One burning question that has long preoccupied humankind and sparked awe, wonder, and fear since the first flickers of consciousness stirred in our ancestors’ brains is that of what happens to us after our inevitable death. Although this is a universal concern among our kind, the form in which the answer to this question comes is as varied as the cultures and faiths that ponder it. What lies beyond the veil between life and death, and where does our passing take us, if anywhere? Among the numerous beliefs and ideologies dealing with this question is one that appears again and again across cultures and faiths, and this is the idea that we are reborn into new bodies, our souls recycled into new lives; reincarnation. Although the specifics of reincarnation vary across beliefs, one thing that typically remains the same is that the reborn do not clearly remember what or who they were before, yet this is not always the case. Throughout history, some people have demonstrated an uncanny awareness of their past lives, displaying knowledge of details and places they could not possibly know of. What does any of this mean and does it show us that reincarnation could perhaps be real?
Many of the most impressive and spectacular cases of supposed reincarnation come from children. Whether this is because they are closer to their previous life, more attuned or receptive to it, or because their minds have not yet been clouded by a lifetime of new memories or their old ones overwritten by a whole new life of memories, the fact is that children seem to provide a large number of some of the more rather striking cases. Take James Leininger, who at the tender age of just 2 woke his parents one evening screaming in the midst of a terrible nightmare, shouting “Airplane crash! Plane on fire! Little man can’t get out!”
The parents did not know what to make of this odd incident, but things would get stranger still when in the coming days the toddler would begin to not only have the same nightmare over and over, but also display knowledge of World War II era aircraft that there was no way he could have known about. He would also begin to constantly play with toy planes, and although he could not read and did not watch TV programs on such things, nor did his parents have any interest in such things, he seemed to know the names of various wartime aircraft. He also knew other details about such planes. For instance, one day, when he was playing with his toys, his mother, Andrea, referred to a part of the plane’s bottom as a “bomb,” yet James told her that it was not a bomb, but rather a “drop tank.” When Andrea looked it up, she found that her son had been right, and thought it to be bizarre that her 2-year-old toddler son should know such an obscure thing. He also knew extensively about aircraft weapon systems, and would even do imaginary pre-flight checks that seemed shockingly natural. Weirdly, James also began referring to himself as “Huston,” something which he had never done before.
Curious, his parents brought home a book on World War II and looked through it with their son to see what he would do, and when they reached a picture of Iwo Jima little James froze, pointed at it, and declared that he had been shot down there. He was then shown a documentary program on Iwo Jima and when the program referred to one Japanese plane as a “Zero,” James got agitated and said that it was actually called a “Tony.” Again, when the parents looked it up, they found he was right. He also began telling them other details, such as that he had been stationed on a ship called the Natoma, that his plane had been a Corsair, and that he had been with someone named “Jack.”
Puzzled by all of this, James’ parents began investigating Iwo Jima and any reference to a ship called the Natoma, and they eventually found that there was indeed a WWII aircraft carrier called the USS Natoma Bay there during the war. Eerily, it was not long after that that they discovered an obscure case in which one of the squadron pilots was shot down at Iwo Jima on March 3, 1945 while flying a Corsair model aircraft, and that pilot was 21-year-old James McCready Huston. Along with him had been co-pilot Jack Larson, who had survived the crash. This thoroughly spooked his parents, as did the boy’s recurring nightmares that were becoming more intense, as well as his newly formed obsession with incessantly talking about World War II and his crash, and they allegedly reached out to Huston’s sister, who came over to speak with James. According to accounts, the boy was able to answer a wide array of intimate questions that only the long dead pilot could have known with weird accuracy. The story became the topic of a 2009 book on the matter titled Soul Survivor. James’ father, Bruce Leininger, would later say of his son’s experience:
“I was the original skeptic. But the information James gave us was so striking and unusual. If someone wants to look at the facts and challenge them, they’re welcome to examine everything we have.”
In another intriguing case that appeared in the book Children Who Have Lived Before: Reincarnation Today, a 3-year-old boy living in the Golan Heights area of the Middle East, near the borders of Syria and Israel, began claiming to anyone who would listen that he had been killed in a previous life by a blow from an axe to the head. Oddly, the boy had been born with an elongated, red birthmark on his head, and since the Druze ethnic group to which he belonged have a long tradition of seeing birthmarks as marks of death from past lives he was taken fairly seriously. The boy was taken through the village to see what he remembered and he pointed out the house where he claimed to have lived in his previous life. The boy knew the exact layout of the home, and began remembering his old name as he walked about the premises.
When the name was checked out, it turned out to be that of a man who had mysteriously vanished from that very same home 4 years prior. This was spooky enough as it is, because it seemed that there was no way this 3-year-old kid could have possibly known that, but things would get more bizarre still. As they were there, the neighbor came out and the boy perked up in recognition, as well as a hint of fear. The boy approached the neighbor and knew his name as well, after which he stated that this was the man who had killed him and covertly buried his body. The neighbor visibly reacted to this and allegedly seemed to be in genuine shock and panic. The boy then amazingly said that he could remember where the body had been secretly buried, and led village elders to a place where indeed a corpse was buried under some rubble with an apparent axe wound to the head. Even more impressive, the boy also led them to the place where the murder weapon was buried as well, and amazingly this led to the neighbor confessing to the murder of the dead man who had been found.
These two cases so far suggest that death seems to remain a vivid memory for many of these children’s reincarnation cases. Consider the case of Edward Austrian, a 4-year-old boy who had always had a phobia of grey, rainy days and who on one such day began complaining of a sore throat which would not go away. Oddly, he did not say his “throat” hurts, but rather told everyone his “shot” hurts. At first, doctors could find no physical reason for his severe throat pain, but it was later found that he had developed an unusual cyst that they did not know how to treat. Shortly after this, he began telling his family that he had once been a soldier in World War I, and that he remembered being shot in the throat, which had spelled his doom. Strangely, the more he talked about this alleged past life the smaller the cyst became, until it vanished, leaving doctors perplexed.
Similarly was the case of a young boy named Gus Taylor, who when he was a mere 18 months of age claimed that he had been his own deceased grandfather in a previous life. When asked how he had come back, he explained “I just went whoosh and came out the portal,” which was an incredibly odd thing for such a young kid to say. In addition to knowing accurate details of his grandfather’s life that he could not have known, he also made the rather ominous claim that his sister had been “turned into a fish” by “bad guys.” Eerily, the boy’s grandfather had indeed had a sister who had been murdered 60 years before, and whose corpse had been found floating in San Francisco Bay. The young boy had not ever been told this, and indeed it had been kept mostly one of the family’s dark secrets. Just as strange was when he was asked if he knew how he had died, and responded by slapping his head and making a face as if he were in pain, odd considering that his grandfather had died of a cerebral hemorrhage, another detail he could not have possibly known.
One intriguing hallmark of these cases is the incredible detail these young kids know about their apparent past lives. There is also the famous case of what has come to be known as “The Barra Boy,” who was a 2-year-old Cameron Macauley, of Glasgow, Scotland. The boy one day suddenly began telling his mother that he was not actually from Scotland, but from an island called Barra, which lies off the west coast of Scotland in the Outer Hebrides. Cameron began chatting away in detail about his life there, explaining that he had lived in a white house, had owned a black and white dog, and had often gone to a beach near his home where planes would land. He described the family’s car, said that he had had 7 siblings, and even recalled that his father’s name had been Shane Robertson. On a darker note, he claimed that he had died in a car crash. He even went so far as to draw pictures of the house he claimed to have once lived in, and said that he sometimes felt homesick and missed his former mother.
This was understandably unsettling for the Mcauley family, but their son talked about it so often and in such detail that they began to think that maybe he really had lived a past life. The family decided to journey out to Barra in a search for possible answers and what they found surprised them. After landing on a beach, just as had been specified, there on the island they discovered that there was indeed a family by the name of the Robertsons living there, who had lost their son in a car accident, and they did indeed live in a white house that looked uncannily like the one Cameron had drawn over and over again. The family even had a photo of a black and white dog, and their car was exactly the make and model Cameron had described. While there, Cameron was able to easily navigate the home and knew of all sorts of details only the family could have possibly known. Indeed the only thing that didn’t match with his tales was that the father’s name was not Shane.
Then there is the case of Shanti Devi, who was born in Delhi, India in 1926, and at the age of 4 began telling her parents and teachers that she had lived in another house in the town of Mathura, which was strange considering she had never had another home before and had never been to Mathura. Nevertheless, she was able to describe this home she spoke of in incredible detail, explaining the floor layout, where everything was kept, even the decorations that had been up in it. She even knew the address of the house, which she wrote down on a piece of paper. More bizarrely, she began to also claim that she had a husband and a son living there, and that she very much wished to see them again.
This was unsettling enough that out of curiosity, one of Shanti’s teachers decided to try and write a letter to the address she had given, just to see what would happen, and in the letter explained what little Shanti had been saying. A response came in the form of a letter from a man calling himself Kedarnath, who said that indeed he had had a young wife named Lugdi Devi, who had passed away several years before. He also seemed very surprised and puzzled that everything Shanti had said of his house was completely true. Every single detail she had given about this past life was exactly as she had said, and no one could quite understand how this could possibly be.
By this time, Shanti’s story was picking up national recognition in the media, and it even came to the attention of none other than Mahatma Gandhi himself, who went about organizing a commission to investigate her claims. Shanti was taken to her alleged previous house, where she explained that the neighborhood looked a bit different from before, listing some of the things that had changed and of course these all turned out to be completely accurate. She recognized her previous husband and gave details of their life together that only the wife could have possibly known. She also recognized other members of her family, such as her sister, and again gave intimate details of her family and previous life with them, which all were true. The conclusion of this investigative commission was that Shanti Devi was indeed the reincarnation of Lugdi Devi.