Published by Blavatsky Study Center

Some Questions Concerning Reincarnation
and the Fate of Victims of Accidents & Violence

by Daniel H. Caldwell

“...a child may be born bearing the greatest resemblance and features to another person, thousands of miles off, no connexion to the mother, never seen by her, but whose floating image was impressed upon her soul-memory, during sleep or even waking hours, and reproduced upon the sensitized plate of living flesh she carries in her."    Master Koot Hoomi, The Mahatma Letters, 2nd ed., Letter 49

Part I

The psychiatrist and parapsychologist Dr. Ian Stevenson is well known for his investigation and research of children who apparently remember previous lives.  He has in his files more than 2,600 cases from around the world. Dr. Stevenson has written a number of books dealing with his findings in this area.  See pages 2 and 3 of Exploring Reincarnation —  Introductions, Research Studies & Opposing Viewpoints:  26 Recommended Titles for a listing of some of his works.

In his book Children Who Remember Previous Lives, Dr. Stevenson writes concerning these children who claim to
remember previous lives:

“One of the most interesting, and potentially most important, of the recurrent features of the [reincarnation cases] is the high incidence of violent death among the previous personalities of the cases.  We found that among 725 cases from six different cultures, 61 percent of the subjects remembered previous lives that ended in violent death. “ (First edition, p. 160) Italics added.

On p. 117, he also makes another interesting observation:

“...the interval between the previous personality’s death and the subject’s birth is usually less than three years....The median interval for 616 cases from ten different cultures was fifteen months...."

I briefly summarize below several of Dr. Stevenson’s “typical” cases.

(1) The Case of Kumkum Verma

Kumkum was born on March 14, 1955 in India. She remembered being a woman named Sunnary, who had died of a sudden, serious illness (possibly poisoned) in 1950.

The previous personality (Sunnary) was age 50 at the time of her death. The interval between incarnations was five years.

(2) The Case of Mounzer Haidar

Mounzer was born in Lebanon on Feb. 17, 1960. He remembered a life in which his name was Jamil Souki.  Jamil had been killed in a battle in Lebanon’s civil war in 1958. Mounzer had a birth mark in the area where he had been shot in the previous life.

In this case, the previous personality (Jamil) died as a young man, killed by a gunshot. The interval between incarnations was 19 months if we count from death to “re-birth”.

(3) The Case of Gopal Gupta

Gopal was born in India on Aug. 26, 1956.  Gopal remembered a previous life which matched the life of Shaktipal Sharma, who had been a married man and one of the owners of a business.  Shaktipal was shot by his brother and died a few days later on May 27, 1948. In this case the previous personality (Shaktipal) died as an adult, killed by a gunshot.

The interval between incarnations was eight years.

(4) The Case of Bishen Chand Kapoor

Bishen Chand was born in India in 1921.  He remembered a life in which his name had been Laxmi Narain. Laxmi died of natural causes at the age of 32.

In this case, the interval between incarnations was several years.

(5) The Case of Ma Tin Aung Myo

This Burmese girl was born on Dec. 26, 1953. ‘During her pregnancy, the mother of Ma Tin Aung Myo had dreamed on three occasions that a Japanese soldier was following her and telling her that he would come to stay with her.  When Ma Tin was between three and four years old, she started remembering a previous life in which she had been a Japanese soldier stationed in Nathul during World War II, when the Japanese army occupied Burma.

The Japanese soldier had been a cook and had been killed when an Allied plane strafed the village where he was staying. He had been married and lived somewhere in northern Japan.  The soldier had been killed during the Japanese retreat from Burma. This would make 1945 the probable year of the soldier’s death. Ma Tin could not remember the names either of the Japanese soldier or of the place in Japan where he had lived. Consequently, Dr, Stevenson could not trace a Japanese person corresponding to Ma Tin’s statements.  In this case, the previous personality died as an adult, killed in 1945.

The interval between incarnations was about 8 years.

The above five cases are fairly typical of the numerous cases investigated by Dr. Stevenson and his associates.

Also compare these cases from Dr. Stevenson's files to the following case reported by Wes Milligan:  "The Past Life Memories of James Leininger".

But the following case from Dr. Stevenson’s files is more unusual.

(6) The Case of Jasbir Lal Jat

Jasbir lived in the Uttar Pradesh district of India. In the spring of 1954 at the age of three, the little boy contracted smallpox and apparently died.  But the next day Jasbir showed signs of life.  He recovered over a period of time but showed sudden changes of personality. Jasbir now claimed that he was a man later identified as Sobha Ram.

Over a period of time Jasbir expressed more and more the personality of Sobha. Subsequent investigation showed that Sobha had died as a result of a fall in May 1954 when Jasbir was three years old!

Dr. Stevenson briefly refers to other “cases with anomalous dates of death and birth”:

“In a small number of cases [from Stevenson’s files], the subject was born before the person whose life he remembered died. (The intervals vary between a day or two and several years.)"

“In a case of this kind, taken at face value, it would seem that the subject’s body was fully made and presumably occupied by one personality before another one took it over."

“....The quickest way to rid oneself of such awkward cases is to suppose that errors have been made in recording the dates, and in some cases vagueness about the exact dates supports this conclusion."

“I have satisfied myself, however, that in a least ten cases of this type we have obtained accurate dates and the anomaly remains.”

Dr. Stevenson admits that such a case may actually be an apparent case of   “possession” rather than of  “reincarnation.”

“We may be talking here about a type of body theft, often called 'possession.'...." Children Who Remember Previous Lives, p. 124

In considering Dr. Stevenson's cases, it should be noted that in many books on "New Age" subjects, books on hypnotic regressions to former lives, etc., one also gains the impression that "reincarnation" occurs fairly quickly, i.e., within a few months to several years to a number of decades after the death of the "previous person".

Part II

Dr. Stevenson’s work on reincarnation has been hailed by many Theosophists as “proving” on an empirical level, or at least pointing toward, the truth of reincarnation, which is one of the basic tenets of the Theosophical philosophy.

The Theosophists Joseph Head and Sylvia Cranston have quoted Dr. Stevenson’s work and findings in their three bestselling books on reincarnation.

And in another work Reincarnation: A New Horizon in Science, Religion, and Society (co-authored by Sylvia Cranston and Carey Williams), two chapters are again devoted to Dr. Stevenson’s reincarnation research.

But I have wondered for some time how students of Theosophy might reconcile the above quoted findings of Dr. Stevenson with the teachings on reincarnation as found in the writings of the famous Theosophist H.P. Blavatsky and one of her Masters, Koot Hoomi.

In the writings of Madame Blavatsky and her Masters, we get a quite different picture involving the "dead" and the length of their "stays" in the after-death states of Kamaloka and Devachan before they are again reincarnated in new physical bodies.

For example, H.P. Blavatsky wrote:

"....The Re-incarnationists of the Allan Kardec School [French Spiritists] believe in an arbitrary and immediate re-incarnation. With them, the dead father can incarnate in his own unborn daughter, and so on.  They have neither Devachan, Karma nor any philosophy that would warrant or prove the necessity of consecutive re-births...." 

She also stated that this :

"....French Spiritists['] ...theory [of reincarnation] is as unphilosophical and absurd as the Eastern teaching is logical and self-evident in its truth...."  The Key to Theosophy, 1889 edition, p. 191.

Elsewhere, Madame Blavatsky observed:

".....reincarnations in general take place after rather long periods passed in the intermediate and invisible spheres. So that if a Spiritist-Theosophist tells an Occultist-Theosophist that he is a reincarnation of Louis XV, or that Mrs X is a reincarnation of Joan of Arc, the Occultist would answer that according to his doctrine it is impossible. It is quite possible that he might be a reincarnation of Sesostris or of Semiramis, but the time period that has passed since the death of Louis XV and even of Joan of Arc is too short according to our calculations, which are mathematically correct...." H.P.B.'s Collected Writings, Vol. V, p, 45.  Italics added.

In the above quoted Key to Theosophy (p. 145)  in Chapter 9 "On the Kama-loka and Devachan," the question is asked:

"How long does the incarnating Ego remain in the Devachanic state [between death and the next life]?"

H.P.B. answered:

"This, we are taught, depends on the degree of spirituality and the merit or demerit of the last incarnation. The average time is from ten to fifteen centuries...."

Mahatma Koot Hoomi in his letters to A.P. Sinnett wrote:

"Every Spiritual Individuality has a gigantic evolutionary journey to perform a tremendous gyratory progress to accomplish. First — at the very beginning of the great Mahamanvantaric rotation, from first to last of the man-bearing planets, as on each of them, the monad has to pass through seven successive races of man. From the dumb offshoot of the ape (the latter strongly differentiating from the now known specimens) up to the present fifth race, or rather variety, and through two more races, before he has done with this earth only; and then on to the next, higher and higher still..."

"With all that there is no reincarnation as taught by the London Seeress — Mrs. A.K.[Anna Kingsford], as the intervals between the re-births are too immeasurably long to permit of any such fantastic ideas." The Mahatma Letters, 2nd. ed., Letter 18.   See also some of K.H.'s other relevant comments about Mrs. Kingsford in the following essay:  Psychic VERSUS Initiate Visions & Knowledge.

"...Let us take but one million of years — suspected and now accepted by your science — to represent man's entire term upon our earth in this Round; and allowing an average of a century for each life, we find that whereas he has passed in all his lives upon our planet (in this Round) but 77,700 years he has been in the subjective spheres 922,300 years. Not much encouragement for the extreme modern re-incarnationists who remember their several previous existences!" The Mahatma Letters, 2nd. ed., Letter 14.  Italics added.

And turning now to cases of suicides and victims of accident and violence which is very relevant to Dr. Stevenson's cases, Master K.H. wrote about this subject in some detail and mentions the "fate" of "earth-walkers".

In Mahatma Letter16, the Master made the following statement:

“...suicides and those killed by accident...are an exception to the rule, as they have to remain within the earth’s attraction, and in its atmosphere — the Kama-Loka — till the very last moment of what would have been the natural duration of their lives. In other words, that particular wave of life-evolution must run on to its shore."

“But it is a sin and cruelty to revive their memory and intensify their suffering by giving them a chance of living an artificial life; a chance to overload their Karma, by tempting them into opened doors, viz., mediums and sensitives.... “

And later in the same letter, K.H. went over the same subject again:

“The rule is, that a person who dies a natural death will remain from 'a few hours to several years' within the earth’s attraction, i. e., in the Kama-Loka."

“But exceptions are, in the case of suicides and those who die a violent death in general."

“Hence, one of such Egos, for instance, who was destined to live, say, 80 or 90 years, but who either killed himself or was killed by some accident, let us suppose at the age of 20—would have to pass in the Kama Loka not a 'few years', but in his case 60 or 70 years, as an Elementary, or rather an 'earth-walker'; since he is not, unfortunately for him, even a 'shell'..... "  Italics added.  See also H.P.B.'s vivid descriptions of "elementaries" and "shells".

If I understand what the Master is saying, a victim of suicide or of violence must “live” out the remainder of his normal life span in Kamaloka beƒore the death struggle, the gestation and the Devachanic after-death states commence

Furthermore, it is only after these "after-death states" are completed that the Atma-Buddhi-Manasic “individuality” reincarnates again in another "personality" and physical body.

Part III

Are there real contradictions between Dr. Stevenson’s cases cited earlier in this paper and Mme. Blavatsky's and the Master K.H.’s teachings on the same subject?

Furthermore, are these cases from Dr. Stevenson’s files true cases of reincarnation (as defined in HPB’s and the Masters’ writings) or is there some better, alternative explanation for these cases?

For example, was Ma Tin (see Case 5 mentioned earlier in this article) a true "reincarnation" of the Japanese soldier who was killed or was Ma Tin (and her mother) mediumistic "victims" of the "earthwalker" whose body had been killed in 1945? 

Is the Leininger Case a "real" case of reincarnation or do we have here a case of a young boy being "possessed" or "influenced" by an "earth-walker"?

Of course, some readers might even question if the Master K.H. really knew what he was writing about when he explained the “fate” of victims of accidents and violence.  Or is there some better explanation for K.H.’s remarks?

To close this article, I want to present two alternative "views" proposed by John Hick and D. Scott Rogo to explain Dr. Stevenson's cases and ask the reader to compare these explanations with the "earthwalker" scenario given by the Master K.H.

In his 1976 book Death and Eternal Life, the philosopher John Hick proposed the "psychic husk" theory to explain Stevenson's cases of children who claim to remember their previous lives:

"....Stevenson himself discusses several different  hypotheses, other than reincarnation, each of which may apply to one or more of his own twenty cases, though he does not think that they can between them convincingly cover all of them. I should like to add one more to the list of possible non-reincarnationist explanations, making use of the psychic factor theory mentioned in chapter 7. This is the theory that after bodily death a mental 'husk' or 'mask' of  the deceased person is left behind and is telepathically accessible under certain conditions to living persons. Such a 'husk' may consist of  mere fragments of memory, emotion, habit – analogous to isolated pieces of a tape-recording – or of a relatively coherent and cohensive body of  such elements and may . . . become linked to the mind of a medium  when in trance and be presented under the dramatic guise of a  visitor from the spirit world. This hypothesis can be extended to cover the comparatively rare cases of an individual 'remembering' a supposed previous identity and life. It may be that he (or she) is telepathically sensitive in the same sort of way as a medium, and is being influenced by the psychic 'husk' of some deceased person and identifying himself with this."

"It is perhaps worth noting, as consistent with this possibility,  that in most, or perhaps all, of the more impressive cases of  reported memories of former lives – including all of Ian Stevenson's twenty selected cases – the remembered life was the most recent one, with a gap of no more than a few years between its end and the beginning of the reported memories. Likewise  the 'spirits' who communicate through mediums have usually only  fairly recently died. The recency of the material in each case might be expected if the phenomena have a common origin in  persisting psychic traces or 'husks' which presumably gradually fade or decay with the passage of time."  Death and Eternal Life, p. 376.  Italics added.

And in 1985, D. Scott Rogo, a prolific writer on parapsychological subjects, published a book on reincarnation (The Search for Yesterday: A Critical Examination of the Evidence for Reincarnation) in which he gave the following "explanatory model" to explain the "apparent" cases of reincarnation:

"I believe that the human personality survives death, but this is not the same as positing the existence of an immortal soul.  But just what is this 'personality' that survives?  We cannot really speak about personality without also speaking about our memory, for personality is simply the sum of our memories and our behavioral dispositions.   So what really survives death is a personalized network of memories.  It is a moot point whether any spark of divinity (a 'soul') lies within this network.  It probably retains its individuality and consciousness.   During our lives after death we would probably be linked to our deceased relatives and friends in a huge interpersonal matrix.  In time, we shed our individuality and merge totally into this more impersonal field, thereby experiencing a blissful annihilation."

"This general conception of the afterlife ties in mutually with the whole concept of reincarnation.  A developing embryo can become linked with one or more of these surviving personality constellations...." 

"Either the craving of the constellation for existence drives it to attach itself to a new life, or the developing consciousness [of the embryo] latches onto one or more of these personalities of its own accord.  A case of the former might express itself in those [reincarnation] cases that look like 'possession,' in which the personality of the living person will temporarily transform into that of the donor.  We saw this process at work in the case of Uttara Huddar [The Search for Yesterday, pp. 150-155], and to a lesser degree during the strange trances to which Kumkum Verma [The Search for Yesterday, pp. 49-51] was prone.   The outcome of the second process might be a more passive expression, in which the child merely assimilates some of the memories of the donor [deceased] personality."

"This linkage is not really reincarnation, since the developing life is only tapping the resources of the donor personality's surviving memories and dispositions.  The infant's own spiritual essence is not being taken over by, or emerging from, the donor in any real sense.  So we might sum this all up by saying that at birth, an infant is complete with its own burgeoning personality.  But it is born with a psychic heritage based on its prenatal contact with 'the dead'."

"This theory can account for birthmark cases as well as for the emergence of past-life memories and phobias.  Because an unborn child has few psychological resources of its own, any surviving personality constellation with which it comes in contact is bound to exert a strong influence." 

"This general framework also helps explain why so many 'reincarnated' children recall violent past-life deaths.  It may be that people who die violently shed particularly dynamic or tightly integrated memory constellations.  They might especially strive for existence and might more readily attach themselves to a newly developing life or hold out a greater attraction to the developing infant."

"It is likely that we all harbor memories of our psychic heritage deep within our subconscious minds.  It is not unthinkable that we can make contact with memory traces left by these links by digging deeply into the subconscious.This is why such [memory] traces would tend to emerge during hypnosis, as a result of an LSD session, or during intensive psychotherapy.  Any procedure that temporarily places the conscious mind in abeyance could allow these memory traces to surface or to be tapped. If the traces left by these prenatal psychic contacts are able to form into a subsystem within the living person's mind, he or she would be endowed with some amazing abilities.  He or she might be able to speak a foreign language never learned or display precocious artistic and mechanistic skills and other talents."

"So, in conclusion, do I 'believe' in reincarnation?   Based on the evidence [examined in my book], I suppose that I should say that I do: but not in reincarnation of the soul, but in the fact that certain apparently vanished memories and traits of [a deceased] personality can actually be born again [in another living human being.]"  Abridged and collated from The Search for Yesterday, pp. 215-218. Italics added.

It may be instructive here to compare these proposed explanations by Hick and Rogo with H.P.Blavatsky's own "psychic husk" theory which was called the "doctrine of shells" by her Adept-Teachers.  H.P.B. wrote:

"The more I see of spiritist seances in this cradle and hotbed of Spiritism and mediums, the more clearly I see how dangerous they are for humanity. Poets speak of a thin partition between the two worlds. There is no partition whatever. Blind people have imagined obstacles of this kind because coarse organs of hearing, sight, and feeling do not allow the majority of people to penetrate the difference of being. Besides, Mother-Nature has done well in endowing us with coarse senses, for otherwise the individuality and personality of man would become impossible, because the dead would be continually mixing with the living, and the living would assimilate themselves with the dead. It would not be so bad if there were around us only spirits of the same kind as ourselves, the half-spiritual refuse of mortals who died without having reconciled themselves to the great necessity of death. Then we might submit to the inevitable."

"One way or another, we cannot help identifying ourselves physically and in a perfectly unconscious way with the dead, absorbing the constituent atoms of what lived before us: with every breath we inhale them, and breathe out that which nourishes the formless creatures, elementals floating in the air in the expectation of being transformed into living beings. This is not only a physical process, but partly a moral one. We assimilate those who preceded us, gradually absorbing their brain-molecules and exchanging mental auras — which means thoughts, desires, and tendencies. This is an interchange common to the entire human race and to all that lives. A natural process, an outcome of the laws of the economy of nature... It explains similarities, external and moral..."

"But there exists another absolute law, which manifests itself periodically and sporadically: this is a law, as it were, of artificial and compulsory assimilation. During epidemics of this kind the kingdom of the dead invades the region of the living, though fortunately this kind of refuse are bound by the ties of their former surroundings. And so, when evoked by mediums, they cannot break through the limits and boundaries in which they acted and lived... And the wider the doors are opened to them the further the necromantic epidemic is spread; the more unanimous the mediums and the spiritists in spreading the magnetic fluid of their evocations, the more power and vitality are acquired by the glamour."

"....It stands to reason that this mere earthly refuse, irresistibly drawn to the earth, cannot follow the soul and spirit — these highest principles of man’s being. With horror and disgust I often observed how a reanimated shadow of this kind separated itself from the inside of the medium; how, separating itself from his astral body and clad in someone else’s vesture, it pretended to be someone’s relation, causing the person to go into ecstasies and making people open wide their hearts and their embraces to these shadows whom they sincerely believed to be their dear fathers and brothers, resuscitated to convince them of life eternal, as well as to see them... Oh, if they only knew the truth, if they only believed! If they saw, as I have often seen, a monstrous, bodiless creature seizing hold of someone present at these spiritistic sorceries! It wraps the man as if with a black shroud, and slowly disappears in him as if drawn into his body by each of his living pores." Quoted from Letters of H.P. Blavatsky to Her Family in Russia, Part III.  Bold added.

On the subject of reincarnation in general, see:

•  Exploring Reincarnation — Introductions, Research Studies & Opposing Viewpoints:  26 Recommended Titles.

For more on the Theosophical perspective, see:

•  Exploring the Great Beyond:   Our Inner Constitution, Psychism & Life After Death


"Elementaries....spooks or phantoms of disembodied persons, in general, to those whose temporary habitation is the Kāma Loka....Once divorced from their higher triads and their bodies, these souls remain in their Kāma-rupic envelopes, and are irresistibly drawn to the earth amid elements congenial to their gross natures. Their stay in the Kāma Loka varies as to its duration; but ends invariably in disintegration, dissolving like a column of mist, atom by atom, in the surrounding elements."  H.P. Blavatsky, The Theosophical Glossary.

"Shells. A Kabbalistic name for the phantoms of the dead, the 'spirits' of the Spiritualists, figuring in physical phenomena; so named on account of their being simply illusive forms, empty of their higher principles."   H.P. Blavatsky, The Theosophical Glossary