A boy in western Louisiana believes he’s the reincarnation of a pilot shot down over Iwo Jima in World War II, an infant who died of a neuroblastoma may have returned to life as his half-brother, and a whiskey-drinking Thai child named Juta may be the reincarnation of his deceased uncle.
Dr. Jim Tucker, an associate professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at the University of Virginia, discusses this and more in his new book, “Return to Life: Extraordinary Cases of Children Who Remember Past Lives.” Recently I read the book, and spoke to the author, here are five things I learned…
Experimental Births – This phenomenon was first reported by Tucker’s predecessor, Dr. Ian Stevenson and involves marking the recently dead body in a specific spot with a substance like charcoal. Later-born children are then examined to see whether they have birthmarks in that spot. Tucker discusses the case of Yin Yin, whose maternal grandmother died of kidney disease. Upon death, Yin Yin’s aunt marked the grandmother’s body with soot in two places, on the outside of the leg just above the ankle, and on the inside of the leg just below the ankle. Eight years later Yin Yin’s mother became pregnant. She repeatedly dreamed of grandmother beckoning to come live with her and also craved tea, cake and Indian spiced food, just like grandmother had loved. When Yin Yin was born she had birthmarks in the same exact spots as the ones her aunt had marked on grandmother. The Dalia Lama reported a similar case in his own family, according to Tucker.
Other Great Reads: Gruesome toddler deaths and that wacky church
Soul Tug of War – A fight between souls! Rather than a seamless transition from one body to the next, the child is born before the person who is to inhabit their body in a reincarnated form dies. “The implication,” says Tucker, “is that a soul came into a young child and pushed out the soul that had been there before.” But the takeover is not always smooth, sometimes a tug of war ensues that can negatively affect the disposition of the person being inhabited. Such a thing happened to a 32 year old Indian woman named Uttara, who lost command of her native Marathi language and began speaking in Bengali. “She seemed to come from another time,” says Tucker, “as she appeared completely unfamiliar with any tools, appliances, or vehicles developed after the industrial revolution.” She said her name was Sharada, she didn’t recognize family or friends. Eventually Uttara returned but over the next couple years Sharada appeared regularly. “On the surface it is like two personalities fighting it out to be in control of a life or body but what is really going on there I don’t know,” explained Tucker. “But I don’t just dismiss it as some multiple personality issue, I think it is definitely more complicated.”
Whiskey Drinking Reincarnated Thai Infant – Juta lived in northeastern Thailand with his mother and grandparents. Four months after he was born his uncle was killed in a motorcycle accident—a truck hit him smashing his head into a guardrail. About three or four months later Jute developed respiratory problems, a high fever, shaking, teeth chattering and chills. “After he recovered,” reads Return to Life, “he had developed two dark spots on his left upper arm…irregularly shaped, almost triangular, and about a quarter inch in diameter.” His uncle had similar spots on his left arm. Also, Juta used to have an inie belly button but after the fever incident developed an outie, just like his uncle had had. Perhaps the most curious link between deceased uncle and infant nephew involved Juta’s drinking behavior. When his uncle’s friends visited Juta, who was not even two years old at this point, the infant would drink with them, just like he was one of the guys, and just like his uncle used to do. Juta poured beer or whiskey into a glass with ice, stirred it with his finger and drank it down. By the time he was five years old Juta had stopped drinking, reports Tucker. “He seemed to be a typical boy at that point.”
Other Great Reads: Helping others through grief
Consciousness does not necessarily die after death – Tucker suggests that the brain need not be the home of consciousness; it can just be a portal that consciousness goes through. “If I am right about the consciousness created reality I don’t think there’s any reason why there would only be one or two or three examples of consciousness. There could be all kinds of consciousness-created realities, it’s not like it’s just one homogenous kind of experience. I mean, it is not like there’s World A and World B and then you die and go to World B. The route seems to be variable.”
There may be a genetic component to the ability to remember past lives – “They would occur more in some people than in others,” explains Tucker, “and if they occurred more they may have led more to the religious belief in reincarnation, the ability to retrieve these memories. I am not saying it’s true but it’s possible. If there are a lot of kids saying, ‘Oh, I remember being uncle whoever,’ then people might be much more likely to incorporate that as a belief. So in Southeast Asia it may not necessarily be that their religions are more open to reincarnation, but that their religions are more open because they have been experiencing more reincarnation.”