How IPD’s Robert Snow became a reincarnation convert
What if the totality of our experience was like a bush or a small tree? At the core of it a trunk, one soul’s essence from which numerous branches emerge … lifetimes, perhaps. From each of these, tiny buds of experience are born and burst into a thorn or a flower. If this were the case, what if one of those branches turned brown and sickly? Would we cut it off, or would we drench the soil at the base of the tree with nutrients and water? If each of these branches and their tiny buds and needles represented part of a past life experience, or potential for the future, wouldn’t they continue to generate new growth?
For more information about Snow’s books and upcoming appearances, visit his Web site at www.robertsnow.com.
This metaphor is one way to look at the concept of reincarnation. A more concrete way — if one could look at reincarnation concretely — is to look at the evidence. Capt. Robert Snow, commander of the Homicide Branch at the Indianapolis Police Department, was a skeptic on reincarnation. He’s a hardened police officer with 35 years on the force, a witness to the aftermath of countless killings and tragedies. Snow’s work relies on the amassing of evidence, and as it now stands, the department he oversees is one of the most successful in the country. Snow told me in a recent interview that his department solved 85 percent of its homicide cases last year; the national average is 63 percent. I first encountered Snow at a Central Indiana Friends of Jung meeting in March. There, he told the story of how he became a reincarnation convert after making good on a dare. As Snow tells it, he was attending a Police Department function and chatting casually with another child abuse detective in his department, a psychologist, about reincarnation. “I think past-life regression is probably just people with a lot of imagination,” he recalls telling Cathy Graban. “Probably just people who want to blame their problems on something they can’t be held accountable for now.” Then Snow added, “And besides, if it was true, then how come no one’s ever proved they’ve lived a past life?” Graban “politely” challenged Snow to test his beliefs. She provided him with the number of Mariellen Griffith who, like Graban, used hypnotic regression in her therapy practice. Griffith now practices in Bloomington, Ill., and when I contacted Griffith by phone, she confirmed that she did, indeed, facilitate Snow’s life-changing regression. Griffith was struck by Snow’s unique experience. “In a sense he’s gifted ... He’s trained to look for details and clues.” Most people who go through a regression, she explained, if they do experience past-life memories, are not provided with the details Snow was able to discern. His experience as a cop gave him the “conscious” resources to find out if what he saw reflected some past reality. “Most people have a life-changing experience [with regression memories] if it’s something new to them,” Griffith added. “If it’s something they’re open to, it just gives them insight into their behaviors and their emotions. It helps them to understand why things are the way they are.”
Day of enlightenment
It’s one of the first warm days of April and two psychic gurus, Dr. Brian Weiss (author Many Lives, Many Masters and numerous other books) and James Van Pragh (television “medium” and author of Talking to Heaven), are presenting “A Day of Enlightenment” at the Hyatt Regency at Chicago O’Hare. In anticipation of writing this story, I’ve made the pilgrimage from Indianapolis primarily to check out Weiss, whose books I’ve read with fascination and, truth be told, some measure of skepticism. I wanted to believe in reincarnation, but I wasn’t thoroughly convinced. Weiss, like Snow, is what could be called a credible witness. A graduate of Yale Medical School where he served as chief resident in the Department of Psychiatry, Weiss is currently chairman emeritus of psychiatry at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami, Fla., where he maintains a private practice. Weiss also travels across the globe to deliver “regression” workshops like this one, frequently with Van Pragh, whose specialty is talking to ghosts. I’ve been up since 4:30 a.m., so by the time I arrive at the Hyatt, I’m already in a hypnotic state — or perhaps I’ve never left one. I enter the ballroom, which is packed. Packed! I’m guessing there are 500 people — and they look pretty grounded; no tinkling anklets or flowing black robes, just ordinary people from a cross-section of backgrounds. Seekers, I think to myself. We’re all looking for something, whether it’s meaning, or hope, or relief from life’s many pains — including the loss of loved ones. At the front of the room a chair is set up on a platform for the first presenter, Weiss, who walks into the room to a flood of applause. Music plays on the loudspeakers — hokey music, I confess — as Weiss takes his place on the platform. Weiss, unlike Snow — who is tall, mustachioed and gregarious in manner — is one of the smallest men I’ve ever seen. Elfin and gentle in manner, the doctor opens with a quip about what regression is not: “When your teen-ager regresses it doesn’t mean they’re going back in time; they’re going back to previous behavior.” The audience, again, erupts. Weiss then speaks about the ancient practice of hypnosis, explaining that, contrary to what happens in Hollywood films, the person being hypnotized is not at the mercy of the hypnotist. “Hypnosis is focused concentration in a relaxed manner,” he offers. “You never give up control.” So it’s true; my early morning drive from Indianapolis was, indeed, a form of hypnosis. Weiss assures us, “You don’t have to believe in past lifetimes for things to happen [under hypnosis].” Indeed; for many people, including Snow, it takes a couple of tries to access “past lives.”
Capt. Robert Snow was a certified nonbeliever the day he walked into Mariellen Griffith’s office. He was there only to fulfill his promise to Cathy Graban, a promise he admits he wished he hadn’t made. Snow recalls, “A captain of detectives sitting with his eyes closed and waiting to be transported back to a past life. I knew I should never have done this.” As Griffith proceeded through the regression, inviting Snow to close his eyes and undergo a series of relaxation exercises — “I was just tired and bored. I was sitting with my eyes closed on a rather hard couch, and I could hear street noises out the window to my right … the rather hard couch made my buttocks ache, but I didn’t move …” — Snow became discouraged. After a series of gentle suggestions on the part of Griffith to move back in time, recalling childhood memories at first and then moving further back, Snow continued to be discouraged. And then, finally, just after he had given up, Snow recalls, “… something happened, something so bizarre and startling I would have screamed in surprise if I hadn’t already lost my breath.” Snow’s descent into the valley of past lives had begun.
Meanwhile, back in Chicago (never mind the time warp), Weiss has proceeded to guide the entire lot of us — that’s right, the entire ballroom full — on a regression. Weiss’ voice, even over a loud speaker in an oversized banquet hall, is stultifying. As he guides us “back” in time, like Griffith, taking us through a series of relaxation exercises strikingly similar to those conducted in a yoga class, I find myself swept up, despite the coughs and shifting all around me. A man two seats over has even taken to snoring. “No expectations,” Weiss admonished us earlier. “To be close-minded precludes you from learning anything new.” Suffice it to say I see something — a life, you might say; a scene of a person who I guess is me, or at least is me as I’ve imagined me to be in some past life. This person looks real, and his experiences flash before my mind’s eye. But I don’t have the resolution that Snow seems to have when he finally meets Carroll Beckwith, the somewhat obscure but well-connected male portrait painter from the last century whom Snow identifies as a “past life.” Weiss assures us that at first it’s difficult to tell what’s imagination and what’s — ahem — “real.” As in anything worth pursuing, you have to practice if you want to succeed. If my experience in Chicago was intriguing — enough to make me resolve to make an appointment with Griffith myself upon returning to Indiana — Snow’s story is compelling, even to the die-hard skeptics whom I met at his Friends of Jung presentation.
I never wanted to be a cop
Robert Snow grew up in the Brightwood neighborhood on the near-Eastside of Indianapolis. One of 10 kids — his father married again after being widowed — Snow’s earliest memories are not of growing up to be a fireman or a policeman or any other heroic figure. “Actually, I never really wanted to be a cop,” he recalls. “The only thing I ever really wanted to be was a writer.” Snow has indeed become a writer — he’s the author of seven books, including Looking for Carroll Beckwith: The True Story of a Detective’s Search for His Past Life, and numerous articles and stories published in national magazines. But he became one by a circuitous route. After serving in the Air Force during the Vietnam War (Snow worked in intelligence rather than combat duty), he was at a loss about what to do next. His brother called him from Indianapolis; the Police Department back home was hiring. Snow gave it a shot, for lack of anything better to do. “That was 35 years ago,” he laughs. “So I guess I’ll stay now.” Ironically — or perhaps fatefully — police work became Snow’s entrée into the world of writing. “All of my books have something about police work,” he says. “It’s nice to be a writer and to have something to write about.” Snow, who holds degrees in psychology and criminal justice, has written non-fiction books about personal safety, family abuse, stalkers, cults and domestic terrorism. He’s currently working on the book Murder 101, an anecdotal book about real-life homicide investigation. Snow’s years of police work had another fortuitous result: He was able to apply tried and true detective techniques in tracking down the veracity of his memories of painter Carroll Beckwith. Snow actually recalled several lifetimes during his regressions, he recounts in the book — from a lone cave dweller during prehistoric times to a single mother who gave up her daughter in ancient Greece — but it was Beckwith who most intrigued him. As he sat in Mariellen Griffith’s office, images of Carroll Beckwith and his life in New York City flashed in Snow’s consciousness. He was able to write down 28 “facts” that he then set out to prove with eventual success. But even after his vivid regression experiences, Snow was still skeptical. “This is not something that police captains believe in,” he admits. “I sat on it for a long time. I was frightened of it for a long time.” The regression took place in 1992, he says; Carroll Beckwith was published seven years later. The memories, though, became an obsession for Snow. Finally, he proceeded to investigate. He tirelessly researched art history books, contacted art dealers and visited galleries in search of Beckwith and the image he so vividly recalled from his regression: a portrait of a hunchback woman. After reaching a dead end, Snow gave up. It was then that his wife suggested they take a vacation in New Orleans. While walking the French Quarter, the couple entered an art gallery on an obscure side street. This turned out to be Snow’s next fortuitous experience. Inside the gallery he encountered the painting of his memory: the hunchback woman. Snow’s response was profound: “For the next several minutes I didn’t move from in front of the portrait, but instead continued closing my eyes to see again and again the scene of me painting this very portrait in my studio, and then opening my eyes to see the actual finished portrait,” writes Snow in Carroll Beckwith. “During my 30 years as a police officer, I have always searched for the truth. Sometimes the truth didn’t turn out to be what I expected, but still, the truth was what I had always searched for. And now, here I was, seeming to be facing the truth I had been looking for, but at the same time trying to deny it, trying to find any way to deny the truth of what I had found.” Snow is not alone. Only one-third of the American population is said to believe in reincarnation, according to Dr. Brian Weiss. And even if Snow’s evidence is compelling enough for him to believe it, what’s the significance of discovering that, indeed, we live many lives? As Weiss stressed at the Chicago workshop, it works. Weiss, who described seeing scores of patients through his traditional psychotherapy practice, would often find his patients only healed after recalling a past-life trauma, which they were then able to move on from through catharsis. To him, it didn’t matter whether it was “real” or not; the patient was relieved of his or her symptoms. As Snow reiterated in our interview, “The bottom line is, regression therapy works.” In Snow’s case, it changed his life. “Before, my life seemed like a jumbled set of events with no meaning to them. Now, everything makes sense.” In Snow’s work as a homicide detective, he’s seen the worst of what humans are capable of doing to one another: from gang shootings to the murder of small children. Snow now looks at each life as just a moment, the single branch of a complex tree. Now, when Snow visits a homicide, he says, “It’s a little easier to deal with.” The meaning of an individual life can be viewed as part of a much larger picture: There may be karmic redresses from the past or the future that are being worked out. As Weiss said in Chicago, “This is a very powerful school, this earth.” The hardest part of it all, Snow admits, was “changing my whole worldview of how the world operated.” In the end, though, while the discovery of a larger scope of existence held great meaning for him, changing his views of birth and death, Snow doesn’t dwell on the experience. “I’m a cop. I’m not really a philosopher or a theologian,” he emphasizes. Regression therapists will say you don’t need to validate a past life, as Snow did, for it to have meaning. Yet there are quacks in every field, and those who claim to be a famous person from the past may not have the best of motives. “I think you can’t say you’re a Van Gogh only because there’s so much information available in the public domain about this,” Snow asserts. “The person has to be obscure.” But for Snow, the case is solved; therefore, the case is closed. He no longer has past-life regressions. In fact, as soon as his book was published, he was no longer able to regress. Snow has moved on with his life. Since the book came out, he estimates that up to 100 policemen have come to talk to him in the homicide department, admitting their own beliefs in reincarnation or other psychic phenomena. “Because of their lifestyle they have a lot of paranormal experiences,” he says. As commander of the Homicide Branch of the Indianapolis Police Department, Snow believes he’s making a difference, not only in his detective work, but also through the writing of books — the fulfillment of his childhood dream. His sales are enough to earn him a comfortable living, but he toils on in the Police Department. “Police work is very addictive,” he says. “Not that many people leave.” In the meantime, Snow keeps on cranking out books. “I don’t bowl, I don’t fish, I don’t golf. I write.” Smiling, he adds, “I’m actually living my dream. It’s quite an extravagant dream.” A dream with many branches.
Books by Capt. Robert Snow • Deadly Cults: The Crimes of True Believers • The Complete Guide to Personal and Home Safety, What You Need to Know • Family Abuse: Tough Solutions to Stop the Violence • Stopping the Stalker: A Cop’s Guide to Making the System Work for You • SWAT TEAMS: Explosive Face-Offs with America’s Deadliest Criminals • Terrorists Among Us: The Militia Threat • Looking for Carroll Beckwith: The True Story of a Detective’s Search for His Past Life From July 1-4, Snow will be a keynote speaker at IARRT’s annual international conference entitled “Spiritual Revolution-aries: Evidence of Reincarnation” in Colorado Springs, Co.