by Claus Larsen

Lack of documentation

Famed psychic Sylvia Browne has done past life regressions for decades, literally thousands of them. Each and every one of these is claimed to be “true” and well documented. However, she will not allow anyone to investigate her collection of “verified” past lives. This poses a very serious problem.

To investigate whether a person remembers a previous life, we have to know who this person is, and what he has remembered. If we can’t get this information, we have no chance of knowing whether the person – or Browne – has faked the provided information, e.g. read about the Victorian age beforehand, or have seen a TV show about the Neanderthals. Since we cannot contact the subjects (because we are not allowed to know them), we are in reality asked to believe Browne at face value that everything has been verified and is the utter, utter truth.

But what exactly is she verifying? All the stories are vague, they have a cartoon-like quality. It is like watching a National Geographic program about the Egyptians. It is beautifully made, but we only scratch the surface. We shall see how deploringly low a standard Browne sets for herself, when it comes to verifying the stories.

Historical errors

In her books, she mentions many cases that supposedly prove her right. They rarely have any verifiable data. Those that do often don’t stand up to scrutiny. Three cases from her book “Past Lives, Future Healing” are investigated here:

“LeeAnne”, the not-burnt witch

“LeeAnne” has a fear of fire. Before being hypnotized, she tells Browne she might have been Joan of Arc, but Browne wisely gets her mind off that misconception. Browne is acutely aware that if she writes about someone who claims to have been a famous person, she will be met with ridicule – and much closer scrutiny. Can’t have that. It follows that even before hypnosis, Browne can determine what a person has been before. “LeeAnne” is simply not allowed to have been Joan of Arc – even though somebody must have been. So why not “LeeAnne”? Because Browne has to protect herself.

The situation doesn’t improve, though: It turns out that “LeeAnne” is almost famous after all. Under hypnosis, she first describes her life in 14th Century France, standing on a pile of wooden planks and dry branches, ready to be burnt as a witch. When Browne tells her to “go to the observant position” (because Browne knows that Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake in France, 1431, and any reference to the virgin saint must be avoided), “LeeAnne” tells Browne where she really is. “My God”, she whispers. “it’s Salem.”

Salem. Witch. Burned at the stake. Fear of fire. Makes sense, doesn’t it? We’ve all heard of the dreaded Salem witch trials, where religious zealotry got way out of hand. What a bunch of scumbags, relegating poor innocent women to the bonfire…

“LeeAnne”‘s fear of fire could very well come from her previously being incinerated in medieval France, even if she isn’t Joan of Arc. Women were burnt at the stake for witchcraft, or simply showing behaviour outside the norm, be it sexually or any other kind. The details about her French ordeal leaves much to be desired, though – none are given, so even a cursory verification cannot be made. But she can not have gotten her fear of fire from being burnt as a witch in Salem.

Because no witch was burned there. Of the twenty people executed for witchcraft in Salem, one man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death. The remaining 19 men and women were all hanged.

What’s going on here? “LeeAnne” is standing on the pyre in 14th Century France, then all of a sudden – prodded by Browne – she is in Salem, Massachusetts, 1692, facing the same imaginary fate. We have one person believing that she is the key person in two of the most famous witch trials of all time. If the one part of the story that can be verified is demonstrably false, why should we believe the other that can not be verified?

This is a fantasy.

“Rick”, the Aztec royalty with a European calendar

This successful landscape architect suddenly has a panic attack and stays in the house for a prolonged period. It turns out, under Sylvia’s “guidance” that he was once an Aztec royalty who was poisoned. Under hypnosis, he describes his whereabouts, his skin color, and the scene at the royal court, when he is eating, just before he is poisoned.

When asked what year he was poisoned, he answers “1411”, without hesitation. He also refers to the place as “South America”.

First of all, the Aztecs didn’t use the European calendar, but a complex cycle of agricultural events. They did not count years the way Europeans do it.

“Rick” was apparently poisoned 81 years before Columbus finally made it to the West Indies, and could have told someone there about the European calendar. There is no way “Rick” could have referred to the year as “1411”, had he really been Aztec royalty.

Second, he also refers to “South America”, 96 years before Amerigo Vespucci’s letters caused the German cartographer Waldseemüller to name the new continent after him (Amerigo, not “Rick”!). Incidentally, Mexico is not “South America”, but “North America”.

However, “Rick” did travel to Mexico (in real life) as a four-year old, and was “scared to death” when his father dragged him away from a sewage ditch, hollering “at the top of his lungs” that it was poison. It doesn’t take a two-digit IQ to realize what the problem is. Browne, however, wants us to believe that the answer lies in “previous lives”.

This is a fantasy.

“Camille”, the misplaced homesteader

“Camille” complains of lower back and hip pain, which a decade of surgeries hasn’t been able to cure. Under hypnosis, she tells of travelling with her husband and two children from Virginia to California in 1851, in a covered wagon train. She and her children are killed by rogue Indians, herself bleeding to death from arrows piercing her hip and lower back.

“They built their modest farm on sixty acres in northern California near the Nevada border.”
from “Past Lives, Future Healing”.

Nevada didn’t become a state until 1864. Until then, the area was known as the Utah Territory. It is impossible for a homesteader in 1851 to claim she was living near the Nevada border.

This is a fantasy.

Sight-seeing sans Baedeker

Here are two more cases from the same book, where we see how easy it is to construct a previous life:

“Mark” has always wanted to go to London. When he finally gets there, he is completely familiar with the city. On the guided tour of the city, he can predict what the next tourist attraction is, before they get to it. He goes to the countryside, and finds a house that miraculously have been a pub three generations earlier – just as he had expected.

Someone wanting to go to a place will always notice when it pops up during conversations, on TV, radio, in the newspapers, magazines, the movies, and so on. It is virtually impossible not to learn a thing or two about one of the most famous cities in the world. Also, no dedicated tourist would go anywhere without looking up data about the place: Currency, time zones, history, what to see, where to eat, how to behave, what to be careful of. People would at least have to check whether they needed vaccinations or visas!

London, being one of the world’s most visited cities, is littered with signs pointing to the tourist attractions, so it would be very easy to predict what would be just around the corner. There are so many pubs in England that it would be quite difficult not to find a house that hadn’t been a pub at one point.

This is a fantasy.

Browne herself had always wanted to go to Mombasa, Kenya. When she gets there, she tells her companions not to tell her anything – she can point out major attractions and point to where famous buildings used to be. She does, much to her companions’ amazement.

Travel guides are a dime a dozen. Anyone can do the same in any major city. Now, if she had done the same in a previously undisclosed minor town, or even pointed to Joe’s Mombasa Bar round the corner, it would be easier to believe her. But no, she wants us to believe she travels across the globe, completely unprepared, only to arrive in a strange African city, knowing all about major attractions in advance. She never points out one single minor attraction, not even Joe’s Mombasa Bar…

This is a fabricated fantasy. To each, his own reasons.

“Addicted” to research?

These are the examples Browne claims prove her case, the ones strong enough to be publicised. If not even these can hold water, what about the rest of the “many thousands” of regressions? Are they as sloppily researched as the ones exposed here?

For someone who has an “addiction” to research, this is very strange indeed. Five of those recalled lives that can actually be verified, are shown to be fantasies or easily faked.

Never does Browne offer any footnotes or references to her claims. All her “evidence” is based on unverifiable anecdotes. She says: “The fact that past-life regressions heal is enough for me”. She stops investigating when it seemingly works, she never questions why, how, or if it works at all.

Read more about what it takes to verify these readings.


Most past life regressions are vague and unverifiable. Those that are not, are shown to be fantasies, and often historically wrong.

Possible fraud is brushed off with arguments of the subject’s inability (or lack of reason) to lie or fantasize.

Chronological errors, like knowing a state’s name 13 years before it ever became one, or people knowing what year it is by referring to it as “B.C.”, are explained as the subject being omniscient – all-knowing. This omniscience isn’t omniscient enough to point out previously unknown historical facts.

Historical errors are simply not talked about.

Read more about Sylvia Browne