Episode Two: Resurrected Dreams
The ability to comprehend death is in many ways what makes us the self-aware human beings that we are. For some, the realisation that our life, and maybe even all life, may one day come to an end can be a paralysing fear. For others it is a potent force. For all of us, it is the greatest of mysteries.
The law of conversion dictates that energy can neither die nor be created, instead it merely changes from one form to another. So although there is little doubt what fate awaits us all in a material sense, understanding what happens to our consciousness beyond that zero point has proven an altogether more difficult beast to pin down. It is an unknown that calls into question the very nature of consciousness itself.
In his studies of Dream Theory, the psychiatrist Carl Jung, draws the distinction between personal dreams and larger more universal dreams. The theory suggests the possible existence of some kind of collective unconscious. A condition that he believed was demonstrated by a set of archetypes that we are all prone to recognise from our deepest unconscious states
When put like that, it’s hard not to wonder, just whose dreams exactly are we dreaming?
It could be said that all stories are ultimately about one thing – death. None more so than the stories we tell each other concerning what awaits us after life. It is a theme that can be found in stories told across every community and culture, from as far back as we can remember.
For western and middle-eastern cultures, these stories have tended to promote the idea of some form of continued life that remains true to our personal sense of ourselves. Where we end up is dependent on our actions in life, with the options invariably divided either a Heaven or a Hell.
For the ancient Greeks you might find yourself travelling across the river Styx before being led to the Vale of mourning or the fields of Elysium. For the Egyptians, entry to the paradisical Aaru was granted only to those whose heart was as light as the ostrich feather that belonged to the Goddess Ma’at.
However, for followers of Far Eastern teachings such as Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism it is belief in Samsara, which holds sway: the infinite cycle of birth, life and death, what is more commonly known as reincarnation. Some believe that proof of such reincarnation can be found through the practice of past-life regression.
Although common in Ancient India, it wasn’t until the teachings of occultist and founder of the Theosophical Society, Helena Balatvsky that the idea gained prominence in Modern European society.
Famous accounts such as those of Wisconsin housewife Virginia Tighe, who claimed to have lived as a 19th century Irish woman named Bridey Murphy, helping to bring this controversial phenomenon into the mainstream.
However many such accounts have been latterly dismissed as simple cases of false memories: recollections of names and places that have been subconsciously absorbed. But there are a few cases that have not been so easy to dismiss, cases that have nothing to do with hypnotic regression…
On the 5th May 1957 in the North of England a beautiful spring day breaks over the quiet Market Town of Hexham.
John and Florence Pollock are busy readying their children for church. Their two daughters, Joanna 7 and Jacqueline 11, are especially excited by the promise of an afternoon trip to their favourite playground.
On hearing the doorbell, Jacqueline answers the door to find her young friend Anthony standing on the doorstep. He invites Joanna and Jacqueline to walk with him up to the church. Although they would usually travel to St. Mary’s as a family, John and Florence saw no reason not to let the three young children walk on ahead. As the loving parents waved them off, they couldn’t possibly have known the tragedy that was about to befall them.
On the other side of town, a woman’s life was spiralling out of control. It’s not known if Marjorie Winn had always suffered from severe depression but clearly the death of her husband five years before had been a crippling blow. Despite moving to Hexham for a fresh start, things became worse after Marjorie was judged too ill to retain custody of her two teenage daughters. It was to prove the final straw.
Considering how uncommon it was for a mother to lose custody of her children at this time, it’s not hard to speculate on Marjorie’s state of mind as she stepped into her car that fateful Sunday morning. A state of mind not helped by the bottle of painkillers and barbiturates that she had just before ingested.
As the three young children walked hand in hand towards the church, Marjorie’s car turned speedily into the road. As it neared the children it swung into the opposite lane, jumped the curb and careered straight into them.
There was a moment of stunned silence before the first screams of onlookers cut through the air.
One can only hope the children didn’t hear a thing. Joanna and Jacqueline were killed instantly. 9-year-old Anthony Layden, who had been due to act as alter boy that morning, died in the ambulance on his way to the hospital.
After a short police investigation Marjorie was committed to a psychiatric unit after it was found that her actions had been deliberate.
In the days that followed, the small close-knit community was united in its grief for the young victims. For John and Florence Pollock, the parents of Joanna and Jacqueline, the sense of loss would have been unimaginable.
For two devout Catholics, there was some solace to be found in the belief that their two girls might at the very least be in a better place.
It makes what happened next all the more extraordinary, and is a mystery that remains to this day, unexplained.
After an incredibly difficult 8 months their grief was somewhat lifted when Florence discovered she was pregnant again. The couple could not have been more delighted by the news.
However, not long into the pregnancy John developed a peculiar feeling about the impending birth.
Despite being told by their Obstetrician that there was only one beating heart inside Florence’s womb, John was insistent that she would give birth to a set of twins.
Sure enough, much to the surprise of everybody except John, on 4th October 1958, Florence gave birth to two baby girls, later named Gillian and Jennifer.
The twins were monozygotic, or what is more commonly known as identical, having developed from the same egg. And yet they showed remarkable physical differences. Differences that correlated perfectly to Joanna and Jacqueline...
One morning, while looking after young Jennifer, John noticed a peculiar mark on her forehead just above the nose. The mark was identical to a scar that Jacqueline had received after falling from her tricycle when she was two years old.
The mark may well have gone unnoticed if it wasn’t for the fact that Jennifer had also recently developed a very distinct birthmark on her left hip. The brown colouring of the skin shaped like a thumbprint was indistinguishable from a birthmark that Jacqueline once had in the exact same spot.
And the similarities didn’t end there.
Despite being identical, Gillian’s body was slender like Joanna whereas Jennifer was stocky like Jacqueline. Where Gillian’s gait was sply-footed, again like Joanna, Jennifer’s was ordinary just like Jacqueline.
Their teacher recounted that Gillian was able to hold a pencil in the correct manner, without instruction. Whereas Jennifer would hold it between her thumb and forefinger, with her hand curling into a tight fist – exactly the way that Jacqueline had done.
And it wasn’t only their physical attributes. Their personalities too, seemed to precisely mirror those of their two deceased sisters. Joanna, who had been older by four years, was naturally more mature and protective over Jacqueline. Although Gillian was only 10 minutes older than Jennifer, their relationship exhibited the very same dynamic. Like Joanna, Gillian was also interested in other children compared to Jennifer and was considered far more generous in nature.
But it wasn’t until the girls were able to speak that things would turn very strange indeed.
3 months after the twins were born, John and Florence moved the family to the nearby town of Whitley Bay. When they took the girls to visit Hexham a few years later, something extraordinary occurred.
John recounts, as he was walking with the twins up the Hill towards St. Mary’s church, one turned to the other and said the school is up here where we used to go to and the playground is round the back. At the time not only would they have been too small to see the school from where they were but there was also a large wall obscuring their view.
Later, as they passed the church, the children continued to point out landmarks that they would never have seen before. They pointed out the grounds of Hexham Abbey and demanded to visit their favourite playground that was located on the far side of the hill.
For John the evidence was undeniable. Joanna and Jacqueline had been returned to them in the form of Gillian and Jennifer. Florence, on the other hand, refused to believe. To accept the bizarre events and startling coincidences as evidence of reincarnation was in short heresy. The more committed Catholic of the pair, she was determined that nothing would break her core belief. But all that was about to change.
When Joanna and Jacqueline died, Florence found it too unbearable to be surrounded by their things. In particular their toys that had once been such a symbol of joy and life that were now just reminders of a horrific tragedy. So she packed them into a box and stored them away in the attic.
By the time the twins were four Florence felt able again to live with the toys and retrieved them from their storage. With the twins beside here she opened the box and was astonished to find that the two girls were able to name every one of the toys that used to belong to their sisters.
But it wasn’t until Florence came across a far more disturbing scene that her mind was finally made up.
Approaching the children’s playroom one morning, Florence heard the twins in quiet conversation amongst themselves. What she saw when she looked into the room has haunted her to this day.
There on floor lay Jennifer with her arms and legs sprawled out as Gillian crouched down beside her, cradling her head in her hands. The blood is coming out of your eyes she said. That’s where the car hit you.
In 1962, the story of the Pollock Twins was brought to the attention of US – Canadian Professor of Psychiatry Ian Stevenson. Stevenson, from the University of Virginia school of Medicine, had developed an international reputation for his investigations into alleged cases of reincarnation. He had even created a specialized department known as the Division of Perceptual Studies to better conduct his research.
Despite the oddity of his work, Professor Stevenson was well respected in the psychiatric community, at one time being described by a reviewer of the Journal of The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry as a distinguished psychiatrist and scholar.
For Stevenson, what stood out most about the story of The Pollock Family was its provenance. In post-war Britain the notion of reincarnation was still a fairly alien concept ore commonly reserved for followers of the exotic Eastern philosophies of Hinduism and Buddhism? For a devout Catholic couple to announce in 1962 that their daughters were living proof of reincarnation was truly quite remarkable.
Stevenson, who studied the family from 1964 to 1985, was also particularly interested in the scar and birthmark found on Jennifer’s body. The transference of such marks had become a recurring feature in many of his case studies. The fact that Jennifer and Gillian were supposedly monozygotic made the existence of Jennifer’s marks all the more compelling.
In spite of all this evidence it would be far too simple to declare the story of the Pollock Twins as an open and shut case for the existence of reincarnation. It would of course not be beyond the realms of possibility that the magnitude of John and Florence’s grief may have played a large part. Wanting to believe that their daughters had in some way been returned to them would have no doubt brought a great comfort.
A point frequently left out of the story is that John and Florence were not only the parents of two girls, but in fact had six children, with the twins sharing their home with four brothers. Although the parents maintain that they never openly discussed their recently deceased daughters it is hard to believe that the four boys kept an equally quiet council.
It would be impossible to tell just what may or may not have been projected onto the conscious or even subconscious minds of the young twins growing up under the shadow of such a harrowing family tragedy.
It is also known that John had grown interested in the idea of reincarnation some time before the death of his daughters, so much so in fact that he had begun to question his commitment to his Catholic faith.
And yet, it seems extraordinary that a set of genetically identical twins, drawn from the same egg would exhibit such fundamental differences at such an early stage both physically and in terms of personality.
Dr Jim Tucker, a research partner of Professor Stevenson, has also pointed out that for Florence it was a constant struggle to reconcile the evidence of her own eyes with the Church’s edict that belief in reincarnation was a mortal sin. As such the possibility that the girl’s had been reincarnated brought no comfort to her whatsoever and such she should be regarded as an excellent impartial witness.
By 1985, the Pollock Twins had ceased to feel a connection to any sense of a former life and Professor Stevenson’s studies came to an inconclusive end. In truth we will ever know the exact explanation for what had taken place.
In ancient aboriginal culture people speak of something known as Eternal Dreaming. For them a person's actions during life have no bearing on the destination of his spirit in the afterlife, there is no heaven or hell. Rather they believe in the indestructible nature of the human spirit. Although the spirits of the recently deceased may retain their individual identities immediately after death, it is regarded as a temporary state.
Perhaps in life as far as we know it, we might imagine ourselves a version of Kurt Vonnegut’s hero Major Alan Rice from the story Thanisphere. Our bodies nothing but soft machine receptors tuning in to the lives of others that remain after their bodies have died, floating about in the ether before disappearing back into the one universal consciousness.
Or perhaps the explanation is something else entirely. Something that might allow for Jung’s archetypes and the collective unconscious but from a far more material point of view.
Prior to Charles Darwin’s Origin’s of the Species, another naturalist by the name of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck had been causing a stir with a theory of his own. He suggested that an organism might pass characteristics to its offspring, not only through internal genetic mechanisms but also through external influences that it would have been effected by during its lifetime. Although the theory, known as Lamarckism gained some traction, it was widely discredited after the inception Darwinism. And so it was destined to remain.
However a number of recent discoveries in the newly fashionable study of epigenetics has led to somewhat of Lamarckist come back.
Similar to what Lamarck proposed, Epigenetics is the study of external and environmental factors on the behaviour of genes and their relationship to our cells.
In 2013 a paper entitled, ‘Parental olfactory experience influences behaviour and neural structure in subsequent generations,’ appeared in the leading Medical journal Nature. The paper was written by neurobiologist Kerry Ressler and his partner Brian Dias. It involved the study of epigenetic inheritance in laboratory mice.
What Ressler and Dias had discovered was that by conditioning a set of mice to associate a scent with a specific trauma, in this case a small electrical shock, that same fear would be passed down to at least two generations of their pups.
Taking this extraordinary discovery into account might it be possible that not only do we inherit our grand parent’s noses and eyebrows, but in some way their thoughts as well?
For Gillian and Jennifer Pollock, is it beyond the realms of possibility that rather than being the reincarnated souls of their recently deceased sisters, they had instead merely inherited their parent’s own memories of their young daughters?
There is little doubt that in a physiological sense we are all in some way the reincarnation of those that have come before us, but perhaps might we also be carrying their dreams as well?
© Richard MacLean Smith
1. Jung, C. (2001), Dreams, UK: Routledge
2. Christie-Murray, D. (1980), The Case For Bridey Murphy, The Unexplained Mysteries of Mind Space & Time, UK: Orbis Publishing
3. Reincarnation – Jennier and Gillian Pollock, born in 1958 Hexham, England (2005), Crabtrees Compedium Of Esoterica, https://sites.google.com/site/crabtreescompendiumofesoterica/nibiru-2012-onward-related/afterlife-investigation-life-after-death/consciousness-beyond-life-the-science-of-the-near-death-experience/reincarnation---jennifer-and-gillian-pollock-born-in-1958-in-hexham-england
4. Stephenson, I. (1980). Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation: Second Edition, US: University of Virginia Press
5. Ressler, K. J. & Dias, B.G. (2013), Parental olfactory experience influences behaviour and neural structure in subsequent generations, Nature, http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v17/n1/full/nn.3594.html
6. Documentary including interview with John and Florence Pullock (Source Unknown), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhpuvUiQ2xA