Past Life Regression Therapy
by Tony Edwards
Hello there. My name is Tony Edwards and I am a Hypnotherapist and Psychotherapist in private practice in Colchester and am the author of several SNHS course including the Past Life Therapy diploma course.
The subject of this article is “Past Life Regression Therapy (PLRT)”. As I am sure you appreciate, the moment we mention the subject of “past lives”, we open a number of Pandora’s boxes. These boxes contain people’s ideas, views, opinions, prejudices, beliefs, disbeliefs and a whole range of emotions. I am not going to discuss views pertaining to emotions or religious persuasions. What I am going to do is to explain in a plain and sensible manner precisely what Past Life Regression Therapy actually is all about and what the various attitudes and beliefs relating to the past life phenomena are.
The most important questions that PLRT raises are those that have exercised the human race since it began to think and reason. The two basic but important questions raised are the simple “Do we reincarnate after death in this life?” and the somewhat more philosophically complex “Do we have a spiritual evolution on earth that is realised through successive incarnations”. Quite clearly I am not going to even attempt to answer these questions, that is for you the reader to do. What I am going to do however is set the facts before you.
Past Life Regression Therapy (PLRT) raises the important question as to whether or not we have a spiritual evolution on earth that is realised through successive incarnations. Many oriental cultures have accepted pre-existence and reincarnation in one form or another for millennia. Furthermore, due to the cross-fertilisation of ideas between cultures, these beliefs are becoming increasingly popular in the West. (The concept of Reincarnation is not just Oriental in origin. It has always been a fundamental part of our own native, pre-Christian philosophy, editor).
In this lecture I am not going to ask you, the reader, to subscribe to any particular religious, spiritual, scientific, or any other view of what actually is occurring during the performance of a past life regression session. You must carefully analyse the evidence and, after gaining experience from carrying out PLRT, form your own opinion.
In essence PLRT involves the use of hypnosis and the hypnotic trance to assist the subject in moving their mind back through time to a point before they were born. On reaching this point the hypnotherapist may then carry out a question and answer session with the subject, drawing from them the impressions that they are forming in this (putative) time before birth.
Contrary to what you may have been informed, creating the correct environment for the subject to enter hypnosis, assisting the subject to reach a suitable level of hypnosis, and then releasing them from hypnosis is relatively easy to achieve. The majority of people undergoing PLRT are intelligent and imaginative and thus find entering the hypnotic state relatively easy.
Generally speaking the prevalent view amongst past life therapists is that one is actually dealing with recalled memories of a past life; reincarnation in fact. It would be very remiss of me if I did not point out the possibility of other explanations and provide you with reasons for each.
Some explanations for what happens during a past life regression session are :
- The Collective Unconscious
- Genetic Memory Transmission
“As long as you are not aware of the continual law of Die and Be Again, you are merely a vague guest on a dark Earth.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
The doctrine of reincarnation states that when a person dies, the only thing that actually dies, that is to say experiences “death”, is the physical body. The mind, which contains a person’s mental impressions, continues after the body’s death. When the person is reborn, the “birth” is of a new physical body accompanied by the old mind with the impressions, behavioural patterns, and memories from previous lives. When the environment becomes conducive, these behavioural patterns and memories can be brought to consciousness and allowed to reassert themselves in the new (current) life.
It is generally believed that this process does not continue on an eternal cycle of life death-life-death-life forever. It is believed by many that when we attain complete self-realisation, the law of karma is transcended. At this stage the Self gives up its identification with the body and mind, and regains its native freedom. It is deemed to have found perfection and a state of bliss.
So, what is karma? Karma is the law of moral causation. The theory of Karma is a fundamental doctrine in Buddhism and in Hinduism. This belief existed in India long before the advent of the Buddha. Nevertheless, it was the Buddha who explained and formulated this doctrine in the complete form in which it is popularly understood today.
Observations of life provokes questions such as:
- What is the cause of the inequality that exists among mankind?
- Why should one person be brought up in the lap of luxury, endowed with fine mental, moral and physical qualities, and another in absolute poverty, steeped in misery?
- Why should one person be a mental prodigy, and another an idiot?
- Why should one person be born with saintly characteristics and another with criminal tendencies?
- Why should some be linguistic, artistic, mathematically inclined, or musical from the very cradle?
- Why should others be congenitally blind, deaf, or deformed?
- Why should some be blessed, and others cursed from their births?
Either these inequalities of mankind have a cause, or they are purely accidental. It would seem improbable that this unevenness, this inequality, and this diversity could be due to blind chance or pure accident. To do so promotes the view that all is chaos and that human life is pointless and valueless.
Karma states that in this world nothing happens to a person that he or she does not for some reason or other deserve, although the workings of this are usually completely beyond our comprehension. Karma also informs us that the definite invisible cause of the present life visible effect is not necessarily confined to the present life, thus by implication the cause may be traced to a proximate or remote past birth.
According to Buddhism, this inequality between individuals is due not only to heredity, environment, “nature and nurture”, but is also due to Karma. That is to say, such inequalities are the result of our own past actions and our own present doings. We, and no one else, are entirely responsible for our own happiness and our own misery. We are the architects of our own fate. We create our own Heaven and we can create our own Hell.
The story goes that a young truth-seeker, perplexed by the seemingly inexplicable yet apparent disparity that existed among humanity, approached the Buddha and questioned him about the problem of inequality: “What is the cause, what is the reason, O Lord,” questioned he, “that we find amongst mankind the short-lived and long-lived, the healthy and the diseased, the ugly and beautiful, those lacking influence and the powerful, the poor and the rich, the low-born and the high-born, and the ignorant and the wise?”
The Buddha’s reply was: “All living beings have actions (Karma) as their own, their inheritance, their congenital cause, their kinsman, their refuge. It is Karma that differentiates beings into low and high states.”
He then explained the cause of such differences in accordance with the law of cause and effect. The law of karma.
(Not all reincarnation theories attribute one’s position in this life as a punishment or rewards for deeds in past lives. An alternative view is that we choose our obstacles and limitations so that we can grow and evolve by enduring them or overcoming them. One analogy would the mountain climber who could sit at home with his feet up and never progress or he can choose to climb a difficult mountain in the snow and grow through the experience. All problems are challenges and as such are opportunities for growth – Editor)
Let us examine some data concerning a phenomenon known as cryptomnesia. This is a condition in which a person has memories or skills which can be accessed, but which were acquired subconsciously or through subtle, subliminal means. The person in question typically has no knowledge at all of where or when these memories came from. Such memories or skills may be stored for long periods of time before surfacing, which usually occurs at strange times: hypnotic trance, meditation, autohypnosis or even as a result of head trauma (imagine getting bashed on the head and suddenly finding yourself fluent in Portuguese!).
The peculiar and often eerie nature of cryptomnesia may lead those experiencing or witnessing it to the conclusion that these memories are from some supernatural agency, part of a previous life, a demonic or spirit possession or even from divine or angelic inspiration. Researchers often examine purported spirit contacts, past life memories and the like for errors, which may have been, published somewhere. This is pretty much ironclad evidence that the case is cryptomnesia and not some more mystical source.
An example of cryptomnesia is the bizarre phenomenon of xenoglossy, a condition in which a person may have skills in a language which they have never studied and may even have no memory of having contact with. Another type of cryptomnesia is automatic writing, wherein a person may hand write or type a large amount of strange stuff without consciously willing to do so. The writer may have no clue where the writing comes from, and may not remember knowing anything about the content.
A very famous early-recorded case of cryptomnesia occurred in 1874. An English medium named William Stanton Moses claimed to be in contact with the spirits of two recently departed Indian boys. This information was later shown to have been picked up by Moses from a newspaper obituary days earlier.
Another interesting example of cryptomnesia happened on a television special in 1977. A woman was hypnotised and told vivid tales of a past-life experience. She recounted a story about a famous witch who was tried and acquitted in 1566, but gave the date as 1556. This date had come from a reprint that the woman had seen in the British Museum.
While some people might feel a little disappointment over the holes apparently blown in the case for past-life regression or spirit visitation, cryptomnesia is an extremely interesting phenomenon from a psychological perspective. Jung made the claim that cryptomnesia is a normal part of the process of learning and the process by which memories are stored and consolidated in the mind. This phenomenon is sometimes termed cryptanamnesia or source amnesia (because the source of the memory is forgotten).
What I have just set down is very much the orthodox “scientific” view. You will note that I write “scientific” in quotation marks. I do this because science demands proof, incontrovertible proof. Since the orthodox view does not provide any proof it can hardly be dignified by science although it my be just as valid.
The Collective Unconscious
A view that does not embrace the idea of reincarnation is that, in past life recall, a person’s unconscious may be dipping into a universal memory bank, analogous in some way to Carl Gustav Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious. In this case the subject may be drawing upon a story, with mythic components, from the past. This story mirrors the client’s own real-world problems.
In Jung’s understanding of the structure of the psyche, Consciousness is described by him as developed as part of the evolutionary process. The ego is considered the centre of conscious personality and with it the individual is born. Jung considers it to be less developed in preliterate cultures as he considers persons from such cultures to have less concentrated reflection and therefore have a smaller “area of consciousness” although how Jung could or would have measured this remains somewhat of a mystery. Jung concluded that preliterate cultures are more easily influenced by the stirrings of the unconscious that those more literate cultures of the West.
In Jung’s structural hierarchy of mind, the unconscious realm lies below the conscious realm. The unconscious is considered to be the matrix out of which consciousness emerges in each succeeding generation. Immediately below the consciousness is the personal unconscious. The character of the personal unconscious is determined by the personal past of the individual. Its contents are the personal experiences of the individual’s own lifetime, some of which have been repressed and others which have simply been forgotten.
Within this personal unconscious lie what are referred to as complexes. Complexes are ideas and thoughts that are coloured by emotion. These are split-off from consciousness as a result of traumatic influences and/or incompatible tendencies in the person’s past. Such complexes may help or hinder conscious activity.
A complex, for example the mother complex, can become an autonomous and fragmentary personality within the individual. This fragmentary personality appears to live a life of its own. It dominates the individual’s thoughts, feelings and actions. Usually disturbing or harmful, complexes can act positively by challenging the individual to seek new possibilities. Jung believed that such unresolved problems were essential for psychic, that is to say coherent mental, activity.
Deeper yet in the psyche, according to Jung, hidden beneath the layers of the personal unconscious, are other layers that have been formed over the millennia and in every member of our species. Here, Jung says, lie the deposited residue of the experience of pre-human evolutionary forms. Images retained in the human psyche from our long, uphill, evolutionary struggle.
These layers beneath personal consciousness form what Jung called the collective unconscious. This is the most important and controversial of Jung’s theories. In the dreams and fantasies of his patient’s Jung found ideas and images whose origins, he felt, could not be traced to the individual’s personal experiences. The resemblance of these ideas to religious and mythical themes led Jung to refer to them as primordial images or Archetypes. (Another important source of information on the subject of Archetypes and their roll in mythology is Joseph Campbell – Editor)
Jung thought that Archetypes are not memories of past experiences but “forms without content” representing the possibility of a certain type of perception and action. Archetypes provide a certain kind of readiness to produce the same or similar mythical ideas over and over again in all people. Jung considered them to be “the ruling powers, the gods, images of the dominant laws and principles, and of typical, regularly occurring events in the soul’s cycle of experience.” Archetypes are responsible for that quality that makes us what we are – human beings. They are also active agents that cause the repetition of these same experiences in all of us.
We can only know of the manifestations of the archetypes, historical and individual, and thus we are able to say very little concerning them. Jung speculated that there are as many archetypes as there are typical persons and typical situations found in human experience. In view of the fact that archetypes appear to penetrate all of human experience it is not possible to clearly describe them or circumscribe their limits of operation or manifestation. To put it more simply, archetypes do not lend themselves to reductive explanation. To C. G. Jung, such explanation or circumscription was neither possible not even desirable.
From his years of experience of psychiatric work and phenomenological research into religions and mythologies, Jung was able to identify several key motifs or roles that archetypes can take. The ones that he believed were of particular importance included the persona, the shadow, the anima/animus, the mother, the child, the wise old man, and the self.
The persona is the mask we wear to make a particular impression on others; the persona may reveal and conceal our real nature. It is called an artificial personality because it is a compromise between a person’s real individuality and society’s expectations of what the external personality should be. Generally speaking we can mostly observe that society’s demands have a tendency to take precedence. The persona is made up of things like professional titles, roles, habits of social behaviour and so forth. It does have a purpose which is to both guarantee social order and to protect the individual’s private life. That is, when the ego identifies itself with the persona, the individual becomes particularly susceptible to the unconscious.
The shadow is a step further towards self-realisation providing one can recognise it and integrate it. The shadow is the negative or inferior (that is to say undeveloped) side of the personality. It is said to be made up of all the reprehensible characteristics that each of us wish to deny, including the animal tendencies that Jung claims we have inherited from our infra-human ancestors. The shadow is said to coincide with the personal unconscious and because we all have one, albeit different ones, it may be considered to be a collective phenomena.
The more unaware of the shadow we are, the blacker and denser it is. The more dissociated it becomes from our conscious life, then the more it will display a compensatory demonic dynamism. Sometimes it projected outwards on individual or groups who are then thought to embody all the immature, selfish, or repressed elements of the individual’s own psyche. Jung considered that symbols of the devil and the serpent contain elements of the shadow. As an interesting aside, those readers who are familiar with the major arcana of the Tarot, will be able to note the significance of card XV The Devil as a partial instance of the shadow.
One is confronted by the anima (female) or animus (male) once one has come to terms with one’s shadow. This is the archetype which is said to personify the soul, or inner attitude. It is usually a persona and can often take on some of the characteristics of the opposite sex.
The anima represents the feminine in men, and is derived from three sources namely, (a) individual man’s experience with women as companion; (b) man’s own femininity which has its roots in the minority of female genes and hormones present in man’s body; and (c) the inherited collective image that has been formed from man’s historical collective experience of woman.
The anima often appears in dreams particularly when it remains submerged in the unconscious. It may also be projected outwards onto other women, in the first instance the mother, then lover and wife as the man develops and grows. This projection can be responsible for the passionate attraction or aversion that a particular woman may cause in a man. It is also responsible for the adult male’s general apprehension of the nature of women and of the feminine principle. Jung was of the opinion that should a man mistakenly identify with the anima then the result can be a tendency towards effeminacy or more extremely homosexuality. The anima can appear in a variety of manifestations. It can be an ambivalent image and has occult connections with the ancient mysteries and hence a religious tinge.
The animus is the comparable counterpart in the female psyche. It is said to be the woman’s image of a man. The animus appears in a plurality of forms. To Jung this reflected the differences in male and female conscious attitudes. Jung’s view was that the woman’s consciousness tends to be exclusively personal and centred upon the family, whereas the man is made up of various worlds of which the family is only one. (Had he conducted his research in today’s climate of sexual equality his finding may well have been different – Editor).
The range of images of the mother archetype are almost inexhaustible. The usual image is some form of maternal aspect. This can manifest itself as the underworld, or the womb for example. The most important form of this archetype is “mothers” taken in the literal sense. It may also be symbolised in various impersonal forms such as church, university, city or country, earth, woods, sea, moon, gardens, caves, cooking vessels, as well as certain animals such as the hare or the cow. In the Western cultural context other symbols include dragons, witches, graves, the ocean, and death.
The child archetype takes many forms such as a child (obviously), god, dwarf, hobbits, elf, animals, or objects such as jewels or chalices. It represents original or child like conditions in the life of the individual or the species, and thus reminds the conscious mind of its origins and helps to keep them continuous. It can also signify the potentiality of future personality development. It anticipates the synthesis of opposites and the attainment of wholeness. The child archetype is said to represent the urge and compulsion towards self-realisation.
The wise old man is the archetype of meaning or of spirit. More than often it appears as a grandfather, sage, magician, king, doctor, priest, professor, or any other authority figure. It represents insight, wisdom, cleverness, willingness to help, moral qualities. As with the other archetypes, the wise old man also possesses both positive and negative aspects.
Jung considered that the self is the most important of all archetypes. It is called the “midpoint of the personality” and is a centre between consciousness and the unconsciousness. It signifies the harmony and balance between the various opposing qualities that make up the psyche. It remains basically incomprehensible, as ego consciousness cannot grasp this supra-ordinate personality of which the ego is only one element. The symbols of the self can be anything that the ego takes to be a greater totality than itself. Thus many symbols fall short of expressing the self in its fullest development. Symbols of the self are often manifested in geometrical forms called mandalas or by the quaternity which indicates any figure made up from four parts or components. Prominent human figures which represent the self are the Buddha, Mohamed or Christ and their equivalents in other cultures.
As you will appreciate it is important to gain some small understanding of the meaning of the collective unconscious and archetypes. During hypnotic regression it is possible that the past life being described is developed out of a series of archetypal projections used to form a story that, while apparently realistic, is actually a mythical story in the sense that the mind has created a myth (a poetics rather than a literal truth) to explain unconscious memories that may be too traumatic to bring fully to conscious recognition. Thus the recall of a past life is no more than a mask to release repressed memory of traumatic events in the subject’s real life. Archetypes are used to create a symbolic yet highly plausible story masking the true reality.
Genetic Memory Transmission
Another possible explanation is that ancestral memory can be transmitted genetically. The majority of neuroscientists believe that long-term memories are built into the brain by creating and strengthening connections between neighbouring neurons. These physical connections called synapses, are believed to join neurons together to form extremely complex networks. These networks can then recreate specific patterns of brain activity such as recall of memories, long after the initiating event. The problem with this model is that these connections would need to be permanent and stable, and the brain is not. Nearly all the brain’s molecules, including those that form the neural connections thought to be involved in memory, are replaced every few weeks. How long-lasting memories can be stored by such an impermanent medium has confounded neuroscience for years.
The idea that our memories are stored in our genes is a very recent and controversial one. It has been accepted since the experiments of Wilder Penfield back in the nineteen fifties, that hidden away in each of us is a permanent record of our past. We are reminded of it regularly; for example how many times have you smelt a particular smell or heard a particular song, and been instantly transported back to an intense childhood memory? I am quite sure that every reader reading this article can recall such an event.
So far we are aware of only three memory systems occurring naturally. These are:
- Our evolutionary (DNA) memory which tells us how to build the organism
- A cognitive memory of events that we have experienced
- A memory of past infections that assist in the efficient functioning of our immune system
Since two out of three of these systems are based upon DNA, would we not expect nature to be efficient and seek the easiest way? Surely nature is efficient enough to use the identical tools for the third system as well, and not evolve yet another unique method.
If this theory is true, then our identity, our “self”, leaves a permanent mark on our genome. This, like the colour of our eyes, is passed on to our descendants. It has been estimated that perhaps some 40% of known personality traits are inherited, such as introversion/extraversion. This theory could explain how.
If memory is stored in the genes do we have access to instinctive memory? Is it possible to access other ancestral memories located in our DNA? Could this be an explanation for past-life regression? When your client regresses to memories from a previous life, is he or she actually then accessing something in their genome blueprint? Perhaps it could it be that he or she is actually recalling details of a life lived by a genetic ancestor.
Hypnosis has been found to be an important tool for the exploration of past lives. This is because hypnosis involves the experience of an altered psychological state. It is this altered psychological state that makes a person more receptive and responsive to the suggestion of inner experiences.
The past life journey begins in the traditional manner of a hypnotherapy session; that is to say with hypnotic induction followed by deepening. This is followed by suggested regression and it is after regression to a pre-womb time that the client identifies with a character which is not his or her current life self. The first experience reported is usually that of being in a physical body. The narrative may begin with self-description or the description of a neutral scene in which the client is participating. Alternatively, it may begin with a flashback sequence of events as the past life drama unfolds.
A significant component of past life therapy is the re-experience of a past life trauma. This is done differently with different therapeutic methods and ranges from the temporary (psychic) removal of the client from the painful situation, to the intensification of the stressful experience. Conventional analytical therapists believe that the emotional stress associated with a past life trauma should in no way be attenuated, but should be experienced fully, and possibly intensified, so that the client experiences abreaction and the trauma released. (All this is fully explained in the course)
Many physical complaints, fears, phobias, compulsions, preferences, dislike and personality traits in the present life have been shown to originate in former lives. The age of onset of a specific psychosomatic symptom in the current life may well be significant, and may correspond to the age when a trauma that is related to the current symptom in the client’s actual life took place in a past life. Often people re-enact past life experiences in their current life; therefore details of the current problem, and of the age of onset, may provide valuable clues for accessing a past life. The past life death experience and the after-death are valuable tools for transformation. This stage begins the process of dis-identification with the past life character.
There are individual differences in the way the past life death and the inter-life are experienced and reported. Most people describe sensations of floating above a scene, moving towards the light and experiencing the spirit world. Almost everybody going through this stage describes bodily sensations of lightness and floating, and an experience of inner peace, joy and freedom. The majority of reports appear to parallel what is known in current literature as “near death experiences” and thus provide an interesting mutual corroboration.
The after-death experience offers the opportunity to review the life just remembered and to look at the experiences in that life from a different perspective. The client now can experience being more detached and dispassionate towards the events just re-lived. When the perception of a past life traumatic situation is changed or reframed, its impact on the current life is reduced.
A great value of past life exploration is that valuable insights can be gained into current behaviour patterns. A significant amount of healing may result from releasing blocked emotions and from forgiveness. A turning point in the current life direction is made when a client fully understands and appreciates how past life experiences may have shaped his or her present life and as a result of this is prepared to let go of entrenched beliefs and behaviour patterns and start out on a new path. When past behaviour patterns which operate unconsciously, compulsively and rigidly are understood and released, the opportunity is there to experience freedom from the past and, finally, to become the master of one’s own destiny.
A final comment
A final comment in this article; so far, no one has produced any absolutely conclusive evidence either in favour of, or against, reincarnation or any other related theory. The existence of reincarnation is not a necessary prerequisite for past life work to be successful. Also a psychic experience or an imagined story created by the unconscious can offer valuable insights to the person being regressed. This, however, does not in any way detract from the therapeutic value of past life regression therapy.
Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious by Carl Gustav Jung
Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud
The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud
Mystery of the Mind by Wilder Penfield
The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
Past Life Regression by Ursula Markham
Practical Guide to Past-life Memories by Richard Webster
Through Time into Healing by Brian Weiss
Tony Edwards is certified as a Registered Clinical Hypnotherapist within the General Hypnotherapy Register and by the validation board of the General Hypnotherapy Standards Council. He has earned advanced qualifications in Clinical Hypnotherapy and Hypnoanalysis. He has further advanced qualifications in Psychotherapy and Behaviour Modification, Stress Management and Consultancy, Transpersonal Psychology and Meridian Energy Therapies.
Tony is a Member of the International Association of Hypnoanalysts, a Member of the British Institute of Hypnotherapy, and a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health. He is also a Member of the Association for Meridian Energy Therapies and other professional bodies concerned with Hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy. He is a Member of the NHS Directory of Complementary and Alternative Practitioners and is a Member of the Past Life Therapists Association.
Tony may be contacted by telephone at: +44 (0)1206 503561 or by Email
© A J Edwards, Colchester, Essex, 2006