Utterances about rebirth among four young children from the Netherlands
by Titus Rivas
In this short paper, four cases of utterances in young Dutch children that might indicate a belief in rebirth are described. Two of the cases are interpreted as playful, nonsensical remarks. A third one as "reversal of generations", the idea that elderly people but also the dead would shrink and become babies again. The fourth case is interpreted as testifying to some personal experience with reincarnation in the person involved.
Since 1986 I conduct, in cooperation with others, empirical research into possible memories of previous lives. I follow therein the methods of Ian Stevenson (1987) and his Indian colleagues. The interviewing of as many people involved as possible and the verification of statements are central to this methodology.
In this short paper I want to pay some attention to a very small, specific group of cases I have collected between February of 1986 and April of 1991. These concern utterances of 4 young children between 2 and 6 years old which at first sight seem to indicate that these children believe in reincarnation. First, I will present all the utterances I have encountered. Then, I will try to interpret these utterances.
Case 1. (Source: The mother of the child)
A girl, 3 years of age, with short, white hair once said during dinner: "I used to have black, long hair, a pony-tail that long!" This was all. Case 2. (Source: Mother)
A girl of 5 said without being prompted: "If I am dead, I want to be born as a baby again with you. But maybe you will be a baby yourself by then."
When the lady living next door had passed away, this same girl wanted to know all about it. After they told her about the coffin, wherein the lady's body would be buried, she noted: "How can she ever become a baby again with those clothes on?".
Case 3. (Source: Mother)
A girl of five spontaneously told her parents that she would have "chosen" them.
Case 4. (Source: Mother)
The father of the boy in this case died when he was 2 years and 4 months old. Before his third birthday the following event took place. The boy was driving a toy car over a chair and he made a typical sound at it. Suddenly he stopped playing and said: "Some day my father will be born again." He paused for a while and then continued vehemently and almost crying: "But what good is that to me, he wouldn't be my father anymore!"
The four cases clearly are different from one another and I believe therefore that they need different explanations as well.
Case 1 is limited to one short utterance. Naturally one can theoretically sustain that the child really had a conscious concept of rebirth, but nevertheless it seems a lot simpler to conceive of this case as an isolated, nonsensical and playful remark.
Something similar goes for Case 3. The child's mother had a socalled New Age-orientation and this means for the West that she most probably in some concept of reincarnation. Thus, it is very well possible that the girl overheared her mother use the term "choose" in this respect.
However, both Case 2 and Case 4 both clearly point towards a belief in rebirth in the children involved.
Now, Case 2 is very similar to case described by Susan Isaacs (1945): "Z., 5 years old, asked her mother: Is aunt X. dead? Her mother said: What do you mean? Z: Is she dead? Mother: What do you mean by dead? What do people do when they die? Z: They go back into their mother's tummy. Mother: But how can Aunt X. ever go back into her mother's tummy? You know her mother and you know how small she is. Z: Well, when aunt X. dies, she becomes a little baby again and goes back to her mother's tummy." In both cases the child turned out to believe in a rebirth in the present physical body, which means that the body first has to shrink until it fits in a womb and finally can be born again. We can relate this notion to the idea of "reversal of generations" discussed by Ernest Jones (1920). This means that children can think that old people in the end grow small again or shrink, just like children grow tall. Thus the little ones would grow until they would be tall, and the elderly would shrink until they would be small again. The young and the old generation would therefore be continuously reserved according to this peculiar idea.
Case 4 clearly is a unique case. The first thing that we can notice, is the very young age of the boy, which is consistent with the age of children in cases of the reincarnation type. On top of that, there is no indication that this boy would also believe in the reversal of generations. The father in this case would not just become small again, but takes another relation to the boy, in the sense that he would no longer be his father. Therefore, I conclude that in this case it is probable that the boy possessed a realistic idea of reincarnation and rebirth which was based on his personal experience. This is also corroborated by the fact that as a toddler he used to make drawings and paintings of a beach full of tanks and heavy artillery. He consistently drew this strange configuration, which was also linked to a dream in his teens, of being shot in the back while lying as a soldier somewhere near a beach. All in all, this means that both parents and researchers should be alert as to whether utterances are made by young children as they might point towards rather vivid reminiscences of rebirth.
References - Isaacs, S. (1945). Social development in young children (4th Edition). London: George Routledge & Sons, 1945.
- Jones, E. (1920). Papers on psychoanalysis. Londen: Bailličre, Tindall & Cox.
- Rivas, E., & Rivas, T. (1987). Wetenschappelijk reďncarnatie-onderzoek (2e druk). Arnhem: Schoon Genoeg.
- Stevenson, I. (1987). Children who remember previous lives: A question of reincarnation. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.
This paper was published in 1998 on the website Reincarnation Researches.