Proving Reincarnation (with a Method Anyone Can Use)

by Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Writer and Producer of 'In Another Life: Reincarnation in America'

To state the obvious, in order to prove reincarnation, you have to find a genuine past-life match that's provable. It's like finding your fingers and toes - you definitely have them, alright. But finding a past life that's provable - meaning, to anyone besides yourself - is the real challenge.

I found mine, indirectly, through a psychic reading. I say "indirectly," because the match I stumbled upon wasn't actually the lifetime described by the psychic. But let us say, a reading is the simplest way to find one of your past lives. To be objective, you need to test the psychic. I used two in my research: the first I had tested previously, and the second came certified by a well-established psychic community. Both psychics made strongly evidential "hits." What you're looking for, to verify that a psychic is genuine, is specifics which they had no normal way of knowing, and which check out precisely. In both of the readings I used for my research (after the first one which got me started looking), I volunteered no information for the first half hour, to avoid skeptical charges regarding the "cold reading" technique (where the psychic intentionally, or inadvertently, plays a "guessing game"). In that half hour, both of my psychics made blazingly accurate hits, when compared with the known history. Could they have cheated? As regards some of the hits, possibly, if you want to accuse them of blatant fraud. As regards some of the other hits, definitely not. Although these were both telephone readings, I accept that both of these psychics were not cheating (say, by looking up information on the internet before, or during, the session).

Of the four names that the second psychic gave during an hour telephone reading, for example, one matched a key figure's brother, and made sense in context ("John around her life"); one turned out to make sense later on ("Henry," a name which figured prominently in identifying a miniature portrait discovered after the session); one was wrong, but was in the ballpark, as a "last or first name" ("Randall" instead of "Rochemont," a middle name); and the last was a blazingly accurate, exact hit on the first name of my past-life personality, "Mathew." This is with the psychic having no prompting from me and no normal way of learning the information, unless you want to charge him with using the internet during the session. There are no complaints of fraud in the numerous consumer reviews for this psychic, and a colleague who knows him personally wrote me of his skill and professional integrity. Thus with fraud eliminated to a reasonable degree of certainty, these are the kinds of specific hits which tell you that the psychic is genuine.

So, verify your psychics, and use as many as you can reasonably afford. My finances limited me to two - ideally, I'd have preferred to use six or seven. Be sure and either record the readings, or take notes during the sessions (I'm glad I took notes for the second session, because it turned out he didn't record it). With these details, you have your clues to begin your research. Make a special note of where the details cross-correspond. In my two readings, which were focused primarily on my first wife in this 19th century lifetime, both psychics said she was "ahead of her time," and both described her personality similarly, along with other cross-corresponding details.

Now, you (or your researcher, if you have one), plunge into the internet. What you want is to avoid skeptical charges of "cryptomnesia," an effect in which people think they are remembering something from a past life, while they are actually remembering something they've read in a book, or seen in a film, but have forgotten. In order to avoid this explanation for your results, you must perceive, record, and date a paranormally-obtained perception before you could ever have seen it by normal means; and that record must be shared and kept by another reputable person who can vouch for it.

Remember that history is often inaccurate. This is because much of it is based on what I would call "scholastic rumor." Someone assumes something, and publishes their assumption. Someone else quotes it as fact, and then several other people quote that person. Soon, the original assumption is lost, and the thing has become set in concrete as historical fact, when it may actually be erroneous. From my explorations into history, I've concluded that this happens far more often than we are led to believe. However, there is a bright side to this plague of misinformation, and that is that if you can persevere rather than giving up at the first counter-indication, proving that your paranormal perception was correct while the history was wrong, you have another feather in your cap with which to confound the skeptics.

Often you will feel that you've come to an impasse. On two occasions when this happened to me, I enlisted the aid of friends. Sometimes it just takes a fresh eye. Both friends found what I'd been looking for. So when you get stuck, try showing it to someone else.

When I was a little boy, my father took me on a "party fishing boat," a boat full of fishermen all lowering their lines down on a reef. My sinker kept bumping the bottom, and each time it did, I thought I had a fish. Finally, in exasperation, my father told me, "When you get a fish, you'll know!" And indeed I did. When I got a five-pound snapper on the line, he had to help me pull it up.

That's the way it is with genuine past-life matches. It won't be because you want it to be true, putting 2 and 2 together to get 5. It will rise from the depths of your being, knocking at the door, trying to come in. It will be true whether you want it to be, or not. Have you ever met someone, and you can't shake the feeling that you've known them before? It's the same feeling with a genuine past-life match, only it's deeper and more powerful. The genuine past life also dovetails intimately with your own life-patterns. It somehow explains so much about you, why you are who you are, today. It makes sense in the context of everything you believe about life. You're the continuation of that person, after all.

Now, let us suppose you've found your match. How do you know whether it's a provable one, and if so, how do you go about proving it?

A provable past-life match is one which is recent enough, and well-enough documented, that information can be found if you dig; but obscure enough that you could not have seen the information casually. That counts out famous people (or makes the case much harder to prove), and it also counts out most matches from centuries before the 18th or 19th. It helps if, as in my match, the person was related to someone famous, but mostly ignored by that person and those who built his legacy. That way it's not possible to have encountered the information casually, but you can find references if you dig deeply enough.

Again, don't automatically assume the recorded history is correct. In my case, one historical record, if you take the dates literally, would have my past-life personality marrying his second wife as his first wife, and their 8-month-old daughter, lay dying! I knew in my heart that couldn't be true, and it turned out this historian had the year wrong. Actually, he remarried a year later. I ran across quite a few historical errors like this.

All the skills which are so familiar to amateur genealogists, apply also to researching a past-life match. You'll want to look for diaries, memoirs and personal correspondence. Try to find living relatives, and read books from the locale and the era. Both Google and Archive.org are digitizing books that are free for download in various formats, or can be read online. I found that reading period newspapers, rather than simply reading historians' summaries of the period, yields all sorts of clues. I remembered seeing my first wife, standing with her sisters, at an outdoor celebration where there were fireworks. But this would have been in 1835, and on the internet, all I could find is how fireworks became popular in the mid-19th century when they were imported from Italy. However, I finally found a newspaper article, quoted in an old book, which described the Fourth of July fireworks in the area in 1821, and listed each type of rocket in order! That same source also had the article from 1835, which didn't mention fireworks at all (perhaps they were taken for granted by that time); but it did mention that the local celebration that year was held in her home town of Rocks Village, making the memory even more plausible.

Use the concept of "degrees of separation." You want to closely examine the life of anyone who had two (a direct acquaintance), or perhaps three degrees of separation from your past-life personality. Read their memoirs and autobiographies, if they wrote one (both friends and adversaries); in the entire book, there may be one reference, and that reference may be significant. For example, I read "Events in the Life of a Seer" by famous psychic and Spiritualist Andrew Jackson Davis. Suddenly, half way through, I ran across his description of meeting Mathew in 1854! I had earlier seen the description quoted, without attribution, but now I knew that it was written by Davis, himself.

There is the question, when approaching people for information, of how to present yourself. Many amateur reincarnation researchers say they are doing "genealogical research." I have a long-standing habit of being strictly honest, but honesty does not necessarily mean volunteering everything. I've tried it both ways. When I've explained that I'm researching a possible past life, I've found that the reaction depends entirely on whether the person on the other end accepts reincarnation, or not. You have roughly a one-in-four chance, statistically. When you hit someone who does not believe in reincarnation, their response is predictable. They will write back politely once, and then you will never hear from them again. What I had to resort to most of the time was simply not mentioning reincarnation, and letting the person assume the research was for some other purpose unless I was directly asked - which I was, sooner or later, when I was dealing with individuals as opposed to libraries and historical associations. As your research progresses in a narrow subject-area or in a small geographic region, word will get around, and you will get less and less help. If you are lucky, however, you will hit on a key person who does accept reincarnation, and you may obtain crucial material from them.

That's the historical research side. On the subjective side, we must begin by advancing a hypothesis, which is derived from clinical results in past-life therapy. It states that old emotions never die - nor do they ever fade away. Let us assume, now, that we are constantly reacting to situations in our present life, with past-life emotions. We interpret our experiences, emotionally, in the light of our past-life feelings, whether we consciously realize it or not.

Immediately, you see that there is potential here for research. Because if this hypothesis holds true, and if you have found a real past-life match, you should react to elements of that past life with your old emotions, regardless of whether you have any conscious memory of the events of that life, or not. In my own experience, I have found this to be true.

The research method is now clear. In a systematic way, fully recorded, dated and shared with an independent research partner, you must be presented with information from that past life, and observe your emotional reactions. Portraits of people and streets and buildings; personal correspondence, literature the person was familiar with, writing that he or she might have done. Objects that person owned, or handled. Anything at all you can find from that lifetime may evoke feelings and emotions - and these must all be faithfully recorded as they occur. And they must not be tampered with later, to fit the facts. The more you stick your neck out, the more striking the evidence will be if it is found to match the history - so don't play it safe! If you really believe the match is genuine, say it as you truly feel it. If you are supposed to recognize a photograph but you don't, say so. On the other hand, if you feel a strong recognition for a portrait, but there is no known connection in the history, say that, as well. Pay attention to all your feelings. What kind of relationship do you feel with this person? Intimate, distant, sexual, platonic, trust, distrust? Record it all.

Often, you may experience little bits of memory accompanying these feelings, like shreds of fabric still clinging to an old chair frame. Record them, too, and never tamper with the record (if you send it to someone else immediately, that proves you didn't tamper with it). Try, as much as possible, to stick with your first gut reaction. Don't try to "stretch" the memories into some likely scenario or other. I found, in my research, that where I stayed close to these initial reactions, I was right on the money; but when I tried to extrapolate a scenario from them, I often went off the mark. This will cause you to lose credibility with people who can't or won't bother to distinguish between your first reaction, and your subsequent extrapolations. You will be forced to separate them out later, in your analysis of the case, as these extrapolations are proven wrong - but it's best to have as little to apologize for as possible.

I think that some people have a stronger facility for past-life image recognition than others, and mine is pretty strong. That gave me an advantage, but I believe that everyone experiences emotions from past lives. I also think it's an ability that improves with practice.

I'll give an example that just occurred while eating out at a popular restaurant which features actual historic portraits on the walls for decoration. Near my table, I saw a man's portrait that I felt I recognized. My skeptical mind immediately took over, and said, "I'm imagining things." But there was a faded caption, and upon closer scrutiny, I saw that it said, "Horace Greeley." Well, I recognized the name, both from my present life, as part of my historical research, and also from my past life. He seemed distinguished, someone I would admire, and I thought maybe he was an Abolitionist minister (since in the 19th century, I had been an active Abolitionist, as well as a writer and occasional freelance journalist). When I looked him up at home, I learned that he was a distinguished New York editor, and an Abolitionist. Definitely, I would have known of him and admired him, in that lifetime. The important point is my emotional reaction - it was positive, I sensed I recognized him, and I sensed that I admired him. Again, part of the cognitive recognition could have come from this lifetime; but not, I think, the emotions.

There are two principles I've discovered which have bearing on past-life recognition. First of all, the sense of recognition for a past-life image is more likely to be triggered when that image is precisely as you knew the person, or place, in the past. For example, a full-color, accurate portrait of a person at the age you knew them, is more likely to elicit recognition than a black-and-white, inaccurate portrait of that person when they were much older (some portraits were intentionally flattering, and not photo-accurate). Likewise, a street scene from the exact period when you lived there, viewed from street level as you would have typically seen it, will be more likely to trigger recognition than the same scene 100 years later, with new buildings added, from an elevated vantage point. For example, I never felt I recognized the Whittier farm where I presumably grew up in that lifetime, until I found images of it from before it was painted and spruced up. (I had been honest about not recognizing it at first, so it was doubly-strong when I was able to confirm that the older images did seem familiar.)

Secondly, a positive association will trigger a sense of recognition more readily than a negative association. A negative association may initially be experienced as a "blank," especially if the feelings were blocked.

Ideally, if you have an enthusiastic research partner, or if you can afford to hire an impartial research assistant for the long haul, you, yourself, should not do any of the research at all. Nor should you casually "poke around" on the internet. Your assistant(s) should do all the research, including the data recording, and you should only do the reacting to whatever he or she feeds you (I was unable to do this because I couldn't afford to hire a full-time researcher - mine was a friend and a volunteer). If you want to be truly scientific about it, you might try systematically mixing up the images, so that some of them have nothing to do with the past life, and some do. But personally, I wouldn't recommend this approach. Why? There's a sort of flow that gets going, and an increased synchronicity that develops, when you approach one of your own past lives. It's a highly intuitive process, and if you "ride" it, it will take you to your destination. But deliberately putting misleading information into the mix as a test would disrupt that intuitive flow. So I'd recommend maybe trying that once or twice, but not using it as standard procedure, despite the fact that it would be indicated by the pure scientific method.

In a minute, I'm going to provide examples from my own research of these different types of findings. But first, a word about hypnotic past-life regression. I supplemented my data with two past-life regression sessions, and the results of those sessions did yield one or two strong proofs. I am not a good hypnotic subject, going in-and-out of a light hypnotic trance both times. However, I began each session with the firm resolve to only report exactly and precisely what I experienced. In this way, I avoided the oft-criticized problem of indulging too much in imagination (though to some degree it may be inevitable), and the charge of suggestion by the hypnotist. I simply refused to be influenced, and stuck doggedly to whatever images and feelings were bubbling up from inside, which one is quite capable of doing under a light, therapy-level trance. If you use hypnotic regression, I strongly recommend approaching it this way, and finding a hypnotist who will cooperate.


Before citing examples from my own research, I should mention that there are some potential dangers associated with hypnotic regression. An inexperienced hypnotist may not be able to help you through any rough patches, if you start to remember something intensely frightening or unpleasant. There is also a phenomenon called "past-life bleedthrough," where the emotions and personality traits of the past life start coming through and may linger for days, or even weeks. Mathew Franklin Whittier was grieving his entire life for his beloved first wife; he was bitter at society for having shunned them, indirectly causing her death; and he was constantly discouraged in his career. He was also sarcastic. The more deeply I studied his life, the more I found these feelings "settling in" on me, without realizing it, and the more I had to watch my tongue in social situations. But past-life bleed-through can be even more pronounced with hypnotic regression. For all these reasons, if you supplement your research with this method, I strongly suggest you study it thoroughly beforehand, and take the trouble to find a competent therapist.

I will now give examples of each type of evidence that I uncovered.

1) Recognition memory for a historical portrait.

My past-life match was a 19th century writer, who championed the causes of Abolition and Spiritualism. He gained a grass-roots following through writing faux letters to the editor under the name of his fictional character, "Ethan Spike," an ignorant arch-conservative reminiscent of Archie Bunker (or if you are British, Bunker's predecessor, Alf Garnett). I was finding some of his early sketches in period newspapers through Genealogybank.com, and noticed that they were all reprinted from a paper called the "Boston Chronotype." So I Googled "Boston Chronotype" and selected the Google Image function. Among the thumbnails that came up, I saw one of a man who appeared to be in his late 40's or early 50's. Enlarging it, I felt I recognized him immediately. Not only that, I felt as though the photograph was alive! Though he was photographed in profile, and bore a serious expression, I felt as if he could turn around any second, and he would be smiling and his eyes would be twinkling! I felt we were very close friends, and I could feel, emotionally, what that friendship meant to me. The thought came to me, "Like a warm hearth on a cold day."


I learned from the caption accompanying the portrait that this was George Bradburn, that he had been an Abolitionist, and he had been an editor for the Boston Chronotype in the "late 40's" (which is why the image came up in Google Images, associated with that paper).

Further internet search led me to a lengthy memorial written by his wife. I saw that Bradburn, as an Abolitionist, had been close friends with Mathew's brother, the famous anti-slavery poet John Greenleaf Whittier. But what I felt was a personal relationship with him, not just that he was friends with my brother. Then, further down in the memorial, I read that he had worked for 14 years at the Boston Custom House, beginning in 1861 - the same year that Mathew started working there. In fact, for much of that time they had worked in the same department, the Naval Department. In the Appendix of the memorial, one friend described his smile just as I had remembered it, and also commented on Bradburn's unique sarcastic humor toward pro-slavery figures (which was Mathew's literary stock-in-trade).

Although I have not found any personal correspondence or diaries directly linking the two men as friends, this remains rather strong, objective evidence that my recognition memory was both accurate, and genuine.

2) Unproven recognition memory for a historical portrait.

I also felt recognition for a portrait of William Wheelwright, a nautical entrepreneur from Newburyport, Mass. near where Mathew was born. My feeling was that the man had been an employer, and that had not something happened to interrupt their association, it could have meant a bright future for Mathew. However, a subsequent search of the history showed me that Wheelwright was only in Newburyport for about one year, during which time he married. The rest of the time he was overseas. That means that if he employed Mathew, it would have to have been in 1829, when Mathew was a young man, presumably still working the family farm. It remains possible, but tenuous.*

3) Recognition for a past-life building.


I learned quite early in the research that Mathew worked during the last 20 years of his life at the Boston Custom House. However, for some reason, I had neglected to look up an image of the building. Under hypnosis, when asked what it looked like, I laughed and described it as a long, two-story building, ugly and plain. But when I finally got around to looking it up on Wikipedia, the first picture I saw was of a large, multi-story square building. Obviously, that didn't match my memory under hypnosis. But then I scrolled down further, and I saw the first Custom House building, photographed in 1850 (Mathew began working there in 1861). This building was a long, two-story affair, and could justifiably be called "ugly." Whether it was "plain" or not would be in the eye of the beholder - it had a dome, and it had columns along its length. Perhaps by the standards of the time, it was plain; or perhaps I inadvertently embellished that in the session; or, more likely, Mathew hated working there and in his view, after 20 years, it was both ugly and plain. Looking more closely at the building, I learned that it had fake half-columns both inside and out--I think in Mathew's mind, these were mere decoration. It is clear from his published works that he had studied ancient Greece in great depth; and there was a city hall where he used to live, in Portland, Maine, which was beautifully proportioned and true to the ancient Greek ideals of temple architecture, against which he may have felt this was an ungainly imitation. In any case, the odds against my accurately describing a public building, which could have been any shape, even in the 1800's, are probably fairly high.

4) Recognition of a unique object.

In my first psychic reading, the psychic told me about Mathew's courtship with his first wife, Abby, and told me that I would begin to remember more. She had said we liked to go on picnics, and not long after the reading, I began to remember our first one. We were both nervous, and the basket had been carefully prepared by Abby and her older sisters. However, this basket was designed with one large handle on top of the lid, and the only thing which held that lid in place was a single peg-and-loop in the front. That mechanism would occasionally give way, as it did on this first picnic, at which time all the contents spilled unceremoniously on the ground! I remembered us both standing aghast, until we suddenly burst out laughing and couldn't stop! This broke the ice wonderfully, and we quickly became a couple after that.


After I had duly recorded this memory, however, I began to seriously doubt it. After all, who would make a basket with such a ridiculous design? Again on Google Images, I searched through several pages, until suddenly I saw one of these monstrosities! They really were made. Later, I found one which exactly matched my memory, with precisely the same peg-and-loop fastener. I have searched subsequently, and they are quite rare. I managed to find a miniature version (probably a more modern replica), which I keep on my desk with my other "Mathew souvenirs."

Note that I stuck my neck out on this memory, as I have on all of them. No matter how implausible they might seem at first, I dutifully recorded them; and almost all of them have turned out to be plausible for the locations and the period. (The jury is still out on one or two, like the Wheelwright portrait recognition.)

5) Recognition for the spelling of a name.

In the history, the first name of Mathew's beloved first wife, Abby, was spelled both ways, i.e., "Abbie" and "Abby" - even in sources which should have been authoritative. However, seeing the "Abbie" spelling made me feel annoyed, even indignant. I wrote my researcher that I felt uncomfortable with the "Abbie" spelling when she used it, or when I saw it in the history. Then, my researcher found a letter penned by Abby, with her signature. My emotional reactions had been right, with a 50-50 chance if I had been merely guessing (which I was not). However, I remembered that I had seen a published excerpt of a letter from Mathew's sister to him, after Abby died, in which she used the "Abby" spelling. I hadn't thought it through logically at the time, but since Abby and his sister were friends, that would definitely be the correct spelling. This means that skeptics can say that I could have known which one was correct before I saw the signature. However, if emotions are accepted as data, then my emotional discomfort with the "Abbie" spelling indicates that I was not just basing my conclusions on some sort of "unconscious logic" from having seen the published excerpt.

6) Overall personality.

As I studied the life of Mathew Franklin Whittier, I felt that I understood him at a much greater depth than his primary biographer and other commentators had. I felt he was much like I am, today, in many respects, which is to say, fiercely idealistic and dedicated to finding and stating the truth, regardless of the cost. He was painted in the history, however, as a kind of shiftless ne-er-do-well, who managed to publish a few clever humorous sketches. I knew he was a brilliant, deeply insightful writer who hid his light under a bushel, and who had a profound influence on his times, largely behind the scenes. I had to write an entire book to prove that I was right, and I cannot retrace all the steps I took, in this article. But I did prove that the history was wrong, while my feelings about who this man was, were correct. I also found numerous parallels with myself as I am today, both in character traits (good and bad), and in talents.

In addition, I found that I understood Mathew's writing as no-one else who had ever studied it. I knew what passages he was particularly proud of, and I knew which stories were inspired by events in his own life. This is difficult to prove, though I can point to numerous references in his stories which are clearly autobiographical.

The kinds of memories which come up, are the ones laden with emotion; and they are usually not the stuff of official records. They are the type of thing most likely to be found in personal correspondence and diaries. You can sometimes find correspondence in various semi-famous peoples' archived papers - but this kind of correspondence, the kind with the juicy, personal details, doesn't usually find its way into official collections. So the real proof would be privately held.

I feel that someday these techniques will be widely used. I also feel that in the coming years, it will be much easier to trace a most-recent past life, because with the advent of computers, record-keeping has greatly improved. With both of these trends combined, what I have done will be commonplace, and reincarnation will gradually be accepted because everyone will know several people, in their own social circle, who have proved a recent past life of their own.

*Subsequent research suggested that Mathew may have run away from home at age 14, to go to sea, ending up as a clerk for some period of time in Cuba or another Latin country. Hints of this show up in a travelogue, and in more than one story, although nothing of this nature is seen in the official Whittier legacy. If true, it could be the missing link to a personal relationship between Wheelwright, and Mathew.

Stephen Sakellarios is the producer of reincarnation documentary "In Another Life: Reincarnation in America," which aired on former PBS affiliate KBDI in Denver, and which is now sold to colleges by Films Media Group (the media arm of Facts on File). He currently contracts with the Meher Spiritual Center for restoration video editing. He has recently published three ebooks: "Mathew Franklin Whittier in his own words," a scholarly attempt to prove his own reincarnation case as the younger brother of Romantic poet John Greenleaf Whittier; "Loving Abby in Truth and Spirit," the story of how he reconnected with Abby Poyen Whittier, Mathew's first wife, and then re-established their relationship across the "Great Divide" after 170 years; and "Eastern Mysticism and Psychotherapy: A Guide to Therapy from the Mystical Perspective." See a video interview about the books at this page. Stephen has a master's degree in counseling, has studied reincarnation for 39 years, and has maintained the "In Another Life" website, one of the most extensive on the topic of reincarnation in the world, since its inception in 1998. He regularly channels Abby's blog on that site, and is learning piano from her via inner prompting in preparation for eventually channeling her music.


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