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"She and I got to talking, and at one point, she asked me if I believed in reincarnation," Baranowski says. "I said, 'I don't really know. I don't think I know anyone who's been reincarnated.' And she said, 'Maybe I have. Maybe you have, too.' At this time, I knew hypnosis, but I didn't know how to hypnotize someone into a past life."
His encounter with Morrow led Baranowski to hone the techniques of past-life regression, which include hypnosis and the ability to patiently coax an individual through a discussion of his past-life memories.
Over the years, he's handled some celebrated cases, most notably a woman who came to him in 1985, seeking hypnosis to help her lose weight. Under hypnosis, she began to talk about experiences she'd had as a man aboard an American ship which the Japanese attacked at Pearl Harbor. She also identified nine men who were on the ship. With the help of military archives, Baranowski determined that at least eight of the men were definitely on the ship at the time of the attack.
This bizarre story was featured in a 1991 episode of the TV series Unsolved Mysteries, with Baranowski playing himself in the reenactments. But the show also included an interview with a female author who was not persuaded. She argued that Baranowski tended to ask his subject leading questions and control the hypnosis process, rather than letting it take its own course. She also said that information about the Pearl Harbor attack is so voluminous that the subject easily could have read about the people she described.
Baranowski's second most famous regression was equally controversial. In 1997, he performed hypnosis on a Gila Bend man named William Barnes, who was born April 14, 1953, 41 years to the day after the Titanic struck the iceberg. All his life, he'd been obsessed with the sinking of the legendary ship.
Under hypnosis, Barnes began speaking in a thick Irish brogue and identified himself as Tom Andrews, the designer of the Titanic. In 1999, Edin Books published I Built the Titanic, Barnes' account of his past-life regression, and put out a four-tape audio set containing his actual regression sessions with Baranowski. The recordings, part of which Baranowski recently played on a Titanic-themed episode of his radio show, feature Barnes/Andrews babbling to unknown crew members: "Maybe we've got an hour, maybe two, and then she's going to break, right here by the engine compartment. . . . How do I know that? Because I built the bloody ship!"
At least one Titanic expert, however, wasn't sold on Barnes' story. Edward Kamuda, president and founder of the Titanic Historical Society, listened to the regression tapes, and determined that they were "ill-crafted, script-read presentations aimed to capitalize on the Titanic 'mania' that has arisen from today's popularity of the subject."
Despite the inevitable doubts that such sessions arouse, Baranowski remains a firm believer in the validity of past-life regressions. He says he has 268 tapes of people speaking languages that they don't speak in their present life. One tape features a Phoenix College student speaking what Baranowski says is an ancient Egyptian language that predates Christ by at least 4,000 years. Baranowski says he learned from the Egyptian embassy in Washington, D.C., that there are fewer than 40 people in the world who know this language.
After he started teaching community college classes in the early '70s, Baranowski drew many of his hypnotic-regression subjects from his classes. He found that most students were so fascinated with the possibility of past lives, they wanted to talk about little else.
In 1974, when he began teaching at Phoenix College, Baranowski again became a lightning rod for religious controversy. On the night of his first class, about 100 people demonstrated outside the classroom, carrying signs saying "Beware of the demon in your midst" and depicting Baranowski with horns on his head. Campus police had to help students get into the classroom.
"I was stunned, because all we were talking about was the aura, and how to see the aura," Baranowski says.
Only 15 people showed up for the first class, but, ironically, the curiosity drummed up by the protest led another 105 to sign up. Over the years, at community colleges in Scottsdale, Phoenix, Mesa and Glendale, his classes have invariably been popular with students, if not always with other teachers.
"The teachers of the psychology classes were insulted, because sometimes they had 14 people in their classes, and once in Scottsdale we had 125," he says. "At one point, I was doing classes at Phoenix College, Scottsdale and Mesa, all at the same time. I was teaching almost five nights a week, but I didn't mind, because I've been trying to change consciousness, to make people understand that we're more than just a physical body."
He says Mormons used to gather outside his Mesa house for prayer meetings, to protest his classes. He adds, "It was tough for my kids to go to school in Mesa."
For the past seven years, Baranowski has taught afternoon and evening classes at Glendale Community College. Suzanne Higgins, coordinator of community education at GCC, says such Baranowski courses as "Phenomena of Man" and "Roots of Consciousness" are consistently among the best-attended non-credit classes the school offers, topped only by an annual bass-fishing weekend course. She says she's never received a single critical phone call or student evaluation about Baranowski.