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The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that the word memory derives from the Greek word memara, which means "trouble". Surely, the recent spate of "Satanic Ritual Abuse" memories 'recalled' by people are troublesome to honest occultists in terms of publicity if nothing else. However, this is not the first time trance techniques have brought esotericists and their thinking into the public eye.

Almost thirty years ago a book called "The Search for Bridie Murphy" by Jess Stearn, recounted the hypnotic "memories" of a person's past-life incarnation, thus opening an interest in, and lending a certain degree of respectability to, a broad range of occult topics for the general public.

When we talk about hypnotic recall and trance memory, we need to define terms to establish what we mean, and ask ourselves how reliable this is, and how it can be useful to the modern magia. Let's start with defining some of what I mean.


Two of my Ericksonian Hypnosis teachers gave an answer to the question "what is hypnosis" as follows: one answered, "there is no such thing as hypnosis," and the other said "everything is hypnosis". This seems like a convoluted non-answer until you examine it further. Reading this article makes use of a different part of your awareness for example than, say, watching a movie or cooking a meal. These states of awareness in turn are different than your awareness when making love, which (hopefully) is different than your awareness while sleeping. Each of the five things I've mentioned call for a different state of awareness, or consciousness, ones that we shift into and out of pretty effortlessly in normal life. Hypnosis is simply focusing your awareness in a structured shift, or series of shifts, that can enable you to do some useful things mentally. Often this is aided by a person who has been trained in ways to help guide you into different states, although with the right learning a person can do it themselves, in which case it is given the fancy name auto-hypnosis.

So, from this you can see that the old movie image of a biased man looking at you wildly and causing you to go murder your loved one while you sleep, holds no validity. In fact, in the 200 years since Anton Mesmer, not once has anyone been convicted of a crime committed in trance, or of compelling a crime by trance.

So if hypnosis isn't this subjugation of the will by another, merely guided shifts in awareness, what is it good for? The answer to that question is something we are only just beginning to learn, however here are some of the things we've discovered - drugless pain control, changing behaviors (from smoking and eating disorders to relieving non-physical impotence and relating to others), relieving phobias, increasing memory retention and accessing past memories, which brings us to our next definition.


Regression, as a term used in hypnotherapy, refers to a particular consciousness shift where it is possible for you to recall any experience or event you've ever had. This is usually done in a state called stage four trance - what most people think of when they think of hypnotic trance; the eyes are closed like you are sleeping; you're either lying down or sitting, and are able to talk to the person guiding you. We've learned that you can remember truly incredible things in this state. For example, say that when you were five you spent one afternoon playing near the fireplace. In regression, you can "see" the fireplace and count the number of bricks in it. Subsequent to this experience, you physically go back and discover you were right (many people have confirmed this kind of experience in just such a manner). This kind of recall and some of the problems associated with it, tell us something interesting about our next topic -


Much work has been done by various researchers on just what this wonderful ability called memory is and how it works. The models range from biochemical and neurological ones, to dozens of psychological explanations, all of which have problems as well as points in their favor, discussion of which is beyond the scope of this article. What I'd like to focus on here are certain characteristics of memory that have been found through hypnosis.

Let's go back to our regression of someone to age five; not only do they recall the fireplace on that afternoon, they recall grandma sitting by it. In seeking confirmation that this is a real memory, they ask family members, who may not remember if Grandma was there on that day, but may remember that she often sat there. Given the accuracy of the recall of the fireplace, it is easy to assume that Grandma was indeed there, just as if it were a photograph. But wait! If we move the person to when they went to bed that night, not only do we get an accurate description of their teddy bear (which they find in the attic at the old homestead), but also a detailed description of the red-eyed monster that lurks under the bed. Given that the teddy is real, should we assume the monster was? If not, is it really safe to assume Grandma was there that afternoon? What's real?

This phenomenon has lead some hypnotherapists to the theory that all memory is created by each of us, all the time, in our own subjective universe. The adult in our example has no memory of the monster under the bed; monsters are just not part of their world. But to the five-year-old, the monster was just as real as Grandma, and she was going to remember where the monster was, you bet. This tends to show that while we do indeed remember everything, it is not like a videotape or a photo; it is literally everything - a re-creation dependent on the person's psyche at the time of remembering. In other words, while the hardware (the mind) may indeed "store" all of the data (events), what you get depends on your software (consciousness).

For this very reason, even though police departments have made excellent use of trance recall to get details like car license plate numbers from crime witnesses, this evidence is not admissible in US Courts. Likewise, while recall is a valuable tool for a mental therapist, it cannot "prove" something like Satanic Ritual Abuse recalled by someone twenty or thirty years after the fact. Neither, of course, can it disprove it. What is does show is that for the client, such memories are "true" and the therapist can treat them accordingly, helping to bring them healing.

Unfortunately, there is another aspect that poses difficulty in using regression, which is that a hypnotherapist can also create memories, either by design or because the subject believes the therapist wants to hear certain things. Creating hypnotic memories deliberately is a valid, but controversial, therapy that requires a very ethical and competent hypnotherapist. A good example of this is Milton Erickson's famous "February Man" strategy, where the client comes away with "memories" that give them new emotional strengths they didn't have before. A bad example is when a hypnotherapist gave a client the "memory" that they'd never smoked cigarettes as a way of quitting. After a week of "my gosh, when did you quit smoking?", the poor client was sure either they were crazy or that everyone they knew was crazy.

"Accidentally" created memories are much more insidious and therefore dangerous. The mind is an incredibly creative and plastic thing. Remember, if a therapist can have you recall the monster under the bed, then with well-meaning, but directive, questions a client can experience just exactly what they feel the therapist wants them to, or what the client themself finds most acceptable at the time. Therefore, if your therapist specializes in ritual abuse, then gosh, maybe that distressing memory really does mean ... The insidious thing about this is that both client and hypnotherapist are sincere in their belief that they are accessing "real" memories, nor is it limited just to ritual abuse. Personally, I have seen a couple lead off a group session of past-life regression with the story of how they had met in old Atlantis. With no great surprise, I noticed that a majority of the people at the session later reported recalling past lives in Atlantis. Now it's certainly within the realm of the possible that all of them did live then, but I find it suspect. It's important when doing hypnotic recall to be aware of bias, both on the part of the therapist and on the part of the subject.

Past-Life Recall

Basically, past-life recall is the same as any other regression, with the addition that you're seeking experiences of a person who lived in a different time. There are many theories about what is really occurring when someone is moved back in time to "another life", and here are some of the most popular:

1. That the memories recalled are all an elaborate hallucination;

2. That some ineffable part of the human mind or soul places itself in a number of bodies over time and that the same part stores all of the lives, while another part runs the current life, i.e. "reincarnation";

3. That what's being recalled is a genetic memory that was experienced by an ancestor;

4. That what's being recalled is something akin to Jung's collective unconscious where all the experiences of humanity are stored.

All of the above theories, plus many others on this subject, have their critics and champions. All of the theories also have some problems in explaining satisfactorily all aspects of the phenomena. Personally, having experienced past-life recall, I hold to the reincarnation theory; my experiences convince me that some aspect of Self did live the other lives I have experienced, and likely will continue to do so in the future.

The best way to experience past-life regression is, of course, one-to-one with a trained hypnotherapist. They can ensure that the experience is safe, non-traumatic, and stays on course. In looking for such a guide here are some things to enquire about: What is their level of training? Have they done regression work before? (Regression work requires some specific techniques.) What is their bias on the subject? (Note: don't reject someone because they're just skeptical; sometimes they can do the best work.) Can you have a tape recording of the session? (Often things that may seem insignificant at the time can be very important.) Have the hypnotherapist ask specific questions about name, date (can be tricky as there have been hundreds of ways of noting the year), place and other people. These can all be useful in researching your experience. Finding out that "John Thomas" who you recalled really did live in London, England from 1695 to 1746 can be wonderful validation that you experienced something other than just your own imagination.

For those of you who might like a "taste", as it were, of what past-life regressions can be like, I offer the following exercise. You might want to record this on a cassette to play back while you do it. Follow what is said as exactly as you can and relax about it. It's just for fun.


Start in a quiet place where you can lay down comfortably and not be interrupted. Before you recline, look down at your feet, notice what you're wearing on them and how much of your legs you can see when you're looking straight down (this is important later).

Lying comfortably on your back, close your eyes and breathe slowly and easily. Starting at your feet, feel them grow heavier and more relaxed. Go up your body slowly, feeling each part of it getting heavier and more relaxed. As you reach the top of your head, feel yourself gently "float", and say to yourself that you would like a glimpse of yourself as you would have been in a past life, at a time in it when you felt confident and happy. Now, without moving your physical body or opening your eyes, imagine yourself looking down at your feet and seeing how they look. Notice what you're wearing on them, if anything. Slowly let your gaze travel up your body and now look at your hands. Then let your eyes look around you, notice where you are. When you've done that, slowly look down at your feet again and remember how they looked before you laid down. See them clearly and, taking a deep breath, slowly open your eyes.

Stretch yourself, get up and be sure to record somewhere what your impressions were. Don't be discouraged if you only get a fleeting glimpse of "another" body or even if you seem to fall asleep. Practice a few times and you'll be amazed at the detail you'll eventually experience.

If, for any reason, what you see or feel is disturbing to you don't repeat the exercise! Attempting to push through something unpleasant with self-induced trancework is not only unlikely to succeed but may be (for some people) actually harmful to you. At a minimum, take a good long break from trying the above (or any other) trance exercise. Ideally, find someone with experience in this area and talk to them about what you're feeling.

At this point, given what I've said earlier in this article, one question you may have is how can you really know if you were an Egyptian bricklayer, or the Earl of Sandwich, or whoever. Well, one thing that can help is if you are able to recall details about a historical person or period that are somewhere documented, especially things that you didn't know before. I would call that fairly significant. Ultimately though, I feel that you really can't state definitely that you were that other person. You must, I feel, make your own judgement about what you've experienced and its relevance to your present life. This is to me the important question. My own past-life recalls have shed some interesting light on a few issues in my current life that I've found useful or at least amusing.

I have known people who, unfortunately, have made a big thing of the "fact" that they were a Lemurian Priestess or Arch-Druid of Stonehenge, while not doing squat in this life, or, worse, using the "fact" to power-trip on others. Remember the example of Grandma and the bed-monster? Pretty thin stuff to base your life on, who you may have been in a past life or, Gods forbid, marry someone just because you "knew each other before".

The true value of past-life recall is the same as any other form of hypnotic regression - to give you more information about the being you are now, to help you realize more of that being. Something which, I feel, is the true work of the occultist. Happy exploring!




Published in Australia  1984 - 1990
In Seattle & Sydney 1990-1994 - and Sydney/Seattle Webzine 1999
Copyright Shadoplay 2000. All rights reserved. 
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