Coming Back: A Psychiatrist Explores Past-Life Journeys By Raymond A. Moody Jr, M.D., Bantam Books, 1991, $19.95

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

The author of Coming Back is the same author whose book began the world-wide interest in near-death experiences. In his Life After Life Moody never came to a conclusion as to the cause of near-death phenomenon, but in Coming Back he feels that he has uncovered the source of past-life experiences.

On his first attempt at experiencing past-life experiences under hypnosis, the author re-lived nine former lives! Realizing that something real was going on, Dr. Moody began investigating the whole subject of past lives. Because of his skepticism of reincarnation and realizing that it could be proven neither true nor false, he spent his time researching its characteristics and theorizing what it might be. He found that past-life re-livings had the following features:

  • The journeys are usually visual.
  • The "story line" develops on its own accord.
  • The events seem familiar.
  • The subject identifies with one central character in the story.
  • Past life emotions are experienced with the story-line.
  • The events can be experienced in the first person and also from the perspective of a another person.
  • The experience often mirrors events in the person's present-day life.
  • Improvements in one's mental and physical state often follow past-life regression.
  • Strict chronology is not followed and most past lives do not encompass the experiences of important historical figures.

Moody claims that re-living past lives can be therapeutic. He recounts case histories of patients who have relieved pains of arthritis and phobias. Depression has also lifted after a person has relived a prior life or two. Two of his patients were cured of life-long asthma.

Are past life experiences related to and prove reincarnation? Moody thinks they are not and do not. He presents non-mystical explanations for past-life phenomena. As a past-life therapist, he says that he seldom encounters a past-life experience which does not relate to a problem in his patient's current life. Admitting that some therapists use this fact in an attempt to prove that the patient is really living a past life, Moody feels that the real explanation is more mundane.

In regard to reincarnation, he says that the evidence gained from past-life experiences neither proves nor disproves its possibility. So what does he think is happening to the person undergoing such an experience?

Moody's explanation is a familiar one to people in primal therapy. A past-life experience, he says, is "the language of the unconscious." He calls such experiences "a metaphor" for present day problems and includes dozens of case histories of regressions under hypnosis which he ties in to the unconscious conflicts of the patient. Inexplicably, Moody does not believe that past-life regressions are the symbolic content of repressed memories, even though he admits that in some cases they may be.

I wonder if the content of a past-life regression bears a similarity to a repressed memory in only a small percentage of cases, as Moody believes. We in primal therapy know from experience that a problem in present- day life often has its source or roots in repressed early traumas. If this is true, then it would seem that past lives would reflect the story-line or plot of our early traumas perhaps to a degree unsuspected by the author. I am puzzled since it seems that the author is not familiar with this reality.

Dr. Moody claims that you don't have to be hynotised to experience past lives. He discusses the history of the ancient art of divination with crystal balls (scrying) and gives instructions how one can tap one's past lives by their use. He also cautions against obsessions with the subject.

As a youngster, I unsuccessfully tried this art of scrying with a glass ball which contained a figurine of the Virgin Mary! It was the kind that when you'd shake it, particles of snow-like substance would descend. Unfortunately my father did not like my choice of a crystal ball and immediately put a stop to my attempted divinations. I'd like to try it again, but this time I'll choose a figurine-free glass ball!

In selecting a past-life therapist, Dr. Moody suggests that one choose a therapist who is more interested in using his therapy to help the subject learn more about himself rather than promoting a belief in reincarnation. By ignoring the present day problems of the patient, Moody feels that there is a less of a chance of the patient being helped by past-life therapy.

If a reader is worried about losing control in the hands of a hypnotist, the author includes a long (22 pages) self-hypnosis script which he says can be taped and played back to oneself. With the tape recording, he says, one can begin on his own and discover one's own past lives.

Dr. Moody concludes by saying that past life experiences "at their least. . .are deep revelations from the subconscious'' and "at their most . . .are evidence of life before life.''

For an interesting short explanation on how near death experiences can be prevented in a medical surgery setting, see this short article by Dr. Douglas Fields