In Paulo Coelho’s allegorical novel Aleph, a fictionalized version of the best-selling author embarks on a journey of self-discovery. After meeting a young and gifted violinist named Hilal, he realizes that she is the same woman he loved – and betrayed – five hundred years before.
While reincarnation, the belief that a person’s immortal soul transmigrates to a new body upon death, is popularly associated with Indian religious traditions, in fact it is a tenet of many faiths and philosophies around the world. In the past, the notion of reincarnation has been considered by the Greek philosophers, Buddhists, some forms of Islam and Christianity and countless others, and many people from all walks of life believe in it to this day. Reincarnation has found a foothold in popular culture as well, with the long-running science fiction series Doctor Who using a clever turn on the concept to explain the different actors who have played the eponymous doctor over the years.
Whether as revered religious belief, pop culture standby and, sadly, a tool for charlatans, reincarnation remains a perennial topic of interest. Let’s take a look at five of the most compelling real-life cases of reincarnation:
1. Bridey Murphy: In 1952, housewife Virginia Tighe was placed in a hypnotic trance, during which she recalled a previous life as a 19th century Irish woman named Bridey Murphy. Tighe’s story was compellingly detailed, and highly convincing – convincing enough that her hypnotist, Morey Bernstein, wrote a bestselling book titled The Search for Bridey Murphy. Unfortunately for Tighe and Bernstein, fans and skeptics alike started their own search for the deceased Murphy, and found little to corroborate the story. A later investigation into TIghe’s past revealed that she had been raised by her part Irish parents for the first three years of her life before being transferred to the care of her uncle. There was also the matter of an Irish immigrant who lived in her neighborhood. The neighbor’s name? Bridie Murphy Corkell. Tighe had indeed recalled a past life: her own long-forgotten childhood.
2. Arthur Flowerdew: As a young man, Arthur Flowerdew had often experienced visions of an exotic city on a cliff. Many years later, Arthur, by then a retired sea captain, was astonished to “see” the city of his youthful visions while watching a television program on the ancient Jordanian city of Petra. Astonished by Flowerdew’s apparent familiarity with the city, the Jordanian government flew him out to the ruins of the city for him to share his insights with archaeologists on site. Flowerdew, who insisted he had never read anything about the city or even heard about it until the television program that had jogged his memory, revealed an astonishing amount of detail about local landmarks and uncovered artifacts.
3. Titu Singh: Young Titu Singh began to talk about his prior life in Agra, when he wasn’t even three years-old. He told his astonished parents that he had been a married businessman named Suresh Verma who had been shot and killed. So troubling was his recollections that eventually his older brother traveled north to the city to investigate. Much to his surprise, he found that young Titu’s story panned out. Things got stranger from there: Titu had a birthmark in the same spot that the murder victim had been shot, and apparently, he even recognized his old family. So convincing was his story that the local court judged that he was indeed the reincarnated murder victim.
4. “Jane Evans”: Hypnotherapist and reincarnation believer Arnall Bloxham recorded hypnosis session with hundreds of his patients, plying them to reveal details of their past lives. “Jane Evans” offered the most compelling testimony: a richly detailed account of seven lives lived and lost. Her testimony was recounted in a later book: More Lives than One? The Evidence of the Remarkable Bloxham Tapes. Critics felt that Evans’ story was more likely a case of cryptomnesia (forgotten memories returning but not being recognized as former memories) than reincarnation, but some people still believe Evans’ tale.
5. James Leininger: Six year-old James Leininger’s horrifying nightmares of crashing and burning alive in a downed airplane convinced his parents to take him to a therapist who believed in reincarnation. Through sessions with the therapist and conversations with his parents, Leininger story emerged: he was the reincarnation of a World War II pilot who had been shot down over Iwo Jima. Leininger’s experience became the basis for a book: Soul Survivor: The Reincarnation of a World War II fighter pilot.