A Shirley MacLaine way of knowledge

In a far-ranging conversation, the indefatigable actress and author says she wants to "spiritualize the Web."

Published July 20, 2000 4:37PM (EDT)

The blisters Shirley MacLaine acquired during her 500-mile, 30-day trek along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, an ancient pilgrims' walk in Northern Spain, have long since healed. The book in which she chronicled her journey, "The Camino: A Journey of the Spirit," has flirted with bestseller status. And the widespread tittering over her claim to an affair with Charlemagne (to whom she says she bore three children during a past life as a Moorish girl) has faded to the occasional whisper.

But MacLaine caught something during her monthlong solitary journey that hasn't gone away -- dot-com fever. "Things occur to you when you're walking alone for a month," she says. "I want to spiritualize the Web and the whole interchange between learning and technology." That's where ShirleyMacLaine.com comes in.

Recently launched, it's her very own spiritual Web portal, which she says answers the public's raging "hunger for spiritual subjects" -- and features everything from "the best footage of UFOs" to a chat board about "pet spirituality."

But that's only one item on the actress's list of things to do before she moves on to her next life. MacLaine's also directing her first feature film and taking her spiritual act on the road. A few days ago she paused in the middle of juggling projects to talk with Salon.

One of the first things you did when you got back from your trek was direct your first film, "Bruno," with Gary Sinise and Kathy Bates ...

Yeah. It's the story of a little boy who's growing up in a Catholic environment and who has contact with angels. He has a father cop, played by Gary, and a mother who weighs 500 pounds and is a dressmaker. Because the mother is a dressmaker and he talks to angels, the little boy wears dresses to his spelling bee contests and it gets everyone upset. He wins the National Catholic Spelling Bee Contest, because he's a little intellectual, and the reward is he goes to Rome to meet the pope -- who is also wearing a dress. So it's kind of up my alley -- with a lot of these spiritual things and funny, too.

You also spoke with angels during your journey. Was it the spiritual aspect that attracted you to the project in the first place?

That and the identity of a little kid and how he's trying to find himself. He believes in these angels at the same time that he's having such problems on Earth. It's a darling story, and a very good little movie, I think.

Is directing something you always wanted to do?

Not really. I just wanted to have the experience of fulfilling my own vision.

What about the Web site, how did you get started on that?

Well, you know, when you walk over 10 hours a day for 30 days, you begin to realize some spiritual aspects inside you that you didn't know were there. I got in touch with a lot of past-life experiences.

And when I got back, I realized that I should be sharing some of this so I wrote the book. Then after the book was released, I saw that the hunger for spiritual subjects and how to go within oneself and how to meditate and how to align yourself with your own power was very strong.

So I put up this Web site that has information on everything from astrology to prophesy to numerology to dream interpretation to chi energy to ESP, reincarnation, UFOs and crop circles. And I've gotten, I don't know, over 5 million hits, because people are extremely interested in these subjects.

I understand you're now planning to take your spirituality on the road and give seminars around the country?

Yes. I did them in the '80s, and now I've decided to start them up again so I can share with people all the things that I've learned relating to how to get in touch with the higher self, how to align the chakras. I'll teach them what chakras are, because they're basically energy centers, which are the organs of the soul.

And when you align yourself with your mind, body and spirit, the power becomes so incredibly productive that you know what your destiny is.

How do you mean?

Oh lord, people cry and sob and forgive their worst enemy and understand why their mother is treating them like this and why did this husband do that to them and the children. And they begin to get in touch with whatever it was in the past that created this drama in the present.

And you know, I had people at the seminars I did in the '80s who were literally paralytic when they came and, at the end of the weekend, walked out.



Come on.

They did. Several of them did, but this one got up and testified to the whole thing about how she had learned to heal herself within.

Come on!

Why are you finding it so hard to believe?

How could they just be magically healed?

[As if speaking to a very slow child] Because there was blocked energy. It comes down to the power within to unblock the things that are restricting your vehicular power. And she did it.

Things like that happened over and over.

So why did you stop doing the seminars?

You know, I would have a thousand people in the room and the power involved in having a thousand people getting the energy from each other was so extraordinary. But many of them gave their power away to me, they didn't take it for themselves.

They gave you their power?

They thought I did it for them. But now with this new millennium shift, they're ready to take it for themselves and I can feel that, so I'm going to escalate what I did in the '80s and make them even more profound. I just feel the urgency to go back and do 'em.

What do you mean "with the millennium shift"? You feel there's been some drastic change from within?

Oh, yeah. I think that after Jan. 1, 2000, we had an extraordinary shift. You know, when Y2K did not really happen, I think we felt this kind of positivity that happened over New Year's Eve and has been continuing.

Now, people feel the positivity but they don't know what to do with it, because we don't learn how to do these things like meditate and align ourselves within, we have such busy hectic lives -- addicted to technology. And people are searching on the Web, for example, for relationships and intimacy, but the intimacy is really necessary within yourself. If you use that new positive energy to align yourself within, man, you could do anything you want to do in your life, and it makes intimacy with other people in your life so much deeper.

When you go into a meditation and connect with your higher self, your higher self guides you along the timeline to where you can understand some of your past life experiences and how they impact on your life today; it's quite extraordinary.

When was the first time you felt that?

Well, I've been doing this for the last 30 years, and when I went through my divorce, it was extremely painful. But when I got in touch with what that person meant to me over time, down through different incarnations, I didn't feel any bitterness or any sense of loss. We had served each other and it was time to be over. And because of that understanding of the past lives I had with this person -- and many of them, by the way -- I was able to adjust more and be balanced and peaceful with the divorce. That's when it really happened to me.

Ever since you started talking about your past lives, you've really taken a beating in the press. Do you ever feel like maybe it's just not worth talking about it?

Oh, no. I don't think they've beaten me up. I think they make jokes.

The ridicule doesn't bother you?

Not at all. I'm amused by people who think I'm a nutcase. I even help them write the jokes! I just insist that they're funny. If they're not funny, I think that's a humiliation.

And even the people who are really threatened by this are kind of reluctant to be really, really hard on me because, you know, what if it's true? [Laughs.]

Who knows?

What if karma really works! [Laughs some more.]

Speaking of karma, you were recently the butt of a lot of jokes for saying you'd had an affair with Charlemagne in a past life and had discovered he bore a striking resemblance to Olof Palme, the Swedish prime minister with whom you had an affair in this life. Do you know when something you say is going to get you poked at in the gossip columns?

Oh, sure. I've been in this business long enough and worked for 50 years with the press, I know what they're gonna do. And some of it's been funny, but you know, there were many less jokes this time, with this last book, than there were before. Because more people are into understanding that they have lived before. Three-quarters of the Earth's people believe in reincarnation. The whole East! It's Christianity that's not very sure. And I'm not convinced that that wasn't what some of the great teachers -- including Jesus -- were saying.

I mean, there are many things still left in the Bible, and as you know the Bible's been rewritten several times. I'm not positive that Jesus was not talking about this. At one point he asked his disciples, "And who do you think I was?" And they say, "Elias, Elijah" -- they give certain names to what they thought Jesus had been before -- and he didn't refute it.

And there are several little things like that that are still left in sections of the New Testament. In the laws of karma, which is really "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," it comes back. So this is the cosmic justice.

Listen, this whole country, which I find very fascinating, was based on the founding fathers' beliefs in transcendentalism, they were all transcendentalists. They were all Masons. Some of them 33-degree Masons. They were convinced of the tenets of reincarnation, except for Jefferson. And Jefferson speculated on it quite seriously and quite profoundly, but he wrote his own bible. I have a copy of the Jeffersonian bible, I don't know if you've read that. But this whole country was based on these metaphysical precepts. That's why we have "In God we trust" and the pyramid with the third eye over it on the dollar bill.

And they learned it, of course, from the Iroquois Nation and a lot of our Constitution is based on the amalgamation of nature, the rebirth and the self-governing principles of nature. And if you are a metaphysician, which most of these founding fathers stated themselves to be, you understand that self-governing is what democracy is really about. So we've in many ways lost what our heritage intended for us to be.

So it's not something to really ridicule at all. It was why our founding fathers revolted against the repression of the church in Europe.

In terms of reincarnation, do you have a sense of who you'd like to come back as, if you could pick?

No, I don't get into that. I don't know about once I leave. I haven't really completed what I came here to do yet. I think I will do it with this Web site. I want to build a huge Web site that makes all the subjects that I've mentioned accessible. So they don't have to search around the Web and look.

You know, we already know that the most popular sites on the Web -- after pornography, of course -- are about astrology, UFOs and reincarnation.

Do you think that, like pornography, those are things people are embarrassed to talk about?

I think they find privacy in the Web, and they don't know where else to go to discuss it. And you know, on my site I have this reincarnation chat board, which is really busy all the time. People talking about who they think they were or why did they love this person at first sight or why did they dislike this person the moment they got in contact with the energy of that person -- all these esoteric things that are not so provable by science but are definitely feelings that are very strong.

What sort of feedback have you had about the Web site?

Oh my lord, I've had over 5 million hits.

Do you get a lot of e-mail too?

Oh yeah. I get like 500,000 e-mails a week.

Do you read them?

Oh sure. And answer them. I've got people -- a big organization -- working for me. That's one of the reasons I want to go out and do these seminars around the country. That's how I'm going to finance the Web site, because it takes a lot of money to do this. And I want to put up some salable things to help them, like aromatherapy and the right kind of vitamins to take.

So there'll be an e-commerce aspect?

Well, mostly it'll be a portal where you can log on to learn about these subjects. I have a whole page on pet spirituality -- you know, how you feel about your pet, it's just an amazing intimate relationship of love. So what is all that about? Where did you know the pet before?

I want people to share with each other their own letters on how they found love with the pet. [Laughs]

Does the site change to reflect visitors' interests?

Absolutely. Every week I'm adding something new to it. I've got the best UFO footage in the world. And I have a lot of people contacting me about their experiences with UFOs, a lot of whom have been reluctant to talk about their contacts.

So this is what I'm going to do now. I will still act and all that, I'm doing a picture in September, but this is my life now. I really enjoy this. I think it's my destiny. So they'll make more jokes. So what? [Laughs]

Why even keep doing the acting, if this is what really jazzes you?

Well, I might not. Because this is what I really enjoy now. It's true.

But, when I do the movie, for example, I'm gonna put a Shirleycam on the set and feed it to my site so people can see how a movie's being made, because making a movie, quite frankly, is really a metaphysical experience, too.

What movie will they see being made?

It's called "These Old Broads." It's a comedy written by Carrie Fisher, and starring me, Joan Collins, Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor.

That's quite a lineup.

Yeah. And it's a story of four actresses who worked together a long time ago, and they've come together to do another project but they can't stand each other and it's hysterical because it's a bunch of divas together and how they interrelate. It's very fun.

How did the other actresses feel about having a camera on the set?

Everyone was fine with it. No objections. Well, not yet.

By Amy Reiter

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