IAN STEVENSON - Where reincarnation and biology intersect
2. BODILY CHANGES CORRESPONDING TO MENTAL IMAGES IN THE PERSON AFFECTED
The bleeding wounds known as stigmata on the hands, feet, chest, and (sometimes) other parts of the body are among the best known and least understood of abnormal bodily changes. Different writers have attributed them all to sanctity, to hysteria, and to malingering (that is, self-inflicted wounding). As generalizations, these opinions are all incorrect. A few instances of persons wounding themselves, usual- ly from zealous identification with Jesus, have been exposed. In the great majority of cases, however, we can confidently exclude artifactual wounding; many of the subjects have been under close surveillance, and in a few cases observers have actually watched stigmata (or at least the bleeding) develop before their eyes.
St. Francis of Assisi was the first notable person to develop stigmata. His wounds came on toward the end of a long period of about 40 days that he spent by himself, during which he was entirely absorbed in contemplating the Passion of Jesus. (His stigmata were also among the most unusual ever observed in that protrusions somewhat in the form of clenched nails were said to have come out of his wounds.) In the seven and a half centuries following St. Francis's death, about 350 cases of stigmatists have been recorded. The stigmatists were nearly all religious persons, such as nuns, and a few were saints; St. Catherine of Siena and St. Gemma Galgani were two of these. St. Catherine of Siena had a vision of Jesus with his wounds and with rays of light running from them to her body. Her stigmata then occurred at the sites of her body where the rays seen coming from Jesus impinged on her.
Until the second half of the 19th century nearly all writers about stigmata believed them to be the result of a special grace bestowed on saints or saintlike persons. The attribution of saintliness thus might be given retrospectively to some- one who developed stigmata; whoever had stigmata must be saintly.
In the second half of the 19th century, some early psychologists began to study what we now call psychosomatic relationships and came to view stigmata as illustrat- ing these. They were in the first instance encouraged in this interpretation because nearly all the authenticated cases of stigmata had occurred in women. Women were notoriously more liable than men to develop what was then called hysteria, which was being understood with increasing clarity as a psychosomatic disorder in which beliefs about the body become expressed in changes in bodily functions. (Young women of child-bearing age are more hypnotizable—therefore more suggestible— than men or than women of other ages.) Then it was noted that some stigmatists, although pious in their ways, were far from being saints. Furthermore, the stigmata varied greatly in form, size, appearance, and even location. Nearly all stigmatists showed wounds at the feet, hands, and lower chest. Three stigmatists were credibly reported to have developed marks and deep indentations around the wrists as they relived the scene when Jesus was arrested and bound with ropes; the marks on the stigmatists' wrists seemed to reproduce the marks that binding ropes would make. (I ask readers to remember these last cases when I describe in later chapters children who had ropelike birthmarks that informants attributed to ropes binding the previous personalities shortly before they died.) Readers should also note the case described later in this chapter, the ropelike marks of which are shown in Figure 1.
The stigmatists' chest wounds showed important variations. Some of them had the chest wound on the left side and some had it on the right. The Bible does not say into which side of Jesus a Roman soldier thrust his spear; and because there was only one spear thrust recorded, right or left may be correct, but both cannot be. Such variations strongly suggested that stigmata were bodily changes produced by the mental images of the stigmatist.
There was other pertinent evidence. Some of the stigmata bore a close relationship to the wounds on the representation—for example, a statuette—of Jesus before which the stigmatist was accustomed to worship. An early 19th-century stigmatist had on her chest a Y-shaped lesion that matched an unusual Y-shaped crucifix in the church where she worshipped. And the biographer of another stigmatist (of the late 19th century) remarked on the close correspondence between the stigma- tist,s wounds and those on the statuette of Jesus before which this saint worshipped.
In the 1920s, a German physician had the good fortune to find a young girl—a Protestant—who easily went into deep hypnosis. This girl (Elisabeth K.) had a high degree of impressionability. She attended a slide show that vividly depicted the sufferings of Jesus as he was led to the cross and crucified. On the following day the girl complained of severe pain in her hands and feet (at the sites of the nails driven into Jesus' limbs). The physician, seizing this opportunity, hyp- notized the girl and told her to imagine that nails were being driven deeply into her hands and feet. The next day the girl had open wounds at these places (similar to wounds that thorns might make.). Subsequently, the physician readily induced in this girl simulacra of Jesus' other wounds, including those of a crown of thorns complete with triangle-shaped lesions, similar to wounds that thorns might make.
None of this newer evidence or revised appraisal of old evidence need detract from the reputation for sanctity that the great majority of stigmatists had and deserved. It does, however, undermine the idea that stigmata are a grace vouchsafed only to the elect. What then is the role of sanctity in the occurrence of stigmata? I suggest that the connection occurs through the concentration of the mind on particular parts of the body. Many saintly persons are almost fully absorbed in the life and death of Jesus and determined to be as much like him as they possibly can. It is difficult for the ordinary person to understand the intense identification with Jesus that some of them have achieved. In doing so, their concentration on his wounds acts to produce similar lesions in themselves. I do not mean to say that concentration is the only factor of importance in the occurrence of stigmata; but before returning to this topic I shall describe some other examples of the effects mental images may have on local bodily functions.
A mother sometimes develops imitative or "sympathetic" pains at the same location as her child has a pain, say from a toothache. Sometimes the imitative effects go beyond pain and include visible changes in the tissues affected. For example, one mother watching her little son at play saw a heavy window sash fall on his hand and crush three of his fingers. She immediately felt severe pain in the same fingers that had been injured in her son; and afterward her fingers became swollen and inflamed so that pus developed in them and had to be evacuated.
Hypnosis is not a state that I wish or need to define. It depends, in the first place, on the replacement of ideas in the mind of the subject with ideas in the mind of the hypnotist. This is what we mean by suggestion. Once the subject accepts the initial ideas of the hypnotist, he or she enters a state of increasing susceptibility to further suggestions offered by the hypnotist. In this way the hypnosis can be "deepened" and the subject also enabled to go into hypnosis more readily at the next occasion. Another important feature of hypnosis is heightened concentration of the mind. Hypnosis also facilitates the links between mental images and bodily functions that the images may influence. It greatly lubricates, so to say, the psychophysiological processes of the body.
We have no understanding at present of the mind's ability to select and influence the right processes in order to carry out a suggestion given during hypnosis. Consider our physical experience when we become thirsty. A dryness of the mouth leads us to describe ourselves as thirsty and needing more fluid. Already, however, the body will have made its own adjustments by reducing the excretion of water in the urine. This entails modifying the release of a certain hormone from the pituitary gland, the one that controls water excretion. Now let a person who is not dehydrated and not thirsty be hypnotized and told that he or she is thirsty. Soon his or her kidneys will diminish the excretion of urine just as they would if he or she had been dehydrated. Somehow the body has picked out the right hormone (or perhaps some other link in the process of urine formation) and implemented a decrease in the excretion of urine.
Hypnosis has been used to modify a wide variety of bodily functions through the offering of appropriate instructions to a hypnotized person. The heart rate can be slowed or speeded up. Bleeding can be stopped and menstruation start- ed at certain times. Breasts can be enlarged. Anesthesia can be induced, including an unusual type of anesthesia known as "glove and stocking anesthesia." This phrase refers to the abrupt line of demarcation at the upper end of the induced anesthesia, a line that does not correspond to the distribution of the nerves serving the arms and legs, but corresponds instead to the idea implanted in the subject's mind. (Glove and stocking anesthesia may also occur spontaneously in persons who give themselves this idea of what an area of anesthesia is like.) There is a rare condition called oedeme bleu in which an arm becomes swollen, painful, bluish, and of little use. It may follow some relatively minor injury to the arm that concentrates the patient's attention on it. In the 19th century oedeme bleu was induced and removed with hypnosis.
Between about 1880 and 1930 a large number of experiments were conducted to study the induction of blisters on the skin of hypnotized subjects. To indicate the proposed site for the blister, the hypnotist would sometimes touch the subject at the place with some object, usually a cold one. The subject was told, or led to believe, that he or she was being burned. Many subjects responded with a blister at the indicated site, as if they had been burned. Some of the early experiments were insufficiently rigorous in that the patient was not kept under surveillance, so that he or she might have scratched the indicated site in an effort to comply with the hypnotist's suggestion. Most experiments have avoided this mistake, however, and I believe that the evidence is strong enough to convince all but the most resolute skeptics that the phenomenon is genuine.
Most of the experimenters who induced blisters during hypnosis used a small stimulus of no unusual form—such as the tip of the finger—with which to touch the subject at the site where the blister was to occur. A few, however, applied stimuli in the form of letters of the alphabet (or some other unusual form), and the ensuing marks reproduced the recognizable form of the stimulus.
One experimenter thought that blisters induced during hypnosis might occur only if the subject had previously been burned at the site where blisters were to appear. I do not believe that any evidence supports this assertion as a generalization, although a previous burn at a particular site may facilitate the occurrence of inflammation and blisters suggested at the same site.
The examples I have given of bodily changes induced with hypnosis are largely derived from experimental demonstrations of the range and power of hypnosis. The changes in bodily function during hypnosis that I have mentioned cannot be induced in everyone. For many of the effects demonstrated, we now have other and quicker means of bringing about the results obtained, if we want them. For example, chemical anesthesia is superior to hypnosis for surgical operations.
Hypnosis, however, still has an important role to play in relieving pain. It may also be of great value in some intractable skin diseases. For example, warts have been successfully removed with hypnosis. Moreover, they may be removed from one area at a time, another demonstration of how the mind somehow finds the right part of the body for executing the instructions given. A particularly impressive improvement in a skin disease occurred when a hypnotist successfully treated a patient with intractable ichthyosis ("fish-scale disease"). He treated his patient limb by limb with improvements occurring successively in each limb as it was indicated by the suggestions offered.
The intense revival of memories of some earlier physical trauma may be accompanied by the appearance of wounds that closely resemble the original wounds. (It may be difficult to be precise about the resemblance if no firsthand observer of the original wounds is available to compare them to the later wounds accompanying the revived memories.) In the 1950s, several examples of this phe- nomenon were published. In one of the most impressive, the subject relived (with the help of ether) an occasion when, being in a hospital and requiring restraint, his arms had been tied with a rope. When the patient relived this experience, deep curved depressions appeared on his lower arms. They were exactly like those that occur on the flesh of a person tied with a rope. (I ask readers also to remember this case when I present, later in this work, the cases of persons with birthmarks that informants attributed to marks made by ropes that had tied the previous personality before he or she was killed.) In another published case a patient relived a severe caning inflicted on her by a sadistic father. He had used a carved cane, and the unusual pattern of the carving on the cane appeared on the skin of the patient as she relived being beaten with this cane.
No case of this kind has come under my direct observation. Two psychiatric colleagues of mine, however, sent me written accounts of cases they had observed. In both instances, the patients relived—one with LSD and one with hypnosis— memories of severe beatings. And in both cases, during the reliving, clearly visible marks—actual wheals in one case—appeared at the places where the patients said they had been beaten.
A rare type of physical change corresponding to a mental image sometimes occurs in the experiences of persons in India who come close to death and survive. After regaining consciousness, some of them say that they were mistakenly seized by messengers of the King of the Dead and taken to the "realm of the dead." With discovery of the mistake, they were sent back. Upon recovery, some of these subjects state that they were burned while in the realm of the dead, and they show areas of inflammation or scarring at the sites of the burning. The subject (Durga Jatav) of one of the most bizarre cases of this kind that I have encountered said that he resisted being dragged from life by the messengers of the King of the Dead. He struggled so much that in desperation the messengers cut off his legs at the knees. When the registrar (in the place to which he had been taken) exposed their mistake, they said that he could return; but he then asked to have his legs replaced. Somehow he was refitted with legs and sent back to terrestrial life. He regained consciousness in the bed where his family believed he had died. The remarkable feature of the case was the presence on this man's knees of large scar- like lines closely resembling scars that might occur after horizontal cuts with a knife (*). We obtained X-ray photographs of the patient's knees, but these showed no abnormality.
I shall now discuss what I consider the common factors underlying most, if not all, of the bodily changes that I have described in this chapter. Violence is the first of these. Readers will have noticed the prominent part that violence and physical injury have played in the spontaneously occurring cases. This is certainly true of stigmatism, in which the subject's attention becomes closely focused on the ordeal of Jesus' crucifixion. Physical injury is also prominent in the cases of the recurrence of wounds with the revival of memories of traumatic beatings or restraint. It also enters into the experiments with blisters induced during hypnosis, in which the subject believes he or she is being burned. Violence and the threat of injury are concentrators of attention. I wish to bring them forward here because of the high frequency of violent death, which I mentioned in Chapter 1, among the cases with birthmarks and birth defects related to previous lives. Violence is not, however, the only con- centrator of attention. Indeed, stigmatists concentrate on Jesus out of love for him and only secondarily become involved in the violence of his death.
At least two other important factors must enter into the production of physical changes corresponding to mental images. One is a factor of impressionability, now often called absorption. Highly impressionable subjects quickly "lose" them- selves in a scene viewed or imagined. If someone calls their name, they seem not to hear and do not respond. Many persons would have seen the slide show of Jesus' crucifixion without being affected as was Elisabeth K., who so readily developed stigmata at the site of Jesus' wounds; they lacked her capacity for absorption.
The third factor we must consider is the reactivity of the tissues of the skin. Persons vary widely in the sensitivity of their skins to stimuli. For example, 25% of persons who are firmly stroked on the skin with a blunt instrument will develop a definite flare around the area stroked, and 5% will show a wheal where the stroking instrument passed over the skin; but the rest will show nothing. It is sometimes possible to write letters on the skin (of the back, for example) of the sensitive patients; this condition is called dermographism, and I will describe an example of paranormal dermographism in the next chapter.
Another example of varying reactivity of the skin occurs in the formation of the dense, indurated scars known as keloids. These occur much more often in some persons than in others and more often in some races, such as Africans, than in others.
I do not mean this list of factors to be exhaustive; there may, for example, be subtle differences in the central and autonomic nervous systems that mediate con- trol of the blood vessels of the skin, and these may play an important part in the changes with which we are here concerned.
A formula that might represent the principal factors would be: CA + DI + PF = CS
where CA stands for Concentrated Attention or Absorption, DI for Duration of the Imagery, PF for the hypothetical Physiological Factor (or Factors), and CS for the resultant Changes in the Skin. Although this formula looks simple, I intend it to underscore the complexity of the subject and the deficiencies in our understanding of how physical changes corresponding to mental images occur.
I wish to emphasize that many of the physical changes I have described do not correspond to known configurations of nerves or blood vessels of the skin. I already mentioned this discrepancy in connection with glove and stocking anesthesia. It is equally true of the lesions of stigmatists and of blisters induced by hypnotic suggestion. Concerning the last-named phenomenon, some years ago a leading expert on hypnosis carefully reviewed the literature on such experiments and came near to concluding that the phenomenon must be genuine. He pulled himself back, however, because, he wrote, the occurrence of such blisters makes no sense in relation to the known distribution of the nerves and blood vessels of the skin. He is not the first scientist to deny facts discordant with his assumptions, but he does deserve credit for his candor. The term paranormal seems to fit phenomena such as stigmata and hypnotically induced physiological changes. It explains nothing, but has the merit of not denying the occurrence of phenomena for which we have as yet no satisfying explanation.
3. BODILY CHANGES CORRESPONDING TO ANOTHER PERSON'S MENTAL IMAGES
In the preceding chapter I concluded that some paranormal process must occur between the mental images in a person's mind and the production on his or her body of wounds, such as stigmata or blisters induced during hypnosis, the shapes of which have no relationship to the anatomical distribution of the blood vessels or nerves of the skin. Future research may someday show presently undiscovered patterns of nerves and blood vessels that could account for the correspondence between mental images and local bodily changes in the person having the images. Even so, we should still need the word paranormal in trying to understand how mental images in one person's mind may affect changes in another person's body. This chapter is about such changes.
The simplest examples occur as variants of what I call telepathic impressions. The word telepathy means communication between minds without the known sensory organs. In many instances of telepathy the percipient obtains substantial information, perhaps in the form of a visual representation, about the circumstances of another person, called the target person or agent. (The word sender, sometimes used for this person, is not so helpful, because the agent often plays no conscious active role in the communication.) In the variant of telepathy called telepathic impressions, almost no content is conveyed, only an impression that, say, someone known to the percipient needs help. Occasionally, a little more detail may be included, such as that the agent is in a hospital; and sometimes less detail is included. For example, a traveler away from home may feel unexpectedly impelled to turn around and go back because something is "wrong at home"; but the percipient does not know what is wrong there or who needs help. In a variant of the telepathic impression the percipient has a pain (or sometimes another physical symptom) that corresponds to a pain (or other symptom) in the agent. Here are three examples, the first from the 19th century, the second and third from my own investigations. I give more details of these three cases in my book Telepathic Impressions.
A woman awakened one morning with the impression of having received a sharp blow on the mouth. Without understanding this she dressed and went down to breakfast. Her husband, who had been out sailing, joined her. She noticed that he kept dabbing at his mouth with a handkerchief and asked him what he was doing. He then explained that while he had been sailing a gust of wind had suddenly come up, and before he could get out of the way the tiller struck him on the mouth, causing his lip to bleed. This had happened at almost the exact time his wife had awakened with the sense of being struck in the mouth.
In a case that I investigated, an American housewife and mother one morning suddenly experienced a sharp pain in her right leg and buttocks. She was startled and, although she was alone, she said "Oh." Somehow she identified her pain with some trouble to one of her children, who were then away at school. When they came home, she asked them whether anything unusual had happened to them at school. Her 10-year-old daughter then said that while she was playing in the school yard, a boy on a bicycle had run into her and hit her on the backside. She had cried "Oh." As nearly as they could tell, the daughter had been hit at the same time that her mother had had her unexpected pain at the same location.
My third example involved twin sisters. One was in Pennsylvania and known to be pregnant; but she was thought to be in good health, and her delivery was not imminent. Her twin sister was in Naples, Italy, with her husband, a physician. The sister in Italy suddenly developed severe pain in her chest and upper abdomen, with shortness of breath. Her husband could find no signs of physical illness to account for these symptoms. They later learned that her sister in Pennsylvania had gone into labor prematurely and had developed serious complications at the time she was having her symptoms. The twin in Pennsylvania suffered from pain in her chest and shortness of breath, apparently due to a clot in a vein that had broken loose and lodged in her lungs (pulmonary embolus).
Cases of this type require careful appraisal of their details. If we are to consider seriously the interpretation of such a case as an instance of telepathic impression, the temporal coincidence between the symptoms of the two participants must be exact or extremely close; the symptoms must be identical or closely similar and in the same organs or regions of the body; and finally, we must be confident that the percipient had no normal means of learning about or inferring the agent's symptoms before his or hers occurred. I believe the three cases 1 described meet these criteria.
Mediums, who are persons apparently able to communicate with discarnate personalities, occasionally take on the symptoms of a communicator's fatal illness. In one published case of this kind, the medium began to choke and cough as she described the death of a communicator from heart disease. (Patients with what is called congestive heart failure frequently cough.) The medium had no normal knowledge of the communicator's mode of death. In another case, a medium developed symptoms in a knee when she handled a glove that belonged to a young woman who had injured her knee in a bicycle accident and continued to have pain there. The sensitive knew nothing of this accident or symptom.
Olga Kahl, a Russian clairvoyant living in France during the 1920s, provided some of the most impressive evidence of the representation of mental images in one person by bodily changes in another. Before describing the standard experiments involving her, I should mention that she showed extreme impressionability, even as a child and young adult. On one occasion she misplaced a string of pearls; the loss pre- occupied her, and while the pearls were missing, she developed round areas of red- ness on the skin of her arms which suggested the form of the missing pearls. On another occasion, when living in Istanbul, she watched a group of dervishes, one of whom pushed a skewer through his cheek; the next day she developed an abscess of the cheek at the corresponding site where the dervish had pushed the skewer through.
Olga Kahl's experimental routine provided for a visitor or experimenter to write (hidden from her) a name or perhaps a design on a small piece of paper. The visitor rolled the piece of paper into a ball, which he kept in his hand with- out showing it to Olga Kahl. After a short interval, the name or design would appear on the skin of Olga Kahl's arm (sometimes on her upper chest) (*). The letters would stand out in red, evidently from extremely localized changes in the superficial blood vessels. Sometimes a letter of a name was omitted, but then a space would be left for it, as if at some level Olga Kahl was aware of the entire word. Olga Kahl sometimes facilitated the process of her kind of dermographism by rubbing the part of her body where the letters were to appear; but such rub- bing covered the entire area affected, and no one ever observed Olga Kahl in any endeavor to scratch the words on her skin. (In the last chapter I described dermographism, but that of Olga Kahl involved no actual tracing of letters on her skin.)
Some of the leading French and English scientists who studied such phenomena during the 1920s investigated Olga Kahl. All expressed themselves fully satisfied that her dermographism was genuine. I am not asserting that the mental image in the mind of the experimenter (who wrote the word or design on a piece of paper) directly influenced Olga Kahl's skin. Perhaps her mind obtained a copy, so to speak, of the experimenter's mental image and reproduced that on her skin. At times, she seemed to know what the target word was before it appeared on her skin, but at other times she did not.
The most widespread evidence of the effect of one person's mental images on the body of another living person occurs in cases of what are generally called maternal impressions. This is the phrase used to designate the supposed causal connection between some event that shocks or frightens a pregnant woman and a defect in her later-born baby. A typical case—a published one—is that of a preg- nant woman who happened to see on the street a man with partly amputated feet. She became distressed and began to fear that her baby would be born with similar defects. In fact, it was; parts of its feet were absent, and the defects in its feet cor- responded to the ones on the man its mother had seen.
The reality of maternal impressions is accepted in most parts of the world today. It was accepted without challenge in the West until the early 18th century. Advances in anatomy and physiology then showed that there is no physical connec- tion between a pregnant woman and her gestating baby through the placenta or oth- erwise that could mediate the expression in the baby of a mental image in the mother-to-be. The skepticism that these observations stimulated spread slowly. In the
19th century and through the first two decades of this one, the leading medical journals of the United States, Great Britain, and Europe published numerous reports of maternal impressions. Occasionally, a dissident voice would draw attention to the fact that some or many women were frightened when pregnant, expected to have a malformed baby, but then delivered a normal one. On the other side, one 19th-century author pointed out that the absence of any nervous or other known connection between the mother and child signified nothing, because of the possibility that "mind does in some mysterious way operate across matter." (This admirable refusal to deny phenomena because we cannot explain them foreshadowed the beginnings in 1882 of the scientific study of paranormal phenomena by more than 30 years.)
In 1890 a pediatrician of the University of Virginia reviewed 90 cases of maternal impressions that had been published between 1853 and 1886. He concluded that in 69 (77%) of the 90 cases there was "quite a close correspondence" between the impression upon the mother and her baby's defect. He, too, was aware of the growing skepticism about such cases and commented that "thinking men came to doubt the truth of those things which they could not understand."
I decided to review the evidence for maternal impressions. In doing this, I read reports of approximately 300 cases in medical journals, books, and other publications of the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Holland, and Belgium. From these I selected 50 cases for a detailed analysis. I chose cases in which the cor- respondence between the stimulus to the pregnant woman and the baby's defect was close. I also chose cases in which both the stimulus to the mother and the defect were unusual. As an example of the latter I mention the case of a woman whose brother had to have his penis amputated for removal of a cancer. While she was pregnant, her curiosity impelled her to have a look at the site of her brother's amputation; she afterward gave birth to a male baby without a penis. I have obtained figures for the incidence of some birth defects in the general population, and that for congenital absence of the penis is 1 in 30,000,000. Other birth defects figuring in these cases are more common, but most are rare or even extremely rare.
An unexpected finding of my analysis of these cases was the discovery that the seemingly causative stimulus to the mother occurred much more often than would be expected by chance in the 1st trimester than in the 2nd and 3rd ones. It seems likely that pregnant women would be equally liable to be exposed to some frightening stimulus at any month of a pregnancy; this observation therefore suggests that susceptibility of the embryo is one important factor in maternal impressions. The 1st trimester is also the one during which the embryo is most sensitive to noxious drugs, such as thalidomide, and to viral infections, such as rubella (German measles).
Some further useful information emerged from my analysis. In more than half the cases, the woman was closely involved with the wounding of another per- son—an eyewitness, perhaps—or was wounded herself. These woundings acted as the stimulus for the maternal impression. The duration of the woman's exposure to the stimulus seems to have had little effect on the occurrence of a maternal impression. In at least two cases, a woman's fear did not quite match her curiosity about some wound, so she just peeked for an instant at the wound; but that sufficed. Most of the women became "shocked" or "frightened" by the stimulus. Some forgot about it quickly, others became obsessively preoccupied with it and could not stop thinking about it. Some of the women were afraid their babies would be affected, others were not, and a few were (mistakenly) confident that their babies would be normal. The beliefs of the women concerned about the effect on the baby had almost no predictive value.
I have been able to investigate seven cases of maternal impressions of different types and will summarize two of them here.
The mother of the first subject (Calvin Ewing) was a Tlingit of Alaska named Sylvia Ewing. She was born with a small hole—in medical terms, a sinus—near the inner corner of her right eye. This was immediately recognized as a defect corresponding to a chronic stye at the same place from which a deceased relative had suffered. On the basis of this correspondence, an announcing dream, and some evidence from Sylvia's behavior, she was identified as the reincarnation of this relative. Hers was a straightforward case of the reincarnation type, although a somewhat weak one with regard to the strength of the evidence. (I give a detailed report of her case in the monograph.) In childhood, Sylvia suffered a certain amount of discomfort from the sinus, which discharged fluid, especially if she had a cold. She also underwent cruel teasing about the defect from her schoolmates.
In due course Sylvia grew up and married. When she became pregnant, she began to fear that her baby would have a defect like hers. She told me: "I was afraid he would look like me. That is all I thought about—whether he would look like me." Her husband confirmed her statement by saying: "She was always worrying about whether the baby would have a hole in the eye like hers."
After the baby was born and brought to Sylvia, the first place she examined was his eye "to see if he had a hole." He had, and it was at exactly the site of her own—near the inner end of the right eye.
Unlike his mother, this baby boy was not identified as the reincarnation of a deceased relative or of anyone else. There were no identifiable causative factors other than the mother's fear of the reproduction of her defect in her child.
The correspondence between the two defects in this case was exceedingly close both in location and size. Figure 2 shows a photograph of the child's sinus, which can be compared with a photograph of the mother's sinus (*).
The village was somewhat remote, and having taken the trouble to reach it I decided to ask a few questions. From other cases that I had studied—and that I describe later in this book—it occurred to me that Sampath might have been the rein- carnation of someone known to his family who had died after having his arms badly injured, perhaps in an industrial accident. I therefore asked the baby's father whether he knew of anyone who had died after having his arms injured. "Yes," he replied. "There was a man I killed by cutting off his arms and legs with a sword." He then went on to tell me how this had happened. The murdered man was a young ruffian of the village, a notorious bully, and a member of a family given to violence. (The brother of this man told me that he had personally killed three of the family's enemies; they had lost their father when a bomb that he was preparing dropped from his hands and blew him to pieces.) A quarrel broke out over a dog belonging to the bully's family that had come onto the property of Sampath's father and eaten some food. Sampath's father decided to finish with the offensive young man. Without much difficulty, he and his brother got him drunk and lured him over to their side of the village. They then cut off his arms and legs and left him to die. (I obtained a postmortem report in this case, and, with some discrepancies, it confirmed the murderer's account of what he had done; limbs were described as "dangling," not totally severed.)
The murdered man's mother was enraged at her son's death. She repeatedly cursed the murderer and his family, saying that they would be punished for killing her son by having a defective child. (Informants differed as to exactly what she said in cursing the family, but the baby's mother definitely thought the angry mother had specified that she would have a defective child.)
The murderers were arrested and sentenced to imprisonment. The father could come home sometimes on leave, and his wife had another baby, a normal female. The parents thought they had perhaps neutralized the curse. Then the dreadfully malformed Sampath Priyasantha was born, and they realized that perhaps they had not.
The villagers we interviewed for this case were divided between those who believed that Sampath Priyasantha was the reincarnation of the murdered man and those who believed he was simply sent to the murderer's family as punishment for the murder they had committed. In particular, the murdered man's mother could not accept the possibility that her son, who had "done nothing" in her view, should be condemned, if reborn, to a life in a defective body. In view of her curse of the murderer's family, a maternal impression remains a plausible interpretation of the case, but it is unlikely that we shall ever be able to reach a firm conclusion on the matter.
I have devoted more than half of this chapter to maternal impressions because readers should remember this phenomenon as they consider the best interpretation for the cases in succeeding chapters. In most of them, the child's mother knew about or had even seen the wounds on the deceased person whose life the child (usually) claimed to remember when it could speak. So we need to ask whether the correspondences in these cases could have arisen from maternal impressions instead of through some other paranormal process, including reincarnation. This explanation could not apply in some 25 cases in which the mother did not see or know about the wounds on the deceased person; but it could certainly be relevant in many other cases.