phenomena rather than hoaxes, and therefore subject to the limitations of human memory.
East - West
If we have the courage to take all of these data seriously, rather than dismissing them out of hand, it really seems there is a considerable amount of surprisingly good evidence for reincarnation in spontaneous cases of children who remember a previous life.
Now, some critics believe that these cases only happen in Asian countries such as India, Sri Lanka or Thailand, where the notion of rebirth is shared by the majority of the population. Children who recall previous lives should in this view be seen as reproducing a cultural pattern that is handed over to them through their upbringing. In other words, what seem like real memories could be satisfactorily explained by the belief system of the cultures in which they occur. Some of these critics also point to cases of children claiming to be an incarnation of a god or goddess, although such cases resemble reincarnation-type cases only very superficially.
In my view, the socio-cultural hypothesis for paranormal cases fails to address the paranormal aspects of such cases. It is very much like the neurological hypotheses for Near-Death Experiences, such as the one currently proposed by Dr. Kevin Nelson, in that it could only explain the normal side of the phenomenon, so that it simply has to ignore anything that would go beyond that.
Nevertheless, it is very important to find out whether typical cases of the reincarnation type are limited to countries that believe in rebirth or whether they also manifest elsewhere. This is because the occurrence of such cases would establish rather conclusively that they involve a natural rather than primarily culturally based phenomenon. It is very exciting to see that Stevenson’s findings in Asian countries and Brazil, among Native American tribes and in West Africa are indeed corroborated by similar findings in the United States and Europe.
This is not to say that most Western cases are typically as strong in terms of outright paranormal features as cases outside the West, possibly because of cultural factors that make it more difficult for a child to share what he or she recalls. The information supplied by many European and American children is not specific enough to make a concrete verification possible, so that their cases remain "unsolved". However, it is already very remarkable if the general features of an unsolved case resemble those of a solved one, as this strongly suggests that the same kind of natural process is present in both types of cases. If we decide that solved paranormal cases are best explained by reincarnation and the recall of real memories of a previous life, it becomes a question of parsimony to apply this hypothesis to unsolved cases with a similar structure as well.
In 2003 Ian Stevenson published a book entirely devoted to European Cases with the telling title European Cases of the Reincarnation Type. In it, he discusses about forty cases in Great Britain, Hungary, Iceland, Finland, Belgium, Italy, Germany, France, Austria and the Netherlands. Most of them involve young children, though there also are a few adults with past-life claims.
A relatively large part of the cases concern reincarnation within the same family or circle of friends, but this does not mean that they should be dismissed as worthless. It seems clear that the European cases usually show the same structure as cases involving memories of the life of a deceased person who did not belong to the child's direct social environment.
Cases also occur among children of parents who did not believe in reincarnation before the cases developed. The cases are characterised by the same age category and show many other resemblances to non-Western cases. For instance, many European children recall a violent death, just like children in Asia and Brazil or among North-American native tribes. Some of them act out their memories of a previous incarnation by specific playing patterns. A number of them suffer from phobias and some have birth defects that correspond with the cause of death, or they show skills that they never learned in the present life-time. Some children supply paranormal information even if this does not always make it possible to trace exactly who they were. For instance, children may show knowledge of events or customs they could not have learned in their present lifetime.
The most impressive example of Stevenson’s paranormal European cases, is probably the Austrian case of Helmut Kraus who recalled the life of a General Werner Seehofer and was even able to mention his exact address in Vienna.
More generally, Stevenson also regards these children's behaviour as paranormal, because it seems impossible to supply an everyday explanation for it in terms of normal developmental psychology and also because the behaviour is connected to the statements of the children.
One of the English cases described by Stevenson is that of Carl Edon. I first read about this case in a book by Peter and Mary Harrison entitled The Children that Time Forgot. Carl was born in Middlesbrough in 1972 and around his second year he claimed he had “crashed a plane through a window”. He repeated this often and gradually added further details about a previous life, which suggested to his parents that he was recalling the life of a German Air Force pilot. Among other things, he mentioned that his plane had been a bomber and a Messerschmidt. He said he was on a bombing mission when he crashed. When he was first talking about his memories, he spontaneously demonstrated the Nazi salute with the right arm raised and straight. He also demonstrated the goose-step march of German soldiers.
As soon as Carl became able to draw, he made sketches with swastikas and eagles on them and a little later also a sketch of the panel of a pilot’s cockpit. He also showed a fondness for Germany and some behavior, such as tidiness, that could be considered ‘German’. Carl further expressed a wish to go to Germany and live there.
It’s important to stress that Carl’s parents were members of the Church of England and knew little about the topic of reincarnation.
Another well-known English case is that of Jenny Cockell, studied by Mary Rose Barrington. As a young girl, Jenny felt the urge to search for her children from a previous life in Ireland that ended prematurely when they were still very young. Apparently, she found them after growing up. The case was covered by a good documentary about serious reincarnation research.
Athanasia Foundation has found Dutch Cases of the Reincarnation Type in cooperation with the Dutch Foundation for Spiritual Development run by Mary Remijnse and Bram Maljaars. Together with my dedicated assistant Anny Dirven, who is also present at this Paraquest conference, we’ve investigated dozens of cases in a limited way, because the parents wanted to prevent their children from becoming stigmatised because of our research.
In the Netherlands there is still a strong taboo concerning the paranormal in general and reincarnation in particular, which is reflected in a widespread reluctance to give more than a general sketch of a case while the families involved insist that any reports leave out the family’s real name.
Nonetheless, we’ve been able to get more information about a hard core of Dutch cases.
I will give a few examples.
C. is a Dutch girl living in M.. During the first two years of her life, C. was a silent child but very quick in her motor development. She also seemed a bit boyish, both physically and psychologically. When C. was about two or three years old, she spontaneously told her parents about a previous life as a (male) sailor. She commented on the waves in a swimming pool saying that she used to see waves which were much higher, “as tall as a house”.
She also told them that life at sea could be very strange. Sometimes there had been a storm all night and the next morning everything was completely silent. Often C. would draw a sailing-ship and she claimed that the passenger-ship she had sailed on had been called the Vurk.
Aboard, she had many tasks, including watching the sail and pennants and being on watch, but also caring for the passengers. She also described where on the ship the adult passengers and the children slept at night, and stated that they did not have beds or hammocks, just a pillow and a blanket. They urinated somewhere on the floor, because there was no sanitation around. There were dead cows aboard from which they cut pieces of meat. They also ate the meat raw.
Sometimes there were knive fights among the sailors aboard, but she herself said she could not stand rudeness and aggression. Also, there had been an accident in which a friend of hers fell from a mast and broke his back. There was a large rudder on the ship.
She also mentioned the word “mookilla”, a pointed walking stick that was also used as a weapon. Her own name was Peer and she, in that life, was a lean man with a black beard. The ship sailed to la Garoonya or Karoonya to pick up poor families and take them to an island harbour with palm trees. There were mountains in the background and only a few small shops. The poor families weren’t slaves and they were fair-skinned. Sometimes the ship moored illegally. On the island she sometimes slept in filthy huts, but the inhabitants were very nice, relaxed and easy-going.
A remarkable skill that might be related to C.’s memories of a life as a sailor was an unlearned agility in climbing. She showed this skill from a very young age and never suffered from fear of heights. According to her parents she also showed a toughness uncommon in girls of her age.
Athanasia’s team established that in the 19th and early 20th century la Coruďｿｽa (which is phonetically very close to la Karoonya) used to be an important harbour for immigration to the Spanish colonies, including Cuba, an island with palm trees. The immigrants from this region in Galicia were so poor that they were known as “Galician slaves”.
The word mookilla can be related to makila, originally a Basque pointed walking stick, which was also used as a weapon. The makila had been introduced into the Galician region of La Coruďｿｽa through the pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela. The names Peer and Vurk may with some imagination be seen as distortions of the Spanish name Pedro and Barco or Barca (ship). In our view, these features taken together strongly suggest a paranormal process rather than a trivial childish fantasy.
A more recent case is that of Carlijn who as a young girl spontaneously told her mother that she had lived before as a girl named Suraya. She seemed a bit confused about whether she used to live in England or else in the Dutch town of Tilburg. She would have had a dark skin and dark hair and lots of brothers and sisters. She died when she was only four years old. She and her family lived in a shed and there were wooden houses.
They used to make a fire with logs, usually outdoors, but sometimes also indoors. The loafs of bread they used to eat had to be cut by her previous mother. The streets were not made of stones but of sand and there were horses all around. She died after climbing into a hole and being covered with sand. After that everything went black and she came to her present parents.
Carlijn also stated that she was really older than her mother, because in her previous life she would have been born before her mother. Carlijn’s parents had no clear views of reincarnation when she started saying these things, and her statements opened them up a bit more to the possibility. Even so, they remained somewhat skeptical.
I find it remarkable that the name of Suraya or Suriya really occurs as an Islamic woman’s name, including in India and Pakistan, where many people are dark-skinned, and of course among immigrants with Indian or Pakistani roots in Britain or in the Netherlands.
Yet another case is that of Brian, a Dutch boy of about four who hates it when his parents are driving on the highway. He would often panic screaming that he did not want to be there. He told his mother that he was very frightened and that she must be careful. When asked if he had ever experienced an accident, he told her that he had, one evening when he had been driving with three friends. A ghost rider crashed into his car, and the accident was fatal for him. His mother told us they normally don’t take the highway anymore and when they have no choice, it may still cause a lot of fear in Brian.
These cases and quite a few similar ones show that there really are European cases of young children who recall a previous life and this fact corroborates the hypothesis that most probably reincarnation is real and that it is a natural phenomenon which is as such independent of cultural beliefs. It is very important that more Western cases continue to be found and investigated. This is necessary for purely evidential purposes but also to get more information about the possible mechanisms underlying reincarnation and the memory of past lives. The more seriously independent researchers investigate these cases, the better. It would be a real shame if these moving, meaningful experiences that take place in our very midst simply get lost because of prejudices and taboos. Therefore, it is one of our ambitions to find as many cases as possible.
I would like to close this lecture by giving some attention to a closely related phenomenon, namely that of prebirth memories. Some children who remember a past life also talk about a discarnate, spiritual realm in which they would have dwelled before reincarnating into a new physical body. Last year, Dr. Kirti Swaroop Rawat and myself published a paper about these cases in the Journal of Religion and Psychical Research, and at about the same time another completely independent paper was published by Poonam Sharma and Dr. Jim Tucker in the Journal of Near-Death Studies.
Ian Stevenson mentions that the event of which the child claims to have knowledge is often the funeral or some features of the burial of the deceased person whose life he or she remembers. Some children claim that they stayed close to the place where they died and mention trees in which they would have dwelled as a spirit. Some of them say they observed relatives or friends from the former life during their earthly affairs or followed their future mother to her house. In some of Stevenson’s cases there is even evidence of some type of communication after death with members of the previous or future family through so-called announcing and departure dreams or apparitions, and even psychokinetic interactions with the physical world evocative of certain poltergeist accounts.
For instance, a Thai boy studied by Stevenson recalled: “I don’t know who shot me, because he shot me from the back. I was not conscious when I died. Afterwards though, I felt my soul leaving the body. I could see myself lying on the ground. My legs were still twitching. My blood was running on the road.”
The Indian girl Sunita Khandelwal whom I mentioned before stated about the period between death and rebirth: “I went up. There was a baba (a holy man) with a long beard. They checked my record and said: 'Send her back.'
She added: "There are some rooms there. I have seen God’s house. It’s very nice. You do not know everything that is there.” On another occasion Sunita remarked: “When I fell from a small height, I got a mark, but when I was thrown down from the great height [meaning from God’s house] I got no mark.”
A Turkish boy, Celal Kapan, described events immediately after his death in the previous life, such as the transport of his body in an ambulance and a doctor pronouncing him dead. He also mentioned the washing of his dead body and its funeral.
Stevenson has found relatively few Indian cases with memories of an intermission period between death and rebirth. However, such cases might be more common in Europe and the United States. In their book The Children that Time Forgot, about British Cases of the Reincarnation Type, Peter and Mary Harrison describe several cases involving memories of an intermission period. For instance, Nicola Wheater recalled that she fell asleep and died. After that, she saw God in Heaven. She described him as being very beautiful though she did not recall the clothes he was wearing. She added that he was much nicer than you can see in religious pictures.
Dutch theologian Joanne Klink describes similar cases in the Netherlands. One example concerns an adopted five-year-old Dutch girl who claimed she used to live in France. She told her grandmother: “I was with the angels in the sky and I looked down upon the earth. I saw you in the garden and chose you as my grandmother. I flew to the earth, walked into a house and looked around.”
Athanasia Foundation studied a few Dutch cases of prebirth memories, such as that of Sietske who told her mother crying that she had dreamed about sitting on the back of a motorcycle and being run over by a truck. She was put in a "bag" in the back of a car, and afterwards she was put in a "box". Finally she was buried in the "garden".
Another example is that of Kees, a Dutch boy who told his mother that when you die, an angel comes to take you to God, who was pure “goodness”, the “Big Light” and “humour.” It was very difficult to describe the other world. Kees said it did not fit on any slide image and could not be drawn with crayons. He added that he had had his own spot near a beautiful blue waterfall, which streamed over and under a flower-bed, and there were wonderful fruits hanging from the trees nearby, which tasted better than all the Mars bars and candy of the world taken together. Kees had not felt like reincarnating and resisted the angels who tried to convince him that it would be for his own good. They practically pushed him – though they did so lovingly - back to earth, as it was time for him to get to work again. The angels told him: “You know, when you go to earth, you will be accompanied by assistants.” He would be protected after he returned. The “Big Light” told him: "Leading a good life is your own responsibility."
Yet another case is that of Christina (which is a pseudonym), a Dutch girl, who recalled a previous life that ended in a fire. A lady in white told her that she had died and took her through the burning house. Christina was shown several possible mothers and asked to pick one of them. She chose a woman with blond hair who was typing at an office. The lady told her that in that case she would have to wait a bit longer. What is surprising is that the woman’s appearance corresponded with that of Christina's mother, i.e. the way she looked years before she got pregnant with Christina.
Pre-existence or prebirth memories also occur among children who don’t have conscious memories of a previous life on earth. A good overview of such memories in general is given on the website Spiritual Pre-existence by Michael and Toni Maguire. There certainly are some common features, such as choosing the conditions or parents of the next physical life on earth, or seeing a beautiful spiritual realm, or a certain reluctance to (re-)incarnate.
My own group of Athanasia Foundation has also collected several Dutch cases of a spiritual pre-existence without memories of a previous life. One of them is the case of Mrs. Henny van Sleeuwen from Rosmalen who claims she had prebirth memories as a child, which she retained as an adult. She describes these as follows:
“I was in a big white room with a white bed. I was lying in the bed and was very ill. I don’t know what was wrong with me. I couldn’t move any part of my body except for my eyes. Next to my bed there was a nun watching over me. She wore white clothing and a nun’s hood. Like the ones nuns used to wear. Everything was white and bright. On the other side of my bed there was a door. The door opened and a young woman or girl, about eighteen years old, looked inside and entered the room for a little while. She was about 1.60 m tall and slim and she had dark blond curly hair, a brown coat with large buttons and a small pair of spectacles. The nun lifted up my head, so that I could look better at the woman, and after doing so, I said: 'Yes, this is the woman I want to have for my mum'.
'Suddenly I was waiting somewhere and it took quite a long time before I heard or saw anything. There was some kind of long cylinder in front of me. I was ready to go to a new life, but I had to wait to get permission, probably from God, though I’m not sure. There was an all-embracing, invisible voice that could be felt as some sort of energy. This voice was the “boss”. It said: “Are you sure you can deal with it?” “Yes, I can”, I replied, and I nodded my head confidently. Once more, the voice asked me: “Are you completely certain?” "Yes", I said, and nodded again. Nothing happened yet. A few moments later, the Voice said: “Are you absolutely sure that you can deal with that?” I probably thought about what they showed me of the life I’m having now, though I can’t remember what exactly I was shown. Again, I told him: “Yes, I’m certain, I can handle it”. I suppose that I knew what I had to face in this life, though as a child I had already forgotten.
In this life, when I was about seven years I told all this to my mother and she said: “I really had such a coat, camel-coloured with very large buttons and long curly dark blond hair, and a pair of small spectacles, when I was about eighteen.” So she recognized everything and I normally couldn’t have known any of this.”
Henny van Sleeuwen also said that her present life has been very tough, especially because of a handicapped father whose condition has been deteriorating over the years and also because she lost her mother at an early age.
In general, memories of a spiritual pre-existence offer us a unique source of valuable information about an afterlife and it is important to systematically compare them to Near-Death Experiences. If we combine these two sources of information and compare them to other data from spiritualist or EVP experiments, or evidence from hauntings and apparitions, we could get the closest approximation possible for human mortal beings of a realistic view of a hereafter.
In sum, I hope that what I’ve just said makes it clear that prebirth memories really occur in the West and that therefore it is essential to collect as many cases as possible. So please feel free to get in touch with us.
Thank you very much for your attention!
I wish to thank John, Stewart, Lesley, Colin, Else, Stephen, Andrew, and my fellow speakers for their generous assistance during our stay. I'm also grateful to my dear friend and co-worker Anny Dirven. Finally, I thank Chris Canter for improving the English of this lecture.