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A modern case of past life regression

Past Life Regression (PLR) can be both an experimental technique and a form of therapy, but it has scientific credibility only if reincarnation itself is scientifically proven to exist. The existence of reincarnation is not yet a scientific truth. Recent studies indicate that reincarnation deserves to be recognized as a scientific hypothesis because it can be falsified or confirmed through scientific research. For this reason, Dr. Ian Stevenson’s international field studies are immensely important. Any idea that has a clinical character has clinical validity, but the clinical validity of PLR has yet to be convincingly proven.

The most famous case of past life regression (PLR) is undoubtedly that of Bridey Murphy. It is a historical case. In the mid-20th century, Morey Bernstein, a Colorado businessman who had practiced hypnotism for ten years on hundreds of different people, decided to try regressing someone into one or more past lives. He chose a woman named Virginia Tighe as his subject, knowing that she had the ability to go into a deep trance with ease. Between November 29, 1952, and August 29, 1953, Bernstein made six attempts to facilitate Virginia’s regression. During those sessions he recalled a brief life as a baby who died. Then the figure of Bridey Murphy emerged, more formally Bridget Kathleen Murphy.

After her first experience as a Bridey, Virginia mutated into her alter ego whenever she was invited to do so in a trance state. She offered a significant amount of information about Ireland, none of which she had an explicable way of knowing as Virginia Tighe. She said that she was born in Cork in 1798, the daughter of a Protestant lawyer named Duncan Murphy and his wife Kathleen. She had a brother named Duncan Blaine Murphy, who had married Aimee Strayne. Another brother had died in infancy. At the age of twenty, Bridey said, she was married in a Protestant ceremony to a Catholic, Brian Joseph McCarthy, the son of another Cork lawyer. Brian and Bridey moved to Belfast, where he attended school, eventually moving on to teach law at Queen’s University. They had no children and Bridey lived to be sixty-six.

No record of any of these events in Ireland has been identified. However, during her recounting of her experiences as Bridey, Virginia mentioned the names of two Belfast shopkeepers, Farr’s and John Carrigan. It was found possible to verify that two grocers with those names operated retail businesses in the city at the appropriate time. She said her Cork address was The Meadows, and it was established that there is an area in that city called Mardike Meadows. Queen’s University Belfast is, of course, a renowned educational establishment. Virginia used certain distinctive words which on investigation proved to be in use in Ireland in Bridey’s time, such as ‘forsaken’ for ‘buried’, ‘linen’ to mean a handkerchief, and ‘lough’ for river or lake. Those who were convinced of the veracity of Virginia’s recollections pointed out that a child born and raised in the United States, such as Virginia was, would probably not have been familiar with these terms. Investigative reporters concluded that there was some evidence of ‘something’, still unexplained. Credible hypnosis experts claim to have discredited this case, but the late Professor Ian Stevenson, who has investigated many cases of children remembering past lives, considered it worthy of closer scrutiny.

“Looking For Carroll Beckwith” (Robert L. Snow, 1999, Looking for Carroll Beckwith. Pennsylvania: Daybreak Books) is an interesting case of past life regression. Carroll Beckwith was a minor portrait painter who lived and worked in New York City in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He had never done anything outstanding that would make him immortal as an artist. Captain Robert L. Snow is Commander of the Homicide Branch of the Indianapolis Police Department. He discovered under hypnosis that he was Carroll Beckwith in a previous life. Snow wanted to refute the images that he had experienced under hypnosis as a form of cryptomnesia. Snow was already disenchanted with hypnotherapeutic procedures in cases of child sexual abuse. The regression took place in 1992 and Captain Snow was able to find 28 details of his regression that could be proven or disproved.

Rather than disprove the veracity of his images, Mr. Snow demonstrated that most of the memories he had while hypnotized actually took place nearly 100 years earlier. While on vacation in New Orleans, Captain Snow wandered into an art gallery on a dark side street where he came across his memory painting: The Hunchbacked Woman. He learned that Beckwith’s personal journals and an unpublished autobiography existed in a local New York library. For a detective, that was definitive evidence to close or prove the case. From Beckwith’s journals, he found that 26 items out of 28 matched the life of Carroll Beckwith. His recollections included Beckwith using a cane even though he was not disabled, visiting France, drinking wine (whiskey was the popular drink in the US), a woman with a hunchback, mother died of a blood clot, wife Berth had no kids Berth used to play the piano or sing for her friends etc. Captain Snow got the wrong name of the former personality’s wife but his frank admission adds to his credibility Mr Snow claims he has more proof of his former life than most murder cases and he is convinced that he carries some of Carroll Beckwith’s memories. Parapsychologists could offer alternative explanations for even those seemingly true memories. Captain Snow simply concludes in his book: “I can’t accept that, with the billions of people who have inhabited the Earth, my case is unique, that mine would be the only case since John the Baptist, which some say Jesus describes in Matthew as a rebirth of Elijah”.

Extreme skeptics of past life regression might explain flashbacks of past-life hypnotic memories as a “gateway” phenomenon that has not been discussed in the scientific literature of parapsychology.

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