Life beyond Death: evidence for survival

David Pratt

August 2010, last updated Sep 2020

Part 1 of 2


Part 1
    1. Introduction
    2. Heaven, hell and summerland
    3. Theosophical teachings
    4. Visions and visitations
    5. Out-of-body and near-death experiences (09/20)
    6. Multiple personality and possession

Part 2
    7. Mental mediumship
    8. Physical mediumship
    9. Spirits and astral shells
  10. Reincarnation
  11. Sources

1. Introduction

From prehistory to the present, in virtually every culture and ethnic group, there has been a widespread belief that some higher part of us survives the death of the body. Recent surveys show, for example, that 62% of Americans, 53% of the Dutch and 46% of Britons believe in life after death (rasmussen; trouw; comresglobal). Some people are convinced that belief in an afterlife is just a primitive superstition. In a heated debate on the immortality of the soul, a college professor once ended his argument by declaring: ‘There is no such thing, and when I die I shall come back and prove it!’

Materialists often claim that people turn to a belief in an afterlife due to wishful thinking and an inability to accept the finality of death. But it could just as easily be argued that materialists are so attached to their own beliefs that they are incapable of objectively assessing data that contradicts them. The voluminous literature on paranormal, mediumistic and other ‘anomalous’ consciousness-related phenomena provides strong evidence for unseen worlds inhabited by normally unseen beings, including subtler bodies or souls of living and dead humans.

This article surveys some of this evidence, but begins by outlining three differing viewpoints on the nature of the afterlife: Christian theology, spiritualism, and theosophy.

2. Heaven, hell and summerland

Heaven and hell

The orthodox Christian belief is that each soul is created by God, lives a single life on earth, and is then judged and sent to heaven or hell for the rest of eternity. Some Christians believe that there will be a last judgement at the end of the world, when Christ returns to judge all the living and the dead, after which the soul will be reunited with its resurrected body.

Protestants believe that to enter heaven it is sufficient to accept Jesus Christ as their saviour; they will then be forgiven their sins, as Christ is supposed to have died on the cross to atone for our sins. Roman Catholics, and also a few Anglicans, believe that people must first be cleansed of their venial sins (forgivable infringements of moral law) by passing through the suffering of purgatory. Mortal sins (which are said to cause ‘spiritual death’), on the other hand, can be forgiven only through repentance while on earth.

Heaven is said to be a place of everlasting joy and bliss, free of pain and sorrow. It is the dwelling place of God, Jesus, angels, and the human elect. John’s vision of New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation is often taken to be a description of what heaven is like.

It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. ... The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. ... The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass. ... The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb [Jesus] is its lamp. ... On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. (21:11-25, New International Version)

It’s worth noting that Revelation, a kabbalistic scripture, also gives the dimensions of the city, and these measurements encode many aspects of sacred geometry (see Michell, 2001, 11-46).

New Jerusalem.

As for hell, Revelation calls it a ‘fiery lake of burning sulfur’, a ‘lake of fire’, populated by ‘the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars’, along with anyone else whose name is not written in the ‘book of life’ (21:8, 20:15). There, the devil/beast, his worshippers, and false prophets ‘will be tormented day and night for ever and ever’ (14:11, 20:10). The biblical Jesus says that ‘the cursed’ will suffer ‘eternal punishment’ in ‘the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’ (Matthew 25:41, 46). Hell is also referred to as ‘the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (Matthew 8:12, 22:13).


The biblical Jesus offers the following ‘practical’ advice:

If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell. (Matthew 18:8-9; Mark 9:43-49)

Jesus also warns that ‘anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell’ (Matthew 5:22). But he does not set a very good example, for he tells a parable about a rich man whom God addresses with the words: ‘You fool!’ (Luke 12:20).

Medieval illustration of hell in a manuscript by Herrad of Landsberg (about 1180). (

According to American pastor Tim Keller, ‘If Jesus, the Lord of Love and Author of Grace spoke about hell more often, and in a more vivid, blood-curdling manner than anyone else, it must be a crucial truth.’ An alternative conclusion would be that since no genuine sage would try to scare people with idiotic tales of everlasting agony and suffering, the Bible clearly contains a certain amount of junk – especially if taken literally.

Biblical scholars generally see hell as representing a state of ‘eternal separation from God’. Although most theologians have traditionally believed that hell is a place of unending conscious torment, some now believe that the suffering will not last forever but will end with the soul’s annihilation.

Among the Christian and Muslim faithful, more people believe in heaven than in hell. A 2014 survey found that 89% of Americans believe in God, 72% believe in heaven, and 58% believe in hell. A 2003 survey found that 64% of Americans expect to go to heaven, but less than 1% think they might go to hell. A 2017 survey found that 39% of the British believe in God, 32% believe in heaven, and 21% believe in hell.

The traditional notions of heaven and hell are difficult to take seriously. How could anything done in a single life on earth warrant either an eternity of perfect bliss or an eternity of excruciating agony? It is insane to suggest that people should be sent to hell simply for not believing in Jesus, regardless of how many good and noble deeds they may have done in their lives. Or that people who have committed terrible atrocities should go straight to heaven simply because they turn to Jesus before they die. Such a scenario is at odds with the idea of a perfect, loving and just God, and is more likely to have been dreamed up by ignorant theologians and power-hungry priests.

Some theologians argue that hell is compatible with God’s justice and mercy because God does not interfere with the soul’s free choice. However, since God supposedly created our souls himself, and determines what conditions people are born into, he clearly bears some responsibility for how people turn out. Since he is supposed to be omniscient, he must know in advance how good or bad the souls he creates will be and whether they will believe in him. And since he is also supposed to be all-powerful, he could create better-quality souls if he felt like it.

The angel Lucifer, who later fell and became the devil, was another of God’s creations who wasn’t a great success. Sometimes the devil is said to suffer in hell, while at other times he is said to occupy his time torturing sinners. But if people go to hell for doing the devil’s work, then the devil ought logically to reward them, not punish them. Unless he’s secretly working for God!

The punishment of the wicked in hell. Detail from a painting by Georgios Klontzas
depicting the Second Coming (late 16th century). (

Given that the God of the theologians allegedly created the entire universe out of nothing, has a habit of getting angry and murdering people (as documented in the Old Testament – see The laughing Jesus), while showing great interest in his priests’ underwear, which he insists must reach ‘from the waist to the thigh’ (Exodus 28:42), he is clearly the product of a warped imagination. Such a bizarre being is a far cry from the pantheistic conception of an all-pervasive divine intelligence (see God and religion).

If there is an afterlife, it would need to have different levels to accommodate the broad spectrum of human beings. The Greek word ‘hades’ (‘sheol’ in Hebrew) is often translated in the Bible as ‘hell’, but it appears to refer to an intermediate state between heaven and hell, similar in some ways to the later notion of purgatory; it has higher and lower parts for different souls (Deuteronomy 32:22). The Eastern Orthodox Church believes that heaven has different levels, based on the statement, ‘In my Father’s house are many rooms’ (John 14:2). St Paul speaks of a ‘third heaven’ (2 Corinthians 12:2), while the Kabbalah, the esoteric tradition of the Jews, mentions seven heavens.

The spiritualist summerland

Spiritualists’ views on the afterlife are based on clairvoyant visions while in trance and on communications from what they believe to be ‘spirits’ of the dead, usually obtained through mediums. The information received is sometimes inconsistent, which is ascribed to the shortcomings of mediums, the ignorance of some communicating entities, or the difficulty of transmitting messages between the two worlds. The following is a general overview of spiritualist beliefs (Starr, 2000).

When the physical body dies, spiritualists believe that our ‘soul’ or ‘spirit body’ continues to exist and evolve in the ‘spirit world’. The souls of the dead are met by spirits who introduce them to the spirit realm, where there are supposedly houses, communities and cities. When we die, we do not suddenly become perfect and all-wise; we retain the same personality, habits, inclinations, knowledge and memories. The spirit world is said to be divided into various levels or spheres of increasing perfection (often seven are mentioned); we are drawn to the level that matches our spiritual development, and then progress through the other levels for the rest of eternity. It is claimed that nothing decays, dies or is injured in the spirit world. Spiritual bodies are young and beautiful, and remain so for ever, showing none of the infirmities or injuries that the corresponding physical bodies may have had.

The first sphere, closest to earth, is sometimes compared to hell. It is said to be dark and desolate, with no flowers or trees, and home to ‘earthbound spirits’, who have lived selfish lives, attached to earthly pleasures. They include murderers and those who have killed themselves through unhealthy excesses. They often fight, experience mental pain and suffering, and find it hard to build up their spirit bodies. The second sphere is more ethereal but still rather gloomy, and the only food is poor-quality fruit. In the first two spheres, suffering may be imposed by higher spirits to produce remorse and repentance.

Most of humanity is said to pass straight into the third sphere, known as Summerland (though this term is sometimes used for the higher spheres in general). Most communications from the dead allegedly come from this sphere, which is far more beautiful than earth. There are pleasant homes and farms, many varieties of good-quality fruit, and higher orders of birds and animals. Humans who are above average in goodness go directly to the fourth sphere.

There is a lot of disagreement among communicating ‘spirits’ on certain details of the afterworld. Most agree that you can go where you want simply by thinking, but also by walking, floating, sailing or flying. Buildings can be constructed by thought, but also by actual labour with real materials, especially in the lower spheres. Houses that are no longer needed are either left for someone else or dissolved into the atmosphere. Gardens, homes and furnishings correspond to spirits’ mental state.

The lower the sphere, the more similar the clothing allegedly is to what is worn on earth. A person can wear his own clothes for a while, but clothing (usually flowing robes) made by spirit workers is generally provided for new arrivals. Clothing never wears out, gets dirty or needs repairing. As regards food, the more refined and developed a spirit is, the less it is said to require. The variety and quality of food depend on the sphere in question. In the fourth sphere three meals a day are served in the dining room, with over 20 varieties of fruit along with water and unfermented wine! Some writers maintain that the perfume of the fruit is enough for nourishment, but it can be eaten if desired.

It is claimed that ‘spirits’ sooner or later find a soulmate, who in some cases may have been their spouse on earth. Marriage in the spirit world is for intellectual and spiritual companionship; there is no physical desire or contact because there is no need for procreation. Souls are never idle. Every spirit has an occupation, and spirits often continue the occupations and interests they had on earth. Service to others, learning, contemplation, spiritual growth, and prayer are the main activities. Teaching, looking after children, taking care of the dying on earth, and helping earthbound spirits are important occupations; there are even said to be mental hospitals where certain spirits are treated. There are also schools of art and music, kindergartens, universities, libraries, research laboratories and lecture halls. Recreational pursuits include walking, sailing, going to the theatre, going to parties, reading, and riding horses. ‘God’s love’ is said to pervade the spirit world, and the only judge is one’s own conscience.

In short, spiritualists would have us believe that after death most people retain their full consciousness and experience a sort of glorified version of life on earth – in the spirit world. Helena P. Blavatsky rightly calls the summerland ‘only a little more natural, but just as ridiculous as the “New Jerusalem”’ (Key to Theosophy, 149). William Q. Judge calls it ‘illogical and materialistic’ (Echoes of the Orient, 1:285). There seems to be some confusion as to whether the vegetation, animals, homes, furniture, clothes etc. in the ‘spirit’ world are real or imaginary. It is a quaint idea that spirits live in solid houses and sleep on solid beds – possibly made out of their own solidified thought-forms!

Spiritualists do at least recognize that the afterlife has different levels. But it seems irrational to divide the universe into just two basic realms: a physical sphere, where things decay and die, and a spirit world (comprising the rest of infinitude?) where there is no decay and death. Nor does it seem likely that we would spend just a single life, or at most a few lives, on earth and then the rest of eternity in the fantastical ‘spirit world’. Dividing the human constitution into nothing but a physical body and a spirit body does not go far enough. In particular, the spiritualists fail to distinguish between the discarnate personality (or animal-human soul) and the spiritual individuality (or human-spiritual soul). This distinction is crucial when it comes to understanding why the majority of communications from ‘the other side’ amount to an ‘immense quantity of trash’ and ‘a load of garbage’, as one spiritualist honestly admitted (Inglis, 1992, 295).

3. Theosophical teachings

Theosophy is a modern re-expression of the ageless wisdom tradition, echoes of which are found in all the major world religions and philosophies. The theosophical worldview is the product of occult investigations of the inner spheres by countless generations of seers and adepts. It teaches that the universe consists of infinite consciousness-substance, which can exist in innumerable different grades or rates of vibration, forming an endless series of interpenetrating planes of existence. The consciousness-centre, or monad, which forms the innermost essence of every entity, evolves through a series of kingdoms, from submineral (elemental) to superhuman (spiritual-divine), on every planetary or stellar globe it inhabits in the course of its unending existence, and each globe comprises seven planes, from the most material (physical), through the intermediate planes (or astral realms) to the highest, spiritual realms (or akasha). Our current evolution as humans is proceeding on the densest, physical plane of this earth globe, and encompasses a lengthy series of incarnations over the course of seven rounds, spanning billions of years (see Evolution in the fourth round).

After each incarnation on our physical earth, our sevenfold constitution separates into its component bodies or souls, which dissipate in or pursue various journeys through the inner spheres, before reconverging and reforming for the next life (see Our after-death journey). We do not continue to evolve consciously in the period between lives; earth life and the afterlife are analogous to waking and sleeping respectively. The afterlife is essentially a period of rest, during which we assimilate and digest the experiences gained in the life that has just ended. Our characters, circumstances and experiences in each incarnation are determined partly by our thoughts and deeds in previous lives, and partly by our own free will in the present (though the strength of our willpower and how we use it reflect our past development). Reincarnation and karma therefore go hand in hand, enabling us to learn from our mistakes and gradually unfold our higher intellectual and spiritual capacities.

The physical body dies when its connection with the astral model-body (Sanskrit: linga-sharira) is broken. This ‘first death’ is accompanied by a panoramic review of the life just lived. The mind (Sanskrit: manas) is twofold. The seat of the lower, largely instinctive mind is a more ethereal astral form, sometimes called the animal or lower human soul, or kama-rupa (Sanskrit for ‘desire body’). After death, the astral body and kama-rupa decay on different levels of the astral world that surrounds and penetrates our physical globe, extending from the earth’s centre to the moon. Cremation of the physical body enables the astral body and kama-rupa to free themselves and disintegrate more rapidly. The astral body takes about 10 years to dissipate into its component life-atoms (Esoteric Tradition, 415).

The higher mind or ego is seated in the reincarnating soul, which is not subject to the same relatively rapid decay as our lower vehicles. It is overshadowed, in turn, by our spiritual-divine self or monad. Sometime after the death of the physical body, a ‘second death’ occurs, when the reincarnating soul separates from the kama-rupa, carrying with it all the higher intellectual and spiritual qualities of the deceased personality, and rises to more ethereal spheres. There it enters a restful, dreamlike state of consciousness, known as the devachan (Tibetan for ‘happy state’), in which it imagines fulfilling all the selfless and noble impulses that had not found full expression during life. After the second death, kama-rupas begin to decay in the kama-loka (‘desire world’), a process that can take anything from a few months to a few centuries, depending on the quality of the previous life; for average humans it takes a decade or two (Fountain-Source of Occultism, 580; Esoteric Tradition, 415-6). These astral corpses or shells, largely devoid of active intelligence, are often mistaken for the true souls of the dead by mediums.

The kama-loka, one of the lowest levels of the astral plane, roughly corresponds to the Sheol of the ancient Hebrews, the Hades of the ancient Greeks, the Orcus or Underworld of the Romans, and the Purgatory or Limbus of the Roman Catholics. The devachan roughly corresponds to the sukhavati of the Buddhists, the svarga of the Hindus, the Amenti of the ancient Egyptians, the Elysian Fields of the ancient Greeks, and the Judaeo-Christian heaven.

If a soul reincarnates before its former kama-rupa has fully disintegrated, the latter attaches itself to, and usually coalesces with, the new kama-rupa, and exercises an unwholesome influence on the new personality. The kama-rupas of other deceased people can also exercise a negative effect on living humans whose weaknesses make them receptive to such influences. The kama-rupas of people who have lived particularly selfish, gross and brutal lives pose the greatest menace; they are sometimes called elementaries (a term which occasionally refers to kama-rupas in general). Whereas most people pass through the kama-loka virtually unconscious after death, this does not apply to elementaries. Those who have died prematurely as a result of accidents or murder (‘legal’ or illegal), and those who have artificially cut short their lives by committing suicide may also retain a degree of consciousness after death, especially if their higher intellectual and spiritual life was relatively undeveloped; they remain earthbound and do not ‘enter’ the kama-loka until the natural term of their life would have ended (Mahatma Letters, 2nd ed., 108-13 / chron. ed., 197-201).

The most unsavoury kama-rupas become ‘psychic vampires’, which feed off the vital, emotional and mental energy of people they are attracted to, and the emanations of the localities they are attracted to, thereby prolonging their own earthly sensations and pleasures. While impure kama-rupas may be drawn to the living ‘from a savage thirst to feed on their vitality’, others may be attracted by elevated emotions such as unselfish love. A necromancer or powerful medium may also force kama-rupas into our presence. However, evoking ‘grossly sinful’ kama-rupas is dangerous to the living, while compelling an apparition of those who have died prematurely is said to be cruel because the coarser molecules of the astral soul are then separated from the finer molecules forcibly, instead of naturally, and the soul suffers considerably, as if being ‘flayed alive’ (Blavatsky Collected Writings, 6:106-8).

Theosophy therefore denies that most humans retain their full consciousness after death. The human soul usually becomes completely unconscious; how long this state persists depends on the individual concerned. If the person was very spiritual, there is virtually no human consciousness at all in the kama-loka. If the person was gross and evil, there is a fairly intense consciousness, and the human ego soon becomes aware that it is dead and is in the astral world, and suffers because of it. Full self-consciousness is retained only by adepts, as they have awakened higher centres of their constitution. For most people, the consciousness of being alive in the kama-loka is very slight, more like a vague dream, which lasts until the second death (Fountain-Source of Occultism, 570-3).

Those who have lived moral and noble lives pass through the kama-loka very quickly and soon enter the devachan, whereas those who have lived evil and selfish lives remain a long time in the kama-loka, dreaming restless dreams which reflect the vices indulged in during earth life. William Q. Judge says: ‘In kama-loka all [the deceased’s] old thoughts take shape, and torment the soul if the life has been evil, or merely temporarily detain it if the opposite has been the case’ (Echoes of the Orient, 2:305). The period between the first and second deaths can last from a few hours to a hundred years or two (Dialogues of G. de Purucker, 3:310-2).

Thus we are not normally aware of what is happening around us after death, though there are exceptions. The state of the deceased in kama-loka is generally like that of ‘a person stunned and dazed by a violent blow, who has momentarily “lost his senses.” Hence in kama-loka there is as a rule (apart from vicarious life and consciousness awakened through contact with mediums) no recognition of friends or relatives ...’ (Blavatsky Collected Writings, 9:164). In some cases, two beings who are in a similar kama-lokic state may vaguely recognize each other. But the main process taking place there is the separation of the higher human soul from the astral soul, and it normally proceeds more or less unconsciously (Echoes of the Orient, 2:305).

Helena P. Blavatsky writes:

Kama-loka may be compared to the dressing-room of an actor, in which he divests himself of the costume of the last part he played before rebecoming himself properly – the immortal ego or the pilgrim cycling in his round of incarnations. The eternal ego being stripped in kama-loka of its lower terrestrial principles, with their passions and desires, it enters into the state of devachan. (Blavatsky Collected Writings, 9:164)

Devachan is a subjective state of perfect peace and bliss, where all our personal, unfulfilled spiritual desires and aspirations find instant realization. It usually lasts at least many hundreds if not many thousands of years, though devachanis do not sense the passing of time the way we do on earth. For those who have lived very selfish and gross lives or have not developed much intellectually and spiritually, the devachanic experience is shorter and less intense. Devachan is ‘an idealized and subjective continuation of earth-life’ (Key to Theosophy, 156). While experiencing this state of consciousness, we imagine meeting our friends and loved ones, but this is not an actual encounter with other human souls – contrary to spiritualist teachings.

The blissful dreaming of the reincarnating soul between two lives lasts until the spiritual impulses generated during the previous incarnation are exhausted. The attraction to earth life then begins to resurface. The thirst for material life and the longing to return to familiar scenes and be reunited with past companions cause us to incarnate on earth again and again. As the reincarnating soul redescends towards the earth sphere, new astral vehicles begin to form; they are built from many of its former life-atoms, and as these bear the karmic impress of the previous personality, many of the same personal attributes (‘skandhas’ in Sanskrit) will manifest. The soul forms a link with reproductive cells in the bodies of its future parents, and is finally reborn with a physical body and in a family environment suited to its karmic needs (see Sex and sexuality, section 3).

As a general rule, then, the astral bodies, kama-rupas and spiritual souls of the dead cannot see what is taking place on our physical plane, and do not consciously observe what is going on around them or communicate with one another. Blavatsky says that if, as some spiritualists claim, the ‘spirits’ of the dead could see all that is happening on earth, including in their own homes, they would not enjoy bliss, as they would be doomed to witness the mistakes and suffering of those from whom they were severed by death. The bliss of the devachani ‘consists in its complete conviction that it has never left the earth’; the postmortem spiritual consciousness of a mother, for example, ‘will represent to her that she lives surrounded by her children and all those she loved’ (Key to Theosophy, 145-50). Each devachani is engrossed in its own blissful, dreamlike imaginings; the devachan is not a ‘summerland’, where souls wander around chatting to one another and admiring the views.

Blavatsky stresses that the information given by untrained mediums and psychics about the after-death states is unreliable because it is filtered through their brain-minds and coloured with their own preconceptions. Only advanced occultists can accurately observe and understand what happens after death. As mahatma Kuthumi (KH) says: ‘To realize the bliss in devachan or the woes in avichi [a realm lower than the kama-loka], you have to assimilate them – as we do’ (Mahatma Letters, 2nd ed., 194 / chron. ed., 357).

Communication with the dead

The human-spiritual souls in devachan cannot be drawn to seance rooms to communicate with the living. People on earth can, however, commune with their loved ones in devachan if their consciousness is raised to the higher, more spiritual level of the latter, something that may happen involuntarily during dreams. Pure-minded mediums may occasionally do the same while in trance, though they have difficulty recalling accurately what they have seen and heard. Adepts can not only reach and communicate with those in devachan, but also help them return to earth more quickly if this is considered of general benefit (Key to Theosophy, 150; Ocean of Theosophy, 130-1).

Although spiritualists claim to be contacting the ‘spirits of the dead’, they are mostly contacting the astral remains of deceased humans – largely senseless and devoid of conscience. Messages are also generated by the minds of the medium and sitters, and reflect their memories, knowledge and beliefs, together with other information impressed on the astral plane (or ‘astral light’). The astral world has been called ‘nature’s memory’ and ‘nature’s picture gallery’ as it contains a record of everything that has ever existed or happened on earth. Sometimes mediums are assisted by a ‘spirit guide’ or ‘control’ – which may be a higher or lower aspect of their own inner constitution or a separate entity of a similar quality to themselves; some mediums have admitted that their ‘controls’ sometimes deceive them and incite them to fraud (Ocean of Theosophy, 168).

Communicating ‘spirits’ often disagree with one another about the nature of the afterlife. They have also shown significant disagreement about reincarnation. In the 19th century, when the doctrine of reincarnation was not widely accepted in the West, most communicators denied it. Nowadays far more people believe in reincarnation, and far more communicating entities now say that it does occur.

Communications with an astral shell on the verge of disintegration will prove far more incoherent than those with an astral soul ‘in its preliminary stage of dissolution, when most of the physical intelligence and faculties are yet fresh and have not begun to disintegrate, or fade out’ (Blavatsky Collected Writings, 4:120). In rare cases, communication with the spiritual individuality may take place during the days immediately following death, if ‘the intensity of the desire in the dying person to return for some purpose forced the higher consciousness to remain awake’ (Key to Theosophy, 151-2). People who have lived fairly blameless lives but die engrossed with some particular idea cannot move on until the thought or desire in question weakens and fades out (Collected Writings, 6:101-2). It is also possible for highly evolved humans (e.g. adepts and bodhisattvas) – whether still living on earth or present in the earth’s astral sphere (as nirmanakayas) – to inspire or communicate with certain humans for the general good. But it is a telling fact that most ‘spirit’ communications received through mediums are trivial and banal, and of no intellectual or spiritual value (Ocean of Theosophy, 167-8).

Once a medium has formed a channel with a kama-rupa, ethereal nature-forces, or elementals, galvanize the shell into artificial life, so that it becomes like a sleepwalking human body (Blavatsky Collected Writings, 9:108; Ocean of Theosophy, 117-9). This enables them, ‘like machines, to utter sounds, to repeat what they had been concerned in, to imitate the once active and ensouled person’. Spiritualists are far too eager to assume that communicating entities must be the ‘spirits’ of their loved ones if they display their knowledge and characteristics. But as Judge comments, ‘We might as well say that a lot of educated parrots left in a deserted house were the souls of the persons who had once lived there and owned the birds’ (Echoes of the Orient, 1:353, 454).

Mediumistic meddling with the kama-rupas of the dead disturbs and delays the natural processes taking place in kama-loka. It strengthens earthly attachments and holds back the soul’s development. That is why necromancy, or raising the ‘spirits’ of the dead, has always been prohibited by spiritual teachers. It has been known in India for centuries as bhuta worship. ‘Bhuta’ is one of several Sanskrit terms for kama-rupas, especially elementaries; other names are ‘pretas’ and ‘pishachas’. In Tibet they are called ‘ro-langs’. The Chinese called them ‘houen’, the Egyptians ‘khou’, and the Greeks ‘eidola’, while the Romans called them ‘larvae’, ‘lares’, ‘lemures’, ‘umbrae’ and ‘simulacra’ (Blavatsky Collected Writings, 7:178, 181-2, 189-95, 201-7). The Jews spoke of Sheol (kama-loka) being peopled by ‘rephaim’ (lit. ‘pithless’), i.e. empty kama-rupic ‘shades’. Like Paracelsus and other medieval occultists and Christian kabbalists, Cornelius Agrippa spoke of the soul or spirit returning to God, and the souls of those who have done evil wandering without intelligence, subject to unregulated passion. What he calls the ‘idolum’ (eidolon) is the astral shell or elementary (Collected Writings, 4:591, 594-5). Native Americans believe that at death our good essence departs for the next world, while the evil one remains for a while near the body as a shadowy entity, and may pose a danger to the living (Fenwick & Fenwick, 2008, 174-5). Spiritualists would do well to pay greater heed to these universal teachings.

4. Visions and visitations

Deathbed visions

People close to death often have visions of people (frequently dead relatives) or religious figures who they feel have come to comfort them during the dying process and escort them over the borders of death. These experiences tend to produce a feeling of elation and help people to die peacefully. Most visions take place while people are lucid, and medications tend to suppress them rather than stimulate them. There are many accounts of a dying person who has been confused or unconscious greeting their unseen visitor in a sudden window of lucidity just before death. Sometimes the dying describe visiting a realm pervaded by light, love and compassion with their guides.

Deathbed visions are partly determined by cultural factors. In many early written records or medieval paintings depicting death, it is usually a religious figure who comes to collect the dying. In contemporary accounts in the West it is usually relatives who do so. In a UK survey, religious figures, such as angels or a Christ-like being, were seen in only 2% of the cases, and dead relatives in 70%. In the US, which is more fundamentally religious, religious figures appeared in 13% of the cases, dead relatives and friends in 70%, and living people in 17%. By contrast, in Indian experiences religious figures such as the yamdoot (messenger of the Hindu god of death) appear in 50% of cases, while dead relatives or friends appear in 29%, and living people in 21% (Fenwick & Fenwick, 2008, 26, 90). In contrast to western visions, the yamdoots often terrify and drag the dying person away, prompting them to cry for help (Grosso, 2004, 40-1).

In a case from the UK, a 32-year-old woman dying of breast cancer was conscious of a dark roof over her head and a bright light during the last few days of her life. She moved into a waiting place where she saw beings, including her grandfather, who told her that everything would be alright. She moved into and out of this area and insisted it was not a dream. In another case, a dying man was heard talking very crossly to someone in his room. When his daughter asked who he was talking to, he said he was telling the angels that he was not yet ready to go. He was determined to stay alive until his other daughter had arrived (Fenwick & Fenwick, 2008, 9, 27).

At a maternity hospital in London, a woman (Mrs B) was in labour and suffering from heart failure. She said it was ‘getting dark’ but then looked at another part of the room and said she saw a ‘lovely brightness’ and also her father. When her baby was brought to her room, she asked: ‘Do you think I ought to stay for baby’s sake?’ After looking towards her ‘father’, she said: ‘I can’t stay.’ When her husband arrived at the hospital, she looked across the room and said: ‘Why, there’s Vida!’ Vida was her younger sister, who had died two weeks earlier, but the death had been kept from her so as not to upset her. Mrs B died soon afterwards (Wilson, 1987, 140-1).

These visionary experiences are clearly not entirely objective and do not require us to believe that angels or yamdoots or dead relatives (or even living relatives!) really come to collect us when we die. The experiences are preparing us for death, and are partly coloured by our beliefs and expectations.

Professional carers and relatives of the dying often see a form or shape leaving the body at the time of death, usually from the mouth, chest or through the head, or sometimes through the feet. It is variously described as smoke, a grey or white mist, or a very wispy white shape. Sometimes it hovers above the body before rising and disappearing through the ceiling. It is also common for the dying to describe seeing a bright light, which evokes feelings of love and compassion, and sometimes carers see it too. Not everyone present sees these things, and they often disappear if people come into the room or start talking (Fenwick & Fenwick, 10, 160).

Gottfried de Purucker explains that when we die, every orifice of the body exudes its own appropriate part of the astral body as a cloud of vapour; the higher intellectual and spiritual portion exits through the top of the head (the brahmarandhra, as the ancient Hindus called it), in the vicinity of the pineal gland. Every orifice also expels the corresponding pranic life-energies, or vital electricity, and the release of the pranas from every atom and molecule of the body causes an explosion of ethereal light at the moment of death (Fountain-Source of Occultism, 545).

Apparitions of the dead and dying

It is very common for people to have a sudden realization that someone they are close to has died, and to discover later that this feeling occurred at the time of the other person’s death. Occasionally they may experience distressing physical symptoms lasting several minutes which seem to mirror what the dying person was feeling. Sometimes people actually see the dying or dead person, sometimes when wide awake but usually in a dream or during the drowsy state between sleeping and waking. The apparition seldom speaks, but those who see it usually feel that it has come to say farewell, though some visits are felt to be upsetting or even frightening. Such phenomena are particularly common up to 12 hours before or after the time of death. Although such visitations are often interpreted as an intentional visit by the soul of a deceased or dying person, they could also be an automatic process triggered by the last thoughts of the person whose apparition is seen.

One night in 1991, Tina Myer, who was living in Australia, woke up suddenly and saw the face, in white, of her brother, who was then in London, approaching her rapidly from the foot of the bed. She was convinced that it was not a dream or her imagination. She subsequently learned that her brother had died that night of bronchial pneumonia. She comments: ‘I can only assume that he was, at the time he was slipping away, thinking of me and, I guess, that by his thinking of me his soul was instantly with me’ (Fenwick & Fenwick, 2008, 65).

In a case from Petrograd, Russia, five children and three adults were in a living room when the dog started barking loudly and looking towards the stove. Everyone present saw a young boy about five years old, whom they recognized as the son of the milkman. They later learned that the boy had died at the time they saw his apparition (Grosso, 2004, 28-9).

One woman, after her father’s death, kept dreaming that he had been buried alive. Then she had a completely different dream, in which her father appeared, looking alive and well, and told her that he was fine and happy and was staying with his uncle. After that she had no more bad dreams. Her sister later told her that she had had exactly the same dream, possibly on the same night (Fenwick & Fenwick, 124-5). This shared experience could have been produced entirely by the two sisters’ minds. It doesn’t seem very likely that after death we go to stay with our deceased relatives until a suitable home can be found for us on some heavenly housing estate!

A Romanian man saw an apparition of his nephew two months after the latter had died. When asked what he wanted, the apparition replied: ‘Put me in properly; the coffin is narrow; the coffin is short.’ A year later, the man met the woman who had cared for his ailing nephew, who revealed that the coffin was so narrow and short that when the dead nephew was being laid into it the bones cracked (Grosso, 1999, 15). In this case, the treatment of the corpse may have registered in the deceased’s astral soul, and the uncle’s closeness to his nephew may have enabled him to pick up this information. Distress over one’s mortal remains is quite common in ghostly lore, and many tales tell of spectres troubled by burial irregularities.

Strange incidents

Strange physical events sometimes associated with death include clocks stopping, photographs dropping off the wall or falling face downwards, telephones ringing inexplicably, lights going on and off, unexplained footsteps, and knocks or rappings.

Jennie Stiles described how, after her aunt died suddenly in tragic circumstances, she went to the aunt’s London apartment and found that every clock had stopped at the time of her death. Peter Turnbull described how a small battery-operated clock belonging to his father stopped at the time of his father’s twin-brother’s death. It was restarted without changing the batteries, and then ran perfectly until his father began to develop dementia, when it started to speed up; towards the end of his father’s life it was running about twice as fast as normal. It stopped one morning at 4:37 am, 8 minutes before his father’s official time of death (Fenwick & Fenwick, 2008, 134-7).

Lucie Green was sitting with her uncle beside her father as he lay in a coma in his hospital bed. Suddenly the TV screen went blank, the sound disappeared and a nurse rushed into the room asking why they had pressed the alarm. At that moment Lucie’s father died. Nobody had rung the alarm but it was ringing in the nurse’s office. Shortly afterwards, the TV returned to normal. The nurse said the alarm often went off when somebody died (Fenwick & Fenwick, 2008, 132). John Farr was woken by the telephone at the time of his father’s death; he heard no voice, only music – his father had been a musician (53).

Other apparitions and hauntings

Studies in the US and UK show that between 10 and 17% of the general population have seen an apparition (Talbot, 1991, 203). Sometimes a ‘ghost’, ‘spectre’, or ‘phantom’ may be seen, heard or smelled only once, and sometimes the same apparition is seen haunting the same vicinity by different people at different times, often engaged in the same behaviour each time. Some apparitions are seen by several people simultaneously. Hauntings tend to occur at locations where some terrible act of violence or other very powerful emotional event has taken place. Apparitions sometimes glide rather than walk, and are sometimes described as physically incomplete, lacking faces or lower extremities. Apparitions rarely interact with the observers or even acknowledge their presence. They often appear to be totally self-absorbed, and only seldom do they seem to display deliberate intention and full self-consciousness (see Visitors from the twilight zone, section 3).

The ‘Brown Lady’ at Raynham Hall in England. In 1936 a photographer from Country Life magazine saw this ghost and took a photo, seconds before the phantom disappeared. When developed, it showed a faint figure gliding down a staircase. (

An apparition could be many things. It might be seen purely in the mind’s eye (i.e. a ‘hallucination’), and be generated by the witness’s own subconscious mind, possibly influenced by the presence of astral beings or by clairvoyant awareness of events that once occurred at the scene in question, or by telepathic contact with a living person or just deceased person. Or an apparition could be an astral entity that is either seen clairvoyantly or materializes sufficiently to be seen with the physical eyes – some look semitransparent while others look and feel solid. The astral entity could be an astral body or kama-rupa of a deceased person (in rare cases still connected with the higher human soul), elemental forms mimicking images in the astral light, or the mayavi-rupa (‘illusory body’ or thought-body) of a living person. Only an advanced occultist would be able to say what the real explanation is in any specific case. Some examples of apparitions are given below.

Miss K was caressing a kitten in her lap when suddenly it became restless, rose, spat, and arched its back in terror. In a chair close beside her, Miss K saw an old woman with a wrinkled face starring at her malevolently. The kitten went wild, and jumped frantically against the door. Miss K was terrified and called for help. The phantom remained visible for five minutes, but by the time her mother arrived it had disappeared. It was later learned that an old woman had hanged herself in the same room (Grosso, 2004, 29).

After the Morton family had moved into a new house in 1882, the ghost of a tall lady dressed in black was sighted for seven years by members of the family, the cook, gardener, charwoman, maid, relatives and friends. Rose Morton, a medical student, tried to speak to it but without success; it always seemed about to speak but never did so. She tried to touch it but it slipped away, and she tried to photograph it but failed. She also observed the phantom walk through strings she tied to the stairway. A normally placid dog (a retriever) cringed with terror at the sight of it. However, the phantom never appeared when members of the household wanted it to. The woman matched descriptions of a person who had once lived in the house (Grosso, 2004, 56-8).

A salesman who was busy writing orders suddenly saw an apparition of his sister, who had been dead for nine years. She was looking right at him so naturally that he sprang forward in delight but the spectre vanished. The phantom had a red scratch on her right cheek. The man later learned from his mother that she had accidentally scratched her daughter’s face while preparing the body for burial, but had concealed the scratch with powder and kept it secret. A few weeks later his mother died, happy in the belief that she would rejoin her daughter in a better world (Grosso, 2004, 50).

In June 1925, James Chaffin of North Carolina saw an apparition of his father standing by his bedside. He was wearing an old black overcoat, and told him: ‘You will find the will in my overcoat pocket.’ James was not sure whether he was awake or dozing at the time. The father, James L. Chaffin, had died four years earlier, leaving his farm to his third son, Marshall, and nothing to his wife and other three sons. James located the overcoat and found a roll of paper sewn into the lining of the inside pocket. It stated: ‘Read the 27th chapter of Genesis in my daddy’s old Bible.’ Taking a neighbour as witness, James unearthed the old Bible in his mother’s house. In the 27th chapter of Genesis there was another, later will dividing the property equally between his four sons, and charging them to take care of their mother. Marshall had died by that time; his wife and son were going to contest the new will but withdrew their opposition when 10 witnesses testified that it was in the father’s handwriting. The significance of the 27th chapter of Genesis is that it contains the story of how Jacob deceived his blind father Isaac into granting him the inheritance of his brother Esau. It is interesting that the apparition was wrong about the will itself being in his black overcoat. After the new will was found, James Chaffin saw another apparition of his father, this time in an agitated state, asking, ‘Where is my old will?’ This suggests that the deceased’s memory of things was fading (Fontana, 2005, 52-3; Inglis, 1984, 212-4).

Poltergeist phenomena – sometimes called recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis (RSPK) – include all sorts of inexplicable acts of vandalism, such as the hurling of crockery and other objects or the upsetting of pieces of furniture. The unusual trajectories and the slow or undulating flights of objects defy the laws of physics and also the capabilities of conjurors (Broughton, 1991, 228-30). Sometimes the disturbances are associated with the presence of a psychologically stressed individual, often an adolescent, but it is likely that the person merely acts as a conduit for elemental and kama-rupic entities with a desire to cause mischief. Poltergeist outbreaks seldom last more than a few months, and only very rarely is anyone injured.

5. Out-of-body and near-death experiences


During an out-of-body experience (OBE) people have a vivid sensation that their mind has separated from their body; they often find themselves floating above their body and discover they can fly to other locations. They sometimes report being able to see through walls and other obstacles, and even to pass through them. Their attempts to attract people’s attention fail, though animals sometimes seem to be aware of them. OBErs sometimes return with information that suggests they may indeed have left their bodies. In a few cases people who were in a location ‘visited’ by the OBEr report seeing an apparition of them or feeling some sort of ‘presence’ at the time of the OBE.

OBEs are typically spontaneous and occur most often during sleep, meditation, illness, and at times of trauma, such as major surgery (while under anaesthetic) or serious accidents. An OBE may end with a sense of suddenly returning to one’s body, by ‘snapping’ back into it or being ‘pulled’ or ‘sucked’ back into it, often because the experiencer becomes anxious that he or she may be unable to re-enter their body. Many OBEs fade into a dream state or end with the experiencer suddenly waking up. Surveys indicate that between 10 and 25% of the population have had an out-of-body experience at some time in their lives.

Many OBErs feel that they are a ‘disembodied consciousness’, with no external body at all. Others find themselves in a phantom body that is an exact replica of their physical body. A few may get up and walk away, but more commonly the secondary body floats through the air. Some observe an astral cord connecting them to their physical body, but others don’t. Some describe the phantom double as clothed, while others say it is naked, but that it instantly becomes clothed if a sense of embarrassment is felt. People confined to wheelchairs in their physical lives find themselves in healthy bodies with no disabilities. Amputees invariably have their limbs back. Nine out of ten OBErs who were blind reported having normal sight during their experience.

The term ‘out-of-body experience’ was introduced in 1943 as a neutral alternative to ‘astral projection’ and ‘astral travel’, which imply that something separates from the body. From a theosophical point of view, a person’s consciousness may indeed shift during an OBE into their astral model-body (which cannot travel far from their physical body) or into a thought-body or illusory body (mayavi-rupa) which can travel to distant places. But there is no reason to assume that every reported OBE involves genuine astral projection. The experiencer may see distant places clairvoyantly or gain information telepathically. In some cases, the experience may be no more than a lucid dream, a fantasy, or a hallucination. But many OBErs are convinced they are not dreaming, and describe feeling more alert and alive than during normal waking consciousness.

There is plenty of room for self-deception in ‘astral travelling’. For example, a well-known 19th-century trance medium calling herself Hélène Smith believed she routinely astral-travelled to Mars. She described its inhabitants as identical with the earth’s inhabitants except that both sexes wore a uniform costume; they used horseless carriages and had houses with roof fountains (Inglis, 1992, 377). At the end of the 19th century, Annie Horniman and Frederick Leigh Gardner, associated with the occult group known as the Golden Dawn, ‘visited’ many planets and conversed with the inhabitants. Once they landed on a mountaintop on Saturn and met a tall, dignified, winged male half-clad in armour, who told them about the planet’s advanced civilization (Owen, 2004, 158-60).

Trained adepts can project their mayavi-rupas to distant places at will. Other individuals, too, claim to be able to induce an OBE more or less at will, though this is difficult to verify. For instance, Ingo Swann was extensively tested at both the American Society for Psychical Research and at SRI International. In one of the experiments he was able to successfully identify objects placed on a platform so high above the ground that they could only be seen from the ceiling. He was also able to ‘project’ to distant locations, given only the map reference, and provide accurate information of what he had seen (Fontana, 2004, 414).

The American businessman Robert Monroe also seemed to be able to induce OBEs. On one occasion he visited a friend on holiday, in a distant country cottage. He found her talking to a friend but was unable to attract her attention, so he tried to give her a playful pinch. She duly started, as if she had felt something. When she returned home, he asked her if she recalled feeling anything and she showed him a small bruise where he had pinched her (Inglis, 1985, 57).

In 1881 a student named S.H. Beard decided to try projecting himself three miles to the house of his fiancée, Miss L.S. Verity. He made the attempt after going to bed on a Sunday evening. The following Thursday he went to see her and she told him that she had been terrified to find him standing by her bedside the previous Sunday. As the apparition moved towards her, she screamed and woke up her 11-year-old sister, who also saw it (Wilson, 1987, 155-6).

On 13 October 1863 Mr S.M. Wilmot, who was sailing on a steamer from Liverpool to New York, dreamed that his wife came to his room in her nightdress. After hesitating at the door and looking at the other man in the room, she went to her husband, bent over and kissed him. The next morning, the other man said he had seen a lady visit Wilmot during the night – he had seen exactly what Wilmot had dreamed. On his arrival in New York, Mrs Wilmot asked her husband whether he had received a visit from her on the night in question, when she had been unable to sleep due to reports of storms in the Atlantic. She said she had seen another man in the room, which caused her to hesitate before going to her husband’s berth and kissing him (Grosso, 2004, 16-7).

During a near-death experience, a woman left her body and went to the hospital lobby where she overheard her brother-in-law tell a friend that it looked like he was going to have to cancel a business trip and be one of his sister-in-law’s pallbearers instead. After recovering, the woman reprimanded her astonished brother-in-law for writing her off so quickly (Talbot, 1991, 241).

Charles Tart tested a Ms Z, who claimed to have OBEs several times a week during sleep. One night she had a flying dream in which she seemed to converse with her sister, who later reported that she had dreamed of Z at the same time. The next night Z floated out of her body during sleep and correctly called out a five-digit target number that had been placed on a shelf five and a half feet above her head. An EEG showed that her brainwave pattern was not associated with either waking or sleeping. She displayed lower alpha rhythms, which have been linked with sensory isolation and Zen states studied in Japanese laboratories. The absence of rapid eye movements (REM), too, indicates that she wasn’t dreaming (Grosso, 2004, 18-20).

In 1980 the American Society for Psychical Research carried out OBE experiments with a Lebanese man called Alex Tanous. He had to project himself to a specified target area containing an optical viewing device that displayed randomly selected visual targets. A strain-gauge sensor was installed near the target to detect the slightest movement or vibration. In a series of 197 trials over 20 sessions, he succeeded in getting the target right 58% of the time. Also, when he correctly guessed the targets the strain gauges acted up (Grosso, 2004, 20-1). Results such as these could also be explained by clairvoyance and psychokinesis, without any astral projection.

Several possible physiological explanations have been suggested for out-of-body experiences. OBE-like experiences have been induced by electrical stimulation of parts of the brain and by using cameras to fool the mind into thinking that the body is somewhere it is not. However, the fact that some OBEs occur during near-death experiences of cardiac arrest patients, when the person is braindead, poses a major problem for all materialistic theories.

A woman called Maria, who suffered a cardiac arrest while being operated on in a Seattle hospital, left her body and found herself outside the building where she was able to see a tennis shoe on the window ledge outside a third-floor window. The shoe, which was not visible from the ground, was later retrieved, and the details given by Maria about its position and appearance were verified. Maria described some wear on the toe of the shoe which was only visible from a position outside the window and not from inside the hospital (Fontana, 2004, 388).

Michael Sabom found that 26 out of 32 cardiac arrest patients who had had OBEs and seen themselves being resuscitated made no errors in their descriptions of the procedure, whereas 20 out of 25 control patients with medical backgrounds who had never had an OBE made at least one major error in their descriptions of what they imagined happened; three gave correct but limited descriptions and two demonstrated no knowledge of resuscitation procedures at all. A few of the OBE patients gave descriptions of people, objects and events outside their body’s visual field (Grosso, 2004, 44-5).

During an operation to remove a bloated blood vessel, Pamela Reynolds’ brain was brought to a biological standstill so that she was functionally braindead. Yet her mind was clearer than ever. She reported leaving her body, going through a tunnel, seeing a bright light, and meeting an apparition of her deceased grandmother. During the operation, her eyes were taped shut and small speakers were inserted in her ears which prevented her from hearing anything. Nevertheless, she heard one of the surgeons say there was a problem with the pump and her small blood vessels, and she also heard a strange buzzing sound and observed one of the medical staff use an instrument looking like an electric toothbrush on her head. These observations were accurate (Grosso, 2004, 45-7).

Col. Henry S. Olcott, one of the founders of the Theosophical Society, describes how, one evening in 1876, after working on a chapter of Isis Unveiled with H.P. Blavatsky, he returned to his flat but wished he’d added three words to the final sentence. He decided to try to go downstairs in his astral double by fixing the intention in his mind as he fell asleep. The next morning, when he visited Blavatsky on his way to work, she told him that the previous evening she had seen his astral body passing through the wall and go to the writing room, and then heard him fumbling with the papers. When they checked, they found that Olcott had written two of the three intended words and the beginning of the third, which ended in a scrawl (Old Diary Leaves, 1:385-6). Olcott also describes an astral visit by Blavatsky’s Indo-Tibetan teacher, Morya (M), who suddenly appeared in his room in New York, standing at least 6 foot 6 inches tall, and wearing white Oriental garments and a turban. He sat on a chair opposite Olcott, and they spoke for half an hour or so. Olcott wished he had some tangible object to prove M had really been there, and M, reading his thought, left him his turban and disappeared (Old Diary Leaves, 1:377-81). Later, in India, Olcott met M in his physical form and also saw him many more times in his astral form (

On another occasion, a pupil of mahatma KH, Damodar K. Mavalankar, who was then in Bombay, was helped to project his mayavi-rupa. He found himself in Kashmir at the foot of the Himalayas, near KH’s house. They then walked through a subterranean passage to an open plain where there was a large building used for initiation ceremonies. After returning to his body, Damodar wondered whether the experience had been a dream, but at that moment a note from KH dropped out of the air confirming that it had really happened (Damodar, 60-2). Damodar was soon able to project his mayavi-rupa on his own, though he was not able to fully materialize it. A corroborated account of one of his astral journeys was published in the December 1883 issue of The Theosophist (Damodar, 355-8; see also 344-9, 482-3).

In this photo, taken at a theosophical convention in Bombay in 1882, H.S. Olcott is
seated to the left of H.P. Blavatsky, and Damodar is sitting on the ground to her right.

The 19th-century Catholic writer R.G. des Mousseaux cites a case from the judicial records of England. It concerned Jane Brooks, who persecuted a child named Richard Jones by visiting him in her astral form. On one occasion the child screamed that Jane’s phantom double was present and touched it with his finger. A witness named Gilson slashed at it with a knife, though he could not see it. He then visited the woman’s home with the child’s father and a constable, and she was found sitting on her stool trying to conceal a hand covered with blood, bearing the wound the child said Gilson had inflicted on the phantom’s hand. This is a case of ‘repercussion’, where a blow, stab or other injury inflicted on the astral double while it is projected reacts on the physical body (Old Diary Leaves, 1:388-9).


A near-death experience often begins with an out-of-body experience, during which people find themselves looking at their own body. Another recurrent feature is a sense of moving rapidly from a region of darkness towards a radiant light, sometimes through a tunnel or narrow passageway. NDErs then tend to meet ‘beings of light’ or religious figures that match their own faith, and communicate with them (sometimes telepathically). They may also meet dead relatives and friends, who are sometimes seen on the other side of a barrier, in a beautiful garden or natural landscape. The relatives may either beckon them to enter their realm or inform them that their time has not yet come. Some people experience a life review, in which they assess their past actions. At some point NDErs choose to return to life, often out of love for their family, or they are sent back against their will, and suddenly snap back into their body. Afterwards, they tend to feel exhilarated about their experience, but sometimes they are depressed at having to live in the ordinary world again.

For most people an NDE is a very vivid, profound and unforgettable experience. NDErs usually possess heightened awareness, feel no pain, and are filled with peace, joy and compassion. Even if they have no particular religious faith, most return believing that death is not the end. Nearly everyone says that they have lost their fear of death, value their lives more, and feel a new sense of purpose and spiritual awareness. Children tend to have very limited NDEs. For example, one boy simply had a talk with his brother in his NDE, and a girl had a chat with her mother. A 7-year-old girl found herself in a garden with large bright flowers, and said that a presence came to her, and she felt love and perfect peace.

Between 1 and 15% of NDEs are distressing and terrifying experiences. One woman drifted beyond the stars to an endless void where voices taunted her about the dark eternity to come. A man was tormented by demons who ‘chattered like blackbirds’ about his dangling body after he had hanged himself.

A life review is widely reported during near-death experiences, though the stage at which it happens varies. In it, a person rapidly sees much of their life history in chronological order and in extreme detail. Even if the reviews take place in the presence of otherworldly beings, experiencers feel that they judge themselves, with detachment and complete honesty.

According to theosophy, something similar occurs at real death. Everyone sees the whole of their past life marshalled before them in minute detail. The personal self briefly becomes one with the spiritual self, and we see the whole chain of causes which have been at work during our lives. We see ourselves as we really are, ‘unadorned by flattery or self-deception’, and understand the justice of everything that has happened to us. A less vivid and complete panoramic review takes place at the second death. Finally, when the period of postmortem rest is over and it’s time to return to earth life, the reincarnating soul sees a vision of the life about to be lived, and the causes that have led to it, but we see only its broad outline and are free to fill in the details ourselves (Key to Theosophy, 162; Mahatma Letters, 2nd ed., 170-1 / chron. ed., 326; Fountain-Source of Occultism, 549-54).

Though NDEs have several key elements in common, no two experiences are exactly identical; they seem to be influenced partly by our preconceptions and expectations, and there are also profound cultural differences. Some people find themselves walking towards a celestial city, some find themselves in a flowery meadow, some find themselves drawn towards a heavenly gateway or a whirlpool of light. NDErs in western cultures often enter the realm of the afterlife by passing through a tunnel, while in other cultures they might walk down a road or pass over a body of water.

In December 1943, Dr George Ritchie was in hospital in Texas with a respiratory infection. He began to spit blood and lost consciousness; when he woke up he saw his body lying on the bed. Outside in the corridor a ward boy walked through him, and a man he tapped on the shoulder ignored him. He tried to get back into his body but without success. Then the room became ‘brighter than a thousand arc lights’ and ‘Jesus’ appeared. After a tour of a great city in which he was shown the consequences of sin, he woke up in his body, convinced he had died. He insisted that the experience was quite unlike a dream (Wilson, 1987, 241-2).

In 1984 a 43-year-old woman haemorrhaged and became unconscious half an hour after giving birth. She left her body through the top of her head and hovered near the ceiling with an aerial view of the medical staff attempting to revive her. She felt no pain, and was relieved to be free of her body. She felt compassion for her husband and daughter, but no regret at leaving them. She was then drawn down a long dark passageway towards a bright white light, where she was reunited with familiar but indefinable entities, and experienced complete peace. When asked whether she was ready, she said only if her husband could take care of her child. At that moment she reentered her body through the head with a sickening thud (Ring, 1992, 89-90).

Ascent of the Blessed by Hieronymus Bosch (1500-04). (

One night in 1945 during a bad case of pneumonia, 12-year-old Wayne Thornton found himself moving toward a point of light, which rapidly grew larger. With a sense of absolute peace, he entered the light and emerged not far from his home standing next to a little stream. He stepped across and the stream immediately began to widen until it seemed a mile wide and he was standing on a kind of plain. He saw a man with a long robe and a shepherd’s long staff with a crook on top, and sensed that it was one of his grandfathers who died before he was born. The man told him his time had not yet come and he had work to do (Ring, 1992, 100-1).

In contrast to western cases, NDErs in India do not typically encounter tunnels or lights. They tend not to report viewing their physical body after separating from it, but sometimes report residual marks on the physical body following the NDE, a feature not often seen in the West. Indian NDErs commonly describe being taken by messengers to a spiritual arbiter (Chitragupta), who determines that their death was a mistake and they must return to life. American NDErs virtually never report returning to life because a mistake has been made.

NDErs sometimes receive information about future events during their experiences (Alexander, 2017, ch. 15). During the Vietnam War, an American helicopter pilot had an NDE after his helicopter crashed following an explosion. During the NDE he was told that he could either stay on the other side, or return to his badly injured body and continue his life, but that he would become a single parent and have to raise his boys on his own. This information made no sense at the time, but three years later, without warning, his wife filed for divorce and left him. Mary Neal, an orthopedic surgeon, was the victim of a kayaking accident in northern Chile and was trapped upside down underwater for about half an hour. She reported that during her NDE she encountered a spiritual being who told her that her son would die when he reached the age of 18. She did not tell her husband about this until their son was approaching 18. True to the prediction, their son was struck and killed by a car while skateboarding.

About 1 in 3 persons who survive a near-death incident later describes having had an NDE. Kenneth Ring found that people who have NDEs, like people who have UFO encounters, tend to be ‘psychological sensitives’, who are more susceptible to altered states of consciousness and able to tune into alternate realities (Ring, 1992, 146-7).

Orthodox scientists have put forward a variety of neurological and chemical explanations for NDEs, but none is particularly convincing. One theory is that NDEs are illusions produced by the dying brain. But if the brain is dying, and the mind is identical with the brain, experiences ought to become increasingly chaotic, whereas NDErs experience enhanced mental clarity. Sometimes NDEs are said to be hallucinations resulting from medical drugs or lack of oxygen (anoxia). But only a small minority of NDErs are on drugs at the time of their experiences, and hallucinations experienced by patients losing consciousness due to drugs are confused, disorganized and accompanied by fear, whereas NDEs are vivid, coherent and accompanied by pervasive feelings of joy and peace. In addition, hallucinations are highly individual whereas near-death experiences tend to have certain basic features in common. Although limited aspects of NDEs can be induced through the use of drugs or electrical stimulation of specific areas of the brain, none of the reported experiences matches a full-blown NDE.

Another theory is that falling blood pressure and blood oxygen levels or rising blood carbon dioxide levels stimulate the vagus nerve, which connects the heart and lungs to the brainstem, and that this causes the REM centres in the brainstem to turn on so that we are in REM sleep and partially awake at same time (Fox, 2006). However, REM intrusion normally causes frightening experiences, an example being sleep paralysis, when we wake up and find ourselves unable to move, with a heavy pressure on our chest.

Only about 7% of cardiac arrest patients are successfully resuscitated, and most of those suffer brain damage. About 10 to 20% of people who recover from a cardiac arrest report having had an NDE. Yet during this experience they are clinically dead – the heart ceases to function, breathing stops, and the brain waves quickly go flat. If the mind were identical to the brain, as mainstream science still insists, it would be impossible to have an NDE during cardiac arrest: ‘The brain can’t create images, so it should be impossible to have clearly structured and lucid narrative experiences, and because memory is not functioning, if experiences did occur they should not be remembered’ (Fenwick & Fenwick, 2008, 207). And if an NDE occurred during the gradual return to consciousness it would be confused, not coherent and lucid.

A study by Pim van Lommel and his colleagues in the Netherlands involving 344 cardiac arrest patients who were resuscitated after clinical death found that 18% reported NDEs, despite being clinically dead with flatlined brainstem activity. Van Lommel concludes that consciousness is not generated by neuronal activity in the brain but exists independently, and that our brain acts as a receiving station for information stored outside it, rather like a radio or television. He tries to explain NDEs by invoking several irrational concepts of mainstream quantum physics, such as the idea that physical particles dissolve into ‘probability waves’ when not being observed and then ‘collapse’ into particles again when the next observation is made, and the idea that two particles far apart can exchange information absolutely instantaneously without any transfer of energy of any kind (known as nonlocal connections) (see The farce of modern physics). He adds the idea of ‘nonlocal consciousness’, which exists in a ‘multidimensional nonlocal space’, in a ‘dimension where time and distance play no role’, where information is stored in the form of ‘probability waves’, some of which ‘collapse’ into particles in our brains to produce our individual waking consciousness (Lommel, 2008, 241-58).

Van Lommel’s claim that these concepts explain NDEs cannot be taken seriously: stringing together a series of mathematical abstractions explains precisely nothing. Only the occult model offers a realistic framework for understanding such phenomena, because it postulates real, but nonphysical, substances, energies, forces and entities, rather than empty abstractions. It asserts that the physical world is interpenetrated by subtler realms of consciousness-substance, and that our physical bodies are animated and organized by subtler bodies/souls.

The official definition of death is: no respiration, no cardiac output and absent brainstem reflexes. From a theosophical point of view, however, a person who is clinically dead is not really dead unless the cord of vibrant energy linking the physical and astral bodies breaks (Isis Unveiled, 1:481; Secret Doctrine, 1:555; Fountain-Source of Occultism, 543-4, 570-1). Some OBErs and NDErs report seeing this cord. The Old Testament says that when death occurs ‘the silver cord is severed’ (Ecclesiastes 12:6), and this process has been witnessed clairvoyantly (Cranston, 1993, 541-2). True death is normally followed by a period of unconsciousness, just as happens when we fall asleep. So an NDE, even during cardiac arrest, is not really a ‘temporary death experience’ (TDE). It does, however, show that the mind can operate independently of the brain.

Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick say that both end-of-life visions and TDEs ‘give a glimpse of a transcendent realm suffused with love and light’ (2008, 211). This description matches the spiritual, akashic realms in which our radiant higher self resides; the lower astral, kama-lokic realms, by contrast, are a sea of swirling currents, a confused jumble of thoughts and pictures, with a mass of entities wandering or drifting in all directions. Most NDErs appear to move beyond their brain-mind consciousness and open up a more direct channel to higher parts of their being. This is shown by the fact that any bodily pain disappears when an NDE begins; NDErs feel no alarm, and no regret or distress that they might not see their loved ones again; they are able to review their lives with detachment; and are filled with an overwhelming sense of love and peace. Certain aspects of the experience reflect their beliefs and expectations, and an NDE does not tell us much about what will happen when we really die. The ancient wisdom tradition asserts that ‘death’, i.e. the period between successive earth lives, is analogous to sleep: sleep is an imperfect death, and death is a perfect sleep (Fountain-Source of Occultism, 608-10). Even in devachan, we will not be holding conversations with discarnate friends and relatives, ‘Jesus’ or even ‘God’ – except perhaps in our imagination.

6. Multiple personality and possession

Multiple personality disorder (MPD), also known as dissociative identity disorder (DID), is a condition in which a person is repeatedly controlled by several distinct personalities (known as alter egos or alters), and later remembers little or nothing of the alters and what happened while they were in control. The switching between personalities (or personality fragments) is involuntary. Alternate personalities may have different sexes and ages, behave and think in very different ways, possess a wide range of artistic, literary and other skills, exhibit different handwriting and write with a different hand; they also display different patterns of brain activity (EEGs). Multiple personality is thought to be linked to severe trauma during early childhood, usually extreme, repetitive physical, emotional or sexual abuse, and also to insufficient childhood nurturing, and an innate ability to partition off segments of experience.

The vast majority of DID diagnoses come from the North American continent, and some mental health workers dispute whether DID really exists. They argue that the symptoms are created by therapists using certain treatment techniques (e.g. hypnosis) with suggestible patients, and point out that some patients do not report sexual abuse or manifest alter egos until after treatment has begun. But not all cases of multiple personality can be explained away so easily.

The mean number of personalities for an MPD patient is about 13. Christine Sizemore (depicted in the 1957 film, The three faces of Eve) had as many as 40 alter egos. She was allergic to nylon but as soon as one of her alter egos took over, the nylon rash disappeared. She was shortsighted whereas her alter ego could see perfectly without glasses. Once when she was under anaesthetic, the alter ego took over and was totally unaffected by the anaesthetic (Wilson, 1987, 159).

Cases of alleged possession by ‘demons’ and ‘spirits’ used to be diagnosed as ‘mania’ or ‘hysteria’, but nowadays they tend to be attributed to multiple personality disorder. Demonic possession covers a variety of abnormal and involuntary types of behaviour and experience, including erased memories or personalities, convulsions, fainting fits, access to hidden knowledge and foreign languages, drastic changes in vocal intonation and facial structure, sudden appearance of injuries such as scratches and bite marks, and unnatural strength.

When alter egos are questioned about their identity, 29% claim to be ‘demons’. Doctors see this as a mental disease called demonomania or demonopathy. It’s noteworthy that reported cases of possession involve females more often than males. Females also predominate as MPD patients, sometimes by a ratio of 5 to 1.

Materialistic scientists have no choice but to try to shoehorn every psychological phenomenon into their ‘mind = brain’ framework. Orthodox treatments for psychological disorders include widespread use of medication, as well as psychotherapy. The church’s belief that possession involves ‘evil spirits’ and that exorcism rituals can help to banish them is dismissed out of hand. From a theosophical perspective, some cases of multiple personality disorder and possession could involve earthbound kama-rupas and elementaries, in addition to various subconscious aspects of a person’s own multilayered self.

Case studies

In September 1824 a German epileptic named Sörgel murdered an old woodcutter in a forest. He chopped off the man’s head and feet with his axe, and drank his blood. Back in town, he talked openly about what he had done, saying that drinking blood is a cure for epilepsy. He was already known as a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality who developed criminal tendencies after his fits. By the time he appeared in court a week later he had reverted to the quiet, polite Jekyll personality, without the slightest memory of the murder. He was found not guilty and sent to a lunatic asylum (Wilson, 1987, 147).

In 1873, at the age of 10, Louis Vivé was sent to a children’s home, after suffering abuse at the hands of his drunken, violent mother. He was of a quiet, timid and obedient disposition, until he had a terrifying encounter with a viper four years later, which induced a state of shock. He then began having epileptic fits and developed paralysis of the legs. He was sent to an asylum for observation, and for the next two months worked quietly at tailoring. Then he had a fit lasting two days with violent convulsions and moods of ecstasy. When he woke up, the paralysis had vanished and he was a changed person. He was violent, dishonest and badly behaved, and had no memory of anything that had happened since the viper attack. The former Louis had been a teetotaller while the new one not only drank but stole other patients’ wine. After serving in the marines and spending some time in jail for theft, he was sent to an asylum. Despite having a bad stutter, he was a non-stop talker and preached atheism and violent revolution. He also suffered from paralysis of the right side of his body. When his doctors tried stroking his upper right arm with steel, it promptly transferred the paralysis to the left side of his body. Immediately, the old, gentle Louis came back. He had no memory of the person he had become after the long epileptic attack (Wilson, 148-9).

In 1898, neurologist Morton Prince, began treating an introverted 23-year-old student, Clara Fowler, for headaches, chronic fatigue and apathy. After he had placed her under hypnosis, a completely new personality emerged – an extroverted, mischievous woman called Sally, who stuttered badly. Clara was unaware of Sally, whereas Sally enjoyed playing tricks on Clara, and would take her over whenever she felt inclined. For example, Sally would strip naked and strike up a model’s pose in her room, and then ‘leave’, when a very embarrassed Clara would ‘arrive’. She also made dates with boyfriends whom Clara no longer wished to see. On one occasion, Sally borrowed Clara’s body for weeks and went off to another town and got a job as a waitress, then finally abandoned it and left Clara to make her own way home. During hypnotherapy a further alter ego emerged: a childlike, ill-tempered personality, who also became the frequent victim of Sally’s pranks. Prince eventually succeeded in reintegrating the various personalities (Wilson, 149-50; Aldridge-Morris, 1989, 4-5).

In 1972, Californian psychotherapist Ralph Allison encountered a case of multiple personality. In her teens, Carrie had been the victim of gang rape, and afterwards she began to experience blackouts in which another personality took over. She had also been involved in amateur witchcraft and, as a therapeutic measure, Allison tried exorcism under hypnosis, which worked. Allison considered that this was due to suggestion. But later he encountered cases of multiple personality in which he could not accept that the other egos were subpersonalities, because they did not seem to be a means for the patient to handle a difficult emotion or situation.

One of his patients, Elise, coped with all her problems in life by creating alter personalities, and had over 30 of them. Once when Elise was under hypnosis, a male alter ego calling himself Dennis emerged. Dennis seemed to serve no psychological purpose; he claimed to be a discarnate stockbroker who had been killed during a robbery. He said that he had previously ‘inhabited’ other people, and was now possessing Elise because he was sexually interested in another of her personalities, a woman called Shannon, who had started to appear after Elise had been prostrated by the loss of a baby. Dennis explained that he made love to Elise by entering the bodies of men Shannon was dating. Elise’s body was of course the same as Shannon’s, but Dennis was apparently not interested in it when Elise was controlling it. Shannon confirmed what Dennis had said.

Soon afterwards, another alter ego, called Michelle, emerged, and she too insisted that she was not a subpersonality but a ‘spirit’. A few days later, after Elise had experienced violent convulsions, one of the subpersonalities told Allison that Dennis, Michelle and another ‘spirit’ had now left. Sometime later a subpersonality told him that Shannon, too, was a ‘possessing spirit’ – the spirit of Elise’s dead baby. Shannon confirmed this and, after some initial resistance, said she was willing to ‘leave’. Elise awoke from the session with amnesia and Shannon never reappeared (Allison, 1980, ch. 8; Wilson, 262-4).

The medium Pearl Curran, who was no scholar and showed no literary ability, suddenly began producing a steady stream of poetry, novels, and intelligent and witty conversation through a ouija board. The material purportedly came from a personality named Patience Worth, who claimed to be a 17th-century Englishwoman. Her highly praised poems and novels, and her vivid personality betrayed an intelligence and psychological style very different from that displayed by Pearl. Patience provided only scanty biographical information, and it was never verified that such a person had ever existed. Much of Patience’s vocabulary was appropriate to the 17th to 19th centuries, but some seemed to belong to a period several centuries earlier. And despite being a pre-Victorian author, one of her works was a Victorian novel.

Some researchers argue that, rather than being a discarnate personality, Patience Worth was a separate personality of Pearl, and that the case demonstrates that, when in a dissociated state, we can liberate latent abilities or perhaps gain them through some sort of super-psi. Ian Stevenson objected that Pearl was never fully dissociated during the manifestations of Patience Worth, but remained keenly conscious of everything around her. He suggested that Patience Worth’s claimed life and her literary productions may have been drawn from Pearl’s memories of previous lives (Braude, 1992). It’s certainly possible that a person in a mediumistic state can manifest new abilities and skills by acting as a channel for the astral remnants of one or more deceased personalities (usually not one’s own), or clusters of elementals (skandhas) representing particular skills, and in higher forms of ‘mediumship’, a person may channel their own higher self, with its treasure trove of skills and knowledge.

The following case of ‘possession’ involved Theobald and Joseph Bruner of Illfurt, Alsace (Guiley, 2009, 44-5). In 1865, the two brothers began displaying abnormal behaviour, and were largely confined to their beds for the next two years. They would entwine their legs in knots so tight that no human pressure could disentangle them. They would stand on their heads for hours, bend completely backward, become rigid, and suffer vomiting attacks, expelling great quantities of yellow foam, seaweed, and foul-smelling feathers. They would also levitate, and sometimes their mother, sitting on the bed while it rose from the floor, would be thrown off. Their room was uncomfortably hot although never heated, but the sprinkling of holy water restored a normal temperature. Furniture would fly around the room, the curtains would fall down by themselves, the windows would burst open, and the entire house would shake. The boys would draw devilish faces on the walls by their bed and talk to them. Holy objects would cause the boys to have hysterical fits and scream blasphemies. If a clergyman visited their house, they would try to hide. They also spoke in foreign languages unknown to them, including English, Latin and various Spanish dialects, and displayed clairvoyant knowledge of outside events.

During an exorcism ritual, Theobald was held by three men and forced to stand before the altar; he remained silent for two or three days, drooling a thick yellow froth. On the fourth day, he roared, ‘I am the Lord of Darkness!’ He was then placed in a straitjacket, as he began tearing his clothes and breaking everything in reach. Finally, after the exorcist again called upon the Virgin Mary, Theobald screamed in agony and pitched forward in a deep sleep. When he woke up, he was himself again and had no memory of the previous three days. During Joseph’s exorcism, he struggled and screamed frantically for three hours before the ‘devil’ released him. He, too, later remembered nothing of his ordeal. Theobald died two years later, at the age of 16, while Joseph died at the age of 25.

One of the best-documented demonic possession cases of the 20th century is that of Anna Ecklund, who was born in the American Midwest around 1882 and was raised as a devout Catholic (Guiley, 71-2). When she was 14 she began showing the ‘symptoms of possession’, including revulsion toward holy objects, inability to enter church, and disturbing thoughts about ‘unspeakable sexual acts’. By 1908 she was believed to be totally possessed. Father Theophilus Riesinger successfully exorcized her in 1912, but she fell prey to the ‘devil’ again. In 1928, when Anna was 46, Father Theophilus made another attempt. She was laid on a bed and several nuns held her down. As Father Theophilus began his exhortations, Anna fell unconscious. She then levitated swiftly from the bed and affixed herself to the wall above the door, and had to be pulled down by force.

The exorcisms lasted a total of 23 days, divided over three sessions, in August, September and December. Anna remained unconscious throughout, but although her mouth never moved, voices issued from within her, accompanied by screams, howls and unearthly animal noises. Anna’s physical state deteriorated to the point of death.

She ate no food but only swallowed small amounts of milk or water. Nevertheless, she vomited enormous quantities of foul-smelling debris, often resembling tobacco leaves, and spit prodigiously. Her face became horribly disfigured and distorted, often suffusing with blood as her head swelled and elongated, her eyes bulged, and her lips grew, reportedly, to the size of hands. Her abdomen would swell to the point of bursting, only to retract and become so hard and heavy that the iron bedstead would bend under the enormous weight.

Anna was able to understand languages previously unknown to her, recoiled at holy words and objects, and revealed clairvoyant knowledge by exposing secret childhood sins of the other participants. One of the exorcists, Father Steiger, was taunted by the ‘demons’ and suffered a car accident that they had predicted. Hordes of lesser devils and avenging spirits claimed to be possessing Anna, but her main tormentors were ‘Beelzebub’, who engaged Father Theophilus in sarcastic theological conversations, ‘Judas Iscariot’, who said he was there to torment Anna to commit suicide so that she would go to hell, and the ‘spirits’ of her father, Jacob, and his mistress, Anna’s aunt Mina. Her ‘father’ said that, because Anna had refused to submit to his incestuous advances, he had cursed her and called on the devil to tempt her. Her ‘aunt’ claimed to have murdered four of her own children.

The ‘devils’ eventually began to weaken and moan, rather than scream, as Father Theophilus continued his efforts. The climax came one evening when Anna suddenly jerked up and stood erect in bed. Father Theophilus blessed her and roared, ‘Depart ye fiends of hell! Begone Satan, the Lion of Juda reigns!’ As Anna crumpled back onto the bed, a shout of ‘Beelzebub, Judas, Jacob, Mina’ and ‘Hell, hell, hell’ echoed around the room and seemed to fade into the distance. Anna opened her eyes, smiled, praised Christ, and began to cry. A terrible stench then filled the room, so that all the windows had to be opened. But the possession was over. In this case, the possessed woman and the exorcists were Catholics, so it is not surprising that some of the possessing entities impersonated fictitious biblical characters.

From The Exorcist (1973).

A contemporary exorcist, Tony Finlay (ch. 8), writes: ‘In my experience, not all invading spirits are hostile or malicious. They may be simply “looking for a home”, reluctant to leave the associations they once had in the living world. Such beings may not induce violent or egregious behaviour in the “victim” but nevertheless, they do distort the normal pattern of a host’s behaviour. As such, they still have to be removed.’ He notes that the need for exorcism is on the rise, and links this to the growing tendency to dabble in the occult.

One of the cases in which Finlay was involved concerned a teenage youth, Terry, who was believed by his neighbours to be possessed. He would speak in several different voices, some shrill, some harsh and grating. He also spoke in what turned out to be an ancient language. Conventional medicine and psychiatric sessions failed to help him. On the evidence of the differing voices, Finlay believed Terry was possessed by five ‘demons’. He proceeded to follow the Catholic church’s exorcism rituals, calling on the demons to depart in the name of ‘the Lord’. Sometimes his own words were repeated in mockery and he heard ‘diabolic laughter’. At times, his words were anticipated, and issued from Terry’s mouth before he could utter them. During the rituals, Terry suffered a series of fainting fits. After strenuous efforts lasting several days, Finlay believed he had got rid of all but one of the ‘demons’.

The culmination was dramatic. Terry yelled aloud, and managed to overturn the heavy chair to which he was now strapped. He writhed for a short time on the floor and somehow escaped from his bonds. Then he got to his feet and appeared fully recovered. He spoke in his normal voice. ... He was never troubled again. (Finlay, ch. 8)

As Finlay says, exorcism is essentially a ‘contest of wills’. Based on his Catholic faith, he claims that it is a contest between ‘Satan’ and ‘God’. But the real battle is between the mind of the exorcist (and whatever positive occult forces he can wield) and the astral entities involved in the possession, with the outcome also depending on the good and bad characteristics of the victim.

Life beyond Death: Part 2

Life beyond Death: Contents

Heaven and hell

Our after-death journey

Visitors from the twilight zone

Vampires and the living dead