It was the morning of May 7, 1957 in the small English town of Hexham, when a car hit two girls who were on their way to church with a friend. The driver was a local woman who, driven mad, had decided to commit suicide. Witnesses saw her drive erratically and lunge at the girls, who were killed instantly . The parents, John and Florence Pollock, devastated, tried to overcome it as they could. And while Florence tried to avoid thinking about her daughters, John kept them on his mind. Many years later he confessed to having felt his presence in a room of the house. He was convinced that his death had been a punishment from God . Why? Because despite having abandoned Anglicanism and embraced Catholicism, he believed that reincarnation was a fact, and had prayed to God to provide him with incontestable proof. Despite the tragedy, John knew that if he prayed he would get his daughters born again, something that upset Florence so much that she threatened to break up the marriage.
Within a few months, Florence became pregnant, and John became convinced that Joanna and Jacqueline were about to be reincarnated into the family . On October 4, 1958, Florence gave birth to twin girls, Gillian and Jennifer. They said Gillian was born with two birthmarks: one resembled Jacqueline’s scar from an accident at age three, and the other was in the same spot where she had a dark round mark on her left side. Of the waist. It took little time for John to convince his wife that their deceased daughters had been reincarnated .
When they were both still babies the family moved to Whitley Bay and four years later they returned to their old house in Hexham. There Jennifer and Gillian began to give details of the lives of their dead sisters : they recognized their favorite places, correctly named their dolls and stuffed animals and even had recurring nightmares in which they perished hit by a car. Florence even overheard Gillian and Jennifer discussing the details of the accident. According to John, when the twins discussed the accident with each other, they often did so in the present tense, as if they seemed to relive it . They even showed a phobia of cars.
In 1963 Ian Stevenson , a professor of psychiatry at the University of Virginia School of Medicine and a passionate advocate of reincarnation, sprang into action. Stevenson’s interest in the subject can be traced to his mother, an ardent follower of Theosophy, a syncretism of Hinduism and Christianity with drops of spiritualism created by the fraudulent Russian medium HP Blatvasky in the late nineteenth century. Interested in psychosomatic illnesses, he thought that reincarnation could answer the question of why a person gets a certain illness instead of another. The standard medical response did not convince him and he thought that some were produced “via a previous personality”, as well as some traumas and phobias.
Stevenson traveled to meet the Pollocks when the twins were four years old, rejoining the family in 1967. Then, after a few years of epistolary exchange, he returned to see them in 1978, when Gillian and Jennifer were already in their 20s. . According to what the parents told him, the girls had been losing the memories of those “past lives “, so that when Stevenson spoke with them in 1978 they had lost all of them. They said that they accepted their parents’ belief that they were their older sisters reincarnated, but they weren’t very convinced.
For Stevenson, reincarnation was the only possible explanation for what Florence and John had been telling them. In fact, of the 895 cases that he had collected on testimonies of children who claimed to be the reincarnation of someone, 35% involved birthmarks. The difference with the Pollock sisters is that normally those marks were related to the manner of death of their ‘previous soul’ and not to accidents or birthmarks.
Did the parents see what they wanted to see? Did they influence their daughters to behave as they expected them to , convinced as they were that they were their dead daughters reincarnated? It is very probable. Of the thousands of reincarnation cases Stevenson studied, none appeared in families that did not previously believe in reincarnation . It is exactly the same in the case of the apparitions of the Virgin: she only does it before Catholics. To this criticism Stevenson responded: “Perhaps our beliefs determine our destiny. If you believe you will return as a member of your faith, you will. If you think you just die and don’t come back, you don’t.” It sounds more like an excuse than an explanation.
Stevenson’s investigations suffer from different methodological problems, among which it stands out that it was based on accounts of past events, and that implies trusting the reliability of the one who tells them to you (in this case, John and Florence). But this way there is no way to prove that the story adjusts to reality and that is why Stevenson was obsessed with cases that left physical marks. An analysis of Stevenson’s detailed work is that it suffers from the so-called confirmation bias : the researcher seeks by all means to confirm his hypotheses but no data he discovers that contradicts it serves to invalidate it. An example from Stevenson himself is the case of a child who was born a day before the previous “owner” died, which is evidence against the reincarnationist hypothesis. Stevenson dismissed this case as irrelevant, but if this is always done with those who contradict our hypothesis, a supposedly scientific work cannot be carried out.
Rockley, R. (2002) Review of Children Who Remember Previous Lives: A Question of Reincarnation by I. Stevenson. The Skeptic Report, November 1
Stevenson, I. (2003) European Cases of the Reincarnation Type. Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland