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Bloxham tapes

Almost any hypnotic subject capable of going into a deep trance will babble about a previous incarnation if the hypnotist asks him to. He will babble just as freely about his future incarnations....--Martin Gardner

The Bloxham tapes are a set of more than 400 recordings of past-life hypnotic regression sessions made  by a Welsh-based hypnotherapist named Arnall Bloxham. The tapes were transcribed and published as a series in the Sunday Times in the 1970s. Jeffrey Iverson, a BBC producer working in Cardiff, went through the tapes and picked one case he thought was outstanding and might well pass the test of historical scrutiny: the case of Jane Evans, a pseudonym for a 30-year-old Welsh housewife who produced no fewer than six different past lives while under hypnosis. Iverson produced a television show about the Bloxham tapes and wrote a book called More Lives than One? The Evidence of the Remarkable Bloxham Tapes that became a bestseller in 1976. Neither the television program nor the book provided a thorough and critical examination of the evidence.

Whenever television viewers saw Jane Evans under hypnosis and heard the astonishing stories come naturally from her, they were rightly impressed. Her narratives seemed completely free from any attempts at acting a part. When fear and anguish came into her voice, it was clear that she was racked with real emotions. And her easy grasp of often difficult names of people and places made it seem that she was indeed remembering things that she'd only known about intimately. (Harris 2003: 148)

Evans's lives were varied and packed with details. Her earliest recalled life was as Livonia, wife of Titus, tutor to one of the sons of the Roman governor (Constantius) in York (Eboracum) during the 3rd century. In 1189 she was Rebecca, wife of a wealthy Jewish moneylender, also in York. In 1450 she was Alison, an Egyptian servant in the French household of Jacques Coeur, a wealthy merchant and financier in Bourges. In the early 16th century she had been Anna, a lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon. In 1702, she had been a London sewing girl named Ann Tasker. In the early 20th century, she had been Sister Grace, a Catholic nun living in Des Moines, Iowa.

Iverson searched the historical record and found a number of facts that matched the stories told by Jane Evans. He ended up agreeing with Bloxham that the tapes provided strong evidence for reincarnation. His publisher touted Iverson's book as providing "the most staggering evidence for reincarnation ever recorded...accounts so authentic that they can only be explained by the certainty of reincarnation" (Wilson 1987: 45). A cursory search of the Internet will turn up several sites that agree with Iverson and his publicist. However, the facts seem to point in another direction.

Melvin Harris also investigated the historical record, but instead of looking to confirm the reincarnation hypothesis, he looked to confirm the cryptomnesia or fraud hypothesis. He examined works of fiction and popular history, and found some curious facts, including some that contradicted Evans's stories. Harris made a career out of "exposing hoaxes and frauds and was particularly adept at identifying the literary origins of myths and fantasies."*

Evans's Lavonia was based on Louis de Wohl's 1947 novel, The Living Wood. Characters invented by de Wohl appear in Evans's hypnotic regression along with historical figures. The novel tells the same story that Evans told. Coincidence?

Rebecca's story seems to have been based on a radio play about the York massacre (Kelly: 88). On several occasions, Ann describes the circular yellow badge that Jews were forced to wear. The badge wasn't used in York until the 13th century and it wasn't circular or yellow, but oblong and white.

Alison's story is contained in Thomas Costain's 1948 novel, The Moneyman, about the life of Jacques Coeur. Jane Evans remembered Coeur as being unmarried, but the real Coeur was married and had five children. Costain had left that detail out of his novel, as did Evans in her hypnotic memory. Coincidence? Pictures of Coeur's mansion are found in many textbooks and it remains one of the most visited private houses in Europe.

Alison's description of the tomb of Agnes Sorel, the king's mistress, seemed to be an intimate detail of someone with inside knowledge. "The truth is that the Sorel tomb was placed in its present setting in 1809" (Harris 2003: 158). It's been a tourist attraction throughout the twentieth century and is described in detail in H. D. Sedgwick's A Short History of France.

[new] Ian Lawton, an investigator with a strong interest and belief in reincarnation, provides a detailed examination of the Bloxham tapes. Regarding Alison, he writes that the most impressive aspect of the case is Jane’s recall of a ‘beautiful golden apple with jewels in it’ that Coeur said had been given to him by the Sultan of Turkey. Lawton thinks this might provide evidence that Jane didn't get all her information about Coeur from a novel. He notes that a list of items confiscated by the Treasury from Jacques Coeur included a ‘grenade’ of gold – a pomegranate. Lawton is impressed that pomme is French for apple. True, but a pomegranate is not an apple and there is no mention of a jeweled grenade of gold. Anyway, the idea of the golden apple could have come from any number of sources, including books or paintings connected to Greek mythology. I'd also be suspicious about the use of the expression "the Sultan of Turkey." Turkey became a state in 1923. It was part of the Ottoman empire for centuries and I'm not sure anyone was ever called "the Sultan of Turkey." [new]

The evidence does not indicate that Bloxham, Evans, or Iverson were frauds or hoaxers, but they misled many people. It is more likely that this is a case of cryptomnesia and a misunderstanding of the nature of memories evoked under hypnosis.

In uncovering the origins of Jane Evans's "past lives," Harris was following the method of Dr. Edwin Zolik, who had done extensive research on using hypnosis to regress clients to past lives. He hypnotized his subjects and told them to remember "previous existences." He tape-recorded the sessions and then played them back to his subjects when they were wide awake. None of the subjects admitted to knowing anything about their past lives. Zolik concluded that the subjects were sincere. He hypnotized them again and they were able to remember the fictitious sources on which they'd based their past lives. As Harris put it: Zolick "showed that 'past-life' memories could easily be nothing but a mixture of remembered tales and strong, symbolically colored emotions" (Harris 2003: 151). Zolick recommended his method to anyone who did past-life regressions. Bloxham never once inquired into the possibly mundane origins of the more than four hundred regressions he did. Iverson claimed that the Bloxham tapes were "researched and there is no evidence they are fantasies....they appear to convey exactly what they claim: a genuine knowledge and experience of the past." It is obvious that if they were researched, they were not researched properly.

See also Bridey Murphy and Ian Stevenson.

further reading

books

Gardner, Martin. (1957). Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. Dover Publications, Inc.

Harris, Melvin. (2003). Investigating the Unexplained. Prometheus Books. This book was originally called Sorry, You've Been Duped (1986), Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Kelly, Lynne. (2004). The Skeptic's Guide to the Paranormal. Thunder's Mouth Press.

Wilson, Ian. (1987). The After Death Experience: the Physics of the Non-Physical. William Morrow and Company, Inc.

websites

"Is it possible to recall past lives through hypnosis?" - Cecil Adams

Reincarnation by Harry Edwards

A Case of Reincarnation -- Reexamined Joe Nickell (the case of Jenny Cockell)

James Randi, commentary

reader comments on past life regression

Last updated 16-Jun-2012

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