The Juxtamortal Dream
Proxima deinde tenent maesti loca, qui sibi letum
The next places are inhabited by the sad people who, not guilty
- The Aeneid (published 19 B.C.), Book Six, vv. 434-439
by Publius Vergilius Maro
The assumptions I make in what follows are presented here so that readers may decide at the outset whether they wish to continue reading. The assumptions are:
Unfortunately, the NDE phenomenon has been used by many charlatans, magicians, religious ideologues and others to gain power, money and fame. Such individuals take advantage of the credulity of large numbers of people to delude and exploit them. Luckily, there are others, such as members of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), who have done much to debunk the misunderstandings, delusions and outright lies and deception so often found among false proponents of the paranormal. The card-guessing games of many parapsychologists as well as the fortune-telling activities of many "psychics" and the trickery of professional magicians have been shown to be often little more than deception of oneself or others, due to the efforts of people such as those who belong to CSICOP. These people have demonstrated irrefutably that true psychic phenomena are not founded in any way on electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, or anything else in the world of physics.(4) The truly psychic (or "supernatural") and the physical, while somehow communicating with one another, are completely separate in nature and function. The view espoused here, however, is that of Rupert Sheldrake: that the "laws" of physics are in fact of the nature of habit (i.e., deeply engrained memories). This means that these habits can, under certain highly unusual conditions, be changed. In many cases, however, the sceptical members of CSICOP and their associates are correct and to be commended for their work in separating truth from falsehood.
At the same time, there is a pronounced tendency on the part of the sceptics (or "skeptics," as they often term themselves) to discredit more than the facts would allow them to discredit. Cases which prompt them to do this are those involving life and death, cases where they produce marvelously simple rationalizations of such things as the nature of genetic transmission, or of the NDE mentioned above. Almost invariably, for instance, the "supersceptics" claim that the forms of living beings are "programmed" into their DNA. How this could be so, when the only thing known for sure about DNA is that it codes for amino acids and proteins, not forms, is not explained by them. But when a philosopher-scientist such as Rupert Sheldrake suggests that a memory-complex (which Sheldrake calls a "morphic field") might be responsible for this, and also suggests experiments by which to test his theory, they offer little more than ridicule to counter his ideas. For it is easy to expose quacks or unscientific and credulous people, but not so easy to do the same to individuals such as Sheldrake.
In recent decades the fundamental principle of evolution has been determined. That principle is called evolutionary epistemology, from the Greek word epistêmê, "knowledge, intelligence, insight" and -logía, "collection (of information); lore." In other words, the whole of biological evolution, from the beginning of life on earth to the present, is a learning process. Many biologists are of the opinion that this process is purely mechanical, based upon "selfish genes" and nothing more than survival of the fittest. The countless evolutionary jumps - abrupt emergences of higher species from lower ones - are explained away as pure accident or as only apparent and due to gaps in the historical record.
In contrast, Sheldrake views life as a form of matter which accumulates and coordinates memories, that is, learns. He suggests that the jumps are psychosomatic and caused by the same reconfigurative, "unconscious" problem-solving that is seen is lesser scope in ourselves when, after struggling with some knotty problem, the answer suddenly pops fully armed into our heads from our unconscious. The transition takes place virtually instantaneously and from the collective mind of the affected group, and is not due to some random genetic fluctuation. To oversimplify: a small (perhaps feathered) dinosaur subspecies living amongst the trees suddenly, overnight and without any intermediate steps, becomes a flying animal with feathers. The subspecies "reformulates" itself.
Something analogous may occur in the cases of the mysterious "spontaneous healings" and sudden, startling remissions which are found from time to time in medicine: an individual on a deathbed, afflicted with some disease lethal in 99.999% of all cases, suddenly and without any visible external aid, becomes wholly cured and restored to normal life. All in a matter of a few hours or less. Diehard sceptics will assure themselves that there was a misdiagnosis of some sort to begin with, or chalk it up to the "insufficient data" category. The idea that the cure might be mental in nature is inacceptable to them. My own view is that such healings are due to a "recapitulation" or "rethinking" of the bodily state by the unconscious - perhaps sometimes with paranormal help. And, as will become clear, I suggest that this same kind of "mental reorganization" is involved in the NDE.
The most difficult phenomenon of all for sceptics to explain is the NDE. It is often explained away as merely a hallucination resulting from, e.g., the deprivation of oxygen, etc., in the brain. It is pointed out repeatedly that the person did not really die. This, of course, is true, and is why the NDE is called a Near-Death Experience.(5) But there are additional elements which the supersceptics prefer to ignore or dismiss with facile rationalizations, and the supercredulous often try to twist to their own preconceptions.
To begin with, the symbolic experiences of the NDE are utterly unlike any true hallucination. In the latter, the perceived happenings are obviously self-contradictory, even insane, often involving great confusion, and are frequently followed by the mental or even bodily deterioration of the afflicted individual. The hallucinations caused by drugs are the best-known examples. Here, the experience can be shown to be anything but uplifting.
In contrast, the visions of the NDE are coherent and the subject is in a state of high awareness, as evidenced by his or her testimony afterward. They are neither chaotic nor disintegrative. Quite the opposite is true: its parts are logically related, exquisitely structured and life-enhancing for the experiencer, as is clear from the didactic "lessons" which the subject later relates. Even when horrifying, they are in no way "crazy." In fact, as will become increasingly clear, the juxtamortal experience belongs to the category of the lucid dream rather than of the hallucination - a very powerful dream in which one often perceives the biological and psychological structure of one's own self and much else besides. It is often also salutary and psychologically integrative. Only a diehard or perhaps neurotic debunker would consider a dreamer crazy.
Dreaming of any type depends on an intact brain, however quiescent. Thus, if the brain is either damaged or so affected by the trauma of disease or injury that it is seriously impaired, it is less likely that a juxtamortal dream will occur. As clinical psychologist Robert Kastenbaum relates in his Is There Life After Death? The latest evidence analyzed,(6) those who are objectively closest of all to actual death are less likely to report NDEs than those who are "merely close" to it.
The hypothesis offered here is that the juxtamortal dream consists essentially in an interchange of information between the inframind (the "transpersonal" psychic realm) and the constitutive memories of the deep brain. Inflowing information can be apprehended only through these memory structures - through memories as "windows." Naïve people who do not understand this - both religious believer and agnostic brain researchers - will mistake the near-death psychodrama in some literal way. The naïve believer may take it to be only supernatural, the naïve researcher as only psycho-biochemical, whereas in reality it is both.
Most instructive is the fact that the Near-Death Experiencer often sees his or her own life, from infancy (or even before) to the present. The method of this "seeing" varies considerably: sometimes it is seen like a movie, sometimes as a sequence of still shots; sometimes in color, other times in monochrome; sometimes in the sequence in which things actually happened, sometimes in reverse; sometimes wholly or as a montage, sometimes only the highlights. But in any case, the dying person frequently sees his or her self in toto, as a complete "self-constructed" entity consisting of the memories laid down during life: the self as memory-complex - as "morphic field," in Sheldrake's terms. One fact about the "life review" is clear: that the function of memory is highly activated and very powerful in the NDE.
It would be most presumptuous of anyone to say that the NDEer is in such a case hallucinating, since the evoked memories are those of true events - that is, they are remembered by the subject and others as having actually transpired during his or her life. If these were "hallucinations," then all memories of whatever type would have to be hallucinations. As in an ordinary dream, envisioned memory elements may indeed be mingled with other factors, but they are organically integrated with them, not disjointed as cocaine addicts often report about their "trips."
It thus appears that the typical NDEer's memory is working fine - in fact, much better than it normally does, since we cannot normally recall events from long ago, and we all repress many things from normal consciousness to the point where they cannot be recalled at all. In this respect, the NDE - the juxtamortal dream - can be considered a point of total recall.
The confirmed sceptic will normally gloss over this matter of the life review, and hurry on to what he really wants to oppose: the seemingly "supernatural" or "netherworldly" aspects of the experience. These include the often described vision of the "Light" (there is a strong Gnostic component in all of these reports), the encounters with the dead and with religious figures (Christ, an angel, a Hindu god, etc.), and seemingly preliminary but often life-changing glimpses of heaven, purgatory, hell, or other otherworldly "places." Since it is impossible to subject these dream-like experiences to an antagonistic scientist's laboratory, and because they are symbolic in nature rather than directly observable in a clinical sense, the sceptic usually dismisses them as the pathological products of a brain in extreme stress: products which have no objective validity whatsoever. Why the juxtamortal dream should be regarded as pathological while ordinary dreams are not, has yet to find an answer.
Many brain researchers seem to be obsessed with the various visual and affective elements of the NDE such as the "Light," the feelings of peace and so forth. Most of these components are individually replicable through drugs that release a monoamine neurotransmitter (serotonin), various endorphins, or techniques of direct electrical brain stimulation or the like. In their defense, it may be said that the juxtamortal dreamers themselves often overemphasize these visual and affective elements. However, what gets lost in the shuffle is the meaning of these elements taken as a whole and, above all, the clearly paranormal aspects of such experiences when these also appear. So the NDE is basically dismissed as nothing more than the results of intense brain stress.
Such dismissal amounts to jumping to conclusions. To begin with, we know from clinical psychology that normal nocturnal dreams often have symbolic aspects or components which refer to real psychological or physical facts about the dreamer's life or body. The appropriate approach, as with other dreams, is to ask about the meaning of the symbols, not just their literal form. A "divine figure," for instance, is the symbol of the self as harmoniously integrated both within itself and with the totality of existence. The oft-reported "light" is a symbol of knowledge - the learning process inherent in evolution and in one's own body structure, while "darkness" is just the reverse: a symbol of the active refusal to learn and evolve, or of the frustration of the evolutionary process in some way.
The core of the paranormal is meaning. But the import or significance of a particular happening cannot be shown until the event (say, a poltergeist outbreak) is first evaluated by the human mind. This takes time, sometimes much time. If one is predisposed to misinterpret the paranormal deliberately or to subject it in advance to conditions of meaninglessness under the guise of strict laboratory controls, one will never see it. In this way it is much like humor. Moreover, a particular "message" or revelation may be received in many different ways and modes. To expect uniform, "scientifically replicable" manifestations of such a message is to underestimate grossly how fundamental the paranormal is. In the juxtamortal dream, all of the most profound elements of the human mind are used to transmit, and hence to interpret, the awesome ordinations of this pre-linguistic, "pre-geometrical," pre-experiential foundation of being. The error many neurological researchers make is to mistake these mental elements - such as the experience of brain-generated "light," drug-produced "mystical euphoria," or physically caused "out-of-body" sensation - for the core of the NDE. They are not. They are means of expression only, much as distant falling rain is a means to turning white sunlight into a rainbow of different colors. And what these means express in the NDE is the all-sustaining Mind of the Life Source: the cosmic inframind. The unexpected, uncanny things associated with, or resulting from, the NDE show this.
Often the NDEer claims to have met people who had died. This is the most difficult item of all for sceptics to accept. Even one of the best researchers of the topic, Carol Zaleski, almost totally ignores this element in her otherwise excellent Otherworld Journeys.(7) The prevailing view among the cultural elites is that the subject does not learn anything at all which was not previously in his or her mind in some way. Thus when the "shade" of a deceased person is reported to have told the subject something which could not possibly have been known by that subject beforehand, the report is simply dismissed out of hand and the subject ridiculed for having imagined it in the first place.
In addition, it is demonstrably true that many apparitions of the dead, and much associated therewith, arise from within the visionary's own unconscious, not from the depths beyond it. So NDEers, seeking to avoid ridicule, usually keep their experiences to themselves.
Dr. Raymond Moody, a psychologist who is both a Ph.D. and an M.D., has long worked with people who have had NDEs. In the last decade he has constructed what the ancient Greeks used to employ to consult the dead: a psychomanteum (accent on the "e").(8) He has recently described this place and his work with it in a new book, Reunions: Visionary Encounters with Departed Loved Ones.(9) The psychomanteum proper consists of a small room with a low, comfortable easy chair facing a wall with a large, 31/2' x 4' mirror on it. The mirror is placed just a little above the head of a person seated in the chair, so that the viewer's image is not reflected. Around the sides and back of the chair hangs a dark blue curtain which is the only thing reflected in the mirror when seen from the chair. In fact, the mirror really reflects only darkness. Directly behind the chair on the floor is a small lamp with a fifteen-watt bulb which provides the room's only light, once the windows are shuttered. When seated in the chair, the sitter sees only what appears to be a transparent void, a clear depth, in the mirror.
The room is in a grist mill over a century old in rural Alabama. Forests, meadows and a brook provide a lovely natural environment for the old mill. Dr. Moody has refinished the building with pleasant and most interesting decor and furnishings. Everything is calculated to make clients feel relaxed, stimulated and pleased.
Dr. Moody takes no more than one client a day, a person who usually brings photographs or mementos of a deceased one. They spend several hours talking about the client's relationship with the deceased, or as long as the client wishes. The atmosphere is convivial and friendly, and the client is encouraged to make himself or herself at home, to explore the building and its surroundings, and generally to become acclimated to a pressure-free environment. Usually around twilight the client is introduced to the psychomanteum, sinks into the easy chair, and awaits whatever may appear in the mirror. He or she is told, of course, that there is no guarantee that anything whatsoever will be seen, and in fact only about 40% of the clients experience anything at that time, although many have encounters with the dead hours or days later. The remarkable success rate of healing of grief and resolution of psychological problems through this means, however, together with the suddenness of the effects, has led to the spread of Dr. Moody's techniques to other parts of the nation and Europe.
Now, with regards to the strange experiences encountered in the NDE (rather than in a psychomanteum), sceptics often say that "lack of oxygen in the brain" (hypoxia) causes the visions of the dead and the interviews with them. This lack of oxygen is frequently to be expected as a result of the physical trauma suffered by the subject in an accident or perhaps on a hospital operating table.
In Dr. Moody's psychomanteum, people frequently interview dead loved ones in encounters similar in many respects to the encounters of the NDE. Yet these people are under no stress or trauma whatsoever - in fact, they are in the opposite state of relaxation. So the hypoxia explanation is at best incomplete; lack of oxygen is only one of several possible conditions which may trigger these extraordinary perceptions.
Dr. Moody, incidentally, sat in his own psychomanteum one day attempting to envision his maternal grandmother. After about an hour with no success he gave up, gathering he was impervious to visions. However, some while later as he was sitting in another room, his paternal grandmother walked in. (Dr. Moody says it is his impression that subjects see those whom they have a need to see, not necessarily those they seek.) She appeared to be much younger than she was at the time of her death. The two of them talked for a long while, and she let him know some personal family matters which had been previously unknown to him. Dr. Moody stresses the natural and almost "ordinary" nature of his encounter with the apparition. When they finished talking, he simply walked out of the room and she was gone when he returned. He writes of the experience (Reunions, p. 22), "It also left me with an abiding certainty that what we call death is not the end of life."
Sceptics (and many overly credulous people as well) seem to have trouble accepting, not just the extrasensory abilities of the soul,(10) but the symbolic nature of the visions. Yet if we think about it, we will realize that virtually all of our perceptions are symbolic, in the sense that we by no means perceive external objects as they are in themselves. We know from physics, for instance, that bowling balls consist mainly of empty space; if they did not, then subatomic particles such as neutrinos could not pass through them as easily as they do. Yet we perceive bowling balls as "solid." Similar transformations are performed by all of our senses all of the time. Even most of our modern computer programs are written in such a way as to present data graphically and symbolically rather than as raw numbers, to take advantage of the brain's preferred way of dealing with complex information. For the same reasons, modern clinical psychiatry uses all kinds of mental imagery and visualization in its therapy.
With mental phenomena the problem is complicated because thoughts are invisible, and yet can truly give rise to "mental pictures." Memories are only one example, dreams another. Moreover, the devices thus far devised by human scientists for detecting subtle phenomena such as electromagnetic waves, neutrinos or gravity waves, even though they may be quite sensitive, are still very crude compared to the sensory sophistication of even primitive life forms.(11) We know that the human brain (and the brains of the other higher animals) forms internal pictures due to stimuli acting appropriately on it. In the case of our sight of external objects, the stimulus is a stream of light entering our eyes - a marvel in itself. In the case of visions of the dead during low-amplitude, non-beta brainwave states, however, the stimulus is not coming through our eyes. In at least some of these visions (or feelings, or even smells), the stimulus may in fact be coming through some other, more general sense: a "psychic" sense. This sense provides input to the visual cortex in the case of visions, and to the other sensory centers in the case of feelings or smells, etc., and must therefore itself be more fundamental to the brain and life than any of the other senses. We note in passing that some neuroscientists seem to want to explain all extrasensory experiences by recourse to events in the visual cortex. This ignores the non-visual sensations which are frequently correlated with the visual ones.
A word on the pervasive atheism found among many scientific researchers: Few modernist proponents of an atheistic approach to science seem to realize that science itself was born in the Christian monasteries of thirteenth century Europe. The monastic schoolmen of that time had inherited the Greek idea that divine Reason - the "Logos" (literally "word," but also used philosophically to mean the divine "Logic" of the cosmos) or "Verbum" (Word) - ruled the universe and believed that it had become incarnate in a man - Jesus - they worshipped as God, as stated in the opening hymn of the gnosticizing Gospel of John. They therefore undertook to understand the world in terms of Greek logic and the new mathematics imported from India and Iran through Islam (cf. our "Arabic" - really Sanskrit - numerals, and the words algebra, alchemy, chemistry). This "logico-theistic" understanding led, despite some temporary, political resistance by the Italian hierarchy, to the Renaissance and the development of ever more intellectual tools with which to understand the divinely rational Universe. Copernicus, for instance, was a Polish Roman Catholic priest. It is thus incorrect to allege that scientific progress and understanding depend upon an atheistic or agnostic ("blind watchmaker") worldview. Science would not even exist had it not been for intellectuals who first believed that the world was the outward expression of a divine, mathematically rational mind, and then investigated nature for evidence of that belief. A religious approach, hence, does not necessarily disqualify a theory from being scientific.(12)
But to return: A good review of most of the objections or "explanations" offered by sceptics and debunkers is given in Carol Zaleski's aforementioned Otherworld Journeys.(13) Here it will suffice to discuss only three of the most common objections.
As reported above, many sceptics often claim that NDE visions are due to oxygen deprivation ("hypoxia" or "anoxia"), too much carbon dioxide ("hypercarbnia"), various endorphins (brain chemicals), etc., in the brain. This idea by no means "explains" any but a small percentage of NDEs. Au contraire, I propose that internally generated visions, whether experienced in an NDE, in a religious epiphany of some sort, in most "spontaneous" apparitions, or in near-sleep or in nocturnal dreams, require, at a minimum, a dominant brainwave frequency slower than the fast beta-wave (ca. 14-30 cycles per second) of standard, attentive, waking consciousness, and a correspondingly lower wave amplitude. Also, for us humans, the main locus of reception seems to be the innermost, "reptilian" brain.(14) That is, the subject must be in alpha (8-13 c/s), theta (4-7 c/s) or even delta (1/2-3 c/s) wave mode in order to experience powerful apparitional or depth-psychological phenomena. Brainwave amplitude must also be much reduced. (This, of course, is another reason to view the NDE as a species of dream.)
The reason that accident victims and operating-table patients have so many NDEs, therefore, is not directly because of hypoxia or hypercarbnia (although these conditions may indeed obtain in some cases), but because their brainwave frequencies and amplitude are very low. The less their inner minds are harnessed by the physics of brain electromagnetism, the more they become engaged by a totally different, psychic reality. Drastically lowered oxygen or elevated CO2 levels can logically be expected to reduce brainwave frequencies from beta to almost nil and to greatly weaken brainwave amplitude, thus making the brain and mind much more receptive to subtle communications normally drowned out by intense beta-wave activity. But there are also other states, such as childhood, sleep or hypnagogic states, in which such slow brainwave activity occurs naturally. These are states whch have nothing to do with hypoxia, hypercarbnia or other chemical imbalances.
Take childhood. The brains of children are not yet large enough to produce the intense, sustained beta-wave frequencies and brainwave strength typical of adulthood. And we indeed find that young children often have "imaginary" playmates who disappear as the children grow older. For example, in religious Catholic countries apparitions have appeared much more often to children than to adults. Two recent, famous examples are the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima, Portugal (ancient Lusitania) in 1917 and at Medjugorje, Croatia (ancient Illyricum) from 1981 (June 24) to the present.
There are also cases where people are about to have a deadly accident (in a fall or car accident, for instance), but for some reason escape bodily harm. During the "near-miss" event, the individual may suddenly find himself or herself out of body, reviewing his life, etc. What appears to be happening here is a state in which the subject is "frozen with fear," and the brain virtually shuts down instantaneously to very slow, quiet brainwave activity. This enables the person briefly to become aware of the inframental context and experience NDE-like phenomena.
Moreover, in comparing the sexes, we can see that the larger average body size of men results in a larger average male brain size; hence it is probable that on average there is more intense, stronger beta-wave in men than in women. In any case, spontaneous apparitions and "psychic" experiences are found much more frequently among women than among men. In this connection it may be mentioned that the greater separation of the visuo-spatial and linguistic functions to different brain sides ("lateralization") in men than in women may also be a factor in the lesser psychic sensitivity of men.
It may be countered that this insensitivity is only because men repress such experiences (or their "feminine side") more than women do. But precisely that is my point: the physically larger, more highly lateralized brains of men are more likely to drown out ("repress") the incoming data - whether sensory or extra-sensory, than are the brains of women.
In general, women are everywhere on earth more "religious" than men, since women often "feel" the effect of psychic events - such as the instant of a baby's spirit's entry into the womb - which men simply do not feel at all. (Modern industrial societies draw large numbers of women into the work force and thus cause them to speed up their brainwaves, so that feminine psychic abilities may be declining on average nowadays.(15))
Finally, psychologist Michael Murphy, writing (in The Future of the Body, p. 312) on the different levels of trance in hypnosis, discusses the work of one researcher, Spencer Sherman, who measured the EEG of the subjects he hypnotized. Murphy reports, "the profoundest hypnotic states produced in Sherman's study were correlated with drastic reductions in EEG amplitude." In other words, as the brain approximates background electromagnetism (or electroweak) conditions, the soul (or consciousness) becomes more "detached" from (i.e., less influenced by) the body.
Intense research on the subject has shown that many individual elements of the NDE (such as the light, the euphoria, etc.) can be replicated by various drugs or electrical stimulations. Therefore, some researchers conclude, the NDE is nothing but the brain's own "opiates" which produce a pleasant delusion to help us die peacefully. (We will not spend any time discussing the insurmountable problems this idea would present to traditional evolution theory, which would find no evolutionary survival value to speak of in such a stratagem.)
Without question, brain biochemistry is intimately involved in the NDE. However, the NDE is anything but uniform, and biochemistry is limited in its ability to explain very much here. For one thing, biochemistry certainly does not explain the powerful conveyance of meaning that attends juxtamortal impressions. The biochemical explanation is also unable to account for the negative experiences (of no evolutionary value) - which some may have even under hypnosis - in which, for instance, an utter void and black nothingness may be sensed as an expression of bottomless despair.
Moreover, many truly telepathic messages manifest themselves in the form of images. In such cases, activation of the relevant neurotransmitters, etc. is generated by some factor more fundamental than brain physiology. It is the meaning of the images in such cases which enables us to recognize them as derived and not primary. The same is true of the images of the NDE. At most, psychotropic electrochemical stimulation can explain drug-induced hallucinations, which are meaningless, no matter how euphoric, "mystical," or even nightmarish. (No one ever changed his behavior as the result of a drug trip.)
The frequent manifestations of paranormal phenomena (ESP, healings verging on the miraculous, etc.) in the vicinity of death and in the wake of juxtamortal dreams verify that something else is involved here besides (but not excluding) physiology.
From these considerations it would seem to follow that we are all in fact constantly receiving input of a numinous ("paranormal") type from our deep brains all of the time. It is just that, without a "quiet" brain, we cannot perceive it consciously, since modern consciousness is composed largely of strong, neocortical beta-wave frequencies and strong amplitude, which perforce block out the weaker, lower frequencies as the daytime sun does the stars. A normal minimum (but not sufficient) prerequisite for perceiving these subtle sensations is, accordingly, to lower one's brainwave intensity by some means.
It also happens that in a few cases of brain injury, the victims later discover that they have parapsychological sensations or powers. (These are often developed by NDEers also.) The most famous such victim was Edgar Cayce (1877-1945), whose psychic medical diagnoses were world famous. But there are others, perhaps many others. It may reasonably be assumed in such cases that the imperfectly healed brains are impaired in their ability to maintain strong beta-wave activity in the normal way, or that they somehow magnify the weak signals from less noticeable sources, and hence are more receptive to extrasensory input. Something like this may also be responsible for the similar psychic aftereffects of the NDE. And, finally, it might even be true that those of low intelligence, and the insane, have more extrasensory experience than normal people do, for the same reason.
One extraordinary NDEer who has had two NDEs is Dannion Brinkley. He reports in two books(16) on his experiences that he had been instructed by faceless "beings of light" to build retreat centers designed especially for assisting those approaching death and others laboring under difficult, stressful problems. These centers afford an environment in which eight steps in a spiritual retreat may take place. The steps in order are: (1) group therapy sessions; (2) physical massage, meant to induce physical relaxation and allow deeply hidden memories to rise into awareness; (3) sensory deprivation on a comfortable lounge in darkness (or other gentle environment), assisted by audio-visual techniques and measured breathing to induce a very quiet state of consciousness; (4) biofeedback techniques, with appropriate equipment, to demonstrate to the participants how much control they have over their own physiology; (5) using intuitive gifts or psychoanalytical means to provide participants with personal insight; (6) the klini - a specially constructed, narrow but very comfortable, inclined bed, which uses electronics to convert pleasant musical tones into vibrations which deeply relax the participant reclining on the klini; (7) a psychomanteum; (8) a final session on the klini.
It will be noted that the natural, cumulative result of this eightfold process is a calming of the brain so that the slower brainwave frequencies of reduced amplitude may predominate. Defensiveness, guilt-suppression, and anxiety, which cause beta-wave activity, are dissolved and the brain is placed into a receptive mode, a semi-hypnotic state, in which it can listen to itself. This mode or state is precisely the condition which makes it possible for parapsychological communication and psychological healing to occur. And it is similar to the brain state expected to obtain in the NDE.
A noteworthy element in Brinkley's Centers is number 2: physical massage. Massage causes deeply submerged memories of long ago to rise into awareness. A similar evocation of long-forgotten memories, and of apparitional figures as well, occurs when a patient is kept conscious during brain surgery, and weak electrical currents are applied with electrodes directly to various parts of the brain through the opened skull. It may be that the (involuntary) manipulation of muscles and body parts in massage likewise causes electrochemical currents to activate memories associated with the various parts of the brain to which the muscles and body parts are neuronally connected. Similarly in the NDE, the partial shutdown of the electrical state of the brain during near-death also activates the memories associated with its various levels. The fact that the "life review" is often sequential (beginning to end or end to beginning) in temporal order is consistent with the fact that the brain grows from the stem outwards during life. In most cases, the electrical weakening, too, might start from the center of the brain and pass outwardly from there, or vice versa, and hence produce a sequence (as opposed to a simultaneous montage). Completion of the review would be synchronous with the onset of the minimum brainwave frequency (usually delta) necessary for keeping the body alive. This is also the state in which the individual is most receptive to extrasensory input. As mentioned above, the truly extraordinary thing about the NDE is the fact that consciousness is greatly heightened, not diminished, by the brain's partial shutdown (and often perceives itself as outside of the body). This is exactly the opposite of what one would expect if consciousness were a matter of brain physiology alone.
In their refusal to accept the reality of paranormal and parapsychological happenings, extreme sceptics often point out that all reports thereof are "anecdotal" and therefore not "scientific" according to their definition of the term. If, however, "anecdotal" testimony is viewed as inadmissible evidence, then we might as well consider all legal systems of all countries on earth as invalid, since "anecdotal" evidence is their daily bread.
The unpredictable, uncontrollable and constantly varying nature of paranormal events derives from the fact that we are here dealing with life, not with Newtonian mechanics of some sort, as some early parapsychologists seem to have thought. It is inappropriate to reject reports of the paranormal on the basis that they are oral or written testimony. The universal human experience is that paranormal events do in fact occur. They occur all the time, and they occur spontaneously among every conceivable age, sex, race, intelligence level, and culture everywhere on earth. (They even occur to sceptics, who have a pronounced tendency to explain them away with any handy rationalization.) The mere numbers involved overwhelm the "anecdotal" objection. Paranormal events even occur among animals. We are not talking here about circus shows of calculating dogs or ponies, but of evidence of precognition (e.g., warnings of unpredictable catastrophes, such as the bombings of towns, etc.) by animals. These things indicate a phylogenetically ancient quality of the paranormal in biology: it has always been around; it was around long before man came to be. It is why and how he came to be.
Finally, while the manifestations of the paranormal are as varied as life itself, some types of phenomena are much more frequently reported than others. Indeed, precognition and clairvoyance are so common as to be almost "ordinary." And there are some people - mystics, seers, clairvoyants, for example - whose whole lives are pervaded by such occurrences on a daily basis. The categorical consistency in the reports of these spontaneous events in the living experience of all mankind since time immemorial is itself a strong argument for their veracity. This is so regardless of the fact that the phenomena are "anecdotal," that is, known to most "beta-wave" thinkers only through the testimony of others. In fact, it is the beta-wave condition which ought to be investigated more thoroughly than it is, since it tends willy-nilly to drown out the reception of virtually every communication from the deep unconscious, not just the inframental ones.(17)
Another popular pseudo-explanation is that the oft-reported "tunnel" experience is but a recall of the passage through the birth canal. In her book After the Light,(18) Seattle International Association of Near Death Studies (IANDS) president Kimberly Clark Sharp reports that she presented this idea to a group of obstetric/gynecological specialists for their reactions to it. They responded with "a certain amount of skepticism." They noted that, in contrast to the reported ample size of the NDE tunnel, the birth canal is very tight and pressing. Virtually no light is visible from inside or while squeezing through this narrow way. Also, many babies are born with eyes closed; and newborns can barely distinguish between light and dark anyway; not only that, but many "NDE tunnelers" have been born by Caesarean section, and thus could not be "remembering" any birth canal passage in any way.
The "remembering the birth canal" hypothesis belongs to a class of pseudo-explanations derived from overheated Freudian psychology. Like the Bible, psychological ideologies can often be used as hats from which to draw any rabbit one wishes. It is impossible to prove them wrong. But they are worthless as explanations.
In short, it often appears that sceptics will prefer any explanation, no matter how far-fetched, to a parapsychological one. For many of them it is not rational explanations of the facts which are of interest, but their own materialistic preconceptions. On the other extreme, of course, are various fundamentalist clergy who, without studying the field, arrogate to themselves the right to impose their "official" interpretations of the NDE on the members of their congregations. Neither of these extremes aids dispassionate inquiry into the juxtamortal dream.
major stumbling-block in grasping the world philosophically is the "realist" belief that we perceive the world "as it is." This is a mistake. Rather, our senses select only a small portion of our environment. They then translate that portion into a form usable by our minds. The translation itself is quite complicated and sometimes subject to many errors and illusions. Our "minds" themselves consist of the current comprehension and past memories of whatever is provided by our inner and outer senses.
But we have no direct way of knowing what the outside world is, or even whether it exists. Our physical beings make the working assumption that it does in fact exist and is structured. (Why should we have senses at all if there is nothing to sense?) We live, in other words, on the basis of hypothetical realism.
But such a working hypothesis will carry us only so far. When, in science, we begin to leave the ordinary world of the senses, we find that we must revise this hypothesis or even replace it with others. A main characteristic of modern science is the constant competition among varying theories, not just, e.g., in brain research and evolutionary biology, but in cosmology (the attempt to understand the universe as a whole) and in quantum physics. This competition shows clearly that modern analytic philosophy is correct in maintaining that we are unable directly to access "reality in itself" - whatever that is. Instead, we must first construct languages (including mathematics) out of whose sentences we then construct the world. These linguistic world-constructs are subsequently tested using purely pragmatic criteria: we try to discover whether a given "language" can describe, explain and predict better than competing language models. As we devise ever better models with which to push out the frontiers of science, the next step of such discovery and confirmation becomes harder and harder to achieve. We find ourselves enveloped in mystery, limited by our own language - that is, our conceptual framework.
Thus, to deny, solely on the basis of a currently regnant theory, that any truly paranormal phenomena whatsoever occur is to claim (incorrectly) that one's model of the universe (evolution, brain, etc.) is now complete. This, however, is an impossibility, since we can fashion only better and better theories, but never the all-encompassing, final one.
The constant mutation of allegedly "definitive" theories of evolution, of cosmogony, and of mind demonstrates clearly that the state of science (scientia, "knowledge") about the origin of the cosmos, life or mind is actually quite murky. As just mentioned, such uncertainty is and will always be inherent above all in cosmogonic (universe-creation) theories which try to explain everything, because they are constructs of logic and cannot access their subject matter directly. Every such theory will have its own limits and will therefore have to be explained by a yet more comprehensive theory ad infinitum.(19) Nonetheless, the currently dominant spokesmen in science are sure only of their conviction that they must be solidly against introducing any non-materialist factor into the discussion of these most important questions. They often claim their approach is based on the famous dictum (falsely) ascribed to William of Ockham (1280-1349), Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem ("entities should not be multiplied beyond what is necessary"), otherwise known as "Occam's razor."
Of course, these spokesmen assume they have the right to determine precisely what necessitas actually means. To push their case, some also use every logical fallacy in the book. A particular favorite is the argumentum ad verecundiam ("appeal to prestige"), e.g., "Scientists have produced some great stuff, therefore you had better listen to us when we tell you that the universe is just one big meaningless accident."
There are glaring gaps in the naturalist theories of evolution which make it impossible even in principle for the origin and history of the universe, of life and of consciousness to be understood through current hyper-materialist theories. Nevertheless, virtually all of the biggest (and most heavily tax-supported) names in science believe (or have been intimidated into pretending) that these gross inadequacies will somehow be finessed away without recourse to any more inclusive, non-mechanistic conceptual structures. This belief (or fear) frequently leads them to suppress the impossibly large gulf between the facts and their theories or to invoke weird "explanations" (e.g., "hopeful monsters," viruses from comets) to evade it.
This mechanistic ideological system forever promises to explain everything, but never does. The system's response to critics is always "the check is in the mail." That is, just wait a few years, or a lifetime or so, and "science" will explain it all away. Meanwhile the powerholders in the science game force their system on non-conformists using their positions of power and prestige. They consistently not only ridicule, but muzzle and ruin the career of, any scientist who, however excellent his work, refuses to accept their methodological and metaphysical naturalism. And they excuse such tyranny on the grounde, tt error has no right to exist. (Where have we heard that one before?) This dictatorial intolerance, extended into the non-scientific spheres of education, has also contributed to much of the political correctness now poisoning and calcifying the American university in the name of cultural diversity and racial sensitivity (to non-whites only, of course).(20)
Let us consider that activity of man which has always been most involved with his deep unconscious: religion. Specifically, it is more fruitful if we investigate only the natural, long-lasting religions, not the very recent religious variations which have developed in America over the last two hundred years. We will discover from such religion that it takes all of its major symbols from either the body itself or from the racially ancestral behavioral memories stored deep within the constitutional memory of our species (the phyletic memory).
A primary example is the phenomenon of sacrifice. Originally, sacrifice arose from the attack by lower-ranking males on the alpha male patriarch of the pre-human tribal group, who owned all of the females and drove all of the other males, including his own sons, to the peripheries of the tribe. (An excellent exposition of this very common primate process is to be found in anthropologist Robin Fox's The Red Lamp of Incest.(21)) The common memory of such a traumatic event, cyclically repeated over millions of years, was transmitted through our shared racial unconscious (the phyletic memory) to later generations, where the act of actually killing the king was reenacted, but sublimated or "transsubstantiated" into an act of killing and perhaps also eating lesser, non-royal mortals, then animals, plants or, in traditional Christianity, bread and wine, which were always psychologically identified with the original patriarch, now a god. Thus ancient, inherited memories become hallowed by becoming part of the innermost self. And the central sacrament of Christianity is revealed to be a ritualized, symbolic cannibalism.
In other words, the communications of the deep unconscious come to consciousness not only through our culturally determined attitudes, but also through the filter of our own evolution, which is still within us and is us, encrypted as form and behavior, and perceivable through archetypes in memory. Unless this encryption and these archetypes are recognized, the communications will be either taken too literally or viewed as total nonsense. To some extent it is our own trans-generational evolution - our own self - which is speaking to us, in part, through religious (i.e., deep-unconscious) symbolism. We are dealing here with the self as lens.
This is quite remarkable, for it shows us that memory transcends the limits of the individual body's time and space, and that each of us carries memories which are those of his own racial lineage, even if he cannot normally access those memories.(22) Like neuroses, which are also deeply embedded memories, they compel us to act in certain ways and not in others. And they also determine the shapes of our very bodies, as well as how our bodies function, as the above-mentioned Rupert Sheldrake has shown.
Sceptics will maintain that racial memories are somehow "coded" or "hard-wired" into the DNA. But there is no known mechanism in DNA by which such memories might be retained and transmitted. Moreover, it appears that we humans share about 98% of our DNA with chimpanzees, and yet the chimps clearly have racial memories which differ greatly from ours. Following the sceptics' logic, we would have to expect that the 2% of human genes which are not found in the chimps, alone contain the entire memory of the specifically human race.
Many sceptics also seem to be very put off by the fact that the dead, or honored psychics of the past such as the Buddha or Jesus, have not divulged anything about the physical structure or origin of the universe. They point out that all of the religious cosmologies (unless understood symbolically) are only fantasies having nothing to do with science, and yet are taken to be literally true by countless millions of credulous believers.
But if any of those same sceptics has a visitation from one of his dead relatives, I doubt very much whether he will spend any time at all talking to him or her about the nature of subatomic particles or about the first second or so of the Big Bang. No, the conversation will revolve around issues of personal meaning and life - the things which are most important even to sceptics who, after all, are humans too. Perhaps, as the numbers of sceptics grow, we will find that some of them will in fact ask the dead scientific questions. My own impression is that most of the dead do not know very much more about scientific subjects than we ourselves do, even though they may have a better grasp on where things are headed.
It is important to understand the rapid changes the human brain has been undergoing due to the rise of civilizations over the last few thousand years. In the last millennium, the dominant trend in the West has been for people to become less and less religious and more and more secular, reflecting, on average, a general rise in the amplitude and frequency of brainwaves and, hence, consciousness. To a certain extent this seems to be associated with a general rise in IQ among the upper classes. It is a general tendency of civilized life to generate this kind of trend, and is seen in its arts. In both Classical and Western civilizations, in literature, the "hero" or literary centerpiece, who mirrors the self (and thus the Zeitgeist), descends over the course of the civilization's lifespan from the plane of the gods down to the level of the neurotic and the criminal.(23) As seen from this literary viewpoint, Western civilization is now at the end of its tether, and the self has become an object of suicidal contempt. (As an exception to this trend, some science fiction represents a return to myth and the gods.) All of this is driven by the evolution of consciousness on a civilization-wide scale.
There is yet another item to be investigated in connection with the dead: miracles. Specifically, there are some cases where striking events have transpired in connection with the utterly unexpected apparition of, or communication from, the dead, particularly those dead thought of as holy.(24) Three such cases - two Catholic and one Tibetan Buddhist - associated with death are presented in Appendix A. From these extraordinary exceptions to the normal pattern of events surrounding death, we can decrypt part of the mystery surrounding it.
In the Catholic cases discussed in Appendix A, only two of a great number recorded in the Catholic Church's Acta Apostolicae Sedis (Records of the Apostolic See), several things stand out: to begin with, it was a dead priest, Fr. Andreas Bobola, who made known the whereabouts of his own tortured corpse, which was subsequently found undecomposed by the members of the seminary college in Pinsk. The priest's apparition promised to watch over the seminary and keep it safe in a period of great troubles; and indeed, it went unscathed thenceforth. These events, plus the fact that the saint's body is one of the few on earth which have mysteriously remained incorrupt long after death,(25) indicate the existence of a vast power beyond the grave: a power which can hold in abeyance the natural processes of bodily decay.(26) In Christianity this mysterious power is called God, in pre-Christian Germanic religion it was called Weird ("Fate"; from earlier *wrt- "the twisted" [i.e., woven thread of life]), in the Orient, the Tao, and so forth.
Another clue found in Fr. Bobola's case was that the apparition appeared both to the College rector and to sacristan Procopius Lukaszewicz (or undersacristan Sezerbicki) when they were in bed and either on the verge of sleep or already asleep. In other words, when their conscious minds were relaxed and their brains were presumably no longer in a high-amplitude beta brainwave state characteristic of active consciousness. This concords with the mirror-apparition events in Dr. Moody's psychomanteum and similar places.
All this also suggests that the receptivity of the individual has much to do with whether he will experience an apparition. The intense, beta-wave-producing brain of, say, a scientist will be much less likely to have such an experience than will a child being reared on a farm in a religious environment. But receptivity is not the whole of the story, any more than the perfect condition of a TV fully explains the appearance of a picture with sound on the set. In at least some cases, there must also be an outside source which the receptor receives, because the information imparted to the receptor is utterly new. How that information is interpreted is another matter. The ancient scholastic rule is "omne quod percipitur, per modum recipientis percipitur" ("everything received is received according to the characteristics of the recipient"). In other words, symbolically.
In the second case, that of Don Bosco, the fact that the prayers of the saint could have awakened a dead boy will be rejected out of hand by sceptics. This is similar to the third case, that of the Buddhist master, Lama Tseten who, after having just died, came back to life when his confrere, Jamyang Khyentse, called on him to do so. However, in order to reject the Don Bosco case honestly, sceptics will have to claim that the whole thing was a delusion: that the boy's parents mistook coma for death. But then there is the question of why the boy awoke only when Don Bosco told him to awaken, and why he died after their conversation was over. Why did he not remain alive? Why his complete mental alertness while his body remained cold? Ultimately, a thoroughgoing sceptic will be forced to claim that the entire narrative was invented or grossly exaggerated by overheated imaginations. But this is not characteristic of priests.
Also in the Don Bosco case, we encounter an element which is perhaps experienced quite often in NDEs, but rarely talked about and almost as often surpressed: hell. Carl's deathbed experience of hell also occurred while he was so deeply comatose (and presumably not breathing) that everyone considered him dead. In such a case, again, the brainwave frequency, if any, must have been delta - i.e., extremely slow, and amplitude virtually nil.
We live in an environment in which the concept of an afterlife is considered mainly a purely personal subject unsuited to serious discussions of any sort. But the concept of hell is banned almost totally even from the pulpits of modern teachers of morality.
Yet hell, or purgatory, or something equivalent to them, appears again and again not only in the world's religions, but in reports of those who have come back from the brink of death, or even of those who are approaching it. Considered as part of a juxtamortal dream, it is the ultimate nightmare. (For one report of a typical vision of hell, see Appendix B.) We must therefore accept this unpleasant (not to say horrifying) element as just as integral to the realm beyond the grave as the experience of heaven.
The "eternity" of heaven and hell is pictured by us living people as unending time. But modern physics teaches us that both time and space are constructed by our senses out of a more fundamental "spacetime," and that spacetime itself came into existence only with the Big Bang 15 billion years ago. While the temporal aspect of spacetime is real (and carries a negative sign in the equations), it is not as separate from space as our senses make it appear. In the NDE it seems that we come closer to perceiving this more fundamental spacetime as it is in itself. We see the whole geodesic ("world path") of everything, from beginning to end.(27) In such a state, the soul appears as a totality rather than as an ongoing process. If it is closed off from its environment and utterly self-absorbed, then that is both its nature and its hell. And we would view it as "eternal" because that is the way we living humans describe spacetime when we perceive it mystically.
The idea of hell remains theologically and empirically obscure and mystifying. Nonetheless, it is clear that not all of those who have "returned from the dead" after a Near-Death Experience have reported only sweetness and light in their NDE. Some tell of horrifying and soul-shaking experiences while in the abyss of morphic memories. See the (rather fundamentalist Christian, but nonetheless informative) book by Maurice S. Rawlings, M.D., To Hell and Back: Life after Death--Startling New Evidence,(28) which argues that hellish NDEs are repressed into the deep unconscious unless recorded immediately after resuscitation, yet in fact represent about half of all NDEs. On the other hand, Seattle IANDS (International Association for Near-Death Studies) president Kimberly Clark-Sharp says comprehensive research indicates that only about 10% of all NDEs are hellish.(29)
Atheists and agnostics, of course, do not believe in anything supernatural. But in recent decades, there has been a tendency even among Christian theologians to downplay or even eliminate the traditional concepts of hell. Various reasons are given, but the motivating, often hidden rationalization seems to be the currently popular idea that a "loving God" would never permit such a thing as hideous, eternal punishment of humans, no matter how evil they have been.
This rationalization presumes that modern Christianity (or Judaeo-Christianity, if one prefers) has an accurate understanding of the vast mystery behind the sensory world, the mystery it terms "God." Moreover, the general Western tendency to euphemize anything considered unpleasant is a recent development. So any considerations about the existence or non-existence of hell cannot start with such emotion-laden or presumptive ideas.
In contrast to modern Christian theologies, the views of shamanic traditions are much less humanistic and universalizing, and far more ethnocentric, concentrating on the maintenance of the shaman's own folk as a "chosen people." They are therefore less suited to the sociopolitics of empires, such as Rome or America, than are universal ("catholic") religions. Shamanism is thought by today's anthropologists to be the earliest religious practice of mankind.(30) Although remaining today among only a few small and comparatively isolated peoples, the classical definition of a shaman (the word is from the Siberian Tungusic language) is a religious specialist who, usually through mortification of the flesh, undergoes a deliberate "Near-Death Experience," resulting in an otherworldly voyage to the realm of the dead and the supernatural powers, or in possession by them. In a fascinating book on the Tibetan pseudo-Buddhist, shamanistic institution of the "Death-Returnees" (Tibetan dé lok), the French researcher Françoise Pommaret provisionally defines a shaman as a person who can enter at will into an altered state of consciousness which allows that person to travel to the realm of the spirits, or the spirits to come and take possession of the person's body, in order to establish a communications link with the spirit world for the sake of the members of the community.(31) From such specialists all over the planet come reports of fantastic monsters, some of them evil, in the other world. The journeys themselves can be quite dangerous, and weak or insufficiently prepared shamans may go mad or die during the process. In any case, the supernatural context, which Christianity would call God and ancient Northern shamanism called Weird, is unforgiving to the unprepared. From shamanism ancient and recent, and from many other religions as well, we get a picture of the afterlife similar in many respects to what Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) portrayed symbolically in his Divine Comedy: a multitude of heavens, purgatories, limbos and hells, all suitably repaying their inhabitants with just desserts for earthly merits or demerits. Also frequently encountered is the concept of ritual purity (e.g., prayer, fasting, abstinence from certain foods, etc.) by which one may increase one's spiritual potency and invulnerability, and without which one may be ill prepared indeed to cope with the netherworld. Thus shamanic cultures (such as that of the pre-Christian Germanic peoples) would offer no arguments against the idea of hell.
But they do offer many reports of communications with the dead, and much evidence of psychic gifts ("charisms"), including healings often passed off as trivial or delusional by Westerners. Yet the widespread occurrence of shamanry among all mankind over many thousands of years before recorded history makes it unlikely that this professional practice of having intentional NDEs could have survived by delusion alone.(32)
It was through shamanry that the concept of "god" first developed in the Germanic north of Europe. In historical fact, the word god was originally neither masculine nor feminine but neuter: "the it-god."(33) This neuter gender (Gothic and Old Norse show this plainly) designated a rather abstract "divine power" to the pre-Christian Germanic peoples, but Bishop Wulfila (under whom the Bible was translated into Visgothic, ca. A.D. 340-380) and other Christian missionaries made it masculine ("the he-god") like the Greek and Latin words for god (ho theós and deus), and changed it from its original impersonal meaning to a personal one with emotional overtones of the Mediterranean sky-father gods (Greek Zeus and Roman Juppiter). (The Hebrew Yahwéh, incidentally, was originally a territorial earth-god of the soil.) And so "God" came to be viewed by most non-intellectuals as an emperor-like human male ("Lord"): a kind of deified, multicultural scrambled egg. This was, however, an easy development, since the human mind spontaneously uses the male form as an archetype for the self, as depth psychologist Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) pointed out. It is only through the self that consciousness perceives its ground of being, the cosmic inframind. Only through itself - perceived as male in contrast to the "femaleness" of the unconscious - can the conscious wave perceive the inframental ocean.
An interesting side note on shamanism is that a recent book, The Shaman by Piers Vitebsky, contains a color picture of Nepalese Tamu shamans at work; the picture has odd light streaks and geometric forms in it which, according to the sidebar in the text, depict the spirits (both benevolent and malevolent) as they actually look to shamans. The photograph is titled "A Shamans-Eye Photograph of Non-Ordinary Reality?" and the sidebar says,
When one of the shamans saw the photograph he exclaimed, "This is exactly what the god, the witches and the ancestors look like! They don't really look the way you see them in pictures, with faces. These are the exact colours I see, in exactly the right positions. But how can a camera see what only I can see? This is secret knowledge, ordinary people can't see these things. It must be a very good camera." The shaman explained that the yellow line running right across the picture is what the ancestor spirits who come to protect the shamans look like as they arrive. The orange bar across the shamans' heads is the god Khhlye Sondi Phhresondi who has come to protect them from the souls of witches. These witches, who are actually malevolent living humans, can be seen above the heads of three of the shamans in the form of green wavy lines. The witches are absent at two significant points. These are where the protective orange line is at its strongest, and over the head of one shaman on the right who dropped out for a rest and is therefore not engaged in the spiritual battle....(34)
A particularly striking element which appears frequently in the shaman's world is the manner in which suffering produces paranormal power. In the shamanic realm, life is a zero-sum game: for every winner there must be a loser; every benefit must be paid for by suffering. Shamans derive much of their extraordinary abilities from the life power of those around them (especially their families). And those who, like ascetics, intentionally and freely offer up their own life power, get it back in other ways. Vitebsky writes (p. 22):
Since human affairs include much suffering, disease and death this is a dangerous and often dark occupation. Shamanic power is not something to be taken on lightly and often exacts a high price. In Siberia, Mongolia and many other areas, people dread being called by the spirits to become shamans and resist for as long as they have the strength. Recently, in a remote area of Siberia, the last local shaman died as an old man. He had tried to pass on his secrets to his grandson but the grandson had repeatedly declined the gift, and later explained that he could not face the personal sacrifice which would be required of him, since a shaman's power is fed from the soul-force of his immediate family. His wife and children must therefore suffer poor health and early death as the shaman unintentionally sucks the life out of those with whom he lives.
The spiritual power that emanates from the natural world must operate alongside chiefly power, military power and even purchasing power. ... [S]hamanic power has sometimes been very closely allied with political power.
The shamanic state of altered consciousness is tantamount to a liberation of consciousness from the norms and propriety of everyday society. (It is no accident that the Tibetan "Death-Returnees," who function as shamans within a Buddhist culture which long ago suppressed indigenous shamanism as a religious system, are found in the same regions as Tantra, the practice of sex as a meditative-magical art form.) The revelations experienced in the "netherworld journeys" of shamans are closely related to the revelations experienced by Western scientists, engineers and other creative people who have long been seeking the answer to some difficult mental problem, then are suddenly given the answer out of the blue. Scientists and similar people, for instance, speak of the "aha!" or "eureka!" experience which happens "out of nowhere" in the "three B's": bedroom, bath or bus. That is, the sought-for solution suddenly appears unbidden from the depths of the unconscious when the thinker is in a relaxed (usually alpha-brainwave), receptive mode of mental activity. This mode can prevail on the verge of sleep, during daydreaming or while engaged in some ritualistic, trance-approaching or -inducing activity, as during the litanies of monks or shamans. Like the shamanic journeys, the trance-emergent "epiphany," sometimes graphically pictorial, appears in terms with which the experiencer is familiar. Occasionally the revelation includes inframental (parapsychic) information from the transpersonal regions of the unconscious, a phenomenon which is a regular feature of classical shamanic journeys. Always, the deep unconscious is able to extract the relevant information from the blizzard of information and present it in usable form to the societal consciousness. The shaman or scientist is the intermediary between the inframind - the universal Weird - and the waking consciousness of the members of the community.
The proponents of highly organized societies have long sought to enlist popular belief in the otherworld in support of their sociopolitical visions. In classical civilization, the Greek philosopher Plato (ca. 429-347 B.C.) wrote a work on the ideal state, Politeia (ca. 365 B.C.; often called "The Republic"). In the interest of soliciting support for his political ideas, he appended to it the story of a Pamphylian soldier, Er, who had to all appearances died from wounds in battle. Twelve days later, as he was about to be cremated on a pyre, he awoke and related a story of his otherworldly experiences during his comatose state. Er's Near-Death narrative conveniently reinforced Plato's teachings about proper citizenship and law-abiding behavior, and promised postmortem rewards for such behavior.
Several centuries later, the Roman statesman Cicero (106-43 B.C.) wrote a similar work on statecraft, De Republica ("The Republic," 51 B.C.). He, too, added to the end a story of communications from the world of the dead and its lessons about good citizenship, but did so in the form of a dream - the famous "Scipio's Dream." In this story, a famous ancestor appeared to the great military commander, Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus the Younger, and showed him the celestial rewards given those who worked for the well-being of the fatherland and the otherworldly punishments awaiting those who devoted themselves only to their own pleasures.
This effort to win the political support of citizens by promising them postmortem rewards has been a major characteristic of Near Eastern and European political systems from Plato's time until now. These universalizing (and "prophetic") religions - Islam and Christianity - have thereby distorted and obscured the real meaning of the juxtamortal dream by diverting it to support some version of the divine right of kings.
As for the East, Françoise Pommaret (op. cit.) has detailed how Buddhism, after moving into Tibet from the seventh century onwards, gradually incorporated those shamanic elements of the indigenous religion which it could not suppress. The "Death-Returnees" (dé loks) of the Tibetan cultural area, although performing all of the standard functions of shamans, nonetheless nowadays interpert their own actions and experiences in traditional Buddhist terms and think of themselves strictly as Buddhists. (Likewise, medieval and modern European mystics have traditionally thought of themselves as good Catholics, thereby avoiding being burned at the stake.) Buddhist missionaries have succeeded in totally expunging consciousness of the origins of this practice from the memory of Tibetans. In this, Buddhism has paralleled the memory-effacing activity of Christianity in northern Europe during the Middle Ages.
In the West, of course, mystics were marginalized in Judaism and Islam, and co-opted as "saints" by Catholicism. Those who refused to convert to Christianity were subjected to horrible deaths as "witches" or "devotees of the devil," especially after the Protestant Reformation (first half of the 1400s), when both Catholics and Protestants sought to prove themselves "more Christian than thou."
Thus, in both East and West, the politically incorrect fertility of the deep unconscious was suppressed and manipulated to further the ends of a politico-religious ideology.
The deeper probes into the ultimate reality beyond sensory existence take various forms. Shamanism, yoga with its breathing techniques, meditation, isolation, lucid dreaming, profound prayer and the "unintentional" near-death experience are the main methods found throughout history and around the earth. They all have the effect of slowing brainwave frequency and weakening its amplitude, heightening receptivity to inner stimuli and, to some extent, of controlling the autonomic nervous system. But, except for the unintentional or accidental NDE, their practitioners agree that they must be used together with a self-denying and disciplined lifestyle to be truly fruitful. Those, such as saints, mystics, yogis and shamans, who have probed most deeply with these methods, report little about the inner nature of this ultimate reality. The Hindu and Buddhist mystics call their encounter with it a "blowing out" (nir-vana), i.e., of the flame of individual existence, hence "extinction." (NDEers often speak of becoming one with God, of becoming depersonalized.) Western mystics have also often referred to God as (divine) "Love" or "Light." For many hundreds of years there has been a pronounced tendency to refer to it with negative terms, expressing what it is not, rather than what it is: terms such as "infinite, unlimited, incorruptible, inaccessible," etc.(35)
Naturally, sceptics will point out that from nothing you get nothing. If the experience of fusion with the cosmic inframind is "ineffable," then anyone who talks about it is only babbling so much gibberish, regardless of the ecstatic (or even nightmarish) feelings reported by the explorers of the deep.
But a careful comparison of the various religious and psychological experiences, pleasant and painful, among various peoples and times, can perhaps give us more information than can the rather inarticulate or intimidated modern American experiencers of this far realm. A frequently given explanation for this state of ineffability is the analogy used to describe the overall nature of the theory of relativity to those who have passed through high-school geometry: two-dimensional beings cannot explain why two "straight" lines, absolutely parallel at one spot on a globe (say, the equator), should intersect at a different point (say, one of the poles), because they cannot conceive of an additional dimension; to them, the earth is flat. Similarly, the essence of the transcendent realm cannot be explained with the means available to non-transcendent creatures.
A yet better explanation can be given by again recalling that the NDE belongs to the category of the dream. Firstly, we all know that we usually remember very little from our ordinary dreams, even when we know that we have dreamt something. Dream researchers, moreover, tell us that we dream every night, several times a night. They awaken subjects sleeping in their laboratories as soon as the subjects begin rapid eye movement (REM) and ask them whether they have experienced anything. The subjects respond that they were dreaming. But without someone to awaken us, we remember very little, if anything.
This leads us to examine more closely the nature of dreaming and memory. We know that we need REM sleep - that is, to dream - in order to convert the day's stock of short-term memories into long-term memories. Dreaming is a by-product of long-term memory formation which takes place nightly in the thalamus, hypothalamus and hippocampus - that is, in the "reptilian" brain.(36) This is precisely the place which many students of parapsychology believe to be the main locus of extra-sensory perception. And there are direct links from the hippocampus to the right temporal lobe (of right-handed people) where visualization takes place, so that memory-processing is typically associated with images. The main thesis of this article is that the juxtamortal dream is to one's whole life what the nightly dream is to one's whole life what the nightly dream is to one's daytime consciousness: the integration of one's life experiences with the memories already stored in the inframind.
Then there is the nature of memory itself. The mystery of memory lies at the core of the question of mind. Modern research has finally begun to shed some light on the actual nature of memory: it now appears that the brain or body does not store memory directly, but only as a kind of "transmitting and receiving station" to and from a "transform space," an abstract realm or dimension of memory-storage not exactly identical with visible flesh and blood.
Brain researcher Paul Pietsch, in an illuminating book, Shufflebrain,(37) proposes that memory consists of "phase codes" existing as a "hologramic" message in a mathematical abstraction called "transform space." Because it is an abstraction, memory - i.e., a mind or soul - thus is not directly reducible to bodily molecules, cells, mechanisms or the like. And, once abstract, it may be either "learned" or "instinctive."
When this "abstraction" is recalled, it replicates its original conditions of creation in brain or body. In biological molecules and structures the information seems to resonate "hologramically," so that each part of the medium has (or, better, can regenerate) a whole "picture" (as, e.g., each body cell's nucleus contains the whole code for all the proteins of the entire body in its chromosomes); and it is difficult, often impossible, to assign a given intellectual ability or memory to any clearly delimited area of the brain, especially a more youthful brain. In general, a clearer "picture" results from a larger amount of medium (and greater intelligence from larger and more highly differentiated brains). Caution must be used in attributing specific types of memory to particular areas of the brain, however, for we know from a number of abnormal brain formations that around 90% of the brain is redundant and unused. There are people called hydranencephalics, whose cranial cavities are filled mainly with water, not brain, and who have only a kind of stub brain at the bottom of the cavity. Yet such people, during life, are often perfectly normal and some even have IQs dozens of points above average.
Moreover, in memory and intelligence, mere brain mass and structure, while important, seem to play roles subordinate to biological inheritance and other factors. Sir Wilfrid E. Le Gros Clark, former professor of anatomy at Oxford University, in a chapter entitled "The Structure of the Brain and the Process of Thinking" in the small book The Physical Basis of Mind: A Series of Broadcast Talks,(38) explained over four and a half decades ago (pp. 23.f.):
The size of the brain in proportion to the body weight is, of course, one of the distinctive features of human anatomy. Its weight is two or three times that of the largest ape, the gorilla, and it seems to have taken a matter of several million years for man to achieve such a prodigious development of his brain. On the other hand, the fossil evidence indicates that the human brain has not appreciably changed in its size for about 200,000 years. There seems to be no evidence that man's brain is undergoing any further evolutionary expansion - or that it is even likely to do so. But it may well be argued that there are still tremendous opportunities for us to make evolutionary advances by learning how to make much fuller use of the brain with which we have already been equipped. It is an instructive fact that the size of our brains to-day shows an astonishing range of individual variation, and yet it has not been possible within wide limits to relate these differences to differences in intellectual capacity. A genius may have a brain of average size - or even rather smaller than average size - and no anatomist (even with the aid of the microscope) has yet been able to show any consistent difference between the intrinsic structure of the brain of a genius and the brain of a man of average intelligence.
Nor is this lack of difference in brain structure between smart and average people the end of this issue. It is not only that anatomists have been unable to show any consistent difference between the brains of various humans; they have been unable to show any consistent difference, other than size, between the brains of humans and those of chimpanzees or gorillas. This item may be countered with the conjecture that humans might have temporal lobes anatomically "specialized" for speaking, etc. But this ignores the fact, mentioned above, that (human) hydranencephalics have very little brain at all - in fact, far less even than chimps or gorillas, and yet show very normal - and occasionally superior - human-level intelligence. In contrast, gorillas and chimps do not have the intelligence even of human deaf mutes or feral children. This includes chimps brought up among humans. Thus, some other factor, related to genetic inheritance, gives rise to intelligence. In the "Sheldrakean" thesis proposed here, that factor is the phyletic memory. In addition, very young children who suffer severe brain damage to the left lobe are often able to shift functions such as speech to completely different, undamaged areas of the brain. Only in cases where the entire nervous system is impaired (e.g., fetal alcohol syndrome, "crack" babies, etc.) and the individual's humanity itself is biologically foreshortened, is it impossible for human-level intelligence to arise. The phyletic memory can find little or nothing with which to enter into resonance, and only a semi-human organism results.
Also, memory is not restricted to expressing itself through the brain. The body organs, limbs and entire bodily system appear to be the expression of a memory complex (i.e., a morphic field) stored in "transform space" by an organism's ancestors and "recalled" by that same organism's genes and developing structure as it grows, since growth, too, is behavior. (With the successful cloning of an adult ewe by a Scottish research team, we now know that such recall to form an "identical twin" of a higher mammal is independent even of sexual reproduction.) This is the logical conclusion to Pietsch's research-based theory. The brain, that is, is not the only possible medium of memory, even though most recognition occurs there. It is to be understood against the background of Sheldrake's view that memory growth is the driving force behind evolution, above all because, as per Pietsch's view, mentioned above, both "learned" and "instinctive" memory are of the same nature. Thus what is "learned" memory for one generation becomes "instinctive" for a later one.
Recent decades of brain research have revealed that a vital role in thinking is played by neurotransmitters, hormones, oxygen levels and other brain chemicals. The math test score of a normally intelligent woman, for example, may vary by as much as forty points, depending on the time of the month in which she is tested, because of varying hormonal influence. And anyone drugged, drunk, or just arising from sleep is limited in thinking ability compared to that same person's "normal" intelligence level. In constrast, merely listening to complicated piano concertos by Mozart temporarily raises IQ for ten or fifteen minutes. (While not yet scientifically researched, it might also be possible that the reverse is true for the crude, harsh, barking of the popular "music" so characteristic of American youth in the 1990s.) These facts show that the "fixed" parts of the brain (neurons and other support structures) provide the "skeletal structure" and synapses which enable the more fluid neural electrochemistry to effect the active intellectual work. Size and structure of the fixed elements - themselves dependent especially on genetics but also on certain minimum environmental requirements for the physical and psychological growth of the individual - are only a part of the combination responsible for intelligence.
This is also shown by the cases of "multiple personality," in which the particular electrochemical constellation responsible for an individual's "personhood" suddenly undergoes radical transformation and an utterly different "person" emerges from the same brain. Certain trance states (as, e.g., in "channeling") effect the same thing, as do hallucinogenic drugs and various medications.
Added hereto is the fact that identical twins share a great deal of parapsychological information and often seem to be in constant psychic communication with one another. This would be a "synchronic" (same-time) example of what normally happens "diachronically" (across-time). Moreover, it is not only identical twins, but also other kinsmen who share information in this way. Mothers and daughters especially and, to a lesser extent, other, different pairings of relatives are known to experience such communication.
The amazing thing in all of this is that, no matter what kind of mental configuration, distortion or problem may appear, we find that there is a very strong tendency for the various mechanisms of the brain nonetheless to produce a unified whole, a single person, rather than a disorganized amalgam. Even though the brain's functions may be distributed (e.g., the various languages an individual knows are strongly linked with different places in the left hemisphere, forethought and reasoning with the forebrain, etc.), they unite to form a being which recognizes itself as a "center" and strives to assert itself against the outside world. Even such things as cognitive dissonance (the suppression of facts or ideas which conflict with one's preferred attitude) derive from this all-dominating tendency. And it is precisely the dissolution of this centripetal (center-seeking) drive - in meditation, in prayer, in trance, in madness, and in death - which makes possible the awareness and even the invasion(39) of the transpersonal and the paranormal.
In death, the brain's electrochemical flux and the bodily "transceiving station" are shut down, the centripetal drive ceases, and all that is left is the memory-complex (the soul) itself, which is then integrated into the memory background, or inframind, which gave rise to it in the first place. The NDE is the apperception of the beginning of this process.
A parenthesis: the fact that telepathy occurs might be explained in at least two ways: (1) the content of telepathic communications, the "message," might have an existence independent of both "sender" and "receiver"; or (2) it might be simultaneously in both "sender" and "receiver." The first possibility might be likened to radio communication in which radio waves are essentially independent of both sending and receiving sets. The second condition would be like two waves in an ocean, where the first wave could be considered as simply part of the extension of the second, and vice versa. It is the second possiblity which seems most likely, even though terms like "sending" and "receiving" can sometimes be used with profit. But Pietsch's "transform space" would correspond to the "ocean" analogy mentioned here. The essential thing is that the soul is a telepathic "message."
Thus, the NDE, while not a direct laboratory experience of matters as they are in themselves, is an indirect apprehension, via dream cognition, of some very real processes involving the integration of the personal morphic "field" (one's own life as memory) and the larger morphic "field" of the individual's inframental "ecosystem." That is, what normal consciousness and its short-term memory are to the unconscious during sleep, the individual's whole psychic entity is to the planetary inframind during death. Individuals often report their souls temporarily merging with God: having become all-knowing during their juxtamortal dream, then forgetting everything upon returning to the "waking" world. This certainly makes sense if we think of the individual soul as temporarily subsiding into the Universal Memory (the planetary and cosmic inframind).
It is this "ecosystem" or cosmic inframind which is perceived as God, as the Buddha, as the divine Weird, as the Ultimate Tao, etc., according to the individual's culturally and personally developed perceptual structures and categories. Or perceived as hell.
However culturally determined the symbols in the juxtamortal dream may be, there is a very real power behind them, as is clear from the extrasensory abilities (mainly precognition and mind-reading, sometimes healing or other powers) often developed or noticed afterward by NDEers. It is even clearer from those extraordinary phenomena we call miracles, such as the preservation of a body from the corruption of the grave and the extraordinary phenomena seen in the lives of saints. Symbols are a means of apprehending and addressing the power behind such miracles, and religions that have few symbols are weaker in this respect than those, such as Catholicism, Hinduism, or tribal religions, which have an abundance of them.(40)
In fact, the extreme complexity of the human being naturally causes us to anthropomorphize the Ultimate Reality. This is why some psychologists do not view monotheistic religion (i.e., one using only a single divine archetype) as particularly healthy. Michael Murphy (The Future of the Body, p. 560) cites James Hillman's The Myth of Analysis: "For [eminent psychologist] Ficino, 'it is a mistake to worship one god alone.' For Schiller 'Belonging to one God only, any single cosmos, any single way of being in the world, is itself a kind of hubris'."
In the modern West, it is an easy transition from one god to no god, from monotheism to atheism, and from an arid, secularized religion to the death of God, and thence to the death of man. Indeed, it may have been a self-expression of the collective Protestant unconsciousness, greatly assisted by a hyper-monotheistic Judaism, which chose a man symbolically named Churchill to lead the West into not one, but two, suicidal World Wars: for "Churchill" means quite simply "Church-Ill" - the name-symbol (nomen est omen!(41)) for the Sick Religion which, as the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche made clear over a century ago, is useful only for political propaganda.
The evaporation of a single god (i.e., overlord archetype) in Christianity has left the West dominated in practice by an all-leveling religion of materialist atheism. This atheism still believes in good and evil, although these categories are now defined not by clergymen but by those ("anti-racist") media manipulators who control the most influential means of propaganda, especially TV.
In particular, the desiccated philosophical agnosticism which pervades the current scientific and academic establishments leaves us utterly helpless and rudderless with respect not only to the paranormal facts of life, but to the related, deep psychological problems with which the peoples of the modern West are currently afflicted. Today, the modern American Kulturkampf, or culture war, is at root a war of materialism and virtual atheism against theism, in which the atheists seek to eliminate all theist symbols of any type by marginalizing them as the infantile mythology of the scientifically ignorant or worse. The fact that there might be a mind-boggling reality to the paranormal is not allowed by atheists in any way. Their basic premiss and final aim is the ultimate meaninglessness of life. For their part, theists of any sort, from New Age pantheists to fundamentalist Muslims, might suspect that this powerful onslaught by the atheists is actually being orchestrated by something transcendently evil.
In contrast to materialism and the atheist denial of the paranormal, stand some of the more striking phenomena of mysticism involving bodily changes. Everyone knows of "ordinary" psychosomatic illnesses or cures, but such events as stigmata and bodily elongation show the power of the mind to shape even the physical form of the body.(42) In stigmata, the subject incorporates the symbols of religion literally into his or her own body. The stigmatic - who identifies himself or herself wholly and physically with the god-image, Christ - may thus be said to be at one end of a continuum which also includes the hysteric, and there is no clear distinction between the two types. But whether stigmatic or (pathological) hysteric, no one knows how the unconscious mind is able to accomplish these bodily modifications. And yet, as alluded to earlier, this power is the motor of evolutionary speciation, as detailed by Rupert Sheldrake's hypothesis of formative causation.
A noteworthy element about miracles is that by far the vast majority of them have to do with healing or the restoration of physical well-being. But parapsychic manipulation is even used, according to the testimony of many "primitive" tribes and ancient Germanic religion, to cause death through paranormal means.(43) This in itself might be taken as an indirect indication that the vast "Light" of the NDEers is itself the source of life. And the paranormal elements so frequently associated with the juxtamortal dream and its aftermath point to a realm which clearly exceeds the physical limits of the body.
Although the cosmic inframind is masked by the very symbols which make us aware of it, as with most things viewed scientifically, certain properties can be made out. The NDE narratives and similar reports themselves can be seen as windows of various shapes and colors onto what the reporters claim to be the infrastructure of existence. By combining these reports with the general findings of science, we can discern certain constant, positive properties of this infrastructure: of the Universal Unconscious or cosmic inframind.
It consists of intelligence. As we humans perceive it, it has both a personal and an impersonal aspect, and can be addressed in either aspect. It is by nature life-furthering. It is systemic, meaning that it is organizatory and balances one part of a system against others to create a larger whole with a controlling "center."(44) It develops physical and biological systems as a means of self-comprehension, or learning. Put another way, life forms, and especially intelligent life, are "sense organs" of this ultimate reality. This is the distillate of the mystics' claim that God is both "Love" and "Light," since love is expressed in the promotion of life (as symbiosis or even self-sacrifice for other creatures), while light is the ancient symbol of mental vision, consciousness and learning. It also explains why so many mystics speak about "God/the Buddha in each one of us." And the power behind the symbolic forms can enable or even force a psychosomatic reorganization or "rethinking" of a life form, which might result in a "miraculous" cure of a diseased human being or the instantaneous emergence ("evolutionary jump") of a new, higher life form from a lower one, thereby solving a species-threatening problem.(45)
Upon their return to normal consciousness, juxtamortal dreamers often project this twofold experience upon the world as "lessons" or "mandates." Depending on the individual, they may seek to realize the "Light" (i.e., omniscience) by learning as much as they can, or, more often, to realize the "Love" aspect by engaging in works of charity.
A remark on the "love" which NDEers and mystics report. This is not a "cuddly," schmaltzy, maudlin, sentimental or even possessive love, which are mere emotions, however pleasant. To begin with, an essential characteristic of all love is its purposiveness: the fact that, as a mental state seeking to promote life, it is directed toward an object and has an aim. Insofar as they experience this cosmic love, witnesses are directly perceiving cosmic teleology (i.e., aim or purpose) - something which cannot be grasped in any other way. And since purposeful design can be the result only of intelligence, the omniscient "light" is simply a perception of the intelligent source and essence of this purposiveness. The "Light" and "Love" are our perception of Omniscient Will.
The purposiveness driving the universe is attested to from a different quarter as well: from Buddhism. The doctrinal foundation of all the many variants of Buddhism is found in what are called the Four Aryan ("Noble) Truths which the contemplative Indian prince Siddharta Gautama (ca. 563-483 B.C.), the "Awakened One" (Buddha), revealed to his followers:
The Aryan Truths are not merely facile platitudes ("Life's nothing but trouble and misery, and then you die."), but statements derived from profound mystical experience. What the First Aryan Truth means is that existence itself (i.e., this universe and any and all others) is a strain, an uphill struggle, and thus by its very nature subject to constant corruption, disintegration and death (summarized as "suffering"). The Second Aryan Truth posits a will ("wanting") behind existence: this will strains for ever more intense and continued existence, even with all of the suffering which that entails. Both of these truths take as given the continuation of a soul-memory which undergirds and causes life and persists from lifetime to lifetime. This soul-memory is called "karma" (literally, "action"). As long as desire persists, the soul-memory will continue to produce new lifetimes with their attendant suffering.
The Third Aryan Truth restates the Second: to stop existence, stop the will to exist. And the Fourth introduces the means to do so.
Thus through mystical insight, Buddhism, like the juxtamortal witness of divine "Love," recognizes a purposiveness, a teleology in the cosmos. And this teleology is inherent in the very nature of the cosmos: an atom "wants" to exist. Buddhism's distinctive characteristic, however, it that it radically declines this purposiveness and seeks personal annihilation (nirvana) of the soul-memory (karma, morphic field) which creates and maintains life.
Recall that, according to Rupert Sheldrake, the form and habitual behavior of all physical things are maintained and advanced by memories ("morphic fields") which correspond to them. From this viewpoint, Buddhism is seen to hold that such memories persist because they want to persist. The persistence of knowledge is in fact the very definition of memory; Buddhism is merely claiming the same thing implied by the NDEers' "Love": that there is a will, a volitional straining, underlying the existence of all there is.
Further: today we know that the underlying principle of evolution is evolutionary epistemology, which is to say, the (literal) incorporation of ever higher intelligence in life forms. We can thus see that the "Love"/"Wanting" (life-promoting, purposive) aspect and the "Light" (consciousness, intelligence) aspect are actually the same thing, merely viewed from two different angles, life being the willed ("loved/wanted") incarnation of intelligence (the Light). A normal organism can exist only symbiotically within an ecosystem which it "knows" (i.e., to which it is adapted) and which is inherently "nurturing" to it. Carried further, this view leads to panpsychism: the view that the entire universe is consciously "friendly" to it.(46) This is also a view which is not very far removed from that of some scientists who see the entire earth - and even the entire universe - as a single living being, one they call Gaia. (In Catholic Christianity, Gaia, the Earth Mother, is masked as the Blessed Virgin Mary. Protestantism has no earth goddess.) The similar view that the entirety of (visible and invisible) existence is God was also espoused by medieval scholastics such as St. Thomas Aquinas, and is found widespread throughout non-literate cultures.
Some modern cosmologists have proposed an idea which they call the "anthropic principle." In its "strong" form, this principle hypothesizes that, out of a virtually infinite number of "parallel" universes emerging from a non-spatial "vacuum," only a tiny fraction of the total - or even only a single one - would, like ours, have life in it and thus be observable. This means that the "observable" (i.e., our own) universe in question would have to have certain physical constants (e.g., gravitational, lightspeed, Planck's constant, and the electric charges of the proton and the electron) set exactly to certain very precise values. And these would subsequently have to allow the universe to exist at least long enough for life to develop (about 10 billion years, in our case, until there was an earth with merely the most primitive of life forms). It amounts to an extension of the concept of evolutionary epistemology to the very beginning of a multi-universe cosmos, in which most universes would have "constants" with different values than ours has. And those different universes would have no life.
To put it in other terms: the lower the position on the evolutionary scale, the greater the number of entities or the greater the extent. Hence, insects far outnumber higher life forms; bacteria far outnumber insects; non-lifebearing planets, asteroids and comets far outnumber lifebearing planets; and "empty" space by far exceeds the space occupied by massive bodies in our universe. Similarly, according to the strong anthropic principle, the number of "dead" universes would far outnumber the live ones - and ours may be in fact the only live one. Thus, if the strong anthropic principle is true, then even from a purely logico-mathematical perspective, life, and above all intelligent life on this planet in this galaxy in this universe, is seen as a miraculously remarkable phenomenon of the most extreme rarity: the pinnacle of the evolution of a stupendous number of universes.(47)
The Gaia theory and the anthropic principle are mentioned here not as some kind of "proof" of the validity of NDEs or of parapsychology; they are adduced only as evidence that the most logically rigorous of scientists and sciences have no problem positing non-intuitive and even non-materialistic principles as the basis of the life and the universe; and that, of itself, science entails no logical compulsion to exclude a "paranormal" foundation of the universe. Science, rather, is above all a method, not a body of sacrosanct dogma, despite unceasing attempts to use its name to gain political power. Moreover, this method has shown both the extreme rarity of life and the utter strangeness of its physical foundations.
To turn to a completely different area, there is the matter of beauty and its antipode, ugliness. All those who have experienced profound NDEs, whatever the specific form thereof, have given witness to either a beauty or a hideousness so unearthly that it has penetrated to the marrow of their bones. Thus it behooves us to delve into the evolutionary meaning of aesthetics.
As the trite proverb puts it, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. This is because this quality is not derived from what is beheld, but from the beheld's meaning for the beholder. And, as the word "behold" implies, beauty (and ugliness) is a sense, just as is the sense of sight or taste. The difference is that beauty - the sense of aesthetics - is a general sense rather than one specific to a particular medium. More exactly, beauty is the sense which apprehends life itself, understood as what enhances one's own life and well-being and those of one's progeny. Ugliness is the reverse.
Life-filled, verdant landscapes normally strike us as beautiful, while the lifeless, barren surface of the moon does not. Instinctively we know we could live in the first environment but not in the other. For a man, the body of a healthy young woman is erotically beautiful, because it promises fecundity, the continuation of his seed; for a woman, a healthy, cherubic baby or young child is especially attractive and stimulates her mothering instinct, because she recognizes in it the fruit of her womb, even if vicariously. To a hungry person, a newly prepared meal appears delicious, because it promises the maintenance and promotion of physical life.
On the opposite side, decrepit, damaged and diseased bodies appear ugly, because they lack life to some degree or are deficient in it. Feces and urine stink, because they are poisonous to us. (A dung beetle would evaluate them differently.) Ugliest of all is the corpse in its decaying state, because it is bereft of the life that once besouled it. (Incorrupt bodies, incidentally, by their very nature, testify to a life source beyond the grave. They also frequently give off a wonderful fragrance, thereby enlisting the sense of smell in their testimony to this life source.)
Naturally, culture has much to do with modifying this innate, life-interpreting sense of beauty. In the 1990s, many sectors of the American culture-bearing strata found the sight of a bottle of urine aesthetically pleasing when it had a crucifix stuck in it. Or that of a toilet with an American flag draped over it. Such a sight titillates certain deep destructive urges in their unconscious, just as the prospect of the death of an enemy delights an individual at war. But aside from these comparatively rare, rather convoluted and artificial states, beauty is the sense which evaluates the beheld for its meaning in terms of enhancing the beholder's life.
Applying this understanding of beauty to the NDE, we immediately see that the NDEer is encountering a transcendent and cosmic wellspring of life. Or, in the malign experiences, a supernaturally profound nihilism and negation of life: the state of perpetual dying without ever achieving extinction (because memories never die), of permanent excommunication from all new input; a kind of self-imposed psychic blindness, sometimes juxtamortally projected as a frigid, metacosmic darkness.
Thus this most pervasive of sensations, that of rapturous beauty or ghastly horror, points again to a life source within and beyond the self. Once again, the directionality of the surreal realm encountered at death's door shines through.
In sum, then, the three most pervasive elements encountered in the juxtamortal dream - love, light, and beauty (or their converses of hatred, darkness and repulsive ugliness) - are all different means of apprehending, or recognizing the loss of, the same thing: simply put, an all-knowing, universe-creating Life Source at the core of, and surrounding, the self.
The encounters with the souls of the dead likewise point unequivocally to the same thing: to the fact that these souls continue to exist by virtue of a Life Source which undergirds all there is and which maintains their being.
Finally, the baffling physical and parapsychological phenomena of mysticism - often experienced in lesser degree by NDEers - imply that it is this same Life Source which is responsible for the so-called "laws" of nature. As already mentioned, Rupert Sheldrake maintains that these "laws" are actually habits (i.e., strong memories) of matter. Mystical phenomena confirm this view by showing that these habits can be temporarily suspended and changed if the Life Source so wills it. Both incorruption and immunity to fire(48) amount to the non-occurrence of chemical reactions in organic substance which should normally take place. The fact that they do not is a strong argument in favor of this thesis of Sheldrake's. But a caveat: the Life Source, too, has its own evolution-promoting will - juxtamortally apprehended as unconditional "Love," as explained above. In the traditional terminology of the major Western religions: God, too, is free. The irregular and absolutely unpredictable nature of such phenomena is one reason why the noun "Weird," which used to mean "the intricately woven and overriding psychic force of destiny, Fate," has become an adjective, "weird," meaning "bizarre and uncanny."
Reference has already been made to Rupert Sheldrake's hypothesis that evolution proceeds by means of an "unconscious" solution to a life problem, a solution whereby a subgroup of a species "rethinks" its own physical form to better suit its environment. Here I would like to return to a more modest but related question: the "flash of insight."
When a human being - say, a scientist - suddenly solves a problem through a "flash of insight," a dream, or a "thought just popping into his head," we have no idea how this happens. It is clearly related to the associative nature of memory, but this says nothing about how the mind "unconsciously" constructs an organized new whole and reconfigures the brain's neural structures to match. After the solution is found, "proofs" and "logical sequences" are worked out for it and written into textbooks, and the problem-solver feels wonderfully rational about it all. But rational procedure is not how the solution actually comes about. In spite of theories about neural growth, etc., neither brain scientist nor dunce, neither wise man nor fool truly knows how this extremely common experience occurs (although they may know how to hinder it, as a person ignorant of electronics knows how to shut off the sound emanating from a radio). The realm of this "creative unconscious," it would seem, is the realm directly experienced in the apprehension of the NDEers' "Light."(49)
The NDE, as is clear from the later histories of many of those who have had it, is above all a life-transforming experience. It is idiosyncratic and culturally determined. Except for the out-of-body part of it, it does not show either the world of the senses or the world beyond them as these worlds are in themselves. But not even in ordinary consciousness do we see, hear or smell things as they are in themselves. Our brains receive and process external input in such a way as to extract and present useful information from that input, not idle theories. This is true whether the input is conscious or subconscious, from the external senses such as sight and sound, or from the internal means of recall and the extrasensory (parapsychological) aspects of memory.
It is the coordinative activity of memory (i.e., of one's own physical structure and morphic field) which, in the NDE, integrates all of our internal and external knowledge into a unique visionary experience suffused with the imperative of life. This experience presents one's culturally conditioned awareness of everything as a totality, in a view which is adaptive in the evolutionary sense. It is the "solution" to the "problem" of the individual life in its environment, a solution formulated by the deep unconscious, by the morphic field of the whole person, by the soul, in interaction with its total environment.
Of course this solution is culturally determined, especially because our modern environment consists no longer of nature in the wild but of urban civilization. The liberal will find a liberal do-gooder solution to life and a conservative will perhaps find a conservative church-based one. But in both there will be a new, deeply religious element. Both will tend to see through the shallowness of the commercialism which pervades so much of ordinary consciousness. Still, except in rare instances and aside from the enhancement of metanormal abilities, the experience will not make them any smarter, nor change their political views.
Put another way, each creature may be seen as a hypothesis by Nature about itself - an "observer" in the terms of the anthropic principle and of man as sense organ of the earth. At death, this "living hypothesis" reviews itself for whether it fit into Nature well or poorly, whether within its own microenvironment and according to its own lights, it contributed to or detracted from the general thrust of the Life Source. In a word: whether it advanced evolution for future generations of its species. Lifetime memories are integrated into those of the planetary inframind, and the juxtamortal dream is the body-dependent perception of the beginning of this process.
It may seem odd to think that, as Rupert Sheldrake and others claim, we are composed of the "memories" of past life forms. Thus it is helpful to present here the words of anthropologist Robin Fox (The Red Lamp of Incest, p. 197):
We are creatures primed to learn readily the things that helped us to survive in our evolutionary past and to reproduce the drama of that past in each generation in some form or other, lodged in whatever institutions are forged from the basic drives and the exigencies of history.
...[W]e are the kind of creature that evolved to do [typically human things such as categorization and incest taboos] because these things were the pattern of our evolution, and our bodies, mind, and social behaviors are these things - are the living, physical memory of them. We reproduce what produced us; there is no other way.
Fox goes on to note that just as our bodily anatomy and our physical development are determined by our past evolution, so also is our behavior coordinate with that same anatomy and development. All we are saying here is that the means of "fixing" this phylogenetic memory is inframental: the "collective unconscious," the "group soul" or even "Gaia," the soul of the earth (the planetary inframind), or "boundless existence." It is the same factor which is responsible for evolutionary jumps from one life form to another, higher one with greater built-in information content.
As with the sudden "solution" of intellectual problems by the unconscious, the sudden "emergence" of a new species does not involve any totally new creation ex nihilo (from nothing), but a reformulation, often an expansion and improvement, and always a rearrangement, of what is already present. So it is with the visions of the juxtamortal dream, which likewise springs from the unconscious (the personal inframind). They are constructed from the materials at hand - those already provided by one's life in a socio-cultural context. (This is also why children's NDEs are simpler than those of adults: children have not yet acquired the number and range of memories which a longer lifespan confers upon adults.)
Such visionary "insights" do in fact solve problems and answer a need. It is characteristic of the deepsoul and the inframind to work in this way. For instance, as mentioned earlier, Dr. Raymond Moody points out that those who see mirror-visions of the dead see those whom they have a need to see, not necessarily those whom they seek. Whether evolutionarily, biologically or psychologically, the deepsoul seeks solutions, not entertainment.
It is critical to the understanding of this entire essay to recognize that problem-solving is the quintessence of life. It is not merely the acquisition of memories which characterizes life; it is the appropriate ordering of memories in a way suited to coping with existential challenges (i.e., with the external world) which constitutes life. Thus, "solutions" which spring suddenly out of the psychic deep are the most central of all human and cosmic activities.
To place all this in context, consider three other cases where the extraordinary power of the problem-solving "creative unconscious" makes itself manifest:
1. During a small period of a life: in the "flash of insight" by which one suddenly finds the solution to a problem - say, by producing the answer to an academic task, or a new invention. (New synapses are formed in the brain.)
2. In the rare medical cases of the sudden "spontaneous remission" of dangerous, far-advanced diseases. As a subset of these we may include miraculous healings by psychically gifted people or by saints. (Large-scale cellular renewal occurs in the body.)
3. In the event of the sudden evolutionary emergence of a new species or subspecies from a mere portion of a progenitor species. These evolutionary "quantum jumps" are found amongst all life on earth and are the basis of evolution. (Massive, telepathically propagated reconfiguration of the phylogenetic structure occurs.)
In all of these cases a new cognition or re-cognition by those affected is involved. In the last two cases, it takes place on a level of the unconscious so deep that it can be said to be paranormal.
The beginning of such a cognizing process, I submit, is what is happening during the NDE. On the level of the individual at death or near-death, this cognitive reformulation yields, as a by-product, sudden insight, through symbolic visions, into how one fits into one's environment, whether that environment be social or ecological or both. The dying individual experiences the subjective side of the "report" which he or she, as an epistemic probe - a hypothesis by Nature about itself - makes to Nature at death. This transmission of information is an active process, not a cessation of thought. After the NDE, partial alteration of, or even damage to, deep-brain structures responsible for fast beta brainwave activity of high amplitude may sometimes leave the NDEer or shaman with unobstructed access to inframental information flows. He or she is then considered "psychic." (Naturally, there are also people who are simply born "psychic," as well.)
The graphically cognized "solution" presented in the NDE is valid for the individual who experiences it, not necessarily for someone else with very differently constituted perceptual categories. For our culturally and personally conditioned perceptual filters differ from one person to another, especially in the fragmenting culture of modern civilization.
This does not at all mean that those who experience the juxtamortal dream are not experiencing something objectively real and truly paranormal at the life-death boundary. It is just that in this case our sensory apparatus consists of our memory faculties, and these differ considerably. The world view of, say, an elephant, would be inappropriate for a dog, even though they might both be experiencing the "same things." For the meanings of the perceived objects would be different to the two animal types, since their racial memories - their morphic fields - differ so much.
In sum, then, the juxtamortal dream turns out to be one's perception of the feeding of the "short-term memory" of his life into his race's phyletic memory in the cosmic inframind. This explains the depersonalization, the self-cognition of the soul and the vivid recognition, via symbols, of the vast multi-dimensional environment of which the soul is a small but vital part. This "enlightenment" can occasionally occur under other circumstances also, not just in the NDE. It is sometimes so profound that it can "reformulate" the body itself according to the body's own original morphic plan - and not only in the case of "psychosomatic" illnesses -, thereby producing "miraculous" cures or healings. And in revealing the souls of the dead, it shows us the larger matrix of our being.
As mentioned above, by looking at the paranormal components of these experiences, we can see that there is a life-giving, "mental" undergirding to the universe, something it would do us well to keep in mind as our excessively materialistic culture becomes increasingly suicidal. Instead of mind being an epiphenomenon of the physical world, we discover that the physical world is an epiphenomenon of mind. More exactly, of the cosmic inframind. This is the most mysterious and fascinating result of a careful investigation into the NDE. It gives us to understand the juxtamortal dream not as an unnatural oddity completely separate from life and nature, but as an integral part of a cosmically vast current of evolution to awareness driven by divine Mind.
A final, tentative conclusion: From the currently available evidence, it appears that the class of people who have shown the most profound and spectacular manifestations of the paranormal are Catholic mystics and saints, especially of the late medieval and early modern eras. (Protestant Christianity has had virtually no monastic tradition, and is therefore ecclesiastically unrepresented in this area.) Many volumes of records on their lives (much of it in Latin) exist on these people, records reaching back almost two millennia. While the shamans, holy men and contemplatives of other traditions have exhibited many extraordinary phenomena, the prize for excelling in this art would seem to belong to these Catholics. It might not be too far afield to connect this with the additional fact that, as mentioned earlier, science itself, as objectively tested theoretical knowledge, was made possible and first developed only in the West, and only in the Catholicism of the High Middle Ages. No other combination of race, culture and religion, no matter how gifted, could have achieved this intellectual breakthrough.
Of course, since the Catholic Church's effective self-dissolution in its Second Vatican Council (ca. 1963-67), its mystical tradition has largely come to an end. In addition, TV's control of the mass mind has destroyed and demonized the White race's self-consciousness, so that this race is dying, too, in the biological sense - to the applause of the neurotic and guilt-haunted "liberals" of this race. And Western culture has been degraded by the manipulators of the American mass media to the point where the European cultural legacy is relativized and even despised by its own heirs. Above alxasphe ultimate aim and effect of modern mass advertizing (especially TV) is the destruction of the human will to the point where a very large proportion of modern industrial "democracies" may be said to be in a state of perpetual hypnosis. Considering these things, and seeing the ongoing political perversion of science, I consider it an open question whether science itself can avoid becoming fossilized as dogma, and its creativity stifled, now that its original matrix has been destroyed.
Nevertheless, an overview of Western religious history leads to the surmise that it was the Catholic contemplatives' concentration on the Logos, the rational Mind of the universe, as becoming incarnate in man himself (a religious version of evolutionary epistemology) which made it possible to tap the powers of the Deep to a miraculous extent. In effect, these contemplatives put into practice the medieval synthesis of intellectual, conscious knowledge (scientia) with the cultivation and discipline of the unconscious (religio) in the ideal of the Logos-logic of the universe as incarnate in man. Long before the biological principle of evolution was conceived, this synthesis logically entailed the expansion of evolutionary epistemology to include cosmogony (the creation of the universe). Whereas Buddhism saw life as a kind of cosmic mistake caused by blind desire, Catholic Christianity saw human intelligence as the pinnacle and purpose of a "loving" cosmos: an incarnation of the divine intelligence, the Logos.
Adepts of other traditions often concentrated piecemeal on individual powers and aspects of the human self or even resisted evolution. Buddhism, as mentioned above, ultimately seeks to reverse evolution into nir-vana, the cessation and extinction of all evolution and its attendant pain.
But during its flower, Catholic mysticism, even with its own flaws, accepted and embraced this pain (and thereby evolution) on the shamanic principle of "no pain, no gain" and took the whole self - archetypified as a god-man (Christ) - as the literal and consummate incarnation of divine powers. These powers are the real foundation of evolution: the Wellspring of Weird and the Ground of being. For most of us, they are grasped symbolically for the first time only when we are possessed by them in the juxtamortal dream.
The best records of miracles throughout the centuries have been kept by the Roman Catholic Church in its Acta Apostolicae Sedis (Records of the Apostolic See, regularly published in Vatican City since 1909), which are maintained as aids to establishing a basis for canonizing its saints. In order to be officially declared a saint, an individual must be ascertained to have performed a minimum of three miracles after his or her death! Two miracles involving the mystery of death are presented here: one associated with St. Andreas Bobola and the other with St. Don Bosco.
One case of this type, excerpted from the Acta Apostolicae Sedis and translated with commentary into German, is found in Parallels to the New Testament.(50) It is presented here, and describes the discovery of the body of Saint Andreas Bobola after appearances of the saint. Relevant dates of Andreas Bobola are:
The full translated text of the reports is as follows:
The discussion of saints' transfigurations similar to the Transfiguration on the Mountain [in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 9] should include saints' apparitions, as the figures of Moses and Elias suggest. But since visions are discussed so often in Parallels to the New Testament, it would be too much to devote a special chapter to the topic. It is true that it is difficult to explain much of what happens in visions. But it is equally true that a miraculous healing, when a fact, shows that the vision itself was a reality - whatever its makeup.
In what follows I would like, nevertheless, to present an apparition which, in my opinion, permits, above and beyond the foregoing, a more careful consideration of the very numerous reports of the finding of the mortal remains of saints - findings said to have occurred after an apparition of the respective saint. These findings are rejected by modern hagiography [the study of saints], in the majority of cases undoubtedly with justice. But always? It seems to me that what, in the case I have translated, was real in modern times, may also have been so at other times. It also seems to me that witnesses who should be taken seriously cannot be rejected merely because they speak of post-dream findings in the same way as the many witnesses here do of the finding of the body of Saint Andreas Bobola. The finding of relics in antiquity is treated by H. Delehaye in Les Origines du cultes des Martyrs, 2nd ed., Brussels, 1933, pp. 73-90. The author goes into the most important cases in detail: the finding of the archmartyr (first martyr) St. Stephen, and of the martyrs Gervasius and Protasius, under the direction of St. Ambrose in Milan. (The relevant texts can be found in the volume by Ilona Opelt, Das Leben des heiligen Ambrosius, of the series Heilige der ungeteilten Christenheit, dargestellt von den Zeugen ihres Lebens, Patmos-Verlag, Düsseldorf, Germany, 1967.)
God is a God of the living Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Luke 20,27-38). In the apparition of Moses and Elias, moreover, the Church has always seen the proof that they are alive. Similarly, the apparition of Saint Andreas Bobola, slowly and diabolically tortured to death at Janów on 16 May 1656, provides proof: the dead live. [Translator's note: "Janów" = modern Janów Lubelski, Poland.]
The saint was born in the principality of Sandomierz (today in Poland) in 1592. In 1611 he entered the novitiate of the Jesuits in Vilnius (today in Lithuania) and worked as a preacher and leader of Marian Congregations. In those days the Marian Congregations were the base groups for the apostolate of the Jesuits. For his last twenty years he worked as a missionary among the people of Pinsk (in the half of Poland today incorporated into Russia), where he was also buried. During a Cossack raid he was captured and tortured to death by the Cossacks [on 16 May 1656] In 1701 his completely undecomposed corpse was found. Because of the amputated limbs, the flayed skin, the burn wounds and the wood slivers driven underneath the fingernails, the body could be undeniably identified as his. And its incorruption made the strongest of impressions precisely on the [Russian] Orthodox, who see in it a special proof of holiness.
After the death of the martyr the college at Pinsk was pillaged and burnt several times. Thus it happened that no one any longer knew where his body was buried. The coffin, as is clear from the texts, had originally been set apart to the side in the burial cellar. But after more than a hundred coffins had been placed in the cellar, it had gotten pressed down into the obviously moist earth. The other coffins were more or less rotted and their corpses completely decomposed.
At that time I was at the college of Pinsk. I had the job of taking care, as I recall, of the room of Fr. Godebski, the rector of the Pinsk college. I heard from him these express words: "I was thinking about whom to choose as the guardian patron of my college in my troubles (the Swedish War, insurrections) during the time of my rectorate. At that point the honorable Fr. Bobola appeared to me and said: 'Why are you looking for other patrons? I am Andreas Bobola. I was once killed by Cossacks. I will be the guardian of your college. Look for me among the confreres'." This apparition took place, as I recall, in the bedroom of Fr. Rector Godebski. Father Rector was a dignified and scholarly man, a doctor of sacred theology, and a rational person....
I heard from the mouth of the honorable Fr. Martin Godebski, my first spiritual teacher, when he was my novice master, that - whether in sleep or in waking, I don't know - the honorable servant of God appeared to him and told him, "You are looking for a protecting patron for the college. You have me: I am your confrere, Andreas Bobola, who was killed by Cossacks on account of the faith. Look for my body. It is God's will, namely, that you should separate me from the others." I heard the same thing from the mouth of his brother, the standard-bearer [in the army] Peter Godebski in Pinsk, who called his brother, Fr. Godebski, nothing less than a saint because of this revelation, saying that his brother was a saint because he spoke with saints. Because of his virtues Fr. Martin Godebski had the reputation of being a saint. It has now already been twenty years that he has been resting in the common burial site of the novitiate of Vilnius.
God's servant, however, appeared in the garb of the Society of Jesus, and with a certain radiance and great friendliness. I heard from the lips of Father Rector, after he had seen the discovered corpse, that it was that of the same one who had appeared to him.
Father Rector had the body searched for. I was one of those watching the search with his own eyes. With others I looked through the burial cellar window facing the school on my way to classes. But I heard that it was not found until the third day under many coffins, already covered with earth. That was what the lay church attendants said, who were searching there.... (p. 73).
From Fr. Godebski, S.J., the then rector in Pinsk, I heard tell how, after he had lain down after evening prayers and was worrying, a priest of the Society appeared to him. Frightened by this, he asked him who he was. The latter answered, "I am Andreas Bobola, a confrere of yours who was killed for the faith by Cossacks. Look for my body and get it out from among the others." With this news Father Rector came into the sacristy where I was sacristan in those days and told me to look for the coffin with his body. On the day after the apparition I took some other college personnel along with me and we went into the burial cellar where the bodies of the Jesuit fathers rest. We shifted every single coffin aside, but couldn't find that of Fr. Andreas Bobola. So we stopped searching further on that day and returned. The next day we searched again in the same way. We even dug into the earth and found more coffins, but not his, so we returned after working in vain. On the third night this Fr. Andreas Bobola appeared to me in a dream and spoke these words: "My body is lying on the left side in the corner beneath the earth. Look there and you'll find it."
So after Mass we went to the burial area with the college personnel. We dug where told to and found a coffin with a corpse. The casket was unpainted. On it stood written in black lettering: "Pater Andreas Bobola." There were two priests along with us, instructors at the college. So we opened the coffin to see the body. We found it dressed in alb and chasuble, and we placed it to the side under the window in the burial cellar. This became known and everyone rushed to see it. It has been about 18 years since we dug and searched for the body....
While I was still in the lay world and was church custodian at the Jesuit church of Pinsk, God's servant, Andreas Bobola, appeared to the Father Rector .... Father Rector Godebski related this to us in the sacristy and ordered us to search for the body. We searched one day, two days, and found nothing. But on the third day, as soon as we searched in the earth among the coffins in the corner, we knew from the inscription on a casket lid which read "Pater Andreas Bobola Societatis Jesu" that his body lay here and nowhere else. We dug two spades deep and dug out the coffin whose lid had stuck only partly out of the ground. And after we had dug it out, we set in on sawhorses under the window of the burial cellar. We opened the casket and found the body completely undecomposed, and disfigured by the tortures, just as it looks now. And when we had cleaned it of dirt we also cleaned the casket and laid the corpse back in it. And we held the undisintegrated state of his body to be a singular grace of God and a very special miracle, after his having lain that way for so many years. And we were sure that he had earned it by his martyrdom which he had suffered for the Catholic faith. We also discovered absolutely no smell from it; as a matter of fact, the body was exactly as if it had just then been buried...."
Father Rector, awakened from sleep by the dream apparition, went to his confessor and spoke with him about this vision. It then immediately became known throughout the college, and even I heard about it. It was undersacristan Procopius, as he himself told me, who, together with other church assistants, found the body in its casket....
"With God's help," he said, "you can have him for a guardian." Sacristan Procopius and the instructors had searched for the body but had not been able to find it. The servant of God appeared once more, this time to the sacristan - I heard this from the people, the students, the teachers, and from the sacristan himself. The novice master, Fr. Kociett, told us about the continuation of the search, and once more urged us on to prayer....
I was studying in Pinsk, and I saw the exhumed corpse. The body of God's servant was clothed with an old linen alb and a black chasuble, both of which were rotted and disintegrating, and turned to dust at a touch of the fingers. I touched it and rubbed it with my hand. A sure sign that the body of God's servant had been found was the inscription with his name on the casket lid. And no one doubted that it was really the body of God's servant, because the inscription on the casket proved it and you could see the wounds and mutilations on his body which - together with the inscription - even I saw with my own eyes.
No one doubted that it was the body of the honorable martyr because of the copious, coagulated blood with which his garments were quite soaked, and also because of the wounds and mutilations whose blood was almost fresh, since it was red, even if coagulated. (p. 74)
In those days I was studying in Pinsk when the venerable servant of God appeared to Fr. Godebski one night. When the body at first could not be found, the fathers recommended us students to pray to God, so that it would be found. Then when, after renewed work, it was found and brought up out of the ground, it was given a separate resting place in the common crypt.
With other students I visited and looked at the discovered body. I visited the grave of God's servant very often and saw the wounds which had been inflicted on him by the Cossacks. (pp. 75f.)
Fr. Martin Godebski, of blessed memory, was rector in Pinsk at that time. He was very much occupied with the question of which saint he ought to choose as protector of the college in those troubled times. Thereupon a member of the Society appeared to him in visible form during half-sleep - and almost while he was still awake - and said, "I am Fr. Andreas Bobola, the missionary of Janów, a member of this college who was killed by Cossacks out of hate for the Faith. Why are you looking for some other patron when you have me? Look for me, then, among the confreres and place me apart until the further will of God takes effect." - This, according to an excerpt from the archives of the Lithuanian province of the order, and according to the way I heard it from important fathers.... (pp. 74f.)
In my presence the body of God's servant was found in the common burial cellar of the Society at Pinsk. It had been pressed deeper into the earth by the other bodies. This was, as I recall, before or after the year 1700. (p. 77)
In those days I was studying philosophy at the college of Pinsk, and I heard from various people of our Society that God's servant had appeared to Fr. Godebski in his sleep. Those were the days of the struggles with Sweden. The order to search for the body was given. On the third day after the apparition it was found in my presence. It was found by Brother Kevienski, who is now a Franciscan, and by Procopius Lukaszewicz; I no longer remember the others of our group. It was found by this sacristan and others of our people in the common crypt of the priests of the college of Pinsk. It had been pressed into the earth by the weight of the coffins placed on top of it, and the inscription on the casket read: "P. Andreas Bobola Societatis Jesu," written in black, as I myself saw.... (pp. 77f.)
We immediately went to see it. I was there even before the noon meal. There were a great many of us. Immediately the alb and chasuble of God's servant were changed. I saw the body right after its discovery. I don't think there was anyone still alive at that time who knew where it had been buried. That's why they searched twice and moved the caskets all around; and no one any longer believed that anyone from so long before then could still be made out. (pp. 78f.)
I heard from Fr. Godebski himself how he said, "I asked the Lord God during the celebration of holy mass to give me a protecting patron through whose intercession I might be able to carry out successfully the office of rectorate committed to my care by the order. Then Fr. Andreas Bobola appeared to me and said...." On the following morning he had the sacristan, Lorenz Kosman, Anton Kamienski, Peter Arciszewski, and other members of the order search in the common crypt right away. But they found nothing that day, as Brother Arciszewski and others told me. I no longer know how long they searched, although I was in Pinsk at that time and though I reclothed the body of God's servant two years later. Undersacristan Sezerbicki told me himself that God's servant had said to him in a dream, "Look for me in such and such a place." The undersacristan was a thoroughly sensible man. When they then searched once more, the body of God's servant was found in precisely the place which had been revealed to the undersacristan. Not only the latter, but also Brothers Arciszewski, Kamienski and others, too, searched, as they themselves told me right after the finding. I saw for myself the casket lid with the inscription. (p. 80)
I saw them, Jesuits and laymen, searching, after he had appeared to the Father Rector. When his body was found on the third day, it was made known to us right away. I was attending high school in Pinsk at that time. Right after the finding I was in the grave with a candle. I saw the undecomposed body which was so disfigured by torture. The coffin was rotted, and I heard from various people that those who had known him and seen him after his martyrdom by the Cossacks, had recognized him by the wounds on his hands and his cut-off nose.
On an old sheet of paper, which the bishop of Luck ordered the notary to place in the files, the first burials of 1640-1665 are recorded. There, twelfth on the list, is registered:
Pater Andreas Bobola
Put to death by the Cossacks on 16 May 1656
by cruel and diverse means.
(Positio super introductione, p. 14)
Another remarkable case study relevant to this discussion is that of an Italian boy temporarily resuscitated from pre-death unconsciousness and delayed in dying by apparently paranormal means. I have translated it from pp. 118-21 of Raisings from the Dead: Translated from Canonization Records:(51)
Don Bosco (born in Becchi near Turin on 16 August 1815, died 31 January 1888 in Turin) was the founder of the congregation named Salesians [after St. Francis de Sales] (over 20,000 members) and of the Don Bosco sisters (over 14,000), and also the founder of a worldwide foundation for youth. He was one of the most attractive saints of the Catholic Church and perhaps its greatest figure in the last [i.e., nineteenth] century. In Don Bosco, not only did the fullness of the supernatural shine forth in a manner hardly ever seen, but, simultaneously, it was also especially well documented. (This documentation is in the Memorie biografiche di San Giovanni Bosco, 19 vols., Turin, 1898-1939.)
I am presenting the following awakening from death according to the version of his biographer, Johann B. Lemoyne, who lived together with the saint for decades, and is the most important witness for his life (Der selige Don Johannes Bosco, vol. 1, B, Munich, 1927, pp. 492-495.):
A fifteen year-old boy by the name of Carl, who regularly visited the oratorium(52) of Saint Francis de Sales, became very ill and inside of a short while lay dying. He lived in an inn and was the son of the proprietor. The doctor recognized the danger and advised the parents to request the sick boy to go to confession. Agony-stricken, they asked their son which priest to call. The sick boy showed a great desire to see his usual confessor, Don Bosco. They immediately sent for this servant of God, but to their great dismay they received the news that he was not in Turin at the moment. This disturbed the boy very much; he now asked for the chaplain, who came immediately. A day and a half later the boy died, after he had continued to ask for Don Bosco and to plead to be allowed to speak with him.
When the worthy man returned, he was told that, several times, he had been sent after, and that that boy who was well known to him lay dying and had wanted most urgently to speak with him. Don Bosco hastened to go to him, "For," he said, "perhaps there is still time." In the house of mourning he first met a servant whom he immediately asked about the state of the patient.
"You came too late," was the reply; "he died about twelve hours ago."
Don Bosco replied with a smile, "Oh, he's sleeping, and you think he has died?!"
The servant looked at him with amazement and scorn; the honorable man, however, continued half in jest:
"You want to bet a fifth with me that he's not dead?"
At these words the other house occupants, who had come up meanwhile, broke out in loud wailing and assured him that Carl was most unfortunately no longer alive. Don Bosco said, "Am I supposed to believe that? Allow me to see him."
He was immediately led into the room where the mother and the aunt were praying in the vicinity of the deceased. The corpse was already dressed for burial and, according to the custom of those times, was enveloped in a linen cloth that had been sewn together, and was covered with flowers. Not far from the bed burned a candle. Don Bosco stepped nearer and thought, "Who knows whether he made a good last confession? Who knows what lot has now befallen his soul?!" And he turned to the one who had led him in: "Please, go out and leave me alone."
He then said a short but ardent prayer, blessed the boy, and called out with a commanding voice, "Carl, Carl, get up!"
At this call the dead boy began to move. Don Bosco immediately covered the light, ripped the thread of the shroud with a strong jerk so that the boy would be unhindered, and uncovered his face. As though waking out of a deep sleep, the reawakened boy now opened his eyes and turned around; then he sat upright and spoke:
"Oh! How did I get on this bed?"
Then he turned around and his eyes fell on Don Bosco. He had hardly recognized him when he called out: "Oh, Don Bosco! Ah, if you knew! I waited for you with such longing! It was you I sought. I need you urgently. God has sent you to me. Oh, it's right that you've come to wake me up."
The worthy man replied, "Just say what you want of me; I'm here for your sake."
The boy answered, "Ah, Don Bosco, by all rights I should now actually be in the place of damnation. The last time I went to confession, I did not dare to confess a sin which I had committed a few weeks before. There was a comrade who was uttering bad sayings....
"Just now I had a dream which terrified me greatly: I dreamt that I was on the brink of a gigantic blast furnace and was fleeing from many devils who were pursuing me and wanted to seize me. They were just about to jump on me and hurl me into the fire, when a noble woman stepped between me and those ugly monsters and said, 'Wait! He is not yet judged!' After a period of anxious waiting, I heard your voice which called me, and I awoke; and now I'd like to make my confession."
At the very beginning the mother had already been thoroughly alarmed and, deeply moved by what she saw, had gone out with the aunt at a gesture of Don Bosco's, to call the family together. The poor boy, on the other hand, took courage again because he no longer had to fear the monsters, and now began his confession with the expression of true penitence. While Don Bosco was absolving him, the mother returned with the occupants of the house who became witnesses of the happening in this way. Turning to his mother, Carl called out, "Don Bosco is saving me from hell!"
He remained thus about two hours in totally clear consciousness; except, during the entire time, his body was as cold as before his awakening, although Carl moved, looked around, and was speaking. Among other things he told Don Bosco repeatedly that he would like to recommend especially and constantly honesty in confession.
The worthy man finally asked him, "Now you are in the state of grace; heaven stands open to you. Do you want to go up into it or stay here with us?"
He answered, "I want to go to heaven."
And Carl let his head sink back onto the pillow, remained lying motionless with closed eyes, and in sleep passed away in the Lord.
Now it may not be believed that the happening described would have aroused much excitement in the town. During the whole wondrous event Don Bosco had not changed his simple and unassuming manner. Indeed, he had even maintained that the boy he had called back to life had not at all even been dead. The political excitement caused by the war in the first months of that year diverted and busied emotions too much for people to care much about anything else. The family was also concerned about avoiding anything that could harm the memory of the beloved deceased; thus they did not speak about the case to strangers, and even to neighbors they were silent from the beginning.
Nonetheless, the story became known among the comrades of the dead boy, and in the oratorium it was known for many years as an established fact. People knew the locations and the sign of the inn in question, the first name and surname of the boy, the citizenship of the family, and their friendship of many years with Don Bosco.
The described event became known outside the Piedmont. In the year 1858 the servant of God went on his first journey to Rome; to be more specific, he went in the company of the cleric Michael Rua, who was a subdeacon at the time. On this occasion Rua learned that the above described case was also known to many Romans. In 1862 he sat - by this time already a priest - at table, speaking to his neighbors of it. "Don Bosco" - so relates the chronicle of the oratorium - "had his seat a little ways away, but nonetheless paid no attention to the narration of the story. We saw that he turned all red. Suddenly he turned to the speaker and interrupted him with a lowered voice: 'Shut up,' he said, 'I have never said that I was the one; no one has to know it!'"
In actual fact the worthy man related the happening to his boys in the oratorium more than fifty times, and countless times in other houses, but never mentioned himself in doing so. He named neither names nor place, and carefully avoided everything that could make him seem a participant. This servant of God always presented the story in the same way, without changing or adding anything, although sometimes emotion almost choked his voice. You could tell that he had been present at the event because it had left such a profound impression on him.
Despite himself, however, he once betrayed himself without noticing it. In 1882 he was telling the story to the young people of the college in the suburb of Saint Martin after the evening prayers had been said. In the midst of the story he changed his manner of narration and shifted from the third person to the first: "I stepped into the room..., I said to him..., he answered me...," and went on in this way for a considerable time until, at the end, he was again speaking in the third person. The writer was present during all this. The Salesians looked at him meaningfully for a moment: the young people hung amazed and enthused on his every word. When the worthy man had finished, he walked through their ranks to go to his room. While everyone was crowding around him, you could tell from his looks and his words that he had no idea of what had just happened. No one dared to bring his attention to it either, in order not to insult his humilty.
In his book Soul Search: A Scientist Explores the Afterlife,(53) British science writer David Darling refers to some similar paranormal phenomena surrounding the death of Tibetan monks:
It has often been reported that the corpses of Tibetan Buddhist masters remain fresh and curiously healthy-looking for days or even weeks after breathing has stopped. The shading of life into death seems capable of being drawn out to an extraordinary degree, with the greatest exponents of the art of dying apparently able to exert incredible control over what is happening to them.
Sogyal Rinpoche recalls an astonishing incident following the apparent death of Lama Tseten, an old Buddhist teacher, in 1959. Barely had Tseten stopped breathing when Jamyang Khyentse, Sogyal Rinpoche's own spiritual master, entered the tent where Tseten lay, as if he had sensed what had happened. According to Rinpoche, Jamyang Khyentse looked into the old man's calm face and chuckled.
"La Gen [old Lama]," said Jamyang Khyentse, "don't stay in that state!"
He could see, I now understand, that Lama Tseten was doing one particular practice of meditation in which the practitioner merges the nature of his mind with the space of truth.
"You know, La Gen, when you do this practice, sometimes subtle obstacles can arise. Come on. I'll guide you."
Transfixed, I watched what happened next, and if I hadn't seen it myself I would never have believed it. Lama Tseten came back to life. Then my master sat by his side and took him through...the practice for guiding the consciousness at the moment of death.
The concept of hell as a place of postmortem punishment for the wicked is found in many societies and ages (compare, e.g., chapter 6 of Virgil's Aeneid). The English word hell itself comes from an ancient root meaning "cover over," i.e., with earth in burial. But the specific version found in Christianity originated in the ancient Iranian religion of Zoroastrianism. This religion sprang from the prophet Zarathustra (around the southern end of the Caspian Sea, about 13 or 12 centuries B.C.; the name Zarathustra means "Camel driver"). It had developed out of an old Iranian truth-test now known as the "ordeal." In the ordeal, a man suspected of, say, camel-rustling, was held down and molten lead was poured onto his chest while Mithras, the god of oaths, was invoked. In this way it was determined whether the suspect had been telling the truth when denying the crime. If he had been truthful, then he emerged unscathed from the molten metal. Mithras would have saved him. On the other hand, if the suspect had been lying, he died. Gradually this ordeal became absorbed into Zoroastrian theology, and the evil soul was believed to be plunged into a canyon of molten lead after death. The Babylonian Jews (after Cyrus the Great had captured Babylon in 539 B.C.) took up this idea and passed it on to both the later Jewish sect of the Ebionites (and through them to Islam) and to Christians. The threat of hell has of course been exploited politically in every way throughout the ages since then. But the concept has appeared in many other cultures as well, such as in Shintoism among the Japanese, and is not dependent for its recurrence on specific political systems..
For reference purposes, a typical report of hell is given below. Naturally every vision of this nightmare is specific to the particular visionary and different from all other hellish visions. But characteristic of them all is the experience of phantasmagorical horror. The report given here is excerpted from Fatima in Lucia's Own Words: Sister Lucia's Memoirs,(54) p. 108:
"Well, the secret is made up of three distinct parts, two of which I am now going to reveal.
"The first part is the vision of hell.
"Our Lady showed us a great sea of fire which seemed to be under the earth. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke, now falling back on every side like sparks in a huge fire, without weight or equilibrium, and amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear. The demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals, all black and transparent. This vision lasted but an instant. How can we ever be grateful enough to our kind heavenly Mother, who had already prepared us by promising, in the first Apparition, to take us to heaven. Otherwise, I think we would have died of fear and terror.
"We then looked up at Our Lady, who said to us so kindly and so sadly:
"'You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war [i.e., WW I] is going to end; but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the pontificate of Pius XI....'" [reigned as pope 1922-39.]
As many other peoples, so also the ancient Germanic peoples identified the "ethereal ocean" of the universal unconscious with local, physical bodies of water. Likewise frequently encountered among many Germanic groups as among other non-literate peoples is the view that souls are "recycled" from the land of the living to the Worldsoul and back again. The Proto-Germanic word for "lake" was *saiwaz, (whence modern English sea; the "*" means "scientifically reconstructed but literarily unattested") and the soul was for them a "derivative of the lake," a "lake-ite," and had the form *saiwalô (the ending -alô meant "stemming from"), which yielded the later Old English sâwol, then Middle English sâwle, sôwle and, finally, modern English soul. Hence the word soul bears an implicit etymological (word-origin) reference to the "fluid" abyss whence it springs. In contrast, the Greek word for soul is psyche. It comes from psychos, which means "cold." Originially, psyche meant "cool breath of air," then "breath of life," "life," and finally the "soul" as the seat of the feelings and desires. Psychology is thus literally "soul-lore." The Latin word for soul is anima, originally meaning "air, a breeze, wind," then "breath," and under the influence of Greek philosophy coming to mean "the principle of life, psyche." The masculine form of this root, animus, was used to refer to the rational, volitional and emotional side of the mind.
Proto-Indo-European (about 5,000 years ago) had a word-root *ghew(e)- "to call upon, invoke" (by magic chant). A reduced, unaccented form of this root, *ghu- (from *ghw-), added the passive past participle ending -to-, with stress, plus the neuter nominative-accusative ending -m. The result was *ghu-tó-m "that which is invoked" (by magic chant). This ghutóm became Proto-Germanic *guðam, then *guðan, which was neuter. It resulted in Gothic guþ (nominative and accusative singular) and guð- (the stem for all other cases, singular and plural), Old Norse goð, Old English god, Old High German cot and got, etc. The adjectival form, with vowel mutation (umlaut), appears in Old English gydig (i.e., "goddy,") meaning "divinely possessed," "insane," and has resulted in Modern English giddy.
The Latin word for god, deus, is derived from an ancient Proto-Indo-European root *deiwos, *dyeus, meaning "skylight, light of the daytime heavens." The same root gave rise to the names of the Greek high god, Zeus, and the Roman high god, Ju-ppiter, (or Jû-piter) ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *Dyeu-piter "O Father Bright-Sky." The name of the Germanic god Tew, god of Tuesday (i.e., Tew's day) who was interpreted as equivalent to the Roman Mars, also comes from *deiwos.
Finally, the word Weird, meaning "fate," is derived from Old English Wyrd, from Proto-Germanic *wurðiz, (pronounced "worthies") originally meaning the pre-birth "winding" or "spinning" of the thread of life by the Norns. The root comes from the Proto-Indo-European null-grade root *wrt- "wound, turned" from the full root *wert- "to turn into, become," based on *wer- "to turn."
The Christian synoptic Gospels of Mark (5,1-20), Luke (8,26-39) and Matthew (8,28-34) record a remarkable shamanic event involving many elements of deep inframental activity: the exorcism of the Gerasene (or Gadarene) demoniac. Mark (the earliest Gospel) and Luke seem to have reported it more or less faithfully, while the more theatrical Matthew garbles and abbreviates it. Its repulsive strangeness led to its misinterpretation right from the start.
According to the account, on the eastern shore of Lake Galilee, in the heathen territory of the Gerasenes where swine - the height of ritual uncleanness for Jews - were raised, was a man (Matthew makes it two men) living in a cemetery. He was always naked, tearing off any clothes put on him, and possessed of preternatural strength, breaking any bonds or chains laid on him. Further, he would run around howling in the cemetery and the hills, and gash himself with stones. Upon seeing him, Jesus, whose great shamanic power this account is meant to illustrate, ordered the "unclean spirit" possessing the man to leave him. So the demoniac ran up to Jesus and begged to be left alone.
In shamanic and necromantic (divining via the dead) activity, it is imperative to find out the name of any psychic entity in order to gain power over it. So Jesus asked its name. The famous answer is "My name is 'Legion,' for there are many of us." (The word "Legion" normally means 4,200-6,000 individuals, but probably just 2,000 here, because of the number of the pigs mentioned later.) After begging Jesus that he not force them to go "out of the district" (Mark; Luke has "to depart into the Abyss"), Legion asked permission to go into a large herd of pigs ("about 2,000" - Mark) on the hillside, which Jesus granted. So the spirits left the man and entered the pigs, which promptly went into a suicidal stampede downhill into the lake and drowned. The man was cured, and the alerted townspeople were so terrified that they asked Jesus to please leave their land.
Although the story has clearly been modified to fit the purposes of the Gospel's author - the point is to show how the despised non-Jews, in contrast to the unbelieving "chosen people," were able and willing to recognize the supernatural authority of Jesus -, enough elements remain to show that some kind of demonic possession happened involving some itinerant exorcist or other, who may have been Jesus or who later became identified with him.
To begin with, the possessed man lived in a cemetery. Why? Because that is where the souls of the dead reside, bound there by their buried bones. A certain percentage of those who die are apparently unable to find requies, "rest," according to worldwide testimony of mankind on this subject. Over time, this percentage must lead to an increase in the absolute numbers of the restless dead in any given cemetery. It was these unquiet souls, whose number is called "legion," who took over the mind of the hapless man, and who kept him around the place of interment of their own mortal remains for easy access.
Access to the possessed man's body was also made easier by his nakedness, since clothes inhibit direct communion with the psychic world outside the body. For the same reason, modern witches perform many of their rituals in the nude ("sky-clad"); there are fewer barriers between the self and the Non-Self.
The man's howling and self-destructive behavior is consistent with the tormented state of mind of the possessing souls, whose mental agony proved overwhelming for the poor animals into which they were released. (This item, by the way, illustrates the enormous difference in psychic power between humans and animals.)
Finally, the man's preternatural strength was paralleled also by the later berserker warriors of the Germanic tribes. These warriors would enter into a state of possessed trance in battle, becoming as strong as bears or wolves, and impervious to iron weapons or fire. These warriors were described by the ancient Goths, who practiced shamanism, as wod (rhymes with "clothe"). And it is this same word, wod, which the Gothic Bible (ca. A.D. 350) of the newly converted Goths used to describe the possessed man in the cemetery of the Gerasenes. Further, the chief god of the heathen Goths was named Wodan, "Lord of those who are wod"; the name emerged in later Germanic languages as Wotan and Odin. (For the Germanic peoples, Christ fit very easily into the shaman-god archetype of Wodan, and gradually replaced him in their cultures.)
Thus the consistency of the Gerasene account with so many reports from shamanic ("pagan") cultures, and its similarity to possession events outside of Christianity, argue strongly for the veracity of its main elements. It is another indication that what the NDEers report is profoundly real.
I would like to point out here that, in contrast with the political ideologies of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, this approach to the ground of being is the purest form of religious thinking, and it is taking place today at the very core of the most advanced of the hard sciences. [Return to text]
Cf. also the negative-filled, God-describing passage of the letter of the fourth-century Arian bishop, Auxentius of Durostorum, on Bishop Wulfila of the Goths, a letter written between 382-385 A.D. and contained in the dissertation of Bishop Maximinus: "
What made it possible for this death prayer to work was normally the element of guilt. Guilt constituted a breach in the psychic integrity of the individual and allowed the death wish to enter the unconscious and terminate the will to live.
Not irrelevantly, today the manipulators of the mass media and the dominant Western religions are unremittingly pounding in the message that the White man's skin color (i.e., his genetic inheritance) makes him guilty. The reader may draw his own conclusion. [Return to text]
Furthermore, Phillip E. Johnson, in his book, Reason in the Balance: The Case Against NATURALISM in Science, Law & Education (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), p. 82, discusses the logical duplicity in the argument of an atheist evolutionist, Richard Dawkins, who refers to such programs: