You Only Live Many Times.
Many and varied are the ways in which human beings can leave their present life. Surprisingly, not all of these ways involve dying.
Sidney, Australia. August 1979.
Late one rainy night, a long-haul truck emerges from the desert dirt roads into a Sidney suburb. The outback trucker, heavy on alcohol and his accelerator pedal, but light on sleep, tanks across a red light at a busy intersection. The flimsy metal skeleton of a small fiat in its path is sadly no match for the roo bars and massive steel frame of the speeding juggernaut. The air balloon bags protect the car driver’s chest and lower body, but the imploding windscreen delivers lethal g-forces to the driver’s forebrain within his fracturing skull. Similar g-forces smash the hard drive and read/write head of the car driver’s laptop as it crashes down from the passenger seat onto the crumpling floor-pan.
Fifteen minutes after the horrific, metal-twisting crash, a speeding gurney carries the unconscious car driver into the nearest accident and emergency department. The grim faces of the emergency medics reflect the accident victim’s poor prognosis which is quickly confirmed by the CAT scan and EEG recordings of the declining mental activity in the patient’s battered brain. It takes just a few minutes for the microvolt dances of electrical waves, choreographed by the ebb and flow of charged sodium and potassium particles (ions) into and out of the brain neurons, to flat-line into the plateau of brain death.
The flow of nerve impulses through the millions of logic gates of the brain’s neural network that in some mysterious way generate human consciousness trickle to a halt. In a few seconds after flat-lining, the accident victim’s logical process and stored memories are expunged as quickly as the bits and bytes of the software and personal files stored on the hard disc of his laptop computer had been in the crash. As the poetic but depressing words of Shakespeare’s Macbeth puts it, “Out, out, brief candle. Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more.” The materialistic view is that all the memories of the patient snuffed out like a candle as the brain flat lines.
If, as is often suggested, the human brain is like a supercomputer, then the computer’s hard drive is the equivalent of the human forebrain. Did the laptop computer ‘die’ in the same way as its human owner? Examination by the forensic experts given the grim task of investigating the fatal collision showed that the driver’s personal files could ‘live on’ thanks to a dongle (USB), a magical small hardware device inserted into one of the USB ports of his destroyed laptop. The dongle had for months been wirelessly uploading all the computer’s stored information to an online printer and ‘the Microsoft cloud’ – the terabyte internet storage capacity that hangs ‘up there’ in the ether of cyberspace. Given the necessary passwords, it would be possible download all the information onto a new laptop which then be the ‘reincarnation’ of the original computer that ‘died’ in the accident. Might it be possible to extend the analogy of the human brain as a supercomputer to include dongles and the backup of information on an external information storage cloud?
In a consulting room in Sydney, a short distance from the site of that fatal car crash, a psychiatrist was attempting to prove that the human brain is indeed equipped with the biological equivalent of a dongle through which uploads and downloads of human memories to and from a cosmic cloud of conscious making reincarnation possible. During the session at the time of the car accident, one of his ‘star’ deep-trance subjects had left their present life.
2. Peter Ramster’s Deep Trance Regression Tapes
Gwen McDonald, an elderly lady in excellent mental and physical health, lies in subdued light on a psychiatrist’s couch. A few days ago, she had accompanied her friend June when she answered an advertisement for a controversial program. Initially, like the investigator, she was highly sceptical of reincarnation and very reluctantly agreed to have her susceptibility for deep hypnosis tested.
To the reclining subject’s right, the researcher Peter Ramster sits in front of a giant spool of magnetic recording tape ponderously rotating inside a clunky piece of 1979 technology.
Ramster’s quiet soothing voice asks Gwen to slip, “deeper and deeper”, from the present to an earlier, distance place on the other side of the world.
“Where are you?” asks Peter.
“In the wood, pickin’ balm,” comes the sleepy reply.
“What do you see?”
“By a river it is forkin’ near the steppin’ stones and water fall.
Mackenzie, ‘e be complainin’ again, nothin’s fresh, nothin’s fresh, Nicholas is laughin’.”
“Tell me about your father.”
“Does he have any friends?”
“Lord Panmure, ‘e be General now.”
“What was Mackenzie wearing when you spoke to him this morning?
“Oh, damask! Pale, pale blue satin flowers, big cuffs, white satin breeches, white stockings, and oo … ribbons … on the side of ‘is stockings, oo ‘e be fancy, waistcoat wi’ diamond studs for ‘is buttons, it’s nothin’ but the best for ‘im. A ring on ‘is finger ‘e brought back from the islands, it be jade! ”
“Who is the King?”
“George…’e be addled.”
The names poured out: Hon James Stuart McKenzie owner of the surrounding land and houses and his son Nicholas McKenzie, the plague of the young Rose Duncan, Gwen’s name in her earlier life two hundred years ago in the 1780s; her father Adam Duncan and his friend Lord Panmore the previous owner of the estate who had had his land confiscated for his involvement in a rebellion in Scotland; her step mother Bessie and the family name of her real mother – Lethbridge. She recited not only names, but the personal details about many of her long-dead acquaintances correctly stating, for example, the name of General Panmore’s regiment, and the fact that both her father and James McKenzie were originally from Scotland.
Gwen talked of quaint things she had known in her prior life as Rose Duncan such as making a drink from lemon balm, drying the hares in a special room at the back of the house, and old fashioned recipes, utensils, and cooking methods.
Hundreds of years ago, lemon balm, a white-flowered relative of the stinging nettle, was a popular ‘cure-all’ grown in all herb gardens: it was prepared as a tea or mixed with alcohol or honey to be drank as a medieval Valium, a mild sedative for frayed nerves and a cure for many gastronomic ills such as colic; pounded into a paste it was applied to cuts due to its anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties; judges used the pleasant lemon fragrance of crushed balm leaves as an olfactory barrier in front of their nose to ward off the strong smells in their crowded, deodorant-free court rooms.
Peter Ramster’s past-life regression tapes reveal something very interesting and difficult to replicate if the tapes had been fraudulent. When Gwen related memories from previous lives in Ireland, Britain and Canada, her normal mild Australian accent changed to that of the country in which she claimed to have lived. When speaking as Rose Duncan, for example, she spoke much more slowly in the characteristic drawl of south west England missing out words such as ‘a’, ‘the’ ‘at’, and letters such as ‘g’, and ‘h’.
The location of Gwen’s apparent previous incarnation in southern England was further supported by a long list of place names: visits to a market in Crocom (modern spelling Croscombe) and to the Blackdown Hills near Taunton in Somerset; the old stones of Glastonbury; the villages of Alford, Clanville, Stone Chapel, West Bradley and many other places unmarked on, modern maps.
Modern Map Historical Map (1790)
Under hypnosis, Gwen described her humble cottage home near a village Blawerton, which is now spelled and pronounced Blotton.
“Where do you live?”
“In cottage … Rose Cottage it be. It be small not big … with thatched roof. There be dryin’ room out back … and a tallet. …. not far from big stones.”
She also described how their cottage was covered in roses, had a room for cooking and living, a bedroom for her father and Bessie, a thatched roof, and a small room for herself.
Gwen McDonald’s trance recollections of historical events also helped Peter Ramster to pinpoint the likely site of her previous life as Rose Duncan. She seemed to have lived near Glastonbury Abbey (Rose’s big stones) in the county of Somerset between 1765 and 1782.
Her statement that “George…’e be addled” is interesting for two reasons: first because George III ruled England during Rose’s purported lifetime and secondly, the west country expression ‘to be addled’ means to be confused or mentally deranged. George III well-documented mental illness was already evident during Rose’s life time but reached a crisis point after her death. The number of Australians who knew of King George’s mental illness must have been as rare as lemonade in the beer gardens of Bondi Beach. Anyone who had received prior coaching before a stage-managed regression recordings would have been likely to refer to George the third, and not just George.
Rose Duncan led a contented, happy, but parochial life within fifteen mile radius of her beloved Glastonbury. Eavesdropping below the windows of the “big old ‘ouse’ owned by Squire James McKenzie, she learned of events in distant places such as Scotland and London. She learned of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 in Scotland. Nearer home, she was alarmed to hear of the Gordon Riots in London in 1782 relating how:
“The riots were on … big riots. Lord North, ‘e be worried. Riots around the king, Gordon Riots I think ‘e said, ‘e be worried. Father said ‘e should be worried, everybody’s worried all frightened it’ll come here … the riots. My father, ‘e was angry. People were killed in the streets in London I think.”
She also described the renovations of James McKenzie’s big house.
“There was James Wyatt, ‘e came to work on the big louse, ‘e came to rebuild the stairs and redo all the bannisters. Mackenzie was rebuilding part of the house. James Wyatt was an architect, ‘e was supposed to be special. Mackenzie wanted ‘im.”
Through her eavesdropping, Rose also learned the news brought from unimaginably distant corners of the globe by James McKenzie’s merchant ships that had made him rich with their cargoes of silk, spices and tobacco. There was news of impending riots in the new colonies of America, and the slave markets of Barbados with its ‘black gold’ of captives shipped as servants and farmhands to the rich in America and England. Rose detested slave owners for owning other human beings, a practice she considered far more immoral than the smuggling she described along discrete routes from France up the River Parrett from the Bristol Channel to Langport. As Kipling’s poem “A Smuggler’s Song” puts it, Rose would be one of those who would be told to “watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by.”
Having gathered a wealth of data involving the places and events of the late eighteenth century in Somerset, Peter Ramster became convinced that he had built a case worthy of thorough investigation: it was time to research Gwen’s description of her life as Rose Duncan two hundred years ago.
3. Research in Australia.
Numerous deep trance session had unearthed a treasure trove of researchable historical data. It is important to place Peter Ramster’s research into the historical accuracy of Gwen Duncan’s statements in the Internet Stone Age and pre-Google days of the late 1970’s. In those pre-dot com days, search engines were still human beings who had to painstakingly leaf through yellowing pages between the dusty covers of historical records in university records and obscure official archives. Even with the limited number of historical records from the England of the eighteenth century available in Australia, Peter Ramster realized he had built a convincing prima facie case for the reality of reincarnation. He found some place names Gwen quoted on modern maps, but for the many remaining locations, he had to delve back through the oldest maps of Somerset accessible in Australian libraries. The older the map, the greater the number of missing locations surfaced until, on map of Somerset dated 1790, he found Gwen’s Blawton, Alford, Crocom and Stone Chapel.
Many of Gwen’s names also leapt out of limited number of historical records available in Australia. There really was a landowner by the name of Hon James Stuart McKenzie who became squire of the area in which Rose Duncan was supposed to live after taking over as squire from a real-life Lord Panmore, a high ranking officer in the regiment named by Gwen who had fallen out with George III due to his involvement in rebellions in Scotland. Gwen’s other historical figures could not be verified in Australia, but Ramster now had sufficient corroborative evidence to justify financing a television documentary team to fly to England and film live investigations in modern-day Somerset.
4. Research in Southern England. Peter Ramster’s Preparatory Trip.
Arriving in England, Peter Ramsey began to mine richer seams of historical records in the libraries of the West Country. Quickly, he verified nearly all the missing names: James Wyatt was a prominent architect in London during Rose Duncan’s life time and very likely to have been hired by James Mackenzie to refurbish his mansion; Ruth’s father Adam Duncan really lived in the Blawton area and, like Lord Panmore, had been involved in rebellions in Scotland; parish registries also confirmed that Rose’s mother’s family, the Lethbridges lived in the area. Of Rose’s kindly stepmother Bessie, and Bessie’s grandfather Dobbs, there was however no trace. The parish records were found to be incomplete, and it would have been easy for relatively poor and unconnected parishioners to slip through the historical net.
It is at this point that Dr Basil Cottle, a medieval historian, lecturer at Bristol university and expert on historical Somerset, entered the story both as a historical consultant and an independent witness of Gwen’s subsequent quest for her former home near Glastonbury, Somerset.
The word ‘tallet’ in Gwen’s taped testimony had puzzled Ramster; none of the academic dictionaries in pre-Google Australia listed the word. With Dr Cottle’s help, he eventually found the obsolete term in specialized dictionary of the West Country dialects. He learned that ‘tallet’ was the old name for a loft space under a roof which was indeed used in Somerset two centuries ago. That solved one mystery, but did not confirm Gwen’s insistence that the Quakers (the Puritans), a religious group that as Rose she had greatly admired as being polite kind people, held regular meetings in a small house in Ansford. She correctly described their costume and how they were a common sight every week in the village of Alford, a village very close to her home where she shopped for general provisions.
Ramster could find no evidence to support this idea and was sceptical because historians insisted that Quaker meeting houses were very few and far between in England at that time. There was no record of a Quaker meeting house in Taunton library and the locals had never heard of there being one in the area. Under hypnosis, however, Gwen as Rose Duncan was insistent –
“The Quakers live on the other side of Caftle and when they come this way they come by steppin’ stones, and they go off towards the wood, but not as far as the wood, to a place called Alford, and they have their church meeting house it would be. They’re Puritan people and they always wear black, and they speak like … er…’good mornin’ te ye,’ like that. ‘God be with thee’, they say, ‘God be with thee.’ Very nice people.”
A visit to the historical museum at Castle Cary, a few miles from Alford, initially drew yet another blank. The trail seemed to have gone cold. Then, by chance, deep in the archives, the researchers came across copies of a local magazine which was printed and published around the time of Gwen’s alleged past life. Not expecting any reference to Quaker meetings, the team read on through advertisements for all types of medical cures and stories about people who were living at the time in the area. Then an excited cry rent the hushed, dusty, silence of the library. There, in the quaint ‘olde’ English of the time, was a reference to Puritan meetings in a small Alford house. Further research revealed that historical records of Quaker meeting places in England during that period only listed the main groups and not small local groups such as those at Alford.
This proved to be the last of Gwen’s statements under hypnosis that could be confirmed by library research. The unverified statements that remained on the list would need to be investigate by field research. The twentieth century Gwen McDonald would need to come and explore Rose Duncan’s eightieth century home area.
5. Field Research and Filming in Somerset.
Since Gwen McDonald had never left Australia, the first step in organising her trip to England was for her to acquire a passport.
With great apprehension, Gwen boarded a Japan Airline flight that flew to London via Tokyo over the North Pole. Accompanying here were a documentary team; cameraman Paul Tait, sound engineer, Grant Roberts, and documentary film director Jeni Kendell.
After a short rest in London to recover from jetlag, Peter Ramster conducted a hypnosis session and waking discussion in a private home on her arrival in Somerset. All sessions were attended by Dr Basil Cottle who agreed to monitor the investigations fairness and objectivity.
When provided with an old, unmarked map of the area, she pointed to the exact location of two landmarks she had described – Wearyall Hill and St Michael’s Abbey (modern named Glastonbury Abbey).
The next morning, Gwen, Peter and the documentary team set off by car for the Glastonbury area.
As with the four other regression hypnosis subjects who they returned to the sites of their previous purported past lives, the team blindfolded Gwen McDonald many miles from Glastonbury so she would be unable to glean any clues from modern signposts. Once they arrived at the top of a hill that afforded a panoramic view of the target area, Gwen’s blindfold was removed, and she was asked to guide the team first to the river near her former home, and then on to Rose Cottage itself.
After looking around for a few minutes picking up visual clues whilst in normal waking state, she set off without hesitation in the direction she declared the river was situated. A short walk led them to a river which was both of the size and running in the direction that Gwen predicted. Gwen was convinced that she knew a short cut across the fields to the point at which it forked close to her house. The director, however, insisted on the party following the course of the river to the point Gwen described. It was a decision they quickly came to regret when, after over an hour’s walk, they arrived at the river fork that they could have reached in a fraction of the time by taking Gwen’s suggested shortcut across the fields. On arrival, however, the excursion proved to have been worthwhile; after tumbling down the long, shallow gradient of a water fall, the river did indeed fork as Gwen described. The only thing missing were the stepping stones Rose had used to reach her favourite wood near her home. Subsequent local enquiries revealed that the stones had been removed around twenty-five years before their visit.
Asked how he would objectively summarize his impressions up to this point, Dr Basil Cottle replied in laconic, academic tones that “I am now considerably less sceptical than I was at the beginning of this investigation.” Once she had located this key landmark accurately Gwen, brimming with confidence and excitement, set of in a beeline across a landscape which had be remodelled by two centuries of deforestation, fencing and marsh drainage for an unseen target over the brow of a distant hill. Once over the hill, the team arrived at a small group of old cottages that Gwen instantly recognized. She pointed towards her old home, Rose Cottage down the road.
Peter Ramster was amazed because this cottage was the very first they had surveyed in the area as a potential site of Rose Cottage. On their first visit, they had rejected the cottage since it did not seem to conform to Gwen’s description under hypnosis: the small building had two doors, not the single off-centre door on the right; there was no window in the left sidewall; the backdoor near a lean-to at the back of the cottage was missing. The original thatch roof of the cottage, now deserted, had long been replaced by tiles and a larger more modern cottage now abutted onto one side of the original building. Before they explored the site any further, Peter Ramster asked Gwen to draw a floor plan for Rose Cottage as she remembered it. Using Ramster’s back for support, and a pen provided by Dr Cottle, Gwen sketched a simple floor plan while giving a running commentary in her normal, non-hypnotized, mild Australian accent. D7
“Everyone called me Rose, and the cottage we lived in was always Rose Cottage, because whenever they talked about it in the village they didn’t say my place, they used to say Rose Cottage, so I always got the impression it was always Rose Cottage before we went there. There were roses, beautiful roses that covered the walls of the cottage and along the fence and into the ground surrounding the house. There was a big room that was kitchen and eating place, and then there was the fire there, big open fire, and it used to have the thing you pulled out to put pots on. We used to put the cauldron on for stews mainly, and hare. There was a bedroom with a sort of double bed and at the back there was a drying room and it had a tallet. It held many good memories that place.”
The cottage floor map completed, Gwen pushed her way between the hedges, past the left ivy-swathed side of the house, to the back garden issuing a delighted shout when she saw the lean-to which had been the drying room. D8
Peter Ramsey asked Dr Cottle a second time for his objective analysis of the investigation’s progress to date and received the rather cautious, academic response –
“The cottage bears some resemblance to Gwen’s description of Rose Cottage that she volunteered under hypnosis but then there is the question of the missing backdoor and the high level window in the side wall that lit the tallet room space.”
Further examination of the derelict cottage removed both of these inconsistences: an oak lintel above the back window was exactly the same as the lintel above the original front door showing that the back door by the lean-to had been converted into a window; on entering the dark cottage through the new front door, a torch shone upwards into the tallet area revealed a high window on the side of the house that had clearly been bricked up. From the outside, the blocked window was obscured by the thick overgrowth of ivy they had noted on their way to the back garden. As Gwen had predicted, the cottage floor was not earthen, but paved with large flagstones which Gwen, as Rose, had explained had been robbed from Glastonbury Abbey, the team’s next destination.
Gwen directed the way during the short drive to the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey which she persistently called St. Michael’s abbey close to Glastonbury Tor that Gwen spoke of as the Druid’s Hill. Dr Cottle had not heard these place names before, but a subsequent check with an expert on medieval Glastonbury confirmed that the Tor was indeed known as Druid’s Hill in the eighteen century. The fact that the abbey used to known as St. Michael’s Abbey was confirmed in a two-hundred-year-old history book that was not available in Australia.
Dr Cottle also questioned Gwen on the pyramid and Druidic customs she had described. The pyramids were, she explained, tall, flat-side stone pillars that marked the entrance to the sacred site. Gwen went on to describe the Druids cloaks and how at the annual spring festival, they ascended Druid’s Hill (Glastonbury Tor) up a spiral path to conduct their mysterious rites at the top.
Once again, Dr Cottle did not know these details but checking with a fellow colleague who specialized in Druidic studies, every one of Gwen’s assertions under hypnosis proved to be correct. Gwen in Australia had also described the plume patterns carved at the top of many of the abbey’s columns. The team filmed the plume-patterned decoration at the remaining vertical columns confirming this feature.
Gwen, remembering the tall swaths of lush green grass and dense stands of bright, colourful summer flowers between the stones of the ruin, was sad to see how the grassland had been manicured and drained to form neat lawns for ‘touristic purposes’. She became even sadder when, on entering one ruined chapel, she located the very rock close to a vertical stone wall where she remembered huddling and shivering through one long cold night two hundred years ago.
She again recounted the story of how, when she was seventeen ‘going on’ eighteen, her father had travelled to Scotland to find her a suitable husband. On his return, he told her she was to marry a man called James McCrea, an associate of the hated James McKenzie who she would first meet on her wedding day. Devasted at the prospect of living in a far-off country and having to leave her beloved step mother Bessie, Rose Cottage and St Michael’s Abbey, she ran off one winter’s evening wearing only a thin dress to hide in the old ruin. When Bessie found Rose was missing in the morning she rushed over with Rose’s father, Adam Duncan, to the cottage of her grandfather Dobbie. Dobbie, knowing of Rose’s love of the ‘old stones’, hitched up his cart and the rescue party sped off to the abbey. After a short search, they found Rose lying semi-conscious on one of the giant stones and rushed her back home to Rose Cottage to bed suffering from a severe chill that would now be diagnosed as hypothermia. The ‘chill’ turned to a fatal pneumonia and despite frequent visits and ineffective treatment by the village medic, Dr Andrews, she died three weeks after the night she spent at the abbey. That, sadly was the end of Rose Duncan’s story. Again research confirmed that a James McCrea lived in the highlands of Scotland and that Dr Andrews was the local doctor in Blawton in the 1780’s.
As a footnote to this section of the story, it is interesting to note that Ramster discovered that James McCrea, all the other many Scotsman and place names in the highlands of the eighteenth century mention by Gwen under hypnosis really existed. This is really a story within a story and merits a separate article to detail all the large number of totally accurate historical details Gwen listed under hypnosis.
The documentary team’s film trip ended on a happier note retracing an earlier excursion by Rose Duncan to the “old stones” of her beloved St. Michael’s Abbey. One summer’s day she had been exploring the abbey and cut her foot on a sharp stone and found it difficult to walk. Likely a local farmer, Mr Brown, had brought his horse and cart to the abbey ruins to rob paving stones for his floor at home. He offered her a lift home. The team followed the same road along which the injured Rose Duncan had bumped her way in the back of a horse-drawn cart one and a half miles to the farmer’s house two hundred years ago. Under hypnosis in Australia, Gwen had described how she passed the local tavern, the Pilgrim’s Inn, that was built in the 1400s in the centre of Glastonbury.
Gwen described and drew an unusual three-storey building with a very large central entrance through which stage coaches drove their weary, bone-shaken passengers into the warm, relaxing, alcohol-enhanced atmosphere of the inn. Gwen and the team were delighted to see that the Inn as they passed closely resembled the inn drawn she had drawn a year before.
Subsequent research revealed that the inn was indeed known simply as the “Pilgrim’s Inn” during the eighteenth century.
The George and Pilgrim’s Hotel (Pilgrim’s Inn), Glastonbury, Somerset.
After stopping to film the outside of the building now known as the George and Pilgrim’s Hotel the team, guided by Gwen’s remembered directions, drove the remaining mile to the intersection where she had described five cottages built at an intersection on a bend in the road 15 yards from a canal. The team now discovered that only two of the cottages remained standing.
An old Map (1790) of the Ansford Area Near Glastonbury.
As recounted in the tape transcripts:
“She pointed correctly to an old village she recalled, and called it by its correct name for the 18th century, though it has changed today. She walked down the hill and stepped onto a road. There were no road signs to help her. After walking along for a short way, she stopped on a bend. Suddenly, she felt that this was where a little village she remembered used to be. She pointed to a spot where she thought five houses used to stand, one of which sold cider. There was the ruin of one old house there and a couple of brand new houses nearby, but only two standing that may have dated back to her previous lifetime.”
The cottages, Gwen recalled, had once been shops each specializing in one type of merchandize. One she clearly remembered was a cider house. Cider is the signature drink of Somerset. The team encountered a local man, Mr Phillip’s, whose family had lived in the area for many generations mowing the lawn in front of his cottage. When asked about the demolished cottages, he explained:
“Gone now? Oh yes, there’s a lot of them that have been torn down this last twenty-five years or so, just down the road.”
Gwen asked, “Were there four or five houses along here?”
“Yes, that’s right” replied Mr Phillips,
Dr Cottle asked Mr Phillips approximately when his house was built. “In 1742,” came the reply. Basil Cottle then asked if one of these houses sold cider. “Yes, just a cider house, they sold nothing but cider,” he confirmed that this information had come down to him from his grandfather’s grandfather. The ‘math seemed to figure’ because taking the mean generation time over the last two hundred years as 40 years, five generations would take them back to the 1770s.
One more startling piece of confirmatory evidence was still to come. Gwen identified the only other old cottage standing in the area as the house belonging to Farmer Brown where he had unloaded his pillaged abbey stones and then washed and dressed her cut foot enabling her to hobble home to nearby Rose Cottage. The cottage she identified was fifteen yards from a canal but was now deserted and used as a hen coup. On entering the old cottage, they found the floor was covered by the copious and odorous by-product of a century of egg laying. The farmer gave permission for the resident chickens and ducks to be temporarily evicted and the floor cleaned. Privately, he expressed his opinion to his wife that the ‘outersiders’ where mad.
On returning the next day, the team discovered that, unbeknown to the farmer, the building really did have a stone, paved floor. Dusting the cleaned stone floor with talcum powder revealed one flagstone of particular interest. In a hypnotic trance in Australia had drawn one particularly distinctive pattern on a stone that the long-dead Farmer Brown had brought from the abbey ruins.
She had described three horizontal lines (A) at the top left of the stone that were the stonemason’s hall mark, a vague “map of Scotland” (B) on the left below this mark, and a spiral pattern (D) to the bottom right of the stone.
A Photograph of the Slab stone Glastonbury (1979). Gwen’s Drawing of the Markings.
Rightly or wrongly, the team were impressed by the similarity of Gwen’s drawing in Australia with the actual markings of the stone slab on the floor of Farmer Brown’s former cottage.
Library and field work completed, the team flew back to complete their controversial documentary. Contrary to some Internet references, there is no evidence that the final film was ever banned. The ‘banned’ hashtag may have been part of marketing ploy when the film was initially released.
Sadly, Gwen McDonald’s recollection of her past life lives and the other regressions explored by the Ramster tapes are rarely mentioned as being amongst the best western cases supporting reincarnation. Negative, poorly researched comments of reincarnation sceptics may well be partly to blame.
6. Sceptic Debunking – Devil’s Advocate
6.1 The Deranged Hypnotic Rambling Hypothesis.
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
According to sceptic Martin Gardner, recollections of past lives under deep trance can be dismissed as delusionary ramblings. The health of researchable historical data recalled by Gwen McDonald cannot possibly described as ‘ramblings’. To date, not one of the very numerous statements made by Gwen under hypnosis has been disproved.
6.2 Cryptomnesia Hypothesis.
In contrast, the possibility of cryptomnesia raised in sceptical reviews of other reincarnation cases is a very valid objection. The phenomenon involves the subject unconsciously recalling facts under hypnosis that they had read, were told by their parents, teachers or social contacts, gleaned from museum visits, or seen on television or heard on the radio. Cryptomnesia can only be used to debunk reincarnation when the recalled information is readily available in the public domain.
In the days the Ramster tapes were recorded, only a very small number of historical facts about far away Somerset would have been available in pre-Internet Australia. To take just a couple of details that Gwen reported, the cider house being one of the five houses on the corner and intersection near the village of Blawton were never shown all the maps, or mentioned in any historical source available in Australia. Gwen’s recollection of the dress and ceremonies of the Druids and the old names St. Michael’s Abbey and Druid’s Hill were unknown to the vast majority of historians in England, let alone Australia.
A fair conclusion is that cryptomnesia could have played little, if any part in Gwen’s trances.
6.3 Sceptic Rob Nanninga’s ‘Reverse Cherry Picking’
A likely reason for the Ramster tape’s descent into obscurity are the oft repeated scathing comments of the Dutch sceptic Rob Namminga posted in the Internet ‘Tweetosphere.’
Comments such as “Rob Nanninga has very efficiently debunked the Ramster past life regression tapes” are demonstrably totally untrue. To give him due credit, Nanninga did discover that the Mont Cerisy Castle near Fleur in Normandy described by Cynthia Henderson when describing her past life during the French Revolution during one of Ramster’s regression sessions was built by the English Lawyer Lord Burkingyoung long after her death in her previous alleged incarnation. The hill is by far the highest point in that part of Normandy, and Nanninga does not consider that an older castle might have been built there before the one constructed by the English Lord. Google does not appear to be forthcoming on this point which certainly merits further investigation. In a classic example of ‘reverse cherry picking’ – concentrating on only a single or a few incorrect statements, Nanninga claims he has debunked the entire content of the Henderson tape and the follow-up research by the documentary team in Normandy. There were, however, plenty of healthy ‘cherries’ of historically verified facts on the evidence tree. He totally ignores Cynthia Henderson’s description of the Norman church she claimed she attended in her previous life. When the church was unlocked, investigation team filmed the font which was on the left side at the back rather than in the normal central position. The font’s position and the carvings around its sides were identical to those she had described earlier under hypnosis in Australia. The blue and grey tiles she described also covered the church floor. The priest who guided on their tour of the church also confirmed that there was indeed a very tall golden cross described by Cynthia had indeed once stood near the alter but was now stored away for safe keeping under lock and key. Nanninga also largely ignored the recording of Cynthia talking to a native French speaker for forty-five minutes near the church, not in standard modern French, but in medieval French with its own unique vocabulary and grammar. The French man was amazed that Cynthia, as an English speaker, did not have a trace of an English accent. Nanninga attempted to explain away Cynthia’s fluent French by asserting she had studied French at school for a few years at school. Listening to the tape, however, confirms that Cynthia is not speaking ‘school French’, but the French of a native speaker two hundred years ago. In her normal waking state, Cynthia did not understand even the simplest questions put to her in French.
Nanninga’s supposed debunking of Ramster’s research in the case of Gwen McDonald is even more facile and biased. The two supposed ‘bad cherries’ he tries to pick are connected to the pyramids Rose Duncan remember at the entrance of Glastonbury Abbey, and to the obsolete Somerset word ‘tallet’. The pyramids were quote “gone long before Rose Duncan’s supposed visit in the 1770s.” An official gazetteer published in 1818, over a hundred and fifty years after Rose’s alleged death, however, states that the pyramids were still in their original positions.
On the second point, Nanninga comments vaguely that “the word ‘talet’ was not that unknown.” It is very clear that before the days of Google and the Internet this obscure old English word would be totally unknown in Australia. Nanninga concludes his debunking of the Gwen Duncan case by making a very few disparaging comments about the teams ‘walk about’ in the Somerset country side. Why no mention of the healthy ‘cherries’ or plum pieces of evidence involving the very numerous genuine names of places and people in the Somerset of the 1700s?
One valid objection he might have mentioned but missed is the degree to which the Gwen’s drawing of the stone markings really do match the markings on the stone unearthed in Farmer Brown’s now deserted cottage.
After reviewing Nanninga’s weak sceptical arguments, it is tempting to suggest that it is often birdbrains who Tweet the most loudly on the Internet.
6.4 Fraud hypothesis
After reviewing the few published sceptical comments on reincarnation, it seems possible to draw only one of two conclusions:
the Ramster regression tapes really do prove the reality of reincarnation ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ or
the psychiatrist actually visited England long before recording fraudulent interviews in an elaborate charade with the motive of financial gain or enhancing his professional academic career.
If he conducted prior research in England it would have been possible for him to concoct a script, laced with accurate historical information, for Gwen Duncan to learn and recite during faked hypnosis sessions. If this true, Dr Basil Cottle could have been recruited as an unwitting smoke screen to bolster the credibility of the research.
The fraud hypothesis is a possible scenario, but is it likely? A large number of people guarding the access to specialist academic libraries in England would have known of Ramster’s prior visit to England and would have been likely to ‘blow the whistle’ when the controversial documentary screened on Australian and British television. A significant number of facts were only verified after the documentary was aired making prior fraudulent research unlikely. If the entire story had been fraudulently concocted, the events recorded would have had to have been based on the information available at the time of the regression hypnosis recording. Many of the events and spellings that Gwen recorded were contrary to the published evidence available in Australia and were only proved to be correct following the team’s field trip to Somerset, England. One specific case is Gwen’s instance that there was a Quaker meeting house in the area which appeared to contradict the available evidence until the discovery of obscure references in England proved that she was correct.
It would be helpful for an objective sceptic to check on Ramster’s international trips, hotel reservations, and recorded library access, before he the date of the past life regression tapes. This would be the only way of proving beyond any doubt that reincarnation really is a genuine natural phenomenon.
7. Final Conclusions
If reincarnation is a reality and involves the grandmother of all IT storage capacity in a cosmic cloud, it raises a number of interesting questions. When, for example, did the information about Somerset of the 1770s and her life as Rose Duncan downloaded into Gwen McDonald’s brain. Was it before or after her most recent birth, during early childhood, or did a live download occur like streaming video during her deep hypnosis sessions? For this to happen, like the laptop computer destroyed in the car accident in Sydney over thirty years ago, the part of the human brain would need to act as a ‘biological dongle’ enabling it to make contact with a ‘cosmic cloud’ of long-lived consciousness. If the Ramster tapes and other past-life regression tapes are a reality, the human brain must have an as yet undiscovered functions acting not just as a generator, but a transmitter and receiver of consciousness.
Sadly, Gwen McDonald died in Australia of a brain tumour five years after the Ramster’s documentary was completed. It is tempting to ask one final, probably unanswerable question – where is Gwen McDonald (alias Rose Duncan) now?
This is the link to the third reincarnation story.