The notion of reincarnation is an alien concept to many Western minds steeped in Christian tradition. Yet many have also come to accept it and its accompanying doctrine of karma as the most logical answer to the mystery of evil and human suffering. Included among the ranks of believers were such thinkers and geniuses as Mark Twain, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Henry Ford, and Albert Schweitzer. Some celebrated names don’t just believe—they even claim to recall previous lives.
10 Napoleon Was Charlemagne
The conqueror of much of Europe in the early 19th century, Napoleon Bonaparte fancied himself the heir of the Roman emperors. He quite consciously imitated the manners of the ancient empire. Paintings depict him with a hairstyle copied from Emperor Titus. Napoleon adopted the Roman eagle as the national symbol. He was convinced of his destiny to rule the Holy Roman Empire and was fascinated by Charlemagne, who continued the traditions of Rome as the “Father of Europe.”
Shortly before his imperial coronation, Napoleon spent time in meditation before Charlemagne’s tomb at Aix-la-Chapelle. During the coronation, his crown was a copy of the one Charlemagne had worn, and his sword was used in the ceremony. Napoleon also held the scepter of another Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V.
It may be argued that Napoleon was simply posing as his idol, but there is also the possibility that the French emperor considered himself the actual reincarnation of Charlemagne. In 1809, he told papal representatives, “Take a good look at me. In me you see Charlemagne. Je suis Charlemagne, moi! Oui, je suis Charlemagne!” To his marshals he gave instructions: “Tell the Pope that I am keeping my eyes open; tell him that I am Charlemagne, the Sword of the Church, his Emperor, and as such I expect to be treated!”
No one knows whether Napoleon sincerely believed his claim or if it was just bombast to legitimize his imperial ambitions. Napoleon died in exile, but some believe he reincarnated once again as Charles de Gaulle.
9 George S. Patton Was A Perpetual Soldier
So as through a glass and darkly, the age long strife I see,
Where I fought in many guises, many names, but always me.
It is not widely known that General George S. Patton was also a poet. The verses above, from his poem “Through A Glass Darkly,” is a statement of his belief that he had been reborn many times, always as a soldier. The poem describes how Patton fought in the Greek phalanx against the Persian Cyrus, as a Roman legionnaire, as a medieval warrior at Crecy, and as a sailor on a warship. Patton also remembered serving under Napoleon as a general.
An often repeated anecdote is cited to suggest that Patton may not have been imagining things. During World War I, his first assignment took him to Langres, France, an ancient Roman town he had never visited before. A French liaison officer offered to guide him around. To the officer’s surprise, Patton said he knew the place quite well and ended up giving the Frenchman a guided tour.
Patton gave the exact directions to find the Roman amphitheatre, the forum, and the temples to Mars and Apollo—despite some of the buildings’ no longer existing. Patton indicated the old military drill field and the place where Julius Caesar once pitched his tent. He explained to his startled companion that he had once served in Caesar’s 10th Legion.
Patton talked about fighting with Alexander the Great at Tyre, battling the invading Huns, being a Crusader, serving under Henry V at Agincourt, and being a Confederate soldier in the battles of Winchester and Gettysburg. “Old Blood and Guts” was adamant: “I damn well know there are places I’ve been before, and not in this life.”
8 Salvador Dali Was Saint John Of The Cross
As a boy, eccentric Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali was taken by his parents to see the grave of his brother, also named Salvador. They told him that he was the reincarnation of their first son. Since then, Dali was haunted by his brother’s memory. “My brother and I resembled each other like two drops of water, but we had different reflections. Like myself, he had the unmistakable facial morphology of a genius. He gave signs of alarming precocity, but his glance was veiled by the melancholy characterizing insurmountable intelligence. I, on the other hand, was much less intelligent, but I reflected everything.”
Dali also claimed to have memories of another life further back in time—in the 16th century. Saint John of the Cross was a reformer who called on his fellow Carmelites to return to a life of prayer. For this, his fellow monks threw him in a tiny, dark, cold cell and had him beaten three times a week. It was in this desperate situation that Saint John experienced God’s love.
Dali remembered all of this: “As for me, I am not only mystic; I am also the reincarnation of one of the greatest of all Spanish mystics, Saint John of the Cross. I can vividly remember my life as Saint John . . . of experiencing divine union, of undergoing the dark night of the soul . . . I can remember many of Saint John’s fellow monks.”
This connection may have produced one of Dali’s famous masterpieces. In 1950, Dali had a “cosmic dream” in which he saw in living color an image of the crucified Christ—a similar image to the one seen by Saint John in a vision in a monastery in Avila. The picture shows Christ on the cross from the point of view of the Father, from above. This unique perspective was turned by Dali into a painting, Christ of Saint John of the Cross.
7 Sylvester Stallone Was A Victim Of The French Revolution
It should be no surprise that action hero Sylvester Stallone believes in reincarnation. His mother, Jacqueline, claims to be a psychic and an astrologer. While down-to-earth in his movies, he is no stranger to the paranormal.
Stallone is sure he had at least four past lives, and he experienced a gruesome end in one of them. In an interview early in his career, he said, “I’m quite sure I lost my head in the French Revolution.” Elaborating further, Stallone revealed, “I’d been reading about the Jacobins and that period, and when somebody at a party said how awful it must be to be guillotined, I found myself saying, ‘Oh no, it doesn’t hurt. You don’t feel anything—except your head hit the basket . . . and that’s it.’ ”
His success with his screen persona Rocky Balboa may have something to do with Stallone’s claim that he was actually once a boxer who was killed by a knockout punch in the 1930s. He feels he had non-human incarnations as well: “Also, I have been something very Central American—a Guatemalan monkey, perhaps.” He also said he has an affinity for the wolf.
As for being reborn next time? “Without question I’d want to be the heavyweight champion of the world.”
6 Tina Turner Was Queen Hatshepsut
Singer Tina Turner was first introduced to bizarre religions and beliefs in the 1970s. In 1977, she visited a psychic named Carol Dryer who read her soul aura and told her that she had a previous life in ancient Egypt. Dryer said that Turner was in this lifetime working to redress the mistakes she made in that incarnation. Since then, Turner has been convinced that she was once the female pharaoh Hatshepsut, who ruled in the 15th century BC.
Turner was informed that ancient Egyptians believed that statues had the power of communication—and that Thutmose III broke the noses and mouths of his stepmother Hatshepsut’s statues to silence her. She at once felt the connection. Her ex-husband Ike used to hit her on the mouth and nose. Turner thinks Ike was the reincarnation of the evil pharaoh Thutmose III, who was once prevented from taking power by Hatshepsut.
Turner experiences the strange pull of Egypt. “I spent holidays there because I felt so strongly connected to Egypt,” she said in an interview. “That strange feeling of recognition became very strong when I was in Egypt at excavations and saw images of Amenhotep, a pharaoh from the 18th dynasty. Something strange happened to me. I knew that I was one of the portrayed figures, that I had lived there in that time!”
In her song “I Might Have Been Queen,” Turner alludes to her reincarnation:
I’m a new pair of eyes every time I am born
And original mind because I just died
And I’m scanning the horizon
For someone recognizing that I might have been queen
For every sun that sets there is a new one dawning.
Her conviction has erased her fear of death. “I am very sure that my spirit will live on in a different place, as it has lived many times before.”
5 Stevie Nicks Was A Monk
The lead singer of Fleetwood Mac moves in a magical world of angels, spirits, fairies, and witches. Stevie Nicks describes herself as spiritual and does not follow any religion. She is convinced that spiritual and magical forces are guiding her life and career.
“I love the mysterious, the fantastic. I like to look at things otherworldly and say, ‘I wonder what goes on in there?’ ” Stevie is aware of a previous incarnation: “I think I was a monk in another life. I really do.” In a 1982 interview, she said, “I think I spent a lot of time in old churches, like a monk. I’m very comfortable around that kind of music, with that kind of creeping around, with being very quiet.” In the present life, Stevie had studied in Catholic schools and loves the Gregorian chant, writing songs in chant structures herself.
Nicks also feels she was also once beheaded in another past life. She attributes the weakness in her neck and her difficulties with holding her head up to this past life experience.
As with every believer in reincarnation, karma and the soul’s upward progress are part of Nicks’s view. “I can’t believe that the next life couldn’t be better than this. If it isn’t, I don’t want to know about it. I think that if you’re reincarnated, you’re probably reincarnated as many times as you want to come back—once you’ve cleaned up your karma, your office.”
Though quite open about her mystical side, Nicks prefers not to talk much about her previous lives. “I think that side of your consciousness is sort of its own thing, and I don’t want to bring that too much into this life. It’s like a quiet inspiration.” Her convictions have made her unafraid of death, but she strives to accomplish as much as she can before that inevitability happens.
Will she reincarnate again? “See, I think you live on Earth a certain number of times until you finish what it is that you were meant to do here. And then you go on. I don’t think I’ll be back. I think I’m done.”
4 John Lennon Was Jesus Christ And Napoleon
“I’m not afraid of death because I don’t believe in it. It’s just getting out of one car and into another.” Thus did John Lennon of the Beatles hint at his belief in reincarnation.
In 1968, Lennon called an emergency meeting of the Beatles at the Apple Records headquarters in London. High on LSD, Lennon proceeded to reveal to the group that he was Jesus Christ reincarnated. His saner companions intervened and prevented him from announcing it to the world.
When the effect of the drug wore off, Lennon never mentioned the subject again. But even a sober John displayed a Christ complex. He saw a connection between Jesus’s message and his own peace activism. “We’re trying to make Christ’s message contemporary,” Lennon said of his “Bed-In For Peace” with Yoko Ono. In the famous refrain in “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” Lennon addresses Christ as if he was his twin and depicts himself as on the road to crucifixion, too.
In Lennon’s controversial biography The Lives of John Lennon, author Albert Goldman claimed that John also thought he and Yoko had been lovers in multiple past lives and that they had once been pharaoh and queen in ancient Egypt. Touring the Step Pyramid at Saqquara, Lennon reportedly said, “This is a magical, magical place. I’ve been here before!” Apparently, he also believed he had once been Napoleon and Yoko had been Josephine.
John was convinced he and Yoko were eternal soul mates. A friend related that John alluded to Plato’s myth in a conversation: “Before Yoko and I met we were half a person. You know there’s an old myth about a person being one half and the other half being somewhere else, in the sky or somewhere, like a mirror image. But we were two halves and now we are whole.”
3 Phil Collins Was A Defender Of The Alamo
For a Briton, former Genesis frontman Phil Collins is strangely obsessed by the siege of the Alamo in far-off San Antonio, Texas. His interest is consuming. Before donating it to the Alamo, Collins had owned the largest private collection of artifacts and documents relating to the 1836 battle in which the Mexican army virtually wiped out the American garrison. Something in the story strikes a chord in Collins, and a hint of a psychic connection appeared while he was still a child.
Phil used to play with his toy soldiers and reenact the battle of the Alamo. Whenever he finished playing, Phil would have an inexplicable urge to burn his plastic soldiers. It was only many years later that he found out that Mexican General Santa Anna had ordered the bodies of the Texan defenders to be cremated.
In the mid-’90s, Collins’s third wife gave him an old receipt for the horse, saddle, and bridle of John W. Smith as a gift. Smith was the last messenger dispatched from the doomed fort to ask for reinforcements. Collins was captivated by the receipt, and it became the first item in his collection. In 2009, at an Alamo celebration in San Antonio, a self-described “spiritual clairvoyant” named Carolyn Raine-Foreman told Collins that he had been John W. Smith in a past life. “I could feel that there was something else with him,” Raine-Foreman explained. “A deeper connection. It made perfect sense that for somebody who grew up far away in England, there had to be something more driving him than just a casual interest in the Alamo.”
Collins also has photographs of the Alamo that show glowing orbs, considered by paranormal investigators to be manifestations of spirit energy. Collins confessed that the photos freaked him out. Together with the revelation of his identity as John W. Smith, Collins admits it is fascinating. “I don’t want to sound like a weirdo. I’m not Shirley MacLaine. But I’m prepared to believe. You’ve seen the pictures. You can’t deny them, so therefore it is a possibility that I was here in another life.”
2 Steven Seagal Was A Buddhist Lama
Action hero Steven Seagal has beaten, stabbed, and shot innumerable bad guys in such violent movies as Hard To Kill and Under Siege. So, people are naturally skeptical that Seagal is recognized by the Buddhist community as the reincarnation, or tulku, of 17th-century translator and teacher Terton Chungdrag Dorge. As the present body of the revered lama, that makes Seagal as prominent in the Buddhist hierarchy as the Dalai Lama.
Even from the age of seven, Seagal had been aware that he was not of this cosmic realm. He immersed himself in Eastern wisdom and claimed to have the power of astral projection. After a period in Japan, Seagal returned to the United States well-versed in Zen Buddhism and acupuncture. It became his mission to ease suffering and make the world a better place, to “plant the seed of bodhicitta into people’s hearts.” It is just a little confusing that Seagal chose the medium of violent B-movies to spread his message. But of course, the sufficiently imaginative can uncover hidden metaphors buried beneath all the blood and bullets.
Apparently, Seagal had passed the standard test of being able to identify the dead lama’s possessions. “In February of 1997, I recognized my student, Steven Seagal, as a reincarnation of the treasure revealer Chungdrag Dorje,” proclaimed Tibetan spiritual leader Penor Rinpoche. Seagal was enthroned under a bo tree in Mahabodhi Temple in India. The bo tree is said to be the direct descendant of the one beneath which the Buddha achieved enlightenment.
Even so, many are not convinced. Some have accused Seagal of bribing Penor Rinpoche and other Buddhist leaders into recognizing him. Seagal, as befits an enlightened and all-compassionate being, dismisses the accusations with magnanimity: “Whenever someone has asked me if I am a tulku, I have said that I don’t believe it is very important who I was in my last lives. I think it is important what I do in this life.” If that means decimating more movie villains to spread the word of love and compassion for all sentient beings, then carry on, Lama Seagal. Carry on.
1 Shirley MacLaine Was A Lemurian
No discussion of reincarnation would be complete without mentioning actress Shirley MacLaine. Her eccentric views make her something of a crackpot, but Shirley never fails to intrigue just the same.
Her recent musings about karma and reincarnation have generated controversy. In her book What If?, she rhetorically asks, “What if most Holocaust victims were balancing their karma from ages before, when they were Roman soldiers putting Christians to death, the Crusaders who murdered millions in the name of Christianity, soldiers with Hannibal, or those who stormed across the Near East with Alexander? The energy of killing is endless and will be experienced by the killer and the killee.” The statement understandably offended many Jews.
As for her own past lives, MacLaine claims to have been, among other things, a Moorish peasant girl who had a sexual relationship with Charlemagne, whom she recognized as having been reborn as Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. (The spirit of Charlemagne gets around.)
MacLaine also speaks of a life in the lost continent of Lemuria thousands of years ago:
I vividly remember being androgynous in the Lemurian (pre-Atlantis) time period. My state of being and that of others around me was peaceful and serene. Procreation occurred through the power of the mind in deep meditation. Each of us had male and female genitalia, but what was important was the desire of the soul, which was made manifest through connecting to the God source. Each human had an equal vibration of yin and yang, female and male.
The sexes became separate, MacLaine continues, so that one could contemplate the other more objectively. It was an experiment the Lemurians undertook, and MacLaine recalls having participated in it. From this experiment sprang world myths of female separating from male, as in the story of Eve being made from Adam’s rib.
+ Melissa Etheridge Died Of Scleroderma
Andrew Olivio Parodi
As a Grammy Award–winning rock singer and songwriter, Melissa Lou Etheridge wondered where her musical talent came from, as music did not run in her family. She thought it would be fun to know if she was Mozart reincarnated. So, Melissa underwent a hypnotic regression “as a lark,” as she put it.
In her book The Truth Is: My Life in Love and Music, Melissa relates her experience:
So one day, my doorbell rings and in walks the classic Crone, a big old wise woman who sat me down on my floor and began talking to me, gently and quietly. It was hypnotic. The rhythm of her voice took me back to five years ago, 10 years ago, 15 years ago, and then ages three, two, one. I’m back in the womb, looking for a light to be born into. I follow the light and start talking about being a half-Indian man in the 1800s. A doctor who died of scleroderma, a disease that hardens the skin. Then I go back farther and I’m an actor in a German cabaret in the 1600s. I was a woman dressed as a man, performing for a group of townspeople.
Melissa at first took it all as amusing entertainment. But when the therapist sent Melissa’s memories back to when she was in her mother’s birth canal, she suddenly felt pain and difficulty breathing. It was an unnerving ordeal, and it was only when Melissa asked her mother about her birth that she was told that nurses had tried for 15 minutes to hold her back until a doctor arrived. The sense of crushing pain Melissa felt was the uterine wall closing in on her.
Early in her career, Etheridge was told that she must be the reincarnation of Judy Garland. It was intended merely as a compliment, an observation that must have given her a motivational boost.
As a believer in reincarnation, Melissa—who has come out as a lesbian—has even weirder spins on the concept. To the question “What is a lesbian?” Etheridge replied: “The highest form of life. I heard that in the hierarchy of reincarnation, the lowest form is a heterosexual man. Then as you go up the ladder, the highest reincarnation form is a lesbian.”
Larry is a freelance writer whose main interest is history.