THE WIDELY discussed recent book, The Search for Bridey Murphy(1), sets forth
the six attempts made by its author, Mr. Morey Bernstein, between November 29,
1952 and August 29, 1953, to regress the consciousness of a deeply hypnotized
subject, "Ruth Mills Simmons" (pseudonym for Virginia Burns Tighe) to a life
earlier than her present one; and to obtain from her concerning that life
details that would be verifiable but that could not have become known to her in
any normal manner.
(1) Doubleday & Co. Garden City, N.Y. January 1956; Pocket Books, Inc. edition,
with a new chapter by Wm. J. Barker, New York, June 1956.
The experiment appeared to be notably successful, and verification was obtained
of a number of the obscure details about Ireland which the entranced subject
furnished. This, and the conversational form - reproduced verbatim in the book - in
which those intrinsically drab details were supplied by her gave to the idea of
reincarnation a concreteness which made it more plausible to many of the readers
of the book than had such references to it as they had met with before. And this
in turn opened their eyes to the fact that reincarnation, if true, could furnish
a rational explanation for the great disparities - otherwise so shocking to the
human sense of justice - which obtain from birth between the endowments and the
fortunes of different individuals.
In consequence, the book became a best seller almost immediately after
publication. The idea of reincarnation, however, runs counter both to the
religious beliefs prevalent today in the West, and to certain assumptions which,
although really gratuitous, are at present commonly made in Western scientific
circles. Hence the sudden emergence of the reincarnation hypothesis into public
attention quickly moved the protagonists both of religious and of scientific
orthodoxy to impassioned attacks on the book.
These sociological aspects of the Bridey Murphy case give it exceptional
interest even aside from such evidence for reincarnation as it may be thought to
provide. They furnish eloquent footnotes to what was said in earlier chapters
concerning the psychology of belief and of disbelief both in scientists who
approach the "enchanted boundary" of the paranormal, and in custodians of
institutionally vested religious dogmas. For these reasons, and because the case
is still fresh in the minds of many today, it will be worth while to devote the
whole of the present chapter to a review and discussion of the Bridey Murphy
1. The hypnotist and author, and his subject
The author of the book, Morey
Bernstein, is a Colorado businessman who received his bachelor's degree from the
University of Pennsylvania. His studies there apparently did not include a
course in abnormal psychology, for it was not until later that-after
unexpectedly witnessing a private demonstration of hypnotism-his prior disbelief
in the reality of hypnosis gave way. He then proceeded to study the literature
of the subject and to experiment with hypnotism. At the time of the first of the
"Bridey Murphy" sessions in 1952, he had had some ten years of experience with
hypnotism, had hypnotized hundreds of persons and, in many of these experiments
had regressed his subjects to various ages of their childhood. Thus although the
later attacks on the book have insistently termed Bernstein an "amateur"
hypnotist, he is so in the sense that he has made no charges for services he has
rendered as a hypnotist; not in the sense of lacking practical experience or of
being but casually acquainted with the standard literature of the field. For as
regards these two desiderata, he is doubtless better equipped than were a number
of the dentists and physicians in the seminars he attended, who because of their
professional degrees, received at the end a certificate of competence to use
hypnotism in their practice
An acquaintance of Bernstein's, familiar with the idea of reincarnation,
eventually brought it to his attention; and he then learned that attempts, prima
facie successful, had been made by some hypnotists to regress their entranced
subjects to times earlier than their birth or conception. This led him to
undertake a similar experiment on one of his subjects, Virginia Tighe - the
"Ruth Simmons" of his eventual book.
Virginia is a young married woman, born April 27, 1923, daughter of Mr. and Mrs.
George Burns, who lived in Madison, Wis. Their marriage did not endure and,
shortly after Virginia's third birthday, her father's sister, Mrs. Myrtle Grung,
took her to Chicago to live with her and her Norwegian husband. There Virginia
grew up a normal girl, went through grade and high schools, and eventually
attended Northwestern University for a year and a half. At the age of 20, she
married a young Army Air Corps man who died in the war a year later. Some time
after, in Denver, she married her present husband, businessman Hugh Brian Tighe.
They have three children. In Pueblo, Colorado, where they have lived for some
years, she and her husband became casually acquainted with Mr. and Mrs.
When Bernstein decided to attempt regressing the consciousness of a hypnotized
subject to an earlier life, it occurred to him that the chances of success would
be greatest in a subject capable of the state of deep, somnambulistic hypnosis.
He then remembered that, some time before he had had any idea that regression to
an earlier life might be possible, he had hypnotized Mrs. Tighe twice and that
she had readily attained that deep hypnotic state. This, and the fact that she
knew nothing of his then recent interest in reincarnation, led him to wish to
have her as subject for the regression experiments. Although such leisure as she
and her husband had was much occupied with other interests, they eventually
consented. The six sessions which are the basis of the book were then held at
intervals during the course of the next few months, and were tape-recorded.
2. Emergence of "Bridey Murphy" during Virginia's trance
Virginia nor Bernstein had ever visited Ireland, as soon as she had in deep
hypnosis been regressed first to the years of her childhood, and then instructed
to go farther back to times anterior to her present life, and to report what
scenes she perceived, she began to describe episodes of a life in which she was Bridey (Bridget) Kathleen Murphy, an Irish girl born in Cork in 1798, daughter
of a Protestant Cork barrister, Duncan Murphy, and his wife Kathleen. She said
she had attended a school run by a Mrs. Strayne and had a brother named Duncan
Blaine Murphy, who eventually married Mrs. Strayne's daughter Aimee. She had had
another brother who had died while still a baby. At the age of 20, Bridey was
married in a Protestant ceremony to a Catholic, Brian Joseph McCarthy, son of a
Cork barrister. Brian and Bridey moved to Belfast where he had attended school
and where, Bridey said, he eventually taught law at the Queen's University. A
second marriage ceremony was performed in Belfast by a Catholic priest, Father
John Joseph Gorman, of St. Theresa's church. They had no children. She lived to
the age of sixty-six and was - to use her own expression - "ditched", i.e., buried,
in Belfast in 1864. Many of her other statements referred to things which it
seemed highly improbable that Virginia could have come to know in any normal
manner, but which might possibly be verified or disproved. And the "search" for
Bridey Murphy is the search that was made for facts or records that would do one
or the other.
3. The chief documents of the Bridey Murphy controversy
No attempt will be made
in what follows to review all the special points on which debate has focused in
the Bridey Murphy controversy. But the chief of the documents which together
constitute the history of the case, and on which are based the conclusions that
will be offered, must be listed. For convenience of reference, a symbol will be
assigned to each, made up from initials in the title of the corresponding
SSBM. The first published account of the Bridey Murphy regression experiments
appeared Sept. 12, 19, and 26, 1954 in Empire - the Sunday magazine section of the
Denver Post - in three articles entitled "The Strange Search for Bridey Murphy"
written by Wm. J. Barker, of the Denver Post staff.
MAB. This was followed by "More About Bridey," in Empire for Dec. 5, 1954.
TSBM. The next document is the book itself, The Search for Bridey Murphy, by
Bernstein, published in January 1956 by Doubleday & Co. The last chapter of it
gives an account of the results up to that time of the search which the book's
editor had instituted through an Irish law firm and various librarians and
investigators. Then the Chicago Daily News, which was publishing a syndicated
version of the book, instructed its London man, Ernie Hill, to go to Ireland for
three days and look for additional verifications from Cork to Belfast. In view,
however, of the extent of territory to be covered and of the brief time allowed,
this assignment could hardly turn out other than, as it actually did, virtually
TABM. Next, the editor of the Denver Post sent Wm. J. Barker to Ireland for
three weeks on a similar assignment. What he found and failed to find was
objectively reported in a twelve page supplement to the Denver Post for March
11, 1956, entitled "The Truth about Bridey Murphy."
FABI. Then Life for March 19, 1956, published an article in two parts, one of
which was entitled "Here are facts about Bridey that reporters found in
Ireland." This part was stated to have been compiled from the reports of W. J.
Barker, Ernie Hill, and Life's own correspondent Ruth Lynam.
OSAB. The second part of the Life article was entitled "Here are opinions of
scientists about Bridey's 'reincarnation.'" It gave an account of views of two
psychiatrists, Drs. J. Schneck and L. Wolberg, concerning the case.
SACA. The next document consists of a series of articles published in May and
June 1956 by the Chicago American and reproduced in other Hearst papers (the
Francisco Examiner, the New York Journal American,) purporting to show that
Virginia's supposed memories of a life as Bridey Murphy in Ireland really were
subconsciously preserved memories of her childhood in Madison, Wis. and in
Chicago, and of stories about Ireland with which, one of the articles claimed,
she had been "regaled" by an aunt of hers who was "Irish as the lakes of
Killarney." Another of the Chicago American articles had it that the real Bridey
Murphy had been found and was a Mrs. Bridie Murphy Corkell, whose house in
Chicago was across the street from one of those in which Virginia had lived.
CNCU. Then the Denver Post, on June 17, 1956, published an article by a member
of its staff, Robert Byers, captioned "Chicago Newspaper Charges Unproved," and
commenting critically on the allegations of the Chicago American series of
BSE. Next, on June 25, 1956, Life published a short article, "Bridie Search Ends
at Last," summarizing the Chicago American's contentions and printing a
photograph of Mrs. Corkell with her grandchildren.
CFBI. Also in June 1956, Pocket Books, Inc. published the paper back edition of
The Search for Bridey Murphy, in which a new chapter, "The Case for Bridey in
Ireland," by Wm. J. Barker, was added. In it, he gives an effective presentation
of the chief conclusions which, notwithstanding various allegations, appear
valid in the light of the results of the investigations made by himself and
others; and he adds that "Bridey's 'autobiography' stands up fantastically well
in the light of such hard-to-obtain facts as I did accumulate" (p. 271).
SRSBM. In the spring of 1956 a book, A Scientific Report on "The Search for Bridey Murphy," edited by Dr. M. V. Kline and containing a chapter each by him
and by Drs. Bowers, Marcuse, Raginsky, and Shapiro, and an Introduction by Dr.
Rosen, was published in New York by the Julian Press.
HBCL. In October 1956, the Denver Post published in six instalments an interview
of Virginia in Pueblo by W. J. Barker, entitled "How Bridey Changed my Life," in
which she comments on various of the allegations about her that had been
In addition to the articles cited above, numerous others concerning the case, by
psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, and other members of the professions appeared in
a number of periodicals.
TM. For example, the summer 1956 issue of Tomorrow magazine contained several.
AW. The case furnished occasion also for a series of articles in the March to
December 1956 issues of the monthly theosophical periodical, Ancient Wisdom
dealing with reincarnation itself, and others pointing out the weak spots in the
Chicago American series.
RIS. In a review of SRSBM in the January 1957 issue of the journal of the
American Society for Psychical Research, Dr. Ian Stevenson, Head of the
Department of Neurology and Psychiatry, University of Virginia School of
Medicine, expresses disappointment with the book and states a number of reasons
4. The Bridey statements that have not so far been verified
No verification has
yet been obtained that a barrister named Duncan Murphy and his wife Kathleen
lived in Cork in 1798 and in that year had a daughter, Bridget Kathleen; nor
that a Bridget Kathleen Murphy married in Cork a Catholic called Sean Brian
McCarthy; nor that she died in 1864 in Belfast; nor that there was in Belfast in
her days a St. Theresa's church; nor that it had a priest named John Joseph
Gorman who, as Bridey states, performed a second marriage ceremony there.
That no traces of her birth, marriage, or death have been found, however, is not
surprising since, aside from some church records, vital statistics in Ireland do
not go back beyond 1864. Indeed, that any traces of her or of her people should
be found would be the more surprising if an impression is correct, which
Bernstein gained early and which the reader may test for himself from the
recorded conversations between Bridey and Bernstein - the impression, namely,
that her references to her father and to her husband as "barristers" were partly
attempts to upgrade her family socially, and partly stemmed from the fact that
she had only a vague idea of what their occupations actually were outside the
home, or of what a Barrister really was. She states at one place that her father
was a "cropper," i.e., a farmer; and she names correctly what crops were raised
there at the time. He may well have had also a part-time clerical job, perhaps
in a law office. And as regards her husband, Barker, at the end of his chapter
in the paper back edition of the book, declares his conviction that Sean (John)
Brian M'Carthy was not a barrister but a bookkeeper, who kept books for several
of the business houses in Belfast and perhaps also for Queens' College. This
would be supported by the fact that, in the 1858-9 Belfast Directory, one John
M'Carthy, clerk, is listed; and that, in the 1861-2 Directory, he is listed as a
bookkeeper. (CFBI p. 287-8)
5. Examples of the Bridey statements that have been verified
The statements of
the Bridey personality, on the other hand, that have been verified
notwithstanding (in the case of some of them) expert opinion that they could not
be correct, are effectively presented with references to the verificatory
findings in the chapter Wm. Barker contributed to the paper-back edition of the
book. They constitute, as the title of his chapter indicates, The Case for
Bridey in Ireland. In order to invalidate it, what would be necessary would be
to show that Virginia learned those recondite facts about Ireland of a century
ago in a normal manner in the United States. The attempts of the Chicago
American to show this have patently failed. The most they could be held to have
shown would be that some of Virginia's statements, not those which constitute
the case for Bridey in Ireland, are perhaps traceable to experiences of
Virginia's childhood in Chicago.
In order to outline all the essential facts, the allegations that they have been
explained in an orthodox manner, and the refutations of those allegations, far
more space would be required than is available here. But a few samples will make
evident the lack of real basis for the belief - now widespread as a result of
the wishful attacks of orthodoxy on Bernstein's book - that every puzzling
feature of the case for Bridey Murphy in Ireland has now been explained away in
a satisfying orthodox manner.
Bridey mentions the names of two Belfast grocers from whom she bought foodstuffs
- Farr's and John Carrigan. After considerable search by the Belfast Chief
Librarian, John Bebbington, and his staff, these two grocers were found listed
in a Belfast city directory for 1865-66 which had been in preparation at the
time Bridey died in 1864. Moreover, Barker reports, they were "the only
individuals of those names engaged in the 'foodstuffs' business," there at the
time. Bridey stated also that in her days a big rope company and a tobacco house
were in operation in Belfast; and this has been found to be correct. (CFBI, 271,
284) She also mentioned a house that sold "ladies things," Cadenns, of which no
trace has been found. Directories, however, listed individuals rather than
business houses, and the proprietor of Cadenn's house might not have been
himself named Cadenn.
Even more impressive than the verification of Farr's and of John Carrigan,
however, is the fact that a number of Bridey's statements which according to
experts on Ireland were irreconcilable with known facts were shown by further
investigation not to be really so. One example would be the following.
The very first of the utterances ascribed to Bridey on the tape of the first
session is that (as of age four, i.e., 1802) she had scratched the paint off all
her bed, that "it was a metal bed," and that she got an awful spanking.
Life (in FABI) states that "iron bedsteads were not introduced into Ireland until at
least 1850." Dr. E. J. Dingwall, however, states that "they were being
advertised by the Hive Iron Works in Cork in January 1830 ... Mallett's portable
iron bedsteads were often used in Ireland at about that date, although it is
somewhat doubtful whether they were at all common about 1802" (TM, p. 11). And
the Encyclopedia Britannica (1950 edition), states that "iron beds appear in the
18th century." So Bridey could, in 1802, have had an iron bed in Cork.
But however this may be, attention must now be called to the fact that in the
published transcript of the tape recording (TSBM p. 112) Bridey does not speak
of an iron bed at all but of a metal bed; and to the recently noticed fact that
a careful rehearing of the tape seems to show that the word (which like many
others uttered by Virginia in trance is not clearly articulated) was not "metal"
but "little," i.e., "little bed."
This is made the more probable by the fact that hardly anybody - least of all a
child of four - would ordinarily speak of a metal bed, but rather - as all
commentators on the episode have indeed done spontaneously - of an iron bed; or
as the case might be, of a brass bed.
One of the Chicago American's articles claims that the aunt who brought up
Virginia in Chicago remembered such a bed-scratching and spanking incident in
Chicago when Virginia was six or seven; and that Virginia remembered it and
laughed about it with her aunt when, a dozen years later, she was given a
bedroom suite as a birthday present.
Virginia, on the other hand, told Robert Byers (CNCU) that she recalls no such
incident, and most especially that she never recalled it to a relative when, at
the age of eighteen, she was presented with a new bedroom set. Worth bearing in
mind in connection with statements alleged to have been made by relatives of
hers (unnamed by the newspaper) is Virginia's statement to Barker (HBCL, part I)
that "both Hugh's and my relatives in Chicago are very much opposed to the whole
Bridey phenomenon on religious grounds." This would easily open the door to
wishful thinking unawares on their part.
Aside from this, however, it should be noticed that the statement about the
bed-scratching and spanking episode is the very first which Virginia, supposedly
as Bridey, makes; and that it comes immediately after those which Virginia, as
regressed to her own childhood, had made. It is therefore possible that the
memory of the incident did belong to her own childhood, rather than to that of
the girl who, when asked for her name immediately afterwards, gave it as Bridey.
But in any case, it has not been shown that there were no metal beds in Cork in
1802, but at most that they were probably not common there at that time. Hence,
- even if Bridey said "metal," not "little" - it has not been shown that she
cannot really be remembering a metal bed in Cork in 1802.
Let us turn next to the fact, of which much has been made, that in view of the
scarcity of wood in Ireland, Bridey's house in Cork could hardly have been a
According to the published transcript of the first session, Bridey, when asked
what kind of house she lives in, answers: "it's a nice house... it's a wood
house ... white... has two floors." But here again, a careful rehearing of the
tape appears to show that the word Bridey uttered was not "wood," but "good": a
nice house.... a good house...;" and this is the more probable because one would
not ordinarily speak of a "wood" house, but - as Life spontaneously does in its
comment - of a wooden house or, today, of a frame house.
Again, immediately after quoting the passage quoted above, the Life article
adds: "and was called 'The Meadows.'" But reference to the passage where "the
Meadows" are first mentioned (in the second tape) shows that Bridey did not say
the house was called "The Meadows." The question asked her is "What was the
address in Cork?" and her answer is: "That was ... the Meadows ... just the
Meadows" (TSBM 140; Pocket Books ed. 159). Also, in the third tape, she is
asked: "What were the Meadows in Cork?" and she answers: "There's ... where I
lived" (TSBM 160; Pocket Books ed. 183). Moreover, the Denver Post article (TABM)
reproduces on its p. 9 a section of an 1801 map of Cork showing an area named
Mardike Meadows, where some halfdozen houses are indicated.
So Bridey's statements about her house in Cork have not been shown to clash with
known facts. On the contrary, her statements turned out to be compatible with
what research in Ireland showed the facts in Cork really to have been.
We now pass to Bridey's statement that her husband taught law at the Queen's
University in Belfast some time after 1847. Life attacks it, not on the ground
suggested by Barker that Brian McCarthy was probably not a lawyer after all, but
on the ground that there was no law school there at the time, no Queen's College
until 1849, and no Queen's University until 1908.
This, however, is an error; for the facts are that on December 19, 1845, Queen
Victoria ordained that "there shall and may be erected ... one College for
students in Arts, Law, Physic ... which shall be called Queen's College,
Belfast" (CFBI 278). At the same time, she founded colleges at Cork and Galway.
Then, on August 15, 1850, she founded "the Queen's University in Ireland,"
directing "that the said Queen's Colleges shall be, and ... are hereby
constituted Colleges of our said University" (CFBI 279). So here again Bridey's
statement is consistent with the facts, and the allegation that it is not rests
on an error concerning the facts.
Again, Bridey spoke of ... tiny little sacks of rice. which were snapped on an
elastic band on the leg: "It is a sign of purity" (TSBM, 199; Pocket Books ed.
231). Life's "Folklore Expert" Richard Hayward is quoted as saying: "Nonsense!
Rice has never been a part of the folk tradition in Ireland. Corn, oats or
potatoes, yes, for centuries. But rice, never!"
Rice, however, was imported into Ireland about 1750. Doubtless, it took some
years for it to become widely known there. And it takes some more years for a
"tradition" to develop out of ideas that happen to arise spontaneously in a
number of individuals. Rice, being white, would naturally suggest purity to some
of its early users. How it eventually came to symbolize fertility is less
obvious. But anyway, what is relevant to the question whether Bridey's statement
can represent a genuine memory of an earlier life in Ireland is not whether rice
has ever been a part of the folk tradition in Ireland; but only whether the
whiteness of that until then unknown grain is likely to have struck some of its
early consumers and to have caused them to think of it as symbolizing purity -
as white orange blossoms are today used to signify a bride's purity, i.e.,
virginity. To this question, it is highly probable that the answer is Yes.
Indeed, rice, as a symbol of purity, may well have been imagined to aid a girl
in preserving purity if worn by her in little bags on the leg, as today medals
symbolizing holy beings are given children to wear as an aid to them in
conducting themselves as their religion expects them to do.
Again, the word Bridey uses to refer to interment of the bodies of the dead is
not "burying" but "ditching." Life is of course right when it states that
"ditch" does not correctly mean "bury." Yet Life itself mentions that "ditching"
was used to designate the mass burials of the many who died during the potato
famine of 1845-47. So there can be little doubt that, as Professor Seamus Kavanaugh of University College, Cork, has suggested, a good many persons came
to use "ditch" colloquially to mean "bury." Similarly, "croak" does not
correctly mean "die;" yet today "to croak- is sometimes slangily used among us
to mean to die."
Again, Bridey said that "tup" meant a rounder; and she used a linen" to mean a
handkerchief. Life states that "Scholar Hayward... laughed at tup, linen ... as
being any sort of Gaelic." But where Hayward got the idea that Bridey, or
Bernstein, claimed that "linen" is a Gaelic word is a complete mystery. Bridey
mentions "a linen" at all only when, having sneezed during the fourth session,
she said "Could I have a linen? ... I need a linen." And Professor Kavanaugh
endorsed this use of the word as, in Bridey's days, referring to a handkerchief.
As regards "tup," it is quite true as a matter of linguistics that the word is
not Gaelic. It is a Middle English word of unknown origin, which properly means
a male sheep but also has slang meanings. Bridey mentions "tup" when asked by
Bernstein for some Gaelic words. But Bridey is no linguistician, and reference
to p. 156 of TSBM makes evident that, for her, "Gaelic" means essentially
language the peasants use. Associating as these did with persons who spoke
English, some words of this language, such as "tup," doubtless got into the
peasants' vocabulary; and Barker states that Professor Kavanaugh indeed found
the word in one of his dictionaries in the sense Bridey gave for it (CFBI, p.
Again, Bridey used the word "lough" to designate rivers as well as lakes (TSBM,
pp. 136-7). And Life - apparently on Expert Hayward's authority - states that
"Lough simply does not mean 'river' but 'lake.'" Yet Murray's English Dictionary
- which presumably is at least as authoritative as Mr. Hayward - gives "low" as
an obsolete variant of "lough" and meaning "a lake, loch, river, water" (Vol.
VI, p. 271).
Again, Barker states (CFBI p. 280) that, notwithstanding Hayward's statement
that "no Irishman would refer to another as an Orange but always as Orangeman or Orangewoman, - he (Barker) "can recall no one in Ireland questioning the slang
term Orange as a synonym for 'Orangewoman.'"
Of Bridey's mention that she read, or that her mother read to her from, a book
on the sorrows of Deirdre, Life's would-be invalidation consists of a statement
that according to The English Catalogue - said to be "a complete list of books
published between 1800 and the present" - the first appearance of Deirdre's name
in a title is in Synge's play The Sorrows of Deirdre published in 1905. But
Barker cites to the contrary "a cheap paper-back published in 1808 by Bolton,
entitled The Song of Deirdre and the Death of the Sons of Usnach" (CFBI p. 278).
So here again Bridey's statement turns out to be consistent with the facts
notwithstanding that Virginia Tighe had no normal way of knowing that such a
paper-back had existed nor any interest in the question; whereas Life, which had
such an interest, and whose possible sources of information were surely as ample
as Barker's, overlooked that 1808 paper-back.
An additional statement made by Bridey is that in her days one of the coins in
use was a tuppence. This is correct; but very few persons know that such a coin
was in use in Ireland only between the years 1797 and 1850.
Barker's chapter mentions a number of additional obscure facts testified to in
Bridey's tape-recorded statements, which some persons presumably expert in
matters of Irish history disputed, but which subsequent investigation turned out
likewise to corroborate. Those cited above, however, will suffice to make
evident not only that reputed experts are not omniscient, but also that the
allegations of critics of disturbing ideas need to be scrutinized with quite as
much care as must the assertions of proponents of those ideas. For, as
repeatedly has been pointed out in earlier chapters, the temptations to wishful
thinking and to emotionally biassed conclusions are even greater on the side of
the entrenched religious orthodoxy of the time and place concerned, or on the
side of the vested "scientific commonsense of the epoch," than on the side of
the protagonists of prima facie paradoxical views.
At all events, the items Barker's investigation brought out, about which Bridey
was right and the experts were wrong, constitute the central feature of the
Bridey Murphy affair so far as concerns the question in view in Parts IV and V
of the present work - the question, namely, whether any empirical evidence is
available that the human mind survives after death, whether in some discarnate
state or in the form of reincarnation. For the evidence, so far as it goes,
which the Bridey Murphy case furnishes for survival consists essentially of the
fact that those obscure items were correctly supplied by the lips of Virginia in
trance, and of the fact that it is hard even to imagine how she could have come
to know in a normal manner about the Ireland of over a century ago details so
numerous and so uninteresting in themselves - details, moreover, the
confirmation of which by researchers in Ireland was so laborious that the wonder
is not that some of them have so far eluded verification, but much rather that
it has been possible to verify so many of them.
6. The allegation that the true Bridey statements are traceable to forgotten
events of Virginia's childhood
We may now consider briefly the allegation that
the Chicago American's articles brought out facts which explain away Virginia's
utterances in the character of Bridey Murphy as being simply revivals and
dramatizations under hypnosis of buried memories of her own childhood and youth
in Madison and Chicago.
Barker's "The Truth about Bridey Murphy" was an objective report both of the
verifications he obtained and of those he did not succeed in getting during his
three weeks in Ireland. In that report, he did not conclude either for or
against the supposition that Bridey and Virginia are two different incarnations
of one same individual, but let the reader draw his own conclusions, if any.
Unlike Barker's, however, many of the other articles on the case in newspapers
and periodicals are patently attempts to exorcise the demon which, in the shape
of Bernstein's book, was then tempting the hundreds of thousands of its readers
to belief in reincarnation - a doctrine unorthodox both in contemporary
Christian theology and in contemporary psychology. Indeed, the Denver Post's
staff writer points out in the article "Chicago Newspaper Charges Unproved" that
the Rev. Wally White, whose name appears at the head of a number of the Chicago
American articles, "stated clearly [that] his purpose was to debunk
reincarnation because of its assault upon established religious doctrines."
The American's articles hardly mention most of the facts summarized by Barker in CFBI, on which the case, such as it is
- for Bridey as an earlier "edition" of
Virginia really rests. Rather, the American dismisses them wholesale with the
allegation that Virginia was "regaled" with Irish stories by an aunt of hers who
was "as Irish as the lakes of Killarney."
Virginia, however, states that the aunt so alluded to, Mrs. Marie Burns, was
born in New York, was of Scotch-Irish descent, and spent most of her life in
Chicago. Virginia adds (HBCL, part IV): "I didn't become really well acquainted
with her until she came to live with us when I was 18. You'd think I would
recall her having 'regaled' me with Irish tales if she had, at that tender age,
wouldn't you?" Virginia further states that she does not remember anybody
telling her anything about Ireland any time, and knows about Ireland only the
few things everybody has heard.
But the article appears to regard the mere fact that Aunt Marie was living with
Virginia at about the time the latter left Chicago as warranting the assertion
that 'It seems likely that some of the Irish references used by Bridey ... stem
from the tales of Aunt Marie" (San Francisco Examiner, June 5). The
articles, thus virtually ignoring the real evidence for Bridey's existence,
concentrate their attention instead on "parallels" - of which some samples will
presently be cited - between incidents in Virginia's childhood and in Bridey's
life; incidents, however, which, even if truly derived from Virginia's
childhood, would leave wholly untouched the real case, based as we have seen on
verifications of obscure Irish facts, for the contention that the Bridey
statements represent genuine memories of Ireland.
As a sample of the American's "success" in tracing back to Virginia's childhood
various items in Bridey's statements about Ireland, may be mentioned its
"discoveries" in Madison relevant to the name of Father John Joseph Gorman who
married Bridey, and to Bridey's address in Cork, "the Meadows." What the
American's reporter discovered in Madison is that, less than 100 feet from the
house on Blair St. where Virginia lived in Madison until age 3, Blair St. is
crossed by Gorham St.; that a block and a half from the house is St. John's
Lutheran Church; and that the pastor of the church attended by the parents of
that three year old child was called John N. Walsted! But the reporter need not
have gone so far to find persons called John. It is safe to say that on the very
block of her house, or indeed on virtually any block of any city in the United
States, half-a-dozen Johns could be found.
As regards "the Meadows," the American's discovery was that "less than two
blocks from Ruth's house [i.e., Virginia's, in Madison] is a lake front park - a
'meadow' where she must have played many times."
But the American's prize discovery in Madison was that, like Bridey, "Ruth
[i.e., Virginia] ... did have a little brother who died," October 29, 1927,
still-born. The fact, however, is that Virginia never had a brother, still-born
or other. Indeed, reference to this mythical brother appeared only in the
original June 14, 1956 article in Chicago; and was left out of the syndicated
version of the article.
Another typical example of the "parallels" which the American's investigations
brought to light refers to the fact that, in the fourth hypnotic session,
Virginia suddenly sneezed hard. A friend of hers, referred to in the article
merely as "Arm," is quoted as saying; "if anyone could sneeze hard, it was
One may well ask, So what? for Bridey was not reporting at the time some hard
sneezing she might have done in Ireland. It was Virginia's nose that sneezed;
just as it was Virginia's larynx and lips that were uttering Bridey's memories.
Bridey's then calling for "a linen" is accounted for in the article by the fact
that the same "Ann" always called her white linen handkerchiefs "white linen
handkerchiefs"!! Comment on these various "parallels" would be superfluous.
The Hearst San Francisco Examiner, which reproduces the May 28 article of the
Hearst Chicago American by the Rev. Wally White, pastor of the Chicago Gospel
Tabernacle, states that the American's investigation "was launched after it was
learned that Mrs. Simmons [i.e., Virginia Tighe] had attended Sunday School as a
girl in Rev. White's church."
The reader would naturally infer from this that the Rev. White had known
Virginia as a girl in Chicago. It is therefore interesting to refer to what
Virginia has to say when questioned by Barker on the subject. She states (HBCL,
part V): I went to Sunday School at the Chicago Gospel Tabernacle from the time
I was about four till I was thirteen or so." The Rev. Wally White "was not there
when I was. The first time I met him was this summer [19561 when he suddenly
appeared at our door here in Pueblo ... he said he wanted to pray for me."
It would seem, then, that the featuring of this clergyman's name at the head of
several of the American's articles was Just psychological window-dressing for
the benefit of pious but naive readers. For such readers, seeing articles under
the by-line of a clergyman, and having been told that he is the pastor of the
church Virginia attended in Chicago, would naturally assume that he has first
hand knowledge of her childhood and youth; that his articles are based on that
special knowledge; and therefore that, since clergymen are truthful, the
articles bearing the Rev. White's by-line must be authoritative. But although
the reader is likely to infer all this from the articles, they carefully refrain
from actually asserting any of it.
The incident of the bed-scratching and the ensuing spanking, of which the
American makes much, may indeed as we stated in our account of it belong to the
life of Virginia in Chicago rather than to that of Bridey in Cork. But this is
less likely in the case of Bridey's "uncle Plazz."
The American claims that he really is "a sixty-one year old retired city employe,"
to find whom its reporters "combed Chicago," and whose first name is Plezz. But
the paper withholds his last name and address "in order to protect his privacy."
It describes him and his wife, however, as old friends of the aunt who brought
up Virginia in Chicago; stating that he and his wife would visit Virginia and
her aunt and uncle two or three times a week and that the visits would be
returned; and that he and two of his daughters would play with Virginia. He is
said to remember her "very well from the time she was about three or four until
she was in the eighth grade," which would be until she was thirteen or fourteen.
This would mean a close association for some ten years.
But let the reader now ask himself how credible is such an uncle Plezz" in
Chicago, in the face of the fact that Virginia, at age 33, has "no conscious
memory of any such person" nor even of the name' as she emphatically declares
when questioned about it by Barker. (HBCL, part IV).
Again, the May 29, 1956 Chicago article states that Virginia took her early
lessons in forensics from a Mrs. H.S.M." (left otherwise unidentified.)
Immediately after this, it prints long passages from stage - Irish dialect pieces,
and states that Ruth [i.e., Virginia] memorized them.
This immediate juxtaposition would lead a hasty reader to assume that that
teacher is the authority for the identification of the particular pieces of
which passages are quoted, and for the statement that Virginia memorized them.
Attentive reading, however, reveals that the article carefully refrains from so
asserting. it only asserts, nakedly, that Virginia memorized those particular
What the lady teacher apparently alluded to actually taught was elocution, not
forensics which has to do with argumentation or debate. And what Virginia
herself has to say on the subject of that lady's lessons is this: "I took
elocution lessons back in 1935 or 36 ... there was a well-to-do woman ... who
offered that kind of training for small groups of youngsters ... When I was 12
or 13 I went to her after school on certain days. I'm afraid I wasn't much good
- I can't remember anything specifically that she taught us" (HBCL, part VI).
Robert Byers, of the Denver Post's staff, located that teacher. She is Mrs.
Harry G. Saulnier. She remembered that "Virginia was a pupil for a short time,
but she must have been rather average or I would remember her better." Mrs.
Saulnier said that "she had no recollection specifically of the pieces Mrs.
Tighe memorized," and that she has anyway never heard of any entitled "Mr.
Dooley on Archey Road," which the American asserted Virginia had learned (CNCU).
So far as concerns the "Irish jigs," which the paper asserts Virginia learned to
dance, Virginia identifies them as having been The Black Bottom, and the
The climax, however, of the Chicago American series of articles was the
discovery of a Mrs. Bridie Murphy Corkell in Chicago, who lived across the
street from one of the places where Virginia and her foster parents had resided;
whom Virginia knew; and on whose son John, Virginia is asserted to have had "a
Virginia remembers John as "Buddy Corkell;" but as regards the alleged "mad
crush," she says: Heavens, he was 7 or 8 years older than I was. He was married
by the time I was old enough to have any romantic interest in boys." She also
remembers Mrs. Corkell, but although the article states that she "was in the
Corkell home many times," Virginia never spoke with Mrs. Corkell - nor does the
article assert that she ever did.
Further, Virginia never knew that Mrs. Corkell's first name was Bridie, and
still less that her maiden name was Murphy, if indeed it was. For when the
Denver Post tried to verify this, Mrs. Corkell was not taking telephone calls.
And when its reporter Bob Byers inquired from her parish priest in Chicago, he
confirmed her first name as Bridie, but was unable to verify her maiden name as
Murphy (HBCL, p. VI), nor could the Rev. Wally White do so.
But the reader will hardly guess who this Mrs. Corkell, whom the American
"discovered" turns out to be. By one more of the strange coincidences in the
case, Mrs. Bridie (Murphy?) Corkell happens to be the mother of the editor of
the Sunday edition of the Chicago American at the time the articles were
7. The comments of psychiatrists on the Bridey Murphy case
Life's first article
(OSAB) states that "the psychiatrists who have considered the case have no doubt
that if Ruth Simmons could completely reveal her life to them, preferably under
hypnosis, they could end the search for Bridey Murphy abruptly."
What this opinion actually represents, however, is only their adhesion to the
methodological principle that a phenomenon whose cause is not actually observed
is to be presumed to arise from causes similar to those from which past
phenomena more or less similar to it were observed to have arisen. This is good
scientific procedure, of course; but only in so far as, in order to be able to
follow it, one is not forced to ignore some patent dissimilarities between the
new phenomenon and the old; or forced to postulate ad hoc similarities which are
not in fact observed; or forced to stretch beyond the breaking point some of
those which are observed. For were it not for these limits of applicability of
that methodological principle, no as yet unknown laws of nature would ever be
discovered; every new fact would be trimmed, bent, or stretched to fit into the
Procrustean bed of the already discovered modes of explanation.
One would be guilty of doing just this if, for example, one were to claim that,
in the "Rosemary" xenoglossy case, her ability while in trance to converse in
ancient Egyptian language is scientifically explicable in a manner similar to
that in which is scientifically explained the case of xenoglossy mentioned by
Dr. Rosen in his introduction to the book, A Scientific Report on "The Search
for Bridey Murphy." In the latter case, a hypnotized patient's ability to recite
some ten words in the ancient language, Oscan, was scientifically explained by
the discovery that once in the library while day-dreaming his eyes had rested on
a book near him which happened to be open at a page where those words in Oscan
were printed. The "Rosemary" case is similar to this only in that both are cases
of xenoglossy. For, patently, nothing like what accounted for the ability of the
patient to recite a certain ten words of an ancient language unknown to him
would account for "Rosemary's" ability to converse in responsive phrases in an
ancient language she had never studied.
Similarly, the emergence - whether spontaneously or under hypnosis - of
personalities seemingly distinct from that of the individual concerned, but
which actually are dissociated portions of his own total personality, is today a
well known phenomenon. But as we saw in an earlier chapter, some cases of
emergent new personalities stubbornly resist assimilation to cases of mere
dissociation, either because, as in that of the "Watseka Wonder", the new
personality is unmistakably identified as that of a particular other individual
who has died; or because the new personality demonstrates knowledge which the
individual through whose body it expresses itself certainly never had or which
it is exceedingly improbable it could ever have had.
In such a case, to postulate as a number of psychiatrists have done in the
Bridey Murphy case, that Virginia must some time have somehow learned in an
ordinary manner the recondite Irish facts Bridey mentioned, is not scientific
procedure, but is just piously conservative wishful thinking. The kind of
statements it brings forth from some of the experts are what Dr. Jule Eisenbud,
a keen and open minded Denver psychiatrist, was alluding to when he wrote in
commenting on the Bridey Murphy case that "psychology and psychiatry experts ...
were lured into talking more gibberish than Bridey at her worst" (Tomorrow, Vol.
4, No. 4, p. 48). And another psychiatrist, likewise gifted with a keen and open
mind, Dr. Ian Stevenson, in his review mentioned earlier (RIS) justly charges
the authors of A Scientific Report on "The Search for Bridey Murphy" with
gratuitously assuming ab initio that memories of a past incarnation could not
possibly be a valid explanation of Virginia's verified statements; with evident
ignorance of some of the facts turned up by Barker in Ireland; and with
resorting to the old trick of explaining away the data by "analyzing"
Indeed, insistence on turning every puzzling ad rem question into a question
ad hominern is the occupational disease to which psychiatrists are most
susceptible! In psychiatrists whom it affects, it has a way of generating
fantasies even more fantastic than those of their patients. Whether or not that
self-styled "Scientific Report" reveals hidden motivations in Bernstein and in
Virginia, it affords in any case an edifying exhibit of the emotional thinking
which Bernstein's book let loose in the psyches of the supposedly coldly
scientific experts who authored that report.
It is important in this general connection to bear in mind that psychiatrists
are concerned with hypnotism essentially as an instrument of therapy; and that,
even if the notions to which they have come as to what is a "true" hypnotic
state or as to the "true" nature of the interrelation between subject and
hypnotist are valid for therapeutic purposes, these notions are on the contrary
myopic or parochial if supposed to apply automatically to hypnotism in general.
For the status of those notions then becomes that of dogmas of a creed, which
function somewhat as do side-blinders on a horse: they confine the attention and
the hypotheses of the "wearers" of those dogmas to but one particular segment of
the total range of the possible capacities of hypnotism, or of the possible
meanings of some of the things which occur in hypnosis.
For instance Dr. Raginsky, in the paper on "Medical Hypnosis" which he
contributes to that "Scientific Report" comments at one place on the fact that
in the sixth of Bernstein's sessions, Bridey talks back to Bernstein and even
asks him questions. This, Dr. Raginsky writes, is "hardly a true hypnotic
state;" for she ceases to be "the passive receptive typical hypnotic subject"
Thus, because Dr. Raginsky's horizon is specifically that of medical hypnosis,
and by a "true" hypnotic state he therefore automatically means a hypnotic state
suitable for medical purposes, it never occurs to him that the subject's behavior on that occasion perhaps was evidence that hypnosis can sometimes be
effective for certain purposes foreign to psychiatry - possibly in particular
for that of awakening latent paranormal capacities in the subject, such as would
be capacity to remember a life that really had preceded birth and conception; or
the capacities for telepathy or clairvoyance which the early hypnotists did at
times successfully awaken in their subjects. The success in this, of those
"mesmerists" or "magnetizers," as compared with usual failure of hypnotists to
achieve the same today, may indicate that the procedure of the former was shaped
by dogmas which, even if like the present ones somewhat fanciful, were anyway
different, and, as it happened, effective ones for the purpose of awakening
latent paranormal capacities.
The field of hypnotism is peculiar in that, in it, any particular belief held by
the hypnotists as to the relation of a hypnotized subject to his hypnotist - for
instance belief that the relation is one in which the subject is passive and
receptive and the hypnotist active and directive - is likely to generate
automatically empirical proofs of its own correctness! For the hypnotist's
belief as to the nature of the relation between subject and hypnotist
automatically shapes the hypnotist's own attitude, the tone of his voice, his
manner, and his particular procedure in the induction of hypnosis; and these
characteristics of his behavior constitute powerful suggestions - additional to
any which he may explicitly give to his subject - as to the particular role the
subject is to enact. And the subject's faithful enactment of the role thus
automatically handed to him, which the hypnotist believes is the subject's role
in the "true" relationship between the two, is then taken by the hypnotist as
evidence confirming the correctness of his conception of that relationship!
Medicine is not a science but a practical art; which, however, like other
branches of engineering, draws so far as it can on the knowledge the sciences
have so far won. In the case of medicine, the relevant sciences are chiefly
physics, chemistry, and biology. Psychology, which in its behavioristic and
physiological branches has recently though barely been admitted to the company
of those adult sciences, has so far contributed but little to medicine. And
psychiatry, which is as yet but an infant branch of medicine, has still less
claim than have most of its older branches to the status of a science. The title
of the book, A Scientific Report on "The Search for Bridey Murphy," is therefore
naively pretentious. The fact is that the more really scientific a psychiatrist
is, the less is he likely to pontificate in the name of Science, as do at many
places the authors of that book.
8. What conclusions are and are not warranted about the case
The outcome of our
review and discussion of the Bridey Murphy case may now be summarily stated. It
is, on the one hand, that neither the articles in magazines and newspapers which
we have mentioned and commented upon, nor the comments of the authors of the
so-called "Scientific Report" and of other psychiatrists hostile to the
reincarnation hypothesis, have succeeded in disproving, or even in establishing
a strong case against, the possibility that many of the statements of the Bridey
personality are genuinely memories of an earlier life of Virginia Tighe over a
century ago in Ireland.
On the other hand, for reasons other than those which were advanced by those
various hostile critics, and which will be set forth in the next chapter, the
verifications summarized by Barker, of obscure points in Ireland mentioned in
Bridey's six recorded conversations with Bernstein, do not prove that Virginia
is a reincarnation of Bridey, nor do they establish a particularly strong case
for it. They do, on the other hand, constitute fairly strong evidence that, in
the hypnotic trances, paranormal knowledge of one or another of several possible
kinds concerning those recondite facts of nineteenth century Ireland, became
manifest. This brings us directly to the question of what sort of empirical
evidence, if we had it, we would regard as constituting definite proof of
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