Any foray into who's out there speaking and writing about reincarnation will throw up the name Walter Semkiw, MD. The San Francisco resident, a former doctor who also worked in the oil industry, has been advocating for the legitimacy of past-life research since 1995. He's published many a book on the topic and serves as president of reincarnationresearch.com, an online resource designed to "promote reincarnation research, disseminate evidence of reincarnation and to enact the positive social change that evidence of past lives can bring".
Much of Semkiw's discussion of reincarnation draws on research by the late psychiatrist Ian Stevenson, a Canadian-born academic who became internationally known for his extensive work on the subject. Stevenson was the founder and director of the University of Virginia Medical School's Division of Perceptual Studies, which investigates the paranormal. He also authored approximately 300 papers and 14 books on reincarnation.
Stevenson may have passed in 2007, but his dedicated followers still herald his work, funnelling it into their own studies. Walter is among them: I asked him why he does what he does, and how the whole "I've-been-here-before" thing actually works.
VICE: Hi Walter. What inspired your journey into reincarnation research, and what does your research involve?
Walter: I started out to investigate a possible past lifetime of my own. My first book, Return of the Revolutionaries, is about my past life as John Adams, the second US President. In the process of researching my past life, I became a scholar in cases that demonstrate objective evidence of reincarnation. In my work I have integrated the work of Ian Stevenson, MD with the work of others, to create a comprehensive understanding of how reincarnation and human evolution works. Over a period of 40 years, Stevenson investigated young children who had spontaneous past-life memories. In more than 1,500 of these cases, the child’s past life memories were validated.
How does reincarnation "work"?
A soul, which has a permanent existence, incarnates into physical life to develop and evolve. I use the following analogy: imagine if you woke up one day and had no memories of what had happened before. This is the state of newly created souls. Without memories, souls don't know who they are.
We go through a series of physical incarnations to establish a firm sense of identity, as well as to develop God-given talents and abilities. Once this is accomplished, we have the choice to incarnate on Earth again, to help our fellow humans.
Is reincarnation something you’ve always believed in, and does that belief ever waver? How have you reconciled it against the concrete science of medicine?
I was raised Catholic and as such, growing up, reincarnation wasn't part of my belief system. As I grew older, I became disenchanted by organised religions; first of all because they taught conflicting doctrines, which made no sense to me. Secondly, I perceived that competing religions caused conflicts, wars, persecutions, and terrorist acts. [So], as an adolescent, I embarked on a quest to understand the true picture of our life on Earth. This eventually led me to research evidence of reincarnation.
My advocacy of reincarnation isn't based on belief; it's based on evidence, and on my view that reincarnation research will help create a more peaceful world, [because] the evidence shows that souls can change religion, nationality, and ethnic affiliation from one lifetime to another. Most wars are based on differences in these cultural markers of identity.
Is there one case of reincarnation that has always stuck with you?
A key case that demonstrates that souls can change religion and nationality from one lifetime to another is that of the reincarnation case of Anne Frank / Barbro Karlen. Anne Frank, a Jew, died in a Nazi concentration camp. Anne reincarnated as Barbro Karlen, who has had memories from childhood being Anne. Barbro was born to a Christian family in Sweden and became a child prodigy writer, as was Anne. Barbro also has the same facial features as Anne Frank.
Do you believe that one soul is constantly reincarnated from the beginning of time until the end, whenever that may be? How many “lives” does one soul get?
These questions can't be answered by objective reincarnation research, as conducted by Ian Stevenson. Rather, and as a complement to Stevenson's work, I have established a working relationship with a trance medium called Kevin Ryerson. Though sceptical at first, I found that Kevin channels a spirit guide named "Ahtun Re", who has demonstrated to me that he is able to make past life matches with a high degree of accuracy.
Once I determined that Athtun Re was a dependable resource, I asked him big picture questions, such as how many lives we have, and "When is incarnation on planet Earth over?" Ahtun Re gave a simple answer: we no longer have to incarnate in Earth after we have achieved the following: adequate development of our God given talents, neutralisation of karma incurred on planet Earth, development of an all inclusive love for all of humanity, and living life with joy. On average, human beings have about 100 lifetimes on Earth before they achieve these goals.
Some of your writing involves the past lives of celebrities—I saw Halle Berry's in there. Who was Halle Berry in a past life?
In my work with trance medium Kevin Ryerson and [his spirit guide] Ahtun Re, Halle Berry was identified in a past lifetime as Dorothy Dandrige, an African American actress who was denied an Oscar in 1954 because she was African American. Halle reincarnated as an African American actress again and, in this incarnation, she did win an Oscar.
This is typical of reincarnation cases, as we generally pursue similar professions from one lifetime to another. This is because when we were created as souls, we were imbued with certain talents and abilities. We express these same talents from one lifetime to another.
Does the progression into a new life follow a forwards, linear pattern, or can we be born (again) into a different period? What about geography; is there any relationship between reincarnation and physical place?
My understanding is that we reincarnate in linear time. Regarding geography, we tend to reincarnate with those we have been with before, so we incarnate in the geographic area our soul-group decides to reincarnate into.
In between lifetimes, we and our soul group partners plan a group incarnation on Earth, which does involve planning where we will incarnate. Not everyone has to incarnate in the very same place, but we incarnate in such a way that we can meet up with others of our soul group over time. I think of it as planning an extended vacation in which we meet up with relatives and friends.
A dramatic study published by Ian Stevenson, MD that demonstrates how souls plan to be reunited with loved ones is his Twin Study, in which 31 sets of twins had spontaneous past-life memories in childhood. In 100 percent of these cases, these twins had significant past life relationships, including being siblings, spouses, and other family members in their past lives.
What do you say to people who disagree with your work?
People who dismiss reincarnation research are simply closed-minded; they aren't willing to examine the objective research that confirms the reality of reincarnation. In general, people accept the religion or belief system that they were taught as children. Once they've settled into a belief system, such as Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, there's reluctance to consider that their beliefs may be inaccurate.
Has this led to criticism from people close to you?
I've encountered this bias within my own family and my professional community, which has been uncomfortable and even painful.
How does your study of reincarnation affect how you live your life on a personal level?
The greatest impact that the evidence of reincarnation has had on my life is that I understand that a soul can incarnate into different cultural groups, including varying religions, nationalities, and ethnic origins. This perspective creates tolerance and compassion for all people.
For more from Walter, head to his online HQ, Reincarnation Research