Past Lives: An Interview With Carol Bowman
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Bowman is a respected researcher on Spontaneous Past-Life Memories
of Children. She is author of two groundbreaking books, ‘Children's
Past Lives,' and her newest book, ‘Return from Heaven.'
‘Unsolved Mysteries' (NBC) aired a full segment on Carol's
work; the segment is now in constant rotation on the Lifetime
cable channel. Carol was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show in
What got you interested in past life research and spontaneous
past life memories with children?
Being brought up in American Judeo-Christian culture, I was never
exposed to reincarnation until I was a college student in the
late sixties. Once I had heard about it, it made a lot of sense
to me because it explained to me all kinds of things that seemed
to be missing from the traditional teachings. Around 1986 I became
very ill with lung problems and during the height of my illness
I had a very strong vision of myself having been a male in the
19th century and in this vision I saw I was dying of consumption.
I actually saw my death in that life as an observer. I was very
puzzled by that and thought my present illness had something to
do with this past life memory, but I didn't know how to connect
Was that just a spontaneous vision?
Yes. I was very sick. And then as fate would have it, about six
months later there was a hypno-therapist passing through the city
I was living in, Ashville, North Carolina. He was literally passing
through town from Florida. A friend heard about him and told me
there is someone who does past-life regression. And perhaps I
should contact him. I did and that three hour session changed
my life. I saw two lifetimes in which I died of afflictions of
the lungs. And by going through those lifetimes re-experiencing
the deaths, it turned the course of my illness. I started to get
better and this was a chronic illness I had had for years. That's
when I saw how reincarnation could be something very personal
and can effect us directly.
a year both of my children developed phobias. I didn't relate
it to reincarnation at all at the time. I just figured it was
something that had triggered it in my son especially. He was five
at the time and developed an hysterical fear of loud noises, which
we first noticed at a first of July fireworks display.
had no idea where the phobias came from, but when the hypno-therapist,
my friend Norman Inge came to visit me about a year after I did
my first regression, I happened to mention my son's phobia of
loud noises thinking that he could give my son, Chase some post-hypnotic
suggestions so the next time he was around loud noises he wouldn't
have an hysterical fit.
to my amazement when Norman asked him to close his eyes and tell
us what he saw when he heard the loud sounds that frightened him,
he was immediately in a past life as a black Civil War soldier
in the American Civil War. He recounted the story in extremely
vivid detail. Things that I knew he couldn't possibly know, as
a five year old. He told the story from the perspective of an
adult who could have been there. He talked about the kind of equipment
they used , his uniform, a lot of little details that were very
surprising to me, because I wasn't even that clear on these things.
He explained that in that battle he was injured on his right wrist.
They had taken him out of the battle to a field hospital, where
they bandaged his wrist and sent him back into battle. At which
point he apparently died behind the cannon.
whole session lasted about 15 minutes after which my son hopped
off my lap and merrily went about his way. As a result of that
session his phobia of loud noises, apparently which was connected
to this battlefield experience, went away, as well as a chronic
excema he had on that spot on his wrist, which had not responded
to medical treatment. Within a few days the excema went away completely,
never to return. Apparently he had some cellular memory from that
wound on the battlefield, connected with the conflicted emotions
he was feeling as a soldier, which came out during the re-telling
of his story. So that experience opened my eyes to something completely
new. I never thought that children could remember past lives.
I had just experienced it as an adult. I had no idea it was so
easy for children to access these memories.
same thing happened with my nine year old daughter with her phobias.
We asked her about it and she recounted dying. She was afraid
of our house catching fire. She remembered dying as a child in
a house fire at some time in the past. It was not clear exactly
when or where it was. After talking about it her fear went away
had both of my children experience these memories and experience
the benefits of healing by remembering them, I was completely
intrigued. I got very curious. Did other children have these memories
too, and if they did, had they experienced the same kind of healings
that my children had as a result of just talking about these memories?
That was really the beginning of my quest. That was in 1988. I
started doing my research by talking to parents in my community
first. This was in the days before the internet. It was very different
doing research then.
1994 I had written a couple of articles for the Edgar Casey Foundation
and the Association for Past Life Research and Therapies, which
is an international organization now. I started getting cases
from people who described these memories in their own young children.
I was seeing that it's not uncommon for children to have spontaneous
memories of past lives up until about the age of seven.
the course of my research, I discovered that Dr. Ian Stevenson,
at the University of Virginia Medical School, had been documenting
and collecting cases of spontaneous past life recall in children
for about 40 years. He had almost 3000 cases documented in his
files at the University of Virginia Medical School. That completely
blew me away, because I had never heard of him and he had been
doing this research for so long. I thought what a wealth of information.
It tied into my children's experiences and it taught me a lot
about these memories. I discovered that children all over the
world have them up until about the age of seven, that they have
them spontaneously and that they don't require prompting or hypnosis
by an adult to remember them. They're just there.
Dr. Stevenson didn't address was the healing potential of these
memories. That's what I thought parents or adults needed to know.
Not only do these memories happen naturally in children, but they
do have the potential to heal the child of phobias, of physical
symptoms, and even of emotional problems.
my first book in 1995. It was published in 1997 and then my second
book, A Return From Heaven, came out in March of 2001.
What do you find makes the study of reincarnation with children
I think it's most interesting because the memories I'm looking
at are coming directly from 2, 3 and 4 year olds mostly. These
are children who have not had very much experience in this life
so far, yet they know details of other lifetimes which are totally
beyond their experience. Since these children are so young, their
memories are pure. They haven't been contaminated by our cultural
beliefs saying, "no, this doesn't happen", or, "yes,
it does happen". They're just talking from their direct experience
I find these memories extremely interesting to study because,
with adult memories, especially those elicited with hypnosis,
we don't really know how much is imagination or something we may
have learned when we were young but may have forgotten as we got
older. We don't consciously remember learning it. With 2, 3 and
4 year old it's pretty clear the memory is real. They couldn't
have learned it any other way. Because these memories are relatively
pure, they give us a very unique window on reincarnation. That'
why I like working with these memories, rather than trying to
say that every past life memory an adult has it real or evidence
of reincarnation, because there are too many gray areas in that.
When you speak of memories that children have, what kind of memories
do they have typically have, or is there a typical kind of memory?
I think that what adults notice first are unusual statements a
child will make. A 2 or 3 year old will talk about when they were
"big before" or, when "they died before" and
talk in detail about some experiences you know they haven't had
in this life. I think a lot of times children have images in their
minds from the past and they're speaking from these images. Sometimes
these memories are emotional. Sometimes children have phobias
relating to the way they died in the past or from some trauma
in a past life.
children have phobias. I think children's phobias are extremely
common. If we listen carefully to what children are saying about
them, sometimes they are telling us where they come from. They
might have a fear of airplanes, for example. I actually have cases
where young children, upon hearing an airplane, would run and
hide under a table or a chair and say "the bombs are coming."
For children growing up in North America, until recently, that
was not something they could have experienced in their lives.
When questioned about this, they would talk about having died
in a war or having died when the bomb hit wherever they were living.
the memories become phobias, sometimes the memories translate
into behaviours. Sometimes the children have unlearned skills.
I talk about this in my first book especially. For example, a
three year old who knew how to sew a button on his pants without
having been taught. When questioned about this by his mother,
he said that he had learned this when he was "big before",
and he was a sailor. It's certainly a complex skill that a 3 or
4 year old ordinarily wouldn't know without training. Children
sometimes show these aptitudes or skills they haven't learned.
In the extreme case, sometimes they speak a foreign language they
haven't been exposed to. There are actually documented cases of
the memories come out in attitudes toward people. Especially in
my second book, which is about reincarnation in the same family.
Families have recognized that a child born into the family is
in fact the soul of a deceased relative who has reincarnated back
into the family within a short period of time. The surviving relatives
recognized that this is true through the statements, the behaviour,
the idiosyncratic behaviours or mannerisms of the child that resembled
some cases children actually have birthmarks or birth defects
relating to past life injuries or disease. Dr. Stephenson wrote
a two volume set called "Reincarnation of Biology" which
addresses this. It came out in 1997. He has 210 cases of birthmarks
and birth defects relating to previous lives. These are cases
in which children gave enough information about their past lives,
that their identities could be traced to someone who lived and
died before the children were born. In the present, the child
would have two birthmarks on his head and say that he died in
his other life when he was shot in the head. He would give his
name in his former life and the town he came from. Most of these
cases Stephenson investigated are in India. They would investigate
the case and find there actually had been someone in that town
who fit the child's description who had died from a gunshot wound
to the head. In checking the medical reports, the autopsy reports,
or the hospital records they would find this present child's birthmarks
corresponded in size and location to the gunshot wound in the
head. The present child would have two birth marks corresponding
to the entry and exit wounds of the bullets. He has about 19 of
these cases with double birth marks.
physical evidence, it's really hard to dismiss these cases. It
seems that the Asian cases are much fuller in detail than North
American or European cases. I think a lot of it has to do with
the cultural consciousness, since we aren't really tuned into
this. The memories are not as clear for the children.
Are there cases of children in North America, remembering how
they were killed and tracing back their families to meet their
parents in a previous life?
There have been a few. I have only had one case in which a child
remembered proper names. It's very rare in the West for the children
to give proper names. It does happen, and I have read accounts
here and there of children giving enough details that they could
collaborate with surviving relatives. There's also a problem in
the West because this is such a new concept for most of us that
a lot of parents are afraid to go public with this. It's a big
problem that I have, trying to get parents to go on television
with their stories.
a really touching case in my new book, "Return Form Heaven,"
in which a little child remembers being his grandmother's cousin
who died in a car accident. Once the grandmother figured out that
her grandson was her cousin reborn, the mother of the child and
the grandmother had a dilemma, whether they should approach the
rest of the family and say, "look, look, he's back isn't
this wonderful", because some people are not ready for that.
Can you, in your own words as a researcher, define your sense
of what reincarnation is?
It's the continuity of consciousness from one physical body to
the next. There is a part of us that does not die with physical
death, which we call the soul or consciousness which travels from
lifetime to lifetime in different physical bodies. What I am finding
from this research that I think is most fascinating and what the
children are teaching us is that there are aspects of personalities
which are part of our soul which travel from lifetime to lifetime.
It's almost as if each soul has its own identity or individual
fingerprint that travels through time with certain attitudes,
certain abilities, certain proclivities that are unique.
Have you discerned any purposefulness to reincarnation in your
Actually, it's pretty interesting that some of these 2 and 3 year
olds say they came back because of love. They wanted to learn
how to love or were sorry they left their families and wanted
to return to love them again. I haven't heard of any revenge,
but I'll bet that happens though. It seems that children talk
about love a lot as a reason why they come back. As I see it,
from my adult perspective, we are engaged in this process of learning
from lifetime to lifetime. It's not necessarily linear. I can't
say we progress each lifetime. I think in some lifetimes we make
progress, in other lifetimes maybe we don't, but we're learning
along the way.
Of course, it would depend on how you measure progress.
I also believe in the Buddhist view too, that in any moment you
can attain enlightenment. That you just transcend all of it and
become an enlightened being and then you are a light in this world.
Can you share with us some of the things that make researching
past lives in children most difficult?
I think the fact there's still a taboo. It's not as strong as
it was, but there is a taboo in Western culture about reincarnation
that it's non-Christian or it's of the devil. There is still that
mentality and I think the Church back in the 3rd century and the
6th century, did a pretty good job eradicating the belief system
related to reincarnation from our culture.
Why did they do that? Do you know?
If we took responsibility for our own spiritual progress and we
knew that we came back from life to life to learn and we knew
we had another chance to learn or to grow, I don't think we would
need an intermediary for our salvation. I think that was big way
the Church wanted to take control of our Spiritual destiny. We
had to do it through the Church. - one specific way. And (I'm
generalizing of course, but) I'm talking about the early Church,
when they were consolidating their power. And during the Inquisition,
they did kill and persecute people who believed in reincarnation.
It was a heretical belief. It's about freedom to think, freedom
to question and as I see it, just to observe, because this is
something that almost anyone can observe. Through an adult or
in a child or through someone in their family.
Do you think the taboos in Western culture is largely due to Christian
Yes. It's interesting in Brazil. They have a very interesting
mix of religions. French Spiritism, African religion, Catholicism,
they have an interesting blend where they do believe in reincarnation.
That's the exception.
Have children described what the heaven world is like?
Yes, and I actually do talk about that in my second book. Children
speak of the time between incarnations. They call it heaven and
describe it as some place they long for sometimes, someplace they
where not alone and they where loved. They talk about angels and
spiritual beings. They talk about deceased relatives as having
been their with them and they talk about choosing their coming
life time. A lot of these two and four year olds say they remember
choosing their parents. I love that it is very direct. Sometimes
they talk about being with Jesus and this is from some children
who are not schooled, who don't go to Sunday school and who's
parents haven't really talked a lot about God or Jesus. Children
come up with this on their own.
I find fascinating is the research for the second book since I
was focusing on same family reincarnations. We can deduce from
that research that reincarnation is not a random process because
if it where what are the chances of a soul returning to the same
family. Since there are so many cases then it appears that their
are forces or that their is choices which attracts the soul back
to the same group even within a few years, a few months or sometimes
it is even less then nine months that the soul can return to the
What kind of guidelines do you use to discern true past life experiences
in children from those which are not ?
I think from seeing hundreds of cases in the past twelve years,
it is what the children are doing; what they are saying; and how
they are saying it. The age of the child and just looking at the
whole story, I can get a feel for whether it is real or not and,
of course, some parents contact me because their child has a phobia
or a physical problem and it is hard to determine if it a past
life related issue or not because the child has not said anything.
I think the direct statements are the best way to tell and if
the child is saying "when I was big before" or "when
I died before" and they are three or four years old then
I think it would be a good idea to pay attention and see what
else they are doing and saying.
the best way to approach it is with and open mind and discern
what you can from your observations. Maybe not all the cases are
real past life memory but I think enough of them are to definitely
warrant our attention. Usually by the time a parent contacts me
they are pretty sure that their is something going on otherwise
it would be very embarrassing for them to contact me. They have
to take that leap to even get that far and some are very eager
to talk to me to because they have been carrying this around not
knowing who to go to that they can ask for advice or get confirmation
that this is really happening. We also have the reincarnationforum.com
where people can log on their own experiences and we also have
some wonderful moderators who have taken over the site just because
my husband and I don't have time to do that to and it is a fairly
active board where people share stories and advise like what should
I do? and has any one ever experienced this? So that's out their
in cyberspace which couldn't have happened 15 years ago and ten
One of the things I think you mentioned that I think is important
is to validate people experiences.
I think that sometimes that is all they need in turn they can
validate their child's experiences and I think what I try to convey
to adults is just to be open minded and that this is possible.
Listen for it, watch for it. and if a child is trying to express
a memory either through statements or behaviours or attitudes
anything just be aware that this is a reality and let them express
it because it is better to express these memories then to leave
them unexpressed. .
What over the last decade of research what kind of patterns have
you seen if any?
The patterns are the young age. That these children when they
speak of these memories spontaneously it is generated from them
you can't really illicit this memories easy from children. It
has to originate from them. Their is some impulse and sometimes
these children speak of these memories for just a few moments
a few minutes and that's it. Sometimes these children speak of
these memories over a few years and then they fade usually by
the age of seven. I think what is important to remember since
the soul does continue on it's journey from lifetime to lifetime
and that their are different aspects of personality that are part
of the soul which seem to travel from lifetime to lifetime. When
we look at any one of us we aren't really a composite of everything
we where before . I think that certain characteristics tend to
stand out in a particular lifetimes.. I don't think that we can
be everything that we have been before but in each lifetime we
realize that they are soul and that they have come in with their
own experiences. I think that we can begin to see patterns and
we can begin to understand a child's core issues of why they are
here if we pay attention when they are very young because I think
sometimes the themes do come up in childhood.
In your second book "Return from Heaven" the fact that
children are returning back into the families from which they
left Do you have any sense of how often it happens.
I know that this happens often enough that I get cases all the
time. I don't think that their is any way to determine how often
it really happens. In your own practice you probably run into
somebody, like you said you ran into that one case.
Are sense says that it happens a lot.
I would say so.
Their is certainly a lot of evidence that points to it.
Maybe over the next thirty years if reincarnation becomes more
of a mainstream idea we will get a sense of what really happens.
Once people are willing to speak up about it. I think that sometimes
people just don't know. Sometimes they might see it in a child
but think that is just eerie and that its just a very strange
coincidence but they wouldn't attribute it to reincarnation .
They might call it genetic.
On a personal note what has your research meant for you in terms
of your beliefs and the way you look at the world.
When you don't see this lifetime as the only one, I wonder where
I have been before. I know of some of my past lives and I also
wonder what I will create for the future and when their is a large
disaster like we experienced on September 11th to I wonder about
how much these souls knew before they came in about this event
like was this all planned, if some of the souls knew that they
would be leaving. I think I just look at life and death differently
You mentioned using our understanding of past lives to heal ourselves.
Is their away to use that therapeutically such as past life regression
and the vehicles that can be used.
Definitely with children , we can help them with their spontaneous
memories by just acknowledge what they are going through and helping
them process it. When this comes up spontaneously. it is an opportunity
for us to help them with the healing so that they understand that
they are in a different lifetime and that they can leave what
they need to behind from a previous life or help them to encourage
them with the abilities and the wisdom that they have brought
in with them and I think as we get older we need hypnosis or other
tools to help us remember. Past life regression is a wonderful
way of helping the soul to heal. It is on that level and it works
on the soul level.
What would you say was the greatest challenge to further research
in past life?
Overcoming the cultural belief that this doesn't happen.
Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share?.
It would be wonderful if people could open themselves to this
possible even a little bit because it could change how they view
life and death. Death is always painful when it comes but if you
don't have a belief in something more after death I think it just
makes it so meaningless and pointless.
With respect to past life regression can you identify some creditable
My web site and the International Association of Regression Research
and Therapies based in riverside California and they do conference,
training programs and they have a newsletter and that's about
the only network I know about.
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