Life Before Life: Children’s Memories of Previous Lives

Life Before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children's Memories of Previous Lives

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By Jim B. Tucker, M.D., Foreword by Ian Stevenson, M.D.
Published by St. Martin’s Griffin Press, New York, N.Y., 2005. Buy this Book!

In the Foreword of Life Before Life, Ian Stevenson (1918 – 2007), whose work became well-known after the 1966 publication of Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation, informs the readers that Jim Tucker writes so well that “he may beguile a casual reader into thinking he or she has no work to do. Read on, and learn that evidence may answer – sooner than you expected – the most important question we can ask ourselves: What happens after death?” Author Jim Tucker, a child psychiatrist at the University of Virginia, has taken on the task of continuing the monumental work that Ian Stevenson began in the 1960s. He writes in the Introduction: “More than 2,500 cases are registered in the files of the Division of Personality Studies at the University of Virginia… Previously, we have only written for a scientific audience, but now that we have forty years’ worth of data, the general public deserves the opportunity to evaluate the evidence as well. I will try to present it in as fair a way as possible so that you can judge for yourself.” For example, in the third chapter, titled “Explanations to Consider,” numerous other possibilities by way of understanding the cases described in Life Before Life are carefully considered, such as fraud, fantasy, genetic memory and possession, but these are generally ruled out through deductive reasoning, with the reader led back to serious consideration of reincarnation. Through the end of this chapter and in the four that follow, Dr. Tucker continues the substantiation of reincarnation by presenting remarkably similar data for more than 40 cases that involve children’s memories of previous lives. In Chapter 8, “Divine Intermission,” he achieves a tentative transition from emphasis on the mysteries of the soul to considerations for the existence of higher causative factors: spirit. In the ninth chapter he presents “Opposing Points of View,” and in the tenth and final chapter he at last allows for some “Conclusions and Speculations,” including “The Question of Karma.”

Near the end of the 1960s, financial support in the amount of one million dollars for Ian Stevenson’s work came from the will of Chester F. Carlson (1906 – 1968), who invented the photocopying process for the Xerox Corporation. Although the unusual nature of the research made some people uneasy, “Universities are not in the habit of turning down million-dollar gifts…The university eventually did decide to accept the money since it had been given to support scholarly work, and the work continued.”

In the cases presented the children first begin talking about the previous life around the age of two, and the median age when the talking stops is 72 months or 6 years. The children generally describe events near the end of the previous life and rarely remember more than one life. However, in the case of Bobby Hodges from North Carolina, which opens Chapter 8, memories from lives other than the most recent are described: in one life Bobby describes a death that resulted from a gunshot wound, and in another from a motor vehicle accident. What stands out in the cases presented in Dr. Tucker’s book is the fact that the amount of time in-between lives is surprisingly short, ranging from six months to fifty years, with most rebirths occurring from eighteen months to five years after the previous deaths. Most of the cases occurred in Asia or India — Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar and Turkey — with the rebirths almost always occurring within the same region or nation, and sometimes within the same family. However, a significant number of cases are given that originated in England, Europe and the United States. A two-year-old boy in Britain recalled the life of a German WWII pilot, stating “I crashed a plane through a window.”  Later, he drew swastikas and eagles and demonstrated the Nazi salute and the goose-step march of German soldiers. (This has similarities to the case of James Leininger, in the book Soul Survivor: The Reincarnation of a World War II Fighter Pilot, which is reviewed on this bLog.)  Some two dozen international cases involved a change from Japanese to Burmese lives, with the children recalling lives of Japanese soldiers who had been killed in Burma in WWII. These statistics do appear to be pointing to certain causative factors in quick returns: violent and sudden deaths in WWII, as well as in many other circumstances, such as in crimes or fatal accidents. In such circumstances the potential for spiritual development within the individual may be far better served in earthly life rather than in the spiritual world between death and rebirth.

An extraordinary case is described on page 114, at the beginning of Chapter 6, which is titled “Unusual Behaviors.” This relates the disturbing memories of a four-year-old girl who resided in Florida. The child, Kendra Carter, developed a loving attachment to her swimming instructor, named Ginger. The child talked about Ginger all the time and then began saying that she had been a baby in Ginger’s tummy, but that Ginger “had allowed a bad man to pull her out and that she had tried to hang on but could not. She described being scared in a dark and cold place afterwards. Kendra’s mother eventually found out from Ginger that she had in fact had an abortion nine years before Kendra was born when she was unmarried, sick, and dealing with anorexia nervosa… This case presents us with a number of perplexing questions. Why would a four-year-old girl think that she had been involved in an abortion? What caused her to develop the idea of reincarnation when she was being raised by a mother who could not even consider the possibility?” The mother attended a conservative Christian church and “did not accept the idea that reincarnation is a process that normally occurs.”

How does Jim Tucker achieve the transition from soul to spirit in the final chapters of the book? Concisely and admirably: challenging the assumption that the areas of physics and paranormal phenomena are incompatible; discussing how consciousness can be regarded as separate from the physical brain; mind-matter interactions; pointing out how mainstream science, while necessarily conservative, favors the status quo far longer than is productive; addressing the arguments of the population explosion; and pointing out that religious beliefs are not part of scientific objectivity, although deserving of consideration. The author quotes Matthew 11:10-14 and 17:10-13, from the New Testament: “Jesus says that John the Baptist is the prophet Elijah who had lived centuries before, and he does not appear to be speaking metaphorically.” In the chapter titled “Conclusions and Speculations” he addresses such difficult questions as: Does Everybody Reincarnate?, In Cases of Reincarnation, What Reincarnates?, The When and Where of Reincarnation, The Question of Karma, Enduring Emotions, Advice for Parents, Spiritual Speculations, Future Research, and Final Thoughts (Out of the mouth of babes …)

But it seems that this book and the extensive studies and research from which it draws, as totally admirable and necessary as it is, can only partly answer the question pointed out by Ian Stevenson in the Foreword: What happens after death? For the memories recounted can almost entirely be attributed to the causative factor of the “quick return.” This may be more than enough for many readers. Yet others may ask: what occurs in-between death and rebirth when the individual has led a long and fulfilling life, resplendent with good deeds and the continuous quest to develop higher or spiritual consciousness, and who then experiences a natural death, such as someone like Mother Teresa? What occurs within the soul and spirit when there are hundreds of years in-between lives? And what is required to be brought from earthly life in order to make such long, fruitful interludes possible? – Review by Martha Keltz


Life Between Death and Rebirth, Sixteen Lectures by Rudolf Steiner, 1912 – 1913; Karmic Relationships, Volumes I through VIII, Lectures by Rudolf Steiner, 1924; At the Gates of Spiritual Science, Lectures I through XIV, by Rudolf Steiner, 1906; Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment (one of the “basic books” of Spiritual Science), by Rudolf Steiner, 1904.


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