Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Persia

Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Persia

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A vision of the afterlife is articulated by every culture, ancient or modern, in an effort to answer the question of what happens after death, and this was as true for the ancient Persian view of the afterlife as for any other ancient civilization. Ancient Persia had the same interest in what happens after death as any culture in the present day and provided one of the most interesting, and compassionate, answers.

The human concern with mortality informs not only the scriptures of world religions but the greatest literary works. The Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh – considered the oldest epic tale in the world – is centered on finding meaning in life in the face of inevitable death and innumerable works since have explored the same problem.

Shakespeare's Hamlet sums up this concern in his line, “The undiscovered country, from whose bourn/ No traveler returns, puzzles the will” (Act III.i.79-80) but Hamlet is simply among the most articulate speakers to make the observation which could arguably be defined as the central, underlying preoccupation of the human race. The inevitability of death defines human life and what happens afterwards has inspired many striking visions of the afterlife, from the ancient Egyptian Field of Reeds to the Greek Hades and the many other conceptions of the life after death, including the well-known destinations of heaven and hell.

Although this last concept of two possible final destinations is most closely associated with Christianity and Islam in the modern day, it is actually an ancient Persian creation which, along with influences from other cultures, contributed to the visions of both faiths. The Catholic concept of Purgatory was also earlier imagined by the Persians in their Hamistakan, a place for the souls of those whose good and bad deeds were equal; these would remain in equilibrium until the end of time when they would be reunited with Ahura Mazda.

The early Persian concept of an afterlife was similar to that of Mesopotamia – a dark, dreary land of shadows – but this would be revised and ornamented, elevating one's death to a moment of ultimate triumph and joy or dramatic despair and failure and, ultimately, give meaning to one's life in what waited beyond death.

Gods, Spirits & Death

The religion of the ancient Persians arrived in the region of Iran with their migration from the area of Greater Iran (the Caucasus, Central Asia, South Asia, and West Asia) sometime around the 3rd millennium BCE. What the original faith consisted of is unknown, but it is thought to have then been influenced by the Elamites and the people of Susiana who were already settled in the area.

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The Persian religion was initially polytheistic with a pantheon of deities led by a single powerful god, Ahura Mazda.

This was an oral belief system, and remained so as it developed, and all that is known of it comes from much later works written after the prophet Zoroaster (c. 1500-1000 BCE) had dramatically reformed it. It is therefore difficult to know which aspects were pre-Zoroastrian but, generally, a good idea is given by Zoroastrian works such as the Avesta, Vendidad, and Bundahisn which reference earlier beliefs. Even so, some post-Zoroastrian concepts seem to have been applied to the earlier model and there is no way of knowing what these might have replaced.

The Persian religion was initially polytheistic with a pantheon of deities led by a single powerful god, Ahura Mazda. The pantheon addressed the same kinds of concerns as any other polytheistic faith with different deities presiding over their own area of specialization. Mithra was the god of the rising son, covenants, and contracts; Anahita was the goddess of fertility, water, health and healing, and wisdom and, sometimes, war. The world was full of spirits, good and bad, and there were supernatural beings like the peri (faeries) or jinn (genies) who could influence human thought and behavior.

The gods of the Persian pantheon existed to care for and protect humans from the threats of the evil forces – later known as daevas – who were led by the malevolent spirit Angra Mainyu. Angra Mainyu was the enemy of Ahura Mazda and the other gods who, unable to finally overturn the gods' great design, could only do what he could to disrupt it at every turn and, in response, Ahura Mazda turned his best efforts at destruction to positive ends.

When Ahura Mazda created the beautiful Primordial Bull, Gavaevodata, Angra Mainyu killed it. Ahura Mazda then lifted the bull's corpse to the moon where it was purified and, from its purified seed, came all the animals in the world. When Ahura Mazda created the first human, Gayomartan, Angra Mainyu killed him as well. From his purified seed, however, the first mortal couple were born – Mashya and Mashyanag – who lived in paradise with their god and all of nature.

When a person died, their soul lingered near the body for three days before departing for the subterranean land of the dead.

Angra Mainyu disrupted this as well, whispering to the couple that he was their actual creator and Ahura Mazda an evil deceiver. Mashya and Mashyanag listened to his lies and were cast out of paradise. Death now entered the world and, with their children, a limited time for every human life. Ahura Mazda managed to even turn this to good, however, in allowing each human being to decide for themselves whether to follow him or Angra Mainyu and, in doing so, granted humanity an ultimate meaning in life: one could live well fighting for Good or meanly struggling for Evil.

Early Persian Afterlife

When a person died, their soul lingered near the body for three days before departing for the subterranean land of the dead. This was a dark kingdom, similar to the Mesopotamian vision of the Realm of Ereshkigal, Queen of the Dead, where the souls roamed in an eternal shadowy twilight. In the Persian vision, this land was governed by King Yima (also given as Yama), the first great mortal king who, though initially favored by the gods, sinned through the wiles of Angra Mainyu and fell from grace. Like Ereshkigal, Yima's central purpose seems to have been to keep the dead in his realm and the living out.

As in other belief systems, the continued existence of these dead depended entirely on the prayers and remembrance of the living. Survivors spent the first three days after a person's death in prayer and fasting because this was considered the most dangerous time for the soul. The soul would be disoriented and susceptible to demonic attack. A ritual developed known as the sagdid (“glance of the dog”), in which a dog was brought into the presence of the corpse to drive away evil spirits. Dogs were considered the best defense against evil entities because they could see what humans could not and their bark was thought to make such spirits flee. The dog was brought in three times and, if at any time it hesitated or seemed unwilling, this was taken to mean it had not driven off the entity. It would then be led in up to nine times until the spirit was thought to be gone and the body could be prepared for interment.

The dead person was either buried or, more commonly, placed on an outdoor scaffolding now referred to as a Tower of Silence where the body was picked clean by scavengers; once that was done, the bones were interred. While the living were taking care of the body, the soul of the deceased was wandering in the Realm of Yima. There is some lack of clarity on when this next phase took place but, at some point, the soul would have to cross a dark river by boat – an event known as the Crossing of the Separator – where good souls were separated from bad and assigned their places. It is possible that this event took place when the dead first arrived from the world and the crossing separated them from the land of the living and brought them to Yima's Realm.

The Crossing of the Separator may have involved Mithra in his role as god of covenants since it would have been understood that the soul had a contract with its creator, Ahura Mazda, and if it had honored that contract with a good life, it would be rewarded; if not, it would be punished for following the lies of Angra Mainyu. There is reference to Mithra holding the scales which balanced a person's good deeds against the bad and a person was then rewarded or punished accordingly. The angels Rashnu (the later judge of the dead) and Suroosh (a guardian angel) may have also taken part in this but might be later additions. Some form of judgment took place after death, however, and the soul was sent to a new home in the afterlife.

Once they were there, it was up to the living to keep their memory alive. The first year was especially important because the soul was adapting to its new home and would feel lost and lonely; it therefore needed extra attention from the living. The next of kin was primarily responsible for this and rites of remembrance would last up to 30 years or the next of kin's death. Food was regularly prepared for the deceased in the afterlife, prayers and sacrifices made for their well-being, and they were remembered especially every New Year's Eve, when they were thought to return to visit.


At some point between c.1500-1000 BCE, a priest named Zoroaster received a vision which would dramatically change Persian religious understanding. By the bank of a river, a being of light appeared to him, identifying itself as Vohu Manah (“good purpose”) and informing Zoroaster that the Persians' religious beliefs were mistaken. There was only one god, he was told, and this was Ahura Mazda; all other so-called “gods” were simply emanations from the Supreme Being.

Zoroaster became the prophet of this new vision, preaching it to everyone he could, but was rejected, threatened, and had to leave his home. His first convert is traditionally said to be his cousin but this made no significant difference in the acceptance of his vision. It was only after he had converted the king Vishtaspa, who then converted his entire realm, that Zoroastrianism became an influential belief system.

Ahura Mazda now became the Supreme God and Angra Mainyu his eternal enemy. It was understood earlier that human beings needed to choose which of these deities to devote their time on earth to but now this became the meaning of life. Humans were created with free will and, whichever path one chose, defined one's values and the course of one's existence. Life was, then, a battle between the forces of Good and those of Evil and everyone, at birth, was required to choose a side. In accepting Zoroaster's vision, one dedicated one's self to the principles of Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds, making friends from enemies, and practicing charity toward all, among other virtues.

Later Persian Afterlife

As noted, aspects of Zoroastrianism existed prior to Zoroaster's vision and no doubt played a part in the original faith but, as they are clearly delineated post-Zoroaster, they are usually considered to have been introduced – or at least revised – by him.

At birth, one's soul (urvan) was sent into the body by one's higher self (the fravashi) in order to experience the material world and fight on the side of Good. The fravrashi would do its best to assist the soul in its struggles through life and waited for it after death. When a person died, the urvan lingered for three days by the corpse while the gods weighed their good and bad deeds. On the fourth day, the urvan traveled to the Chinvat Bridge – the span between the living and the dead – where it was reunited with its fravashi. Two dogs guarded the bridge who would welcome good souls and snarl at the bad. The urvan and fravashi would join and be met by Daena, the Holy Maiden, who mirrored the urvan's conscience; to the justified, she was a beautiful young woman while, to the condemned, she was a withered hag.

The angel Suroosh would appear, to guard the soul against demonic attacks from the abyss and guide the soul across the bridge. For the justified soul, the bridge would widen and be easy; for the condemned, it would narrow and be difficult. At the far end stood the angel Rashnu who would have received the tally of one's good and bad deeds and render judgment. Scholar A. T. Olmstead comments:

One's own conscience, whether of Righteous or Liar, will determine his future award. With Zoroaster as associate judge, Ahura Mazda himself will, through his counselor Righteousness, separate the wise from the unwise. Afterward, Zoroaster will guide those he has taught to invoke Mazda across Chinvato Peretav the Bridge of the Separator. Those who wisely choose will proceed to the House of Song, the Abode of Good Thought, the Kingdom of Good Thought, the Glorious Heritage of Good Thought, to which one travels by the sciences of the Saviors to pass to their reward. There shall they behold the throne of the mightiest Ahura and the Obedience of Mazda, the felicity that is with the heavenly lights. But the foolish shall go to the House of the Lie, the House of Worst Thought, the home of the daevas, the Worst Existence. Their evil conscience shall bring them torment at the Judgment of the Bridge and lead them to long future ages of misery, darkness, foul food, and cries of woe. (101)

There were four levels of paradise ascending upwards from the bridge and four dark hells descending downwards. Rashnu would decide where the soul deserved to go and it is understood that the soul itself would recognize the justice of this decision. The highest level of paradise was the Heaven of Eternal Light where the soul would live in the radiant company of Ahura Mazda himself. In between the lowest heaven and the highest hell was the purgatory of Hamistakan from which the other levels of hell descended to the lowest pit in the House of Lies, the Hell of Eternal Darkness, where the soul was tormented and experienced complete loneliness; no matter how many other souls were present, it would always feel alone.

After the End of Time, everyone would be reunited with their loved ones & would live in peace & harmony with Ahura Mazda eternally.

Even so, there was hope for salvation for every soul – even the worst – because Ahura Mazda was completely loving and could not bear the thought of any soul eternally lost. In time, a messiah would come – the Saoshyant (“One Who Brings Benefit”) – and would bring about the Frashokereti (End of Time). The world as human beings knew it would end and all would be gathered to Ahura Mazda. The souls in the House of Lies would be liberated and Angra Mainyu would be destroyed. Afterwards, everyone would be reunited with their loved ones and would live in peace and harmony with Ahura Mazda eternally.


This vision was suppressed in Persia following the Muslim Arab invasion and fall of the Sassanian Empire in 651 CE. Zoroastrians were persecuted, their altars destroyed, libraries burned, and mosques erected in the sacred places. Even so, Zoroastrian and earlier Persian beliefs regarding death and the afterlife would influence the developing Muslim vision just as it had the earlier Christian religion and the even earlier Judaism. The Persian concepts of a single god, a good life defined by moral conduct, personal responsibility for one's soul and salvation, an afterlife of paradise or hell, judgment after death, and a messiah – to name only a few concepts – predate the development of all three of these religions.

One of the most interesting Persian contributions to Islam is the reimagining of the Chinvat Bridge in the Hadiths. In Islam, a Hadith is an extra-Quranic account of the life of the Prophet Muhammad as well as beliefs, customs, and actions Muhammad would approve of.

The Hadith Bukhari, among others, describes the As-Sirat – the Bridge to Paradise – which is the final obstacle believers must face before they are welcomed into heaven. The bridge will only be crossed by believers (Muslims) since all other souls are bound for hell by rejecting the faith. The bridge is described as slippery and “thin as a hair and sharp as a sword” with thorns, clamps, hooks, barbs to impede one's crossing. Further, the bridge is wide when the soul steps onto it and then narrows dramatically; beneath it are the fires of hell which lap at the souls as they make their way along it (Bukhari, Book 97:65). The souls of the most devout will fly across the bridge but most will struggle.

Every religious response to Hamlet's observation regarding the undiscovered country which waits after death reflects the culture that creates it and can never, objectively, be more than that. No one knows what comes after death except the dead and they have never been known to be very vocal in describing their realm. The Persian vision, however, with its emphasis on living the best life one can in accordance with the highest principles, as well as its all-inclusive concept of ultimate salvation, is among the most admirable ever conceived. Even though there is no way of knowing whether it could be true, the beauty of the vision inspires hope that it could, or should, be; and hope for an afterlife of reunion with all one has lost is finally the only positive response to death.

Zoroastrianism, Life After Death And The Nature of Heaven and Hell

Zoroastrians believe that the material world is afflicted with the evils of death, decay and disintegration due to the presence of Ahirman and his fiendish forces. Their presence in the world is as per a covenant agreed upon by God, who wanted them to remain confined to a particular region in the universe so that they all could eventually be destroyed. So the world is marked by dichotomy between good and evil. God represents life and light, where as Ahirman represents, malice, death and darkness.

Death is the domain of Ahirman into which God or his forces would not enter. So Ahirman's will reigns unopposed in the domain of death. He cannot touch the spirit, because it is made of the same material as of God and he does not have the strength to deal with it. However when the spirit leaves the body, he and his forces rush into the body and contaminate it with their foul presence. Zoroastrian scriptures insist that when a person dies, people should dispose it of immediately in a prescribed manner and save themselves and others from the contamination caused by the foul presence of Nashu, an evil matter. Touching a corpse or causing others to touch it intentionally or unintentionally is viewed as a mortal sin, which used to warrant death penalty in ancient times.

The method suggested by the Zoroastrian texts to dispose of a dead body is by placing it in a rounded structure called dakhma, specially built for the purpose and leave it there in the open until it is consumed by vultures, dogs and other flesh-eating birds and animals. When the flesh is completely gone and the bones are dry, close relatives of the deceased should collect the remains and place them inside an underground vault, where they should be allowed to disintegrate slowly over a long period of time. Zoroastrian religion does not permit the disposal of the dead through burial or cremation or by dropping them into the waters of a river or lake or ocean. There is only one way to dispose it of and it is through the dakhma, in the manner described above. However, as in other religions, prayers and rituals are offered by Zoroastrians as a part of the funeral proceedings for the safety of the spirit and the purity of those involved in the disposal of the body.

Star Wars

Perhaps influenced by stargazing Babylonian* astronomers, the ancient Iranians associated some of their deities with the stars. The star Sirius represented the rain god Tishtrya, whose main role was to battle Apausha, an evil star of drought. Tishtrya, in the form of a white stallion, and Apausha, a hideous black horse, fought for three days. Then with Ahura Mazda's help, Tishtrya defeated Apausha. Tishtrya and other star gods who protected agriculture also took charge of battling meteors, or shooting stars, which the Persians believed to be witches.

pantheon all the gods of a particular culture

cult group bound together by devotion to a particular person, belief, or god

monotheism belief in only one god

immortality ability to live forever

epic long poem about legendary or historical heroes, written in a grand style

Gayomart's body became the silver and gold in the earth, and in death he fertilized the ground so that a plant grew and became a man and a woman. These two people, Masha and Mashyoi, were

The legend of Rustum shows the part human heroes play in the great drama of good and evil. Rustum was so strong and brave that the king made him head of the army. Then the White Demon seized the king, and Rustum set out to rescue him. In the course of his travels, Rustum encountered a lion, a desert, a dragon, a demoness, and a demon army. He overcame all these obstacles with the help of his faithful horse Ruksh and a warrior named Aulad, whom he defeated in combat and who then became an ally. Rustum's adventure ended in a cave, the lair of the White Demon, where Rustum tore out the demon's heart.

Death in Persian mythology involved a journey into the afterlife. The soul of the dead person had to cross a bridge called Chinvat. Good souls found the bridge to be a wide and comfortable beam leading to heaven. For the wicked, it was a razor-sharp blade from which they fell headlong into hell.

Zoroastrianism was one of the first belief systems to include a vision of the end of the world. It would be signaled by the appearance of three saviors, sons of Zoroaster. Upon the arrival of Hushedar, the first savior, the sun would stand still for 10 days, and people would stop eating meat. When Hushedar-mar, the second savior, appeared, the sun would halt for 20 days, and people would stop drinking milk. Just as the world neared a state of purity, however, the evil demon Azhi Dahaka would break free from his mountain prison. Only after he had been killed would Soshyant, the third savior, arrive. People would stop eating plants and live only on water, and each soldier of good would fight and defeat a particular evil enemy.

Then the world would be enveloped in fire and molten metal for three days. Everyone who has ever lived would return to life to cross the fire, but only the wicked would suffer from the heat. This final judgment would purge sin and evil from the world, leaving an innocent human race in a cleansed world to worship Ahura Mazda.

Legacy. Persian religion and mythology had far-reaching influence. Historians of mythology think that certain beliefs in the Jewish,

* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.

Christian, and Islamic faiths probably grew out of Persian traditions. The tendency of Zoroastrianism toward monotheism—turning multiple gods into aspects of one god—may also have helped shape those faiths.

Unlike some ancient belief systems, Persian mythology remains alive outside the covers of old books. It has survived continuously for thousands of years, and isolated groups of Iranians still worship Ahura Mazda. Other Zoroastrian communities exist in India, where the descendants of immigrants from Iran are known as Parsis or Parsees, a reference to their Persian origin.

See also Ahriman Ahura Mazda Angels Mithras .

18 Examples of Crime and Punishment in the Ancient Persian Empire

The Persians not only wanted to end the life of criminals on earth, but from the afterlife as well. Wikimedia

11. The Persians tried to execute criminals more than once

Persian mythology included descriptions of the afterlife which were vivid and exact, including a description of the end of the world, one of the earliest mythological systems to do so. In it the journey to heaven was described as being forced to cross a bridge. Souls of the good encountered a wide and comfortable bridge, those who lived lives of trespass encountered a narrow bridge, an edge of a razor sharp blade from which the wicked would tumble into hell below. Persian executions were sometimes calculated to ensure that the wicked not only died a terrible death on earth, but was ensured to die another death in the afterlife, denied eternal peace.

Persian gods and legends took care of death in the afterlife. On earth, the Persians took steps to ensure some of their victims were brought to the very point of death before the torture they were enduring ceased and the victim was brought back to health, or at least allowed to gain enough strength that the torture would be allowed to continue for some time. This meant a certain level of skills were required of Persian executioners, and if an executioner was so unfortunate as to have his victim die too soon in the eyes of the magistrate who ordered the execution he could well find himself subject to tortures and death himself.

Death, Burial & the Afterlife in the Ancient Celtic Religion

The ancient Celts who occupied large parts of Europe from 700 to 400 CE displayed a clear belief in an afterlife as evidenced in their treatment of the dead. In the absence of extensive written records by the Celts themselves, we are left to surmise their religious beliefs from secondhand classical authors. Fortunately, several important Celtic tombs like the Hochdorf and Vix burials have been discovered intact and examined in detail. The wealth of artefacts in these and other tombs have provided us with a unique insight into what the ancient Celts considered necessary to successfully send their loved ones on their journey to the Otherworld.

The Celts & the Afterlife

The Celts were the peoples who spoke the Celtic language and inhabited western and central Europe from the 1st millennium BCE to several centuries into the 1st millennium CE. The Celts themselves likely had no feeling of belonging to a European-wide culture, but one of several areas which did unite them was religious beliefs, even if these may have varied in details from region to region. The Celts have left very few written sources of their own and so study of their culture is restricted to archaeology and contemporary Greco-Roman writers. As the historian B. Cunliffe notes: "Celtic religion was not necessarily consistent across Europe, nor was it unchanging…Yet behind this variety, broad structural similarities can be detected" (273-4).


In the ancient Celtic religion, there was a belief in an afterlife in the Otherworld which was perhaps considered like this life but without all the negative elements like disease, pain, and sorrow. In this sense, there was little to fear from death when one’s soul departed one’s physical body, or more specifically for the Celts, one’s head. Prayers were said by the living to the Celtic gods, and food, weapons, and precious goods ritually offered to them. Sacrifices - animal and human - were also offered to the gods in ceremonies presided over by druids, the religious leaders of Celtic communities. There may, too, have been a belief that the soul left the body only to reappear in another after death.

That humanity was in some way controlled or guided by gods is, then, evidenced in Celtic religious practices, and the presence of amulets in tombs further suggests the deceased still needed some form of protection even if they had now left this life. Indeed, Celtic tombs and burial sites very often contain a whole range of objects, from tools to jewellery, which indicate the deceased was going on a journey and that they would need these items when they reached their ultimate destination. Where exactly this destination was and what it consisted of is not known in any detail, even if in medieval Celtic literature in Britain and Ireland stories abound of heroes visiting the Otherworld where it is regarded as a land of order, happiness, and plenty.


Cremations & Burials

The deceased were treated in different ways. An alternative to burial in a tomb was cremation which became more prevalent from the 2nd century BCE onwards, likely following contact with Mediterranean cultures although the precise reason why this change occurred is not known. A third method, particularly prevalent in Britain, was excarnation, where the corpse was left exposed to the elements for a period and the bones then either buried or kept for future religious ceremonies. As one might expect, very few traces of the latter two of these methods remain in the archaeological record, although sometimes cremated remains were themselves buried. An example of the latter is a 1st-century BCE burial chamber in Hertfordshire in southeast England where the deceased was cremated while wrapped in a bearskin. The remains were then deposited in a chamber along with paraphernalia for drinking and feasting, including five large Roman amphorae. Nevertheless, it is to burial mounds that we must look for the greatest number of clues on Celtic cultural practices regarding their dead.

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Burials display a marked evolution over time but also differed as to when these changes occurred according to region. Internment in large burial mounds, at least for the community’s elite, was replaced by burial in flat graves. Burials in mounds could be for a single individual or have other occupants added later over time. Several mounds have been discovered in close proximity to each other at major Celtic settlements. According to Julius Caesar (l. 100-44 BCE) in his Gallic Wars, the Celtic Gauls also executed and buried the slaves and attendants of leaders who had died, although he states this practice had already been abandoned by the 1st century BCE. Archaeological excavations of some princely Celtic tombs have confirmed this may well have been the case.

Preparing for the Otherworld

Burials such as those of great warriors and rulers saw individuals interred along with a large number of their daily possessions. Typical objects found in this context include weapons, armour, precious items like gold jewellery, and even large objects like chariots and four-wheeled waggons. Other daily items buried with the dead include tools, extra clothing, grooming equipment, oil lamps, and gaming counters.


One particular category of objects regularly found in Celtic burials is equipment for feasting. Celtic feasts were held to celebrate religious festivals, community events and successes, marriages, and victories in war. The paraphernalia needed for these eating and drinking extravaganzas included spits, cauldrons, wine flagons, mixing vessels, dishes, drinking horns, goblets, and communal tankards. Some of the objects are very finely made, well-decorated, and even imported from neighbouring cultures. Curiously, these feasting objects found in tombs are often in pairs, even if there is only one occupant of the tomb. Perhaps the extras were in anticipation of meeting loved ones in the Otherworld or symbolised the importance of offering hospitality, wherever the deceased ended up. The vessels for food and drink often have residues indicating they were once filled with foodstuffs. There may even have been a ritual feast attended by the deceased’s family and friends before the tomb was definitively closed within a wooden chamber and buried deep within a large mound of earth.

The burial custom seems to have been to place the deceased in a position of repose, often placed on or near a waggon. These waggons typically have four wheels and were designed to move slowly in a fixed direction. An alternative to a waggon is a metal or wooden couch for the deceased. The deceased is clothed with items which may have been given extra decoration, often using thin pieces of gold. Additional clothing may also be hung or spread around the burial chamber. The deceased often wears jewellery such as a neck torc, bracelets, and brooches. A grave in Baden-Württemberg in Germany, which dates to 400-300 BCE, revealed the deceased was wearing an item of clothing pinned together using three pairs of brooches of various designs.

Early Celtic graves have a range of particularly well-made, costly, and rare goods buried with the dead, a case perhaps of conspicuous consumption and designed to show the wealth and power of the deceased and, more importantly, those who honoured their passing and possibly inherited their title and power. Two burials, in particular, are deliciously informative as to how the ancient Celts viewed both death and the afterlife.


The Hochdorf Burial

The Hochdorf princely burial is located near Baden-Württemberg in southwest Germany and dates to the second half of the 6th century BCE. Once part of a burial mound since levelled and reconstructed, the tomb itself was undisturbed when excavated. The wooden walls of the chamber room were made of oak logs, each wall measuring around 4.7 metres (15.4 ft) in length.

Excavations revealed a single male occupant who was around 40 years of age when he died. He had been placed on top of a couch made of sheet bronze which measures an impressive 2.75 metres (9 ft) in length. The couch has small wheels below six of its eight legs - which are cast in the form of dancing girls - and is decorated with battle scenes and chariots. Also on the couch were furs, badger skins, and an assortment of twigs, feathers, and flowers. There was a cushion made of plaited grass below the deceased’s head. Clearly, if the occupant was about to embark on a journey, he was to do so in comfort.

There was, too, a four-wheeled waggon complete with harnesses. Also present, presumably the personal items of the occupant, were a conical hat made of birchbark, a quiver of arrows, and hooks for fishing. Curiously, clothes had been laid out on the floor and hung from hooks on the walls. In another nod to his requirements in the Otherworld, the deceased was wearing around his neck a small bag containing a comb, razor, and nail clippers.


Precious goods include gold additions to the man’s clothing and leather boots, which, following analysis, were added within the tomb itself. Other fine goods are drinking vessels, dishes, and a massive bronze cauldron with lion decorations. The cauldron’s capacity is an impressive 500 litres (110 gallons). The cauldron is of Mediterranean origin and illustrates the trade then going on between Celts and neighbouring cultures. Examination of residue within the cauldron revealed it was once filled with mead, a honey-beer, with added ingredients which included jasmine and thyme. In an indication this was meant to be drunk at some point by the deceased, a gold cup was left sitting on the rim of the cauldron. The man wore a gold bracelet and a gold necklace, with another necklace made from amber beads. A life-size sandstone sculpture of a warrior was found nearby, and he wears the same type of hat as found in the tomb. The stone figure perhaps once stood guard over the princely tomb and may even have represented its occupant.

The Vix Burial

The Vix burial is located near Châtillon-sur-Seine in northeast France close to a fortified Celtic site or oppidum and in the vicinity of at least four more burials. Discovered undisturbed, the princely burial dates to the late 6th or early 5th century BCE. The skeleton of the single occupant of the tomb, set within a wood-lined chamber, was in very poor condition but was likely that of a female aged around 35.

Artefacts in the tomb include a four-wheeled waggon. The corpse had been placed on the waggon which had been partially dismantled and its wheels placed against the wall. The floor of the tomb displayed traces of pigments, which may have come from items of clothing long-since destroyed by time.

A number of drinking vessels present included two Greek kylixes (shallow cups for wine), Etruscan bowls, and a Mediterranean bronze mixing vessel. The latter item, known as the Vix Krater, measures 1.64 metres (5.4 ft) in height and has a capacity of 1100 litres (242 gallons), making it the largest example of its kind to survive from antiquity. It was assembled from pieces in a workshop, each piece having been given Greek lettering to help the assembler. The krater is decorated with magnificent reliefs of hoplites and chariots around the neck and heads of Medusa on the handles. The krater has a lid, which was used to filter out spices and herbs placed in the wine before it was to be mixed with water. As in the Hochdorf tomb, a cup had been carefully balanced on its edge, as if in readiness for use. In fact, here there were four cups of various styles placed on the rim.

Jewellery items included a large gold neck-ring or torc with bulbous terminals and which weighs almost half a kilogram (1.1 lb). The torc is a complex work and is composed of 20 separate pieces joined by a master craftworker who was familiar with the sophisticated goldsmith techniques then being used in the Mediterranean cultures far to the south. The deceased was also wearing a necklace made of amber and stone beads, ankle rings made of bronze, bracelets made from lignite, and a brooch with coral decoration. All of these items together illustrate that whoever this woman was, the ancient Celts were prepared to dedicate a great deal of time and wealth to her burial, suggesting she was a person of significant importance in the community in which she had lived.

General Studies

General overviews of the topic of death and conceptions of the afterlife in Judaism can be divided between biblical literature, including the apocrypha, pseudepigrapha, and New Testament (Bailey 1979, Collins 2002) and rabbinic literature (Lieberman 1965, Kraemer 2000, Raphael 2009). Several edited volumes (such as Avery-Peck and Neusner 2000, Berlejung and Janowski 2009), collectively cover the broader range of the subject within Jewish literature and culture. In light of the growing body of research into Near Eastern cultures, which comprised the historical background of ancient Israel and early Judaism, several surveys have embraced a comparative approach in their discussion of the broader topics of death and the afterlife (Segal 2004, Fischer 2005). In addition, some studies have incorporated archaeological research on burial into their literary interpretations of death (Kraemer 2000 and Hallote 2001).

Avery-Peck, Alan J., and Jacob Neusner, eds. Death, Life-After-Death, Resurrection and the World-to-Come in the Judaisms of Antiquity. Judaism in Late Antiquity 4. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2000.

A significant contribution to the study of death, this collection of essays covers the Hebrew Bible, early Jewish literature, and rabbinic texts.

Bailey, Lloyd R. Biblical Perspectives on Death. Overtures to Biblical Theology 5. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979.

The book’s overview includes New Testament perspectives but is primarily focused on the Hebrew Bible, including early Jewish literature, beginning with a comparative analysis of ancient Near Eastern texts.

Berlejung, Angelika, and Bernd Janowski, eds. Tod und Jenseits im Alten Israel und in seiner Umwelt: Theologische, religionsgeschichtliche, archäologische und ikonograpische Aspekte. Papers presented at an international conference held 16–18 March 2007, at the Universität Leipzig. Forschungen zum Alten Testament 64. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2009.

An important collection of German essays originally read at a 2007 conference in Leipzig on death and the afterlife, including chapters by Herbert Niehr and Bernd Janowski. The essays cover the Hebrew Bible and its ancient Near Eastern background, taking a largely comparative approach.

Collins, John J. “Death and Afterlife.” In The Biblical World. Vol. 1. Edited by John Barton, 357–377. New York: Routledge, 2002.

A concise, yet detailed, diachronic overview of the topic in ancient Israel and early Jewish and Christian texts. Collins presents the basic historical schema in which the earlier view of death did not involve a beatific afterlife until the Hellenistic period, where the concept developed during this important phase of Jewish history.

Fischer, Alexander Achilles. Tod und Jenseits im Alten Orient und Alten Testament. Neukirchen-Vluyn, Germany: Neukirchener Verlag, 2005.

An overview of death in the ancient Mediterranean world and the Hebrew Bible, integrating the literary images of the afterlife with ritual practices such as burial and feeding the dead.

Hallote, R. S. Death, Burial, and Afterlife in the Biblical World: How the Israelites and Their Neighbors Treated the Dead. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2001.

An analysis of death and burial in ancient Israel, and the Near East, that is paired with a discussion of attitudes toward the dead in Judaism up until the present. At the end of the book is an important discussion of the religious and political problems involved in excavating burials in modern Israel.

Kraemer, David Charles. The Meanings of Death in Rabbinic Judaism. New York: Routledge, 2000.

A study of the rabbinic conceptions of death that draws from the Mishnah and the Babylonian Talmud but also interacts with archaeological remains. The book concludes that the early rabbinic concepts of death were relatively consistent throughout the period, involved a dynamic understanding of death and dying, and were comparable with other cultures.

Lieberman, S. “Some Aspects of after Life in Early Rabbinic Literature.” In Harry Austryn Wolfson Jubilee Volume. By S. Lieberman, 495–532. Jerusalem: American Academy for Jewish Research, 1965.

A dated yet important discussion of postmortem problems in Rabbinic literature, such postmortem punishment, burial, existence in the grave, and resurrection. The chapter’s survey provides a thorough analysis of the literature along with classical texts as a comparative component.

Raphael, Simcha Paull. Jewish Views of the Afterlife. 2d ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009.

A wide-ranging discussion of Jewish sources regarding death and the afterlife, from the Hebrew Bible through rabbinic texts and up until the modern era. The book’s value and limitations are both due to its scope, which attempts to cover all things related to the wider topic.

Segal, Alan F. Life after Death: A History of the Afterlife in the Religions of the West. New York: Doubleday, 2004.

A substantial volume on the sociohistorical development of death and the afterlife in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic thought. Segal’s work is based on the comparative model that includes much discussion of biblical and ancient Near Eastern texts along with early Jewish and rabbinic literature.

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The Hochdorf Burial

The Hochdorf princely burial is located near Baden-Württemberg in southwest Germany and dates to the second half of the 6th century BCE. Once part of a burial mound since levelled and reconstructed, the tomb itself was undisturbed when excavated. The wooden walls of the chamber room were made of oak logs, each wall measuring around 4.7 metres (15.4 ft) in length.

Excavations revealed a single male occupant who was around 40 years of age when he died. He had been placed on top of a couch made of sheet bronze which measures an impressive 2.75 metres (9 ft) in length. The couch has small wheels below six of its eight legs – which are cast in the form of dancing girls – and is decorated with battle scenes and chariots. Also on the couch were furs, badger skins, and an assortment of twigs, feathers, and flowers. There was a cushion made of plaited grass below the deceased’s head. Clearly, if the occupant was about to embark on a journey, he was to do so in comfort.

A pair of thin, embossed gold coverings which decorated the shoes of the chieftain buried at Hochdorf around 530 BCE. This burial mound is associated with the Halstatt Culture, and is located near the remains of a Celtic village which contained several farmsteads. The man interred in the Iron Age burial mound is believed to have been a Celtic “prince” or chieftain. / Photo by Xuan Che, Flickr, Creative Commons

There was, too, a four-wheeled waggon complete with harnesses. Also present, presumably the personal items of the occupant, were a conical hat made of birchbark, a quiver of arrows, and hooks for fishing. Curiously, clothes had been laid out on the floor and hung from hooks on the walls. In another nod to his requirements in the Otherworld, the deceased was wearing around his neck a small bag containing a comb, razor, and nail clippers.

Precious goods include gold additions to the man’s clothing and leather boots, which, following analysis, were added within the tomb itself. Other fine goods are drinking vessels, dishes, and a massive bronze cauldron with lion decorations. The cauldron’s capacity is an impressive 500 litres (110 gallons). The cauldron is of Mediterranean origin and illustrates the trade then going on between Celts and neighbouring cultures. Examination of residue within the cauldron revealed it was once filled with mead, a honey-beer, with added ingredients which included jasmine and thyme. In an indication this was meant to be drunk at some point by the deceased, a gold cup was left sitting on the rim of the cauldron. The man wore a gold bracelet and a gold necklace, with another necklace made from amber beads. A life-size sandstone sculpture of a warrior was found nearby, and he wears the same type of hat as found in the tomb. The stone figure perhaps once stood guard over the princely tomb and may even have represented its occupant.

The Ancient Sumerians:

The ancient Sumerians had a hopeless and paralyzing fear of what awaited them in the afterlife, and The Epic of Gilgamesh is an essential text in understanding the ways in which they viewed their ultimate fate. In the epic, a close friend of Gilgamesh, named Enkidu, recalls a dream that he had concerning the afterlife and the souls he witnessed.

He states of the passed souls, “dust is their food, clay is their bread… they see no light and they dwell in darkness” (The Epic of Gilgamesh 38).

The Gods take notice of the power that Enkidu and Gilgamesh have been exhibiting on their various adventures, and as punishment for becoming too challenging to the Gods, Enkidu is killed by them.

Struck by grief, Gilgamesh sets on a quest to achieve immortality in order to avoid his friend’s fate and speaks to the immortal Up-napishtim. Gilgamesh is met with great disappointment when he is told that he will not obtain immortality because the Gods have designated death to all the living and retained immortality for themselves (The Epic of Gilgamesh 39).

This desperate and failed attempt to avoid Enkidu’s fate is a clear representation of the Sumerian fear that plagued their culture and daily lives. The grim underworld of souls eating clay is as pessimistic of an outlook on death as one could imagine, and the Sumerian attitude centered on this kind of existential dread represented in the poem.

However, there is a key silver lining based in the advice Up-napishtim gives him after denying him immortality.

He states, “Day and night enjoy yourself in every way, dance and play, wear fresh clothes… this is the work of the living” (The Epic of Gilgamesh 39).

The Sumerians found no comfort in what awaited them in the afterlife, but the cultural attitude was focused more so on the pleasure that could be acquired while living. If there was to be any enjoyment in their consciousness, it was only to be found in life, not death as Up-napishtim remarks.

In short, the Sumerians embodied the spirit of fear in death in a profound and all-encompassing manner.


Theists generally believe some afterlife awaits people when they die. Members of some generally non-theistic religions tend to believe in an afterlife but without reference to a deity. The Sadducees were an ancient Jewish sect that generally believed that there was a God but no existence after death.

Many religions, whether they believe in the soul's existence in another world like Christianity, Islam, and many pagan belief systems, or reincarnation like many forms of Hinduism and Buddhism, believe that one's status in the afterlife is are consequences for their conduct during life.

Reincarnation Edit

Reincarnation is the philosophical or religious concept that an aspect of a living being starts a new life in a different physical body or form after each death. It is also called rebirth or transmigration and is a part of the Saṃsāra doctrine of cyclic existence. [1] [2] It is a central tenet of all major Indian religions, namely Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism. [3] [4] [5] The idea of reincarnation is found in many ancient cultures, [6] and a belief in rebirth/metempsychosis was held by historic Greek figures, such as Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato. [7] It is also a common belief of various ancient and modern religions such as Spiritism, Theosophy, and Eckankar. It is found as well in many tribal societies around the world, in places such as Australia, East Asia, Siberia, and South America. [8]

Although the majority of denominations within the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam do not believe that individuals reincarnate, particular groups within these religions do refer to reincarnation these groups include the mainstream historical and contemporary followers of Kabbalah, the Cathars, Alawites, the Druze, [9] and the Rosicrucians. [10] The historical relations between these sects and the beliefs about reincarnation that were characteristic of Neoplatonism, Orphism, Hermeticism, Manicheanism, and Gnosticism of the Roman era as well as the Indian religions have been the subject of recent scholarly research. [11] Unity Church and its founder Charles Fillmore teach reincarnation.

Rosicrucians [12] speak of a life review period occurring immediately after death and before entering the afterlife's planes of existence (before the silver cord is broken), followed by a judgment, more akin to a final review or end report over one's life. [13]

Heaven and Hell Edit

Heaven, the heavens, Seven Heavens, pure lands, Tian, Jannah, Valhalla, or the Summerland, is a common religious, cosmological, or transcendent place where beings such as gods, angels, jinn, saints, or venerated ancestors are said to originate, be enthroned, or live. According to the beliefs of some religions, heavenly beings can descend to earth or incarnate, and earthly beings can ascend to heaven in the afterlife, or in exceptional cases enter heaven alive.

Heaven is often described as a "higher place", the holiest place, a paradise, in contrast to hell or the underworld or the "low places", and universally or conditionally accessible by earthly beings according to various standards of divinity, goodness, piety, faith or other virtues or right beliefs or simply the will of God. Some believe in the possibility of a heaven on Earth in a world to come.

In Hinduism, heaven is considered as Svarga loka. There are seven positive regions the soul can go to after death and seven negative regions. [14] After completing its stay in the respective region, the soul is subjected to rebirth in different living forms according to its karma. This cycle can be broken after a soul achieves Moksha or Nirvana. Any place of existence, either of humans, souls or deities, outside the tangible world (heaven, hell, or other) is referred to as otherworld.

Hell, in many religious and folkloric traditions, is a place of torment and punishment in the afterlife. Religions with a linear divine history often depict hell as an eternal destination, while religions with a cyclic history often depict a hell as an intermediary period between incarnations. Typically, these traditions locate hell in another dimension or under the earth's surface and often include entrances to hell from the land of the living. Other afterlife destinations include purgatory and limbo.

Traditions that do not conceive of the afterlife as a place of punishment or reward merely describe hell as an abode of the dead, the grave, a neutral place (for example, sheol or Hades) located under the surface of earth.

Ancient Egyptian religion Edit

The afterlife played an important role in Ancient Egyptian religion, and its belief system is one of the earliest known in recorded history. When the body died, parts of its soul known as ka (body double) and the ba (personality) would go to the Kingdom of the Dead. While the soul dwelt in the Fields of Aaru, Osiris demanded work as restitution for the protection he provided. Statues were placed in the tombs to serve as substitutes for the deceased. [15]

Arriving at one's reward in afterlife was a demanding ordeal, requiring a sin-free heart and the ability to recite the spells, passwords and formulae of the Book of the Dead. In the Hall of Two Truths, the deceased's heart was weighed against the Shu feather of truth and justice taken from the headdress of the goddess Ma'at. [16] If the heart was lighter than the feather, they could pass on, but if it were heavier they would be devoured by the demon Ammit. [17]

Egyptians also believed that being mummified and put in a sarcophagus (an ancient Egyptian "coffin" carved with complex symbols and designs, as well as pictures and hieroglyphs) was the only way to have an afterlife. Only if the corpse had been properly embalmed and entombed in a mastaba, could the dead live again in the Fields of Yalu and accompany the Sun on its daily ride. Due to the dangers the afterlife posed, the Book of the Dead was placed in the tomb with the body as well as food, jewellery, and 'curses'. They also used the "opening of the mouth". [18] [19]

Ancient Egyptian civilization was based on religion their belief in the rebirth after death became the driving force behind their funeral practices. Death was simply a temporary interruption, rather than complete cessation, of life, and that eternal life could be ensured by means like piety to the gods, preservation of the physical form through mummification, and the provision of statuary and other funerary equipment. Each human consisted of the physical body, the ka, the ba, and the akh. The Name and Shadow were also living entities. To enjoy the afterlife, all these elements had to be sustained and protected from harm. [20]

On 30 March 2010, a spokesman for the Egyptian Culture Ministry claimed it had unearthed a large red granite door in Luxor with inscriptions by User, [21] a powerful adviser to the 18th Dynasty Queen Hatshepsut who ruled between 1479 BC and 1458 BC, the longest of any woman. It believes the false door is a 'door to the Afterlife'. According to the archaeologists, the door was reused in a structure in Roman Egypt.

Ancient Greek and Roman religions Edit

The Greek god Hades is known in Greek mythology as the king of the underworld, a place where souls live after death. [22] The Greek god Hermes, the messenger of the gods, would take the dead soul of a person to the underworld (sometimes called Hades or the House of Hades). Hermes would leave the soul on the banks of the River Styx, the river between life and death. [23]

Charon, also known as the ferry-man, would take the soul across the river to Hades, if the soul had gold: Upon burial, the family of the dead soul would put coins under the deceased's tongue. Once crossed, the soul would be judged by Aeacus, Rhadamanthus and King Minos. The soul would be sent to Elysium, Tartarus, or Asphodel Fields. The Elysian Fields were for the ones that lived pure lives. It consisted of green fields, valleys and mountains, everyone there was peaceful and contented, and the Sun always shone there. Tartarus was for the people that blasphemed against the gods, or were simply rebellious and consciously evil. [24]

The Asphodel Fields were for a varied selection of human souls: Those whose sins equalled their goodness, were indecisive in their lives, or were not judged. Those who had sinned went to the deepest pit, Tartarus. In Tartarus, the soul would be punished by being burned in lava, or stretched on racks. Some heroes of Greek legend are allowed to visit the underworld. The Romans had a similar belief system about the afterlife, with Hades becoming known as Pluto. In the ancient Greek myth about the Labours of Heracles, the hero Heracles had to travel to the underworld to capture Cerberus, the three-headed guard dog, as one of his tasks.

In Dream of Scipio, Cicero describes what seems to be an out of body experience, of the soul traveling high above the Earth, looking down at the small planet, from far away. [25]

In Book VI of Virgil's Aeneid, the hero, Aeneas, travels to the underworld to see his father. By the River Styx, he sees the souls of those not given a proper burial, forced to wait by the river until someone buries them. While down there, along with the dead, he is shown the place where the wrongly convicted reside, the fields of sorrow where those who committed suicide and now regret it reside, including Aeneas' former lover, the warriors and shades, Tartarus (where the titans and powerful non-mortal enemies of the Olympians reside) where he can hear the groans of the imprisoned, the palace of Pluto, and the fields of Elysium where the descendants of the divine and bravest heroes reside. He sees the river of forgetfulness, Lethe, which the dead must drink to forget their life and begin anew. Lastly, his father shows him all of the future heroes of Rome who will live if Aeneas fulfills his destiny in founding the city.

Norse religion Edit

The Poetic and Prose Eddas, the oldest sources for information on the Norse concept of the afterlife, vary in their description of the several realms that are described as falling under this topic. The most well-known are:

    : (lit. "Hall of the Slain" i.e. "the Chosen Ones") Half the warriors who die in battle join the god Odin who rules over a majestic hall called Valhalla in Asgard. [26] : (lit. "Field of the Host") The other half join the goddess Freyja in a great meadow known as Fólkvangr. [27] : (lit. "The Covered Hall") : (lit. "The Dark" or "Misty Hel")

Baháʼí Faith Edit

The teachings of the Baháʼí Faith state that the nature of the afterlife is beyond the understanding of those living, just as an unborn fetus cannot understand the nature of the world outside of the womb. The Baháʼí writings state that the soul is immortal and after death it will continue to progress until it finally attains God's presence. [28] In Baháʼí belief, souls in the afterlife will continue to retain their individuality and consciousness and will be able to recognize and communicate spiritually with other souls whom they have made deep profound friendships with, such as their spouses. [29]

The Baháʼí scriptures also state there are distinctions between souls in the afterlife, and that souls will recognize the worth of their own deeds and understand the consequences of their actions. It is explained that those souls that have turned toward God will experience gladness, while those who have lived in error will become aware of the opportunities they have lost. Also, in the Baháʼí view, souls will be able to recognize the accomplishments of the souls that have reached the same level as themselves, but not those that have achieved a rank higher than them. [29]

Christianity Edit

Mainstream Christianity professes belief in the Nicene Creed, and English versions of the Nicene Creed in current use include the phrase: "We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come."

When questioned by the Sadducees about the resurrection of the dead (in a context relating to who one's spouse would be if one had been married several times in life), Jesus said that marriage will be irrelevant after the resurrection as the resurrected will be like the angels in heaven. [30]

Jesus also maintained that the time would come when the dead would hear the voice of the Son of God, and all who were in the tombs would come out those who have heard His "[commandments] and believes in the one who sent [Him]" to the resurrection of life, but those who do not to the resurrection of condemnation. [31]

The Book of Enoch describes Sheol as divided into four compartments for four types of the dead: the faithful saints who await resurrection in Paradise, the merely virtuous who await their reward, the wicked who await punishment, and the wicked who have already been punished and will not be resurrected on Judgment Day. [32] The Book of Enoch is considered apocryphal by most denominations of Christianity and all denominations of Judaism.

The book of 2 Maccabees gives a clear account of the dead awaiting a future resurrection and judgment, plus prayers and offerings for the dead to remove the burden of sin.

The author of Luke recounts the story of Lazarus and the rich man, which shows people in Hades awaiting the resurrection either in comfort or torment. The author of the Book of Revelation writes about God and the angels versus Satan and demons in an epic battle at the end of times when all souls are judged. There is mention of ghostly bodies of past prophets, and the transfiguration.

The non-canonical Acts of Paul and Thecla speak of the efficacy of prayer for the dead, so that they might be "translated to a state of happiness". [33]

Hippolytus of Rome pictures the underworld (Hades) as a place where the righteous dead, awaiting in the bosom of Abraham their resurrection, rejoice at their future prospect, while the unrighteous are tormented at the sight of the "lake of unquenchable fire" into which they are destined to be cast.

Gregory of Nyssa discusses the long-before believed possibility of purification of souls after death. [34]

Pope Gregory I repeats the concept, articulated over a century earlier by Gregory of Nyssa that the saved suffer purification after death, in connection with which he wrote of "purgatorial flames".

The noun "purgatorium" (Latin: place of cleansing [35] ) is used for the first time to describe a state of painful purification of the saved after life. The same word in adjectival form (purgatorius -a -um, cleansing), which appears also in non-religious writing, [36] was already used by Christians such as Augustine of Hippo and Pope Gregory I to refer to an after-death cleansing.

During the Age of Enlightenment, theologians and philosophers presented various philosophies and beliefs. A notable example is Emanuel Swedenborg who wrote some 18 theological works which describe in detail the nature of the afterlife according to his claimed spiritual experiences, the most famous of which is Heaven and Hell. [37] His report of life there covers a wide range of topics, such as marriage in heaven (where all angels are married), children in heaven (where they are raised by angel parents), time and space in heaven (there are none), the after-death awakening process in the World of Spirits (a place halfway between Heaven and Hell and where people first wake up after death), the allowance of a free will choice between Heaven or Hell (as opposed to being sent to either one by God), the eternity of Hell (one could leave but would never want to), and that all angels or devils were once people on earth. [37]

The Catholic Church Edit

The "Spiritual Combat", a written work by Lorenzo Scupoli, states that four assaults are attempted by the "evil one" at the hour of death. [38] The Catholic conception of the afterlife teaches that after the body dies, the soul is judged, the righteous and free of sin enter Heaven. However, those who die in unrepented mortal sin go to hell. In the 1990s, the Catechism of the Catholic Church defined hell not as punishment imposed on the sinner but rather as the sinner's self-exclusion from God. Unlike other Christian groups, the Catholic Church teaches that those who die in a state of grace, but still carry venial sin go to a place called Purgatory where they undergo purification to enter Heaven.

Limbo Edit

Despite popular opinion, Limbo, which was elaborated upon by theologians beginning in the Middle Ages, was never recognized as a dogma of the Catholic Church, yet, at times, it has been a very popular theological theory within the Church. Limbo is a theory that unbaptized but innocent souls, such as those of infants, virtuous individuals who lived before Jesus Christ was born on earth, or those that die before baptism exist in neither Heaven or Hell proper. Therefore, these souls neither merit the beatific vision, nor are subjected to any punishment, because they are not guilty of any personal sin although they have not received baptism, so still bear original sin. So they are generally seen as existing in a state of natural, but not supernatural, happiness, until the end of time.

In other Christian denominations it has been described as an intermediate place or state of confinement in oblivion and neglect. [39]

Purgatory Edit

The notion of purgatory is associated particularly with the Catholic Church. In the Catholic Church, all those who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven or the final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The tradition of the church, by reference to certain texts of scripture, speaks of a "cleansing fire" although it is not always called purgatory.

Anglicans of the Anglo-Catholic tradition generally also hold to the belief. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed in an intermediate state between death and the resurrection of the dead and in the possibility of "continuing to grow in holiness there", but Methodism does not officially affirm this belief and denies the possibility of helping by prayer any who may be in that state. [40]

Orthodox Christianity Edit

The Orthodox Church is intentionally reticent on the afterlife, as it acknowledges the mystery especially of things that have not yet occurred. Beyond the second coming of Jesus, bodily resurrection, and final judgment, all of which is affirmed in the Nicene Creed (325 CE), Orthodoxy does not teach much else in any definitive manner. Unlike Western forms of Christianity, however, Orthodoxy is traditionally non-dualist and does not teach that there are two separate literal locations of heaven and hell, but instead acknowledges that "the 'location' of one's final destiny—heaven or hell—as being figurative." [41]

Instead, Orthodoxy teaches that the final judgment is simply one's uniform encounter with divine love and mercy, but this encounter is experienced multifariously depending on the extent to which one has been transformed, partaken of divinity, and is therefore compatible or incompatible with God. "The monadic, immutable, and ceaseless object of eschatological encounter is therefore the love and mercy of God, his glory which infuses the heavenly temple, and it is the subjective human reaction which engenders multiplicity or any division of experience." [41] For instance, St. Isaac the Syrian observes that "those who are punished in Gehenna, are scourged by the scourge of love. . The power of love works in two ways: it torments sinners . [as] bitter regret. But love inebriates the souls of the sons of Heaven by its delectability." [42] In this sense, the divine action is always, immutably, and uniformly love and if one experiences this love negatively, the experience is then one of self-condemnation because of free will rather than condemnation by God.

Orthodoxy therefore uses the description of Jesus' judgment in John 3:19–21 as their model: "19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God." As a characteristically Orthodox understanding, then, Fr. Thomas Hopko writes, "[I]t is precisely the presence of God's mercy and love which cause the torment of the wicked. God does not punish he forgives. . In a word, God has mercy on all, whether all like it or not. If we like it, it is paradise if we do not, it is hell. Every knee will bend before the Lord. Everything will be subject to Him. God in Christ will indeed be "all and in all," with boundless mercy and unconditional pardon. But not all will rejoice in God's gift of forgiveness, and that choice will be judgment, the self-inflicted source of their sorrow and pain." [43]

Moreover, Orthodoxy includes a prevalent tradition of apokatastasis, or the restoration of all things in the end. This has been taught most notably by Origen, but also many other Church fathers and Saints, including Gregory of Nyssa. The Second Council of Constantinople (553 CE) affirmed the orthodoxy of Gregory of Nyssa while simultaneously condemning Origen's brand of universalism because it taught the restoration back to our pre-existent state, which Orthodoxy doesn't teach. It is also a teaching of such eminent Orthodox theologians as Olivier Clément, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, and Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev. [44] Although apokatastasis is not a dogma of the church but instead a theologoumenon, it is no less a teaching of the Orthodox Church than its rejection. As Met. Kallistos Ware explains, "It is heretical to say that all must be saved, for this is to deny free will but, it is legitimate to hope that all may be saved," [45] as insisting on torment without end also denies free will.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Edit

Joseph F. Smith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints presents an elaborate vision of the afterlife. It is revealed as the scene of an extensive missionary effort by righteous spirits in paradise to redeem those still in darkness—a spirit prison or "hell" where the spirits of the dead remain until judgment. It is divided into two parts: Spirit Prison and Paradise. Together these are also known as the Spirit World (also Abraham's Bosom see Luke 16:19–25). They believe that Christ visited spirit prison (1 Peter 3:18–20) and opened the gate for those who repent to cross over to Paradise. This is similar to the Harrowing of Hell doctrine of some mainstream Christian faiths. [46] Both Spirit Prison and Paradise are temporary according to Latter-day Saint beliefs. After the resurrection, spirits are assigned "permanently" to three degrees of heavenly glory, determined by how they lived – Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial. (1 Cor 15:44–42 Doctrine and Covenants, Section 76) Sons of Perdition, or those who have known and seen God and deny it, will be sent to the realm of Satan, which is called Outer Darkness, where they shall live in misery and agony forever. [47] However, according to Mormon faith, since most persons lack the amount of knowledge to commit the Eternal sin, they are incapable of becoming sons of perdition. [48]

The Celestial Kingdom is believed to be a place where the righteous can live eternally with their families. Progression does not end once one has entered the Celestial Kingdom, but it extends eternally. According to "True to the Faith" (a handbook on doctrines in the LDS faith), "The celestial kingdom is the place prepared for those who have "received the testimony of Jesus" and been "made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood" (D&C 76:51, 69). To inherit this gift, we must receive the ordinances of salvation, keep the commandments, and repent of our sins." [49]

Jehovah's Witnesses Edit

Jehovah's Witnesses occasionally use terms such as "afterlife" [50] to refer to any hope for the dead, but they understand Ecclesiastes 9:5 to preclude belief in an immortal soul. [51] Individuals judged by God to be wicked, such as in the Great Flood or at Armageddon, are given no hope of an afterlife. However, they believe that after Armageddon there will be a bodily resurrection of "both righteous and unrighteous" dead (but not the "wicked"). Survivors of Armageddon and those who are resurrected are then to gradually restore earth to a paradise. [52] After Armageddon, unrepentant sinners are punished with eternal death (non-existence).

Seventh-day Adventists Edit

The Seventh-day Adventist Church's beliefs regarding the afterlife differ from other Christian churches. Rather than ascend to Heaven or descend to Hell, Adventists believe the dead "remain unconscious until the return of Christ in judgement". The concept that the dead remain dead until resurrection is one of the fundamental beliefs of Seventh-day Adventist. [53] Adventists believe that death is an unconscious state (a “sleep”). This is based on Matt. 9:24 Mark 5:39 John 11:11-14 1 Cor. 15:51, 52 1 Thess. 4:13-17 2 Peter 3:4 Eccl. 9:5, 6, 10. At death, all consciousness ends. The dead person does not know anything and does not do anything. [54] They believe that death is creation, only in reverse. Ecclesiastes 12:7. When a person dies, the body turns to dust again, and the spirit goes back to God, who gave it. The spirit of every person who dies—whether saved or unsaved—returns to God at death. The spirit that returns to God at death is the breath of life. [55]

Islam Edit

The Islamic belief in the afterlife as stated in the Quran is descriptive. The Arabic word for Paradise is Jannah and Hell is Jahannam. Their level of comfort while in the grave (according to some commentators) depends wholly on their level of iman or faith in the one almighty creator or supreme being (God or Allah). In order for one to achieve proper, firm and healthy iman one must practice righteous deeds or else his level of iman chokes and shrinks and eventually can wither away if one does not practice Islam long enough, hence the depth of practicing Islam is good deeds. One may also acquire tasbih and recite the names of Allah in such manner as Subahann Allah or "Glory be to Allah" over and over again to acquire good deeds, all for the cause to reach absolute beliefe to elevate the spiritual entity that will find its creator (source). This ultimate goal is recited in one of the most prominent verses in Quraan, the first Sura in the Quraan, named Alfateha in the 5th verse "Ehdina al serata al mostaqeem" meaning "guide us to the straight path", and the following verses follows describing this path as "The way of those on whom you have bestowed your grace, not the way of those who earned your anger, nor of those who went astray".

In the Quran, Allah gives warning about grievous punishment to those who do not believe in the afterlife (Akhirah), [56] and admonishes mankind that Hell is prepared for those who deny the meeting with god. [57]

Islam teaches that the purpose of Man's entire creation is to worship God alone, which includes being kind to other human beings and life, including animals, and to trees, by not oppressing them. Islam teaches that the life we live on Earth is nothing but a test for us and to determine each individual's ultimate abode, be it Hell or Paradise in the afterlife, which is eternal and everlasting.

Jannah and Jahannam both have different levels. Jannah has eight gates and eight levels. The higher the level the better it is and the happier you are. Jahannam possess 7 deep terrible layers. The lower the layer the worse it is. Individuals will arrive at both everlasting places during Judgment Day, which commences after the Angel Israfil blows the trumpet the second time. Islam teaches the continued existence of the soul and a transformed physical existence after death. Muslims believe there will be a day of judgment when all humans will be judged by God and assigned between the eternal destinations of Paradise and Hell.

In the 20th century, discussions about the afterlife address the interconnection between human action and divine judgment, the need for moral rectitude, and the eternal consequences of human action in this life and world. [58]

A central doctrine of the Quran is the Last Day, on which the world will come to an end and God will raise all people and jinn from the dead to be judged. The Last Day is also called the Day of Standing Up, Day of Separation, Day of Reckoning, Day of Awakening, Day of Judgment, The Encompassing Day or The Hour.

Until the Day of Judgment, deceased souls remain in their graves awaiting the resurrection. However, they begin to feel immediately a taste of their destiny to come. Those bound for hell will suffer in their graves, while those bound for heaven will be in peace until that time.

The resurrection that will take place on the Last Day is physical, and is explained by suggesting that God will re-create the decayed body (17:100: "Could they not see that God who created the heavens and the earth is able to create the like of them?").

On the Last Day, resurrected humans and jinn will be judged by God according to their deeds. One's eternal destination depends on balance of good to bad deeds in life. They are either granted admission to Paradise, where they will enjoy spiritual and physical pleasures forever, or condemned to Hell to suffer spiritual and physical torment for eternity. The day of judgment is described as passing over Hell on a narrow bridge (as thin as human hair and sharper than a razor) in order to enter Paradise. Those who fall, weighted by their bad deeds, will go to Hell.

In Islam, Believers are those who believed in oneness of God and did not associate any partners with him or did not give the attributes of God to any other entity. It is an established belief that if a believer goes to hell for his sins being greater than his good deeds, he will not remain in hell forever. When punishment for his sins will be over, God will forgive him and grant him heaven.

Quran 4:48 says "Indeed, Allah does not forgive association with Him, but He forgives what is less than that for whom He wills. And he who associates others with Allah has certainly fabricated a tremendous sin".

Ahmadiyya Edit

Ahmadi believe that the afterlife is not material but of a spiritual nature. According to Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of Ahmadiyya religion, the soul will give birth to another rarer entity and will resemble the life on this earth in the sense that this entity will bear a similar relationship to the soul as the soul bears relationship with the human existence on earth. On earth, if a person leads a righteous life and submits to the will of God, his or her tastes become attuned to enjoying spiritual pleasures as opposed to carnal desires. With this, an "embryonic soul" begins to take shape. Different tastes are said to be born which a person given to carnal passions finds no enjoyment. For example, sacrifice of one's own rights over that of others becomes enjoyable, or that forgiveness becomes second nature. In such a state a person finds contentment and peace at heart and at this stage, according to Ahmadiyya beliefs, it can be said that a soul within the soul has begun to take shape. [59]

Sufi Edit

The Sufi scholar Ibn 'Arabi defined Barzakh as the intermediate realm or "isthmus." It is between the world of corporeal bodies and the world of spirits, and is a means of contact between the two worlds. Without it, there would be no contact between the two and both would cease to exist. He described it as simple and luminous, like the world of spirits, but also able to take on many different forms just like the world of corporeal bodies can. In broader terms Barzakh, "is anything that separates two things". It has been called the dream world in which the dreamer is in both life and death. [60]

Judaism Edit

Sheol Edit

Sheol, in the Hebrew Bible, is a place of darkness (Job x. 21, 22) to which all the dead go, both the righteous and the unrighteous, regardless of the moral choices made in life, (Gen. xxxvii. 36 Ezek. xxxii. Isa. xiv. Job xxx. 23), a place of stillness, (Ps. lxxxviii. 13, xciv. 17 Eccl. ix. 10), at the longest possible distance from heaven, (Job xi. 8 Amos ix. 2 Ps. cxxxix. 8). [61]

The inhabitants of Sheol are the "shades" (rephaim), entities without personality or strength. [62] Under some circumstances they are thought to be able to be contacted by the living, as the Witch of Endor contacts the shade of Samuel for Saul, but such practices are forbidden (Deuteronomy 18:10). [63]

While the Hebrew Bible appears to describe Sheol as the permanent place of the dead, in the Second Temple period (roughly 500 BC – 70 AD) a more diverse set of ideas developed. In some texts, Sheol is considered to be the home of both the righteous and the wicked, separated into respective compartments in others, it was considered a place of punishment, meant for the wicked dead alone. [64] When the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek in ancient Alexandria around 200 BC, the word "Hades" (the Greek underworld) was substituted for Sheol. This is reflected in the New Testament where Hades is both the underworld of the dead and the personification of the evil it represents. [64]

World to Come Edit

The Talmud offers a number of thoughts relating to the afterlife. After death, the soul is brought for judgment. Those who have led pristine lives enter immediately into the Olam Haba or world to come. Most do not enter the world to come immediately, but now experience a period of review of their earthly actions and they are made aware of what they have done wrong. Some view this period as being a "re-schooling", with the soul gaining wisdom as one's errors are reviewed. Others view this period to include spiritual discomfort for past wrongs. At the end of this period, not longer than one year, the soul then takes its place in the world to come. Although discomforts are made part of certain Jewish conceptions of the afterlife, the concept of "eternal damnation", so prevalent in other religions, is not a tenet of the Jewish afterlife. According to the Talmud, extinction of the soul is reserved for a far smaller group of malicious and evil leaders, either whose very evil deeds go way beyond norms, or who lead large groups of people to utmost evil. [65] [66] This is also part of Maimonides' 13 principles of faith. [67]

Maimonides describes the Olam Haba in spiritual terms, relegating the prophesied physical resurrection to the status of a future miracle, unrelated to the afterlife or the Messianic era. According to Maimonides, an afterlife continues for the soul of every human being, a soul now separated from the body in which it was "housed" during its earthly existence. [68]

The Zohar describes Gehenna not as a place of punishment for the wicked but as a place of spiritual purification for souls. [69]

Reincarnation in Jewish tradition Edit

Although there is no reference to reincarnation in the Talmud or any prior writings, [70] according to rabbis such as Avraham Arieh Trugman, reincarnation is recognized as being part and parcel of Jewish tradition. Trugman explains that it is through oral tradition that the meanings of the Torah, its commandments and stories, are known and understood. The classic work of Jewish mysticism, [71] the Zohar, is quoted liberally in all Jewish learning in the Zohar the idea of reincarnation is mentioned repeatedly. Trugman states that in the last five centuries the concept of reincarnation, which until then had been a much hidden tradition within Judaism, was given open exposure. [71]

Shraga Simmons commented that within the Bible itself, the idea [of reincarnation] is intimated in Deut. 25:5–10, Deut. 33:6 and Isaiah 22:14, 65:6. [72]

Yirmiyahu Ullman wrote that reincarnation is an "ancient, mainstream belief in Judaism". The Zohar makes frequent and lengthy references to reincarnation. Onkelos, a righteous convert and authoritative commentator of the same period, explained the verse, "Let Reuben live and not die . " (Deuteronomy 33:6) to mean that Reuben should merit the World to Come directly, and not have to die again as a result of being reincarnated. Torah scholar, commentator and kabbalist, Nachmanides (Ramban 1195–1270), attributed Job's suffering to reincarnation, as hinted in Job's saying "God does all these things twice or three times with a man, to bring back his soul from the pit to . the light of the living' (Job 33:29, 30)." [73]

Reincarnation, called gilgul, became popular in folk belief, and is found in much Yiddish literature among Ashkenazi Jews. Among a few kabbalists, it was posited that some human souls could end up being reincarnated into non-human bodies. These ideas were found in a number of Kabbalistic works from the 13th century, and also among many mystics in the late 16th century. Martin Buber's early collection of stories of the Baal Shem Tov's life includes several that refer to people reincarnating in successive lives. [74]

Among well known (generally non-kabbalist or anti-kabbalist) rabbis who rejected the idea of reincarnation are Saadia Gaon, David Kimhi, Hasdai Crescas, Yedayah Bedershi (early 14th century), Joseph Albo, Abraham ibn Daud, the Rosh and Leon de Modena. Saadia Gaon, in Emunoth ve-Deoth (Hebrew: "beliefs and opinions") concludes Section VI with a refutation of the doctrine of metempsychosis (reincarnation). While rebutting reincarnation, Saadia Gaon further states that Jews who hold to reincarnation have adopted non-Jewish beliefs. By no means do all Jews today believe in reincarnation, but belief in reincarnation is not uncommon among many Jews, including Orthodox.

Other well-known rabbis who are reincarnationists include Yonassan Gershom, Abraham Isaac Kook, Talmud scholar Adin Steinsaltz, DovBer Pinson, David M. Wexelman, Zalman Schachter, [75] and many others. Reincarnation is cited by authoritative biblical commentators, including Ramban (Nachmanides), Menachem Recanti and Rabbenu Bachya.

Among the many volumes of Yitzchak Luria, most of which come down from the pen of his primary disciple, Chaim Vital, are insights explaining issues related to reincarnation. His Shaar HaGilgulim, "The Gates of Reincarnation", is a book devoted exclusively to the subject of reincarnation in Judaism.

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg of The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute notes that "Many ideas that originate in other religions and belief systems have been popularized in the media and are taken for granted by unassuming Jews." [76]

Buddhism Edit

Buddhists maintain that rebirth takes place without an unchanging self or soul passing from one form to another. [77] The type of rebirth will be conditioned by the moral tone of the person's actions (kamma or karma). For example, if a person has committed harmful actions by body, speech and mind based on greed, hate and delusion, would have his/her rebirth in a lower realm, i.e. an animal, a hungry ghost or a hell realm, is to be expected. On the other hand, where a person has performed skillful actions based on generosity, loving-kindness (metta), compassion and wisdom, rebirth in a happy realm, i.e. human or one of the many heavenly realms, can be expected.

Yet the mechanism of rebirth with kamma is not deterministic. It depends on various levels of kamma. The most important moment that determines where a person is reborn into is the last thought moment. At that moment, heavy kamma would ripen if there were performed, if not then near death kamma, if not then habitual kamma, finally if none of the above happened, then residual kamma from previous actions can ripen. According to Theravada Buddhism, there are 31 realms of existence that one can be reborn into.

Pure Land Buddhism of Mahayana believes in a special place apart from the 31 planes of existence called Pure Land. It is believed that each Buddha has their own pure land, created out of their merits for the sake of sentient beings who recall them mindfully to be able to be reborn in their pure land and train to become a Buddha there. Thus the main practice of pure land Buddhism is to chant a Buddha's name.

In Tibetan Buddhism the Tibetan Book of the Dead explains the intermediate state of humans between death and reincarnation. The deceased will find the bright light of wisdom, which shows a straightforward path to move upward and leave the cycle of reincarnation. There are various reasons why the deceased do not follow that light. Some had no briefing about the intermediate state in the former life. Others only used to follow their basic instincts like animals. And some have fear, which results from foul deeds in the former life or from insistent haughtiness. In the intermediate state the awareness is very flexible, so it is important to be virtuous, adopt a positive attitude, and avoid negative ideas. Ideas which are rising from subconsciousness can cause extreme tempers and cowing visions. In this situation they have to understand, that these manifestations are just reflections of the inner thoughts. No one can really hurt them, because they have no more material body. The deceased get help from different Buddhas who show them the path to the bright light. The ones who do not follow the path after all will get hints for a better reincarnation. They have to release the things and beings on which or whom they still hang from the life before. It is recommended to choose a family where the parents trust in the Dharma and to reincarnate with the will to care for the welfare of all beings.

"Life is cosmic energy of the universe and after death it merges in universe again and as the time comes to find the suitable place for the entity died in the life condition it gets born. There are 10 life states of any life: Hell, hunger, anger, animality, rapture, humanity, learning, realization, bodhisatva and buddhahood. The life dies in which life condition it reborn in the same life condition." [ This quote needs a citation ]

Hinduism Edit

The Upanishads describe reincarnation (punarjanma) (see also: samsara). The Bhagavad Gita, an important Hindu script, talks extensively about the afterlife. Here, Krishna says that just as a man discards his old clothes and wears new ones similarly the soul discards the old body and takes on a new one. In Hinduism, the belief is that the body is nothing but a shell, the soul inside is immutable and indestructible and takes on different lives in a cycle of birth and death. The end of this cycle is called mukti (Sanskrit: मुक्ति) and staying finally with supreme God forever is moksha (Sanskrit: मोक्ष) or salvation.

The Garuda Purana deals solely with what happens to a person after death. The God of Death Yama sends his representatives to collect the soul from a person's body whenever he is due for death and they take the soul to Yama. A record of each person's timings & deeds performed by him is kept in a ledger by Yama's assistant, Chitragupta.

The soul, called atman leaves the body and reincarnates itself according to the deeds or karma performed by one in last birth. Rebirth would be in form of animals or other lower creatures if one performed bad karmas and in human form in a good family with joyous lifetime if the person was good in last birth. In between the two births a human is also required to either face punishments for bad karmas in "naraka" or hell or enjoy for the good karmas in swarga or heaven for good deeds. Whenever his or her punishments or rewards are over he or she is sent back to earth, also known as Mrutyulok or human world. A person stays with the God or ultimate power when he discharges only & only yajna karma (means work done for satisfaction of supreme lord only) in last birth and the same is called as moksha or nirvana, which is the ultimate goal of a self realised soul. Atma moves with Parmatma or the greatest soul. According to Bhagavad Gita an Atma or soul never dies, what dies is the body only made of five elements—Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Sky. Soul is believed to be indestructible. None of the five elements can harm or influence it. Hinduism through Garuda Purana also describes in detail various types of narkas or Hells where a person after death is punished for his bad karmas and dealt with accordingly.

Hindus also believe in karma. Karma is the accumulated sums of one's good or bad deeds. Satkarma means good deeds, vikarma means bad deeds. According to Hinduism the basic concept of karma is 'As you sow, you shall reap'. So, if a person has lived a good life, they will be rewarded in the afterlife. Similarly their sum of bad deeds will be mirrored in their next life. Good karma brings good rewards and bad karmas lead to bad results. There is no judgment here. People accumulate karma through their actions and even thoughts. In Bhagavad Gita when Arjuna hesitates to kill his kith and kin the lord reprimands him saying thus,

"Do you believe that you are the doer of the action. No. You are merely an instrument in MY hands. Do you believe that the people in front of you are living? Dear Arjuna, they are already dead. As a kshatriya (warrior) it is your duty to protect your people and land. If you fail to do your duty, then you are not adhering to dharmic principles." [78]

Jainism Edit

Jainism also believes in the afterlife. They believe that the soul takes on a body form based on previous karmas or actions performed by that soul through eternity. Jains believe the soul is eternal and that the freedom from the cycle of reincarnation is the means to attain eternal bliss. [79]

Sikhism Edit

The essential doctrine of Sikhism is to experience the divine through simple living, meditation and contemplation while being alive. Sikhism also has the belief of being in union with God while living. Accounts of afterlife are considered to be aimed at the popular prevailing views of the time so as to provide a referential framework without necessarily establishing a belief in the afterlife. Thus while it is also acknowledged that living the life of a householder is above the metaphysical truth, Sikhism can be considered agnostic to the question of an afterlife. Some scholars also interpret the mention of reincarnation to be naturalistic akin to the biogeochemical cycles. [80]

But if one analyses the Sikh Scriptures carefully, one may find that on many occasions the afterlife and the existence of heaven and hell are mentioned in Guru Granth Sahib and in Dasam Granth, so from that it can be concluded that Sikhism does believe in the existence of heaven and hell however, heaven and hell are created to temporarily reward and punish, and one will then take birth again until one merges in God. According to the Sikh scriptures, the human form is the closet form to God and the best opportunity for a human being to attain salvation and merge back with God. Sikh Gurus said that nothing dies, nothing is born, everything is ever present, and it just changes forms. Like standing in front of a wardrobe, you pick up a dress and wear it and then you discard it. You wear another one. Thus, in the view of Sikhism, your soul is never born and never dies. Your soul is a part of God and hence lives forever. [81]

Traditional African religions Edit

Traditional African religions are diverse in their beliefs in an afterlife. Hunter-gatherer societies such as the Hadza have no particular belief in an afterlife, and the death of an individual is a straightforward end to their existence. [82] Ancestor cults are found throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, including cultures like the Yombe, [83] Beng, [84] Yoruba and Ewe, "[T]he belief that the dead come back into life and are reborn into their families is given concrete expression in the personal names that are given to children. What is reincarnated are some of the dominant characteristics of the ancestor and not his soul. For each soul remains distinct and each birth represents a new soul." [85] The Yoruba, Dogon and LoDagoa have eschatological ideas similar to Abrahamic religions, "but in most African societies, there is a marked absence of such clear-cut notions of heaven and hell, although there are notions of God judging the soul after death." [85] In some societies like the Mende, multiple beliefs coexist. The Mende believe that people die twice: once during the process of joining the secret society, and again during biological death after which they become ancestors. However, some Mende also believe that after people are created by God they live ten consecutive lives, each in progressively descending worlds. [86] One cross-cultural theme is that the ancestors are part of the world of the living, interacting with it regularly. [87] [88] [89]

Shinto Edit

It is common for families to participate in ceremonies for children at a shrine, yet have a Buddhist funeral at the time of death. In old Japanese legends, it is often claimed that the dead go to a place called yomi (黄泉), a gloomy underground realm with a river separating the living from the dead mentioned in the legend of Izanami and Izanagi. This yomi very closely resembles the Greek Hades however, later myths include notions of resurrection and even Elysium-like descriptions such as in the legend of Okuninushi and Susanoo. Shinto tends to hold negative views on death and corpses as a source of pollution called kegare. However, death is also viewed as a path towards apotheosis in Shintoism as can be evidenced by how legendary individuals become enshrined after death. Perhaps the most famous would be Emperor Ojin who was enshrined as Hachiman the God of War after his death.

Unitarian Universalism Edit

Some Unitarian Universalists believe in universalism: that all souls will ultimately be saved and that there are no torments of hell. [90] Unitarian Universalists differ widely in their theology hence there is no exact same stance on the issue. [91] Although Unitarians historically believed in a literal hell, and Universalists historically believed that everyone goes to heaven, modern Unitarian Universalists can be categorized into those believing in a heaven, reincarnation and oblivion. Most Unitarian Universalists believe that heaven and hell are symbolic places of consciousness and the faith is largely focused on the worldly life rather than any possible afterlife. [92]

Spiritualism Edit

According to Edgar Cayce, the afterlife consisted of nine realms equated with the nine planets of astrology. The first, symbolized by Saturn, was a level for the purification of the souls. The second, Mercury's realm, gives us the ability to consider problems as a whole. The third of the nine soul realms is ruled by Earth and is associated with the Earthly pleasures. The fourth realm is where we find out about love and is ruled by Venus. The fifth realm is where we meet our limitations and is ruled by Mars. The sixth realm is ruled by Neptune, and is where we begin to use our creative powers and free ourselves from the material world. The seventh realm is symbolized by Jupiter, which strengthens the soul's ability to depict situations, to analyze people and places, things, and conditions. The eighth afterlife realm is ruled by Uranus and develops psychic ability. The ninth afterlife realm is symbolized by Pluto, the astrological realm of the unconscious. This afterlife realm is a transient place where souls can choose to travel to other realms or other solar systems, it is the souls liberation into eternity, and is the realm that opens the doorway from our solar system into the cosmos point of view. [93]

Mainstream Spiritualists postulate a series of seven realms that are not unlike Edgar Cayce's nine realms ruled by the planets. As it evolves, the soul moves higher and higher until it reaches the ultimate realm of spiritual oneness. The first realm, equated with hell, is the place where troubled souls spend a long time before they are compelled to move up to the next level. The second realm, where most souls move directly, is thought of as an intermediate transition between the lower planes of life and hell and the higher perfect realms of the universe. The third level is for those who have worked with their karmic inheritance. The fourth level is that from which evolved souls teach and direct those on Earth. The fifth level is where the soul leaves human consciousness behind. At the sixth plane, the soul is finally aligned with the cosmic consciousness and has no sense of separateness or individuality. Finally, the seventh level, the goal of each soul, is where the soul transcends its own sense of "soulfulness" and reunites with the World Soul and the universe. [93]

Wicca Edit

The Wiccan afterlife is most commonly described as The Summerland. Here, souls rest, recuperate from life, and reflect on the experiences they had during their lives. After a period of rest, the souls are reincarnated, and the memory of their previous lives is erased. Many Wiccans see The Summerland as a place to reflect on their life actions. It is not a place of reward, but rather the end of a life journey at an end point of incarnations. [94]

Zoroastrianism Edit

Zoroastrianism states that the urvan, the disembodied spirit, lingers on earth for three days before departing downward to the kingdom of the dead that is ruled by Yima. For the three days that it rests on Earth, righteous souls sit at the head of their body, chanting the Ustavaiti Gathas with joy, while a wicked person sits at the feet of the corpse, wails and recites the Yasna. Zoroastrianism states that for the righteous souls, a beautiful maiden, which is the personification of the soul's good thoughts, words and deeds, appears. For a wicked person, a very old, ugly, naked hag appears. After three nights, the soul of the wicked is taken by the demon Vizaresa (Vīzarəša), to Chinvat bridge, and is made to go to darkness (hell).

Yima is believed to have been the first king on earth to rule, as well as the first man to die. Inside of Yima's realm, the spirits live a shadowy existence, and are dependent on their own descendants which are still living on Earth. Their descendants are to satisfy their hunger and clothe them, through rituals done on earth.

Rituals which are done on the first three days are vital and important, as they protect the soul from evil powers and give it strength to reach the underworld. After three days, the soul crosses Chinvat bridge which is the Final Judgment of the soul. Rashnu and Sraosha are present at the final judgment. The list is expanded sometimes, and include Vahman and Ormazd. Rashnu is the yazata who holds the scales of justice. If the good deeds of the person outweigh the bad, the soul is worthy of paradise. If the bad deeds outweigh the good, the bridge narrows down to the width of a blade-edge, and a horrid hag pulls the soul in her arms, and takes it down to hell with her.

Misvan Gatu is the "place of the mixed ones" where the souls lead a gray existence, lacking both joy and sorrow. A soul goes here if his/her good deeds and bad deeds are equal, and Rashnu's scale is equal.

The Society for Psychical Research was founded in 1882 with the express intention of investigating phenomena relating to Spiritualism and the afterlife. Its members continue to conduct scientific research on the paranormal to this day. Some of the earliest attempts to apply scientific methods to the study of phenomena relating to an afterlife were conducted by this organization. Its earliest members included noted scientists like William Crookes, and philosophers such as Henry Sidgwick and William James.

Parapsychological investigation of the afterlife includes the study of haunting, apparitions of the deceased, instrumental trans-communication, electronic voice phenomena, and mediumship. [95]

A study conducted in 1901 by physician Duncan MacDougall sought to measure the weight lost by a human when the soul "departed the body" upon death. [96] MacDougall weighed dying patients in an attempt to prove that the soul was material, tangible and thus measurable. Although MacDougall's results varied considerably from "21 grams", for some people this figure has become synonymous with the measure of a soul's mass. [97] The title of the 2003 movie 21 Grams is a reference to MacDougall's findings. His results have never been reproduced, and are generally regarded either as meaningless or considered to have had little if any scientific merit. [98]

Frank Tipler has argued that physics can explain immortality, although such arguments are not falsifiable and, in Karl Popper's views, they do not qualify as science. [99]

After 25 years of parapsychological research Susan Blackmore came to the conclusion that, according to her experiences, there is not enough empirical evidence for many of these cases. [100] [101]

Mediumship Edit

There are mediums who claim to have contacts to deceased people examples of these mediums include Tyler Henry and Pascal Voggenhuber.

Near death research Edit

Modern philosophy Edit

There is a view based on the philosophical question of personal identity, termed open individualism by Daniel Kolak. It concludes that individual conscious experience is illusory, and because consciousness continues after death in all conscious beings, you do not die. This position has been supported by notable physicists such as Erwin Schrödinger and Freeman Dyson. [104]

Certain problems arise with the idea of a particular person continuing after death. Peter van Inwagen, in his argument regarding resurrection, notes that the materialist must have some sort of physical continuity. [105] John Hick also raises questions regarding personal identity in his book, Death and Eternal Life, using an example of a person ceasing to exist in one place while an exact replica appears in another. If the replica had all the same experiences, traits, and physical appearances of the first person, we would all attribute the same identity to the second, according to Hick. [ citation needed ]

Process philosophy Edit

In the panentheistic model of process philosophy and theology the writers Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne rejected the idea that the universe was made of substance, instead saying reality is composed of living experiences (occasions of experience). According to Hartshorne people do not experience subjective (or personal) immortality in the afterlife, but they do have objective immortality because their experiences live on forever in God, who contains all that was. However other process philosophers such as David Ray Griffin have written that people may have subjective experience after death. [106] [107] [108] [109]

Psychological proposals for the origin of a belief in an afterlife include cognitive disposition, cultural learning, and as an intuitive religious idea. [110] In one study, children were able to recognize the ending of physical, mental, and perceptual activity in death, but were hesitant to conclude the ending of will, self, or emotion in death. [111]

In 2008, a large-scale study conducted by the University of Southampton involving 2060 patients from 15 hospitals in the United Kingdom, United States and Austria was launched. The AWARE (AWAreness during REsuscitation) study examined the broad range of mental experiences in relation to death. In a large study, researchers also tested the validity of conscious experiences for the first time using objective markers, to determine whether claims of awareness compatible with out-of-body experiences correspond with real or hallucinatory events. [112] The results revealed that 40% of those who survived a cardiac arrest were aware during the time that they were clinically dead and before their hearts were restarted. One patient also had a verified out-of-body experience (over 80% of patients did not survive their cardiac arrest or were too sick to be interviewed), but his cardiac arrest occurred in a room without markers. Dr. Parnia in the interview stated, "The evidence thus far suggests that in the first few minutes after death, consciousness is not annihilated." [113] The study continues in AWARE II, which is set to be completed in September 2020.

Studies have also been done on the widely reported phenomenon of Near Death Experiences. Experiencers commonly report being transported to a different “realm” or “plane of existence” and they have been shown to display a lasting positive aftereffect on most experiencers. [114]

Final Farewell: The Culture of Death and the Afterlife

"Pale death knocks at poor men’s hovels and king’s palaces alike." Horace, Roman poet, 65–8 B.C.E.

The words of the Roman poet Horace aptly portray the inevitable reach of death into all social strata of a given culture. This transcultural, common denominator has generated centuries of custom and tradition surrounding the passage of life and that which lies beyond. Moreover, such ideas concerning death and the afterlife have resulted in an expansive and diverse legacy of material goods produced by virtually all world cultures.

The exhibition thus examined artistic and functional objects related to death in both western and non-western civilizations throughout history, from ancient times to the modern era. The objects visually express various customs and attitudes related to death, including treatment of the body, preparation of the grave, mourning, belief in the afterlife, and feelings toward mode of death such as suicide and martyrdom. An exploration of the material culture of death reveals its evolution and continually changing world views through 4,000 years of history.

Exhibition Themes

  • burial containers/treatment of corpse
  • burial and post-burial rites
  • grave goods/gifts
  • commemorating the deceased
  • grave markers
  • funerary iconography
  • religious beliefs concerning burial, funeral, and afterlife

Mizzou North
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Tuesday – Friday: 9am to 4pm
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"I still remember the feeling of awe and disbelief when I was alone and walked in the room with those casts." --Ruth Tofle, chair of architecture, winner of the 2013 distinguished faculty award from the MU Alumni Association