In this case, almost every historical fact stated under hypnosis Moreover, she had no recollection of ever having read about either the period or the people.
Some early psychical researchers into hypnotic phenomena awoke their subjects and placed their hands on a planchette board, usually screened from the subjects’ view, and proceeded to interrogate them. The planchette — it is claimed — wrote down true answers to the questions from knowledge in the subjects’ subconscious minds. Under these conditions the girl revealed that she had just read an historical romance in which every person and fact, except for some minor details, had appeared, though she had devised a new setting for them.
If all cases were as straightforward as this, there would be no need for further investigation, and believers in reincarnation would have to look elsewhere for evidence. How complicated the majority of cases are, however, is shown by the celebrated case of
Bridey Murphy. This is no more remarkable than a hundred other cases of hypnotic regression, but was brought to the public’s attention by a heated debate in a number of American newspapers and a film shown widely in English-speaking countries..
In a number of sessions from November 1952 to October 1953, Morey Bernstein, an amateur American hypnotist, regressed Mrs Virginia Tighe to a life in early 19th-century Ireland. Mrs Tighe, 29 years old at the time, a native of Maddison, Wisconsin, and resident in Chicago from the age of three until her marriage, had never visited Ireland, nor had much to do with Irish people (she strongly denied allegations to the contrary, and the evidence supports her denials). Under hypnosis she began to speak with an Irish accent, said she was Bridget (Bridey) Murphy, daughter of Duncan and Kathleen Murphy, Protestants living at the Meadows, Cork. Her brother Duncan, born in 1796, married Aimee, daughter of Mrs Strayne, who was mistress of a day school attended by Bridey when she was 15.
In about 1818 she married a Catholic, Brian MacCarthy, whose relatives she named, and they travelled ‘by carriage to Belfast through places she named but whose existence has never been found on any map.
The couple worshipped at Father John Gorman’s St Theresa’s Church. They shopped at stores that Bridey named, using coins correctly described for the period. In addition, Bridey produced a number of Irish words when asked, using some as they were used then, though their meaning had changed since: ‘slip’, for example, referring to a child’s pinafore, not petticoat — the more common modern word. Bridey Murphy had read some Irish mythology, knew some Irish songs and was a good dancer of Irish jigs. At the end of one sitting, Mrs Tighe, aroused from her trance, yet not fully conscious,
typical of regression cases. Some facts were confirmed, others unconfirmed, others proved incorrect. Memories of insignificant detail proved true, while Bridey displayed total ignorance of other important events. Confirmation of facts proved impossible in many instances. There was no possibility, for example, of confirming dates of birth, marriages and deaths, as no records were kept in Cork until 1864 and if the Murphy family kept records in a family Bible, a customary procedure, its whereabouts are not known. No information could be discovered concerning St Theresa’s Church or Father Gorman in Belfast, but the two shops mentioned by Bridey, Carrigan and Farr, had both existed. Bridey had said that uillean pipes had been played at her funeral and these were found to have been customarily used at funerals because of their soft tone.
So the neutral enquirer is left puzzled. Where did Mrs Tighe learn about uillean pipes, kissing the Blarney Stone and the names of shops in Belfast whose existence was only confirmed after painstaking research? Why should she have created a vivid picture of life in Ireland at the beginning of the 19th century, if this was simply a creation of some part of her subconscious? From where did she — along with many other regressed subjects with no pretence at acting ability — draw the talent to dramatise so effectively a life in another age and another country?
Yet, if reincarnation is a fact, why should trivialities be remembered and great emotional experiences that one would have expected to have contributed to one’s development in this life, be forgotten or go unmentioned? The questions are as bewildering as they are intriguing.