The idea of reincarnation has been around virtually forever; it’s a part of a number of religions and belief systems dating back to ancient times — and it can be pretty wild to read about some of the most infamous stories of alleged past life experiences from history. Clearly there’s something about these stories that draws us in; indeed, although both past life regression and reincarnation are frequently regarded as pseudoscience, almost a quarter of Americans — 24 percent, according to the Pew Research Center — believe in reincarnation. That’s not an insignificant number; it demonstrates that the idea resonates strongly for many, although I’d imagine the reasons why can vary greatly from person to person.
Despite the history of the concept of reincarnation, though, interestingly, it’s only really in the late 19th and early 20th century that actual research into past life experiences kicked up — and what’s more, it only really started to hit its stride starting in the ’60s. We’ve got Ian Stevenson to thank for the push to more seriously study the phenomenon; these days, folks like Jim Tucker are continuing to further what we do — and don’t— know about alleged past lives.
However, in the English-speaking world at least, interest in alleged past life experiences kicked up a little less than a decade before Ian Stevenson’s first published work on the subject arrived. Beginning with two notable cases in the 1950s — which we’ll look at a little more in depth below — reincarnation and past life regression became all the rage; perhaps, though, given that the world was still recovering from the devastation of World War II at the time, it’s understandable.
These seven cases date back a bit further than the ones we looked at in our last examination of alleged past life experiences. Do you believe?
1. The Bridey Murphy Case
Between November of 1952 and August of 1953, Morey Bernstein, at the time an amateur hypnotist who would later become known as a successful businessman, used hypnotic regression six different times on a Colorado woman named Virginia Burns Tighe — and what emerged during these sessions became a straight-up fad after the publication of Bernstein’s book, The Search for Bridey Murphy. Tighe — who was referred to by the pseudonym “Ruth Simmons” in the book — had, it seemed, allegedly lived a past life as a woman named Bridey Murphy in 19th century Ireland.
While Tighe was under hypnosis, she spoke with a thick Irish accent — despite the fact that Tighe did not have such an accent, and, indeed, had never even been to Ireland. The tale she told detailed Bridey’s life from the age of eight, when Bridey lived in Cork, up through the fall she later suffered that resulted in her death as an adult. When The Search for Bridey Murphy was published in 1956, it kicked up quite the pop culture fervor for reincarnation— “come as you were” parties were de rigueur, bars served “reincarnation cocktails,” and folks just otherwise couldn’t get enough of the whole thing.
However, the Bridey Murphy case did eventually collapse under scrutiny: Journalists failed to be able to verify key elements of “Bridey’s” life (for example, there’s no record of anyone resembling Bridey being born on Dec. 20, 1798 — which Tighe under hypnosis had said was Bridey’s birthday — or dying in 1864) … and eventually, it came out that Tighe had grown up across the street in Wisconsin from a neighbor who was an immigrant from Ireland named Bridie Murphey Corkell. We don’t think Tighe made up the story on purpose; as LiveScience notes, it’s generally believed that Tighe may have unconsciously built Bridey Murphy out of her childhood memories of Bridie Murphey Corkell.
2. The Bloxham Tapes
British hypnotherapist Arnall Bloxham was born in 1881. In the 1950s — possibly inspired by the Bridey Murphy case — he began researching past life regression. Over the course of about 20 years, he recorded a whopping 400 hypnotic regression therapies on tape — and in the 1970s, these tapes were transcribed and published in the Sunday Times as a series. BBC producer Jeffrey Iverson headed the charge on the published series; in 1976, he both produced a documentary for the BBC about the Bloxham tapes and published a book about them, More Lives Than One? Evidence of the Remarkable Bloxham Tapes.
Of particular note was the case of a 30-year-old Welsh housewife referred to by the pseudonym Jane Evans. According to Evans’ regression tapes, she had allegedly lived not one, not two, but six different past lives: That of Livonia, a tutor of the sons of the Roman governor Constantius in York in the third century A.D.; that of Rebecca, who was married to a Jewish moneylender in York in 1189; that of Alison, an Egyptian woman who, in 1450, was a servant in the household of a French merchant; that of Anna, who in the 16th century was a lady in waiting to Catherine of Aragon; that of Ann Tasker, a seamstress in London in 1702; and that of Sister Grace, who was a Catholic nun in Iowa at the beginning of the 20th century.
According to the Skeptic’s Dictionary, though, Jane Evans’ alleged past lives have been found not in the historical record, but in the fictional one. Livonia, for example, seems to be based on The Living Wood, a novel by Louis de Wohl published in 1947. Alison’s “life” also seems to come from a novel — The Moneyman, by Thomas Costain — while Rebecca may have emerged from a radio play. It’s believed that Evans’ “past lives” may actually be the result of cryptomnesia and confabulation.
3. The Reincarnation Of Om Seti
Dorothy Eady, also known as Om Seti and Omm Sety, was born in Blackheath area of London on Jan. 6, 1904. When she was three years old, she fell down the stairs at home; the family doctor determined her to be dead, but an hour later, she was fine. After that, she began to have dreams of living in a large building adorned with columns; she said frequently that she “wanted to go home.” And when she was four, during a trip to the British Museum, she declared that “home” was Egypt.
She moved to Egypt in 1933 to be with her husband, who was Egyptian; and although the marriage ended two years later, she stayed put. She became a folklorist, a keeper of the Abydos Temple of Seti I, and a draughtswoman for the Department of Egyptian Antiquities — and she believed that she had, in a past life, been a young woman named Bentreshyt, an orphan who had been adopted by the temple of Kom el Sultan near Abydos. “I can’t remember any ordinary life, so I think I must have been stuck in the temple,” she told the New York Times in 1979. “I have a vague memory of the processions. I can remember an awful old killjoy of a high priest.”
And in 1987 — several years after she died in 1981 — it emerged that she also believed that, in her past life, she had been a lover of King Seti who became pregnant. She said Bentreshyt had died by suicide rather than reveal that the king had fathered a child with her.
It’s anyone’s guess whether the story is true or not. She certainly believed it was.
4. The Past Life Of Laure Raynaud
In European Cases of the Reincarnation Type, Ian Stevenson — one of the foremost researchers into reincarnation and past lives — details the case of Laure Raynaud, who was born in Aumont, France in 1868. She rejected the Catholic teachings she was raised with, insisting that hell, heaven, and purgatory didn’t exist; rather, she believed in the idea that, each time people die, they return to Earth in different bodies.
Raynaud moved to Paris at the age of 17, studied medicine, and became a healer; she married in 1904. During this time, she also learned what was called “magnetism,” a type of hypnosis. And it was while working with Gaston Durville, who ran a clinic in Paris, that she finally began speaking of what she believed were memories of a past life. She remembered living somewhere with lots of sun, in a very large, two-story house with lots of arched windows. There was a park nearby with lots of old trees in it; additionally, a number of small houses belonging to workers were located near the house. She believed the memories were from when her past personage was about 25 years old, and from roughly 100 years ago. She said she had a “chest disease”; she was plagued with coughing.
Later on in life, Raynaud went to Genoa, Italy — and felt an immediate familiarity with the place, even though she had never been there before. She tracked down a house in the countryside that locals said matched the one she described from her “memories” — and it was here that she came to believe that in a past life, she had been Giovanna Spontini, who had lived in the house Raynaud had located and died in 1809 of chronic illness and catching a “severe chill.”
Stevenson notes that the fact that Raynaud couldn’t specify any names of people in her “memories” until after she had done some research weakens the possibility of her actually having experienced a past life; the same went for the fact that, although she accurately described many details of the house, those details were very common in Italian Renaissance mansions. The chronic illness, however, he considered intriguing.
5. Arthur Flowerdew’s Ancient Journey
When he was a kid, Arthur Flowerdew, who was born in 1906, had dreams of a large city surrounded by desert. It had a temple, and a canyon, and streets, and buildings — all laid in out in very particular ways. Later, he had visions of the city when he was awake as well, often brought on by trips he took to the seashore during which he played with pink and orange rocks.
He grew up. He got old. And one day, while watching a documentary on the BBC about the ancient Jordanian city of Petra, he felt he immediately recognized the place: It was seemingly the city he had been seeing in his dreams since he was a child.
Flowerdew reached out to the BBC, who were intrigued by his story and shot another documentary about and what he believed was a past life he had lived in Petra. The Jordanian government later saw this documentary and reached out to Flowerdew. Would he like to fly to Petra to see it in person?
Why, yes, he would. What’s more, before he left, an archaeologist who was well versed in Petra’s history gave Flowerdew a test about the city — and he nailed it. He described major landmarks, identified them on sight when he arrived, and revealed information about the ancient place it seemed like he could not have known. His story is often pointed to by those who believe in reincarnation — particularly those for whom it’s a part of a religion or belief system — as proof that past lives do exist.
6. The Case Of Shanti Devi
Born in 1926 in Delhi, India, Shanti Devi was four years old when she began telling her parents that her home wasn’t in Delhi; it was 90 miles away in Mathura, where she said her husband lived. She recounted memories of having been married, and later of dying from complications from childbirth. She described what her husband looked like (light-skinned, a wart on his cheek, reading glasses) and where his shop was located (by the Dwarkadhish temple). Eventually she revealed her past persona’s husband’s name: Pandit Kedarnath Chaube.
And, it turned out, the man existed. He had lost his wife, Lugdi Bai, from complications with the C-section she had undergone while giving birth to their son, Navneet Lal. What’s more, Shanti recognized both Pandit Kedarnath Chaube and Navneet Lal on sight.
Shanti’s story was investigated by a number of notable people: Ian Stevenson; another reincarnation researcher, Dr. K.S. Rawat; and Mahatma Gandhi. All three were struck by the fact that so many details of her story were verifiable.
7. The Second Life Of The Pollack Girls
On May 5, 1957, Joanna and Jacqueline Pollock, aged 11 and 6 respectively, were killed in a car crash in Hexham, Northumberland in the UK. They had been on the way to church with a friend; everyone in the car had died instantly. The girls’ parents, John and Florence Pollack, were devastated; John kept praying that his daughters would come back.
Florence became pregnant in 1958 — and here’s where it starts to get weird: Although her doctors had not believed she was having twins, on Oct. 4, 1958, she gave birth to identical twin girls. Florence and John named them Gillian and Jennifer — and immediately noticed some strange similarities between Jennifer and Jacqueline: Jacqueline had had a scar on her forehead; Jennifer also had a mark there. Jacqueline had a birthmark on her leg; so did Jennifer. Gillian did not share any of these marks with her sister.
The Pollack family moved from Hexham to Whitley Bay when the twins were just a few months old, but when they were four, they returned to Hexham. The girls were eerily familiar with Hexham, despite the fact that they wouldn’t have been old enough to make memories of it before they had moved away. For example, they said they remembered playing on the playground of a specific school. They had never attended this school — but their older sisters, about whom they had no knowledge, had. The girls also recognized and correctly named toys that had been Joanna and Jacqueline’s — and, most frightening of all, became enormously afraid of cars for fear one would crash into them.
Ian Stevenson believed the case was strong for Gillian and Jennifer being Joanna and Jacqueline reincarnated — but when the twins were five, the “memories” of their past life vanished, leaving the mystery unresolved.
Personally, I'm not sure I believe in reincarnation — but some of these stories are really eerie. Could they just be coincidences? Or is something... else at work? You be the judge.
Check out the entire 'What's Up, Boo?' series and other videos on Facebook and the Bustle app across Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV.