Children's Past Lives -  
How Past Life Memories Affect Your Child  
by Carol Bowman 
Bantam Books, New York 1998 $6.60  
Reviewed by Ellen Becker

This book has a deceptively simple title, but it has profound things to say to our times. It treats a subject close to being taboo in Western culture - past lives and reincarnation - from the personal experiences of the author and her children - and breaks through all the disbeliefs I have had about the subject. It makes the most convincing case I've ever read for the reality of past lives, for both children and adults.

Carol Bowman's focus is on children - how open they are in their young years to past life experiences bleeding through to this life, particularly if they died a violent death. Her aim is to open parents to the reality of past lives and prepare them to support their children if past life memories come flooding through so that they can help their children heal from old traumas. Central to her thinking and to this book is her belief that the remembrances and the making conscious of a traumatic past life can bring a catharsis and a profound healing of memories or feelings that otherwise might torment the child for the rest of its life.

Children are particularly open to these memories, the author has found, and particularly open to learning from them and being healed. As we age, she states, the memories fade and our years can bury our past life experiences under layers of beliefs, ideas, experiences and resistance, so that this form of healing is much more difficult.

The first part of the book is devoted to the personal experiences that led her to the profound realizations she came to. It all began through her children - her five-year-old son Chase suddenly became inexplicably and seriously terrified of fireworks at the age of five, though in prior years, he'd had no such fears. Later that year she related this fact to a hypnotherapist who was visiting and doing past life regressions with adults. He suggested that she sit her son in her lap and he'd ask him some questions. She had no expectation that children could remember past lives, so what transpired next was a complete shock.

Without the need of hypnotic induction, her son connected immediately with a scene in which he was a grown man in a battle field carrying a long gun with a sword at the end. He was firing at anything that moved and was soon shot in the wrist and taken from the battle by a companion to an open tented area where wounded soldiers were being treated. The location of the wrist wound corresponded exactly to a spot of severe eczema her son had had since he was a baby. Within a few days of this recall, the eczema disappeared from her son's wrist and never reappeared. The fear of fireworks did also.

This incident was just the beginning of her experiences with her children's recall of past lives. She'd had her own past life experiences under the guidance of the same hypnotherapist, which are fascinating in themselves, but the ease with which her children were able to access these memories and the marked healing they produced fascinated her and aroused her curiosity about the possibility of similar occurrences of such memories in other children. She began to look for the corroboration of others regarding past lives and children.

Bowman describes the work of many writers and practitioners she has discovered including Helen Wambach, Edith Fiore, and Roger Woolger. I've worked with Roger Woolger on past life regressions myself and attended with the author the very workshop in upstate New York to which she refers in her book. But my belief, until I read this book, was that it doesn't matter whether or not you believe in past lives; they're useful for healing in any case.

Her recounting of the research of Dr. Ian Stevenson changed all that for me. Here is a man who has studied - and who continues to study - thousands of cases worldwide (more than twenty-six hundred so far) of children's spontaneous recollections of past lives, over half of them persisting despite their parents' attempts to suppress them. The importance of Dr. Stevenson's research cannot be discredited as so many accounts of past recall, such as the famous "Bridey Murphy" case, have been universally dismissed as elaborate hoaxes on the basis of charges of suggestion by a hypnotherapist and of hidden access to other sources of information about the period being allegedly recalled. Stevenson limits his research to only subjects who manifest spontaneous recall, and has developed exhaustive techniques for checking and matching a child's recall of a past life against real evidential details discoverable in this life and for investigating the issue of whether the child could have learned details of the past life recalled through normal means.

Among his cases he has found numerous children who could locate the very street and house where they had lived in the past life, who spoke to their spouse and relatives from that prior life in ways uniquely appropriate to the prior relationship, who knew facts that only that now-dead person could have known. He found numbers of children - fully one third of his verified cases - who bore birthmarks that exactly matched wounds they suffered at their death. For example, a young boy had died in his prior life from a shotgun blast to the chest. In this life, birth marks on his chest exactly matched autopsy reports of the entry wounds of the bullets. One of his most spectacular cases is of a young boy, two years old, who recalled being murdered as a child in the prior life. He kept repeating his story for the next two years to his family and friends until the story finally spread to neighboring districts where the father of the murdered boy heard the tale. When the child in this life finally met his former father, he recognized him immediately, and told details of his earlier death all of which matched the confession of one of the murderers and the material evidence of the crime. Furthermore he related other details of his prior life that were confirmed by his former family.

In the second part of her book, Carol Bowman describes how parents can discern whether their child is having a past life memory or a fantasy; she discusses what sorts of things can trigger such an memory and she describes what parents can do to help their child should a memory surface. Parents can be crucial in drawing out the memory and creating the opportunity for the child to be healed of any trauma, she believes. They can help a young child separate the past from the present and after the memory has emerged, help the child to realize that those events happened in the past and that this life is different. She recounts tale after tale of the huge relief that children feel in having any confusion about this cleared up and in realizing they are safe now. She also relates how difficult it can be for a child if his or her parents belittle or discredit the past life memory.

The third and last part of her book is a discussion of the location that ideas about past lives and reincarnation have had in our culture. She traces and explains why historically they have been repressed in Western culture. She notes that during the time of Jesus, reincarnation was one of the many common ideas and/or beliefs of the day and after Jesus' death, Christianity itself existed in the form of many different factions with different ideas including reincarnation. It wasn't until the emperor Justinian, who, wanting to consolidate his grip and unify the then disintegrating Roman Empire, offered to throw his weight behind Christianity if the factions would agree to a single creed; in the approved form, reincarnation was decreed a crime worthy of excommunication.

When belief in reincarnation appeared again in the thirteenth century among a devout sect of Christians, the Cathars of France, Christianity engaged in a brutal purge, a "crusade" that murdered more than half a million people, all inhabitants of the region of Occitanie (or Languedoc, if one uses the term based on their pronunciation of the word "yes"), and paved the way for the Inquisition. She suggests that these are the powerful historical events that have driven the idea from our Western minds and instilled fear in us all for even entertaining the idea. She tells of the fear parents express to her when reporting their children's past life recollections, introducing themselves by saying, "Now I hope you don't think I'm crazy, but..."

She then makes a very perceptive comment about why our Western culture might have aligned itself against an idea so widely received in other cultures. She asks:

Why would the Church go to such lengths to discredit reincarnation? The implicit psychology of reincarnation may be the best explanation. A person who believes in reincarnation assumes responsibility for his own spiritual evolution through rebirth. He does not need priests, confessionals, and rituals to ward off damnation (none of these ideas, incidentally, were part of Jesus' teachings). He needs only to heed his own acts toward himself and others. A belief in reincarnation eliminates the fear of eternal hell that the Church uses to discipline the flock. In other words, reincarnation directly undermines the authority and power of the dogmatic Church.
 
Carol Bowman has been moved by her love for her children, by her concern for all children, all souls, coming into this life with scars from the past, and by her vision of the opportunity for healing that the modality of recall constantly presents, to make a powerful statement about how we live and how we could live. This is a very profound book for our times.