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Conjuring Up the Past : For a long, strange trip down pre-memory lane, you can go to a psychic to investigate your former lives.

September 17, 1993|MARYANN HAMMERS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Maryann Hammers is a regular contributor to The Times

VAN NUYS — "How long will it take to go back to my past?" I asked Terry Hopwood, a psychic and hypnotist who runs a side business as a matchmaker. I wanted to feed the parking meter a few more quarters before starting my past-life regression session.

"Don't worry," she answered. "You won't get a ticket."

She should know, I thought. After all, she's psychic. I relaxed on the couch and waited for my long, strange trip down pre-memory lane to begin. If my editors ever suspected that I was a bit of a kook, I'm sure their impressions were confirmed when I suggested past-life regression as an article topic. Sure, just about everyone checks the horoscopes occasionally, and many people submit to having their palms read or handwriting analyzed as a lark.

But the idea of past-life regressions--trance-like experiences during which one supposedly relives events and gains knowledge from previous lifetimes--teeters precariously on the edge. I was curious to know more about it.

My editors gave me a skeptical go-ahead, and I found Hopwood in the Yellow Pages. She claims 99% success in introducing people to their past selves and said her clients include Mark Twain and Leonardo da Vinci (in their present incarnations, that is).

Hopwood said most people have between 20 and 100 past lives. A few have no previous existences, and she can spot those "first lifers" right away. She also says some old souls have walked the Earth 300 times, and occasionally her clients wake from their trance with skills from former lifetimes. One person, she says, awoke to play the piano as well as he did in the 18th Century.

Fascinated, I made an appointment to try the experience.

Hopwood's Van Nuys office is in the basement of a littered, now-defunct bank building. I waited on a sagging yellow couch while she completed a session.

After about half an hour, the door opened and Hopwood and two women emerged. One approached me. Her left arm dangled through a wide-brimmed straw hat with its top cut off. Her right hand was aiming for my head.

"Cute hair," she said, fingering my bangs. I tried not to flinch. Definitely not da Vinci, I decided.

"What are you here for?" I asked. The question was too personal, but I figured she started it. She touched my head.

"My friend wants to meet a mate," she answered. "Want to take my picture?" the friend asked. She posed for my tape recorder, thinking it was a camera. With her ruffled mini-skirt and fluffy hairdo, she looked like a country-Western singer. I wondered if she was Mark Twain.

The women left and Hopwood, 40, led me to her office. In her polyester pantsuit and sensible shoes, she looked surprisingly ordinary. As soon as I sat down, she asked for her fee. I paid her $100.

I asked her if I was a first-lifer. She shut her eyes. "Ten," she announced after a nanosecond. "You have 10 past lives. A fairly young soul."

I stretched out on a couch while Hopwood dimmed the lights. "You are so relaxed, so at ease," she repeated in a monotone that quickly got on my nerves. I closed my eyes and tried to cooperate. I dearly wanted to meet my selves.

Before sending my spirit back to a previous existence, Hopwood directed me to my own past. "You are 27," she intoned, going back 10 years. "You are exactly as you were then. What are you doing? Where are you?" I struggled to remember. "I don't know," I admitted. I had no better luck returning to ages 17 or 7.

Undaunted, Hopwood proceeded. "When I count from three down to one, you will move to another time, another place, another name," she said. 'Three. Two. One. Tell me your name."

Nothing came to my mind. Then I imagined a white goat. With Hopwood's continued prompting, I tried to conjure up a human face, and finally created a beautiful young woman. I named her Teresa.

"Where are you, Teresa?" Hopwood asked. "How old are you? What's happening today?"

I invented scenes as we went along. I was fully aware I was making this up and said so.

Hopwood directed me to visit another time, place and name. This time, I imagined Peter, a burly cowboy with a big chin.

The session was over. "You did fine," Hopwood said.

I complained that my characters weren't real. I was sure Teresa and Peter were fantasies I created.

But Hopwood was satisfied. She admitted that I probably made up Teresa, but insisted that Peter was authentic. She saw him herself, she said. She promised more information would come in my dreams. I didn't ask her about the goat.

I returned to my car. A parking ticket fluttered on the windshield.

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