Near-Death Experience in Indigenous Religions
By Gregory Shushan
Near-death experiences are known around the world and throughout human history. They are sometimes reported by individuals who have revived from a period of clinical death or near-death and they typically feature sensations of leaving the body, entering and emerging from darkness, meeting deceased friends and relatives, encountering beings of light, judgment of one’s earthly life, feelings of oneness, and reaching barriers, only to return to the body. Those who have NDEs almost invariably understand them as having profound spiritual or religious significance.
In this book, Gregory Shushan explores the relationship between NDEs, shamanism, and beliefs about the afterlife in traditional indigenous societies in Africa, North America, and Oceania. Drawing on historical accounts of the earliest encounters with explorers, missionaries, and ethnologists, this study addresses questions such as: Do ideas about the afterlife commonly originate in NDEs? What role does culture play in how people experience and interpret NDEs? How can we account for cross-cultural similarities and differences between afterlife beliefs? Though NDEs are universal, Shushan shows that how they are actually experienced and interpreted varies by region and culture. In North America, they were commonly valorized, and attempts were made to replicate them through shamanic rituals. In Africa, however, they were largely considered aberrational events with links to possession or sorcery. In Oceania, Micronesia corresponded more to the African model, while Australia had a greater focus on afterlife journey shamanism, and Polynesia and Melanesia showed an almost casual acceptance of the phenomenon as reflected in numerous myths, legends, and historical accounts.
This study examines the continuum of similarities and differences between NDEs, shamanism, and afterlife beliefs in dozens of cultures throughout these regions. In the process, it makes a valuable contribution to our knowledge about the origins of afterlife beliefs around the world and the significance of related experiences in human history.
Gregory Shushan: Near-Death Experience and the Origin of Afterlife Beliefs
Whatever their source (biological, psychological, and/or metaphysical), NDEs are unquestionably part of human experience. While they share similar themes wherever they occur, no two descriptions are exactly alike. As with any experience, NDEs are filtered through our layers of culture, language, and individuality. The interpretation of the phenomenon as indicative of survival after bodily death, however, appears to be universal. Accounts from around the world and throughout history show that NDEs regularly impact beliefs about the afterlife, despite cross-cultural differences. This presentation addresses their role in the formation of afterlife beliefs; the relationship between NDEs and cultural expectations; and the varying modes of interpretation and assimilation of these experiences in different societies. The argument that NDEs are a driving force behind religious beliefs aligns well with the conference’s focus on the transformative aspects of NDEs, and how they are integrated into people’s lives.
Gregory Shushan: Conceptions of the Afterlife in Early Civilizations
From YouTube Description:
In this seminar, Dr. Gregory Shushan reviews his research into the relationship between afterlife beliefs and certain types of ‘religious’ or ‘mystical’ experiences worldwide as found in the texts of early civilizations, and in the earliest ethnographic reports on indigenous societies. The key issue is the extent to which afterlife conceptions are consistent cross-culturally, and with the spontaneous, evidently universal near-death experience. In opposition to contemporary postmodernist-influenced assumptions that religious beliefs and experiences are entirely culturally constructed, Shushan argues that afterlife conceptions in human societies are commonly formed not only by a combination of culture-specific socio-historical and environmental factors, but also universal cognitive factors and universal anomalous experiential factors. This is demonstrated by the existence of thematically consistent narratives of near-death experiences found in nearly all times and places, which in turn correspond to the widespread general similarities found in afterlife conceptions worldwide. This is despite differences in social organization and scale, and high degrees of cultural independence and geographical and chronological distance between the societies considered.
Alex Tsakiris Interviews Dr. Gregory Shushan on Skeptiko
January 27, 2015
Alex Tsakiris: I think it is an important issue because the one thing that does strike me a lot is when you look at the contemporary near-death experience accounts, overwhelmingly what these people say beyond all the scholarly chit-chat is hey man, it’s about love. It’s about this indescribable but universally relatable feeling of love. That’s what it’s about. Forget everything else…It was about love. That does seem to come through universally, and I think that has a strong moral kind-of message behind it. How does that relate to what you’re finding cross-culturally. Does it fit or does it not fit?
Dr. Gregory Shushan: I think it does in some ways. In a lot of Native American accounts, people were sent back in order to tell others about the glories of the afterlife. There are also many accounts where some kind of traditional ritual has changed, often for the better — against sacrifice for example, because during the experience the person was given a new belief or ritual and told that the old one has to change. There might not always be specifically “love” as an explicit concept expressed in these texts, but there is often change for the better. The afterlife is seen as a place of wisdom, and a place of renewal, where people undergo purification and ritual bathing. So I think it can be related, even if the word “love” or a comparable word isn’t always used.
Gregory Shushan challenges post-modern scholarly attitudes concerning cross-cultural comparisons in the study of religions. In an original and innovative piece of comparative research, he analyses afterlife conceptions in five ancient civilisations (Old and Middle Kingdom Egypt, Sumerian and Old Babylonian Mesopotamia, Vedic India, pre-Buddhist China, and pre-Columbian Mesoamerica).
These are considered in light of historical and contemporary reports of near-death experiences, and shamanic afterlife ‘journeys’. Conceptions of the Afterlife in Early Civilizations is a significant study, for it presents a comprehensive new comparative framework for the cross-cultural study of myth and religion, while at the same time providing a fascinating exploration of the interface between belief and experience.
The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences: Thirty Years of Investigation
Published in 2009
Excerpt from Chapter 1: The Field of Near-Death Studies: Past, Present, and Future
In 1975, Raymond Moody, then a medical student, published the book Life After Life. In it, he coined the term ‘near-death experience’ and the acronym ‘NDE,’ and he introduced the phenomenon of NDEs to the public and most professionals. His book marked the opening of the contemporary field of near-death studies. Even in that book, however, Moody noted that writers had recorded NDEs going back as far as ancient texts. It is now clear that accounts can be found in humankind’s earliest writings, including the Bible, Plato’s Dialogues, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
As that list of texts suggests, it is also now known that NDEs have been described across cultures, not only in the literature of Western culture but also in the folklore of Native American, South Pacific Islander, and East and Central Asian cultures and in the literature of non-Western cultures. Indeed, accounts of near-death and out-of-body experiences can be found in the oral traditions and written literature of about 95 percent of the world’s cultures (Sheils 1978).
More recently, over 150 years before Moody’s book, several authors explored the phenomenon that would later be named NDE-some of these people being, literally, explorers. In 1825, Henry Schoolcraft described an account in his book Travels in the Central Portion of the Mississippi Valley. In 1872, David Livingstone, of ‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume’ fame, described what we now call an NDE in his book Adventures and Discoveries in the Interior of Africa. Just one year later, Samuel Woodworth Cozzens related an account in his book The Marvelous Country: Three Years in Arizona and New Mexico. Before 1900, at least six other authors (Barrow 1848; Clarke 1878; Little 1881; Munck 1887; Winslow 1868) published books containing NDE accounts. Among these was Frances Power Cobbe’s 1882 book The Peak in Darien; in it, she recounted NDEs in which the experiencers encountered deceased people who were not at the time known to be deceased.
In the 19th century, accounts of NDEs also appeared in the Western professional literature of both medicine and psychical research. In the periodical literature, physician A. S. Wiltse published a description of an NDE in his 1889 article in the Saint Louis Medical and Surgical Journal. Accounts in the medical literature tended to focus on the effects of these phenomena, with the apparent goals of warning physicians not to declare patients dead prematurely and of helping survivors readjust to life after reviving. Accounts in the psychical research literature tended to focus on accurate perceptions of experiencers while ‘they’ were ostensibly out of their bodies, with the apparent goals of elucidating the relationship between mind and body and providing supportive evidence for the possibility that some part of humans may survive bodily death.
Beginning in the 19th century, Western investigators moved beyond individual case reports into collections of cases, which allowed analysis of features that appeared to comprise consistent patterns across individuals. Among these were Mormon collections of NDEs that were not published for the general public until the 20th century (Lundahl 1979, 1993-94). In Albert von St. Gallen Heim’s 1892 article in the Yearbook of the Swiss Alpine Club, he described 30 NDEs, primarily from climbers who had fallen while climbing, as he had done. In the first two decades of the 20th century, psychical researcher James Hyslop published a series of articles describing the phenomenology of ‘visions of the dying.’ For two decades beginning in 1971, Russell Noyes and his colleagues published a series of articles in the psychiatric literature describing ‘depersonalization in the face of life-threatening danger,’ including paradoxical hyperalertness and mystical consciousness. In 1975, German theologian Johann Christoph Hampe published a book describing the primary phenomenological features of NDEs; it was published in English in 1979. Indeed, before Moody’s book in 1975, in the scholarly Western periodical literature alone, over 25 authors had published over 30articles addressing NDEs (Holden and Christian 2005b). When Life after Life first appeared, it quickly became a bestseller. As of 2001, over 13 million copies had been sold, and the book had been translated into 26 languages (E. Russo, personal communication, August 10, 2006). This book ushered in the modern era of near-death research in which NDEs were identified as a discrete phenomenon rather than as a type of depersonalization, a special case of out-of-body experience, or a variety of religious epiphany. In the intervening 30 years, the topic of NDEs has continued to generate curiosity and has sustained interest such that researchers and theoreticians around the world have investigated and written on the topic. Thus, not only have NDEs occurred throughout history and across cultures but also the study of them has become increasingly international…
1. The Field of Near-Death Studies: Past, Present, and Future
2. Pleasurable Western Adult Near-Death Experiences: Features, Circumstances, and Incidence
3. Aftereffects of Pleasurable Western Adult Near-Death Experiences
4. Distressing Western Near-Death Experiences: Finding a Way through the Abyss
5. “Trailing Clouds of Glory”: The Near-Death Experiences of Western Children and Teens
6. Characteristics of Western Near-Death Experiencers
7. Census of Non-Western Near-Death Experiences to 2005: Observations and Critical Reflections
8. World Religions and Near-Death Experiences
Foundations of Near-Death Research: A Conceptual and Phenomenological Map
By Alexander Batthyany
Excerpt from Chapter 2.2
Comparative Phenomenology – Culture and Context
By Alexander Batthyany
There already exists vast material on cultural differences and NDEs. This chapter introduces several central and representative phenomenological studies of NDEs in different cultural areas. The range covered by these works is considerable and includes evaluations of NDE reports across 12 cultural groups on five continents: Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and Oceania. (No studies of NDEs in South America have been published in the Journal of Near-Death Studies, although many South American NDEs have been reported on the International Association for Near-Death Studies website and elsewhere [Long, 2010; NDERF Website].) The works included in this chapter were authored by researchers both indigenous and nonindigenous to the cultures they were studying, and some authors reported findings of interviews with near-death experiencers (NDErs), whereas others examined historical written accounts.
Beyond the individual findings of these articles, of even greater interest would be a systematic review of the data they contain. Already apparent from a mere reading of the articles, however, is that despite the diverse worldviews of the cultures represented, these works speak of the same type of experience. This result is not simply because the researchers contextualized the experiences as NDEs but, rather, because the individual experiences clearly show the typical core characteristics of NDEs — albeit not necessarily of prototypical NDEs — as currently conceptualized in the largely Western NDE literature. What remains unclear, and thus worthy of separate research, is to what extent cultural differences pertain to the actual experience of NDEs and not at least in part to what experiencers have retained in their memories and included in their reports as noteworthy…
NDEs appear to occur everywhere; they seem to be universal. As yet there is no cultural area where no NDE has been found.
Foundations of Near-Death Research: A Conceptual and Phenomenological Map
By Alexander Batthyany
Excerpt from Chapter 2.2
A “Little Death”: The Near-Death Experience and Tibetan Delogs
By Lee W. Bailey, Ph.D.
Accounts of people called delogs, dying and coming back to life, are well-known in Tibetan culture, and have been sporadically mentioned in Western studies. Now Euro-American researchers are translating texts and interviewing living delogs. Reviving after appearing to be dead for hours or days, these remarkable people report fantastic journeys into an otherworld filled with dramatic Buddhist figures judging and punishing or rewarding the dead.
The Tibetan word is transliterated ’Das log, and variously spelled in different languages, but pronounced “DAY-log.” I have adopted the spelling of the latest English book entitled Delog, About Dawa Drolma, translated by her son (Drolma, 1995). Some regional dialects use other colloquial names.
In typical accounts of delogs, as young persons they have been gravely ill. High in the Himalayan mountains, lying in a small hut, they seem to be dead to those grieving around them. But instead, they later report, they had risen up above their bodies, which then they did not recognize as their own. Theirs is an archaic example of a mystical experience of the after-death state. Delog deaths are an extraordinary tradition in Tibetan culture, strikingly akin to the near-death experience (NDE).
Next these persons’ dazed souls enter into a raucous hereafter, guided by their personal deity. They are taken to meet the horrifying Lord of Death himself. They are led on a shocking tour of Hell, where they see numerous condemned souls miserably suffering punishments befitting their sins, such as the nun who hears the unending cries of her own baby whom she murdered. The anguished sinners send urgent messages back to the living, begging family to do rituals to aid in their salvation and exhorting others to live an ethical life. The astonished travelers meet deceased parents and travel to paradise. Returning to the throne of the Lord of Death, they observe the dreadful judgment of souls with a bridge, a scale, or a mirror. They themselves are judged and given a message to send back. Their consciousnesses return to their bodies on earth. They deliver the various messages and exhort all to practice their Tibetan Buddhist religion faithfully.
Such accounts of the Tibetan delogs are astoundingly akin to what we in the West call near-death experiences. But there are revealing differences with important implications. Sogyal Rinpoche discussed the delog phenomenon in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (Sogyal, 1993). He reported that “In Tibet this was an accepted occurrence, and elaborate methods were devised for detecting whether déloks were fraudulent or not” (Sogyal, 1993, p. 331). Earlier studies include articles by Lawrence Epstein (1982), Kenneth Ring (1993), and Christopher Carr (1993). I will discuss their views below.
There are historical records of delogs and contemporary studies of living delogs. Usually women, delogs have a revered place in Tibetan popular religion, although they may be neglected by some Buddhists. Historically, Buddhism was introduced to Tibetan culture from India in the 7th century C.E. The Indian master Padmasambhava was then invited by the King of Tibet in the 8th century. In order to bring Buddhism to Tibet, Padmasambhava had to contend with the native Bön religion, and some of the resulting traditions spiritualized these earlier tribal shamanic practices. The first Buddhist monastery was founded in 775 C.E. Later the leadership focused on the Dalai Lama, who was seen as the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara in human form, living in the Potala palace in Lhasa. Although the delogs remained on the fringe of rural, archaic, Himalayan tradition, they absorbed much of the new Buddhism.
Following Epstein, the most notable anthropologist to study delogs was the French anthropologist Françoise Pommaret (1989), the first Westerner to do a book-length study, Les revenants de l’au-dela dans le monde Tibetain: Sources littéraires et tradition vivante [Those who return from the hereafter in the Tibetan world: Literary sources and living tradition]. She traveled often to the Himalayan highlands just south of Tibet, still accessible despite the 1959 Chinese invasion of Tibet, and part of Tibetan culture. In Nepal and Bhutan she discovered historical records of ten delogs from the 11th to the 20th century. She then interviewed a delog in a village in Nepal and three in Bhutan.
The other new book about a delog is the English account of Delog Dawa Drolma, who lived in Tibet around 1900 to 1941 and recorded her dramatic journeys to the hereafter with the aid of a scribe. Her book Delog: Journey to Realms Beyond Death was translated into English in 1995. Wandering Himalayan storytellers (mani pa) are also known for retelling these incidents (Pommaret, 1989). Delog accounts became a Tibetan literary genre by the 16th century, but they are just now reaching a global audience.
Historical NDE Cases
The Psi Encyclopedia
An experience clearly recognizable as the modern NDE is frequently referred to in historical literature.
The earliest known written account is found in the Tenth Book of Plato’s Republic and describes the experience of a soldier named Er, who revived while lying on his funeral pyre twelve days after he had been killed in battle. Er describes being escorted to a mysterious region and being confronted with two openings one next to the other. Judges sat between the entrances: those judged as righteous were sent to the right and upwards through the heaven, with tokens of their deeds attached to them. Those considered unjust were sent on the downward road to the left. At the mouths of other tunnels people were preparing for reincarnation on Earth. From above, happy souls reported visions of beauty; from below came the sounds of wailing, as souls bemoaned thousands of years of dreadful sufferings. A pillar of light resembling a rainbow extended from heaven to Earth, from which evolved a series of fates before those awaiting reincarnation. Prior to returning to life, each soul drank from the River of Forgetfulness, causing events to fade from memory. However, Er was not permitted to drink or forget, and so returned to life to tell the tale. (See below for more details.)
Accounts of near-death experiences in medieval times were presented by Carol Zaleski, an expert on world religions, in her scholarly study Otherworld Journeys (1987), where they are compared with modern reports. Zaleski describes narratives that reflect the four phases in the development of the Christian otherworld journey: the vision of St Paul, which conveys an apocalyptic theme within the deathbed vision; miracles of ordinary people being sent back to life, as in the tales of Gregory the Great; the full visionary journey, including apocalyptic themes, as in the Vision of Drythelm; and finally, the otherworld journey as pilgrimage, as in that of St Patrick’s Purgatory.
The typical medieval narrative appears to describe the same experience as the modern NDE, while using different symbolic imagery to describe it. Here, the journeys include a guide able to interpret unfamiliar signs, of archetypal, universal nature, usually that of an angel. Guides serve as a combination of instructor, protector and soul-taker in medieval accounts.
During the transition from this life to the next, Zaleski distinguishes a symbolic mode of passage, such as the wings of doves, Alexander’s griffon and Elijah’s chariot; or else the individual may follow the guide up a ladder or a waiting ship. Pathways encountered along the journey include pleasant imagery (rainbows, flowery meadows) or foreboding imagery (a dark forest, a thorny path laden obstructed by walls, rivers of fire or slippery bridges). Fire is a prevalent feature, its purpose seemingly to test, punish or purge. Sinners are burned according to the seriousness of their deeds; saints escape unharmed.
The bridge is a common feature in medieval accounts (being more of a hazard than now), symbolizing the danger of crossing the boundary into the other world. The bridges are perilous, obstructed by spikes, or too slippery to cross; they traverse rivers of knives, fire or foul smelling water, and narrow to a razor’s edge for those guilty of wicked deeds.
Overall, the journeys can be seen as an initial encounter with hell followed by a taste of heaven, with a didactic purpose. Experiencers are warned by their guide to change their previous lifestyle and to warn others likewise, in order to secure their place in heaven. The narratives depict those who return as being profoundly changed, sometimes to the extent of giving up their possessions and living austere lives. Changes are physical as well as emotional: reviving from an NDE, Edmund of Eynsham found that an open leg wound had healed.
Experiences of the NDE type have also been reported by explorers such as Henry Schoolcraft (1825) and David Livingstone (1872). A historical case from a non-Western culture is that of Black Elk, a Native American medicine man (see below for more details).
Early Medical Literature An article by the mountain climber Albert Heim, published in the Yearbook of the Swiss Alpine Club in 1892, describes how climbers who survived serious falls subsequently recalled feeling no anxiety or pain during the experience, but rather a calmness and a sense of rapid mental acuity. Some also reported seeing ‘a review of their entire past’.
Probably the earliest description of an NDE to be published in a medical journal is an account by physician AS Wiltse in the Saint Louis Medical and Surgical Journal in 1889…
Historical NDE Cases
Horizon Research Foundation
Looking back in the literature, there have… been many historical accounts of near death experiences in different cultures and throughout historical time. For example they are described in Plato’s Republic. Here, an ordinary soldier, Er, suffers a near fatal injury on the battlefield, is revived on the funeral parlour and describes a journey from darkness to light accompanied by guides, a moment of judgement, feelings of peace and joy, and visions of extraordinary beauty and happiness.
Hieronymus Bosch the Dutch painter who died in 1516 depicted a passage down a tunnel towards a bright light in a painting entitled “ascent to empyrean”.
Another case is that of Admiral Beaufort, an admiral with the Royal Navy who had narrowly escaped drowning in Portsmouth harbour in 1795. He had gone on to describe his experience:
“Though the senses were deadened, not so the mind; its activity seemed to be invigorated in a ratio which defies all description, for thought rose above thought in rapid succession. The event just occurred the awkwardness producing it, the bustle it must have occasioned…the effect on my most affectionate father, the moment in which it would be disclosed to the family, and a thousand other circumstances minutely associated with home, were the first reflections. Then they took a wider range, our last cruise a former voyage and shipwreck, my school and boyish pursuits and adventures. Thus travelling backwards, every past incident of my life seemed to glance across my recollection in retrograde succession; not however in mere outline, as here stated, but the picture filled up with every minute and collateral feature. In short, the whole period of my existence seemed to be placed before me in a kind of panoramic review, and each of it seemed to be accompanied by a consciousness of right or wrong, or by some reflection on its cause or consequences; indeed many trifling events which had been forgotten then crowded into my imagination, and with the character of recent familiarity.”
The first systemic series of accounts from people who had experienced a close encounter with death were reported by a 19th century Swiss geologist and mountaineer, Albert Heim. Heim had survived a near-fatal mountaineering accident himself and then went on to collect 30 first hand accounts from other survivors of near-fatal mountaineering accidents, and found that they had similar experiences. His work was published in 1892. His own experience is typical of those recalled by other people in his series:
“No grief was felt nor was there any paralysing fright. There was no anxiety, no trace of despair or pain, but rather calm seriousness, profound acceptance and a dominant mental quickness. The relationship of events and their probable outcomes were viewed with objective clarity, no confusion entered at all. Time became greatly expanded.”
He found that in many cases there then followed a sudden review of the individual’s entire past, and finally the person falling often heard ‘beautiful music’ and fell in what they visualised as ‘a superbly blue heaven containing roseate cloudlets’. It was reported that consciousness was painlessly extinguished, usually at the moment of impact, which was at the most heard but never painfully felt.
The Myth of Er (423 – 347 BC)
According to Socrates from Plato’s Republic
The Myth of Er is a legend that concludes Plato’s Republic. The story includes an account of the cosmos and the afterlife that greatly influenced religious, philosophical, and scientific thought for many centuries.
The story begins as a man named Er dies in a battle. When the bodies of those who died in the battle are collected, ten days after his death, Er’s body remains undecomposed. Two days later, he revives on his funeral-pyre and tells others of his journey in the afterlife, including an account of reincarnation and the celestial spheres of the astral plane. The tale includes the idea that moral people are rewarded and immoral people punished after death.
Although called the Myth of Er, the word “myth” means “word, speech, account”, rather than the modern meaning. The word is used at the end when Socrates explains that because Er did not drink the waters of Lethe, the account (mythos in Greek) was preserved for us.
With many other souls as his companions, Er had come across an awe-inspiring place with four openings — two into and out of the sky and two into and out of the ground. Judges sat between these openings and ordered the souls which path to follow: the good were guided into the path into the sky, the immoral were directed below. But when Er approached the judges, he was told to remain, listening and observing in order to report his experience to humankind.
Meanwhile from the other opening in the sky, clean souls floated down, recounting beautiful sights and wondrous feelings. Those returning from underground appeared dirty, haggard, and tired, crying in despair when recounting their awful experiences, as each was required to pay a tenfold penalty for all the wicked deeds committed when alive. There were some, however, who could not be released from underground. Murderers, tyrants and other non-political criminals were doomed to remain by the exit of the underground, unable to escape.
After seven days in the meadow, the souls and Er were required to travel farther. After four days they reached a place where they could see a shaft of rainbow light brighter than any they had seen before. After another day’s travel they reached it. This was the Spindle of Necessity. Several women, including Lady Necessity, her daughters, and the Sirens were present. The souls — except for Er — were then organized into rows and were each given a lottery token.
Then, in the order in which their lottery tokens were chosen, each soul was required to come forward to choose his or her next life. Er recalled the first one to choose a new life: a man who had not known the terrors of the underground but had been rewarded in the sky, hastily chose a powerful dictatorship. Upon further inspection he realized that, among other atrocities, he was destined to eat his own children. Er observed that this was often the case of those who had been through the path in the sky, whereas those who had been punished often chose a better life. Many preferred a life different from their previous experience. Animals chose human lives while humans often chose the apparently easier lives of animals.
After this, each soul was assigned a guardian spirit to help him or her through their life. They passed under the throne of Lady Necessity, then traveled to the Plane of Oblivion, where the River of Forgetfulness (River Lethe) flowed. Each soul was required to drink some of the water, in varying quantities; again, Er only watched. As they drank, each soul forgot everything. As they lay down at night to sleep each soul was lifted up into the night in various directions for rebirth, completing their journey. Er remembered nothing of the journey back to his body. He opened his eyes to find himself lying on the funeral pyre early in the morning, able to recall his journey through the afterlife.
Julian of Norwich (1342 – 1416)
Here is a fantastic 2016 documentary from the BBC: “The Search for the Lost Manuscript: Julian of Norwich”
Who was Julian of Norwich? And why is she now regarded as one of England’s most important mystics? Here’s how Wikipedia describes her:
“Julian of Norwich (c. 8 November 1342 – c. 1416), also called Juliana of Norwich, was an English anchoress and an important Christian mystic and theologian. Her Revelations of Divine Love, written around 1395, is the first book in the English language known to have been written by a woman. Julian was also known as a spiritual authority within her community, where she also served as a counsellor and advisor…
“When she was 30 and living at home, Julian suffered from a serious illness. Since she was presumed to be near death, her curate came to administer the last rites of the Catholic Church on 8 May 1373. As part of the ritual, he held a crucifix in the air above the foot of her bed. Julian reported that she was losing her sight and felt physically numb, but as she gazed on the crucifix she saw the figure of Jesus begin to bleed. Over the next several hours, she had a series of sixteen visions of Jesus Christ, which ended by the time she recovered from her illness on 13 May 1373…”
Twenty to thirty years later, Julian recorded her experiences in a book called Revelations of Divine Love. Setting aside the fact that Julian was the first woman to write a book in the English language, she is also remarkable for the visions she received and having the courage to write them down. That’s because the visions she received challenged the church’s teachings at the time, which was an exceedingly dangerous thing to do. Instead of encountering an angry, condemning God, Julian encountered a God who loved everyone and insisted that all the suffering human beings encounter in life would, in the end, turn out well:
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
To learn more about Julian of Norwich, go here.
Oldest Medical Report of Near-Death Experience Discovered (1740)
By Bahar Gholipour
July 24, 2014
Reports of people having “near-death” experiences go back to antiquity, but the oldest medical description of the phenomenon may come from a French physician around 1740, a researcher has found.
The report was written by Pierre-Jean du Monchaux, a military physician from northern France, who described a case of near-death experience in his book “Anecdotes de Médecine.” Monchaux speculated that too much blood flow to the brain could explain the mystical feelings people report after coming back to consciousness.
The description was recently found by Dr. Phillippe Charlier, a medical doctor and archeologist, who is well known in France for his forensic work on the remains of historical figures. Charlier unexpectedly discovered the medical description in a book he had bought for 1 euro (a little more than $1) in an antique shop.
“I was just interested in the history of medicine, and medical practices in the past, especially during this period, the 18th century,” Charlier told Live Science. “The book itself was not an important one in the history of medicine, but from a historian’s point of view, the possibility of doing retrospective diagnosis on such books, it’s something quite interesting.”
To his surprise, Charlier found a modern description of near-death experience from a time in which most people relied on religion to explain near-death experiences.
The book describes the case of a patient, a famous apothecary (pharmacist) in Paris, who temporarily fell unconscious and then reported that he saw a light so pure and bright that he thought he must have been in heaven.
Today, near-death experience is described as a profound psychological event with transcendental and mystical elements that occurs after a life-threatening crisis, Charlier said. People who experience the phenomenon report vivid and emotional sensations including positive emotions, feeling as though they have left their bodies, a sensation of moving through a tunnel, and the experiences of communicating with light and meeting with deceased people.
Charlier compared the nearly 250-year-old description with today’s “Greyson criteria,” which is a scale that a psychiatrist developed in the 1980s to measure the depth of people’s near-death experiences, so that these cases could be uniformly studied. The scale includes questions about the perceptions people report during near-death experiences, for example altered sense of time, life review and feelings of joy. A score of 7 or higher out of a possible 32 is classified as a near-death experience.
Although the data in the old book were limited, Charlier determined that the patient would have scored at least 12/32 on the Greyson criteria, Charlier said. He published his findings last month in the journal Resuscitation.
In the 18th-century case description, Monchaux also compared his patient with other people who reported similar experiences, caused by drowning, hypothermia and hanging.
The physician offered a medical explanation for the bizarre sensations, too, but his explanation was the opposite of what modern day physicians name as the likely cause of near-death experience, Charlier said. Monchaux speculated that in all of reported cases of near-death experience, the patients were left with little blood in the veins in their skin, and abundant blood flowing in the vessels within their brains, giving rise to the vivid and strong sensations.
However, modern researchers think it is likely the lack of blood flow and oxygen to the brain that puts the organ in a state of full alarm and causes the sensations associated with near-death experiences.
Emanuel Swedenborg (1688 – 1772)
Emanuel Swedenborg was a Swedish scientist, philosopher, theologian, revelator, and Christian mystic. He is best known for his book on the afterlife, Heaven and Hell (1758). Swedenborg had a prolific career as an inventor and scientist. In 1741, at the age of 53, he entered into a spiritual phase in which he began to experience dreams and visions, beginning on Easter weekend of April 6, 1744. This culminated in a “spiritual awakening,” in which he received revelation that he was appointed by the Lord to write a heavenly New Church Doctrine to reform Christianity. According to the New Church Doctrine the Lord had opened Swedenborg’s spiritual eyes, so that from then on he could freely visit heaven and hell, and talk with angels, demons and other spirits. Swedenborg’s spiritual experiences lasted for 29 years until his death at age 84. Along with his remarkable spiritual and scientific accomplishments, Swedenborg is considered to be one of the most intelligent human beings to ever live.
To learn more about Swedenborg, go here.
Black Elk Speaks: Visions Of The Other World
By Black Elk (1863 – 1950)
“As I danced, with Good Thunder and Kicking Bear holding my arms between them, I had the queer feeling that I knew and I seemed to be lifted clear off the ground. I did not have a vision all that first day. That night I thought about the other world and that the Wanekia himself was with my people there and maybe the holy tree of my vision was really blooming yonder right then, and that it was there my vision had already come true. From the center of the earth I had been shown all good and beautiful things in a great circle of peace, and maybe this land of my vision was where all my people were going, and there they would live and prosper where no Wasichus were or could ever be.
“Before we started dancing next day, Kicking Bear offered a prayer, saying: ‘Father, Great Spirit, behold these people! They shall go forth today to see their relatives, and yonder they shall be happy, day after day, and their happiness will not end.’
“Then we began dancing, and most of the people wailed and cried as they danced, holding hands in a circle; but some of them laughed with happiness. Now and then some one would fall down like dead, and others would go staggering around and panting before they would fall. While they were lying there like dead they were having visions, and we kept on dancing and singing, and many were crying for the old way of living and that the old religion might be with them again.
“After awhile I began to feel very queer. First, my legs seemed to be full of ants. I was dancing with my eyes closed, as the others did. Suddenly it seemed that I was swinging off the ground and not touching it any longer. The queer feeling came up from my legs and was in my heart now. It seemed I would glide forward like a swing, and then glide back again in longer and longer swoops. There was no fear with this, just a growing happiness.
“I must have fallen down, but I felt as though I had fallen off a swing when it was going forward, and I was floating head first through the air. My arms were stretched out, and all I saw at first was a single eagle feather right in front of me. Then the feather was a spotted eagle dancing on ahead of me with his wings fluttering, and he was making the shrill whistle that is his. My body did not move at all, but I looked ahead and floated fast toward where I looked.
“There was a ridge right in front of me, and I thought I was going to run into it, but I went right over it. On the other side of the ridge I could see a beautiful land where many, many people were camping in a great circle. I could see that they were happy and had plenty. Everywhere there were drying racks full of meat. The air was clear and beautiful with a living light that was everywhere. All around the circle, feeding on the green, green grass, were fat and happy horses; and animals of all kinds were scattered all over the green hills, and singing hunters were returning with their meat.
“I floated over the tepees and began to come down feet first at the center of the hoop where I could see a beautiful tree all green and full of flowers. When I touched the ground, two men were coming toward me, and they wore holy shirts made and painted in a certain way. They came to me and said: ‘It is not yet time to see your father, who is happy. You have work to do. We will give you something that you shall carry back to your people, and with it they shall come to see their loved ones.’
“I knew it was the way their holy shirts were made that they wanted me to take back. They told me to return at once, and then I was out in the air again, floating fast as before. When I came right over the dancing place, the people were still dancing, but it seemed they were not making any sound. I had hoped to see the withered tree in bloom, but it was dead.
“Then I fell back into my body, and as I did this I heard voices all around and above me, and I was sitting on the ground. Many were crowding around, asking me what vision I had seen. I told them just what I had seen, and what I brought back was the memory of the holy shirts the two men wore…”
DEFENDING THE FAITH: ‘THEY WERE DEAD – BUT … THEY WERE ALL SO HAPPY!’
By Daniel Peterson
The Deseret News
October 9, 2014
Many years ago, in the village of Kona on the big island of Hawaii, a woman named Kalima grew ill and died, leaving behind a bereaved family, including a husband and young children. Having prepared her grave and readied her body for burial, kinfolk and friends gathered about her corpse for their last farewell.
Suddenly, though, she moved, took a long breath, and looked around.
“I have something strange to tell you,” she announced. And, several days later, she finally felt strong enough to share her story.
As they knew, she said, she had died. But, even while dead, she was still alive. She found herself standing beside her body, looking down on it, in a different body that nonetheless resembled it in appearance. After a few minutes, though, she left.
She walked through nearby villages. But these villages were different — much larger than she had known them to be, with far more people. “Some of them I knew,” she said, “and they spoke to me — although this seemed strange, for I knew they were dead — but nearly all were strangers. They were all so happy! They seemed not to have a care; nothing to trouble them. Joy was in every face, and happy laughter and bright, loving words were on every tongue.”
“I felt so full of joy, too,” she recalled, “that my heart sang within me, and I was glad to be dead.”
But then, when she reached South Point — the sacred promontory where Polynesians first arrived in the Hawaiian Islands — the people there told her, “You must go back to your body. You are not to die yet.”
However, she didn’t want to go back, and she begged them to let her stay. But they refused, declaring that if she didn’t return willingly, they would force her. Which, as it happened, is precisely what they did.
Finally, she recounted, “I reached my home and stood by my body again. I looked at it and hated it. Was that my body? What a horrid, loathsome thing it was to me now, since I had seen so many beautiful, happy creatures! Must I go and live in that thing again? No, I would not go into it; I rebelled and cried for mercy.”
“You must go into it,” insisted those around her. “We will make you.” And, thereupon, they pushed her, head first, through her feet into her lifeless body. Her continued fighting and struggling was of no avail. So, eventually, she resigned herself to the process.
“Then,” Kalima said, “my body came to life again, and I opened my eyes. But I wish I could have stayed with those happy people. It was cruel to make me come back. My other body was so beautiful, and I was so happy, so happy!”
This story is probably impossible to verify. What you’ve just read is my shortened retelling of a retelling by one “Mrs. E.N. Haley,” which was published in 1907 in a book edited by the pioneer Honolulu publisher and antiquarian Thomas Thrum (1842-1932) under the title of “Hawaiian Folk Tales.” No details are provided from which to identify Kalima, nor are any hints given as to when her purported experience occurred or how Mrs. Haley learned of it.
Nonetheless, whatever its precise provenance, the story seems both remarkable and significant. Although it was published nearly seven decades before Raymond Moody’s famous 1975 best-seller “Life After Life” launched the modern fascination with near-death experiences, or NDEs, Kalima’s account matches standard models of the NDE in many specific ways.
Her out-of-body experience, seeing her dead physical body (and viewing it with distaste), a spiritual body (similar in appearance to her earthly one), meetings with very happy people known to be dead, an apparent boundary beyond which she may not pass, the idea that it wasn’t “her time,” her being ordered to return to her body and her reluctance to do so — all of these are abundantly paralleled in literally hundreds of such accounts that I’ve read, and probably in thousands more that I haven’t.
Yet, obviously, neither Kalima nor Mrs. Haley could possibly have been influenced by the reports that have been published in scores of books and hundreds of articles since 1975. In other words, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to dismiss this story as mere fantasy.
Arthur Yensen’s 1932 Near-Death Experience
In August of 1932, Arthur Yensen, a university graduate, geologist, and staunch -materialist -turned -syndicated -cartoonist, decided to take some time off to research his weekly cartoon strip, “Adventurous Willie Wispo.” Since his main character was a hobo, Yensen became a hobo for a time, blending in with the over sixteen million unemployed at that time in our nation’s Great Depression. He bummed rides from Chicago through Minnesota, until a young man in a convertible coupe picked him up on the way to Winnipeg. Going too fast for the road conditions, the car hit a three-foot-high ridge of oiled gravel and flipped into a series of violent somersaults. Both men were catapulted through the cloth top before the car smashed into a ditch. The driver escaped unharmed, but Yensen was injured, losing consciousness just as two female spectators rushed to his aid. After seeing the afterlife during this near-death experience, he later learned that telling others about his NDE often brought criticism, especially from the church. But there were those who would listen and as time wore on, more and more people would ask him about it. Finally in 1955, Arthur Yensen published a report of his near-death experience after much public interest. His booklet entitled “I Saw Heaven” (now out-of-print, but a photocopy of the booklet is available for $5 from Eric Yensen, 1415 E. Oak St., Caldwell, Idaho 83605 or email email@example.com) describes his NDE and gives answers to questions he was always asked.
For more information about Yensen and his near-death experience, go here.
Evidence of the Afterlife
By Dr. Jeffrey Long
Published in 2010, this study examines 1,300 NDEs from around the world
“The core NDE experience is the same all over the world. Whether it’s a near-death experience of a Hindu in India, a Muslim in Egypt, or a Christian in the United States, the same core elements are present in all, including out-of-body experience, tunnel experience, feelings of peace, beings of light, a life review, reluctance to return, and transformation after the NDE. In short, the experience of dying appears similar among all humans, no matter where they live.”
“The results of the Near-Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF) study… finds that what people discovered during their near-death experience about God, love, afterlife, reason for our earthly existence, earthly hardships, forgiveness, and many other concepts is strikingly consistent across cultures, races, and creeds. Also, these discoveries are generally not what would have been expected from preexisting societal beliefs, religious teachings, or any other source of earthly knowledge.”
To download a three-page summary of the most important findings of Dr. Long’s research, click here (pdf).
Dr. Long’s organization, the Near-Death Experience Research Foundation, continues to collect NDEs from around the world. It currently includes over 4,000 near-death experience accounts in over 23 languages.
God and the Afterlife: The Groundbreaking New Evidence for God and Near-Death Experience
By Jeffrey Long, Paul Perry
Published in 2016, this book examines 3,000 NDEs from around the world
Based on the largest near-death experience study in history, involving 3,000 people from diverse backgrounds and religious traditions, including nonbelievers, God and the Afterlife presents startling evidence that a Supreme Being exists — and there is amazing consistency about what he is like.
In his bestselling book Evidence of the Afterlife, Dr. Jefferey Long showed us that there is a strong scientific case for life after death. Now, he goes further, revealing evidence that God is real. At the Near Death Experience Research Foundation, Dr. Long studied the stories of thousands of people who have journeyed to the afterlife. Though there are a wide variety of differences in how people experience NDEs — some see a bright light, others go through a tunnel, still others experience a review of their life — he discovered that many of the accounts shared a remarkably similar description of God; a Supreme Being who radiated love and grace.
Expanding on his analysis begun in Evidence of the Afterlife, God and the Afterlife is the first intensive exploration of the people who have reported going to the frontier of heaven, met God, and have returned to share their journey. Groundbreaking and profound, it provides new insight into the human experience and expands our notions of mortality, offering possibility, hope, and comfort.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross On Near-Death Experiences
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross began an in-depth study of experiences reported by patients who had been resuscitated after having been declared dead. Together with hospital co-worker Reverend Gaines, she collected accounts of near-death experiences from around the world. To be certain the results contained no religious or cultural bias, they collected data from a variety of cultures including Eskimos, Hawaiians and Australian Aboriginals, and from people with various belief systems such as Hindus, Buddhists, Protestants, Catholics, Jews, agnostics and atheists. Both Ross and Gaines were astounded by the results. The similarities to those they had heard from their own patients could not be ignored. In a 1977 lecture, she shared the results of her world-wide study:
“They are all fully aware of shedding their physical body, and death, as we understand it in scientific language, does not really exist.”
“There is no time or distance. If we are separated from a loved one [as we are dying] we have only to think of them and we will be wherever they are in an instant.”
“We may try to communicate with those we leave behind, but soon realize they can neither see nor hear us.”
“We become aware that departed loved ones are awaiting us on the other side.”
“We may travel through a tunnel, pass through a gate, cross a bridge, or travel through something else familiar to us.”
“At the end of this journey, we will be embraced by an indescribably loving light.”
“If we are meant to return, we are permitted to see this light only briefly. If this is the end of our earthly journey, however, we will experience understanding without judgement as we stand in the light, and will come to understand that life on earth was nothing more than a school.”
“We will be shown our life from the first to last day and will re-experience every thought we had, every deed we did, and every word we spoke. In the light of unconditional love and non-judgement, we will come to understand the consequences resulting from those thoughts, words and deeds, and recognize how many opportunities we missed to grow.”
“…many of our patients …are not always grateful when their butterfly is squashed back into the cocoon.”
“Not one of the patients who has had an out-of-body experience was ever again afraid to die.”
Jewish Near-Death Experiences
Buddhist Near-Death Experiences
Hindu Near-Death Experiences
Muslim Near-Death Experiences
David Sunfellow asks:
“I’m wondering if you have come across any NDEs that feature Muhammad as a central figure greeting NDErs? I had a reader recently ask me this question, and I could only think of one NDE where Muhammad showed up. And he didn’t show up as a greeting presence like Jesus often does, but, instead, was in the background hanging out with Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Noah, Moses, and Mother Mary.
“Also, what about Buddha? And Krishna? And other major religious figures? Do you have any statistics for often these folks show up in NDEs?”
NDE Research Dr. Jeffrey Long answers:
“I cannot recall any NDEs with Muhammad as a central figure. I recently published a paper on over 20 Muslim NDEs from Iran [in Journal of Near-Death Studies 33, Fall 2014]. We found the content of these NDEs to be strikingly similar to typical Western NDEs. In dialoguing with the Iranian co-author I asked about Muhammad in Muslim NDEs. He said that Muslims have a cultural taboo against sharing encounters with Muhammad, and thus even if they encountered Muhammad in their NDEs, they would likely be very reluctant to share that. Buddha and Krishna are rarely reported in NDEs. You can go to the Search box at the top right of the nderf.org website, enter these religious figures, and see this.”
Jesus, according to Dr. Long, appears in 6.5 percent of the near-death experiences reported around the world.
• Search the NDERF website for references to Muhammad
• Subscribe to the of Journal of Near-Death Studies
• Encounters with Jesus Website
• Jesus, Near-Death Experiences, and Religion
• Jesus NDE Encounters (Near-Death.com)
• Jesus NDE Encounters (NDERF)
A Comparative Analysis of Japanese and Western NDEs
By Masayuki Ohkado, Ph.D., Chubu University and Bruce Greyson, M.D., University of Virginia
Published in 2014, based on reports from 22 Japanese near-death experiencers
Pointing out that some of the prominent features in Western NDEs, such as the life review, have so far been absent in non-Western NDEs, Kellehear (2009, p. 135) emphasized the importance of exploring cultural factors more thoroughly before turning to biological factors. In this article we focused on Japanese NDEs, which were not included in Kellehear’s (2009) cross-cultural studies, and we compared them to generalizations based on observations of Western NDEs. The main differences were the interpretation of the light and the concomitant lack of interaction with it, the image of heaven, and the lack of the life review. We suggest that these characteristics may be accounted for in terms of cultural backgrounds.
Download Report (pdf)
• Religious Evidence of the Afterlife
• NDEs Have Been Reported Since Ancient Times
• Conceptions of the Afterlife in Early Civilizations: Universalism, Constructivism and Near-Death Experience by Gregory Shushan
• Census of Non-Western NDEs to 2005: Overview of the Current Data by Allan Kellehear, Ph.D.
• NDEs throughout History and across Cultures by Allan Kellehear, PhD
• IANDS: Key Facts About Near-Death Experiences – History and Prevalence
• Wikipedia on the History of Near-Death Experiences
• Culture, Seeing Religious Figures And A Reason For Returning To Life
• Julian of Norwich: An NDE from 1373 AD
• Julian of Norwich: Revelations of Divine Love (Kindle & Paperback Versions)
• Julian of Norwich: Revelations of Divine Love (Free Online Copies)
• Wikipedia on Julian of Norwich
• NDE Videos (Includes Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, and Jewish NDEs)
• Near-Death Experiences of Christians
• Near-Death Experiences of Jewish People
• The NDE of Alon Anava (A Jewish NDE)
• Near-Death Experiences of Muslims
• Near-Death Experiences of Buddhists
• The Tibetan Book of the Dead – Link One – Link Two – Link Three
• 10 Surprising Near-Death Experiences That May Change Your Beliefs (Includes an NDE account with Muhammad)
• Eleven Thai Near-Death Experiences
• Near-Death Experiences of Hindus
• 18 NDE Cases from Japan (pdf)
• Non-Western NDEs