A person under hypnosis may remember what might seem to be a former incarnation or re-experience events from a “former life.”
Sometimes the memories or experiences are dramatically vivid. For example, a woman remembering a trial and punishment for witchcraft may show signs of genuine terror.
And what the hypnotized subject says may be rich with little-known but accurate historical facts, or facts that “only such-and-such person could have known.”
Still, many of the problems afflicting cases of mediumship or channeling pertain to past-life regressions as well. And regression cases have other problems of their own.
A core feature of hypnosis is the tendency of the hypnotized subject to respond compliantly to suggestions. In response to hypnotic suggestions, even ones not deliberately given, a subject in trance may subconsciously construct a fictitious past life.
To do this, subjects may draw on information they have gained normally, or perhaps even paranormally.
In some cases, researchers have found that the rich, dramatic details of a “past life” match those of this or that historical novel, a novel the hypnotized subject must have read and then forgotten.
Hypnotized subjects may creatively draw on their inner resources to dramatize imagined experiences, and may thoroughly believe them true, even after the trance is over.
Regression to a “past life”—so-called past-lives therapy—may have therapeutic effects, even if that past life is fictitious. A skilled professional therapist, therefore, may knowingly invoke such regressions as a therapeutic technique.
Less discriminating therapists may themselves be overimpressed by the fictions they themselves have invoked and join their clients in believing them. The more discriminating will know better.
Among other such therapeutic techniques, by the way, are the deliberate creation of a fictitious childhood, one more comfortable and useful for the client than the true one. Another technique is hypnotic progression, in which the client experiences a time in the future—for example, seeing himself in a time when an issue troubling him has been resolved. The client may “experience” this imagined future as vividly and dramatically as an imagined past.
“Past lives” experienced in hypnotic trance are therefore unlikely to be objectively real. As evidence of reincarnation, nearly all such cases are scientifically worthless.
A few cases have shown features that make them more worthy of scientific consideration. But such cases are the rare exception, and the evidence they provide is far from conclusive.
If you’re interested in past-life regressions, there’s something else you should know: The “experiences” from a past life, however fictitious, may profoundly upset the person experiencing them and cause him emotional distress or confusion even after the trance is over. In some few cases, also, the hypnotically invoked “former personality” has spontaneously returned and resisted the usual suggestions to disappear. Like hypnosis in general, “past-life regression” should not be used as a plaything.
Dr. Ian Stevenson offers a further discussion about hypnotic regression to previous lives.