A few weeks ago I wrote an article on the subject of reincarnation and birthmarks (click here), focussing upon the work of Ian Stevenson, who believes that in some cases a birthmark appears at the site of a wound, usually fatal, from a previous incarnation, which suggests that the earlier wound is the cause of the birthmark. (This in itself was a follow-up to an earlier article which discussed Stevenson’s work in much more detail, specifically children’s memories of past lives.)
I had two contrasting responses. The first came from a good friend of mine, who dutifully reads all my articles, partly for proof-reading purposes, although she is also (I hope) interested in my thoughts. She is of a somewhat ‘scientific’ and sceptical disposition and, although she disagrees with much of what I write, she very rarely comments. On this occasion, however, the subject matter was obviously too much for her, and she took me to task. Her message was obviously, how on earth can you believe this stuff? The second response (click here) was from someone on Medium.com with the pseudonym HighEnergyEntity. It began “Nice one, Graham”, and he started to follow me. In subsequent correspondence he told me about his “accelerated spiritual awakening”, his teacher Jonathan Sherwood, and his knowledge of his previous incarnations. It seems clear, therefore, that one’s reaction to a controversial topic like this depends upon one’s worldview, and also one’s life experiences.
I invited my friend to read Stevenson’s book¹, to see whether there was anything in it that could persuade her to change her mind, but she declined. (It would usually be reasonable to criticise someone in an academic debate who rejects a hypothesis without having read the relevant material, but that is not the case here. She merely does me a favour by reading, so no criticism is intended, as she has other priorities.) Instead I’ve decided to write some further articles, to explore Stevenson’s cases in more detail, to offer readers the opportunity to assess how convincing his material is. (At least she will have to read these!) In this article I’ll focus on birthmarks, and in a subsequent one I’ll discuss birth defects which, in some instances, offer even more compelling evidence for reincarnation than birthmarks.
My friend’s main complaint was “How can you believe this, when there is a much simpler explanation for birthmarks?” Stevenson, however, is completely aware of this issue. He indeed agrees that there are other causes for some birthmarks: genetic factors, certain viral infections, chemicals (such as thalidomide and alcohol), and unspecified others. These factors, however, fail to account for many cases, “less than half of all birth defects” (p2). He also makes the important point that most workers in the scientific and medical community would not even consider reincarnation as a reality, so are hardly likely to consider it a cause of birthmarks: “Modern medicine, with its reductionist and mechanical approach to illness, rarely recognizes a person as anything more than the behavioral expression of his or her body. From this perspective, there is no person other than the body. Thus, if someone is born with a birth defect, physicians nearly always attribute this to chance” (p3).
Before looking at the reasons that led Stevenson to his radical conclusion, I should point out that he is neither naïve nor gullible, nor someone seeking to make a name and money for himself with a controversial theory. He is rather a normal scientist, inquisitive and open-minded, sceptical and objective, who merely wants to consider on its merits the evidence in front of him. He only begins to consider reincarnation as an explanation when all other hypotheses are ruled out.
In his earlier book², he had focussed on children’s recollections of past lives. Even though he found many convincing cases, these nevertheless relied upon the memories of both the children and their parents, as well as those of the families of the deceased person in question. As we know, memory can be fallible. Birthmarks and birth defect cases are therefore important because they “provide an objective type of evidence… We have photographs (and occasionally sketches) which show the birthmarks and birth defects. And for many of the cases, we have a medical document, usually a postmortem report, that gives us a written confirmation of the correspondence between the birthmark (or birth defect) and the wound on the deceased person whose life the child, when it can speak, will usually claim to remember… The birthmarks and birth defects in these cases do not lend themselves easily to explanations other than reincarnation”. They provide evidence “that a deceased personality — having survived death — may influence the form of a later-born baby. I am well aware of the seriousness — as well as the importance — of such a claim and can only say that I have been led to it by the evidence of the cases”. Such cases also provide “a better explanation than any other now available about why some persons have birth defects when most persons do not and for why some persons who have a birth defect have theirs in a particular location instead of elsewhere” (p2).
With all that in mind, let’s have a look at some of his most impressive cases. Chapter 6 is entitled ‘Birthmarks Corresponding to Wounds Verified by Medical Records’. Stevenson considers these “the most important group in the entire collection. The medical records, usually postmortem reports, verify the correspondence between the birthmarks and the wounds with a certitude sometimes approached but never reached by the testimonies of informants drawing on their memories”. He provides details of twelve case histories, which I’ll summarise here with the most significant details. (Please feel free to stop, if at any point you feel convinced by the wealth of the material. There will be more interesting evidence in the next article in the series.)
1. Metin Köybaşi. “Even before his birth, he had been provisionally identified, on the basis of dreams his parents had had, as the reincarnation of a relative (Haşim Köybaşi), who had been killed some 5 months before… At his birth Metin was found to have a birthmark on the right side of the front of his neck… No informant told me to what wound this birthmark corresponded, and I did not know until I examined the postmortem report on Haşim Köybaşi. This showed that the bullet which killed Haşim had entered his head behind the left ear and almost exited on the right side of the front of the neck. It did not, however, fully penetrate the skin… (and) the pathologist had made a small incision and extracted the bullet. The birthmark therefore corresponded to the pathologist’s postmortem wound”. There was a further mark, an area of increased pigmentation, corresponding to the wound of entry. “Like many other children of these cases Metin showed powerful attitudes of vengefulness toward the man who had shot Haşim. He once tried to take his father’s gun and shoot this person, but was fortunately restrained”.
2. Tali Sowaid. “He had circular birthmarks of increased pigmentation on each cheek… Soon after Tali began to speak, he started referring to the life of a man… (from a nearby village). He described how he had been having a cup of coffee before leaving for work when a man came up to him and shot him. What Tali was saying corresponded exactly to the murder of a man called Said Abul-Hisn, who lived in (the named) village”. This seems to have been a case of mistaken identity. “The bullet entered one side of Said’s face and exited at the other, traversing the tongue on the way… (He was taken to hospital.) His tongue having swollen, it was necessary to make a hole in his windpipe in order to provide an adequate airway. Somehow, Said fell out of bed, and when this happened, his tracheostomy tube must have become obstructed, and he died. The incident of falling out of bed just before dying figured in Tali’s memories. (The hospital record) showed that the birthmark on Tali’s left cheek… corresponded to the wound of entry, and the larger birthmark on the right cheek corresponded to the wound of exit”. This is one of six similar cases. Tali “identified strongly with Said and asked his family to call him ‘Said’. Tali showed a difficulty in articulating properly. He had special trouble in pronouncing certain ‘s’ sounds, which require elevating the tongue. I interpreted this defect as a possible residue of the damage to Said’s tongue when the bullet passed through it”.
3. Alan Gamble. “On the basis of a dream and two birthmarks, he was identified as the reincarnation of Walter Wilson, who had died several years before Alan’s birth”. Wilson had accidentally shot himself during a fishing trip. “The shots entered his left hand… and exited at the wrist”. His hand was subsequently amputated, but he died in hospital. “Alan’s two birthmarks were on his left hand and wrist”, and corresponded to Wilson’s wounds.
4. Sunita Singh. “At birth she was found to have an extremely large birthmark of the port-wine stain type. It extended over her upper right chest and much of her right arm. In addition, she had three birthmarks on the lower part of the right side of her neck and the upper part of her chest”. When a few years old she began to speak about a previous life. “On a social visit to a neighbouring village, she noticed a man and said: ‘He is my son’. She gave the man’s name, Ranvir. One of the women in this village seemed to frighten and even terrify her. After this, Sunita stated details of how in a previous life she had lived in this particular village. She had been murdered there, she said, by her daughter-in-law”. Her name was Ram Dulari, and she had expressed her disapproval of the affairs of her daughter-in-law’, who then, in revenge, hired some men who killed her with a sword.
“Sunita showed a marked fear of Ram Dulari’s daughter-in-law when she happened to see her” (this was the woman just mentioned), saying “she will kill me again”. “The postmortem report that we obtained showed a satisfactory correspondence between the sword wound on Ram Dulari’s neck and chest and Sunita’s birthmarks. I believe the port-wine stain birthmarks on Sunita’s chest and arm corresponded to the blood left on Ram Dulari’s body when it was cremated”.
5. Nasruddin Shah. He was “born with several birthmarks, of which the most prominent was a lens-shaped birthmark on his left chest”. He said “that he was called Hardev Baksh Singh and had been killed with a spear during a quarrel over cattle”. This was true of a man by that name: “one of his adversaries drove a spear through his left upper chest, and he died almost immediately. The postmortem report confirmed the close correspondence in location between Nasruddin’s birthmark when he was born and the fatal spear wound”.
Another interesting feature of this case was that, although born a Muslim, Nasruddin “considered himself a Hindu; moreover, he regarded himself as one of particular distinction (just like Hardev Singh was)… He would not say Islamic prayers or go to the mosque”. Although reincarnation is not an Islamic teaching, his parents became convinced that he was indeed the reincarnation of Singh.
6. Henry Demmert III. Following his parents’ separation soon after his birth, he was adopted by his grandfather and his second wife Gertrude. Shortly before his birth, she had a dream “that her husband’s deceased son by his first wife was looking for his father and her”. When Henry was born, “he was found to have a birthmark on his upper left chest in the region of the heart”. On the basis of this and the dream, Henry was identified as the reincarnation of an earlier Henry Demmert. The latter had been stabbed in the heart following an all-night drinking party. The birthmark “was slightly narrower toward the inside, so that its shape was roughly that of the profile of a single-edged knife”. Unusually in these cases, Henry said almost nothing about his previous life, only when pointing to his birthmark, that he had “got hurt there”, and that this had happened when he “was big”.
7. Narong Yensiri. “At his birth, his parents noticed several prominent birthmarks, of which the largest was at the lower part of his chest near the midline. Large parts of the skin of his back were heavily pigmented. When Narong became able to speak, he began to refer to the life of his maternal grandfather… (who) had been murdered under mysterious circumstances two years before Narong’s birth”, apparently by two men who came to visit, and with whom he went off to the forest. Stevenson studied the report of the doctor who was called to the scene, which “showed a good correspondence between wounds on the body and the birthmarks on Narong”.
8. Necip Ünlütaşkiran. His mother “had a dream before he was born in which a man she did not recognize showed himself to her with bleeding wounds. She did not know how to interpret this dream, but it made some sense when she saw, after Necip’s birth, that he had seven birthmarks”. He was late in speaking about a previous life, but “from the age of 6 he began to say that he had children and asked his mother to take him to them”. “He said that his name was Necip (Budak), and that he had been stabbed; as he described the stabbing, he pointed to various parts of his body to indicate where he had been stabbed”. Several years later, his grandfather’s second wife confirmed the accuracy of his statements. His grandfather then took him to the relevant village, where “he recognized several members of the family of Necip Budak”. The latter had died the day after being stabbed repeatedly in a quarrel.
Among the impressive statements Necip ( Ünlütaşkiran) made, the most convincing was “his claim that he had once stabbed his (Necip Budak’s) wife in the leg and that she thereafter had a scar on her leg”. This was true, and “taking some ladies into a back room she showed them the scar on her thigh”.
9. Hanumant Saxena. “Not long before Hanumant’s mother conceived him, she dreamed that a man of the same village called Maha Ram appeared to her. Maha Ram had been shot dead only a few weeks earlier. In the dream, Maha Ram said to her: ‘I am coming to you’. Having said that, he lay down on a cot. The dream ended there”. Hanumant was born with a “large birthmark on the lower part of his chest near the midline. It was irregular in shape and really consisted of several birthmarks close together”. This “corresponded closely in location to the fatal wound on Maha Ram”, who had been shot at close range with a shotgun. “The postmortem report showed that the main charge of pellets had hit Maha Ram in the lower part of the chest in the midline; there was some scattering of wounds from shot around the principal wound. The Indian doctor who examined the postmortem report with (Stevenson) (and who had no knowledge of the location of Hanumant’s birthmark) sketched in the location of wounds on a human figure drawing. This shows almost exact correspondence between the wounds and Hanumant’s birthmark”. (Photos are in the book.)
“When he was about 3 years old, he started referring to the life of Maha Ram. He said that he was him, and, pointing to his birthmark, he said that he had been shot there”. He made a few other correct statements, and “he recognized some people and places familiar to Maha Ram”.
10. Sunita Khandelwal. Immediately after her birth “she was noticed to have a large birthmark on the right side of her head”. It was bleeding, “but her family applied talcum powder to it, and the bleeding stopped after 3 days”. At the age of about 2, she began to refer to a previous life in a town called Kota, the most significant detail being that she had fallen down “from a small height’, having been pushed by her cousin when she was 8 years old. “She pointed to the area of the birthmark on her head and said: ‘Look here, I have fallen’ ”. The family had no connections with Kota, but Sunita demanded to be taken there, even though “her family had no substantial clues for finding in Kota the family to which she was referring”. By the time they actually went, she had provided a few more details. They did manage to find one family which fitted the bill, their 8-year-old daughter Sakuntala having died after falling from a balcony. Her mother “found her unconscious with blood running out of one ear”, and she died a few hours later. There remained the question of whether this was the actual family, and Stevenson investigated as best he could whether there were other candidates. However, “after a careful appraisal of all the facts, (he) became convinced that Sakuntala was the correct child and that she alone had had a life and death with details that matched Sunita’s statements”.
11. Dellâl Beyaz. “At her birth she was found to have a substantial birthmark at the top of her head, and it oozed for some days after her birth”. She “gave the first indications of having memories of a previous life when her mother overheard her talking to herself. She seemed to be calling to someone for help. Gradually she communicated details about the life of a woman who, hanging out clothes to dry on the roof of a house, stepped back, and fell through a hole in the roof”. Her “statements would have gone unverified longer than they did if a man from Odabaşi (the relevant village)… had not happened to hear about them” when in the neighbourhood. Her statements “seemed to fit closely the life and death of a woman called Zehide Köse, who had lived and died in Odabaşi”. “Zehide had been doing just what Dellâl had said” (details given). “She died the following day from injuries to her skull and brain”. Stevenson examined the hospital record which confirmed the cause of death, but made no mention of any damage that might have corresponded to the birthmark. He thinks that “this could easily have been overlooked beneath Zehide’s hair”. He also examined the birthmark, which “resembled the scar of a healed wound”.
“Dellâl was one of the few Turkish subjects to describe an event that occurred after death in the previous life. She gave a correct description of the location of Zehide’s grave”.
12. Wilfred Meares. “Before she conceived him, his mother Ruby Meares had had two dreams about a deceased relative, Victor Smart, who, she said, ‘kept coming to me’. Even before that, this same relative, while he was still living, had said that, if he were to reincarnate, he would like to return as Ruby Meares’s child”. Victor had died instantly, following a car accident in which his head hit the pavement, he bit his tongue, and broke his neck. His birthmark was “a hairless area at the back of his head. “When Wilfred could speak, he made a few statements about the life of Victor Smart. He showed friendships and animosities toward members of the family that accorded with those of Victor Smart”.
The last example is perhaps not as impressive as some of the others, in which many more convincing details are provided. I hope, however, that I have provided enough evidence overall to show that wounds from a previous life as the cause of birthmarks is a hypothesis at least worthy of consideration. I also hope that readers here have more easily been persuaded than my friend mentioned above.
As I said above, in the next article I’ll turn to Stevenson’s examples of birth defects. There will be further fascinating examples.
- Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect, Praeger, 1997
- Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation. University Press of Virginia, 2nd edition 1974