There are even more ways of being dead than there are of being alive. However, the effects of karma are more evident. We may distinguish seven forms of afterlife:
You may wonder how some of these forms of afterlife relate to Near-Death Experiences. In the full version of such things, when you die, you're supposed to be met by one or two angels of death, those famous Beings of Light, who escort you off Earth, or maybe by dead relatives. But relatives may be unable or unwilling to make the appointment, and Azrael, the Angel of Death, has a chronic staffing problem so the souls may have to wait before they're collected; having just sustained brain-death, they're often very woozy and may wander off. Others, clearer witted but frightened, run away from the death angels. Some, the angels of death deliberately refuse to collect, for whatever reason.
The soul is damaged in the death trauma. It retains little more than scraps of memory, which it mulls over in a dreamlike state of sensory deprivation. This is one of the original forms of human death and the default one.
Souls in the death-sleep of Sheol may eventually recover, after enough rest, or be found by travelers who may nurse them back to awareness, so this oblivion is not necessarily forever. (Technically, it will only last until Doomsday at the latest.)
Any soul may fall into a Sheol state after sustaining injuries in post-mortem misadventure. This is a common hazard of astral warfare, of souls in Hell, or of souls severely punished by elysian communities.
The soul is less damaged and retains strong ties to Earth. It haunts as a ghost, with more or less lucidity, depending on its individual case. A much less common state than Sheol but also an original state of death.
A disembodied soul wandering the world, often punch-drunk and scatter-witted, is not generally a happy state of being. See De Lemurum Natura and The Ghost Trade for more details.
Haunting is not forever, and may be quite brief. Some ghosts move on after a specific issue is resolved. Others may move on after they are sufficiently recovered from the death trauma. Or they may be forcibly evicted from their haunts, ready or not, by exorcism or by other spirits.
The soul is less damaged but, instead of retaining ties to Earth, it wanders off into the overlying dreamscapes and memoryscapes of the Astral. Most wandering souls are healthier than haunting ghosts or souls in Sheol, and recover from death trauma soon after their demise. (See Good Walking.) About as common as haunting, or commoner, but less known on Earth, naturally. Another original state of death. A wandering soul's adventures may take it to any other form of afterlife.
...they would very possibly have qualified for Limbo, as creatures suitable neither for Heaven nor for Hell; things that, having failed to make the grade, are allowed to sink into a more or less contented subhumanity forever.
– "Screwtape Proposes a Toast," C. S. Lewis
Some wandering souls lose interest not only in Earth but in humanity. They let their humanness fade away, or erode it in exotic adventures or limiting ways of afterlife. Such beings may or may not retain intelligence; their sanity is usually questionable. Some of the more spectral or deathly "fays" are former human souls.
The soul is given support through the death trauma and shortly thereafter, by funerary rituals – prayer, grave goods, ancestor worship, etc., all of which can convey prana and lessen the trauma or speed recovery. On the other side, the soul is generally intercepted and aided by ancestral souls, and taken to an elysium, a dream community. Elysia are, so to speak, the technology that humans have developed to cope with death, the civilizations of the dead, furnished with pleasant dreams and reasonably secure from demons. They are generally subsidized with prana from cultures that practice ancestor worship. Examples:
If an elysian community is loosely bound or has ill-defined jurisdictions, there may be no clear difference between it and a state of wandering. "Happy hunting ground" afterlives fall in this category.
One can stay in an elysium for centuries or millenia, but the stay is not permanent. Elysia have their conflicts and discipline, and souls may leave or be exiled as a result. Some souls disappear while on adventures beyond the borders. Perhaps they go to other elysia, or to Paradise or Hell. Perhaps they are exhausted or wounded, and fall into Sheol. The European elysia are now nearly empty.
The least true eschatology, but it still sometimes happens, by the intervention of interested powers (usually oriental gods). More often, it is the reincarnation of kau, cast by the dying and pulled subconsciously by small children or unborn. A later development of death state.
Hell is no vastness, it has naught to keep
But little rotting souls.
– Edith Sitwell
Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed
In one self place, but where we are is hell,
And where hell is, there must we ever be.
– The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe
The soul is carried off to Hell as prey, to be enslaved, or have the prana tormented out of it, or be consumed outright. Often, if oddly, the soul is given support through the death trauma to make it a more valuable commodity – a fatted calf.
The state of being damned is not a matter of location, as Mephistopheles told Faustus, but the realm of Hell is a chaotic heap of fragmented astral overlays deep in the Earth, as far from the besieging heavens as possible. The overlays themselves do not necessarily feature fire or darkness, but none of them are pleasant.
Hell is a danger throughout the Astral, except in Paradise. Infernals hunt and tempt and infiltrate everywhere, both in the wilderness overlays and in the elysian communities.
Contrariwise, human inhabitants of Hell may or may not be irrevocably damned. If not, they eventually escape, though they may carry fearful spiritual wounds. If damned, they will eventually be eaten or otherwise destroyed.
Devils proper, demons, fallen angels, come in several varieties:
Some djinn serve in Hell. Note that they serve and are not captives. So if any leave, it is a matter of defecting. They may be alive or dead; it makes less difference with djinn.
The lowliest denizens of Hell are the Skandhas, the Heaps. These are psychic residues, piles of memory fragments, flickers of desire, oddments of other faculties, swept together and animated with a bit of aspected prana. They look like souls, kinda, but they aren't. The great lords of Hell disdain to use them, but the infernal proletariate often find them useful.
Many infernal djinn and some damned human souls, most often magicians, are "rewarded" for their deliberate allegiance to Hell with apodemonosis, elevation to the status of demon.
It's a cheat. The thing that comes out of the process is not really the individual that went into it, but a particularly willing example of a devoured soul, unaware that it is now really part and parcel of its patron. They make very good minions, but are more than usually likely to split off as Fragments, so apodemonosis is rare. A few demons, however, split these fragments off deliberately, selling these bits of themselves as valuable trade goods, under a do-not-devour geas.
Paradise was founded at the death of Abraham. Its first inhabitants were ancient Israelites, and now the population includes Jews, Zoroastrians, Christians, Muslims, and others. Many now go to Paradise who would otherwise have sunk into Sheol or gone wandering or to an elysium. Those who have made consistent efforts at spiritual discipline go there directly; the angels of death seem to be able to find them more readily. Others may still go through a period of ghosthood, astral wandering, residence in an elysium, a sleep in oblivion, or even a passage through Hell, before they are eventually found or find their way and make the ascent.
Physically, Paradise is in a mightily guarded astral zone in Earth's cislunar space. From within, it is a tapestry of idyllic dreamscapes. There is solace there, and memory, and joy, and reunion. But the keynote is dreamscape. Though the blessed take joy in shaping those dreams, they are just dreams, however lucid, and the saints know it. And they have no bodies, and know it. In many ways, there isn't a lot to do, after you've re-established contact with all the friends, relations, and pets you knew on Earth (or all the ones who make it to Paradise). Socializing with others is good, of course. So are dream arts, education, watching events on Earth, and that sort of thing. But it's not being alive.
That will come later, in the resurrection that Jewish, Christian, Muslim, even Zoroastrian, prophecy all predicts. The main thing the saints in Paradise are doing is waiting for the New Creation.
Meantime, there is a lot of prayer, meditation, and worship. It's surprising how satisfying this becomes after enough time with the dream stuff. And there is the College of Saints.
Blessed souls who have the desire and acquire the power can take part in the War more directly than by prayer. They can take part in direct celestial combat, or they can sometimes intervene on Earth. Together with the angelic powers – the Principalities, the forces of the Seven Archangels, and, in their way, the natural Powers – the College of Saints comprise the forces of Heaven for Earth, save only the direct action of God.
You will have noticed that Paradise is interdenominational. Whatever your own theology, this is in deference to Lewis's inclusivist beliefs, as shown in the scene with Emeth in The Last Battle, and in various passages in The Screwtape Letters and That Hideous Strength. However, the Inkliverse is a specifically Christian setting, so, while everyone has to make theological adjustments on arriving in Paradise, some have to make more than others; there is no longer room for much debate.
The souls that reach Paradise are Saved, safe. They are quite indigestible to spirit-eating demons, indestructible. However, if they venture forth from Paradise on adventures or missions, they are still subject to various forms of wounding, prana loss, or being beaten into the unconsciousness of Sheol; it's just that they're still indestructible and always recover.
You will notice Paradise has a physical location. This is deliberate, in keeping with Lewis's identification of outer space with Heaven in Out of the Silent Planet.
Paradise sends out missionaries to the elysia and search parties for the wandering, the haunting, and the oblivious. It even makes occasional raids on Hell, and the gates of Hell cannot prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).
So what's it like, being dead?
The actual form of a soul is a shape of prana, aspected by the state of the animating spirit, and by that spirit's past and potentials. It is, in fact, a ka, plus the spirit.
In appearance, the astral body starts out looking like it did at the time of death or shortly before. Most ghosts retain this appearance until they give up haunting. After some time, a soul can take on any appearance it had at any age of its life. With more time, child souls can extend their range of forms to adult ones.
After death, personal power is a matter of prana, not muscle, so the memory-based appearance of a soul has no necessary correlation with its current relative power. The vivid knowledge of this affects appearance: A former athlete may have the general contours he had in his physical flowering, but be more wan and limp and poorly toned if he is weak in prana. Someone frail in life who is strong in prana probably won't have big apparent muscles, but they'll move with speed and ease, and generally give off an impression of vigor.
In death, you really don't have your body, of course, but you do have your prana. If you start doing things that are not really bodily, this normally shows up as an aura, usually around the head or the whole body, or sometimes around a hand. The color and texture of the aura depends on many factors, including mood, habit, and personal symbolism. Auras can be hidden, by taking suitable care.
If a human form is impossible or wholly irrelevant under the circumstances, or if the soul knows how to drop the form deliberately, a human soul may appear in a very unhuman way, as luminous clouds and lights, an energy form. The most fully organized version of such an energy form has the following features:
Usually such a complete energy form is just about to manifest as an Earthly-looking astral body or has just left off manifesting as one. More fragmentary and fluid manifestations, using a selection of the above elements, are commoner.
Having no body, the dead have no brains. But the prana that once connected them to their bodies now bears the aspecting of everything their bodies have done and so connects them to their past. Thus, they can remember. In fact, a soul fully recovered from the shock of death and the oblivion of Sheol can remember far more clearly than a living person can.
For similar reasons, they can think without brains. All that they have thought while alive aspects their prana now, so they can think with the same depth and penetration as their best when alive. To learn new skills and insights, however, is harder; the brain taught the soul, but is now dust. Dead children develop slowly, if at all, and dead fools are still fools. Long, long experience can bring about change. In Paradise, it is different: personal development is a priority, aided by grace. There is a dim shadow of this in the schools and temples of some elysia.
Having no body, the dead do not need food or shelter, nor do they tire unless they do something that expends prana. This makes a great difference in behavior and experience. The dead have an enormous power of perseverance.
There is an inertia to afterlife – not an Aristotelean inertia of grinding to a halt, but a Galilean inertia of being able to continue in any state of activity indefinitely.
A soul wandering through a pleasant astral overlay, for instance, can continue wandering for years, centuries, without halt. They don't get tired of walking; they don't need to stop for sleep or to find food. Similarly, a soul can watch something, or think, or talk with others, or work on some project, as long as motivation lasts. There is no physical aspect of boredom, no sleepiness, hunger, stiff joints, restlessness. The only thing to change an activity is outside interruption, or the decision that you're done.
The decision to be done can come from the judgment, "I've wasted too much time on this," but the dead often have a great deal of time to spare, and, once again, lacking a body makes it hard to estimate how much time has passed. They have no biological clocks, and may not have any other kind of clock available either.
Winston Churchill once said that he thought he would spend his first hundred years in Heaven painting. That is entirely plausible. He just needs someone to come by and tell him when the century is up. If he wants.
This persistence can be a strength, but it also means the dead can slip into a routine or grind to a halt. This sets some dead to seeking stimulation, either in wandering or haunting – but even then, they can fall into a rut, which is sometimes the reason ghosts re-enact the same scenes over and over. (More often, though, such ghosts are spiritless kau, not souls.) Souls in elysia are less prone to short ruts, thanks to social interactions, but even they can find themselves enacting the same idealized year, over and over. Some do not notice; some do not mind; other do mind and deliberately cultivate restlessness.
The persistence of the dead can also free some personality traits to run amok. In life, one can't go on raging or dreading or panicking forever, for instance, simply because of physical exhaustion. That barrier and protection is gone.
The state of the soul is most profoundly affected by being saved or damned.
The saved souls, the natural citizens of Paradise, have some measure of divine illumination, even now, before their resurrection. It is why they are now indestructible and incorruptible. It is also why they have all the advantages of the perseverance of the the dead and none of the tendency to get stuck – their illuminated intuition always tells them when it is time to do something else. The illumination also leads them on to more and more frequent and profound mystical states.
Damned souls have lost a fundamental coherence and integrity. This is what makes them completely digestible to demons. It also shows up as a loss of altruism and of common sense; they have "lost the good of the intellect," as Dante put it. That lack of common sense, combined with the perserverance of the dead, lets the damned dive deeper and deeper into whatever their characteristic sins may be. This generally makes them more foolish still and even easier prey.
Only man can fall from God
No animal, no beast nor creeping thing
no cobra nor hyaena nor scorpion nor hideous white ant
can slip entirely through the fingers of the hands of God
into the abyss of self-knowledge,
knowledge of the self-apart-from-God.
— "Only Man" by D. H. Lawrence
With very rare exceptions, all animals end up in Paradise. At least, all vertebrates, cephalopods, and a few other odds and ends. Truly mindless things have no spiritual aspect, so there is nothing to ascend. Animals have no sin to cut them off from grace.
Animals typically wake from a brief slumber in the Sheol state, then go wandering. Their wanderings may last for ages, but eventually they migrate to Paradise.
Hell has little use for animal souls. They are indigestible and untamable. True, there are some animal souls in Hell, but they are mostly monsters that seem to be enjoying themselves far more than the infernals enjoy having them.
Pets are very often intercepted by death angels or human souls and taken to Paradise directly. And a number of saints come forth from Paradise to collect animal souls in their wanderings. Souls from elysia sometimes do the same.
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Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2010