Old Souls: Compelling Evidence from Children Who Remember Past Lives
(Simon & Schuster)
By Tom Shroder
Book Summary by Venerina Conti
Reincarnation and past lives are concepts as old as time. Philosophers, religious and spiritual entities, psychics, scientists, popular media, believers and sceptics alike have debated them for centuries.
Are they fact or fiction? Is there any evidence to suggest that they really exist or are they fruit of active imaginations?
Do we deny them because there is no evidence to prove otherwise?
Do we wish to believe in them because they offer us a glimmer of hope while dealing with the reality of our own mortality?
Is death really the end or is there more? After all, it is a wonderful notion to think that our friends, colleagues and loved ones could stay with us life after life.
Tom Shroder sets out to address some of these questions in his 1999 book Old Souls: Compelling Evidence from Children Who Remember Past Lives.
Although he tries to make sense of it all, it is up to the reader to decide whether to believe in reincarnation or not. He simply writes about what he observes.
As editor of the Miami Herald's Sunday Magazine, he interviews the highly respected psycho-pharmacologist, Dr. Brian Weiss, about his 1988 best seller Many live, Many Masters.
It speaks of Catherine, a patient of his who, under hypnosis, talks about many previous lives in detail.
Coming to terms with Weiss neither being ridiculed nor ostracised, by his colleagues and peers, is a little difficult.
He is also amazed how Weiss himself shows no sign of scepticism towards Catherine's accounts.
As a matter of curiosity, he goes to see a psychic who specialises in the past. He sits in on various life regression hypnotherapy sessions.
He speaks to psychologists and Para-psychologists who deal with multiple personality disorders and nothing.
Nothing at all resonates with his inner self nor his sense of having lived a previous life.
Just as he is about to give up, he comes across an article by Dr. Ian Stevenson. He is a physician and psychiatrist who conducts research into past lives from living, waking, accounts.
In comparison to Weiss, Stevenson was hardly known, yet his methodology made more sense than that of Dr. Weiss.
Stevenson simply interviewed people, with memories, in their own environment. He also interviewed their friends, family and neighbours as well as collecting printed material from newspaper reports.
All the past life memories are told by ordinary people, with ordinary lives, who have clear recollections about people, events and places still present.
Stevenson's background is in biochemistry, experimental research with hallucinogenic drugs, psychic ability and more.
He is a hard core scientist / researcher who believes there is something more beyond physical reality.
He became involved with reincarnation cases after he wrote a paper for a “psychic content competition” run by the American Psychological Society.
His article was noticed by another researcher who funded his first trip to India to interview children.
He wrote his findings in a book published three years later. Issues arose concerning a fraudulent translator he used as his guide.
So, he returned to India to salvage whatever material he could wherever possible. During the second visit he realised how valuable follow up interviews could be.
He had the chance to see how past life memories influenced children growing up.
Determined that he wanted to observe Dr. Stevenson on a field trip, Shroder contacted him.
In 1989 they set out together on a journey that takes them through Lebanon, India and parts of the United States.
Throughout Lebanon, they are accompanied by Majd, a former colleague of Dr. Stevenson's, who pre-planned their Lebanese schedule.
The first case they work is that of Daniel. He remembers being a man called Rashid, from the town of Kfarmatta, killed in a car crash.
Before Daniel could speak he uttered the name Ibrahim. He was a friend of Rashid's and the man driving the car at the time of the accident.
His mother said that when they drove past the scene of the crash, one day, Daniel started screaming and crying in the back of their car.
The day they visit Kfarmatta, Rashid's oldest sister, who they wanted to interview, is absent.
However, his younger sister is there who offers them her daughter to interview instead. She remembers being a 21 year old woman called Ulfa murdered during the Christian war.
She says her attackers shot her in the leg, stabbed her and carved the shape of a cross onto her chest.
Shroder asks Rashid's sister if they have ever met Ulfa's family. He wondered whether any of the information was influenced by outsiders' accounts.
He even wondered if the young girl heard about Ulfa's death from someone else.
Any type of information contamination is considered a great threat to Stevenson's research. However, it came to light that in this instance the families had not met.
Still focusing on Daniel, they go to his apartment to interview him.
After a few inquisitive questions, Daniel confirms that he likes cars but not speeding ones because they still fill him with fear.
He says that he has visited Rashid's grave, met with Ibrahim and grown close to Rashid's family.
After leaving Daniel's apartment, Dr. Stevenson goes back to the hotel while Majd and Shroder head over to “Le Jour” newspaper.
They want to find anything (in print) that could verify Daniel's story. Out of luck, Majd contacts a friend of hers at the University of Beirut who puts some microfilms at their disposal.
They come across an article about Rashid's death but notice that it says the car belongs to Daniel. Daniel always said the car belonged to Ibrahim.
This discrepancy is cleared up that same day by Rashid's mother, who confirms the car belongs to Ibrahim.
Interestingly enough, she also mentions that Rashid was engaged for 5 days before he died, which Daniel never mentioned.
She also speaks of Daniel asking Rashid's mother if she had finished the jumper she was knitting for Rashid before his death.
A relative casually mentions that Daniel and Rashid's grandmothers knew each other for some time.
This causes some concern about information passing between the two families.
They wondered if Daniel's story was influenced in any way.
However, since Daniel was only 2 years of age at the time of Rashid's death, they agreed he could not have taken in so many details.
That same evening, Majd holds a dinner in Dr. Stevenson's honour.
The conversation is primarily about reincarnation and its strong presence among the Druse.
The guests debate why cases are comparatively less common amongst Christians and decide that belief is the answer.
They believe that if it socially accepted that death is the end, there is no reason to look for cases of reincarnation.
However, they note that, as the Druse become more integrated in Western (or other) cultures so reported cases of reincarnation are fewer and fewer.
The next case interview is a young woman called Suzanne. As young as 5 years of age, she told her parents she was Hanan, wife of Farouk and mother of three.
Her parents say that at 16 months of age, she would pick up the phone receiver and try to call someone.
Later on, Hanan's daughter, Leila, says that, before dieing during risky heart surgery, in Virginia, Hanan tried to call her.
At the age of 3, Suzanne gave her grandmother a recipe for Namour, one of Hanan's favourite dishes.
Hanan's family members were very wealthy, prominent figures in Society. When the local newspaper heard about Suzanne's story they interviewed her immediately.
As a result, Hanan's family decided to go and meet her. She recognised them immediately and identified a photograph with 13 other members of the family in it.
She spoke of the Hanan's jewels, left with a relative of hers in Virginia. They were meant to be given to her daughters.
Only Hanan and her relative knew of this. It was too much of an intimate detail for Suzanne's claims to be dismissed.
Farouk had since remarried. It is obvious that Suzanne still has difficulty in coming to terms with it.
She is sad, tearful and full of resentment just like a jealous woman. Her pain is obvious to all.
Shroder begins to wonder what people have to gain by having memories from previous lives.
He recognises that these people are not seeking fame or fortune. He noted how having these memories causes so much pain and distress.
He can see the genuineness of the accounts, yet he still cannot find any inner resonance with the whole concept of reincarnation.
He wonders whether some of these accounts could be ESP rather than previous life experiences.
When Majd calls Hannan's sister, she is reluctant to speak to her. The family wants nothing more to do with Suzanne.
Farouk believes the whole ordeal is too painful for all parties involved.
He also believes that Suzanne's life cannot move forward unless she lets go of Hannan's memories.
Another case investigated is that of Itidal. A divorcee who's husband has forcefully taken custody of their only son and denied her motherly visiting rights.
Itidal has memories of being a very poor woman called Salma from a village called Aley.
One morning, around 3 or 4am, while she was hanging out the laundry, Salma was shot to death by her drunken husband.
Intisar (Itidal's sister) confirms that Itidal had spoken about this since a very young age. So did Baz, a professor of psychology, who had been Salma's neighbour all her life.
He says he was one of the first people to arrive at the crime scene after he heard the shots.
The only difference between Itidal and Baz's story is about the number of times Salma was shot.
Baz is sure it was only once. He remembers seeing one wound. Itidal claims Salma was shot twice.
Baz gives Dr. Stevenson a new case lead, which leads him to the home of a 10 year old boy, called Bashir.
He remembers being a 17 year old neighbour of Baz's, called Fadi, who died of shrapnel wounds. He was helping people out of a trench, on the west side of Aley, when a bomb exploded next to it.
The interview is not outstanding. As with Daniel's case, Bashir and Fadi's families knew each other so there is concern about the exchange of information. Dr. Stevenson isn't too concerned though.
As this is his last trip to Lebanon, someone else would be responsible for investigating it further.
In Agra, a small village Stevenson last visited back in 1971, they interview Tali, the 6 year old son of the Khattar.
Tali claims he was Said Abul-Hisn, a man shot to death on his own patio by someone he knew.
Stevenson is particularly interested in Tali's birthmarks. He believes that birthmarks are connected to previous life experiences and had been studying them for years.
In this case, Said's autopsy pictures show that his wounds are in a similar, but not identical, position to Tali's birthmarks.
The difference in position is explained by birthmarks having a tendency to move slightly during child development.
Tali is not happy to see Americans, he resents them because of the war. He shouts at Dr. Stevenson and demands compensation for being mentioned in his book.
Tali's brother, Mazeed, says he has memories from a previous life but he refuses to speak of them. He is more interested in talking about how the New Jersey bombing killed one of their brothers as well as many others.
The more the boys shout, the more Shroder feels threatened and uncomfortable. He wants them all to leave as quickly and as safely as possible.
On the last day of their Lebanese trip, they visit a 3 year old girl called Lillian.
Her grandmother says she heard her speaking about a dead husband and talking to dolls as if they were her real children.
The visit is fruitless. Lillian's parents do not believe in reincarnation.
They say they have never heard their daughter say anything and they want nothing to do with the researchers.
After a brief return to the United States, Shroder and Stevenson set off to India. They are accompanied by Dr. Satwant Pasricha who helped Dr. Stevenson on many of his previous trips.
She was conducting her own independent case research based on his methods of investigation.
Their first case is a 7 year old girl called Preeti. She remembers being Sheila, a teenager from a village about 10 or 12 miles away, run over by a car.
As in Lebanon, they collect testimonials from Preeti, her family and Sheila's. They evaluate the validity of information and critically analysed it for any loopholes.
They speak to a young girl claiming to be her cousin who died in a shed fire. They interview another young child, with 2 birthmarks, who remembers being shot in the same places.
They visit another two cases, which they reject because the families know each other. They become very disappointed with their trip.
They visit a village called Agra, where they hear the story of a very depressed young woman called Sumitra.
She use to live in the village with her husband. They had moved there from Delhi but she never liked it.
Her old neighbours say that, one day she predicted her own death and then suddenly lost consciousness.
She regained it days later as a woman called Shiva, who was supposedly killed by her in-laws years prior.
Satwant expresses her concerns about the case. She asks if Sumitra could have used the events as a ploy to get her husband to move back to Delhi.
She questions whether Sumitra might have heard about Shiva's death and used it as a means to an end.
However, this didn't explain how Sumitra immediately recognised members of Shiva's family.
Nor did it account for her knowing all the pet names they had for one another.
They admit that Sumitra/Shiva's case didn't resemble any reincarnation encountered so far.
They wonder if it is a case of multiple personalities. But, they can't explain how the personality of a dead woman got into the conscious reality of a living woman.
Back in the United States of America, Shroder still has reservations about reincarnation.
He is more inclined to believe in ESP. However, as he starts talking to others about his experiences with Dr. Stevenson, so he begins to hear of cases closer to home.
A nursery school teacher tells him about a child, in her class, who spoke non stop about living in Virginia.
When she asked the child's mother about it, the mother responded that they had never lived in Virginia.
He hears about an acquaintance of his, from Bridgeport, saying to his parents that they were not his parents and that he was born in Dixie.
He also hears that he told them stories about his real grandparents and parents, and where they use to live.
The case was never followed up because his acquaintance's family were Christians. They did not believe in reincarnation.
Once again, he teams up with Stevenson to interview a young boy called Joseph. Joseph's relatives say they heard him talk about painting their roof red, having an argument with friends and playing with sheets on a cloth's line with his sister.
They tell them these events happened to David, a family member who died in a capsized tractor.
Joseph's mother also says that, as a child, Joseph insisted she buy him size 8 shoes, David's size.
It was only when he realised they were too big for him that he stopped asking and stopped talking so much about the past.
Shroder does the final interview alone in Charlottesville. He meets Debbie, 5 year old Robert's mother.
She tells him Robert was able to speak at the age of 6 months. By 12 months he was stringing full sentences together and talking about his farm.
He told her about his previous mother who left him. He said he was one of six brothers and sisters.
He said he use to have a green tractor and a black pickup truck. At a very young age, he could distinguish the sounds of motorbike engines without seeing them.
Also, while out driving, one day, he gave his parents clear directions to get to his farm. They drove past it but never stopped.
Debbie, Robert and Shroder visit the farm hoping to interview the dead owner's daughter.
She tells them that her father had two fibroid growths removed from his head. These matched the same locations as 2 birthmarks Robert had.
Although some of Robert's memories are confirmed as true events, some things didn't match up like the colour of the vehicles. The case wasn't investigated further.
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