by Titus Rivas
In dreams we are mentally engaged in a lot of activities: We fantasize, associate, process telepathic signals, have veridical or non-veridical impressions of the future, reach creative solutions and look back at occurrences in the past. The last activity I have just mentioned is what will occupy us primarily in this article. How far can we go back in our dreams? Do memories of former incarnations sometimes emerge in our dream life?
Dreams and memories
As I have repeatedly defended in several Dutch publications, there are cases of children who think they can remember previous lives, that can be explained parsimoniously by real memories of former incarnations. Therefore, I won't go into this question anymore in the present context. Our point of departure will be that people really can have memories of their previous lives.
Now, within individual memories in general we can distinguish between various kinds and these can even be ascribed to several types of memory banks. Thus we distinguish between: semantic memory, in which the meaning of words and other signs is stored and also all factual knowledge acquired through indirect learning, procedural memory in which the procedures are stored that we must follow to be able to perform certain acts like writing, talking or driving a motor car, and episodical memory, in which memories are stored of concrete, personal experiences. From a functional point of view, the functions of sleeping and dreaming could play a part in the processing and consolidation of memories of all of these types. Moreover, the final results of more or less complex cognitive processing are often presented in dreams. A good example is the sudden solution a person can have after a good night sleep to a problem he or she couldn't deal with before going to bed.
Also, paranormal impressions can be elaborated upon in dreams. Thus, dreams generally show that also during our sleep we stay mentally active. The theory of dreaming as a random reactivation of memory contents by arbitrary neuronal firing does not explain this fact in any way. Dreams are usually more than mere passive impressions. Therefore we shall expect real dreams about previous lives to consist of an active elaboration of experiences from those lives.
Parsimony in the explanation of reincarnation dreams
If we dream about something that has happened to us in this life, it sometimes happens that there are little or no recognizable elements in the dreams. In that case, we speak of a symbolic representation of a historical memory. A historical death for example, can be symbolized in a dream in many different ways. However, because we are aware that the dream most probably refers to the specific death of a loved one, the symbolic interpretation can be made very plausible in that case. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about specific previous lives of which we have no verifiable information. As long as we can relate dream symbolism to something in the present life, it is scholarly irresponsible to look for an interpretation in a possible previous life.
Only dreams that (1) refer to previous lives about which we have some certainty that they have really taken place, or (2) seem inexplicable by experiences from the present life, can therefore be viewed as dreams about real previous lives.
Dreams and former incarnations
Most children who remember verifiable previous lives, do so when they are fully awake, and they can clearly distinguish between their past (the previous life) and the present (the present life). When they dream about the previous life, this changes however. They feel as if they are having the previous body again and as if they are living in another period of time and in different circumstances. Sometimes, children look into a mirror immediately after such dreams, e.g. to see if they really wear a beard.
If a case of memories of previous lives cannot be specifically traced to a historical person, because exact data are lacking, this does not in itself mean that we have to explain it as a case of fantasy. In some cases the fantasy hypothesis clearly does not apply, even if the case would remain unverified.
An example of such a case is that of M.G. Wijanama Kithsiri from Sri Lanka, studied by Ian Stevenson. Wijanama was born in 1959 in the Buddhist village of Wehigala. From his third till his thirteenth year he would repeatedly sit cross-legged on his bed in the middle of the night. Being asleep, he would utter words that were incomprehensible to his parents. This behavioural pattern went on during between three and fifteen minutes. After that, Wijanama would ly down again. His eyes stayed closed as long as he was seated on the bed. Tape recordings were acquired of the words the boy was continuously repeating. Three of the words were identified as "Allah" (God), "umma" (a form of the Tamil word for mother) and "vappa" (a form of the Tamil word for father). "Umma" and "Vappa" both are the forms of Tamil words that belong to the dialect spoken by muslims in Kandy. A Malayan muslim of Kandy listened to the tape recordings and stated that only a Muslim child could pronounce the three identified words so well. Stevenson himself remarks (1977, p. 347): "I found listening to the recording of Wijanama's nocturnal speech quite moving. Without understanding (at that time) what the words meant, I felt, nevertheless, that they communicated some severe distress. And now that we know what three of the often repeated words mean, we can interpret the speech as perhaps a mixture of heartrending appeals to God and calls for the (previous) parents."
About his fourth year, the sleep-talking episodes were followed by conscious statements about a previous life as a Muslim in Kandy. By the way, there are no Muslims in the village of Wehigala. In this unverified case dreams play an important part.
But also in the Netherlands, where I live, this type of dreams does occur. The best example of this may be the next case:
An elderly Dutch lady, Mrs. De K.-V., had had the same repetitive dreams during 50 years, from 1923 when she was about 15 years old. In the dream she wears traditional clothing with a little hat on her head. She felt she was between 18 and 20 years old. She was located in a kind of "kitchen" of a big house and she stood near a very broad staircase that led upstairs. Outside she could see a lot of trees. She was on an estate or large farm. Mrs. De K.-V. got the idea she belonged to a rich family that had acquired their wealth through hard labor. It was war time and it seemed that she had killed a soldier that constituted a threat to her family. The soldier belonged to the enemy, but not necessarily to a foreign power. She killed him with an axe or something similar, after he had raped a younger girl, possibly her sister. The family seemed to have buried the soldier's corpse. She heard or saw that a "military escort" is arriving and she waited for them to come while her heart was beating. Her last thought in the dream was that now everything would end, if they would find out. Having reached this point in the dream, Mrs. De K.-V. always woke up.
Dreams that repeat themselves, must contain elements that repeatedly interest the mind at a subconscious level. These elements consist of questions or problems, especially traumas that have not been dealt with yet.
Perhaps all of us have experienced recurring dreams about our previous lives. I myself remember an exactly recurring dream about an humbly dressed, white elderly woman who was running through a forest while screaming. When I woke up, her desperate screams still echoed in my ears. This dream has repeatedly returned during my childhood years, and as a young child I interpreted it as a dream about a (Western) witch (like the one in the American Disney-movie). Later on, I also associated it with a grandmother that looked a bit like the old woman. But now I rather link it to a European war scene or pogrom, because I have reason to believe that recurring dreams can be related to previous lives.
Ian Stevenson states that he has collected many recurring dreams that seem to be linked to previous lives. The dreams are realistic and they repeat themselves in detail, and therefore they can also be recollected easily. Sometimes he has found also that these recurring dreams contain elements that are linked to the personality characteristics of the dreamers and to their preference for certain countries, etc. However, he speaks out against localizing elements in the dream in a very specific context, and holds that it is better to be satisfied with the information of the dream itself.
An example of a repetitive dream that Stevenson has found:
An American girl, whom he gives the pseudonym of Alice Robertson, suffered from recurring nightmares ever since she was young. In the dream she was a young woman dressed in a ankle-length garment, that was going for a quite walk together with her daughter. It was evening and the sun was approaching the horizon. Suddenly she heard a deafening sound and the earth seemed to disappear under her feet. At this moment she woke up frightened and screaming. Later on, in her present life she concluded that the garment had been a sari. Also, she watched a film about Darjeeling and she experienced a strong feeling of deja-vue. When she inquired about this place, she found that it had been the location of landslides between 1890 and 1920. Stevenson also writes that hypnotic regression did not deliver any additional data in this case.
Dreams of pregnant women
Apart from dreams about one's own previous lives, in a lot of traditions people believe in the phenomenon that pregnant women would dream about the person who is reincarnating in their womb. Even the Christian annunciation of Jesus could thus be seen as an announcing dream. Also in the scholarly literature about reincarnation we find such announcing dreams that seem to shed some light on the origin of the unborn child.
Ian Stevenson remarks that announcing dreams often appear among the Tlingits of Alaska, the Burmese, and the Alevis of Turkey. An Indian example of an announcing dream is that of Subhadra Verma, the mother of Kumkum Verma. This woman dreamed about a girl that was surrounded by snakes. In her previous life, later remembered by Kumkum, Kumkum had possessed a cobra as a pet, which she herself had fed and which she allowed to sleep in her room. The cobra also defended the house against intruders, although he had never bitten anybody.
An example among the Druse is that of Wadad Souki, the mother of Jamil Souki, who when she was pregnant, dreamt about a man on a white horse that rode towards her home. He knocked on her door. She said: "I'm alone. Please go to my neighbors." But the man answered: "No, I'm coming to you." He told her that he was called Mahmoud Atrash, and that he belonged to the Djebel Druse tribe from Syria.
A warning should be mentioned here: Not all announcing dreams are really paranormal, i.e. veridical. It is possible that many dreams in this category are just wishful. Thus many women dream that deceased relatives and other loved ones reincarnate in their wombs, and it is often unnecessary to see this as more than wishful dreaming.
Especially recurring dreams can be related to a previous life. But also pregnant women can get to know something about their children by paying attention to possible announcing dreams.
The more the concept of reincarnation will loose its bad, suspicious reputation in the scientific community and health service, the better the message of dreams about previous lives can be understood. Therefore, it is important to realize that frightening recurring dreams do not have to consist of fantasy, but can uncover real traumatic memories.
About the author
Titus Rivas, MA, MSc is a scholar of theoretical psychology and systematic philosophy. His main interests are, in alphabetical order: animal consciousness and well-fare, axiology, parapsychology, personal evolution, reincarnation and survival research, substance-dualism in philosophy and psychology. Rivas has published papers on several topics. He is recognized as the main person active in scholarly reincarnation research in the Netherlands (Europe).
Address: Darrenhof 9, 6533 RT Nijmegen, The Netherlands.