A sample from ‘Power of the Mind’ by Simon Petherick
Chapter 1. The Story of Ray Bryant
‘I want you to go drifting back through time, further back through time, drifting…
‘You’re looking for a set of memories. It could be anybody, it could be anywhere, it could be anytime, but you’re looking for a set of memories. You’re looking for a set of memories.
‘Some people say it’s like going through a long, dark tunnel, but all tunnels come out into the daylight, and when you come out into the daylight you’ll see where you are and you’ll know your name. you’ll know everything that’s happened to you. So keep drifting back, looking for those memories…
‘You’re looking for memories, and they are memories of things that have happened to you. They have actually happened to you but they happened in times before you were born. You have not yet been born.
‘So keep drifting back, keep drifting back, keep drifting back until you can see where you are. Can you see anything?’
Ray Bryant is about to begin a journey into the past. It is a journey with which he is familiar, for he has made it many times now, but there is no knowing where it may take him. All he can say is that he will once again experience a life before his own. He will relive the memories of the dead.
‘I want you to go back, right back to times before you were born. Back in time. Bring out those memories.’
The room is silent. There is a sense of expectation, a tense, charged atmosphere amongst the observers. Ray lies in the chair, his eyes closed, his body relaxed. Everybody strains to hear the first word, to see the first movement. All eyes are on him.
‘Back to a time before you were born. Go back to any set of memories from a time before you were born. You’re there. You’re there now. You’re there now!’
A flicker. His eyelids stir, his shoulders shift against the back of the chair. There’s a sign of life about his face, an almost imperceptible working of the mouth. He is no longer slumped in the twilight world of deep relaxation.
‘Hello. Who’s there?’
A grunt from the person in the chair confirms what we all expected. Ray Bryant sits with his eyes closed. He appears to be dreaming. But we know he is not.
Q: ‘Hello. What’s your name?’
Q: ‘Reuben what?’
A: ‘Reuben… Reuben Sta… Reuben Sta… Sta…’
This is how we first came upon the life of Sergeant Reuben Stafford. Ray was struggling to produce a surname but could manage only the first three letters, a difficulty often encountered in these past-life regressions. In fact, this is how the search for a character always begins: a hesitant, stumbling affirmation of life, which gradually takes shape under patient questioning until a real person emerges.
Ray Bryant first encountered hypnosis and past-life regressions in 1981, when he came to research a series of features for the Reading Evening Post. Since that time he has returned again and again, to explore the memories that have been released from his unconscious. One of these sets of memories is particularly important, both to Ray and to the whole case for past-life regressions. It’s important for the clarity with which Ray is able to recall the life of Sergeant Reuben Stafford. It’s important for the consistency of those recollections. But its real importance lies in one special fact.
Sergeant Reuben Stafford really lived. We have found his Crimean War record. We have found his death certificate. We have uncovered a wealth of verifiable historical detail about the life of this nineteenth-century soldier, none of which was shown to Ray until his own regression experiences confirmed the facts.
From further questions we established that Reuben Stafford was born in Brighthelmstone (now Brighton), Sussex, in the 1820s and moved to Ormskirk, Lancashire, when he was very young. Most of his life was spent as a soldier in the 47thRegiment of Foot. He reached the rank of sergeant, saw service in the Crimea and was married to a woman called Mary.
Q: ‘I want you to go back to the year 1855. It is the year 1855. Bring out any memories you have of the year 1855.
‘You there! What’s your name and rank?’
A: ‘Stafford, Sergeant.’
Q: ‘Direct me to the barracks office, Sergeant.’
A: ‘Sir… Between the towers, sir… through the gate… on the right…’
From exchanges like this, we began to build up a picture of the man whose memories were locked within Ray’s subconscious. In this case, however, we were helped by a remarkable stroke of luck. Andrew Selby, one of the main researchers from the London group, was investigating another regressee’s memories in the Record Office at Kew when he saw a book listing all the casualties in the Crimean War. We were still none the wiser about Reuben’s surname at this point; he could get no further than ‘Sta…’. Andrew Selby began to look through the Crimea records, and on one page he found: ‘Sgt Reuben Stafford, slight wound left hand. Battle of the Quarries. 7thof June 1855.’ With this information he was able to obtain the entire army record of Sergeant Reuben Stafford. At the next session Ray, quite unaware of this development, took the chair as usual.
Q: ‘Go back to any time before you were born when any of the following words meant anything to you: London, Liverpool, Glasgow, Manchester, Sheffield, Plymouth, Cambridge, Sutton, Newcastle, Stafford…’
At this point, Ray stiffened and immediately resumed the character of Sergeant Reuben Stafford. We had reached an exciting moment: we had established that Ray was regressing to a character named Reuben Stafford, and we had a full record of the army career of someone of the same name. Now we had to test to find out whether they were one and the same.
From the army records we knew that Stafford had served in Malta. I served in Malta myself during the last war, and so was able to set a few traps. Ray, by the way, had never been to any of the countries that border the Mediterranean.
Q: ‘Go to any time when you were in the Strada Stretta.’
To this there was absolutely no response. I tried with an alternative:
Q: ‘Go to any time when you were in the Gut.’
A: (loud, hearty chuckles)
Q: ‘Hi there, Sergeant. What are you doing?’
A: (more laughter): ‘Don’t think much on it.’
A: ‘I wouldn’t have one of they wenches. Good lord!’
Q: ‘What are you doing?’
A: ‘Looking at a whore. God!’
Q: ‘Some people must think they are all right.’
A: (more laughter): ‘Aye, pretty desperate.’
Q: ‘Are you desperate, lad?’
A: ‘Not that desperate yet. God, what a stink. Nowt here.’
Q: ‘What do you think about the Gut?’
A: ‘Too many steps and the ugliest set of bitches you can find anywhere.’
The Strada Stretta in Malta is known to most servicemen who have served on the island as ‘the Gut’. This is usually the only name they know it by, as it has been ever since the first Malta garrison settled. It is not so much a street as a great series of flights of steps from one end to the other, and contained all brothels in Valetta, the capital of the island.
We took Reuben to the day his army records said he was wounded.
Q: ‘Go back to the time Reuben Stafford was at the Quarries.’
A: (panting heavily, a hoarse straining of his lungs, he seems to be choking): ‘Keep up… keep up… rest… wait for the order… rest… keep down…’
Suddenly Ray clutched his left hand; he screamed and appeared to be in such pain that I sent him off to a deep sleep. We brought him forward a few hours and found him in the field hospital having the hand re–dressed.
Further sessions with Ray brought out some fascinating insights into the reality of nineteenth-century warfare:
Q: ‘How far did you march before you made contact?’
A: ‘A few miles.’
Q: ‘If you had used your rifles, do you think you would have made it back safely?’
A: ‘I don’t know. Orders are to fix bayonets in case of contact.’
Q: ‘That seems a bit daft. If you used rifles, you could kill them from a longer range, couldn’t you?’
A: ‘They come at us from just over a little ridge. They were right there in front of us, looking at us, hardly a rifle’s length away.’
Q: ‘Were they armed?’
Q: ‘So you had to be quick?’
A: ‘Too quick for ’em.’
Q: ‘How old were they?’
A: ‘Just chaps like us.’
Q: ‘What colour uniforms are the Russians wearing?’
A: ‘Grey. The grey ghosts. Just come and go. They know the country. Grey’s the colour of the rock.’
Of course, one thing we never forgot was Ray’s profession. As a journalist with many years’ experience, he’s had the opportunity to research into countless different subjects. He’s written stories on almost every subject under the sun, and he’s interviewed hundreds of subjects on a wide range of topics.
In other words, Ray must have an enormous amount of factual information stored in his subconscious, a great deal of which his conscious mind is unaware of. He might have some knowledge of the Crimea, even though there is no trace of his ever having written or researched anything on the subject throughout his career. For this reason we subjected his case to a more rigorous cross–examination than usual. At every session he attended he was switched backwards and forwards through the life of Reuben at very short intervals, never left on one particular day for more than a few minutes, and even tricked by questions about Ray’s own life. Throughout such ordeals he never made a slip.
For example, we put some technical questions to him:
Q: ‘What rifles are you using at the moment?’
A: ‘The Enfield.’
Q: ‘Magazine or single?’
A: ‘Single shot.’
Q: ‘How often do the Enfields jam?’
A: ‘Not all that often.’
A: ‘Don’t any of the rifles jam, then?’
A: ‘Brownings. But we don’t have the Brownings.’
Ray Bryant has precious little knowledge of firearms, or the army in general. He has never expressed any interest in the armed forces before, and obviously knows little about the army way of life. We knew Reuben received four campaign ribbons, but Ray seemed to disagree under questioning:
Q: ‘Do you have any medals, Sergeant?’
A: ‘Aye, three.’
Q: ‘Only three? Are you sure?’
Q: ‘But we’ve been told you have four.’
A: ‘Oh, that Turkish thing. That’s not a medal, it weren’t given by the Queen.’
He was in fact referring to an award from the Turks of a campaign medal. Which was the fourth medal mentioned in the records. Next we tested his drill:
Q: ‘Go back to a time when you’re giving recruits close order drill.’
A: ‘Atten–shun! Straighten that line!’
Q: ‘All right Sergeant, I’ll take over now. Atten–shun! Move to the right in threes. March. (Here Ray’s face was puzzled.) What’s the matter, Sergeant? Something wrong with my drill?’
A: ‘In tandem, sir. Should be in tandem.’
He was quite correct. At the time of the Crimean War, the British Army was drilled in pairs, not in threes. Other remarkable details which Ray produced concerned his paydays and the days of his promotion to corporal and sergeant. No matter how much we tried to confuse him by throwing odd dates and events at him, he would invariably name the correct day of the correct month and would also tell us how much he received. Again, his army record confirmed those amounts.
There was a moving episode when we sent Ray back to the time when Reuben’s ship was docking in Britain after the war:
Q: ‘Hello Reuben. Where’ve you been?’
Q: ‘How was it?’
A: ‘Awful. This is what I wanted. I didn’t think I was coming back. I’m going home now. Home to Ormskirk.’
Q: ‘How long since you’ve seen your wife?’
A: ‘Two year. And t’lad. He’s about eighteen months now. (He began to weep.) I never seen him yet.’
Q: ‘Any others with you, Reuben?’
A: ‘Andy Hudson.’
Q: ‘What rank is he?’
Q: ‘Was he wounded?’
A: ‘Aye, in the side. Great hole in the side.’
Q: ‘did you know JH Lowndes?’
A: ‘Aye, Captain Lowndes. He was Company Commander.’
A: ‘What do you think of him, Sergeant?’
A: ‘He’s quite a character.’
Q: ‘What’s happened to him?’
Q: ‘And Villiers?’
A: ‘Colonel Villiers. Don’t know.’
Q: ‘What about Beeston?’
A: ‘Aye, I know Beeston. He were all right. Bit morbid, always moaning. Nothing right for him.’
Q: ‘What about the name Kelly?’
A: ‘Aye. All the Kelly lads got wounded. I think one of them died.’
Q: ‘How many Kellys were there?’
A: ‘I knew three.’
Every detail was correct.
Ray has also been featured on a series of television programmes produced by Arthur C Clarke, where he was taken blindfolded into the museum of the Lancashire Regiment. The blindfold was removed only after he was seated in a position where he could see very little of anything in the museum. Colonel Richard Bird, the officer in charge of the museum at Fulwood Barracks, Preston, had agreed to do all the questioning for the programme.
Colonel Bird picked a lesser-known battle of the Crimean War to test Ray, one which he know the 47thhad led. Reuben described the river crossing and the bombardment by the Russian guns situated on the hills overlooking the river, and named many of the casualties, all to Colonel Bird’s satisfaction. He was asked what items the regiment captured.
A: ‘Some drums and flags and things.’
Q: ‘What are the drums like?’
A: ‘Shiny, made o’brass or something like that.’
Q: ‘Anything on them?’
A: ‘Aye, sir, some o’them… like them things you see in church.’
Indeed, the embossed spread eagles which decorated the body of the drums do resemble the eagles on the lecterns in some churches.
The life of Reuben Stafford was not all hardship, and there were many moments of light relief during the sessions we conducted with Ray:
Q: ‘Go to any time in the life of Reuben Stafford when he was looking in the mirror or saw his full reflection in something.’
(Ray takes on a proud, rather vain stance.)
Q: ‘What are you looking at? Going out tonight or something?’
Q: ‘Who are you going with?’
A: ‘Mary. (Smiles.) Reckon she’ll like that… She’ll like me. I’m handsome fellow.’
Q: ‘Have you got a moustache?’
A: ‘Aye. I’m handsome corporal.’
Sadly, Reuben’s life took a downward turn. By sending him back to different periods, we discovered he ended up as a lighterman on the Thames after his discharge from the army. He was living at Gravesend, bronchitic from the cold, lack of food and poor clothing of the Crimea. He had been widowed and was obviously very miserable. He had one son, an architect, whom he seldom saw. After extensive checking, Marguerite Selby, another researcher, found a death certificate for Reuben Stafford, dated April 1879: ‘Reuben Stafford. Violent suffocation by drowning. How caused not proved. Milwall dock found dead on 2ndApril, 1879.’
Ray agreed, after considerable thought, to be taken back to that day, to a few minutes before the death by drowning of Reuben Stafford. At this stage we had not told Ray the details of the death certificate, so he was ignorant of the way Reuben had died. We found him standing on the dockside in Milwall. Within a few minutes he was choking and gasping, obviously drowning.
After he was roused, Ray was shown the certificate, and for the very first time he was allowed to examine the copies of the army record sheets. He was silent for some time, and then said: ‘At least he ended his misery and found peace.’
But it is not just Reuben Stafford whose memories live on in the unconscious mind of Ray Bryant. When he is hypnotised, Ray also regressed to other characters from the past. We have found an eighteenth–century coachman named Wilfred Anderton:
Q: ‘Hello there. What’s your name?’
Q: ‘Where are you going?’
A: ‘I going Bath.’
Q: ‘How long does that take?’
A: ‘Starts out in afternoon. We’m down there next morning.’
Q: ‘Where do you change the horses?’
Q: ‘Where do you leave from?’
A: ‘The Bar in Fleet Street.’
Q: ‘Where do you leave London?’
Q: ‘How do you get to Hounslow?’
A: ‘There’s only one bloody road out of London.’
Q: ‘Where do you stay in Bath?’
A: ‘The Cock.’
Q: ‘Where’s that?’
A: ‘Near the Pump Room.’
Q: ‘Have you been there?’
A: ‘No, it’s for nobs… dandies.’
Q: ‘Have you always done this?’
Q: ‘You must be healthy.’
A: ‘ Not too much. Got wheezes.’
Q: ‘What age did you start?’
A: ‘Fourteen or fifteen.’
Q: ‘Which companies have you worked for?’
A: ‘Cobb. Tennyson.’
Q: ‘How’s the wife?’
A: ‘I don’t know. I ain’t seen her in a year or so.’
Q: ‘How’s she living?’
A: ‘Her’s got her money.’
A: ‘Her takes in washing.’
Q: ‘Are you religious?’
A: ‘I goes careful. Tries not to offend ’im.’
Wilfred is a carefree, amusing character, quite in contrast to another of Ray’s regressions, that of a seventeenth–century governess called Elizabeth:
Q: ‘I want you to go back to fifteen years before the birth of Wilfred. Hello there, what’s your name?’
A: ‘My name is Elizabeth.’
Q: ‘What are you doing?’
A; ‘I’m walking with Jack. He’s my charge.’
Q: ‘How old is he?’
A: ‘He’s eight. I’m his governess.’
Q: ‘Is he well–behaved?’
A: ‘He’s quite correct.’
Q: ‘What do you do with him?’
A: ‘I teach him proper behaviour.’
Q: ‘How do you punish him when he’s naughty?’
A: ‘I correct him. I speak sternly with him.’
Q: ‘What does his father do?’
A: ‘He is at Court.’
Q: ‘Who’s Court?’
A: ‘King William.’
Q: ‘Has the King got a Queen?’
Q: ‘Have you been with the family long?’
A: ‘I have been in my position for ten years. I am in my seventieth year. I have seen many great families, many great houses. I have been to the palace of Whitehall.’
Q: ‘What are the names of some of the families?’
A: ‘The Harcourts.’
Q: ‘Where was their family seat?’
Q: ‘Go back to the age of twenty. The memories of Elizabeth at the age of twenty. Hello, how are you?’
A: ‘Quite well, thank you.’
Q: ‘Where are you living?’
A: ‘The Hall.’
Q: ‘Which Hall?’
Q: ‘What’s the family called?’
Q: ‘What position do you hold?’
Q: ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’
A: ‘Don’t… no…’
Q: ‘Are you all right?’
A: ‘Quite well.’
Q: ‘Would you like a boyfriend?’
A: ‘ No!’
Q: ‘Why not?’
A: I am not permitted.’
Q: ‘Ah. Have you ever had one?’
A: ‘At twenty–five I may marry.’
Reuben, Wilfred, Elizabeth… are the memories of these people really preserved in the mind of a journalist named Ray Bryant? It is uncanny to watch Ray as he is switched from one character to another in a gruelling session, often concentrating for hours at a time. From the broad Lancashire accent of Reuben to the prim, rather pompous tones of Elizabeth and the rich West Country drawl of Wilfred—is he just a very good actor, with a script which is accurate down to the tiniest detail? If so, he has worked in the wrong profession all his life. No, such a sustained performance under such conditions would not be expected of the most experienced performer. But how canhe know the very day when Sergeant Reuben Stafford received his wages, and how canhe tell us the exact sum he received?
The experiences of Ray Bryant under hypnosis have told us many things over the years. They have introduced into our lives the stories of individuals who are now long dead, whose memories, emotions and thoughts can be as moving as those of a living person. They have given us a glimpse of life as it has been lived over the centuries, with its hardships, its moments of happiness, its griefs, its joys. But most of all, they have made us question our own mortality.
‘I want you to go back…’
With these words, all the mysteries and the enigmas of hypnosis begin. It is time we understood them.