Read an extract from The Heretics by Will Storr
During the course of The Heretics, Storr goes on a tour of Holocaust sites with David Irving and a band of neo-Nazis, meets a group of staunch Creationists, discusses the looming One World Government with iconic climate sceptic Lord Monckton and investigates the tragic life and death of a woman who believed her parents were high priests in a baby-eating cult. Here, he describes the time he was hypnotised by a past-life regression (PLR) therapist.
‘Two John Lennons’
One sunny Sunday afternoon in May, I was murdered. It was a vengeful lover that did it – or perhaps an elder brother, I can’t exactly recall. I can, however, picture my attacker clearly. He was enormous and bald and had a hammer, with which he hit me several times in the throat. And then he killed the girl that I had been trying to protect; the girl I loved and who didn’t love me back. My murderer had mistaken us for lovers. I had tried to stop him as he attacked the beautiful brown-eyed girl who I had longed for, for years. But he turned his hammer on me. And within two minutes, I was dead. Did I mention that this happened in Germany? In the fifteenth century? In a past life that I am, only now, reliving? This bloody and rather surprising memory has returned to me in the clinic of past-life regression (PLR) therapist, astrological counsellor, linguist and noted voice-over artiste Vered Kilstein.
Although she refuses to reveal her age, admitting only to being in her ‘late, late forties’, forty-nine-year old Vered is prepared to admit that her work in the regression business stretches back for over a decade. It was the famous US expert Dolores Cannon who originally taught Vered the PLR method, and about its aim – which is to cure people of their physical and psychological maladies by hypnotising them and allowing their unconscious minds to drift into lives that they have lived before. ‘This process can allow great shifts in a person’s life,’ Vered says. ‘We can identify patterns of behaviour we’ve been repeating through lifetimes. Just seeing them is a release of that pattern.’
Vered’s office sits in a row of high-end businesses, next to a plastic surgeon and a cosmetic dentist. Her front door is identifiable by the enormous stone Buddha’s head that basks, bliss-eyed, beside it. Inside is a smart, calming room that is decorated with crystals, mystic books and a glass dodecahedron hanging off a bit of wood, which is on sale for £500. Vered herself is dressed in comfortably loose dark-green clothing and has hair that is perhaps best described as ‘excited’. It is long and dark and has been pinned about her head with a complex arrangement of clips and gives the impression of being frozen, mid-explosion. It is, in fact, exactly the sort of hair you might expect of an individual who boasts of official qualifications in ‘advanced past life regression’, ‘Jungian astrology’ and ‘de-hypnosis’. It is hair that has been told incredible secrets about the universe and is just bursting to tell you all about it.
‘I’m very aware of myself as being an entity of consciousness across lifetimes,’ she tells me, once I have sat down. ‘I’m one of the millions who are here to help people move to a new consciousness.’
Before she puts her clients under, Vered likes to spend some time counselling them, exploring the issues that it is hoped the regression might solve. The issue that I am seeking help with concerns the invisible force known as the placebo effect. As with pranayama, I am wondering if it might also account for the perceived success – and therefore the belief in – dubious therapies such as this one? After all, there have been some incredible tests that have suggested that the benefits of all forms of therapy may be down to nothing more than placebo. For a 1979 study that has been widely replicated, academics at Vanderbilt University in Nashville took fifteen patients who had been complaining of depression and anxiety and sent them to see various psychotherapists. At the end of their treatment, they showed no more improvement than a control group who had been seen by fake therapists who had received no training whatsoever. Other academics have shown that, despite the fact that different varieties of therapy are based upon competing of concepts of mind, it doesn’t matter which one you choose to help you with your problems – they all have pretty much identical rates of outcome. Having controlled for the effect of what is known as ‘regression to the mean’ – a principle which, in this context, speaks to the tendency of our minds and bodies to heal anyway, whether we seek help or not – these studies really do offer evidence that placebo may be the secret of all talk-based cures.
For me, this was not a staggering discovery. I was barely out of my teens when I saw my first therapist, and fought to kill the particular unhappiness that was possessing me. Back then, I was at the mercy of invisible forces of a different kind: I was in love and it was all too much. Every Monday evening, I saw my counsellor, in a room not too different from this one. I would tell her stories about the week that had just passed and stories from my childhood. Stories in which I was never the hero. It didn’t make me happy. After around two years, I stopped going. They wrote me a letter, urging me to recommence the sessions for my own ‘safety’. And I would return, several years later. When I came back, it was invisible forces, yet again, that drove me there.
None of which is especially helpful for Vered at this moment. So instead I mention the other thing that has been on my mind of late: that grey veil of non-specific wrongness that I can’t find a way to escape.
‘I sometimes find life too difficult,’ I say. ‘I feel as if everyone’s against me, like I’m doing something wrong all the time and I don’t know what. It’s exhausting. It gets too much.’
She purses her lips and makes some notes with a special pen that has a light inside it. It glows celestially down on her pad.
‘Our thoughts create our reality,’ she says. ‘You seem to experience the world as aggressive and dog-eat-dog. A lot of people do.’
She makes some more notes. She frowns irritably, and then scribbles her special light pen frantically back and forth on her notebook. It appears to have run out of ink.
‘Some people can deal with that world,’ I say, ruefully. ‘The go-getters, the businessmen.’
She puts the special light pen to one side and picks up a normal one.
‘Do you feel there are people out there who achieve success without treading on people?’ she asks. ‘Are there any wealthy people who’ve achieved success in honourable ways?’
Suddenly, I feel embarrassed.
‘No,’ I begin. ‘I mean, I don’t think there are.’ I pause for a moment. Vered looks at me, pleasantly. ‘But . . .’ I say. ‘But . . . maybe that’s a prejudice of mine. Because it’s obviously not true.’
‘It doesn’t matter what the truth is. It’s what you feel is the truth.’ She makes another note and stops for a think before musing, ‘There could be an issue here around worthiness.’
Before I am led to the couch, I ask Vered to explain what is about to happen. ‘I don’t really believe in linear time at all,’ she tells me. ‘We use terminology like “past”, “present” and “future” because we’re living in a three-dimensional reality.’
I probably look a bit confused.
‘It’s like a tuning,’ she continues. ‘Let’s say that you and I, at this moment, are tuned into the same consensual reality. With this process, I can tune you to have a double focus.’
I think what she is saying is that we are all living lots of different lives at once. I just happen to be ‘tuned in’ to this one at the moment. During hypnosis, Vered is going to fiddle with my tunings and that will enable me to glimpse other lifetimes – or, as she prefers, ‘time-space dimensions’.
‘All I’m doing is helping you move into a deeply relaxed state,’ she says, as I lie back on her massage table. ‘Then I ask your subconscious, your “higher self”, to take you to the most appropriate time-space. That can be in the past; that can be in the future.’
The hypnosis works surprisingly well. Vered asks me to picture a special place ‘like a meadow’. I think, Hmmmm, meadows and imagine a warm, flower-filled pasture fringed with a dark, looming forest. ‘This is the part of the mind we’ll be working with today,’ she says. ‘The part that deals with images and memories. The part that’s active at night. Can you see a cloud?’
‘Can you sit on it for me?’
I sit gingerly on the cloud.
‘I’m on it.’
‘This cloud can carry you over the mountains and over the valleys and over the oceans, drifting and floating, soft, protected, comfortable and safe, floating and drifting, drifting and floating, over the land, over the valleys, protected and safe. This cloud is like magic because not only can it carry you over the land and over the valley, it can also carry you back and back and back in time and space so I’m asking the cloud to move and carry you back and back and back in time and space, to another time, another place, where there’s information we would like to find to help you.’
The cloud floats down and I see a cot. Vered asks if I have feet. She wants to know what age they are; what colour the cot is; what room I am in; what I can hear. But we don’t get far in that life, so the cloud takes me to the 1920s, where I am speeding in a purple sports car following an argument. I crash into a tree. I am dead. Next up, it is fifteenth-century Germany and the murder with the hammer. And then I am in London’s West End in the 1940s. This time, I am a woman. I am hurrying to work – behind a ticket-till in a Soho nightclub – when I am suddenly gripped by a powerful, almost psychic sensation that my husband, who is at war, has been killed. All night, at work with the girls on the cash desk, I keep my fears to myself – many of my friends really have been widowed by the Nazis. They are the ones deserving of sympathy, not me, with my silly, superstitious ‘feeling’. Then it is 1945. I am in Portsmouth, watching my husband’s boat disembark. He is not there. I run up to a young sailor on the gangplank. He insists that he knows nothing about my husband but I can tell by his sad, frightened eyes that he is lying. Then, in the same life, I am taken forward to the late 1960s. I am lying ill and heartbroken in the attic room of a boarding house. I have been living on baked beans straight from the tin. I am wearing my overcoat and stockings in bed to shield me from the devilish grey cold. I don’t die so much as fade quietly away: after all, I have been dead ever since that rainy night in London’s West End – dead of heart, dead of hope and possessed by that mysterious and melancholy knowledge.
‘It was like opening the floodgates!’ Vered declares, after I have come round. ‘Your subconscious was so ready and ripe to allow the stories to rush out of your energy system. There was a beautiful, hungry flow. Especially in that last one. There was an intensity of emotion. I actually was getting chills in my spine. Your sadness was so overwhelming. But now – look at you! You look totally different!’
‘How do I look?’ I ask.
‘Frisky and cheeky and alive!’
And the strange thing is, I feel it too: light and unburdened. And there is something else: a dangerous thrill at having been so intimate and vulnerable with Vered. Grinning helplessly, I ask her to recount some of her proudest successes. She tells me about a man who had persistent problems with a nerve pressing on a shoulder muscle. ‘His was an almost textbook case,’ she says. ‘He told a very moving story of having been a knight in England. He’d come late to a meeting because he’d been cavorting in the forest with his beloved. His headdress wasn’t on properly and the other members of the brotherhood of knights were furious. One of them hit him with a sword in that shoulder. We had to bring him to a place of forgiveness. He opened his arms, in armour, to the other knight and held him. And he never had that pain again.’
I ask Vered if it is her experience that a high number of clients turn out to have been heroes of some sort – knights or kings or celebrities.
‘People who’ve had a profound effect on the world – the Cleopatras, the John Lennons – you could see them as sparks,’ she explains. ‘The soul has many sparks in it. So a lot of people may carry sparks of John Lennon.’
‘Have you ever had a John Lennon?’ I ask.
‘I have had a John Lennon.’ She thinks for a moment. ‘Actually, I’ve had two John Lennons. And who’s to argue with that? Others have had more mundane lives. One lady was a twig. During my first regression I experienced myself as a blade of wheat.’
‘A blade of wheat?’
‘I was literally a blade of wheat. It was a very, very moving experience. I was quite dry and yellow.’
‘How did it feel to be a blade of wheat?’
‘Vast and empty and alone.’
‘And now you’ve experienced yourself as a blade of wheat, do you sometimes feel guilty eating wheat-based products?’
‘I am totally wheat-intolerant!’
The Heretics received a 5* review in the Telegraph. Read it in full here