Where will you end up when you die?
Not to be morbid, but we’re all gonna die. It’s a matter of when and how, and the inevitable question; what then? Do we continue on as some extension of the Law of Conservation of Mass, headed to some ethereal setting or another birthing ward, or do we cease to exist and our bodies simply go on to become plant food?
Let’s start with the nothing theory, that one’s simpler and within its own category.
No Life After Death
Some, namely Atheists, Epicureans, and Agnostics, don’t believe our ‘spirit’ goes anywhere when we die. They believe that everything encompassing our personality and energy simply sizzles out when we pass, leaving our corporeal body. This body then begins its decomposition journey, becoming part of an ‘afterlife rebirth’ type of natural cycle, where it feeds new plant/fungal growth and nourishes animals/bugs as it breaks down (if buried/scattered in an accessible casket). Kind of beautiful, you have to admit.
Ancient Egyptians, however, believed that if the Gods deemed your heart heavier (with evil) than a feather at Judgement, it was eaten visciously by Ammut, resulting in the cessation of existence from thereon. Not so beautiful.
There’s Life After Death
The vast majority of the world belongs to this group – this is largely due to religion, although there are many neutral/spiritual people without denomination who believe that a soul exists and outstays death and our body. They believe that when we die, our spirit leaves our body and exists on another plane or potentially somewhere between the plane of the living and the dead (purgatory). It may be headed for a destined fate at some interdimensional location or it may be headed to start a new life with the living. It may only exist in the minds of others.
These theories range from ones rich in history and mythology, full of doom and bliss, to others more nuanced and full of mystery. None of them have much evidence of existence to back them up, safe from the reports of those with near death experiences or past life memories that they could prove (more on those another time).
Heaven is a concept known to pretty much the entire living world, but whether it’s known to the spirit world is a mystery. It’s a blissful place without pain that rewards those who’ve lived a life without remarkable sin/bad karma. It exists across multiple Abrahamic faiths and is even present in the beliefs of many Buddhists, Jainists, and Hindus.
To some (like Buddhists, Jainists, and Hindus) it’s metaphorical for a state of happiness within Nirvana or Moksha, and not an eternal resting spot. They also believe in multiple celestial realms and heavens though, including the Vyahrtis and Svarga (Bhuloka, Bhuvarloka, Svarloka, Maharloka, Janarloka, Tapoloka and Satyaloka) for Hindus, Urdhva Loka for Jainists, and the Deva and Brahma planes for Buddhists. These states and planes are not permanent, but are instead part of the samsara cycle of life before potential reincarnation, and they vary widely from the Christian concept of heaven.
Some Jewish folk believe vaguely in an afterlife, though the specifics are largely individual and nuanced (there’s little to no mention of afterlife in their scriptures). Some recognize Shamayim as the heavens (which includes the seven levels: Vilon, Raki’a, Shehaqim, Zebul, Ma’on, Machon, and Araboth), while some regard it as the Garden of Eden. Some first century Christians also believed in multiple levels of heavens, stemming from a verse alluding to it in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians.
Islam recognizes heaven, or ‘Paradise’/Jannah, as a 7-level module as well, calling the planes the Samāwāt (they consist of Raqi’a, Araqlun, Qaydum, Ma’una, Di’a, Daqua, and Ariba). This place is dazzling, full of virgins and riches. It’s all about indulgence and luxury.
To Christians, heaven is an ascension in perfect contrast with its dualistic partner, Hell. Medieval Christians, Mormons, and current Catholics, believe also in a kind of purgatory, a stepping stone for some to be better readied for heaven, but modern Christians typically don’t. Zoroastrians believe everyone will eventually make it to heaven, which is very sweet of them.
What they all have in common is the prevalence of karma/kamma in the process of reaching these heavenly states or planes. Our actions here on earth are thought to extend to the afterlife to help determine where we end up or how we feel and whether we’re permitted to an afterlife of happiness.
Like with heaven, the resulting suffering in hell comes from our ‘sins’ or actions. It is largely seen as a consequence and punishment, much like prison. The exception to this perspective are the Buddhists, who see it as a state of mind and opportunity for growth, not entrapment. Mormons also believe in redemption/escape from hell in the form of repentance.
Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism believe there is Naraka, a state of pain and suffering as well as a literal place ‘beneath the earth’. For Hinduism it is beyond/beneath even the 7 underworld regions (the Patalas/Paatal Loks: Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Rasātala, Talātala, Mahātala, and Pātāla – or the Adho Lokas, for Jainism), which are also sometimes referred to as hells, though many aren’t unpleasant.
Buddhists also see hell as a type of self-induced suffering and states of unhappy existence are sometimes referred to as Asura, Peta, Thiracchana, and Niraya. Niraya being the most hell-like state. They do also recognize over 128 minor and major realms of hellish scapes. These contain more literal than figurative torture and are considered places rather than states of being.
Islam has the 7 doors/gates of hell (they are: Jahannam, Al-Laza, Al-Hutama, Al-Sa’ir, Al-Saqar, Al-Jahim, and Al-Hawiya), and they sound awful. Some even see hell as a sentient being. You end up there for sins or lack of faith. It’s debated whether it’s temporary or eternal but Muslims largely believe in a resurrection upon the Judgement Day and possible relief from hell eventually.
Traditional Chinese mythology describes Diyu as a hellscape similar to Naraka, consisting of varying forms of torture. Norse Pagans sometimes believed that the Vikings that didn’t qualify for Valhalla, got sent to the Hall of Hel/Helheim, a place that’s fairly neutral and not particularly scary nor made for punishment. It is likely from this “Hel” that the Christian’s Old English term “Hell” was derived from, though they vary in concept vastly. Within Hades (another Norse afterlife spot) there’s also Tartarus, a really nasty, wicked place.
Judaism doesn’t really recognize a hell, but some places like Sheol or Gehinnom have been compared. Gehinnom specifically refers to a real-life valley near Jerusalem that was used to burn the bodies of kids as a sacrifice to the God Moloch. Many believe that this is actually the hell referred to in the Bible and that the eternal realm of torture beyond this dimension actually was just a mistranslation of this body burning dump. So, yeah, there’s a chance the Christian hell may have been a total misunderstanding. Crazy. The Christian hell is also thought to be a reimagining of Hades, even referred to as such in the New Testament and sharing many similar elements (like the lake of fire).
Christians currently believe hell is eternal damnation and suffering, inflicted by demons and the christian devil. Bottom line is you don’t want to end up in very many of these versions of hell.
The Summerland is a Wiccan imagining of the afterlife, or the waiting room a soul resides in while awaiting reincarnation. It’s a new concept that imagines a natural landscape of nice weather and contentment – neither heaven nor hell. There are no judgements or entry limitations and there are no earthly worries. Wiccans’ opinions on the physical description or location vary, but it’s a nice neutral alternative to the polarizing heaven and hell.
Field of Reeds/Aaru
Ancient Egyptians had the Field of Reeds/Aaru, a place similar to their quality of life on earth. They are ushered in by beloved Gods and Goddesses like Selket, Anubus, Thoth, and Nephthys. They worked hard in life to surround themselves with abundance and good times, so their afterlife may mirror those things after Judgement by Osiris.
Realm of Hades
Pagans of Celtic, Greek, Roman, and Hellenic descent may recognize the Realm of Hades as the home of Hades/Pluto and Persephone, and as a misty and gloomy place for mortal spirits to roam. It contains certain areas that are more pleasant than others, like Elysium. It’s a land of 3-headed dogs, a coin hungry ferryman, and memory erasing pools. Fantastical and fairly neutral, it contains all souls for eternity, usually without entry limitations.
Norse Pagans believed that Valhalla was the final destination mainly of the Viking warriors who died in combat. It’s an underworld ruled by Odin and the fallen heroes he’s selected to welcome, escorted by the Valkyrie. Fólkvangr, on the other hand, is very similar but its residents are selected by Freya. Typically Valhalla gets warriors with special distinctions, while Fólkvangr gets typical soldiers. Those who die outside of battle typically end up in the Hall of Hel, where they carry on doing average viking activities.
Many Pagan/polytheistic religions believe in reincarnation, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Asatru, Heathenry, Wicca, and Jainism, along with others like Scientology and Sikhism.
Scientologists believe the soul, or Thetan, reincarnates over and over pretty much at random. They apparently remember their past lives and go on to live for billions of years, free from karma in any traditional sense.
Hindus, Jainists, Sikhs, and Buddhists, on the other hand, share similar beliefs that karma strongly affects who you’ll become in the next life. Hindus believe that your past, present, and future karma plays a role in each moment, while Buddhism believe that in order to avoid bad karma, they must take a non-violent and selfless approach to life. Buddhists believe in 6 realms of possible rebirth: gods, demi-gods, humans, animals, hungry ghosts and hells. Sikhs believe everything has a soul and that your best outcome for reincarnation is as a human or by exiting the samsara (rebirth) cycle altogether, headed back to Waheguru, or God, and to a state of Mukti (bliss and enlightenment).
Nordic pagans allude to the occasional possibility of reincarnation, but typically it’s rare and one can only be rebirthed into their own family line as a new relative.
Roman Catholics and Mormons believe in purgatory; an in-between space where a soul gets ‘stuck’ or delayed on its way to heaven or hell. This space is used to improve the soul and make it worthy of ascension or as a space for those not quite bad enough for hell.
Others, like random Agnostics and Atheists, may believe in some form of purgatory, since around 50% of North Americans believe in ghosts (thought to be trapped spirits)! They may not subscribe to the idea of heaven or hell, but just that of a ‘stuck’ spirit, unable to move on (whether to reincarnation, heaven, Hades, etc).
Largely in Christianity, Samaritanism, Zoroastrian, and Islam – and a bit in Judaism – resurrection is the belief that the soul will come back, much like with reincarnation, but in the same physical body rather than entering a new one. The Abrahamic religions believe that individuals can be resurrected at varying times (like the one and only Jesus), as well as believing in a mass resurrection of all of (dead) humanity at the apocalypse.
Many other religions have mythology surrounding Gods being resurrected, but pretty much only the Abrahamic religions recognize the average human’s potential to resurrect. I don’t know about you though, but I’ve never met a zombie, personally.
Immortality in Memory
To leave on a positive note, many believe that we are immortal in the minds of loved ones. Our spirits live on in their hearts and words; our legacy becomes our afterlife. Who can argue with that one?
These are still very general and vague descriptions of major afterlife belief systems, C.L.A.S.S.-A encourages you to go out and research more in depth, because it’s absolutely fascinating. When we investigate, we often try to ask the potential spirits about what they’re seeing/hearing and what their death journey was like.
We’ll let you know if we find anything definitive. For now, follow along our adventures!