Reincarnation Case of Elizabeth Barrett-Browning & Paula Rich-Greenword
E. Barrett-Browning & P. Rich-Greenwood
Note that such physical images also reflect personality or emotional similarities.
A POETIC AND MYSTICAL PERSONALITY (Copyrighted by Paul Von Ward 2012)
A five-year-old girl in New Mexico pens a poem of love in 1961 from her kindergarten to her absent father. Treasured by him — guarded with a penny in a small box given him at the same time by his only daughter — this poem surfaces years later after a poetic soul has expressed itself through countless pages of verse. Her father now recognizes the treasure embodied in so few lines: The first poem from a very talented child.
What appears to be a stand-alone story, isolated in time and the result of simple circumstance, may be more complex than anyone could have imagined. Evidence today suggests that Paula's childhood poem, and the hundreds that followed, could have roots in a soul that transitioned in Italy in 1861.
Many people agree that poetry is a medium for soul communication as much as a work of the brain, if not more so. Enduring folk wisdom attributes the creation of the best of poems and songs to the depths of their writers' souls. What if that is not a fancy, but a fact?
This story of two lives separated by a century, but apparently connected through time, describes a case for the possible ongoing reincarnation of a consciousness that attempts to weave its extra-dimensional insights into threads of poetry. The personalities of Paula Rich-Greenwood and Elizabeth Barrett Browning give all the appearances of being two of the manifestations of a long-evolving poetic and mystical being.
Paula Rich-Greenwood resided in Albuquerque, New Mexico during 2004. Every day she drove by a beautiful gated complex. Often, as she passed, her attention was drawn to a large sign bearing its name: Cinnamon Tree Apartments. For no apparent reason, each time she experienced a visceral shiver. Some years later, she learned a 19th-century, English family named Barrett owned a Jamaican estate named Cinnamon Hill. She surmised that name explained her emotional reaction to the apartment sign. Was it a clue, like many earlier ones, that suggested to her that she was the reincarnation of Elizabeth Barrett Browning?
Paula's belief in such a possibility had begun twenty years earlier when, as an artist, she was creating graphics for a 1984 book describing the alleged past-lives of the charismatic leader of a New Age spiritual group. Twenty-eight-years old at the time, over the preceding seven years she had gradually become a believer in reincarnation, but had no notion about a particular possible past-life for herself.
Dramatically, in February 1984, Paula came to believe she was the reincarnation of renowned English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning who lived from 1806 to 1861. She and fellow students celebrated the 30th anniversary of a metaphysical center where she had been enrolled for eighteen months. They spent a transcending evening with their spiritual leader. Enraptured by the event, back home Paula decided to start a new cycle in her life by cutting her own long, dark wavy hair. Choosing a length that graced her shoulders, she changed the part from left to the middle.
Four days later, Paula was skimming encyclopedias for images to use as models for illustrations in the book about her spiritual mentor. While paging through the B section of one volume she gasped in shock at a picture of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. She says it was like looking at a stark mirror image of herself, exactly as she looked with her new hairdo.
"I’ll never forget Elizabeth’s haunting, penetrating gaze peering back at me through her cool magnetic eyes. The moment was surreal, unlike any I have ever experienced before or since." At that point reincarnation had become personal, a vivid reality. She was face to face with herself in another woman's body.
The book in Paula's hands gave a brief description of Browning's life that left her full of questions. The immediate question was "Who is she, this strange doppleganger?" Paula could hardly contain herself before running to a nearby library to investigate. Correspondences between herself and her life and the details she read about Elizabeth were surprising enough to cause her to take seriously the possibility of being her reincarnation.
Question: Poetic Soul, Two Lives?
Paula has written hundreds of poems from her teen-age years — a large percentage devoted to love. Her first poem was written at age five, long forgotten until one day her father handed her a small box with a penny inside and the poem she had written to him from kindergarten. In her early teens she wrote endless adolescent poems and verses about love, death, violence, and the Viet Nam war. Reading Elizabeth's poems, Paula saw similarities to her own themes and moods. They included Elizabeth's political poems about the independence of Italy and slaves.
Enthralled by Elizabeth’s life story, Paula read her renowned love sonnet #43 “How Do I Love Thee?" for the first time. One of forty-four sonnets written in secret over a two-year period by Elizabeth about her love for Robert Browning, its lines of infinite soul love resonated in Paula. She recalled that she too had chosen the same title for a secret poem written to her newly discovered soul mate sixteen months earlier.
After she wrote it Paula had changed her poem's title after a night of guilt, with vague memories that she had seen it on another poem. After this strange urge to change her poem's title, during the next year and a half — but before her encounter with Elizabeth's photo — Paula wrote forty-five secret love poems to a man who was part of her spiritual community. (Later she wondered if that memory was a past-life carry-over.)
Comparing Elizabeth's sonnets to her own love poems in that 1984 month of discovery, Paula empathized with the secret love poems of Elizabeth during her period of falling ever more deeply in love with Robert Browning. They evoked the same feelings Paula had writing her secret poems in the period of her own falling in love with her recently discovered soul mate.
Given that the two women lived over a century apart and that Paula had not been previously exposed to Elizabeth's poems, the correspondences are surprisingly close in genre, and in the perspectives of the two poets. While the rhyme and meter of the two women's poems are different, representing different intellectual environments, the themes and figures of speech are very similar. Any reader can easily see that both tout love given freely, with the intensity of a new experience mixed with temporary suffering and pain juxtaposed against an eternal spiritual connection.
You may counter that Paula's conclusion must be very subjective — that she wanted to see the similarities due to her belief in reincarnation. Such so-called cherry-picking or selective use of data is a problem in research: It involves choosing only the evidence that supports one's hypothesis. For this reason, the REXP project requires third-party, blind evaluations when assessing just how much commonality actually exists between works by two people allegedly linked by reincarnation. More detail on the evaluation process used in this case comes later in the chapter.
You might wonder if only similar physical appearances and poetic souls with common efforts at expression are enough to consider a possible past-life match. While these two areas of evidence are essential, they are not sufficient. There are too many look-a-likes and poets or would-be poets who could meet these criteria. A case for the soul-genome requires several categories of correspondences that point to a possible past-life origin. A strong case also requires empirical verification of reliable evidence in several categories for the subject and the alleged past-life.
Evaluating Physical Look-a-likes
Before continuing the narrative of Paula's life over the last quarter of a century, we illustrate our evaluation process with one area of evidence: facial similarities. When Paula contacted us she sent photos of herself. We selected images of Elizabeth from various sources for comparison. Using the six facial geometry ratios described in this website we were able to quantify the actual size of the differences between five images each of Paula and Elizabeth.
While not foolproof, this procedure produced an objective variance of only .0325%. Based on our statistical analyses of many cases, this very low variance suggests that these resemblances between Elizabeth and Paula could have happened by chance only about 20 times out of a 100,000 random pairs. With this strong, empirically-derived physical resemblance and the poetic similarities, we accepted the case for further assessment.
Testing whether an overall genotype carry-over from Elizabeth to Paula appeared likely, we compared their respective physical histories. We found that two major health issues and their respective histories of drug addiction appeared to suggest a common genotype. One issue focused around the spine/diaphram and the other involved the lungs. Both physical areas and their health implications pose significant and long-term difficulties for Elizabeth and Paula.
Of delicate constitution to begin with, Elizabeth was treated at fifteen for a spinal injury complicated by what was known as a nervous disorder or hysteria. Her early physician (Dr. William Coker) described her symptoms as headaches, pain and weakness in various parts of the body, paroxysms and convulsions of the muscles. He prescribed opiates to which she became addicted, required even more by a second major illness sixteen years later.
Paula had also become addicted to drugs (amphetamines) by age fifteen and continued with other mind-altering substances until age twenty-six. Her addiction eventually led to a near suicide attempt in September 1982 in addiction to a NDE from a combination of amphetamines and sleeping pills one week before her designated suicide date. Luckily, she had only a near-death experience (NDE) — which she considered a divine intervention. After seeing angels and other reassuring images, she got out of bed to pour her drugs down the drain. After this experience her depression, addictions, and suicidal urges disappeared.
Elizabeth was addicted at some level most of her life, but was able to abstain during her pregnancy with her son Pen. Paula has noted that she, too, quit drugs during the pregnancy of her only child. Elizabeth and Paula grew up in different cultures — one when physicians widely prescribed opiates in many forms and the other in an age when all ages were getting high. Physicians, parents or other adults may have enabled their youthful addictions, but their personal writings suggest that both also took advantage of the drugs for psychological issues and creative reasons.
Elizabeth wrote her brother of her longings for "an hourly succession of poetical paragraphs & morphine draughts." Scholars see in some of Elizabeth's poems opium-inspired imagery. Elizabeth's own words connect her allegorical and poetical writing to fits of drug-induced creativity. Defensive about it with Robert Browning, she excused her habit, but suggested that he might help her get by on less. Her innate talent shone brightly as the years progressed.
Paula wrote dozens of poems during her youthful years on drugs, reflecting an ethereal aspect similar to Elizabeth's early poems. Paula's were also often morbid, emotional, and sometimes focused on the horrors of the Vietnam War. Some of her short poems were written in hand-painted greeting cards for friends and family. Later in life she was able to transfer these skills into professional illustrations and greeting cards.
Susceptible to Drugs
While both were able to move beyond their addictions, their histories do suggest an apparent innate susceptibility to mind-altering drugs as a means of escape from external pressures and to better express their creative faculties. This trait could represent an ongoing aspect of a single soul's need to overcome a sense of dependency that presented an obstacle to fuller self-actualization. (The same basic trait is illustrated by their common attraction to mysticism.)
Elizabeth's second major illness occurred at age 31. It affected her heart and lungs, perhaps caused by innate frailties which could have been aggravated by the addictive medications and being closeted in airless rooms and restricted movement. In her forties Elizabeth took long open-air, arduous walks, indicating that lifestyle changes improved her health.
Paula has lived with a chronic lung condition all her life — hospitalized five or six times for acute lung exasperations and pneumonia. She has lived fearing tuberculosis and in her fifties requires supplemental oxygen.
Is this a phenotype expression in Paula that reflects an enduring genotype that predisposed each incarnation to susceptibility to similar illnesses? Science cannot yet prove that such carry-overs occur in a process of reincarnation, but evidence suggests it may.
A small coincidence may also be relevant to their health parallels. Elizabeth and Paula rode ponies as teenagers. Elizabeth's son Pen suggested years later that a fall from a pony resulted in a possible spinal injury implicated in her age-fifteen nervous breakdown. When Paula read this, she noted that she was riding horses at fifteen and had a terrifying experience. Her horse got spooked and bolted away uncontrollably with her clinging onto him for dear life. Though she was not thrown from the horse, she has a lifelong fear of precipitating chronic back pain. Did this experience revive a past-life memory?
Attachment to Soul Mates
A similar attitude toward love and the expectation of an idealized soul mate played an important role in their intellectual lives. At a subconscious level both women seem to have been waiting for the perfect mate to appear as the key to unleashing their souls' aspirations. When they perceived they had met that long-awaited lover, each poured forth their longings and fears, with a strong sense of self. Unfortunately for Paula, her idealized soul mate was gay in this life. While they had an important collaborative, spiritual relationship, it was never intimate. Their stories unfolded in very different ways.
The Barrett family moved to London when Elizabeth was twenty-nine in a state of semi-invalidism where she continued her voracious reading and writing. An early poem — The Battle of Marathon — was privately printed by her father when she was twelve. Her first published poem — The Rose and the Zephyr — came out at age 19. Over the next twenty years her poems became quite well known, including an American edition of the widely popular Poems in two volumes.
This book was a favorite of the poet Robert Browning (then unpublished) and he began to correspond with her. They fell in love (she was thirty-nine), but had to keep it a secret due to her father's opposition to her involvement with men. Over a year later they married and traveled to Italy which became their home until her death in 1861 at age fifty-five.
The period of courtship resulted in Elizabeth's best known, and many say the greatest, poetry. Forty-four sonnets written in secret inspired by her own love story were published in 1850 as Sonnets from the Portuguese. Today Elizabeth's life and personality generate as much interest as her poetry. (This author once joined the crowds that pay homage to her at the Casa Guido building in Florence, Italy where she and Robert and their son Pen lived prior to her death.)
Her relationship to Robert started with the totally encompassing love that people associate with soul-level love. Her life was dramatically revitalized. She and Robert became completely devoted to each other, inspiring one another's work (his poetry eventually became equally well known) and a household that attracted Europeans and Italians from all walks of life.
Elizabeth became known for her interest in and devotion to political causes in Italy as well as for her literary accomplishments. She also found the time and energy to explore her mystical inclinations that had been prohibited under her father's authoritarian control. His strict rules kept her at home and dependent on him for contacts with others.
In Paula's case her family situation was opposite to Elizabeth's father's control over every aspect of her life (her mother died when Elizabeth was 22). Paula's father divorced her mother when she was five. Although she had two younger brothers and later a half-brother and half-sister, she felt lonely. Her mother was loving and supportive, but allowed her too much freedom and too little discipline. She permitted Paula to skip school (who disliked science and math, but enjoyed psychology) and allowed marijuana at an early age.
Paula became pregnant at age sixteen, dropped out of school, married and quickly divorced. She like Elizabeth, from different circumstances, felt a void in life that could only be filled by the right partner. Both were ready for the ideal mate to appear on the horizon and sweep their deadened emotional and sexual proverbial feet off the ground. Elizabeth was fortunate to find a life partner, while Paula experienced a one-way emotional journey of unrequited desire.
At age nineteen, Paula moved to California with a passion for life and its hippie culture. In need of psychological grounding, she was drawn to esoteric groups appearing to offer certainty for what had heretofore been a life without stable moorings. She began taking art and dance classes and received fine art and commercial art training for seven years. Decades later she completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology and then received a Master's in Social Work.
Arriving in California, she read Biography of a Yogi and became involved with a group devoted to Yogananda's teachings. She found the nuns and monks gave her good counsel and remained with that group for six years. That period was followed by dedicated, active participation in a New Age metaphysical group for thirty-two years, and she is still currently involved with the group. Paula's first visit to that group's center with a friend was motivated by her growing metaphysical interests with healing. Almost a month earlier the NDE episode described above had occurred and exponentially energized her desire for explanations of the spirit world.
On her second visit for a special healing ceremony, Paula saw a person whom she immediately perceived to be the tall man with a dark mustache she had dreamed about two years earlier. She had learned from her metphysical studies how to attract a soul mate and her dreaming had produced the image of a tall man with a mustache in a white tuxedo. And now he stood before her.
Paula fell madly in love with this man, idolized him, and unwaveringly believed he was her soul mate. These emotional assumptions rose in her without any suggestion of interest on his part. From her heart, mind, and soul flowed the forty-six poems described earlier, followed by many more. She began to imagine the child they would have together. Then she learned he was gay, but she still loved him.
Even so, she prepared a hard-bound green book of her poems over a year and gave it to him with expressions of love. (Not unlike the book of Elizabeth's secret poems to Robert.) He returned them to her saying that he loved everyone, not any one person. She continued writing secret poems to him, but never mentioned them to him again. Despite the lack of an intimate connection he served a role in her life comparable to the influence of Robert in Elizabeth's life.
In the five years before Elizabeth met Robert Browning, she was continuing to sink into depression and ill health. Some believed she was waiting for death. Meeting Robert gave her a new lease on life. She realized her ideals of love could find expression in human reality. The emotions generated by expressing her deepest feeling in poetry dedicated to a specific person — or vice versa, the poetry generated new emotions — made it possible to set aside the lassitude and apathy she had adopted as if without hope for life.
Paula was in a similar position when she met her heart-throb. The month before she met him she had seriously planned a suicide, feeling that her life had come to naught and she should leave it. While still recovering from her near death experience, which had left her with mystical visions of new possibilities, she was in a state of suggestibility. Meeting the kind of person she had only dreamed of — as in Elizabeth's case — Paula now had someone to live for and have a child with. (Paula later explained her imagining of having a child with him as a possible past-life memory.)
Paula began taking art courses from her desired lover. They worked together on projects for the spiritual center and saw each other frequently, but his stance was one of neutrality. Ironically, this caused her to love him even more, but in a spiritual way. She believed in her heart that he was her twin soul or "twin flame" in the cosmology taught by their group's leaders. With life on a heavenly track, she continued to write her secret poems and build the confidence of self-expression.
Both women expressed their vision (even if the men were not aware of it) of the potential that lay ahead in poem after poem. Keeping their poems secret, forcing creative energy inward, strengthened their psychological healing. Their self-evolving spirits chose this path to self-resurrection.
As Paula's devotion to the desired lover became more obvious to everyone in their group, the group's leader — playing a role similar to that played by Elizabeth's father — discouraged the relationship of Paula's idolizing the man. The leader chastised Paula for seeing him as "her guru" and guided her to focus on the group's spiritual teachings. Paula kept her perception that he was her soulmate to herself. Later on, due to differences about inapprioprate behavioral patterns from the young man and, after being given an ultimatum by the leader, he chose to leave the organization.
The leader and the school's strong commitments was such that past-life attachments should be dealt with via inner-work through past-life therapy. Paula felt she needed to overcome the physical attractions through her own spiritual progression. That made it possible for her to continue at the center, but maintain solely an energetic connection to him. She saw him again twice before he died an early death from HIV-AIDS. In her current work as a licensed therapist, she reports a sense of this man's presence and other interdimensional beings/healers from a spiritual dimension that encourages and guides her work with her clients.
Interest in Spiritualism
Neither Elizabeth nor Paula exhibited strong conventional religious beliefs. Elizabeth, while residing for decades in her family's home, attended church in England but did not respond to the priesthood and religious ceremonies. She seldom, if ever, attended church after she and Robert married and moved to Italy. Paula as an adult devoted herself sequentially to the teachings of the Self-Realization Fellowship and the metaphysical principles of the Unarius Educational Foundation led by the charismatic Norman couple who claimed to be a bridge or cosmic link to highly intelligent space brothers.
This lack of devotion to traditional concepts of religion by both women does not mean they have scientific or naturalist worldviews. Each slept with a Bible under her pillow. Both are supernaturalists — sharing the concept of an anthropocentric God — exhibiting deference to alleged representatives of or channels to other-dimensional realms. They hold mystical concepts and employ spiritual doctrines to explain mundane occurrences. The power of their supernatural beliefs affect personal decisions.
Paula's teen-age life involves ghosts, shadowy figures, and paranormal senses. She considers herself as highly spiritual, participating in a "contemporary version of spiritualism" based in thirty-plus years of metaphysical studies. She has interests in channeling, hypnosis for past-life regression, and miracles. She considers herself a psychic, able to see individual auras.
A early student of Emmanuel Swedenborg's mystical teachings, Elizabeth professed a belief in spirit communication, mesmerism, and healing miracles. The Brownings attended séances and table rappings, a popular fad during England’s Victorian age. (Her husband Robert did not share her enthusiasm.)
Both Elizabeth and Paula found themselves drawn to the esoteric teachings of people like Swedenborg and the team of Ernest and Ruth Norman who appealed to people seeking alternatives to the conventional spiritual beliefs of the day. Both groups share a number of spiritualist beliefs. They include the idea of an afterlife, communication with spirits or other advanced, extra-dimensional beings, and reincarnation.
Similar poetry — Different Levels
Not only is poetry a central focus for each as a means of expression of their inner lives, but it serves as a medium to communicate with others family members and friends. Writing poetry began early in each life and they would create poems to give to family members and friends on holidays and special occasions. If this creative activity is so important for both incarnations, why has Paula not demonstrated a comparable level of technical proficiency in this lifetime? The reasons may provide insight into the nature of soul evolution with its "ups and downs."
Paula dropped out of school in the middle of the 11th grade, after having been truant much of the 9th and 10th grades. She became pregnant and married at age 16, separated in 1975, and divorced in 1977 at age 21. With little schooling and no training, Paula's copious poetry writing in her adolescence and early 20s was quite untrained. Taking only art and dance classes attending community colleges from 1977 to 1982 did not progress her technical writing skills. Nevertheless, she continued her poems, often using a poetic form for her journaling.
After Paula joined the spiritual community that led to her transcendental experience of discovering a possible poet past-life, she continued to write poetry for her spiritual teachers and for friends and family for fifteen years. During the last dozen years she has occasionally written further poems. She was also able to professionally market poems and illustrations to greeting card companies. At one point the largest corporation in this business offered her a position, but she did not wish to leave California. Her overall body of poems suggests innate talent, a poetic mind and emotional set, and an unrealized creative potential.
The quality of Elizabeth's poetry has been celebrated worldwide, but the discrepancy between the quality of the two women's work, and the public recognition of it, does not suggest the absence of a poetic, soul-genome connection. One lived in a family and cultural context conducive to development of an innate poetic nature. Paula's innate literary and poetic interests were not supported by her family and community with other values and priorities.
Elizabeth had no formal education (like most 19th-century English girls), but she sought to learn from her brother's tutor and her own reading. She took refuge in books and learning — as did young Paula before smoking marijuana took precedence. Elizabeth was an eager learner, self-motivated to explore history, literature, theology, and foreign languages. And of course poetry! She reached an uncommon level of erudition by age sixteen and continued to be an articulate and progressive thinker. Critical thinking was not her strong suit as she let her intuition or emotions reign and jumped too quickly to conclusions.
Paula exhibited similar intellectual interests in her youth, but had no family conducive to their expression. Of even greater importance in Paula's eventual psychological and mental development was the "get high" environment of the 1960s and '70s in the United States. With a predisposition similar to Elizabeth's, this culture sabotaged her home and school opportunities for an education comparable to Elizabeth's up-bringing. Despite efforts by one elementary school teacher/mentor, Paula had few role models like those evident in Elizabeth's life. Her innate talents did not have social reinforcement and appeared to atrophy.
Another Significant Parallel
Elizabeth first traveled to Paris with her father at age nine. When Paula's daughter was about that age, she wanted very much to take her to Europe, especially to see Paris and the Louvre Museum, but as a single mother was too poor to manage it. While not proof of a past-life connection, it may well be an artifact of one. This robust case includes interests in the same foreign languages and their associated cultures. That Elizabeth and Robert stopped for sort of a "honeymoon" in Paris enroute to Italy, and on any other occasion they could manage, parallels Pauls's life-long desire to travel to Paris.