I´m livin´, don´t know how long,
I´ll die, don´t know when,
I´m drivin´, don´t know where:
I wonder, so cheerful I am
The Detection of Near-Death Experiences 8
- Clinically Dead: At the Brink of Death - Ubelievable Experiences -
- Reports - A Life-Changing Experience - An Extraordinary ex-
I. What are Near-Death Experiences? 15
1. Medical Conditions 16
1.1. Dead or Near-Death? 16
1.2. Neurophysiological Correlatives... 17
2. External Circumstances 18
3. Related Experiences 19
4. The Problem of Differentiation 20
5. Problems and Course of Near-Death Research 21
5.1. Research and Researcher 21
5.2. Problems of Representative Questioning 22
5.3. The Term "Near-Death Experience" 23
II. The Mutual Influemce of Religion and Near-Death Experience
1. Religious Background at NDEs 25
1.1. Accelerating Death and the Leaving of the Body 26
1.2. Transitional Stages 26
1.3. Appointment with Persons and Other Beings 28
1.4. Perception of Self and Surroundings 30
1.5. Being of Light and Emotional Situation 33
1.6. Life Perspective and Special Perceptions 36
1.7. The Return and Life Afterwards 39
2. Religious Otherworlds in Comparison with Aspects of Near-Death Experiences 42
2.1. Prehistoric Religions 42
2.2. Native and American Religions 44
2.3. Eastern Religions 47
2.4. Religions of the Old Middle East and Graeco-Roman Antiquity 50
2.5. Judaism 57
2.6. Christianity 59
2.7. Islam 61
3. Mutual Influence: Speculation and Certainty 64
3.1. Sure Figures: The Colouring of the Near-Death Experience 65
- Which Experiencer is Right? -
3.2. The Search for Clues: Who Was an "Experiencer"? 66
- Religious Sources - the Most Important Clues - The Clues´Reliability -
3.2.1. Prehistory - Native Religions 68
3.2.2. Eastern Religions, Middle East and Ancient World 70
3.2.3. Judaism - Christianity - Islam 73
3.3. The Connecting Piece of Religions - Once and Now? 76
4. Near-Death Experiences: the Motor of Religious Developement 77
4.1. Religions of Original Close Relationship to Nature 77
4.2. Religions with Mystical Perspective 79
4.3. Religions of God´s Historical Revelation 81
- Search for God and Mission - Further Indications -
4.4. Paranormal Experiences and the Developement of Religions 84
- Near-Death Experiences-a New Factor - Monotheistical Tendencies -
- The Developement in Asia Minor - The Situation in the East - New Orientation
in the Middle East -
5. Extrareligious Indications for Near-Death Experiences 88
- Examples from Literature - Artistic Presentations
6. Reactions from Religious Communities and Theologians 92
6.1. Critical and Negative Judgement 92
6.2. Positive Reactions 93
6.3. A Model Concerning the Interference between NDEs and Belief 95
6.4. General Problems of Acceptance in World Religions 96
III. Explications from Different Disciplines 97
1. Medical Explications 97
1.1. Excursus: "Negative" Near-Death Experiences 98
- Special Circumstances-Special Experiences - The Question of Reality -
- Summary -
2. Neurobiological Models of Explication 100
- Endegenetic Causes and Triggers - Neither Injuries nor Dreams -
- Inventions from Loneliness? - Summary -
3. Psychological Experiences 104
- Creations of Mind in Hard Times? - The Coincidence of "Imaginations" -
- Flight to the Beyond-Flight to UFOs -
4. Problems of an Explication within the Paradigm of Natural Science 106
- Basics about the Evolution Theory - Can Anything be Hereditary? -
- An Advantage that could not be Found - The Pardigm as the Basic
5. Part-Realistic Concept - Coloured Realities
IV. Philosophical Aspects 112
1. Death and its Definition as "Point of no Return" 112
2. Dualism and the Body-Mind Problem 113
3. Problems of an "Empirical" Proof for the Existence of God 113
4. Principle Problems in Judging the Reports 114
4.1. General Difficulties 114
4.2. Verifications 115
- Indications During the Experience - A Far-Reaching Experience -
5. Special Problems at Single Aspects 117
- Brain, Mind and the Problem of Perception - On the Borders of Knowledge? -
6. Questions of Epistemology 119
- What is "Real"-What Means Knowledge?
- Continuity as a Condition -
V. The Meaning of Near-Death Experiences 121
- Religions in New Light - A Signpost for Worlds
VI. Glossary 124
VII. Literature 127
1. General Literature 127
2. Religious Scriptures 141
3. Electronic Panels and Addresses 141
VIII. Abbreviations 142
IX. Appendix: Statistic Results of a Questionning 143
X. Footnotes and Remarks 153
Concerning the question, what one can expect beyond death, answers are very different. The world´s religions give various answers, what future we shall expect beyond life´s borders. Eastern religions have developed the idea of reincarnation, while monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - believe to individual survival in the hereafter. Lots of native peoples took the view, that a dead person´s soul will arrive in a dark underworld. Modern scientists however reject such concepts. In a world, that simply exists of atoms, it is hard to accept otherworldly things like a soul or the existence of a god.
The decision, which position to take seems to be just as one likes: Obviously, one might believe whatever he likes. However, it is not that easy. The question, what to expect after life is very much connected with the search for the sense of life, and this addresses the individual fate of everyone of us.
It is the frantic pace and shallowness of daily routine, that lets us forget and suppress the fact, that at one day we will pass away from this familiar life. It is only, when a friend´s death reaches us or the meeting with an elderly person creates some indications, that we are approaching this uncomfortable area often put under taboo. Nevertheless, we can´t escape this aspect of life: Since we were born, we are moving towards our end.
Fleeing from death hasn´t increased a lot without a reason: The fear and certainty of dying has lost a companion, who made our ancestor´s farewell easier: Hope for a life beyond death.
The successes of modern science seem to have taken away the comfort,
that could have made it a bit easier for us to look forward to
our end. It were the achievements of medical research however,
that opend the door to a phenomenon, that might become a turning
point: During the seventies, near-death experiences have deen
The following text is based on a comprehensive scientific research, where a wide range of specific literature has been used. To make reading more comfortable, most footnotes have been put at the end of the text; only some important ones are still immediately listed.
At the book´s end a glossary contains some important expressions
concerning near-death research. The appendix finally shows some
statistics about those experiences, that have accompanied the
Note: The following text is the translation of an original
German paper. There may be several expressions and terms which
could not have been adequately translated; this is especially
concerning scientific expressions, names of historical persons
and location as well as excerpts from various kinds of literature.
In addition, some mistakes hay have remained undetected. For that
problems I would like to offer my apologies.
At the end of the sixties, the American doctor and philosopher Raymond A. Moody turned his attention to a phenomenon, that soon began to take his near interests: Friends and welllknown persons reported an unbelievable experience, which they either had witnessed themselves or heard from close persons while they had been "clinically dead". Some of them have had an accident or a severe illness, that led to a cardiac arrest. All those persons are alive today, thanks to a resuscitation that took place in time. Otherwise they wouldn´t be able to report their experiences at the brink of death: After a certain amount of time they would have passed away irretrievable.
The period of time called clinical death is marked by a breakdown
of essential vital signs, like heartbeat and breathing - if adequate
medical care is available, they might get into action again. Once
this period is over, one will reach the brink of biological death;
now there is no way back: Life has passed, any resuscitation fails.
Most of the reports, Moody now busily began to collect were from people, that once were clinically death but were brought back to life afterwards. At first, their experiences sound like a wonderful dream or some kind of hallicunation, that might have been triggered by narcotics. When in 1975 Moody published the collection of reports in a book, he summarized what he has heared about near-death experiences:
"A man is dying and, as he reaches the point of greatest physical distress, he hears himself pronounced dead by his doctor. He begins to hear an uncomfortable noise, a loud ringing or buzzing, and at the same time feels himself moving very rapidly through a long dark tunnel. After this, he suddenly finds himsself outside of his own physical body, but still in the immediate physical environment, and he sees his own body from a distance, as though he is a spectator. He watches the resuscitation attempt from this unusual vantage point and is in a state of emotional upheaval.
After a while, he collects himself and becomes more accustomed to his odd condition. He notices that he still has a "body," but one of a very different nature and with very different powers from the physical body he has left behind. Soon other things begin to happen. Others come to meet and to help him. He glimpses the spirits of relatives and friends who have already died, and a loving, warm spirit of a kind he has never encountered before - a being of light - appears before him. This being asks him a question, nonverbally, to make him evaluate his life and helps him along by showing him a panoramic, instantaneous playback of the major events of his life. At some point he finds himself approaching some sort of barrier or border, apperently representing the limit between earthly life and the next life. Yet, he finds that he must go back to the earth, that the time for his death has not yet come. At this point he resists, for by now he is taken up with his experiences in the afterlife and does not want to return. He is overwhelmed by intense feelings of joy, love, and peace. Despite his attitude, though, he somehow reunites with his physical body and lives.
Later he tries to tell others, but he has trouble doing so.
In the first place, he can finds no human words adequate to describe
these unearthly episodes. He also finds that others scoff, so
he stops telling other people. Still, the experience affects his
life profoundly, especially his views about death and its relationship
Moody´s book immediately got a lot of public interest. Despite
the progress since made in the area of near-death research his
first publication is still regarded as a classic; although his
summarization of NDE´s shows an idealistic type, it is a
quite appropriate and often used charactarization of near-death
Moody`s summary allows us a quick overview of what is experienced
during NDEs. A better understanding however could be reached,
if we look directly to the reports coming from the experiencers.
The more familiar one gets with those descriptions, the more he
might be able to see both: the common structures but also the
differences between these extraordinary experiences. To enable
us a closer look at NDEs, just three stories are standing here
in for the many that could be heard elsewhere:
Quincia Clay remembers:
"Just as I was about to round a curve, my car suddenly
lost control. It was as if the steering wheel was inoperable as
the car hydroplaned, again and again, across and circled in the
middle of the freeway. I could hear cars banging, not realizing
it was my car hitting a parked car that had been abondened on
the freeway, evidently to be repaired later. I remembered lying
down in my seat. I thought in fear of a whiplash, when I realized
I was in midair looking down through the car seeing myself
lying on the seat. Then I realized that I was me but without a
body. I looked with my eyes or where my eyes would have been in
my human body and could see for miles in every direction, way
past city limits. The air was the freshest I had ever smelled,
in my whole life. Then, the realization hit me that I must be
dead. "This is beautiful" I remember thinking. "Absolutely
beautiful". There was no pain at all, just a sense of total
peace and contentment. Then my life began to roll in front of
me as though I was seeing my life on a heavenly panoramic movie
screen. I saw myself crawling as an infant less than a year old,
then as a toddler and on and on, past the birth of my children,
the loss of my husband, on to the present moment when the accident
occurred. Then I saw my fiancé´s grief on his face
after he´d been told about my accident. I saw Mom´s
grief also, literally saw it, when she was told that I had been
killed but nothing compared to the peace that I felt. Until I
saw the pain and felt it of my four babies sitting at a dinette
table after they had been told, by a neighbor, that now they were
motherless too. I could actually see their pain. I remembered
mouthing, "NO! NO! NO!" The next thing I remember was
trying to sit up in my physical body in the car."
John C. Wintek was in the hospital facing clinical death. He remembers
a precious encounter on the other side with a being of
light he describes as god:
"My last memory had been of sitting down to eat dinner
and in the next, I was hovering directly in front of the most
beautiful scene imaginable. I saw a serene green valley sloping
gently upward toward a bright blue sky of stunning beauty. The
panorama ran to my right and left as far as I could see. Directly
in front of me and at what appeared to be a great distance, I
saw a bright, glowing, pulsating light. I realized that I felt
as one with the light. I felt a complete unification with what
I was experiencing as if there were no alienation whatsoever.
The serenity and peace were nearly overwhelming. I experienced
no awareness of my physical being, but instead I felt the sensation
of floating peacefully and serenely. My perspective of position
and location appeared to be completely different from that which
we experience on earth. I could see everything around me without
turning my head. It was as if I could percieve everything within
a three hundred and sixty degree circumference at one time. Gradually,
the light and I seemed to be drawing together. As the lights radiation
intensified, it cast a hue over the blue sky and green valley
around me that created a collage of beauty and color that has
no earthly description. ... I heared no sounds, no bells, no music
or other voices, yet I experienced a sense of communication. All
communication must have taken place on a purely spiritual level
because I was aware and knowledgeable; however no language was
spoken. On earth we exist in a linear time frame which enables
us to exist without confusion. In the presence of God there is
no sense of time as we know it. Everything happens at one time,
yet there is no confusion or any sense of being overwhelmed. ...
I experienced the feeling of the presence of God which draped
over me. It was awesome, yet there was no fear. ... I felt such
a calmness in the presence of God. There was a distinct blend
of beauty, peacefulness and a sense of well-being. Most astounding
of all was the sense of being completely loved and accepted -
just as I was. I felt no need to justify myself or to strive for
acceptance. It was as if my God knew the very essence of my being
and found me acceptable."
Audrey Bray fell down on an icy ground at age of seven and sufferred
from severe brain concussions. She was on her way back home from
school when the accident occurred. Here is what she remembers:
"...The doctor was afraid to move me because the nearest hospital was over 30 miles away. He said I had a 50-50 chance to live. I do not remember any part of leaving my body. I do remember finding myself in a beautiful garden. The flowers were large and beautiful and very colorful. They were like sun flowers or giant Dahlias. I was amongst them. They were all around me....Because time meant nothing, I could not tell how long I had been there, or if I had been anywhere else. I was at peace. I do not remember any sounds or anyone else being there, but I knew that I had been there before; I belonged. Although this happened when I was only seven years old, I was not a child when I was there. I was an adult. If I had to put an age on it, I´d say about 35.
I became aware of a presence. I do not remember actually seing anyone, but I did feel the presence. All else paled when compared to this presence. It wasn´t like it was trying to be better or brighter, it just was. A feeling of ferfect peace, perfect contentement, perfect completeness came over me. The love I felt seemed to flow out of this being and surrounded me. There was a life review, but most of it has been blotted out. At age seven there couldn´t have been to much. I do remember several observations. This being knew everything I´ve ever felt, thought, or done and loved me anyway. There was no need to defend myself, hide anything, explain anything, or be something that was not me. What a wonderful feeling that was, and still is.
Another observation of mine was, this being didn´t need anything from me or anyone else. This beeing didn´t need my prayers, my loyality, my money, my praise, or anything I had. My relationship was that I was accepted just as I was, and that I could still be me. It wasn´t like bowing down to a higher being.
Communication was not with spoken words. The presence said, "So, you are going back." I answered (the same way), "yes." The presence asked, "Why?". I answered, "because my mother needs me." At that moment, I started down what seemed like a dark tunnel. The light got smaller and smaller. When I could see it no more, I woke up. I looked around and wondered why Dr. Fisk was there. I saw my parents and said hello.
This event has not faded from my mind. In fact, it has gotten stronger.
I´ve only started talking about it in the last ten years.
Shortly after it happened, if I talked about it, my parents became
frightened, thinking I was going out of my head again."
Hundreds, if not thousands of similar stories and experiences have been reported since the early seventies. Despite their common elements, their however different details and interpretations one similarity seems to be a fact for all those incidents: The experiencer´s life has got a turning point. Let´s listen to some reports again:
"The first that I saw as I woke up in hospital was a flower,
and I cried. Whether you believe it or not, I have never really
seen a flower until I came back from death. One thing I have learned
from when I died: We are all part of a single great living universe.(...)"
"As I returned to life, I knew that I was in heaven. Since then everything was different for me. I took things easier than my sisters. The angered about issues - for example if they had a friend right now or whether they didn´t. But such almost never touched me.
I think the change inside me came through the way of how I
now regard time. After that experience it became totally different.
I noticed, that time as we read it from clocks is not the real
time. What we regard as a long time is just a break of a second
in reality. To think this way, led myself being less materialistic."
"Although that event was a very long time ago, it meant a break in my life. I have begun a new chapter - a chapter, that will last until the end of my life. That moment and the following minutes and hours have totally changed my life. I have converted myself from a man, who was without a firm viewpoint and had only one desire: material wealth into a human who has a deep motivation, who recognizes a sense in life, who has got a definite direction and the conviction that at life´s end one can expect a reward...
The changes in my life were extraordinary postively. My interest
in material goods, my greed for possession was removed by a hunger
for knowlegde and the passionate desire for a better world."
"I believe we all have made that experience for
a certain reason. Because there is something we must do.
We have got a certain mission. I really believe, that it is a
mission...I think so that god knows, what he´s doing, and
we do not - so we take that gift without asking a lot. But it
is with a sense ... god has called on us to do something, because
we have to grow as humans...And I know that since this experience
god is the center of my life."
The reports above are selected more or less accidentally. Any
person with a near-death experience (NDE) - also called experiencer
- reports of a different kind of experience, although there are
oviously a lot of common elements, and structures. Many experiencer´s
stories contain aspects that have a religious dimension: Heavenly
landscapes, an encounter with a being of light some describe as
god, a review of one´s former life. More passages of such
stories, especially with such religious background will be listed
in the second chapter. Apparently, there are a lot of questions
that come up with the NDE and what experiencer report to have
discovered. Let us get a closer look.
NDEs don´t fit into our well known every-day life. An experiencer´s situation makes no difference here. If one doesn´t like to get closer to NDEs, he often makes a judgement according to his first impression: Either NDEs are regarded like hallucinations or dreams, because they are so different from normal experience, and differences also exist between the experiencer´s reports. Or, on the other side, NDEs are seen as a proof for life after death - often in reference to the similar structures and paradise-like features.
We are however in no hurry to make a quick judgement. And we are of course not standing at the beginning of near-death research.
Since Moody´s first report was published more than twenty years have passed; various disciplines have dedicated their work to the near-death phenomenon. Some changes concerning Moody´s summarization have been made, some new aspects have come into discussion: Medical and neurophysiological** ones, not to forget all those questions that generally are related to death and dying. Religious beliefs and scientific viewpoints are touched as well as personal convictions, so that the results researchers have gained from their work are quite different.
Before going closer to the single sections of NDEs, we have to know what should be regarded as a near-death experience, and where the border line is between them and other experiences like dreams or drug-introduced hallucinations. The following chapter tries to get some kind of a definition.
When the NDE´s nature is addressed the main question is about the reality of the phenomenon: What do experiencers really discover?
A neurophysiological model of explication assumes that during NDEs only subjective causes - those which could be found at the experiencer himself - do play a role. The NDE is then put on the same level as dreams or aware imaginations and memories. Just as little as one assumes that a dreamt experience has really taken place or on the other side an event that was just imagined is however reality, the neurophysiological model regards NDEs as personal interior experiences that are not related to any - maybe otherworldly -reality.
Within the frame of other explications an objective - that means really existing - fundamentum for NDEs is assumed. During NDEs one would percieve a kind of realitiy, that exists beyond personal influence, no matter how this might in deed look like. A "personal perspective", differing from one experiencer to another would explain the varying content of what is percieved. It is like a white statue, watched by various persons of whose everyone wears differently coloured glasses: The really existing figure is experienced by always different colours.
Objective and subjective models are the main directions in the
try to generally explain NDEs. To distinguish between NDEs and
other experiences that are - without regard to their nature -
described as extraordinary and beyond daily life, several criterias
are in discussion: Circumstances of occurence, reported elements
and possible influence of physical conditions to the contents
and effects of the experience. NDE-research is a quite young scientific
approach with a variety of internal problems that among others
affected the direction of research as a whole. From this side
came some additional difficulties concerning the definition of
The attention payed to medical circumstances of NDEs must be seen against the backdrop of the phenomenon´s detection at clinically dead persons. From there this experience was at first regarded as the result or product of a person´s critical conditions.
Death´s definition - clinical death as well as brain death - is disputed. Additional problems exist to judge a single case. Despite those difficulties in thanatology´s* area it is certain for the near-death experiences watched that they have always been accompanied by brain activity. Schröter-Kunhardt describes them as maximum brain capacity. Even a zero-line - that usually charactarizes brain death - does in his views not exclude "low-lying unloadings".
By far not all persons being clinically dead and resuscitated report NDEs. About 35% claim to have had a special experience, the rest of 65% do not. On the other way not all experiencers were clinically dead or in similar life threatening conditions: According to a study of 107 cases only 45% of the persons conditions were charged critical, although 82,5% of experiencers thought they´d been near death or dead. Despite this Moody claimed in 1988, that the NDE "has specially to do with death´s border area and not just with illness."
Medical conditions usually do not affect the experience´s
content. However, the occurence of some elements - positive feelings,
extended perception, increased light perception - seems to be
more likely if the experiencer is really near death; other aspects
do not show significant differences.
NDEs usually are accompanied by high brain activity. This condition is also called neurophysiological correlatives or companions. To use this term however does only make sense if the NDE is seen as an experience that touches a reality beyond personal imagination or vivid phantasy. Once the NDE is regarded as a purely subjective experience, to talk about correlatives is without sense: In this context, the brain activity m e a n s the experience - the same as it is assumed for dreams, that they are triggered by more or less accidental neuron activity, although they often show personal contents.
Later there will be good arguments for assuming that the NDE has more than just a subjetive dimension. That´s why we will futher talk about correlatives.
It is in any way a problem to directly relate an experience and
its contents to a neurophysiological counterpart. It´s well
possible in case of critical physical conditions to medically
document the concerned period in an adequate way. However it is
difficult to find out the section during which the NDE might have
occurred: On the one side there is no possibility to find a direct
interaction between the experience´s happenings and the neurophysiological
level. On the other side, a completely different perception of
time has been worked out as a characteristic feature. Experiencer
John C. Wintek remembers:
"On earth we exist in a linear time frame which enables
us to exist without confusion. In the presence of God there is
no sense of time as we know it. Everything happens on one time,
yet there is no confusion or any sense of being overwhelmed."
Endorphins, serotonine and glutamate are in discussion for concrete correlatives; combined with a lack of oxygen (hypoxy) or a surplus of carbonic acid (hypercapny) they seem to be able to trigger NDEs. In addition, endogenic hallizugenics - i.e. drugs, produced by the body itself, able to evoke mind deceptions are supposed to be possible causes; therfore sensitive ends of neuronal cells - socalled receptores - have already been located. Moreover, a "special function of the temporolimbic region especially - but not only - in the right hemisphere" seems to exist at NDEs and similar experiences. Schröter-Kunhardt regards this as a biological basis for religious and paranormal* experiences.
The interest in medical, especially neurophysiological conditions
at NDEs has mostly two reasons: On the one hand it is the search
for circumstances under which NDEs occur and under which they
might be "artificially" induced one day. With some NDE
components there has already been success. And on the other hand,
there are intentions of some researchers to reduce NDEs to purely
neurobiological** functions and events through this
way. The discussion´s argument´s will be reflected in
the third chapter.
NDEs mostly happen without special prewarnings and among various circumstances. They are especially not limited to situations marked by life-threatening physical conditions. NDEs even happen when the experiencer just assumes to be near-death, but has no kind of injuries. This for example was the case among some mointain climbers who got off lightly when they fell, but were secured by a rope.
The occurrance of NDEs at persons who lived through a psychological emergency situation or in concrete fear of death has neared the assumption that body´s own meachanisms could under certain conditions generally induce an NDE. Since not medical conditions but individual fear of death has been supposed to be the trigger, the term fear-death experience has been created. The reason for an NDE often is an accident, a sudden illness, violence from outside or even a birth procedure. Similar experiences are also reported from deathbed or triggered by narcotics. In general, conditions under which NDEs occurr are not exactly definable. Many reports say, that such experiences take place even suddenly and surprisingly, without any actual reason to be found for them. Often these are experiences that contain only some elements known from NDEs like: the appearance of deceased relatives or visions of light. At this point the difficulty is evident to separate NDEs from similar experiences, especially concerning the reality of what is percieved: Persons for example who are in sorrow over a deceased relative and live through deep psychical crisis might have revoked the dead person´s appearance into their conscious for their comfort; on the other side it could also have been an NDE-like experience.
In general situation-related influences do not have an impact
on the experience´s content.The fact that NDEs occurr in
any culture and therefore are not just a reproduction of social
rules and expectations or personal hopes, views and values might
be seen as an argument for an objective fundamentum of the experience.
Next to the "clasical" NDE are and were a variety of experiences that lay beyond everyday perception and are interpreted differently. Many of them are similar to the NDE, concerning their content or kind of appearance. The fullness of various events are barely to put into perspective. They long from diffuse emotions, that are regarded as extrasensory to concrete experiences.
The most common perception in this area is a dream, an inside experience that - apart from few exceptions - usually is not seen as an event that has a realistic fundamentum. Commonly it is regarded as a product of personal perceptions and individual desires within an unconscious brain activity and therefore the dream is not seen as an experience related to a metaphysical* reality. In this context it is not a genuin paranormal event.
Another kind of extraordinary experiences are those intended to be evoked through meditative exercises, partly including one´s body. The respective circumstances and intended aims are very varying. The latter could reach from extensive relaxation up to religious enlightenment. Corresponding to that is the different similarity to the near-death experience. During Kundalini-yoga for example events may occurr that are usually to be found in NDE-reports: Autoscopic views**, perception of light, feelings of happiness.
A series of hardly mutually separatable extraordinary experiences from a very different kind are reported from all civilizations. Partly these are religious appearances or prophetic visions, often they are personal experiences with an ever characteristic background. The question for the reality of the respective experience has to be asked of course from new on in any of the cases. Experiences evoked or supported by drugs have also to be seen in that sense.
Out of the fullness of the various, often unique experiences only those should be regarded here with interests, that could be related to the - universally occurring - near-death experience. Deathbed-visions for example that are at least thematic akin to the NDE have a long history, spanning over many civilizations.
Eventual impacts of paranormal experiences will be discussed in
To separate NDEs from other - paranormal as well as purely subjective - experiences, the differentiation regarding the release´s cause. As it was shown above, a causal relationship has not been found. However if one could be found, it may not be regarded without further ado as exclusive for NDEs.
Even less criterias shows the differentiation along the experience´s external circumstances, since they are themselves not as clearly definable as necessary.
A distinction regarding the occurrance of single elements will also be voluntary; so will the demand for a minimum number on elements, a specific element or a special sequence of elements.
As a result of those difficulties some researchers have proposed
to talk generally about paranormal experiences or extrasensory
perception instead of separating NDEs against other experiences.
Others have tried to temporary leave aside certain types of experiences
oder distinguish between different degrees and dephts of NDEs
and underline "anomalies" separately.
Near-death experiences clearly stand out against daily life regarding their content. From there many experiencers hesitate to share their event with others because they fear to be discriminated as hallucinating. Because of sceptic medical staff alone a great number of reports became unknown; the fear, to be declared as crazy in the end has prohibited interviewable persons for a long time from near-death research.
While hospital staff in the U.S. is quite familiar with the NDE - although detailled knowledge could not be expected - in Europe only little systematic research in the clinical area is taking place. One reason for this restraint may be the fact that near-death experiences are often named in certain publication together with UFOs, Bermuda-triangle or socalled "extrasensory phenomenons" in one. The affinity to light reding created hereby has been additionally neared by film productions like Ghost or Flatliners.
More than a small proportion from the negative image of NDE´s in general and its research lays in responsibility of the known researchers. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross for example, who has became well known in the thanatologic area for her talks with dying persons has driven away from her former work and has dedicated herself to esoteric* features. Raymond Moody, who is seen as the pioneer of near-death research because through his early publications is meanwhile working on activities outside this profession. His efforts to enable the contact with deceased persons with the help of mirrors als catalysators have already led to criticism.
The most known reasearcher in the near-death area next to Moody,
Kenneth Ring has revealed himself with his own New-Age-comments:
"The near-death experiences are representing an evolutionary
approach towards a higher consciousness. ... humans, who have
had a near-death experience, but also many others, who´s
life is marked by one or more spiritual experiences are buillding
together a higher-sophisticated type of human being; not the homo
sapiens any more, but maybe the homo noeticus ..."
With this type of humans a new era is to begin. - Those comments especially show a blatant lack of basic knowledge concerning biology and evolution**. In a similar way most of the known researchers´ personalitys have spoken out. It seems as if after some dedication to NDEs esoteric thoughts get their influence on their own. The fact, that a number of researchers is able to separate between their personal interpretations and well-founded work , has well prohibited the near-death research from drifting downwards to esoteric circles.
Since the foundation of research´s platform IANDS in 1980
however there remained a steadily opposition of for example supporters
and opponents of reincarnation, of followers to subjective or
objective oriented explanation models, and especially between
promoters of a bible-based Christianity und more moderate persons.
One of the openly appearing contradictions is the teamwork of
religious fanatics and materialistic oriented scientists in the
only effort to present the NDE as an experience without an objective
basis. With such a background one should not wonder about the
fact that even in NDE literature or in the media false claims
have been made to favour of a certain position or because of negligence
- yet from the beginning. The kind and methods of near-death research
alone are showing a religios or ideological dimension.
The number of persons claiming to have had an NDE are said to be about eight and thirteen million in the U.S. alone; those figures should be used carefully however, because the type of experience is hardly to differentiate.
To find those persons isn´t easy, as a result of the the inhibition to open up to somebody. And obviosly not all experiencers are remembering their experience immediately: Every fifth is recalling the event not until days, weeks or even months. Göran Grip, who describes his experience in a publication, has mentioned there, he has got memories from his own experience only years after when he was working with literature about NDEs.
Any questioning has to care about the experiencer´s individual circumstances. While some of them are frankly talking about their experience, and some have even published it, others are only ready for anonymous reports. For an indepht work with NDEs the experiencer´s personal background is quite important, so that the question is how to interview persons. As a result of the experiences´ and their interpretations´ diversion no general recommendation can be made from this point. Within the time passed, some grave mistakes could be shown: Among others, absolutely inadequate questionnaires with partly one-sided or suggestive questions* have been published while during interviews the answers were redirected through certain technics of questioning.
After 25 years of research efforts to gain representative figures
have had only slight success. On the one hand, the experiences
to be found are very different and their contents could hardly
be put into a causal relationship with neurophysiological correlatives.
On the other hand, most studies´ number of participants lays
clearly lower than one hundred. That´s why statistics are
only possible very carefulyy and with mutual comparation.
The expression near-death experience, marked by the phenomenon´s detection in the area next to death, has meanwhile reached public awareness and could even be found in reference books.
Only a part of the experiences described with that term really takes place near death so that the expression has become invalid in content. Nevertheless it is used to distinguish between an experience´s different circumstances and degrees or dephts. This problem shows itself up at socalled negative NDEs**: While Greyson/Bush regard this type as a special kind of near-death experience, Ring judges them to be illusions and fictions of human mind laying in agony and denies any transcendenc - i.e. metaphysical meaning. Atwater on the other side reacted by proposing a new NDE-typologie*** and demanded a reorientation of near-death research. Ring on his behalf tried to protect the wide ranging NDE-term from further undermining by proposing to replace that current collective noun by the term "spiritual transformation experiences" and use the expression NDE again in a more exclusive way.
The "clean separation" between NDEs and other experiences
Ring demanded has not taken place so far. Also other proposals
for terminological, i.e.: conceptual improvement haven´t
got through. The reason for this might be that the NDE term has
reached a vage however barely better differentiatable meaning
within the obscure tangle of paranormal and similar experiences.
In this context the often missing real nearness to biological
death seems to be a relatively small, because well-known evil.
Near-death experiences and religions have a series in common regarding their content and subjects: The question of an eventual mutual influence becomes more meaningful once it is assumed that NDEs and similar appearances are a steadily companion of mankind.
In the first section we will have a look at excerpts of various
reorts and try to work out similarities between the experience´s
content and religious or cultural formed conceptions of the herafter.
After that different religions and civilizations will be tested
for possible occurrances of NDEs, asking for possible influences.
The way NDEs might have formed religious developement is shown
in the forth section. After a look on extrareligious evidence
for NDEs we will illuminate some attitudes of today´s religious
organisations and their representatives towards neare-death experiences.
Lots of reports contain elements, that are similar to conceptions of the herafter within a belief system or to other kinds of religious content: first, during the experience, and second through interpretation afterwards. While the latter one allows a concious adjustment of the event into the current system of belief and values, the contents of the experience itself seem to be more interesting: The experiencer has no active influence on it. However, to seperate afterwards is barelly impossible: the remembering process alone offers a way for even unconscious interpretations to gain influence, especially if a lot of time has passed since the experience and its recollection.
The following reports mainly have a descriptive function. They
give some insight into what is reported from an NDE and clearly
show the differences between the single experiences; a judgement
of the following material will come up later.
The painful awareness of a dangerous situation or the supposed
end could already show religious moments:
"...all I could do was pray. I asked God to bring me healing
- instantly I felt a surge of energy throughout my body..."
"I cried out to God to spare me this pain"
"...I kept begging, `please God let me die´."
"I asked God to take me home and He/She did for awhile."
While bits and prayers for pains´ soothing take place with
conscious, this is at least questionable at the appearance of
other beings. Sometimes they could be brought into association
with religious figures and appearances:
"I floated easily in a void of darkness after meeting
my guide `Brotherhood´."
"Before I hit the jersey wall I saw my life flash before
my eyes, my angel lifted me out of my car..."
"...there were two `beings´ pushing at my legs. I
was quite scared thinking these two were `ghosts´."
Phyllis Atwater has already had a near-death experience when she
wondered during her second after having left the body:
"I shouted: `Is tthere anybody? I am dead. I am there.
Come and take me with you. I am ready...´...I still know
how strange I found that, because I expected to meet the most
Most descriptions of a transitional name a tunnel, fog or even
a door as the medium.
"I went through a dark tunnel with flashing lights toward
a bright light."
"...the walls were black and I tried to touch them everywhere.
But I failed..."
At this point other experiencers give a report on auditive and
visual perceptions that look like an anticipation of the later
"...there was a large opening circular path ... a white
light shone through and poured out the gloom to the other side
where the opening beckoned. It was the most brilliant light I
had ever seen."
"The experience was breathtaking - the silence beautiful.
In the faint distance was the tiniest hint of beautiful music,
music beyond anything I´ve heard on earth. For a brief moment
I fixed on a tiny light in the distance."
"...I seemed to be hurtling through the universe! There
was tremendous sound, too. It was as if all the great orchestras
in the world were playing at once; no special melody, and
very loud, powerful but somehow soothing."
Claire Applegate reports a "living" tunnel:
"The tunnel looked alive, a living organism with colors,
Another experiencer watched companions:
"I did feel like I was swirling, at first slowly, than
faster and was accompanied by `others´ after I got part way
of the tunnel."
David Lehning got the advice to return:
"...a very deep and resonant voice told me `Go back, you´re
too young, go back!´ I did not go back right away, however."
Not in all the cases the transition stage was a foretaste of the
future experience. Jerry L. Casebolt reports his impressions in
a narrative perspective, where he uses the name Gary for himself:
"The colors in the room faded to a dull gray-black. Swirling energy patterns drew Gary´s attention to the North West area of the operating room. It roared as it formed a tunnel, pulling him towards its center. The sound resembled that of a jet engine when you stand next to it. Gary felt great fear, maybe terror."
Experiencer Göran Grip remembers life-threatening animal
figures, that marked the beginning of his experience behind a
"I was standing on a small and very dangerous black island
in a black river, flowing through a black landscape under a black
sky...Just as I was about to cross the river, a black octopus
rose out of the black water in front of me."
In a following dialogue Grip wants to get passage, yet with any
new bit, the number of octopussies increases - leading to a situation
with no way out:
"...the dialogue proceeded exactly like before, and another
fifty-six black octopuses rose out of the water....Our dialogue
now ran faster and faster and the number of octopuses increased
geometrically....there was no rescue for me. (...) The last thing
I remeber was my accelerating toward the horizon and annihilation."
Another experiencer tells about a distress being given to others:
"...I could hear sounds in the darkness. It sounded like
a hospital emergency room. People were in distress there and there
was thick fog. I could hear crying and rushing around, I knew
that if the people would only look up to the light they would
be lifted out of the fog, but they were to stubborn. They would
not do that. I have wondered since then, if perhaps that was Hell."
The transition stage appears carries an ambivalent potential:
It could be connected with pleasant visual and acoustical impressions
and look like an anticipation of paradise-like regions. The opposite
could take place as well: the perception of a negative situation,
which´s contents sometimes present themselves as life-threatening
or distress in general.
A great number of experiencers reports an appointment with other
persons or beings. Mostly these are deceased relatives:
"The first of all was a lovely and heartful greeting by
deceased humans, who were very important to me. Especially these
were the friend ... as well as my paternal grandmother. What has
astonished me in retrospective is, that I hadn´t known her
at all, because she died befor my birth. (...) This greeting by
the figures was very overwhelming, basically it was an ocean of
Phyllis Atwater voices in a similar way:
"Even a grandfather, who I have never seen before because
I didn´t grow up with his family appeared."
Another experiencer report about more extensive meetings:
"My deceased mother, grandfather, daughter of-friend,
my husband who is deceased...my little dog...long deceased Martyr-Saint
of my family line..."
While some perceptions are only vague, others are marked by detailed
"My mother´s face broke through the light...I was
not allowed to see past the light, only her hair and face."
"...I looked to my left and was surprised to see my younger
sister standing by a beautiful water fountain.(...) I was so happy
to see her as she was restored to such a beauty and youthfulness.
(...) I think God wanted to get my attention as my sister Margaret
was wearing my most favorite pant suit, a Glen Plaid design."
A case from the Mapuchepeople, who live relatively remote in the
middle and southern parts of Chile shows remarkable similarities
with NDEs and is also seen as evidence for the occurrance of
NDEs in native peoples. The experience took place in 1968 already,
during critical physiological conditions: The experiencer met
his deceased son and announced his intention to give up his earthly
life. He however sent him back to familiar life:
"No, Dad, it is not time for you to arrive here by your
own will. When the time comes, I myself shall go to the side of
the house to look for you. Then you will come. Now, go away."
Experiencers´ appointments are not limited to relatives however. They rather meet persons who they knew from her life so far: Friends and companions, teachers and authorities as well as people pursuing their daily jobs and interests. The social roles found there are generally in no way extraordinary; followers of the mormons however are more reporting about the hierarchical order that also marks their belief.
Jan Price notes:
"Both men and women wore soft, loose mostly white flowing
clothing, and I noticed, that no one was really young or old -
sort of a `middle age´ ...they looked exactly as they should
for their optimal expression."
Not all experiencers are or were able to identify the assumed
"Next I turned away and communication began with what
others call gatekeeper or angel or Jesus but it was someone. If
I ever knew, I cannot remember now."
On the contrary others are sure to have met other beings, mostly
"...big angel with huge wings, white and gold.....white robe, gold wings, light."
"I was met by a radiant angel...."
Bestselling author Betty Eadie reports another encounter:
"...three men suddenly appeared at my side. They wore
beautiful, light brown robes, and one of them had a hood on the
back of his head. Each wore a gold-braided belt that was tied
about the waist with the ends hanging down. A kind of glow emanated
from them, but not unusaually bright, and then I realized that
a soft glow came from my own body and that our lights had merged
together around us."
The perception of self and the environment are reported very differently,
the similarity to earthly perception varies from case to case.
Differences are already coming up with one´s "(spiritual)
body" and personal identity:
"I felt like light and spirit."
"I only know, that consciousness was concentrated in one
part of body and that also other parts have existed. I can compare
this body with [a] comet."
"My impression is that my personal consciousness was actually
`snuffed out´ ... and then recreated by a kind of focusing
down from the infinite eternity..."
"I was me, everything and nothing, and omnispresent lived
through. I was located in what IS. I lack words to express reality...I
was pure light, nor white, nor yellow, nor black. It was as though
I remained in a pure essential being without consideration of
time, material goods, nor energy. It was feeling beyond all this."
"I only existed as a thought, a thought which I now describe
and understand as God´s thoughts...I was aware of the directions
left and right."
"My spiritual body seemed very familiar to me. I did see
everything clearly. No substance - but [I] felt [it] looked the
"It looks just like me, except, that it is perfect. It
is made of much finer matter which is not of this world."
Various like self-perception is the description of the environment
found there. Often a paradise-like landscape is reported:
"I came to a garden that shimmered in wonderful colors
I however can´t describe. It was like pastel colors, although
this decription isn´t right. (...) I looked for a son or
another source of light, because the garden was filled with light,
but wherever I put my view I stood in light itself."
"I `saw´ a beautiful landscape with green grass and
many flowers, an idyllic landscape, so quiet, with a wonderful
light, more or less diffuse."
"I saw beautiful landscapes , and gorgeous fields. I walked
to a small house at the edge of the forest...I saw a large, huge
road paved with glistening sand that shined like diamonds. This
road was so wide, you could hardly see its end. I saw a gate and
a long wall to the gate which seemed to be protected by six lion
statues. (...) I saw the most beautiful flowers you could imagine.
The only building I saw was the shack at the edge of the forest
that was like a library where you could go in and learn anything
that was. (...) I have been standing on the edge of a high cliff,
far below there was a green valley...The air was so clear, a beautiful
blue sky, and a slight wisp of warm breeze...."
Among the many reports most different landscapes are to be found: Mountains, valleys, meadows, forests, beaches, ways and so on. Fauna and flora can take it on any time: Plants and parks are reported in shimmering colors, the world of animals percieved reaches from butterflys and birds over already deceased pets to sheeps, cows and horses.
Also manifold is the often mentioned archtecture: It includes concrete buildings - bridges, libraries, temples - that beat all earthly counterparts in its beauty; even whole cities have been reorted.
Not all descritions are referring to concrete objects however:
"...just an endless width, a beautiful inside width."
"It seemed like I was floating in a gray void...It was
very silent there."
The entry into permanent darkness or void, like it is mentioned from the latter experiencer is an appearance of socalled negative NDEs. Mostly the whole experience is marked hereby, other elements often absent.
Experiencer Vincent Luciani reports a "blackness", that
is followed by pleasant feelings:
"...it was, that first mysterious moment in eternity when
my nonphysical eyes opened to a dramatic world of satiny blackness
more total than is found anywhere on earth....There was no fear,
only calm acceptance and an eager, almost childlike anticipation
of the drama surely about to unfold."
Another experiencer compares his experience with a religious term:
"...absolutely no sense of personal continuity... My impression
is that my personal consciousness was actually `snuffed out´
(the root meaning, according to some scholars, of the word `nirwana´)..."
Bestselling author and inciter for Moody´s first publicatioin,
the well known George Ritchie uses other terms when he reports
from a little pleasant location he claims to have visited during
his experience in 1943:
"I have never seen anything more horrific. (...) Christ
let me see, and I recognized all thoughts of the humans who were
in this hell: Hatred, self-righteousness, narrow-mindedness. (...)
In this hell was no fire and no sulphur, as we were told, but
it was much worse"
Apart from socalled negative NDEs the majority of experiencers
were very happy with their new environment, many named it home
- independent from how concrete their respective perception have
"It was just like coming home after a rough ride."
The majority of experiencers reports an event that became known in literature as an encounter with a being of light. Yet not in all cases a being was concerned; if so, it wasn´t always combined with a perception of light. In general, the encounter shows a clear impact to the emotional situation; not least because of this we could regard it as the central moment of the near-death experience.
Dorothea Rau-Lembke percieved "a very mild and bright light,
but not a brightness that dazzles". Further she writes:
"...to be in this light meant total happiness for me,
comprehensive knowledge and love for others and for myself. One
could completely hand herself over to that light, I could turn
away from all that was before withou loosing anything, and it
meant the lifting of all contradictions for me, in the end a very
deep happiness, mixed with joy."
Often circumscriptions are the only memories of the event:
"...a being of light, a presence rather than someone visible,
a light in all the light."
"As I moved further along I became aware of a bright -
extremely white - light. (...) The light radiated an extreme feeling
of love, it was overwhelming. I could tell I had been there before
and was so happy to be going home. The knowledge of light knew
me totally. The communication was simultaneous and sharing."
"Such a light, brighter than anything else I´ve ever
seen! I can´t explain how beautiful, powerful and alive it
felt. It felt like pulsating rays of color that were so vivid,
some colors I´ve never seen before."
"I continued to move on in spinning sensation again and
found myself in the presence of what can best described as a vortex
of light. (...) There was a definate sensation of universal love,
of most wonderful and powerful nature, unlike anything I have
"I saw what looked like a rainbow and felt as if I was
in the presence of God....I felt both fear and love ...fear, I
think of the unknown, and love for the light and freedom and Presence
I was experiencing."
Not always the vis-à-vis is reported as a being of light:
"I emerged from the darkness into a `place´ that
had no definition of any kind - no substances, no light (yet it
was not dark at all), no limits, yet composed of the most powerful
(yet calm) energy imaginable...I knew that I had finaly come home,
and that I was in God´s presence, and I rejoiced in my new
"...I did feel the presence. All else paled when compared
to this presence. (...) This being knew everything I´ve ever
felt, thought, or done and loved me anyway. There was no need
to defend myself, hide anything, explain anything or be something
that I was not. (...) My relationship was that I was accepted
just as I was and that I could still be me. It wasn´t like
bowing down to a higher being."
The encountered being´s description often carries religious
moments, for example at Phyllis Atwater:
"The next I can remember was that Jesus appeared to me.
I really mean Jesus Christ! There was neither the wish nor the
necessity to worship to him or to fall on my knees"
In a similar way Betty Eadie writes:
"There was no questioning who he was. I knew that he was
my Savior, and friend, and God. He was Jesus Christ, who had always
"I have felt Jesus´ true presence several times -
a kind, loving, helpful person."
"...this was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Moses, the
God who overwhelmed the arguments of Job, there was, for me, no
"Just prior to opening my eyes, something unusual (at
least for me) happened. I saw the face of Christ bathed in radiant
sunlight and He was smiling at me."
Some reports show further religious background:
"...the Jesus that I had prayed to as a child ...a smile,
a contenance of total glory and grace. His eyes poured love, glorious
powerful love, into my being. (...) I saw an even more glorious
person, a being there, sitting up on a platform in a chair or
throne. This precious, beautiful man radiated glory - with a wonderful
flowing white beard, a fantastic smile and glorious, loving eyes.(...)
Father God himself, he was looking into my eyes, waving with his
right hand to come."
"He [Jesus] looked into my eyes and as if through telepathy
He said `My children, their actions and choices are leaving them
no heaven to gain] .´ "
Other experiencers report more carefully or they only describe
the external appearance of the encountered being in a way that
reminds on religious figures:
"...I met God....God was a being of light. I don´t
know if it was religious or not. There is no religion there. Just
purity and light."
"...an outstanding figure with black beard and black hairs,
as well as children he took on his hand...he wore a white robe
with a cord around the waist."
"...a face approached...The face had all human features
such as eyes, ears and a nose but no hair (...) I knew that the
face was masculine in gender and represented great authority."
"A figure standing off the side observed my reactions.
Biblical in appearance, earth-age perhaps mid-fifty, his presence
was magnificient: robes, hands, face neatly trimmed beard..."
"I looked up and saw a wonderful young lady, she had light
blond hair that she wore in a chignon, and she was wearing a white
The experiencers´ descriptions of the "being of light" quoted here - mostly from Europe and the US - are sometimes following biblical figures. From a number of reports investigated differing perceptions and interpretations became known, especially fueling the presumption that the NDE´s observations might be influenced by cultural backgrounds. This concerns perceptions of outward appearances - especially architecture and clothing - as well as the "being of light´s" interpretation, more interesting once the religious dimension of NDEs is addressed.
So the examination of indian near-death experiences brought up
mainly religious figures while from China encounters with a messenger
then ordering return were reported.
While the ecounter with other persons and beings, the perception
of even unusual environment as well as the emotional condition
have all together at least a certain counterpart in daily life,
at other kinds of perceptions an equivalent is mostly limited
to active imagination or dreams. An often described event is the
"After several minutes of the light and outrageous glorious
feeling, my being began to settle down to a state of extreme bliss.
Then I started to see the history of my life go by."
"The scenes of my life kept flashing before me, scene
after scene, event after event sipped by right in front of me.
It was like watching a movie without the projector and screen."
"Then my life began to roll in front of me as though I
was seeing my life on a heavenly panoramic movie screen."
Life´s perspective sometimes takes place at the beginning
of a near-death experience:
"Before I hit the jersey wall I saw my life before my
"When it [pains] came to the bottom of my head I saw my `life film´. I can´t say how long this film exactly was, however I can say that single sequences ran very quick. (...)... pictures from my life. After this I died."
Some experiencers have problems to remember:
"It happened so fast during the NDE, but has come back
to me in bits and pieces over the years during meditation. Impressions
flash through my consciousness."
In addition to the more or less vivid momeries related to the
former life in some cases a remarkable element appears: The scenes
concerned are getting a moral judgement that often includes feelings
of fellow human beings affected hereby:
"I re-experienced what had happened (...) I was able to
see what in my actions was good and what was bad."
"...flashbacks of what I did wrong and where I feel I
am making a judgement on myself."
"At the same time I felt the results of all my acts for
all humans...I also experienced the effects of my acts for air,
earth, water and plants."
"I saw a brief review of some of my behaviour. I saw how
once when I took something which was not mine, how it had a negative
impact on someone else. I was only a child when it happened, and
still was shown this to teach me."
"My neglects were disappointingly apparent from the review;
more dismaying however, was the realization that my goal from
this earthwalk had not been accomplished."
"I was fascinated as I watched my life unfold, that I
was aware not only of my own emotions, but also the feelings of
those around me as well as those whose lives were touched. I experienced
their pain or pleasure and understood what motivated their actions
towards others and me."
The gained insight in the former acts´ quality and effects
is generally not answered by condemnation, but at most by one´s
understanding and feelings of guilt:
"It was a horrible feeling, just seeing how I matched
up against the Light. But...there was no condemnation or judgement
for any of my actions...It allowed me to clearly see the nonconstructive
aspects of self."
"Normally I would feel ashamed of those incidents, but during situation of that panorama of life I didn´t feel ashamed, but have understood myself and lovely accepted me.(...)...very concise to my conscious came those situations, in which evil was done to each other."
"...it was not condemning or retaliatory - just a review."
The perception of others´ thoughts and feelings isn´t
just claimed to happen during life´s persepctive: Apart from
case-related specific features telepathic mechanisms are generally
seen as a basis for communication during NDEs:
"Communication with the figures took place without words,
it was as if one thought was the thought of all."
"There is a direct understanding, without words, because
`there´ are not the limitations of time and space like `here´.
At the same time one can communicate with everyone and everything,
there are no `loyality conflicts´ like here, where one can
only do one thing at a moment, and others can feel neglected."
"All communication must have taken place at a purely spiritual
level because I was aware and knowledgeble; however no language
A far wider reaching kind of perception and observation is reported
from experiencers who believed to be in "cosmic connection"
or claimed to have had unlimited options of knowlegde and understanding:
"I experienced a connectedness with all that is alive
(human beings, animals, flowers, God, myself) in a perfect harmony
and peace. This `solidarity´ I never will give up."
"...in this moment I knew I was one with all that was,
that is or will ever be."
"...I was given all the answers I wanted. I saw that
there was a plan, and all things happen for a reason...Further
I reached a point where I had no more questions because I somehow
knew the entier plan. It was like remembering; my soul has forgotten
"I had some sense of omniscience, or knowing everything...There
was a purpose to everything. I felt knowledge and glimpsed godhood,
"I often miss the deep experience of connection I had during my NDE."
"I was infused with knowledge, everything that could be
known, understood, thought...(...) I was in union with All-That-Is
and I was All-That-Is. There are no words to adequately describe
In addition there are a variety of different events and observations
at the NDE, mostly with individual characteristics like it is
known from descriptions of landscapes. Even occurrances like the
possibility of forseeing future events - in details or in general-
are reported. Another perception is related to things, that don´t
have a material or emotional character but are usually defined
thorugh their analytic qualities: Geometric shapes and numbers:
"...I was in a new place where there the most beautiful
iridescent geometric shapes, like bubbles, glowing."
"...two numbers , which are usually on licence plates
or on the clock, pop up a lot..."
"Perception of harmonic ... shapes."
A last category that is to be named here is concerning past events
that appear to the experiencer during NDE. They also may show
religious features or moral demands:
"I was shown a review of the history of earth and humanity.
I viewed many wars and conflicts, primitive armier bent on destroying
each other, much hand-hand combat...I was there at each war as
an observer from a site above each conflict."
"I suddenly was directly at Golgotha. (...) ...and yet
on the heart´s level. This meant that I was in the heart´s
alchemy of love that realized during crucification. I saw Jesus
carrying inside the whole past of humans as if he wanted to clean
the world from human stupidities."
The return to usual life takes place in differnt ways. In some
cases the encountered "being of life" and/or another
figure are present or responsible for the return:
"He [being] told me it was not my time to go (meaning
die) and to return to earth."
"The voice in the Light said within my mind `Go back. You are not going to die´. I argued with it. I was so intensely comfortable and at ease in my new state of consciousness that I could quite easily... have embedded myself within the Light and just existed there for the rest of eternity."
"When the being of light and my angel asked me if I was
ready to go back, I told them that I was, that I had some unfinnished
business to take care of."
"...and I heard God command me with two words, `GO BACK!´
They were the commanding sound of a father correcting his child."
Some experiencers see a mission in their continuing life, others
got some advice for the future:
"The being told me that I had a missiion and that I had
not yet begun with this mission on earth."
"I was told by Jesus to establish a youth shelter..."
"...did I feel that I was being told that I had to come
back, there were things I still had to do."
"I thought the advise was quite specific. I thought I
had to find a way to support my children. God said I ought to
trust Him and let Him take care of us."
"The message was that we are all the same. As if we are
all connected...We must treat each other as if they are ourselfes."
Phyllis Atwater even claims to have got the order to write a book about each of her experiences.
According to the majority of experiencers´ words succeding
life has changed noticeable. The socalled aftereffects
are concerning different aspects of life. Standing on first place
is mostly a changed attitude towards death.
"...certainly my fear of death has very much diminished"
"There is life after death...I don´t fear the transition
from one form of life to the other."
"...death is nothing to be afraid of."
"It is not a believe anymore. It is knowing God, Heaven,
Paradise. When you die you do not die, you go to another place
Apart from changes at work and within family often a new orientation
in life is taking place:
"I no longer lie, steal, cheat, or hurt anyone, I have
totally changed my life and my career."
"There was a change in my priorities...I experienced an
intensity of looking and sensing. The grass shone like emeralds.
The fresh air was euphoric. I used to take so much for granted."
"Changed my attitude towards people, and the world in
general. Now I really like most people...Began to take an active
interest in politics...Began to read a lot more....Became much
less demanding of life; enjoyed many aspects of life that I had
not noticed before...Began to go to church, although only occasionally...but
once in a while simply to feel closer to God."
As the latter experiencer said an NDE may well have an impact
on someone´s religious attitude:
"I don´t believe any more about religious education. To me there is only one important sentence left. `GOD IS´. That´s my reality!"
"Though my religiosity did not improve my interest in
the spiritual life exploded and I have spent much more time in
church and temple..."
"I really don´t think it matters what religion we
are, as long as we believe that there is a God."
"...I don´t know the feeling of being spiritually
alone any more. I always feel [being of light] love."
"`Saul/Paul effect´ ...general philosophical-religious-deeply
Another experiencer considers his experience to be real, but regards
his general atheistic attitude as confirmed:
"I came back from my experience as an atheist. It is a
very comfortable belief for me and I am happy with it. There
is no God."
Extraordinary experiences and events are reported from different civilizations; they are put down in religious scriptures and literary records. Archeological findings have shown further evidence. If those experiences have really taken place, and what influence they might have had is difficult to say.
While some contents of today´s NDEs show a clear similarity to religious and cultural conceptions of the beyond it is far more difficult to get evidence for the contrary way of influence: First problems are already come up with finding respective indications within the various sources and an eventual differentiation: Given the necessary phantasy the number of considerable texts and material findings could be almost endlessly widened. From there alone search has to be limited to a few striking characteristic features usually marking near-death experiences and related paranormal experiences.
Even when there is serious evidence in materials the findings
have to be regarded with reservation: A judgement without any
dout isn´t possible afterwards; there is always an alternative
explikation - at texts it could be the authors thoughts in case
of doubt. The following compilation may - like the reports put
together above - be seen as a basis for the third undersection´s
Although the examination of prehistoric conceptions and experiences of the beyond is limited to archeological findings regarding the material, those sources are nevertheless rich in evidence.
Material that nurishes the assumption even early humans believed in an inside soul reaches as far as the Early Stone Age. Skulls and lower jaws, seperated from their bodies and partly even buried were found in sometimes special order or with additions. That shows a remarkable behaviour in mankind´s early days, where burials are not usual - a behaviour that has parallels in some native peoples.
Similar observances have been made at Peking man, the homo erectus: Even about half a million years ago these primitive man have cut their dead´s skulls; the reason for this is however laying in darkness.
Further proof for a prehistoric conception of soul - that obviously was seen in connection with the head - show socalled skull repanations: These are openings of the cranial bone that took place during life time and do not serve for medical treatment but for the assumed soul´s passage. They could be compared to coffin holes which were found in and outside Europe.
The idea of a soul leaving the body presumably came up within
the frame of general animistic views* and was later
taken over within shamanism that was seen in North Asia until
the first decades of the 20th century. Jakob Ozols, professor
for prehistory sums up that perspective:
"After death the soul´s figure separates from the
body and lives its own life, mostly seperated from body ....At
the living it leaves the head only during the night or in extraordinary
situations like sudden frightenings, severe illness or during
special conditions like trance or ecstasy. The soul isn´t
allowed to stay away a long time. If it doesn´t return, the
person gets ill, he is exposed to many dangers, and in case of
longer absence of soul he even has to die."
Leaving the body means at the same time the lifting of borders
usually valid in daily life:
"It [the soul] can effortless overcome long distances
and reach unknown places that don´t belong to this world.
It is not tied on a certain time and may experience the past as
well as the future. It can further meet the souls of long deceased
humans, encounter with ghosts and have extraordinary adventures."
The shamanistic concept of soul is complemented by the prehistoric
ideas of the beyond that was expressed through cave paintings.
To reach this location, that only was illuminated with the light
carried with a small passage had to be passed. Authentic reports
and records have to be replaced by the researcher´s words:
"Climbing down is like crossing a border. One leaves day
and sunlight behind and enters a never ending night. The next
impression is a strangely changed perception of space. If one
doesn´t actually pass a small transition or went through
a low passage the week beam of light could be seen only under
the feets´ ground and on a small section of the wall nearby.
Anything else is engulfed by impenetrable darkness. The impression
of unrecognizeable width triggered hereby is temporary lifting
any sense of time. With the sense of time it is similar. It is
also disturbed. The time spent in the cave may either dwindle
imperceptible or appear as very long."
The ghosts who can be met in this extraordinary environment are created by the stone-age visitor himself; an often used motif is the reviving of animals through the same weapons they were killed with. The account of these scenes may show that the assumption of a soul living in one´s body wasn´t limited to humans, but also meant fauna.
Later on motifs changed. After the transition from hunter-gatherer
to farming ghost responsible for cycle-like reviving of huntable
animals became dispensable; those gods that were seen as responsible
for specific weather conditions became meaningful.
Apart from regional differences all native peoples have developed a belief to a soul that further exists after bodily death.
The Maya living in Mesoamerica, who were an advanced culture even in times before Columbus, believed they had to pass a series of hurdles during transition to the underworld. Similar thoughts, like the passage of rivers and streams could be found at the Inka in Peru, at the native Menomini in Wisconsins´ northeast or at the Guaimi, an Indian tribe in Panama. The question of soul´s whereabouts was answered differently however.
Aztects, living in Mexico until Spanish conquest believed in three
different underworlds: Ill persons, without a regard to their
social statur are to come in a region called Mictlan where
they finally find their end. Victims of certain severe illnesses
or elements however could expect the paradise-like Tlalocan.
Victims of wars and women who died after birth finally were priviledged
to enter the "house of the sun" as Aztecs saw it:
"Stand up, make ready, go to the good place, the house
of the sun - your mother´s and your father´s - , where
one lives in pleasure and bliss and fullness of enjoyment. Up,
accompany the sun; her elder sisters, the heavenly princesses,
who always and ever live in pleasure and joy...take you by the
hand!... You are living on a good, a beautiful place with our
lord, the sungod. You´re already watching him with your own
eyes, speaking to him with your own mouth..."
Otherworld´s imagination at the Delaware-Indians who live
- long assimilated nowadays - in the USA, presents to those who
lived a good life an eternal existence after death in a paradise-like
"They say, that the Land of Life is an island with fascinating
beauty and great extension. A high mountain raises majesticly
in the center, and on the top is the home of the Great Good Spirit.
From there he watches...the flow of the thousand streams and rivers
...the shady forests, the Wälder, the plains strewed with
flowers, the quiet seas that incessantly reflect the charitable
rays of a beautiful sun. Birds with the most beautiful plumage
fulfil these forests with their sweet melodies. The finest animals...graze
peacefully and in countless swarms on this laughtening, beautiful,
auf diesen lachenden, schönen, luxuriant plains. The seas
are never lashed, neither by winds nor by storms; the mud never
mixes with the clear waters of those rivers. The seabirds, the
otter, the beaver and fishes of every kind are in abundance there.
(...) There the sould is living unforeseeably long in a really
happy hunting ground. (...) There children will meet their parents
and parents their children...There is no sun, but a bright light,
that the creator lets shine. All humans...will look the same here,
and the blind and cripples will be completely well."
The Mapuchepeople believe to life after death; hereby the future
body is totally the same as the earthly counterpart in all its
details and also regarding the individual needs. The Mapuche,
who were under German colonialisation since about 1850 are relating
their future after death in all its phases that are to be passed
not to gods or demons, but to their ancestors. From a man believed
to be dead for two days it is written down, what he claims to
have experienced within this time:
"Here there is an old man called Fermin. He was dead for two days, and it is said that he went into the vulcano and came back. He said that all his dead acquaintances, his own parents, his children, his wife, and other children that he did not know were all in there. There was also a German gentlemen reading and writing in big books. When the German saw him, he asked what he wanted."
After the man asked his son he had to pass four doors before he
was able to talk to his son. When Fermin finally woke up from
his conditions he said to his wife:
"I am alive, and I went to the volcano. I saw all the
dead people who are kept in there. I was with my son and with
my grandparents. They are all together and they are very happy.
They are waiting for me, but it is not time yet."
At the Ewe, a people living in western Africa´s rain forest, splitting up in more than one hundred tribes the preexistence of soul is assumed to take place in a respective souls´ home, that could well be compared with an earthly one. With the birth of a child a deceased ancester is reincarnating at the same time. The assumed soul strictly speaking means two half parts, that together are the spiritual side of a person: The greater part of it - the socalled life-soul - emerges from the souls´ home and is responsible for many abilities and dispositions accompanying someone´s way of life. The maller part however is related to the underworld, where it returns as soon as the sorrow over the death is beginning. While the life-soul returns to the divine home of souls, the death-soul starts its journey to the underworld, where it meets its ancestors. That place is also named awe gã, (great home) or house behind the river, because it is supposed to be behind a huge stream. In accordance with this preparations are necessary for the exhausting passage across the water and the journey to the city of death - they could be found as burial objects. No further dying is possible in the underworld; seen this way there is an eternal existence. Inhabitants of that underworld are supposed to be underneath the ground; they are able to see into the visual world - once their nourishments are getting short, they are able to demand sacrifices from the living, who then throw peaces of food to the ground.
An interesting detail is reported from persons who still were
in a process of dying:
"Many, who are dying are yet telling the names of people
who are dead for long. This is made impossible for them by putting
a headscarf into their mouth;..."
The idea of a bipartite soul could also be found at the Old Indonesian
Batak: While the vitality, named tondi, returns again to
the heavenly repertoire of souls to later go into other humans,
only the schadow body, named begu, remains from the dead.
His cheerless existence that is feared by his descendants could
be revalued under certain conditions: he could be named a sumangot
by the relatives left behind. Once he moves up to a somboan
- an "adorable" - he is seen as god´s comrade.
Then he is said to live in houses and celabrate festivities; the
contact with his former everyday life is not broken however.
When Indo-European nomadic tribes entered the Indus valley in the middle of the second millenium before our calendar, the vedic religion, the later base for Hinduism came along. Its oldest document, the Rigveda - a summary of hymns from sacrificial priests - allows only little insight to that time´s otherworld´s conceptions. After the corpse´s burning the soul reaches a transitional stage called preta. During this time it remains as a spirit on earth, waiting for the entry to the ancestor´s world.
During transition to the underworld waters are to traverse, the
dogs of the god of death Yama are to be passed. In the ancestor´s
region the arriving could expect eternal life, bodily recovery,
fine meals and musical entertainment in happy circles. The Rigveda
"Where the eternal life is, in what world the sun was
set, in this do move me,...in the immortal, imperishable world!...where
these youngest waters are, there do make me immortal! Where one
could promenade as he likes in the triple heavens, in triple space
of heaven, where the lightful worlds are...Where desires and dispositions
are fulfilled, where the sun´s climax is, where the spirit´s
food and saturation is, there do make me immortal! Where blisses,
pleasures, , delights and amusement are, where the desire´s
desire will be attained, there do make me immortal!"
Otherworldly pleasures were however only determined for those who lived a sincere life. Malefactors were thrown in a hell´s world marked by deep balck darkness; nothing is known however about an eventual punishment.
Later, and with various transitional steps the idea of a cyclic reincarnation has been accepted, also determining the future way of life within the Karma-Samsara cycle: The reborn existence is determinated by the knowledge and works of the former life. The chance of escaping that cycle is limited to a few people only; that salvation is described by the Bhagavadgita as the entry into Vishnu.
Those who were not released keep waiting before their return in
an area that is related to the former life: The bads find themselves
in hell´s pain, according to Meising´s findings in a
description from the Garuda-Purana:
"...the deceased in his new body [is] luged on the long,
waste way towards the underworld with a tie around his nec and
in chains while beaten with torture hammers and wiggings. On
glowingem sand winds from burning forests are drying him, hunger
and thurst are harassing him."
The description that are quite deatiled and generally moralizing
are telling about the fate of the good people. A Mahabharata-epic
"In the south of the Nila mountain and on the northern
flank of the Meru mountain the happy fields of the Uttarakurus
are located, which are inhabitated by the perfects. There are
trees with sweet fruits, which always bear blossoms and fruits;
are fragrant flowers ... other trees are named milky trees. They
always give milk and nectar-like food of sixfold taste, and in
the fruits clothes and jewellery come to light. The hole surface
consists of gemstonesand fine, golden sand. (...) They [the humans]
are free from any illness, free from pains, always have a happy
Concerning the situation when one is confronted at deaths time,
the Bhagavadgita gives a clear advise to the living:
"At death´s hour, when one leaves the body, the conscious
must fully wrap up in me during passage. Then he will be united
with me. Be sure of that. (...) Take it to a strong custom, to
exercise to contemplate while you don´t let your senses roam.
With this way you will enter to the lord, to him who gives light
and is the highest of all."
According to Buddha´s original teachings the escape from
the reincarnation´s cycle takes place through self-release
and entry into the Nirwana, a way that is open only for
few. Related to this was a widely abstract imagination of what
could be expected in the end from one who is qualified therefore
and so is named a Buddha:
"After giving up happiness, giving up pains and already
earlier extinction of comfort and discontent the monk reaches
the fourth degree of contemplation: painless, happyless total
purity of equanimity and carefulness, and he remains (in it)."
The status at the end could in no way be compared with an annihilation
of one´s existence - such ideas have already been rejected
quite early. Siddharta Gautama, the historic founder of Buddhism-
named after him - comments in the Suttanipata:
"He, who went to silence, no measure´s for him.
No words are, to speak about him.
To nothing came, what could been thought.
To nothing also came the path of language."
While the way of release limited to few persons within the original
Buddhism is called small vehicle - Hinayana - that form
which arosed around the era´s turn is named Mahayana
(great vehicle): Within it any right believing human gets a chance
of salvation. In addition, everyone should be of help for other
living beings on their way to release. The Sukhavati ("land
of happiness"), which is now accessable for everyone is described
with shimmering colours:
"O Ananda, the world is ... blooming, rich, nice to live
in, fertile, lovely and full of gods and humans. And then, o Ananda,
in this world are neither hells nor grewsome nature (...) from
the golden trees the blossoms, the leafs, the small twigs, the
branches, the trunks and the roots are of gold and the fruits
of silver ... the twigs of crystal, the leafs of corals, the
blossoms of red pearls and the fruits of diamonds.(...) From every
gemstonelotus threemillion-sixhundredthousand rays of light are
emitted.(...) those who were and are born in this Sukhavati world
are gifted with colours, power, strengh, hight, breadth, force,
virtues, with joy on clothes, jewellery, parks, palaces and houses,
with pleasures to the senses, in short with all pleasures.
The third "vehicle" of Buddhism on the way to escape the cycle of reincarnations and the resulting woes is called Tantrayana. It is based on texts which promise a fast and effective release but should be used only with the guidance of a teacher, the Lama, because of possible dangers in use: the Tantras. The perhaps best known, but not only collection of tantric texts is the Bardo Thödröl, better known as the Tibetan Book of Dying.
The chance for release is given in special transitional or border
situations, like they are to find in mother´s womb, in dream
and during meditation: the bardo, of which there are several.
However this condition is connected with death in a certain way.
In the Tibetan Book of Dying it starts with the interruption of
breathing; later on there are several possibilities of salvation,
which could be reached through heightening conscious of Tantras
that were learned in life time. The latter are additionally read
to the dying by a clergyman, often for days or weeks - even when
the corpse was already removed. If the dead has missed the chance
for release within the first bardo, because he wasn´t able
to seperate the bright light of the buddhas from his karma-caused
phantasms and light delusions he will have an experience during
his second bardo, like tibetologist Klaus Sagaster describes this
"...figures, tones, lights and rays appear that terrify,
threaten and horrify him. His conscious has meanwhile connected
itself with a spiritual body, a body not of flesh and blood but
has all sensual abilities as with the eyesight, which the deceased
even owns when he was blind in life time. The spiritual body also
possesses miraculous powers and can for example go whereever he
wants...(...) The dead now watches how his earthly body is undressed,
....and he hears the crying and lamenting of his relatives and
friends. However he isn´t able to communicate with them any
more. Certainly he watches them, but they can´t see him any
more, and because of this he turns away in sorrow."
The Tibetan Book of Dying calls the experiences phantasms, that
should not impress the deceased; some further possibilies for
release could be found within the second as well as the third
In Egypt even during the Old Empire the bodies of kings and their
relatives were embalmed to protect the corpse from falling apart
and to prepare the dead for the otherworld. The expendable measures
of conservation were accompanied with magic formulas, that may
well have entered the burial ceremony. With the New Empire to
come the meanwhile many sayings were collected on papyrus scrolls,
nowadays known as the Egyptian Book of Death. In Chapter LXIV
of that collection the following is said about the beyond:
"I am the today.
I am the yesterday.
I am the tomorrow....
Remain I powerful and young;
I am to secret intertwined divine soul,
That once, in earliest time
Created the race of gods (...)
Rays of mine enlighten any resurrected being,
who in dark underworld
walks through various transformations (...)
Raising life through his light´s rays,
Bringing about germination and ripening of fruits,
You all, get to know:
Ra am I, forsooth! (...)
Your spirit is satisfied, your heart found silence,
When you regard the day´s noble order,
When you reach the beautiful city Khemenu,
You then leave through the Eastern gate..."
Chapter LXVI lets speak out a soul entering this world of light:
"The secret knowledge, I´ve reached it! (...)
That I am the Uadschit-goddes with a snake´s head at the same time,
Emission of the Horus´ divine eye, too;
Look, how I´m floating like the sky´s birds!
Now I´m declining to Ra´s forehead
And sailing in peace on the heavenly seas
Sitting in the sun´s boat..."
Egyptian King Amenhotep IV. (1364-1347 v.Chr.) put the sun into the center of his religious hat die Sonne ins Zentrum seiner religious poetry. He has to replace the common polytheism* with a spiritual monotheism of the sun. With his religious poetry that later became known as sun song Akhenaton has left behind unfading monument:
"In heavenly place of light you appear so beautiful
you livimg sun, who started living first!
You´ve lighted up in eastern location of light
and fulfilled all the land with your beauty.
You´re beautiful and great, bright and high above all lands.
Your rays enclose all countries, till the end of that you have created;
you are the sun and yet because of this reaches till its utter end. (...)You made heaven far from earth, to
lighten up before him,
to see all you´ve created entirely and alone,
when you have lightened up in your figure as living sun,
appearing and shining, far but near, too."
Less comfort in compare to the Egyptian underworld shows the Mesopotamian concept of the beyond. According to the few Sumerian-Akkadic scripture that remaind left a coarse description of the "land without return" can be given - an Old Sumerian idea that was later adopted by Babylonians, Assyrians and Semites:
After death the soul sets of to the West to enter into the underworld.
The epic - a narrative poetry - of the descent of goddes of love:
"His mind the daughter of Sin directed
towards the dark house, the goddes of Erkalla´s home,
towards the house, that no one leaves who entered it,
towards the way, which to go is withoutb return,
towards the house, (in which) who enters it misses the light,
where dust is food, loam is their meal,
they see no light, sitting in darkness,
clothed like birds with wings,
dust lies on door and bolt."
Under certain conditions it was possible for the dead to return
to earth and urge the living when they didn´t follow their
duty to give sacrifices to them. The expectation to reach a quite
comfortless place beyond life was - with some few exceptions -
a common one. Even as that stay was not limited in its time, it
could not be compared with an immortal existence: Life in that
sense was far away, as the following passage of the Gilgamesh-epic
"Gilgamesh, where are you wandering restlessly?
The life, you´re searching for, you´ll never find it!
When gods created man, they gave
the death to him.
But held back life for themselves."
Gilgamesh was on search for immortality; without a regard to the
unsuccesfullness described in the epic the legendary ruler of
Uruk was able to enter the underworld and return from there:
"A long time afterwards he discovered behind the oceans
at the edge of this world the river Chubur, the last barrier before
the kingdom of the dead. Gilgamesh left the world and crawled
through a dark endless tunnel. It was a long uncomfortable way...but
at last he saw light at the end of the dark tube. He came to the
exit of the tunnel and saw a splendid garden. The trees carried
pearls and jewels and over all a wonderful light emitted its rays.
Gilgamesh wanted to rest in the other world. But the sungod sent
him back through the tunnel into his life."
In Old Iran with zoroastric character the certainty of a world
beyond has been anchored quite early. According to Zarathustra´s
teachings mankind´s future lies in a divine empire of light,
a world that must be started building right here, but finds its
enforcement and completion during an eschatological struggle.
Connected with that expectation was the idea of an otherworldly
tribunal, which sentences the relion´s enemies. Even in the
Older Avesta a resurrection of soul as well as of body was mentioned;
the Younger Avesta has a description of world´s completion:
"It is the glory´s brilliance, owned by the Wise
Lord, so that the Wise Lord makes creatures, the many and beautiful,
the many and excellent, the many and wonderful, the many and bright;
so that they make life wonderful, not aging, not dying, not decaying,
not roting, eternally lving, eternally prospering, so that there
is free pleasure. When deads will arise, when no more annihilation
will come for the living, then he will renew the existing according
to his will."
Another description could be found in the later Pehlevi literature.
religious scientiest Hans-Joachim Klimkeit summs up what is said
there about the final phase of resurrection:
"...finally the happily mutual greeting of all of mankind´s
good souls, which can now unite again with their body. The enter
the light´s empire of the Wise Lorde into an immortal and
Additionally, within eschatological traditions of zoroastrism
various reports about otherworld journeys could be found. Zaleski
names a classical example, during which the priest Viraz evokes
such a trip by himself after taking narcotics:
"After lying down like dead in coma conditions for seven
days he returned to life and reported what he has seen: The separator´s
brigde (where every soul meets its conscious), the waging of deeds,
the place of the "mixed" (where those are, who´s
good deeds are outweighing their bad ones), over the heavenly
places of stars, the moon and the sun ...; the bright paradise
of eternal life, the torrential river flooded by the mourning´s
tears; and the dark dungeons of hell, where the godless are writhing
In Mykenic Greece there was already a pronounced ancestral worship; presumably because of the migration movements since 1200 B.C. and the resulting distance from ancestor´s graves also their veneration got an end. Although some passages of Homer´s Odyssey put a finger to this past, former practics find no continuation there. Greecs had assumed, that next to a mortal body and a spirit, that has to return to a world´s spirit after death also exists an individual soul which after dying is to enter the underworld, the Hades. A comfortless shadow existence and a constant desire for the former life are marking the inhabitant´s fate.
Who however was selected by gods to linger in the "Elysian
Fields" will have a paradise future. Homer writes:
"To the Elysian hall at the earth´s border are lifting
you once immortals, there, where the golden curled
hero Rhadamanthys lingers, where in sheer bliss mankind
Wallows: - there´s no snow, nor rain falling, missing are the winter´s
Storms, in steady rushing zephyrian airs are sending out
A vitalizing breeze to humans from Okeanos´ waters ..."
Another experience in relation to journeys in otherworldly regions
is to find in Plato´s Politeia.* In the
myth of the Pamphylian warrior Er it is described how he
falls during fighting and later discovers worlds beyond. Only
days after the apparently dead warrior becomes conscious as he
was already put on the funeral pyre to burn the corpse. Moraldi
sums up the very detailed narration of Plato:
"After he had left the body, he came to an otherworldly
location, that was run through by four tremendous caves ...Between
them were sitting judges anouncing each one´s sentence....
[he watched] at the underworld´s exit »impure and besmirched
souls«, on the way however, that led down from heaven pure
and chastened souls. They all settled on a meadow and mutually
reported their experiences at the place they came from....[those,]
who climbed down from heaven spoke about unmeasurable pleasure
and sheer happiness they had there. (...) The souls don´t
stay longer than seven days on the meadow. On the eight day they
set off, and after four additional days they see a light beam
with extraordinary brightness, comparable with a rainbow: the
light pillar that spans around the whole cosmos and as the »spindle
of necessity« draws all souls towards reincarnation."
Plato takes up descriptions from Homer, however he modifies them
according to his ideas. So he replaces the comfortless world of
Hades with a more differentiated and individual fate, that is
related to the former life´s deeds. The idea of reincarnation
also comes up - a process with limeted but nevertheless long duration,
that in the end may lead to sheer happiness. In Plato´s cave
parable earthly life is regarded as a shadow event, that could
not be compared to reality in its quality, it is only its reflection:
In this context, the body is regarded as the souls grave. That
to leave during life time on a trial basis was intended during
the Eleusinian mysteries*, to prepare for death. Plutarch
reportedly said about this:
"The soul (at death´s time) has the same experience
like those who have been ininiated into the great mysteries."
Under the influence of Greec culture the concepts of the beyond
have also changed at the Old Romans. Outgoing from a cult of the
dead like it was to be found in Mesopotania finally the thoughts
of Homer and Platon entered literature. Virgil´s Aeneis,
in which the founder of cities Aeneas - accompanied by seer Sibylle
of Cumae - enters the underworld shows strong similarities to
Homer´s descriptions of Odysseus´ journey. The same
time Plato´s idea of reincarnation is picked up. Virgil lets
Aeneas visit the hellish regions of the underworld at first, before
he gets a glimpse of the Elysium, where the best souls attain
"They came to the place of joy,
To lovely green pastures in the grove
Of paradise, where the blessed are lingering.
Ether´s fullness lies on the fields
And spaning them with purple brilliance,
Own suns, stars are shining there.
On lawn´s places doing gymnastics is
A group, trying hard in racing
Or wrestling in yellow sand;
Others dancing round to songs.
Orpheus in robe lets in bars
Sound his barrel organ in chords...(...)
All they loved in life at once,
They´re allowed in earth´s bosom.
There he[Aeneas] sees in grasses left and right
Others feasting: Thanksgivings resounding
Serenely through the grove´s laurel scents,
And up to heaven´s light through forests
Surges Eridanus, the holy stream.
Imaginations of postmortal life also existed in central and northern Europe. Mythology of there settling Ancient Germans could be found in the Edda. While fallen warriors entered the Walhall - which´s is ruled by the supreme goddes Wodan - and dedicate themselves to creature comforts, other deceased make their trip towards the shadow world Hel. Later, they reach Niflheim, a world of ice in the North.
Former warriors are training combat actions, that are in preparation
for an eschatological fight. Following this battle which means
the world´s end, a new world is to begin and a golden era
to arise. The older Edda says the following about then:
"Fields will carry [fruits] without seeding,
All bad is improving, Baldur returns. (...)
A hall I´m watching, brighter than the sun,
Covered with gold on Gimil´s heights:
Proven people will be living there
And cherish honors without end."
In Old Testament man experiences the limitations of his own life
as a consequence of a disregard of divine interdictions by his
progenitors, Adam und Eva. After the socalled "Fall of Man"
god expels humans out of paradise and "placed before
the paradise of pleasure Cherubims, and a flaming sword, turning
every way, to keep the way of the tree of life."
After death humans could expect an underworldly existence in a
shadow empire called, Scheol. This kind of existence was
absolutely different from earthly life, it was regarded as its
counterpart. In time these comfortless expectations have changed
a bit, as one of god´s admonitions shows:
"I call heaven and earth to witness this day, that I have
set before you life and death, blesing and cursing. Choose therefore
life, that both thou and thy seed may live..."
In reference to future events the Book of Daniel speaks out more
clearly about the individual hope for resurrection:
"...and a time shall come such as never was from the
time that nations began even until that time. And at that time
shall thy people be saved, every one that shall be found written
in the book. And many of those that sleep in dust of the earth,
shall awake: some unto life everlasting, and others unto reproach,
to see it always. But they that are learned shall shine as the
brightness of the firnament: and they that instruct many to justice,
as stars for all eternity."
An extraordinary brightness is reported in Old Testament even
before the Israelites´ exodus into the promised land. While
Moses was puts his sheeps on pasture, an encounter has taken place:
"And the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of
the midst of a bush: and he saw that the bush was on fire and
was not burnt. And Moses said: I will go and see this great sight,
why the bush is not burnt. And when the Lord saw that he went
forward to see, he called to him out of the midst of the bush,
and said: Moses, Moses. And he answered: Here I am."
While the Old Testament gives a quite soberly imprerssion at descriptions
of mystic experiences, a more lively kind could be found in apocryphic*
scriptures. The Ethiopian Book of Henoch tells about Adam´s
descendant on his otherworld journey:
"...they took me away and put me in a location, where
the things being were flaming fire, and if they liked they appear
like humans. ...I saw the locations of lights, the pantry of flashes
and the thunder and in utter depht a firery bow...They put me
to the living waters and the fire of the West, that the sinking
recieves sun each time. I came until a stream of fire, which´s
fire flows like water and which poured into a great sea in the
West. (...) ...three rooms are made to separate the dead´s
spirits; and so a special departement is made for the righteous´
spirits there, where´s a bright source of water...."
Among the non-canonical scriptures, the narration of "Isaiah´s
ascension" reports at its end:
"And the angel who led me felt what I thought and said:
If you even enjoy this light, how much more, when you will see
the seventh heaven´s light, where god and his loved one are,
from where I have been sent, who is to be named son in the world.
(...) Because the light in that very place is great and wonderful."
Descriptions in the post-messianic new world could be found in
the Talmud and Midraschim; they are quite similar to those visions
which were heralded by prophet Isaiah:
"And justice shall be the girdle of his loins: and faith
the girdle of his reins. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb: and
the leopard shall lie down with the kid: the calv and the lion,
and the sheep shall abide together, and a little child shall lead
them. The calv and the bear shall feed: their young ones shall
rest together: and the lion shall eat streaw like the ox. And
the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp: and the weaned
child shall trust his hand into the den of the basilisk. They
shall not hurt, nor shall they kill in all my holy mountain, for
the earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the covering
waters of the sea."
Among the many reports of miracles and appearances within the
New Testament, one event that is named by all synoptic evangelists*
especially forges links back to the history of Israel. At Matthew
it is said:
"And after six days Jesus taketh unto him Peter and James,
and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain
apart: And he was transfigured before them. And his face did shine
as the sun: and his garments became white as snow. And behold
there appeared to them Moses and Elijah talking with them."
In the Acts of the Apostles it is the conversion of Saul, that
takes place under memorable circumstances. During that event the
former persecutor of Christians literally transforms into the
later Apostle and enthusiastic missionary Paul:
"And as he went on his journey, it came to pass that he
drew nigh to Damaskus; and suddenly a light from heaven shined
round about him. And falling on the ground, he heard a voice saying
to him: Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? Who said: Who art
thou, Lord? And he: I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. Arise and
go into the city, and there it shall be told thee what thou must
do. Now the men who went in company with him, stood amazed, hearing
indeed a voice, but seeing no man."
When later describing the experience, apparently those perceptions
only accessible by Paul have been changed with the ones that were
also noticed by bystanders:
"And they that were with me, saw indeed the light, but
heard not the voice of him that spoke with me."
In the second Epistle to the Corinthians Paul also names an experience,
but without further description:
"I know a man in Christ above fourteen years ago (whether
in the body, I know not, or out of the body, I know not; God knoweth),
such one caught up to the third heaven. And I knoiw such a man
(whether in the body, or out of the body, I know not: God knoweth):
That he was caught up into paradise, and heared secret words,
which it is not granted to man to utter."
In the Book of Revelations extensive descriptions of the future
kingdom of god - the new Jerusalem - could be found. Spacious
in its dimension and splendid in its architecture it is permeated
with god´s presence:
"And night shall be no more: and they shall not need the
light of the lamb, nor the light of the sun, because the Lord
God shall enlighten them, and they shall reign for ever and ever."
The circumstances under which that revelation occurred are reported
as the following:
"And I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And
being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks: And in the midst
of the seven golden candlesticks, one like the Son of man, clothed
with a garment down to the feet, and girt about the paps with
a golden girdle. And his head and his hairs were white, as white
wool, and as snow, and his eyes were a flame of fire...and his
face was as the sun shineth in his power. And when I had seen
him, I fell at his feet as dead...."
Far more effusive reports about insights in regions beyond could
be found in non-canonical scriptures like the socalled Nikodemus-Gospel.
In its third part is a story abou the gray Simeon´s deceased
sons, who arised to bear witness to the council about their experiences
in the otherworld:
"So we have been in Hades together with all those who
passed away since time immemorial. At midnight´s hour however
the darkness lightened up like sunlight and shined, and we all
were lightend and saw one another. And immediately...they said
one another: That is the light of the father, the son and the
holy spirit! Once I lived I said about that: Land Sebulon and
land Naphthali, the peolpe, sitting in darkness, look, a great
light is shining to them."
Similar reports have been written down in Christian Middle Ages,
so from St. Patrick. Other visions are described to have happened
to a certain Drythelm or Katharina from Genua. Even pope Gregor
the Great dedicated himself to collecting those experiences and
asked the respected persons on his own. The stories then were
edited in a way so they had the desired instructive character,
but without changing the reported content in its essence. Extensive
are a soldier´s descriptions, of who´s fate Gregor reports:
"He said - and the matter has since become known to many,
- there was a bridge, under which flew a black, dark stream evaporating
a fog with unbearable stench. Above the bridge were friendly,
green meadows, decorated with pleasant-smelling flower arrangements
on which white dressed humans seemed to stand together. Such fragrance
prevailed on thit location, so that even there strollers and living
were totally fulfilled. There everyone had his home brightened
by wonderful light."
In addition the soldier through other persons gets knowledge about
the consequences of earthly deeds; the purification process, which
deads are experiencing in this transitional stage - the purgatory
- clearly appears in front of the description..
Islam with the Quran as its basis is strongly connected with the
person of Mohammed; the way already how Allah´s word was
revealed to the prophet, points to extraordinary circumstances.
In the records of Al-Buchari the following is said:
"The first revelation, the prophet recieved started with
good dreaming sights in sleep; any dream he saw used to come to
him as clearly as the breaking morning. Then he felt love for
seclusion and used to turn back to the cave of mountain Hira,
to dedicate himself to religious exercises for a certain number
of nights before returning to his family...until truth came towards
him, while he was in the cave of Hira. There the angel came to
Mohammed is forcible compeled by the angel to recite. Gripped
with fear he lets himself being wrapped up, until his conditions
improved. Later however the revelations continue:
"While I was walking I heared a voice from heaven; so
I looked up, and there was the angel, that came to me on Hira
on a throne between heaven and earth. Then I was afraid of him,
returned and said: Wrap me up!"
But Mohammed is told to stand up:
"O thou who hast covered thyself with thy cloak
Arise and warn,
And thy Lord do thou magnify
And thy clothes do thou purify
And uncleaness do thou shun,
And bestow not favours seeking to get more in return,
And for the sake of thy Lord do thou endure trials patiently."
Only gradually fear and doubts on the revelations´ authenticity
are dwindling. In a later surah finally comes out whate fate humans
could expect after death:
"And the mountains shall move fast,
Then wor that day to those who reject the truth,
Who sportingly indulge in idle talk,
The day when they shall be trust into the fire of Hell with a violent trust.
`Is this the magic, or do you still not see?
Burn ye therin; and whether you show patience or you show it not, it will be a shame for you. You are requited only for what you used to do.´
Verily, the righteous will, surely, be in Gardens and in bliss,
Rejoicing in what their Lord will have bestowed on them;
and their Lord will save them from the tornement of the fire.
And he will say to them, `Eat and drink with happy enjoyment
because of what you used to do.´
On that day they will be reclining on couches arranged in rows. And we shall give them as companions fair maidens,
having wide beautiful eyes.(...)
And we shall bestow upon them every kind of fruit and meat
such as they will wish for."
More extensive descriptions than in Quran itself could be found
in popular narrations like for example in the "Book about
the resurrections circumstances":
"When they reach the hell´s yard, hellish ghosts with necklace and chains are approaching. Such a chain is put into one´s mouth and pulled out at his back; his left hand is bound on his neck, his right is pressed in the heart´s inside and then pulled out between the shoulders. Now he is bound, and (the way), that they always put one human and one satan together on a chain. (...)
Beyond the hell´s bridge are extended fields, on which
charming trees are growing. Under any tree are two sources of
water, flowing out from paradise... (...) their body becomes soft
and lithe like like a budding date, and their body smells like
musk. (...) The hair of the paradise inhabitants´ women (is
that brilliant), that, if one hair fell down on earth, it would
spreat bright light over all of its inhabitants."
After Mohammed´s death different interpretations came up about how the individual fate after death is influenced by respective deeds during life time or by the prophet´s as well as the imams´* intercession. The certainty of a Last Judgement, during which good and bad deeds are weighed against each other was already announced by the early emerged 83. surah.
The generally thrifty descriptions of the beyond within the Quran
are additionally limited by the interdiction of creatin a picture
of Allah. The more has the description of god in the 24. surah
stimulated mystics and poets alike:
"Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth. His
light is as if there were lustrous niche, wherein is a lamp. The
lamp is inside a glass-globe. The globe is, as it were, a glittering
star. The lamp is lit from the oil of a blessed tree - an olive
- neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil well-nigh would
shine forth even though fire touched it not. Light upon light!
Allah guides to his light whomsoever he pleases. And Allah sets
forth parables for men, and Allah knows all things full well."
The Quran names in its 17. surah Mohammed´s "night flight"
from Mecca to Jerusalem as one of several of the prophet´s
visions. The canonical tradition is very short concerning the
"Glory be to him who carried his servant by night from
the Sacred Mosque to the Distant Mosque, the environs of which
we have blessed, that we might show him some of our signs. Surely,
he alone is the all-hearing, the all-seeing."
The apokryphic "Book of the ladder" provides some substitution. It reports about a fabulous creature with which Mohammed travels to Jerusalem for climbing up on Jacob´s ladder which angel Gabriel let down there at the temple. While passing the seven heavens the prophet meets angels and biblical figures; alone he crosses the paradise worlds and hell´s locations before finally climbing down and riding back to Mekka.
In later time it was tried to imitate the prophet´s otherworld
journey through respective Sufi*-practics, for already
reaching the desired nearness to god during life time.
At a first look, near-death experiences and descriptions of the beyond within the various religious environments seem to have clear parallels. Whether these are accidental coincidences or mutual influences is to be addressed with the following undersection.
In general there is no necessary connection between a possible
influence of both phenomenons - may it be in one direction or
mutual (interactive) - and their respective reality with
regard to religous or metaphysical aspects. Concerning this question,
several constellations are possible.
At a first look experiencers´ reports contain a series of indications which confirm the assumption that the respective experience shows characteristics of one´s imaginations as well as eventually those of the cultural environment: The religious figures and appearances are mostly corresponding with one´s own imaginations; the outer environment percieved shows the characteristics of every-day landscapes and architecture. The social roles of the persons met also allow a comparison with things experienced before.
As a result of the similarities shown in many studies between the given descriptions and the respective experiencer´s background, the speech of a "coloration" of near-death experiences has become common. It was assumed then, that an ontological - meaning from its very being - and qualitative totally differently revealing reality couldn´t be adequately described with the tools of usual language; at best indications are possible thereby, then however showing the well known differnces between the experiencers´ reports.
This assumption includes a relativism, that apart from the question of the NDE´s ontological or metaphysical status could not take place without further consideration:
On the one hand the described experiencer´s contents are
reduced to just symbols and inadequate tries of interpretation;
something most experiencers wouldn´t accept. Especially those
persons who experienced religious contents and later interpreted
them in a sense of proof or confirmation for their own belief
would at best accept to put the experiences of others into
that perspective. The resulting problem of finding the truth has
a well known equivalent in the world´s religions´ claim
to have the valid belief system.
The idea of metaphysical pluralism in the sense that all experiences are really valid according to their description is mostly rejected; its approval despite contradictory reports would lead to logical problems and in addition render superfluouss the majority of near-death research. The acceptance or rejection nevertheless means a fundamental decision that must not be unmentioned.
The remaining ways of interpretation within the frame of the "coloration-hypothesis" inlude a total or partial fixing of the experience´s content by other means than real perception: That may be memories and desires as well as a potential influence of other subjects which are able to do so, for example angels, demons, ghosts, god(s) or other forces.
The influence of religious moments is not limited to one´s own, actively shown belief; in case of declared atheists resp. agnostics*, who´s experiences are in no way different from others´, an influence of the cultural background could be assumed.
Once the "coloration-theory" is accepted, is is possible
to fall back on data material that is already available and put
it into numerical comparison. If the NDE is judged others then
a dream - that is also often dominated by personal backgrounds
- concerning its ontological status, a series of questions arise
referring to the ways and limits of theexperience´s "coloration"
as well as its basis. The emperical* fundamentals however
are not touched by these problems.
As a result of cross-cultural investigations the assumption that
near-death experiences are a common human phenomenon is considered
to be secured. The universality of NDEs would then however not
just concern nowadays humans in their different civilizations;
furthermore the respective experiences must have taken place also
during earlier times of human history. Next to archeological findings
especially religious scriptures - in a broader sense - are of
interest when searching for clues of NDEs.
On the one hand religious sources mostly are a civilization´s oldest textual witnesses, not seldom the only early scriptures at all. On the other hand the assumption is justified, that extraordinary events and experiences have left traces especially there, although this might depend on the kind and circumstances of the respective phenomenon. In addition it has to be taken into account that literary developements and interpretaions might have taken place within a wider frame.
As a result of the NDEs´ general reference to the beyond
and especially because its often religious elements the possibility
must be adressed, that especially those persons who reported about
such an experience have been given an outstanding role in social,
political or religious respect. The often reported sense of having
a mission, that nowadays only sometimes shows religious characteristics
may nevertheless have gone into that direction in earlier times;
especially once the experience was seen or accepted within society
as a divine sign.
The search for clues of paranormal experiences mainly has to come up with the problem of separation between apparantly clear findings and sources that just could be interpretated in that direction. This difficulty starts with the perhistoric man already: The skull´s repanations for example could be seen as an indication for the experience of soul´s leaving the body during life time, just because those openings were also made at the living; similar experiences are in deed reported in Tibetian Buddhism and on deathbed. However, the skulls´ openings also could have been made "in time" to be better prepared should death - maybe suddenly - arrive. In this case, the idea of an immaterial soul leaving the body may have had other reasons.
In no way less problematic is the interpretation of textual sources. On the on side, it is nearly impossible to verify the occurance of a near-death experience beyond any possible doubts; on the other side the opposite could not be determined either: With enough ability to find such interpretations nearly any text could be regarded as some kind of evidence for a NDE´s occurrance; by doing so however, nothing is gained. So not to question each word or paragraph it is advisable to restrict the search to a few essential elements: Autoscopic perceptions, the meeting of deceased, the encounter with a "being of light", the observation of heavenly or hellish environments, strong changes in personality after an experience.
Even after those limitations the possible findings are very numerous; the mention of plausible outside circumstances at the same time, that may have led to an otherworldly experience are the best indication that such an experience really has taken place. Such conditions could be the near to death, dangerous injuries, meditative exercises or the consumption of narcotics. If those criterias are not given - like for example in the Gilgamesh-epic or at Homer´s Odesseus - then only the possibiliity is remaining to intensively regard the available descriptions. Supposed key words - light, sun, brightness, brilliance, rays - are however used in daily life or as symbols as well, so the the field of speculation is soon approached.
Otherworld´s descriptions and respective journeys don´t
have to point to an NDE-like experience at all. The origin of
such reports may be numerous; they reach from intellectual contruction
over the developement of old traditions to deliberate fiction
for the purpose of religious instruction.
Now following is a first examination of the respective civilizatios´findings
presented in the second undersection. Later the results of this
investigation will be evaluated.
Already in prehistoric time near-death expreinces might have occurred. A series of outside impacts may have been the cause, for example injuries from fighting, food shortages or poisoning through plants. Also ritual practises like initiation rites or ecstatical dances are able to trigger an NDE. Whether the idea of a soul sitting in one´s head is based on such experiences or whether that idea was found by conscious reflections could not be determined afterwards. Findings of skulls seperated form their bodies may however point into that direction.
The skull repanations found further lead to the assumption that a concret exit of man´s soul from the body was supposed to take place in the head´s area. The fact that such openings have already taken place during life time may indicate that such soul journeys have really taken place and were reported. Othervise, even a postmortal opening of the skulls had been suitable, like for example openings have been put into graves.
Shamanic descriptions, which are next to the prehistoric animistic
perspective are sometimes pointing towards "metaphysical
or parapsychological* impressions"; and hereby
including NDE-like experiences. The changed perception of space
and time during a cave´s entry also shows an affinity to
nowadays reports of near-death experiences; especially the often
described tunnel-experience remembers on the circumstances of
climbing down through a dark, small entry of a cave. Maybe NDE-like
experiences were a deciding factor for choosing caves as a place
for otherwordly paintings.
What applies for prehistric humans, does the same to members of native religions. As shown in undersection 2.2., in that historical stadium the idea of an immaterial soul is already present. The existing conceptions of the beyond show sometimes affinities to NDE-reports:
The Maya for example are reporting hirdles that are to be passed; similar accounts could be found at American native peoples and at the West African Ewe. At the latter, there dying persons´ naming of relatives are an indication for meetings with ancestors. The unification with already deceased relatives could also be found at the Delaware-Indians´ concept of the beyond.
According to some traditions the dead could expect paradise-like landscapes: While the Actecs speak about a "house of the sun", where certain deads get a look on the sungod able talking with him, the Dealware-Indians are reporting extensively about otherworldly regions. Fauna and flora are presented in all its brilliance, illuminated by divine light; a carefree and delightful existence is pleasing the arriving. Similar expectations are known from the Maya. Finally, a bipartite, according to the dead´s former deeds fit out world is the basis for the Inkas´ and Menomini-Indians´ hope for the beyond.
That there were indeed NDE-like experiences at native religions
are showing contemporary reports from this area, the same do deathbed
reports at the Ewe. How and if such experiences might have had
an influence on the respective concept of the beyond remains to
be seen. The most noticeable points of contact are the reunion
with deceased relatives, descriptions of paradise-like landscapes
and the divine light.
A mixed and non-uniform picture of otherworld conceptions could be found in Eastern religions.
In early Hinduism the idea existed, that deads are remaining for a certain time as ghost within the relatives´ circle; that may be seen as remainings of animistical thoughts, however it also shows a phenomenological* relationship to autoscopic experiences. The paradise-like worlds, that are reached after passing waters as described in the Rigveda are reminding on nowadays experiencers´reports alike: A world of light and pleasure awaits the visitor, who is then back again in his ancestors´ circle.
Similar descriptions could also be found later, when in front of the reincarnation´s background the status depicted only means a transitional form of existence before the next life. Genuinly connected with the idea of reincarnation is the repayment of former deeds; with this new ethical orientation descritions could be found of hellish (transitional) stages which those whose acts in life time have been bad could expect.
The original Hinayana-Buddhismus is marked by a sparing description of the intended Nirwana-status. The later emerged way of the "Great Vehicle" is less reserved here: The release long for is connected with imaginations of a lightful, paradise-like world painted with shimmering colours.
Apart from similarities with nowadays NDE-reports in Hinduism
and Buddhism alike were advises, how to either prepare in advance
for the status of release or - like in Hinayana-Buddhism - concretely
introduce it through bodily exercises. While the Japanese Zen-Buddhism
uses Koans* for approaching the status of contemplation,
the kundalini-Yoga carries out contemplative and bodily
exercises the same time. The experiences gained hereby are in
some kind similar to near-death experiences, as the descriptions
of Gopi Krishna show, who in 1937 after long exercises in the
end experienced the following:
"I was no longer myself, or to be more accurate, no longer
as I knew myself to be, a small point of light and in a state
of awareness confined in a body, but instead was a vast circle
of consciousness in which the body was but a point, bathed in
light and in a state of exaltation and happiness impossible to
Remarkable parallels to nowadays experiencer reports could be found in Tantrayana-Buddhism, where the dying has autoscopic perceptions during the second bardo, takes a perfect - however immaterial - body and moves around with it. Nearby he makes a series of visual and acoustic observances, amit them "lights and rays". It is not surprising that the Tibetian Book of Death declares such phenomenons as hallicunations; otherwise the way of salvation as it was traced out could become shaky, especially because it is based on getting free from earthly appearances. It seems clear however that such perceptions really have been made: According to the usual care for dying always someone was next to the passing person and so was able apart from reading religious texts to recieve remarks from his counterpart or maybe have some conversation. That excerpts from there have themselves held entry into Tibetian teachings could at least be seen as probable.
Ancient Egyptians already longed for a world of peace which they hoped to enter after death; when in the Egyptian Book of Death a lightful beyond is named one may at first relate this to the person of sungod Ra. Just like heavan´s ladders the pyramids are holding out towards the illuminated heavans. It is the sun which may be seen as a synonym for life through its growth-stimulating rays and as the phenomenological counterpart to the night´s darkness.
Nevertheless NDE-like experiences may have played a role in this
symbolics, so at Ra´s election to the supreme goddess. The
same applies for the try of Amenhotep IV. (1364-1347 B.C.), to
replace the polytheistic gods by a sun monotheism. His intention
has left clear signs and raised the question for his motives.
In Mesopotamia the predominating expectation of the beyond is
marked by hopelessness; a life which deserves that name could
not be awaited after death. Experiences like the one Gilgamesh
makes during his journey to the underworld are clearly contrasting
with this bachkground. The epic´s descriptions show in all
details remarkable similarities to nowadays near-death experiences;
that´s why Schröter-Kunhardt supposes such an experience
to be the basis of the Gilgamesh-epic. The reason why it did not
lastingly influence the contemporary concept of the beyond may
be the superiority of traditional thoughts; we see a parallel
to the Tibetian Buddhism: There one could assume as well that
the strength of the religous teachings concerning release have
prohibited the acceptance or integration of the described deathbed-experiences.
In Old Iran with zoroastric character the belief on resurrection
is connected with the entry in a world of light; this is most
clearly in the later Pehlevi-literature. An influence on these
expectations may well be assumed from otherworld journeys triggered
by the priests themselves; the possibility that ideed NDE-like
experiences have taken place is especially based on the described
physical conditions reached by narcotics.
The evocation of certain physiological conditions may also have been the aim of the Ancient Greeks´ Eleusinian mysteries. Presumably the journey to Hades as described by Homer was imitated; the odyssey reported by the poet shows already some elements may indicate NDE-like experiences in regard of their content. The possibility that next to Ancient Greek myths also paranormal experiences are a basis for Homer´s poetry have already been discussed within the near-death research. In what way way these are experiences that happened to the author, or whether these descriptions were just handed down and later literarily treated by Homer could not be determined any more today.
About special, the same time however concrete physical condition
tells Plato´s narration of soldier Er. Next to a descrition
of the passed paradise-like environment also a bright light beam
is reported, spanning the cosmos and leading to reincarnation
according to Plato´s philosophy. Hereby an affinity to the
"being of light" in nowadays near-death experiences,
which orders the return of the otherworld traveler is quite obvious.
The kind of physiological circumstances is also putting towards
an NDE-like experince as the basis; on the other hand is seem
less probable that Plato narrated the story about Er just
for the purpose of teaching, accidentally connecting "suitable"
physiological conditions with an experience of the beyond.
Expectation of the hereafter at the Romans are strongly related
to their Greek originals; from this point it is not surprising
to find similar however modified descriptions of paradise here.
The lightful world reported there has another parallel in the
Ancient Germans´ later Edda. Otherworld´s descriptions
are connected there with the dawning of a golden era at history´s
Religions of god´s historical revelation* have a common element in regard to their founder resp. main herald: Experiences or events, that are also seen as divine signs in the holy scriptures. The fact that the concerned persons were mediators and proclamer described as charismatic and/or missionary in regard of their appearance for the belief has resulted in a comparison with near-death experiences: There the personality changes known as aftereffects are an integrated part of the experience; often the experiencer believe they have to fulfill a mission on earth and being returned to do so.
Moses´ encounter on mountain Horeb has already been subject to such comparisons. The burning, better: bright lightening thornbush reveals itself as an appearance of god, as it becomes known from the then starting dialogue, which leads to Moses´ calling.
Jewish concepts of life after death, which at first included only
a shadow existence have changed in time. While according to early
sources to overcome death meant the collective** survival
of the people of Israel, later the idea came through, that individual
salvation could be expected, too. Descriptions in canonical and
apocryphic scriptures alike are showing a peace- and lightful
world; at Isaiah the speech is about god´s knowledge permeating
the land. The question whether an NDE-like experience was the
basis for those description will remain to be seen; Die Frage
ob diesen Schilderungen NTE-artige Erlebnisse zugrunde-liegen,
bleibt allerdings offen; at best the apocryphic "Ascension
of Isaiah" may concretely be related to it.
Affinities referring to the content of a near-death experience shows Jesus´ transfiguration on a mountain, according to the three Synoptists. Through that event Jesu´s mission is confirmed; especially the appearance of biblical figures creates a connection to The Old Testament. The New Testament´s descriptions however aren´t reporting a personal experience of Jesus but an event that was monitered by others.
Nevertheless it is conceivable, that there was at first a personal experience of Jesus, which has been objectivized afterwards - that means: changed into an experience that could be monitered from outside - when records were formed into the Gospel´s written version. The later addition of witnesses as well as the naming of biblical figures - Moses and Elia - was suitable for a double confirmation, of the experience on the on hand and of the biblical legitimacy of Jesus on the other hand.
Under such circumstances the reported scenes are presenting themselves as a personal experience of Jesus. If one tries to translate the event´s outer appearance like described in the New Testament - the lightening of Jesus, the appearance of Moses and Elia - into the self-description of an inner experience interesting affinities to near-death experiences are coming up. The New Testament is silent concerning further deatails of the event; only those particulars necessry for Jesus´ legitimacy are listed. One could assume however, that Jesus had reported his experience and spoken about a lightful appearance. Next to this he may indeed have told about an encounter with biblical figures, and as a result recognized his mission. It is on the other hand conceivable, that Jesus originally reported an encounter with deceased relatives. During the later downwriting of that experience the encountered persons may have been interpreted as biblical figures. The presumably percieved appearance of light finally was objectivized and projected onto Jesus himself. Only the sense of mission resulting from that experience has remained. At an indepht look the event of Jesus´ transfiguration shows itself as a NDE-like experience, very probably containing Jesus´ original vocation experience.
Against this event Jesus´ baptism moves into the background; although the procedure itself presumably could claim historical authenticity, the described circumstances shall be seen as a try to legitimate Jesus through outer appearances. For this the baptism may have been put at the Gospels´ beginning.
Less interpretaion is necessary at Paul, the most enthusiastic herald of Christian belief. In his first publication already Moody saw parallels between near-death experiences and Saul´s conversion. Next to remarkable details of the appearance itself especially the obvious change of personality at the later Apostle is drawing attention. Here as well tries to objectivize the event by introducing visual or acoustical witnesses seem to have been made later; obviously some mistakes occurred hereby. Less clear are later indications of an earlier otherworld journey Paul referres to in his second letter to the Corinthians. From church´s side later reports about the alleged experience were rejected however.
The lack of authorized reports of the beyond finally is compensated in the Book of Revelations: The New Testament is ending with descriptions of the newborn world and the presence of god within the lightful environment of heavenly Jerusalem. Once the search for the Revelation´s origin turns to its circumstances, similarities to Paul´s conversion experience are obvious: Both, John and Paul fell on the ground and were beamed with bright light.
The picture of an enligtened paradise also came up in apocryphic
scriptures and in mediaeval reports about otherworld journeys;
concerning the latter, the experiencer´s person makes a change:
Instead of religious figures now ordinary people are moved into
the center stage of interest. Although the use of their experiences
took place within the frame of religious doctrine, there is little
doubt that they were indeed reported.
In Islam already the religion´s beginning are accompanied by strange events. The vocation of prophet Mohammed is announced on a place for meditation; however the calling isn´t voluntary at all: By more or less mild power he is moved towards his mission, only gradually he seems to accept and interpret the percieved like it is wanted from him.
These circumstances indicate, that Mohammed´s experiences
were insistent and in no way superficial. The question remains,
whether the circumstances connected with the recieved inspirations
were voluntary; v. Glasenapp writes:
"During these inspirations he was subject to ceratin physical
conditions. He sank on the ground like thrown down by a hundredweightening
load, his limbs were seized by a trembling, sweat covered his
brow, foam appeared before his mouth, und he thought to hear a
humming or other noise. While these strange psychical appearances
originally took place without any help from him, he seems to have
been able later to cause them arbitrary, although subconsciously."
In reference to this description it seems to be appropriate to compare Mohammed´s physiological conditions with them of nowadays experiencer. Another parallel exists to the outer circumstances marking Saul´s conversion to Paul on the one hand and the beginning of John´s Book of Revelations on the other hand: The New Testament reports that the persons involved into the respective experience are falling on the ground as did Mohammed.
Next to descriptions of the beyond that are to be found in Quran
the nightflight to Jerusalem as described in the 17th surah is
thematically interesting. The most vivid reports are to be found
outside canonical sources however. Concerning paranormal experiences
the describtion of god in the 24th surah seems to be more meaningful:
The repeated comparison of Allah with light may indicated that
among the physiological conditions Mohammed had during life time
also were such that triggered an NDE or NDE-like experience, typical
for an encounter with a "being of light".
Despite existing difficulties sources shown here indicate that near-death experiences and similar events already took place within earlier civilizations and religious environments. As already underlined that judgement is independent from the ontological status one might give the respective phenomenons.
As a carrier of mystical perceptions, experiences of god and the beyond and last but not least because of their pronounced sense of mission NDE-like phenomenons have had a remarkable influence on the developement and shape of the various religions. According to the existing material the assumption seems to be justified that this influence has occurred in all civilizations and religions alike, although in different ways. If those experiences take place within short periods while leaving sign within the religious background this mutual influence may be called an interaction between paranormal experiences and religious developement.
As it will be shown in the next section near-death phenomenons
have been prooved as the motor of religions. Because of their
universal occurrance they are their common basis. Once they are
regarded as having a realistic basis they may be seen as a real
connecting piece to transcendent realities, a basis all religions
may claim to have then. Within that perspective the problem of
legitimacy for the various belief systems is reduced in favour
of a common access; as a consequence this however would mean the
disclaimer of absolute truth resp. a monopoly of truth. About
the eventual impact of near-death experiences on nowadays religious
ideas and a possible influence on future thelogical interpretations
could only be speculated. Examinations so far show however that
experiencers´ religious beliefs are seen in perspective of
a general acceptance of religions, apart from some exceptions.
The influence of near-death phenomenons has had a different impact
within the various civilization´s religious developement.
Without regarding the existing problems of separation the degree
of NDE-like experiences´ influence could be roughly divided
into three catagories, which are related to certain types of religions.
Hereby further differences exist within that subdivision which
lead to the assumption of a developing influence. The problems
of putting together various religious systems with their own historical
developement should not be neglected at this point. A further
subdivision would however resulted in a lack of clarity; nearby
a further classification of the sometimes relatively small material
would tempt into interpretations, which are more based on speculation
than on objectivity.
Original close relationship to nature characterizes prehistoric
as well as native religions; they are marked by a panpsychistical
resp. animistic view of the world, a characteristic that even
could be watched in later times: At the Ancient Greeks for example
physical and psychic-intellectual attributes are described with
the same term. So for instance there was only one expression for
physical or psychical weakness (=cowardliness), the same applies
for physical strengh and psychical stability(= courage). Also
concerning the function of myths as the basis for religious ideas,
religions with original close relationship to nature have a lot
in common with Ancient Mid-Eastern, Classical and Eastern belief
systems. As a result those groups have often been put together
as religions with mystical worldview. Although that division along
phenomenological - i.e. regarding the appearance - criterias remains
valid, religions with original close relationship to nature have
to be seen separately concerning their relationship to NDE-like
Early mankind´s perception is marked by an animistic or panpsychistical perspective. Historically the gradual separation of the percieved into subjective, internal experiences on the one hand and objective observances concerning the outside world on the other side takes place. Within this period the concept of a soul escaping the body may have come up; the respective ideas about that spiritual substance are however differing. The influence of NDE-like experiences at religions with original close relationship to nature could especially be assumed in reference to the concept of soul: Therefore autoscopic experiences would already be sufficient; these however are even taking place under circumstances that are not a physical emergency condition, for example in situations of fear and stress. From there OBEs* could be survived in general without the need of a medical treatment, which often is not the case at nowadays NDEs. On the other side autoscopic experiences regularly do not show other elements of near-death experiences.
During that first phase of paranormal experiences´ influence the idea of an invisible remaining of passed relatives among the living or their entry into the shadow existence of an underworld may have come up. Respective descriptions could be found at the Maya, the Inka and the Batak; remainings of that concept are to find in early Hinduism, where the deceased spends about a year on earth in preta-status before entering the however lightful world of his ancestors. Such imaginations also exist within other peoples. The Mapuche as well as the Ewe belief to encounter their relatives after death. In that period of developement a pronounced ancestral worship could genrelly be seen.
While some native religions do not go beyond an undereworldly shadow existenceand others only expect a paradise-like beyond for specially qualified deads - for instance the Actecs or the Batak - other concepts exist as well, granting all humans alike life after death. Mostly however these are peoples which have already reached the rank of an advanced religion or were in contact with foreign civilizations, so did the Maya, the Inka or the Delaware-Indians. Once that rank of developement is reached the respective religion is already looming a bit above the next category.
Within the environment of prehistoric and native religions NDEs with their "typical" content could also be supposed, shamanic reports and descriptions from such civilizations are in favour of that assumption. Nevertheless those experiences may have remained the minority compared with autoscopic perceptions. One can assume that on the one side there were reports about otherworld journeys and paradise-like landscapes, however on other side little impact could be found in religious tradition; as a consequence only a moderate impakt of NDE-typical experiences could be deducted.
In summary the influence of paranormal experiences could be limited
to a support for the concept of a soul, that presumably was already
coming up through intellectual reflection. Eventual reports of
a beyond may not have reached too much meaning, because the kind
of perception at religions with original close relationship to
nature was especially marked and taken in by the appearances and
necessities of every-day life.
Religions which passed the described stage of developement show some similarities conderning the influence of NDE-like experiences. It is characteristically for such communities to express their religious imaginations through mythical traditions, that are also written down. The idea of a soul, no matter what kind is present as is a catalogue of ethical standards.
Within that category are listed all civilizations, who´s textual findings were mentioned as religions of the Ancient Mid-East, the Classic and the East during the second undersection. The historical beginnings of these religions are not meant of course. NDE-like experiences are now reported in relation to physical conditions. This applies for deathbed experiences in Tibetian Buddhism as well as for the soldier Er, named at Plato; for the most textual findings however the circumstances are lying in darkness.
Paranormal experiences at religions with mystical perspectives are no more limited to mostly involuntarily events. It is rather tried to actively reach a stage of consciousness which´s quality is essentially apart from every-day perception. Concerning that aim the Eastern religions´ meditative exercises and the Greek and Iranian otherworld journeys - triggered by narcotics and Eleusinian mysteries - are very similar, although the contents themselves were reported differrently.
At most otherworld descriptions is hard to ascertain how they came about and whether NDE-like experiences were the basis at all. Nevertheless the descriptions are similar in some respect: Except the Sumerians, the expectation of a peace- and lightful world, in which the dead will finally enter exists in all Ancient and Classical religions. Even the "land of happiness" in Mahayana-Buddhism is painted in shimmering colours. Only the Hinayana-tradition rejects such descriptions, similar to the Tibetian Buddhism where the out-of-body perception and other observances is regarded as a hallucination. In both cases the religious doctrine seems to prohibit the acceptance of NDE-like experiences; from there however their absence can not be concluded. The positive fact that Tibetian Buddhists reported such "hallucinations" from deathbed indicates the opposite.
Obviously overwhelmed by the existing trustless underworld concept
also was Gilgamesh´s experience, which isin many ways similar
to nowadays near-death experiences. While the Sumerians should
be put into the category of religions with original close relationship
to nature according to their idea of the underworld, they are
to find within the group listed here concerning their cultural
developement. Maybe the descriptions in the Gilgamesh-epic are
among the first signs of a process towards a changed concept of
the beyond, then however interrupted by political events: the
invation of the Hittites.
In summary religions with a mystical perspective are marked by
a considerably increased influence of paranormal experiences.
Reports that are now made in connection with physiological conditions
are entering textual sources and are at least supporting the concept
of the beyond as a lightful paradise-like place. The widespread
coincidence of that ideas leads to the assumption of a strong
influence, especially because now there is an active search for
the respective experiences; the impact of religious doctrines
however suppresses the acceptance of NDE-like experiences in some
Religions of divine mission are marked by a vocation experience which led its founder to his assignment. In Christianity apostle Paul is additionally concerned; he never knew Jesus personally but nevertheless dedicated himself to mission and refered to his conversion experience as the reason.
In all four cases textual sources are point towards an NDE-like
experience. Those experiences are regularly accompanied by personality
changes which sometimes include the conviction of having a mission
to fulfill, so that the assumption of a near-death (-like) experience
as the reason for the sense of mission at Moses, Jesus, Paul and
Mohammed seems to be justified.
Like shown in the first undersection the religious background and personal concerns do have a sometimes considerable influence on the interpretation of paranormal experiences. Once it is assumed that the cares and interests of the biblical resp. Quranic experiencers were around religious and social problems in a wider sense before their experience, one may not just expect the adequate influence on that perceptions but also that the personality change and eventual sense of mission were even strengthened into that direction.
Indications for that assumption are clearly to be seen: At Moses already we can suppose, that his suppressed people´s problems have formed him in a strong way. The Old Testament reports that he killed an Egyptian who at first beated one of his compatriots and then fleat before the Pharaoh´s rage. Following this is Moses´ vocation.
At Jesus it is also justified to assume that he was quite concerned about the situation in Roman occupied Palestinian areas. His interest on a change of the religious surroundings is clearly shown by his taking part in John the Baptist´s campaign. According to the Synoptists he then went into desert for fasting. He thereby emulates John who also used to be in this area. Maybe Jesus´ NDE-like experience was taken place during the time of fasting - where the New Testament reports the temptation by Satan maybe the original vocation experience has taken place, as it was later objectivized in "Jesus transfiguration". Synoptists in any way write that Jesus set out for preaching in Galilea after fasting in the desert.
About Paul it is written that he actively took part in the persecution of Christians before his conversion, among others he was reportedly involved in the stoning of Stephanus. It is likely that Saul summoned up some passion for that engagement; maybe however he also thought about the correctness of his acts and got moral doubts.
Especially because near-death experiences could be triggered by psychical crisis situations without physical components it is well conceivable that Saul´s conversion happened within these circumstances. At the same time it would become plausibel why the engagement of the Christians persecutor turned into its opposite.
Mohammed´s religious environment was characterized by polytheism. He was brought up by his uncle, Abu Talib who was a traidor and then became camel driver at the merchant´s widow Chadidscha he later married. On that way Mohammed has probably learned about the monotheistic religions of the Old and New Testament and shown some interest. This fact and the later in Quran openly appearing rejection of politheism may have formed him since early times; Mohammed nearby grew up as an orphan possibly searching for orientation in religious matters.
The founders of the three monotheistic world religions have spent the time of their vocation experience at a location that is also used for meditation and religious exercises:
Mohammed was in a cave for meditation, from Jesus it is reported
he went into desert for fasting - his "transfiguration"
takes place on a mountain. Finally, also Moses spent his time
in desert: His experience occurred on "god´s mountain",
a place Moses maybe went on for contemplation reasons. When the
Old Testament doesn´t tell anything about that on that point,
so maybe for underlining the unilaterally directed vocation: It
was not Moses who was searching for a divine legitimacy of his
leadership but Jahweh who indicated himself without any help as
the god of the Israelites and revealed his salvation plan to Moses.
From the informations being there we could assume at any of the
four founders resp. heralds of religion that they cared intensively
about religious matters for quite a long time and were discontended
with the situation being or couldn´t cope with it. In interplay
with the NDE-caused sense of mission the personal background has
strengthened the vocation experience in a synergetic*
way towards a pronounced awareness of mission, which finally came
to light as the historically known religious engagement.
In comparison to that decisive influence of NDE-like experiences other aspects of paranormal occurrances are left behind. Especially the Old Testament´s promise of the Israelites´ collective survival has turned back the question of the individuals fate after death. The scheol-concept still shows signs of a religion with original close relationship to nature, but in Book Daniel a more lightful future is announced; more clearly it is named in apocryphic scriptures and finds completion in Isaiah´s vision of god´s kingdom.
In New Testament John´s Revelation tells about a lightful future in heavenly Jerusalem. The circumstances under which that view is allowed are additionally marked by signs of a NDE-like experience.
In Quran finally it is confirmed that in all three religions of divine mission the ideas of a paradise is present which is in any way marked by brightness and light. The clearest is the 24th surah which connects Allah with light; hereby the comparison with a "being of light" reported in nowadays NDEs suggests itself. The named traditional description also paints a lightful picture of the paradise beyond.
While in Judaism and Christianity physical exercises are generally
not used for the purpose of contemplation the later situation
in Sufi order is different. Alike the mediaeval otherworld journeys
those forms do not belong to the center area of the religions
with divine mission. Still within the frame of historical developement
are however those conditions accompanying Mohammeds Quranic inspirations,
that in the end may have been deliberately evocable. In Islam
the try to reach transcendency through physical exercises has
in an original way relived its renaissance*.
The arrangement of religions according to the respective influence of NDE-like experiences is at first pointing towards a general developement of religious systems, starting with original close relationship to nature and finally ending with a divine mission. In parallel to that course a developement from animistical and polytheisticals ideas towards monotheism could be monitored.
It has often been discussed whether there exists a justified way
within the origin and developement of religions; in reference
to historical courses mostly a tendency towards a belief to just
one goddess has been assumed. This idea could understandably be
found among representatives of monothestic systems; nearby it
may be used as well for a general explication of religious developement
without a regard to the question of truth.
The judgement of religious developement according to the influence of NDE-like experiences means a point of view within this subject that hasn´t been regarded so far. The historical tendency towards monotheism is strengthened the way paranormal experiences find their entry into the respective belief´s doctrine or tradition. The decisive fact is, that the phenomenology of near-death experiences has a clearly monotheistic appearance; the idea of reincarnation or animistical imaginations find however no confirmation.
In general the acceleration of the various religions towards the
contents of NDE-like experiences is only very gradually. So reaches
the concept of a paradise-like or else hellish beyond, caused
by the individual´s acts during life time only slowly its
entry into the religious ideas. The overcoming of the existing
concept of a trustless underworld marking original close relationship
to nature takes already place within some native religions, mostly
standing on the brink of an advanced civilization; it is also
observable within systems with mystical perspective. Although
sometimes imagination about a shadow existence in the hereafter
are dominating - be it Hades, Scheol or the "land
without return" - nevetheless there are at the same descriptions
of heavenly regions as a place of pleasure and happiness painted
in lighting colours. In Eastern religion that concept gradually
gets entry as well despite the obviously strong power of the religious
tradition: While in the Hinduistic Rigveda the transitional stage
shows signs of a paradise-like beyond on an early time, this becomes
a reality within Buddhism once the Mahayana-tradition separated
from the original doctrine.
If the reason for that developement is seen in an increasing influence of NDE-like experiences and the observation of mostly paradise-like landscapes there, it might be supposed that the same applies for the generally monotheistic formed appearance of the NDE´s "being of light". As a result the belief to just one goddess should gradually finds its expression within the religious ideas.
While the within time upcoming descriptions of a beyond have not at least complied with the believers´ individual hopes, the monotheistic idea had yet to overcome the existing imaginations without an advantage to be gained. The limitation of the belief to just one god meant the dropping of (tutelary) goddesses seen as helpful so far, so that only a long-term change could be expected; it is conceivableals that for a transisional step the emerging of henotheism, within that the idea of a main goodess comes up. Of course one must take into consideration, that the influence of NDE-like experiences is accompanied by conscious reflection and the processing of mystical traditions.
Indeed, where the mystical perspective has replaced animistical imaginations the idea of a main goddess developes in time: This applies for the peoples of the Ancient Middle East and the Classic as well as for Hinduism, especially however for the Israelites, which are a special case in complete. The assumption of such an influence is justified, just because religious sources from those civilizations indicate NDE-like experiences.
While Hinduism shows at least a developement of main goddesses Buddhisms way seems to be more ponderously. Even henotheistic tendencies could not be seen; in contrary the existing salvation doctrine seems to absorb the monotheistic phenomenology of NDE-like experiences: They namely offer the chance of having a lightful experience and perceptions of alleged hullucinations at the same time. Within that frame those phenomenons may indeed serve as a teaching object; mediative practics are also puting into that direction. With that interpretation NDE-like experiences are more a confirmation than a contradiction to the original Buddhist doctrine.
A long-term undermining impact of those paranormal experiences
would require at least a ceratin relaxation of the belief system,
may it be from inside or through outside influence. Concerning
the doctrine of salvation and the beyond the Mahayana-tradition´s
origniation may already be seen as a change. However the monotheistic
tendencies of near-death experiences have not (yet) been as effective;
the power of Buddhist doctrine has shown itself as indeed overwhelming
The speculation about circumstances under which a monotheistic
developement might have taken place requires a look at the conditions
under which religions of divine mission emerged. In the regions
of their originating wars over the rare fertile land were steadily
on the agenda; a people´s survival was mainly dependent on
its food situation. Along the mutual conquests and occupations
as well as with the necessary trade also the religious ideas of
the peoples living around the Mediterraninan Sea and the Middle
East were spreat. From there some kind of comparison and competition
among different beliefs was possible. The subjugation of the defeated
people gave an additional starting point for social tensions;
hereby the occupying and the occupied each belonged to different
religions. Although the winners mostly allowed their adversaries
to exercise their belief it could be assumed that the political
conflict also had a religous dimension: Especially the suppressed
part may have connected the awaited liberation with the hope of
an intervention through otherworldly forces.
In Asia there were conquests and occupations, too; compared to the Middle East the width of the living space seems to have taken apart some of the conflict´s heat. Nearby the Eastern religion´s belief is generally not suitable for the background of political claims, because of its demand for the abandonment of eathly things. The expectation of a non-forseeable series of reincarnations, that actually are to be overcome may additionally be seen as a reason for a missing liberation movement under religious background.
The different starting point is very clear in regard to the acceptance
of NDE-like experiences: While Eastern religions tought to loose
from earthly phenomenons for the purpose of individual salvation,
every-day life is still marked by the various appearances of environment´s
nature. Together with the strengh of religious doctrine, which
wasn´t faced with competition like it was the case in the
West contents of near-death experiences have only reached little
In the Middle East NDE-like experiences fell on fertile ground: At first it lays next for a suppressed people like the Israelites in Egypt not to entrust with their religious underlined hope for liberation a group of goddesses but a main goddess or a single god. Through this cultural background the monotheistical phenomenology of NDE-like experiences as well as the eventually upcoming sense of mission may have been strenghtened in a synergetic way to the belief for rescue by (the) one god, and to the sense of a very special divine mission at the experiencers behalf. In that regard Moses takes a special position: Through him the expectations of his people already showing monotheistic signs and his personal care about that situation are combined with his experience towards a multisynergetic* effect, resulting in the foundation of the belief to Jahweh the Israelites only god who guides them with Moses´ help out of Egypt.
On that monotheistic basis Jesus and Mohammed are getting their vocation. They regard themselves not as founders but as revivers of the belief.
Monotheism seems to be the logical end of religious developement
in connection to NDE-like experiences: There the religious idea
of god corresponds in general with the content of the paranormal
experience. It depends now essentially on the near-death phenomenon´s
explication whether this historical developement means the acceleration
towards a really experienced transcendental reality or just a
gradually increasing influence of purely subjective impressions
from a certain type of experience on religious imaginations.
Near-death experiences never take place in isolation but always
in front of a cultural background which also shows religious signs.
According to that a differentiation between religious and extrareligious
experiences means a problem. One could however speak about the
latter as far as they concern ordinary people of the secular Occident.
This for example is the case at the otherworld journeys in Christian
Middle Ages listed in the second section, although these experiences
were used by church for the purpose of religious instructions.
Further Indications could be found in Dante´s (1265-1321) Divine Comedy, where among others this could be found:
"Because my face, suddenly bright and clear,
Ran on further on the ray road
Of the noble light, that is true intrinsicely.
My wacthing from now on surpassed the measures
Of speech, which fleed from such viewing;
Also the memory moves because the oversize."
Already in quite early times near-death research has discovered Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), a scientist from Stockholm who reported about mystical experience in later years:
"I sank into a status of numbness of all my physical sensory
tools, so nearly into the status of dyings. But my inner life
and thinking remained, so that I was able to percieve and keep
in memory those things, which happened there and how they happen
to those who are awakened from the deads ... Especially I was
aware of that there was a pulling and dragging of the mind, the
same of my soul, out of my body."
The experience is not limited to autoscopic perceptions:
"The inner memory is so, that all single things are written
down one thought, spoke or did from earliest childhood to the
highest age. One takes with himself the memory on all those things,
once he reaches another life, and step by step he will be moved
to remind them all ...Anything he said and did ...will reveal
before the angels in a light as clear as the bright day. ...Like
seen in a picture, when the spirit is regarded in heaven´s
Similar textual sources could be found on many other locations. Next to them also paintings may be related to near-daeth experiences. Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) for example showed the soul´s entry into god´s kingdom by sending it through a long tunnel wixhs end is already enlightened. [fig.1]. That motif was modified in a copperplate engraving from Gustave Dore (1832-1883): A tubular entry skirted by scores of angels is leading towards a bright lightening destination; the presentation is to illustrate Dante´s visions [fig.2] .
The however greatest collection of extrareligious near-death experiences are nowadays reports. There the term is already justified by the fact that respective events are also claimed from persons who show little or no religious activities or call themselves agnostics or atheists. Near-death experiences which occurr in all civilizations could meanwhile be regarded as extrareligious events.
It could hardly be expected that through their influence a change
of doctrines will take place. From that point of view the historical
developement marked by the influence of paranormal experiences
has come to an end.
Fig.1: Painting from Hieronymus Bosch
Fig.2: Copperplate engraving from Gustave Dore
Near-death experiences were not yet known in a broughter public
for long when a series of different reactions came from the churches´
side. The respective experiences became public especially in Western
countries, and their appearance the most related to religions
of divine mission, so that the religious communities´ reactions
are mostly those of Christian churches and movements. According
to a study from David Royce near-death experiences were known
among the clergymen; nearly 90 per cent saw no conflict with religion.
Hans Küng, a well known theologian from Tübingen has
put a look on experiences related to death in his book "Eternal
Life?" during the 80es. After an objective presentation
of the subject and and its research he underlined, that no experiencer
has survived physical death:
"Next to the brink of death, they have never crossed it.
What then do those death experiences mean for the life after death?
In short: nothing. Yes, I regard it as a duty for theological
truth to clearly answer: Such death experiences don´t give
any proof for a life after death;"
Although Küng has answered the question for proof the right way, he has been sticking to much on the aspect of physical death.
Gottfried Bachl regards near-death phenomenons as a "downplaying of death"; they are seen as a revival of deaths´questionning which proclaims a smooth transition to a new existence at life´s end. He compares that with the "lifting of death". Bachl even striktly rejects the often held opinion that man´s soul is living within body in some kind of exil*.
Massive critics are coming from bible-oriented Christian groups
which mostly are to find in the US. One point of rejection is
the experiencers´ often missing fear of death which is in
contrary to biblical views. The however greatest problem seems
to be the appearance of the "being of light" often identified
as god: It accepts any of the experiencers without takeing their
former life as a measure. This however is seen as a contradiction
of Bible´s promis of a Last Judgement and an individual treatement
according to one´s earthly deeds. In that context the experiencer´s
publications are attacked. Finally, near-death experiences are
related to occult and New-Age practics and judged as devil´s
work; Tom Harpur, a former evengelistic priest who took a moderate
point of view within a publication concerning NDEs and religious
questions was accused of falling away from beliefe and branded
as a heretic, i.e. a preacher of false doctrines.
In Germany´s catholic church near-death experiences have in general recieved a positive acceptance. From an episcopal writing emerges that NDEs are seen as real experiences but not as insights into the beyond or a proof of the existence of god. One represantative advised to regard such experiences not as a proof but an indication for humand transcendence; official objections were not known. The protestant theologian Hans Schwarz spoke in a similar way during a seminar of the Karl-Heim-Association concerned to the to the subject said. Monsignore Jean Vernette, a Vatican´s adviser and delegate of the French episcopate for problems of newer religious phenomenons characterizes the NDE as an "intensive emotional experience". An official point of view of the catholic church does only exist as far as theological aspects are concerned. He mentioned however: "If the NDE brings peace and joy then the chance is great that it is really spiritual."
A bit more sceptical are reactions from Germany´s protestant church leaders: Hereby especially the ambivalent* appearance of death experiences is mentioned, caused by the portion of socalled negative experiences. It is also underlined that no experiencer has crossed the border of death: Therefore no definite statement could be made about the beyond; in no way however can the Christian view of god be deducted from near-death experiences.
In the catholic Weltbild NDEs were already mentioned in connection with the question of resurrection. The publisher of the same name also offers books of that subject; some of Moody´s works have even beeb distributed as a special publication, others were published directly.
Canon Perry from Great Britain has rejected the connection to
the New-Age-movement claimed by Abanes and has referred to NDEs
which occured in Ancient Middle East. He not just regards near-death
experiences as compatible with Christian belief, but even sees
a great number of doctrines confirmed in a positive way.
Approval also comes from the environment of the Latter-day Saints
(LDS), especially from Arvin Gibson, who put together paranormal
experiences and compared them with the scriptures of the community
better known as Mormons. He found a confirmation of several LDS-specific
doctrines within the NDEs. Therefor also parallels are shown to
the Book Mormon, where Alma the Younger experiences a conversion
similar to Saul in the New Testament; that event should have taken
place during an NDE:
"And it happened while he went around for destroying the
church of god (...) look, there appeared the Lord´s angel;
and he climed down like in a cloud and spoke like with a voice
of thunder (...): Alma, stand up and come out, then why do you
persecute the church of god? ..."
Despite the similarities in content to the report of the Act of
the Apostles no further indications are suggesting a NDE-like
Parallels to the NDE are also seen by Leon S. Rhodes, who as a member of the Swedenborgian Church has dedicated himself thoroughly to near-death experiences. Quite early he mentioned their close relationship to Swedenborg´s experiences; in comparison to the picture he however painted, NDEs are representing only a small section of it.
Own convictions are also put in front at followers of kundalini-yoga.
According to their view NDEs and similar experiences are based
on the activation of the socalled kundalini-energy. During
death experiences this happens because of the accelerating of
feared death, howver other experiences could be triggered this
way as well.
Concerning the judgement of near-death experiences the differences
are about the same as they were at a judgement of religious belief.
For the individual there may well be a contradiction between NDE
reports on the one hand and his own religious attitude in a broughter
senseon the other hand. So there is a model of interference in
reference to any single NDE report related to the respective person
judging near-death experiences. Hereby it makes no difference
if it is a common believer or a theologically qualified observer.
The situation could be put into the following model:
|Judgement of (own/all)||Doctrine(s) as true||not true|
|NDEsas real at coincidence
a) priority for one side through changed judgement
b) acceptance of contradiction
c) expectation of higher solution
|priority for NDE
priority for NDE
NDEs as not real
NDE based on purely subjective experiences (dreams, imaginations, hallicunations)
both pheno-menons are purely subjective
This table only shows the generally appropriate basic attitude;
the conclusions may be quite differnt in detail. Problems will
arise only once certain religious ideas ans NDE´s alike are
held true while the contents of both are contradictory. This however
marks the situation of some believers and theologians, a real
The model shown is very simplifying because in reality there mostly are several, mutually contradictory reports and even the judgement of religious doctrines is often vague and inconsistent. With a more detailed regard the table would loose its perspective character; therefore no further regards are made.
As shown in chapter II. 4. near-death experiences have little expectations to be accepted within the Eastern religions´ belief systems. This applies for the individual experience and - already because of the salvation concept - for the religions´ founders and heralds. Religions of divine mission are showing fewer concerns in giving the experiencer´s reports a cartain recognition as reality; there are however problems once the founders and mediators of belief are connected with NDE-like expeeriences: In any case the divine mission seems to be qualified by subjective elements. In addition, the connection to nowadays NDEs with their often esoteric interpretation may also mean an obstacle for a comparison.
Once however the historical NDEs´ circumstances are not seen as an event caused by chance or by an accident but rather through the experiencer´s meditatively search for god the acceptance of NDE-like experiences seems to be less problematic. It is even and especially conceivable within the frame of religious interpretation of vocation experiences that the respective persons were elected because of their faith and their search for truth. The alleged subjective character of NDEs may then be put into persepective once it is assumed that a NDE-like experience - reached by meditation - was used from god´s side for revelation and vocation: The respective experience´s circumstances are then nothing but a technical-metaphysical aspect.
The connection of vocation experiences as they are to be found in religions of divine mission with the circumstances of a NDE-like experience does not per se award an extraordinary status to the events mentioned; the same way however that interpretation does not exclude the theological point of view judging the historical vocation experiences as a unique and divine revelation: This possibility will generally remain open because the questions addressed are concerning the content´s quality and could not be examined afterwards.
After an indepht look the acceptance problems of mainly the religions
of divine mission are much lower than expected; only if theological
interpretations are totally left out - and the scripture´s
text is literally taken - near-death experiences become unacceptable.
So far however such theories have hardly been discussed.
Near-death experiences have been examined for more than twenty
years. Their phenomenology and structure have been causally related
to various factors of influence. Nevertheless, the general status
of the experiences has been judged differently; various disciplines
have brought up explications for NDEs.
Near-death experiences became first known in the clinical area; from there it was tried to explain their occurrance through medicinal impacts. Unde consideration were medicines used for longer terms like tranqillizers, painkillers or stimulants as well as drugs wich were necessary for only a short period of time like narcotics. The imacts which could have been expected may have been taken into account or even intended, so at strong analgesics like Morphium und Demerol. In addition one had to look for other unwelcome side effects, which could especially not be excluded at psycho-active medicines. Patients treated with drugs did however not show an increased number of near-death experiences compared to persons without medication. In contrary it was shown that NDEs and OBEs take place more often if no psychiatric drugs were taken; they have a hampering effect to the limbic system, which is said to participate during NDEs.
That fact may be explained by an impact which psycho-active and other perception-reducing medicines have on the observations and retrospective memory to the experience, so that the perception of colours, the ability to read or the attention for details are suffering hereby. Corresponding with that it was detected, that suicide patients not standing under the use of drugs, medicines or alcohol have more likely experienced "Classical" NDEs. Not the NDE but its perception and memory are affected and it could therefore be assumed that often NDEs are experienced with the possibility of a later memory on them. The hereby obviously occurring distortion of the experience may at the same time be a reason for the absence of the specific unforgettable memories usually called aftereffects, which mark the future life of the experiencer and charaterize the NDE in general.
Medical impacts seem to be not only an explanation for some persons
believing not to have had a NDE despite their respective physical
conditions, they also put a light on the socalled negative NDEs
which now will be shortrly addressed.
Similar to their "positve" counterpart negatively marked
experiences appeared already in early descriptions and cross-cultural,
for example as "frightening Buddhas" within Tibetian
Buddhism or in Christian and Islamic mystics. In Christian Middle
Ages and later as well there are reports about otherworld journeys
where a purgatory or hellfire is mentioned.
Generally those experiences are classified into three types: Experiences of a void resp. vanity, observation of a "typical" NDE but with accompanying unpleasant feelings and the perception of a hellish environment.
Shortly after near-death research had an indepht look at this
phenomenon Ring concluded that those socalled negative NDEs which
are marked by a feeling of void and often are accompanied by negative
impressions could be explained with anaesthetic* treatment.
The dosage ketamin used hereby was said to trigger a more or less
unpleasant feeling of vanity similar to LSD; in small dosage however
NDE-like experiences of a "positive" kind were to happen.
Greyson/Bush have already mentioned that the named group of socalled
negative NDEs mostly appeared at anaesthetisized birth processes;
Ring has later taken up again that relationship and found proof
for it. Indeed there is - as mentioned above - a probable connection
between certain preparations and the NDE concerning its ability
of perception and memory.
Ring denied the ontological status of that type of experience: As long as the "negative" NDE is showing a feeling of vanity and void it is not a near-death experience in the true sense but an emergency reaction of the body triggered by drugs.
At the other types of the socalled negative NDEs, which are either "typical" but with unpleasant feelings or a perception of hellish environments Ring makes a similar ascertainment: Because they were tries of self-preservation of an "ego" lying in agony the respective illusions are taking place, but they were not real and in the end only of limited duration. Indeed there are reports where an initial neagtive experience is changing into a "Classical" NDE. This is the case at both of the mentioned types, so that there seems to be only a gradual difference: While the one kind only shows negative emotional concomitants the other is even marked by an impact on audio-visual perceptions**.
The question of how to explain that influence requires the "positive" type of the NDE to be the "classical", underlying real experience which is then percieved or remembered in a changed way because of some kind of influences. In favour of that assumption is the detected unilaterally aimed change of the experience as well as the fact that the pleasant events are taking place in the majority of cases. Last but not least the latter are deciding the issue within the historical developement of religions. Medicines are demonstrably influencing the memory and perception of the ("positive") NDEs, so that it seems justified to take them as a basis and assume any kind of influences at negatively marked experiences. This also contradicts the judgement, that NDEs had a generally ambivalent character without any type to be the original one.
When Ring is denying an ontological status for socalled negative NDEs he consequently should extend his judgement to allexperiences, something he refuses to do. According to the reports and insights given it is however obvious not only to assume a medicational impact and eventual suppression of an actual NDE during experiences marked by a feeling of void but to extend that approach also to both other, gradually differning types of "negative" experiences:
Next to an outside medical impact - may it be medicines, narcotics,
anaesthetics or others - also an influence and interference of
the body´s own opiates and neurotransmitters is conceivable.
Their use may now indeed be related to the individual readiness
to accept death of refuse it. Appearing fears and expectations
may then in interaction with endogenetic mechanisms lead to an
at least initially "negative" phenomenology of the near-death
All together the medical approach has not proofed the assumption that near-death experiences could be explained as side-effexts of some kinds of preparations. The suspicion that a lack of oxygen (hypoxy) or a surplus of carbonic acid (hypercapny) were the triggers of NDEs could also not be confirmed. Although a lack of oxygen might be a co-trigger of near-death experiences, it is not absolutely necessary. The same applies for the cases of hypercapny; at both conditions there were no "negative" NDEs.
According to examinations of impacts of different medicines and
preparations it could be illuminated why NDEs often take place
with very distorted or unpleasant contents or are even suppressed
in part or totally. The absence of NDEs as well as their negative
colouring were among the main problems of near-death research
for a long time.
In chapter I it was already mentioned that neurophsyiological
correlatives could be detected during NDEs. Not at least because
of the problems at explaining NDEs as a result of medical treatment
- something that is obviously not the case - some researchers
supposed NDEs to be a complex hallucinatory phenomenon which occurrs
among persons who are confronted with death; psychological aspects
were also concerned.
From that approach finally some models were built to explain near-death
experiences on a neurobiological basis. These were theories and
explikations that were elaborated within the frame of a materialistic
scientific paradigma; psychological knowlegde and theories about
neuronal networks were the same way taken into consideration.
At first it was assumed that endegenetic* drugs (opiates)
and neurotransmitter are taking place, leading to trigger an experience.
Through body´s own opiates the limbic system**
should - with the help of endorphins and encephalines - be excited
and hereby inducing an NDE. Endogenetic opiates do however play
a role in many situation of every-day life so that they are too
unspecific for the area of near-death experiences: They may be
regarded as taking part, but not as a sole trigger. The similar
applies for other neurotransmitters: For example it was supposed
that the suppression of the transmitter serotonine may lead to
the drop of inhibiting influences to the brain´s temporal
lobe** where NDE-elements were assumed. As substances
inhibiting serotonine were discussed LSD, ketamine and MDMA, situations
of emotional stress were also considered to be a cause. Nevertheless
even the impacts of serotonine are much too unspecific for gaining
a clear conclusion. It is generally certain that there exist endogenetic
receptors for body´s own as well as taken drugs resp. anaesthetics
- cannabis, ketamine, and others; while those substances may best
evoke fragments or sequencies of NDEs and often show uncontrolled
appearances, near-death experiences are typically sensible structured
appearances whith cross-cultural similarity in addition. If however
eventual drug or medicine-related interferences - like mentioned
above - are taken into consideration even some of the experiences
triggered that way may have a comparable onotlogical status.
The suspicion that near-death experiences could be connected with brain injuries must be rejected for the great number of reports from absolutely healthy experiencers alone; nevertheless those experiences have also been reported from persons with such injuries, even when the limbic system was partly removed. From there its necessary involvement has been questionned; the temporal lobe´s participation instead seems to be quite probable: Its electric stimulation leads to the evocation of at least fragmentary NDE-elements, like OBEs, the impression of walking through materia and other paranormal perceptions.
Analysises of OBEs under clinical conditions have shown that NDEs
could not be identified with lucid* dreams: While day-like
dreams dreams generally occurr within the sleep´s REM phases,
that does not apply for autoscopic experiences: there no uniform
neurophysiological counterpart exists.
Another explication for near-death experiences connects them with sensoric deprivation**: Patients who were in a monotonous and sterile environment may be tending to fit out their surroundings by themselves with trusting and stimulation pictures because of the lack of outside sensations. That phenomenon is known from persons who discovered dull landscapes during an emergency situation or an expedition, for example from Arctic explorers or desert traveler: these suddenly see housing settlements or waters without their real existence. In this approach the knowledge about the way of human information processing is playing an important role: According to this the incoming informations from outside are curbed by feedback systems and only a small part finally reaches consciousness; once however the input is broken down stored programs are coming along to maintain a minimum flow of information; if on the contrary the supply could not be limited any more the organism reacts with a temporary breakdown, the "black out". If this situation of a patient id marked by a lack of oxygen the hereby sensible retina of the eye may be concerned: Absent visual impression would then be compensated by a supply of stored impressions. This way neurophysiologist Manfed Spreng tries to find an explication for the contents of near-death experiences. At visual impressions the necessity to sort and assign them adequately is the basis for that assumption; that compulsion for classification* even exists when the processing of information is disturbed and only little stimulations are coming from outside. In that case it would nevertheless be tried to assign the available impressions; during border situation the faces and figures of well known relatives and friends would "naturally" be seen. Concerning the perception of an extraordinary brightness Spreng refers to the interaction of charge and pathing within the recetive field of an optic nerve**; both areas are usually in balance, for example when regarding an object of medium brightness. Hereby the peripheral - outer - part of the neuron cell is for the registration of darkness impressions, the central part is recieving brightness. Once one of the mutually inhibiting mechanism breaks down because of hypoxy it may according to Spreng come to an impression of extraordinary brightness; dynamic changes between inhibition and pathing activities may appear as a dark tunnel with an extrem brightness at its end. The similar would apply for the sense of hearing. During autoscopic experiences finally the organism would be processing impressions which are reaching him despite clinically death and in addition would further refer to former observances which may have been stored unconsciously. Interactions of both may then lead to an autoscopic position without its real occurrance.
Although the mentioned appearances may have an effect before or
during a near-death experience their influence has strong limits:
On the one hand the number of experiences which took place during
a lack of oxygen or the status of clinical death are in no way
the majority of nowadays NDEs. On the other hand the content and
the similar structure of near-death experiences, even reaching
across cultures and epochs could not be explained hereby; also
the often life changing aftereffects could not be adequately
justified. Spreng on his side however didn´t claim to have
a plausible explication for all phenomenons; he rather seeks to
warn before a rash acceptance of the near-death phenomenology.
An explication for NDEs within the frame of neurobiology as already
intended by science quite early, has not proofed to be conclusive.
Various phenomenons could not or not adequately be explained;
clear relations with neurophysiological correlatives were - apart
from the general problems of the scientific view - not possible.
However the assumption was confirmed that "a special function
of the temporolimbic region" exists at near-death experiences;
experiencers´ EEGs* are in favour of an inclusion
of further brain regions.
Psychological explications generally intend to characterize NDEs
as phenomenons created by human mind to protect itself against
the supposedly accelarating death. The reaction showed hereby
is seen as some kind of survival mechanism. Even OBEs are regarded
as a natural form of flight from reality, the experiencer chooses
by leaving the body. Psychological interpretations of autoscopic
experiences usually don´t mean that the experiencer really
leaves his body behind; this is rather seen as wishful thinking
which is supported by the fictions of mind. Descriptions of the
beyond during an NDE are generally seen as a fiction, too: The
dying, who can´t fit with dead is assuming himself as separated
from his body believing to be in landscapes which give him trust
and fulfill his desires. Another interpretation supposes that
the organism makes some distance for him during emergency situations
while creating calm, painlessness and the separation from the
physical situation; hereby the intellectual capacities would increase
and a shock may be prevented - what finally serves for survival.
Many near-death experiences have happened without critical physical
conditions so that they were regarded as a catalyst for faith
and belief which lowers the human fate and fear of the unescapable
death. Regarding the isolated case the event appears before the
experiencer indeed like a compensating gift, especially when the
experience´s circumstances were part of a greater existential
crisis. From that perspective NDEs have a positive effect on the
future life; Grosso additionally sees a chance through the experiences´
transforming character to leave behind overcome values and views
- even religious one and those concerning death - and speed up
Psychological tries for explication seem to be quite obvious at
a first look; the abilities of human mind to pretend facts that
are not existing is well known, even and especially once the respective
person is in a crisis situation. Already early examinations have
however shown a clear difference between near-death experiences
on the one side and other psychical experiences as well as psychiatric
patients on the other side. Crisis moments are individual reactions
related to a special situation, so that the intersubjective coincidences
will hardly reach a degree as it is the case at near-death experiences.
If NDEs should nevertheless be explained within the frame of a
psychiological defence mechanism one has to assign the respective
neurophysiological correlatives to it, which had to be hereditary,
too to explain the interpersonal and cross-cultural similarities.
The emerging and purpose of the mentioned structures is however
the same way problematic as is the often underlied scientific
Characteristic for the psychiological approach is the comparison
of near-death experiences with reports of alleged UFO-abductions.
Twemlow regards both appearances only real as far as it concerns
the respective person´s reality concept - both should be
seen as a try to reduce fear, where however UFO-abductions are
less successful. Those often take place in connection with a child´s
maltreatment or sexual abuse and seem to be a try to ascribe that
to extraterrestrial causes. While near-death experiences are crossing
cultures and epochs that could not be the case for the alledged
UFO-abductions, already because of their affinity to the supposed
spaceships. A comparison of the phenomenons is also not allowed
because NDEs do not require any special personal, social or physical
conditions but often happens suddenly and unexpected. Beyond it
the longer reaching aftereffects and the perceptions during
an OBE which are often related to reality are an obstacle for
the phenomenon´s comparison. Once UFO-abductions are put
next to autoscopic experiences for the purpose to explain both
as a flight from worrying reality it must be underlined that these
conditions are applying for OBEs in only some cases, but regularly
for the alleged abductions.
Under a paradigm one understands the way and method of thinking and concluding marking the scientific world view of a certain era. In mankinds early times an animistic perspective was common, within which one tried to explain thge appearances of nature; nowadays the disciplines of natural science - physics, chemistry, biology - have claimed to be able to fully explain the world.
The explication of near-death experiences within the paradigm of natural science could be done in many ways. Mostly several approaches are pulled up to explain that NDEs are nothing but psychical fictions or hallucinations without any claim for reality. That explication generally takes place within the frame of a materialistic understanding of science which includes a neurophysiological view of human consciousness.
An exception from that materialistic line are especially theologians
and philosophers, which may consider the near-death experience
to be a purely subjective phenomenon, but not exclude human transcendence
in general. Sceptics concerning NDEs must not necessarily mean
a materialistic world view; the other way round this is however
the very case.
Although the approaches could be divided into medical, neurophysiological and psychological models they mean a (neuro-) biological explication as far as there is a natural scientific view of the consciousness. Within the frame of that theory all psychical phenomenons are seen as a result of a developement navigated by evolution.
The basic thought of evolution theory as brought up by Charles Darwin is the natural selection of those beings which are the fittest for survival. The mechanisms necessary for that process are mutation and selection. The first means a change of the genes by outside influences, what then is shown in the following generation by a more or less changed descendant; selection finally means the fact, that only those beings survive which are able to overcome the others. That should be shown in a short example regarding a white-winged butterfly called amphidasis betularia, named after his sitting on birches for camouflage against eventual enemies. Once an accidental change of his genes - maybe through a malformation - effects that one butterfly gets black wings instead of white ones, it will attract attention before the white background of the birch. Long before it is able for reproduction, it will be devoured while his white counterpart can survive - because it is better adapted on its environment.
When in last century the upcoming industrialization led to sometimes heavy air pollutions so that even the original light birch trunks became sooty. On this backround the white butterfly had little chances; the former accidentally appearing black counterpart could now survive because of his camouflage on the dark trunk. The white amphidasis betularia however was detected by his enimies - and devoured before any eventual reproduction.
From now on the black butterfly stood on top, so that the white
species which appeared along whith accidental genetic changes
was the exception. The situation changed when air pollution decreased
and the birches got white again. Today the butterfly´s regular
colour is light again.
The example shown is about transmission of outer features, like the colour of wings. Many biologists claim however that all human attitudes, even intellectual ones and the character have been developed this way. The reason for further passing on remains always the same: The new intellectual abilities have proofed to be superior to the former ones, transmitted then to the next generation like a reflex. Near-death experiences and other paranormal experiences also have a place within that theory. That is explained with an advantage for human survival given from those experiences.
In that context also religions and cultural values are primarily
regarded as an fear-buffer mediating between the human survival
instinct and the finite nature of life which could be seen through
conscious reflection. That bridging function is also named Terror-Management;
while in earlier times religious ideas had come to meet human
desire for immortality, nowadays these are values accepted within
society, the preservation of which outlast the individual´s
life and give it a sense beyond death.
Even within the frame of theories of evolution biology the near-death experience could not be adequately explained. To regard it as a factor of advantage for survival those events should have taken place more often than it is obvious from sources. Further it should not be expected that the NDE´s phenomenology, once it is seen as a trustspending fiction of a beyond according to the Terror-Management, stands against other alleged cultural fear buffers in its content. That however ies exactly the case: The experiencers´ reports are often in contradiction to the existing religious ideas of life after death. That is obvious in the original Buddhism, in Mesopotamia and anywhere else where the ideas of a trustless underworld was common. Especially cultures with a limited expectation of the beyond should have adapted NDE-like experiences as a fear buffer.
The universal occurrance of NDEs finally requires that the neurophysiological
basis was already inclined during mankind´s early times;
that may even be the case as examinations from brain research
indicate. Within the frame of evolution biological explication
not only the existence of such structures is claimed; furthermore
they are to have an indeed advantage for survival. The
process of selection necessary therefore should manifested itself
in one way or another; one should at least expect from cultures
with original close relationship to nature that the fear buffer
there is (still) related to the NDE-phenomenology. Especially
at prehistoric and native religions however exists the idea of
a trustless underworld, a concept which changed only gradually,
so that the assumption of NDEs meaning an advantage for survival
is absolutely not plausible.
Near-death experiences are not just unexplainable within the frame
of evolution theory; the underlied materialistic scientific paradigm
is untenable, too. Especially intellectual-spiritual phenomenons
could not be adequately explicated. Materialism claims to be the
only valid theory of the world; according to that all appearances
are to be interpreted. Consequently, there is no immaterial soul
or world beyond and even no human sensation in its original sense:
it only means a ceratin brain state. According to this scientific
perspective there are no colours or feelings and impressions within
the physical world, but only atomic particles so that the speech
about those perceptions is obviously without sense. This however
is in contratry to all practical experiences and cannot be seen
in perspective even with the help of physical explanations; there
ingrained scientists are in need. At an indepht look it is more
obvious that psychical and physical phenomenons are in correlation,
i.e. standing next to each other without mutual replacing; that
approach also applies for near-death experiences.
As shown in the section above near-death experiences could not be adequately explained within the frame of natural scientific approaches; they are neither purely subjective but especially not reductable to neurophysiological state.
In reference to the openly appearing contradictions between the
different experiencers´ descriptions one would on the other
side not accept the experience as reported. For that the speech
about an NDE´s "colouring" has been accepted in
common. Connected with that approach is however a certain ontological
According to this the experiencer percieves some kind of a metaphysical reality which´s structure he fills with his own background. Seen this way the real phenomenons of the NDE present themselves as variables*, into which the respective person places his its own content. Apart from "technical" problems of that theory the question is about the kind and structure of the real existing variables. Generally it is conceivable that there is only one single such entity into which all subjective ideas of the beyond flow in; the same way could there be a specific variable for each of the phenomenons - being of light, deceased relatives, perception of environment, life perspective and others. To explain the similar structure of near-death experiences it is however necessary to assume at least a certain number of variables instead of just a "general" one.
In no way all experiencers are reporting the same order of the contents percieved, far less is the coincidence in most cases regarding the number of single elements. Apart from gaps in one´s memory, which may be held responsible for the absence of certain components one could assume that different persons are faced with differnt numbers and orders of "variables". The reason herefor may be within the experience´s circumstances or in certain metaphysical resp. so far unknown causes.
The existing problems of a part-realistic concept cannot be denied.
Nevertheless it means an approach which respects both, the experiencer´s
subjective moments and the obvious similarities in structure.
In that context it becomes insignificant whether the term "experience"
is used in a more subjective (impressions) or objective (observations)
meaning: The part-realistic explication is mentioning the subjective
character the same way as it names the metaphysical-objective
basis. Every-day experience is also marked by an experience of
subjective impressions gained by the perception of an outside
world, which could be observed by the senses. At the NDE however
the subjective "colouring´s" preponderance only
allows to suppose the suspected objective basis as a rough structure.
Near-death experiences are concerning central aspects of human
existence and important religious questions alike. Medical, psychiological
and sociological factors are also involved. From there it is not
surprising to see subjects concerned which usually mean a central
part of philosophy. Following some of those questions with a special
relationship to NDEs will be addressed.
Deifinitionen naturally are arbitrary fixings; the question of death makes no exception. Regarding the point of biological death the difficulty is to ascertain it exactly and find appropriate criterias herefor. NDEs are concerned with that fixing as far as they always happen before the "point of no return" ereignen - according to that definition, because the crossing of a point without return means to give up the chance of coming back to life and report any experience. Especially from a theological point of view comes the claim that NDEs cannot contain any insight into otherworlds and their structures because the experiencer had not left behind the border of biological death. That argument is not well-founded however. If for example it is assumed that one´s spirit resp. soul is able to separate from the body and - under certain conditions - reach other - "otherworldly" regions, there is no reason why that shouldn´t also be the case shortly before biological death or even at other occasions. The same way it could not be assumed that one has perceptions immediately after death or maybe later which are of an underworldly nature: In early Hinduism was the idea of the preta-state, marked by a transitional remaining within earthly regions. Finally, worlds beyond are not defined by an eventual access after death, but through their transcendency.
So the part-realistic concept of NDEs is absolutely independent
from the question of the point of death and its definition and
therefore compatible with it.
The phenomenology of near-death experiences favours the assumption that a spiritual part connected with the body leaves thatself during the experience taking with it the experiencer´s personal identity. With that the NDE is amit an old philosophical and theological tradition supposing the soul´s solubility from the body; Prof. Arthur Hoffmann even believes that with NDE-like experiences ther is "an undoubtable empirical proof for the existence of a body-soluble soul and a life beyond".
The assumption of two kinds of events different from each other:
psychical and physical - Descartes claimed the existence of two
substances with total difference - leads to the problem of psycho-physical
interaction: the one between body and mind. Without an indepht
look at the various approaches and their difficulties, it can
be said that near-death experiences during their autoscopic phase
as well as OBEs are clearly putting towards that problem. Very
interesting are those cases where the alleged extracorporal perceptions
could be verified: Experiencers have sometimes made observations
which were simply impossible from their perspektive resp. their
physical state. That´s the case especially when the body
is lying in one room, the perceptions however are related to another
room, another floor or even a building far away; in some cases
the experiencer was blind.Although no theoretical deductions could
be gained from subjective experiences the phenomenology of autoscopic
perceptions suggests the existence of a sould separable from the
body; without a favour for a specific dualism concept the observations
reported are at least an indication against monistic as well as
Proofs for the Existence of God have been used since early days to award faith with a rational support. In this connection it was tried to find proof for god´s necessary existenc thorugh a sequence of arguments oriented on mathematics. Although contradictions and gaps have appeared at the logical construction as well as in regard of the underlied attributes of the god that has to be proofed yet, efforts have been made recently to get the respective proof. Chances of a compelling argumentation - and only such is interesting at all - are however small.
The more seem near-death experience to be a welcomed support in this area. Especially the fact that even atheistic, unreligious or agnostic persons report an encounter with a "being of light" interpreting it as god is in favour of that assumption. Not few near-death researchers and experiencers are looking at NDEs from that perspective.
Quite obviously that concept of "proof" cannot mean
the kind of argumentation which got its entry into philosophy
and theology. Even the speech about an "empirical*
proof for the existence of god" may be problematic: In contrast
to every-day perception the experiencing at the NDE is sometimes
"coloured" with cultural and personal backgrounds; that
may also be the case when interpretations of the "being of
light" are contradictory. Because there is no empirical observation
in the usual sense the speech should not be of an empirical proof
for god´s existence but of a "part-empirical indication"
for the existence of god.
A general problem in judging near-death experiences means the often underlined different kind of that phenomenon. So the total incomparibility with the world here structured by space and time is mentioned and said that the experienced could not be expressed with the help of the usual means of of language. From there attention must be paid already at the experiencers original descriptions; a literary reproduction seemst to be problematic even for the subjective impressions.
To that risks comes the apparant "colouring" of the experience´s content with cultural and personal backgrounds; that influence may be supposed to take place already during the NDE, it may as well be assumed to occurr in connection with the remembering on the past experience. Some experiencers are only able to get a memory of the event within a certain period of time, where the experience then gets some form; during that time however there may be some interpretations of the content already being in memory. To that first impressions the later following may further be adjusted while recalling.
The "colouring´s" limits obviously are the metaphysical structures of the event; as the objective basis they guarantee that those experiences are variing along cultures and epochs, but only within the variables given. Another limit for the influence of the personal and cultural background is shown in autoscopic experiences: Obviously there is no "colouring" so that it means a real observation of one´s surroundings.
Whether there are in addition different degrees of "colouring"
or whether those may be sometimes absent during the NDE cannot
be decided because of a lack of criterias; the variing interpretations
of the "being of light" which are more or less dominated
by religious marks are however in favour of a gradual "colouring"
of the experience.
A series of arguments are in favour of the assumption that NDEs are not simply subjective inside events but also contain an objective basis. The cross-cultural similarities that were already mentioned several times are often seen as a justification for this. Further are there verifications of observations made during an OBE as it was named in the second undersection.
The fact that children as well have near-death experiences has already been judged as an argument against the claim that an otherworld was only constructed; indeed the projection of sozial and cultural ideas is the least plausible at children. It is further unclear why they should invent such comlex experiences or present the concept of a soul separated from the body while beiing in an emergency situation. Objections from that kind that there is an inborn reaction model have already been shown as unworkable in chapter III. 4.
The phenomenology of near-death experiencers alone is against the thesis that the NDE is nothing but a projection of personal, cultural and social marked expectations and wishes: Often the experienced does not coincide with one´s own resp. acquired expectations. The fact that many observations contain a moment of surprise is also tending against a sole subjectivity of the events: So there was astonishment: at the OBE concerning own body, at the NDE because of the environment or at the encounter with deceased relatives in reference to those whose death wasn´t yet known.
The occurring extraordinary sensations already reported from an
OBE are setting that type of experience apart from wishful dreaming
and projections. Tiberi finally establihes a connection between
those emotional experiences and the perception of a metaphysical
structure. He compares those impressions with mystic experiences
where he also suspects a dormant potential that was awakened;
through the assumed stopped flow of informations from brain the
consciousness would not be uncoupled, but rather intensified.
Next to the emotional perceptions within the OBE/NDE also the typical personality changes after a near-death experience argue against a comparison with dreams, hallucination or other purely subjective experiences. In addition, many experiencers have the desire to open up to somebody. Quite problematic however is the mentionig of physical changes that are not claimed entirely but occasionally.
The positive changes are not limited to the respective experiencer:
At persons for example who dedicate themselves to the research
of the near-death phenomenon one could also monitor effects such
as a reduced fear of dying. For that reason NDEs have already
been sucessfully included into the therapy of suicide patients.
At the NDE the experiencer makes a lot of observations for which he usually needs certain sense organs while apparantly off the body; this is especially clear during autoscopic perceptions, that could not be dismissed as an inside experience any more. Some experiencers were able to describe their physical sorroundings correct and completely, to read writings or describe lapses of time; there is however a connection to the age, the OBE-duration or even the impact of medicines during the experience. In these cases already - and especially at shortsighted or usually blind persons - the question of how to percieve without sense organs comes up. The already existing body-mind problem gets an additional even more complicating aspect. No sense organ at all is available for the imminent sensation of other humans´ feelings. Nevertheless many experiencers report that they have put themselves into someone else´s emotional situation during their life perspective.
Once it is further assumed that the experiencer uses memories
from the past for the NDE´s "colouring" it seems
justified to suppose these impressions stored within the respective
person´s brain memory. In that case the informations would
- like in any normal process if remembering - somehow find an
entry into the experiencer´s consciuosness. Therefore one
may assume a certain connection that is "cut" when biological
death approaches. The memory also plays a role in connection with
the experiencer´s identity or the remembering of concrete
scenes of life. If those impressions are located as stored in
brain, the problem of transmission comes up; once however the
respective memories are seen as belonging to the "spiritual"
part, one should explain the function of the various neuronal
structures. The position of an "as well as" can also
not clear the situation. Although that question does not lead
to gaps of a new kind in regard of the already existing body-mind
problem, it should not be excluded from further considerations.
Nonly direct and remembered perceptions and impressions are leading to metaphysical questions. The same applies for a series of other elements of the NDE. So does an experiencer´s life perspective sometimes get a moral judgement; some persons claim to have got certain "lessons" from the "being of light".
Ring went into another direction in 1984 when he reported about visions some experiencers claimed to have had of their future life. The reason for the quite uncritical acceptance of such reports may be that the experiencer was supposed to be in a "region" uncoupled fromtime and space; in analogy it is assumed within philosophical and theological discussions that an omniscient god stays out of time and independent from actual events. At a first look the general possibility of such "ways of perception" seems quite conceivable; once however the fact is respected that the experiencers´ reports are mostly "coloured" descriptions in which also hopes for the future may have flown in the situation might be judged more critical. Especially at predictions which are related to one´s personal future the additional danger is that the respective experiencer works actively on the fulfillment of the those predictions; the difference to a simple aim that is set and finally reached is disappearing that way.
A verification of future visions could at best be shown at specific predictions that for example concern global developements. Ring didn´t hesitate to dedicate a seperate chapter to this idea. The predictions he got were quite different: They mentioned the eruption of vulcanos, earthquakes, natural catastrophies, famines and nuclear wars; next to that the speech was about an "era of brotherhood" and about a peace spanning the world. In the cases named the scenario was presented as an inevitable. According to the often given year of the predicted event those visions do however have some coomon ground: None of the forecast has come true.
From some experiencers it is finally reported that they had access
to unlimited knowledge during the event, but can´t fall back
on it now. Without a regard to the problem in general which is
similar to that of the predictions, such descriptions could also
be found in religious literature; also the soldier Er at
Plato reported about the river of oblivion (Lethe), of which
the persons he met in the beyond had drunken before their reincarnation,
something he wasn´t allowed to do.
With the judgement of near-death experiences a basic decision
is made, disregarding the respective point oif view. The question
is what kinds of experiences - every-day ones, dreams, NDEs, hallucinations,
conscious memories and imaginations - are real and valid for the
gaining of knowledge. In advanced civilizations the assumption
is, as everyone knows, that only those experiences corresponding
with the physical world are a true reflection of reality. The
view is not conclusive for primitive societies: At the Tscherokesians
for example a man who dreamt to be bited by a snake has nevertheless
to undergo a treatment as if he was really injured. The contrasting
between real every-day perceptions and subjective experiences
without a claim for reality is obvious today and has been established
especially because of the general reliability of "normal"
observation; also from there the experiences seen as purely subjective
have been judged as meaningless if not unwelcome. If we returned
to the kind of perception marking early humans and put any experience
equally next to the other we would get a situation that would
appear before us as chaotic and contradictory; a result that would
lead to the rejection of this model of experience. We do however
not have a criterion that would allow us with the last certainty
to assume a world which´s appearances are constant and reliable;
any concept of reality has therefore to fall back on intuitive
decisions. Those may seem to be no prolem in general, within the
case given that fundamental decision must however been mentioned.
Continuity and reliability are assumed once near-death experiences
are regarded as a proof for life after death. Although NDE´s
phenomenology doesn´t stand against this at all it must be
underlined that a constant nature is already underlied. In principle
however various scenarios are conceivable at an experiencer´s
crossing of the brink of biological death; even a following existence
in otherworld regions must not inlude its eternal duration. At
this point it should be refered to Descartes who regarded his
Meditationes as a proof for soul´s immortality after
having first shown the difference between body and spirit. That
conclusion was untenable however; in a letter to Mersenne Descartes
had to admit therefore:
"When you say that I hadn´t mentioned the soul´s
immortality with any word, so you shouldn´t be surprised.
Because I wouldn´t be able at all to prove that god can´t
eradicate it, but only that it has a very different nature than
the body and therefore does not have the natural fate to die with
The bridging of missing criterias through intuitive*
conclusions is especially wide spreat in cases which - like the
near-death experience for example - mean a human crisis situations.
That problem however isn´t just concerning existential questions
and border phenomenons: Even scientific research is standing on
grounds which couldn´t be rationally justified any more but
are to be decided by intuition: Any sequence of reasons has its
certain end at a time. Similarily that applies for many areas
of human life. For that reason intuitive assumptions and conclusions
are not an exception of rational thinking which should be avoided;
they rather mean the basis and tools of rational decisions, too.
With their help only there can be an balanced interpretation of
the near-death phenomenons. During that examination science cannot
exlude the question of life after death.
At a first look near-death experiences have presented themselves an an amivalent appearance: On the one side a ceratin fascination radiates from them, the hope of getting insights to worlds beyond. On the other side do the various descriptions show a contradiction which together with the obvious personal character is suggesting that these experiences are at best an impressive hallucination. If one isn´t in a hurry to make a quick decision in favour of one position or the other there are a series of interesting discoveries which could be made with a scientific approach; so far they haven´t got much attention.
At first there are a great number of indications that NDE-like experiences have always been a companion of man; their influence on religious ideas and concepts of the beyond is obvious in many cultures. Whith the upcoming natural sciences and their claim for explications those experiences were driven back. Their phenomenology has hardly to be brought in line with the new standards of rationality*. They could at best expect some recognition within the frame of religious mystic or traditional belief.
The situation chaged despite and also because of scientific developements: Clinically dead persons that were later resuscitated reported about experiences during their critical condition. After some of them have found a speaker and made their descriptions public others aa well overcame their inhibitions: More and more experiencers reported about their perceptions.
Since that breakthrough more then two decades have passed; a variety of studies about the NDE habe appeared so far. On this basis it is meanwhile possible to get a quite overview about the nature of near-death experiences and their religious dimension.
The decisive conclusions coming out of the examination
of near-death experiences are at first concerning the developement
of religions. That impact should get more attention in the future
although the history of religions won´t have to be changed
into the histrory of near-death experiences.
While today there is often a tendency to put mystical and extraordinary experiences within religious sources into a supposed rational explication, insights from near-death research are outting towards the contrary direction: Behind some events may be an NDE-like experience.
In reference to the historical developement near death experiences and similar events get a remarkable meaning: They were a support for the upcoming idea of a soul and have obviously marked man´s ideas of the otherworld, too. A decisive impact did NDEs have at monotheistic religions.
It is Moses, who´s vocation experience appears in new light once connected with a NDE-like experience; following on his way are Jesus, Paul and Mohammed. It are several similar factors at each time which together are strenghtening towards a pronounced vocation experience. Such influences are absent within Eastern religions; nevertheless near-death experiences have occurred there as in virtually any other societiy and culture.
Even in cross-cultural comparison NDEs appear with the same structure and phenomenology. These are nearly adapted by the religions of divine mission but only recieved within the Estern believe systems while their content has been rejected. Independent from the respective religion´s readiness to accept the phenomenology of near-death experiences it could be supposed that their extraordinary nature has lastingly influenced the life of religion´s founders. Whether they have judged the single appearances to be true or only regarded the experience itself as extrasensory does not decide about the religions´ general assessment: With near-death and similar experiences they all have an underlying (part-) realistic event in common.
That objective basis awards all religions with a transcedental foundation. As a result however the exclusiveness and legitimacy of the single communities is questioned: If they all have an equal underlying reality then their differences must be based on earthly things, on tradition and customs.
The part-realistic approach, which has presented
itself as the only workable model is putting the historical religions´
claim for truth into perspective; at the same time it is not dismissing
them to simply social phenomenons without a connection to reality.
More is it the individual, who is asked to search for a wise interpretation
of the religious pictures while taking the underlying experiences
The assumed real basis is revealing itself through its structure at the near-death experience. Although the part-realistic approach cannot disclose its nature, the NDE´s "coloured" variables do at least give indications of what might be behind the experience´s multifarious phenomenons. Proofs in the word´s true sense can only come from mathematics; all other sciences have to rely on obbservations and their interpretation. From that point near-death experiences can also be just a signpost towards the essential aspects of human life: Towards transcendental realities.
The question about the nature of a "world beyond" is legitimate according to our desire to compare it with our earthly existence: Can we expect a continuity of our being? Despite all "colourings" which leave the near-death experience in a mysterious cloud some structures have become obvious, leading to more or less speculative conclusions:
Apperantly there are the experiencer´s maintaining identity,
the percieved "inhabitable world", the meeting of deceased
persons, the encounter of a figure characterized as a "being
of light" and the emotional mood found there. Although it
is hidden in the end what will reveal itself in detail, the near-death
experiences are giving the legitimate hope that the reality beyond
is in line with our expectations and the certainty that it really
The interpretation of near-death experiences remains of course
an individual task; it may well include religious ideas and philosophical
considerations. Only within that greater context can the personal
meaning of those experiences be realized which are an old and
loyal companion of man, but were discovered only recently.
Agnostic Person who rejects the idea of a rational or
percievable knowledge about god or extrasensory things
Ambivalent Appearing in two contrary ways
Anaesthesia Medication with narcotics
Apokryphic scriptures Texts that have not been taken into the
scriptures of a religous community
Audio-visual Concerning the senses of hearing and seeing
Autoscopic-experience Experience of being outside the body
Canonical scriptures Texts which belong to a religious
communities´ common scriptures
Classification Order along groups/categories
Dualism Assumption of two objects that are totally different
from each other (here: body-mind)
Endogenetic From one´s own body
Evolution (theory) (Assumtions about) the developement of
the world of animals and plants as well as the one
Henotheism Believe to a few goddesses
Interference Mutual crossing
Intuitive Feeling or realizing without further/former
acts of thinking and justifying
Metaphysical Behind observable and experiencable things
Monotheism Believe to just one god
Mysteries Ritual service, only accessable for initiated
Mythical Legendary, emerged from poetry
Mystical Full of secrets
Neurobiology Science about neuron system´s function
Neurophysiologie Specific Science about the neuron system
Neurophysiological correlatives Brain activity accompanying an
Neurotransmitter Substance needed for the transmission of
stimulations within the brain
Objective Really existing, independently from a person;
Ontological Concerning the existence, the being
Opiate Drug with narcotic effect
Originally From the very beginning
Paranormal/parapsychological Existing next to the normal, but
reaching beyond usual sensual perception
Phenomenon/Phenomenology Appearance/Structure of apppearance
Polytheism Believe to many goddesses
Reincarnation Process of being reborn
Sensory Deprivation Lack (essential) on sensual impressions
Subjective Only existing in connection with a subject (person) and his personal experience (opposite: objective)
Sufi Islamic Mystic, seclusive
(Multi-) synergetic Strengthening through the combination of
(many) forces towards a common direction
Synoptics Evangelists with a very high textual similarity
(Matthew, Mark, Luke)
Terminology Use of words and terms
Thanatology Research about death and dying
Death, biological (=brain death) Final death, irreversible,
i.e. could not be turned around
Death, clinical Taking place at cardiac arrests and
breathing´s interruptions; after a certain period
of time transission into biological death
Transzendency Reaching into another reality
Typology Building of certain classes of an appearance
Variable Something to fill in
Verification Ways to certify, show the truth
visual Concerning the ability to see
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[Internet-based English edition was used for this translation
IANDS-Great Britain: email@example.com
Paranormal Phenomenons: http://www.crown.net/X/NDE.html
Exp. (Experiencer): Person with a paranormal experience
OBE: Out-of-Body Experience
NDE: Near-Death Experience
JNDS Journal for Near-Death Studies
VS Vital Signs
Vital Signs and Journal for Near Death Studies are
released from the International Association for Near-Death Studies
1.) Gender: 42% female, 58% male - 4 Persons are listed twice.
2.) Number of equal experiences:
together one: 79%
together two: 10%
together three: 4%
together four or more: 4%
together more, no number: 1%
3.) Number of other "paranormal" experiences:
together one: 10%
many, no number: 14%
4.) Sources of Reports:
47% answered imminently
40% had prepared reports
5.) Time of experience: 40% before 1975; 44% after 1975; 16%
6.) Age at experience:
9% Child (till 6 Y.)
6% Elementary school (7-10 Y.)
2% School (11-14 Y.)
4% Youth (15-18 Y.)
19% Adult, early (19-30 Y.)
(Age at experience) 23% Adult, later (31-50 Y.)
4% Adult, late (51-65 Y.)
1% Senior (66+ Y.)
32% no figures available
7.) Surroundings at experience:
23% at home
36% in hospital
19% in traffic
22% others/no figures
8.) Type of experience:
2% clinical death withou experience
12% NDE-/OBE-like experience
12% other expereince
9.) Extraordinary circumstances at 9% of the cases.
10.) Religious activity, now:
10% very little/none
15% organized, religious oriented 2% strong - missionary attitude 25% esoteric attitude
2% antireligious attitude
31% no figures
11.) Overaverage engagement, also social one at 21% of the cases.
12.) Circumstances at experience:
17% Sudden appearance
4% Drug consumption
46% Accident/sudden physical conditions
13.) Medical conditions:
12% clinically death
51% no figure available
14.) Unconsciousness: 6% of the cases with consciousness, 6% with partial
15.) Duration of physical conditions:
10% up to 5 minutes
4% up to 20 minutes
10% up to 1 hour
10% several hours
74% no details
16.) Cause of the experience´s end:
7% successful resuscitation
4% Medication or other lifting of the coma.
44% awakened themeselves
44% no details/doesn´t apply
17.) Immediate consciousness after the experience´s end in
42% of the cases.
17% "classiscal" NDE
10% "untypical" NDE
48% "uncomplete" NDE
2% dream experience
10% sudden vision/experience
2% evokable vision
4% other experience
2% no experience
19.) OBE/autoscopic perspective:
37% autoscopic perspective
10% "conclusive" autoscopic perspective
20.) Kind of Perceptions:
30% no special ones reported
21% special quality of senses
2% ability to see thoughts and feelings
6% ability of other special perceptions
6% feeling of comprehensive knowledge
1% feeling of future visions
2% feeling of connectedness with everything
2% other possibilities of perception
15% mix of several possibilities
14% no figures/doesn´t apply
21.) Ability of movement:
11% no own movement
16% movement as usual
22% movement in a different way
51% no details/doesn´t apply
22.) Description of the "spiritual body":
9% no special memory
16% similarity to earthly body
4% only parts existing/observable
12% no body existing
9% totally different "spiritual body"
54% no figures/doesn´t apply
23.) Transitional stages:
40% Tunnel or similar
5% other transissional stage
15% no transitional stage
5% whole expereince in tunnel
37% no figures/doesn´t apply
24.) Visual or acoustical perceptions hereby at 22%, totally
other perceptions had 4%.
25.) Acoustical perceptions in general had 86%, 6% music/instruments,
1% of a kind totally undescribable.
26.) Percieved Environment:
2% other objects
22% mixed perceptions
11% totally different perception
23% no figures/doesnt apply
27.) Emotional situation/Sensation of time:
4% emotional, with sense of time
41% emotional, without sense of time
1% normale perception, with sense of time
28% quite normal perception without sense of time
1% only emotional situation mentioned 25% others
28.) Encounter with relatives and persons:
4% only relatives
17% only other persons/beings
10% both of above
1% even met known personality
68% no details/others
29.) Observation of known objects and animals:
7% only animals
2% only known paintings
4% only known geometric shapes or figures
86% no details/no observation
30.) Perception of other -spiritual et.al. - beings:
21% positive ones
2% negative ones
1% religious figures (not: interpreted being of light)
31.) Recognition of beings/persons:
17% according to the outside
11% intuitively or others
15% no details
32.) Communication with them in 28% of the cases;
6% of the cases report communication organs like earthly ones;
42% of the cases mention other means of communication.
33.) Encounter with a "being of light"/higher being
14% no encounter
2% no figures/doesn´t apply
34.) Interpretation of being:
7% no interpretation
23% god, in a religious sense
20% god, outside religious context
20% interpretation as generic term/goodness/light/love...
35.) Recognition/Communication with that being:
12% Communication, recognition on outside
30% Communication, recognition on charisma
4% no communication, recognitionon on outside
12% no communication, recognition on charisma
36.) Life perspective at 39% of the cases, hereby at 16% with
37.) Moral aspects applied for 25% of the cases.
20% general orders
9% direct orders
1% religious message
39.) Reasons for the return:
22% none/sudden return
1% barrier/border et. al.
12% announced from being of light
2% announced from other persons/beings
5% own wish for return fulfilled within discussion
6% active desire to return
7% mixture of the above
12% other circumstances
33% no details/others
40.) Wish to stay:
70% others/no details
41.) Outside circumstances of return:
9% return like entry
4% other return conditions
32% sudden return/no memory
6% totally different conditions
49% no details/others
42.) Autoscopic view before returned:
43.) Having felt the entry into the body via the head do claim
25% of the cases.
44.) Immediate aftereffects:
1% Lasting feeling of happiness
11% Other effects
86% no details/doesn´t apply
45.) Changed attituted towards death:
10% reduced fear
21% no fear any more
4% always been without fear
65% no details/others
46.) A remarkable increase of social engagement could be seen
at 6% of the cases.
47.) Changed attitude towards life:
6% no change
15% remarkable change
46% very considerable change
33% no details/others
48.) Further changes:
9% changes at occupation
7% change or exit of the religious community
5% impacts on family
28% other changes ( 2% elektrophysical sensibility et. al.)
51% no changes/no details
49.) 5 % of the experiencers expressly assume a "colouring" of their experience.
50.) Awareness of OBEs/NDEs before the own case:
8% no details/doesn´t apply/others
51.) Repeat of the experience:
5% not wished
78% no details/others
52.) Religious moments at the experience:
18% religious stamping
16% strong stamping, religious interpretation
1% doesn´t apply
53.) Religious messages appeared at 15% of the case, moral aspects
54.) Impact of the experience of future life:
4% little effect
38% remarkable effect
36% strong impact
16% decisive impact
6% no details/others
All figures are in reference to the number of examined experiences,
not to the underlying experiencers. As a result of the proportianal
projection there can be numerical crossings of the 100% mark up-
or downwards regarding the total number. Missing figures: No details/others.