Scientific Investigation of the “Dark Side”
“I was in hell…I cried up to God, and it was by the power of God and the mercy of God that I was permitted to come back.” (Rommer, 2000, p. 42)
“God, I’m not ready, please help me…I remember when I screamed (this), an arm shot out of the sky and grabbed my hand at the last second. I was falling off the end of the funnel, the lights flashing; and the heat was really something.” (Greyson & Bush, 1992, p. 100)
Next is an example of both the void and a frightening life review: “It was not peaceful, much baggage, much unfinished business. All things are connected. You are not your body, you are a soul. Mine was in limbo. I knew I would be in limbo for a long time. I had a life review and was sent to the void. The life review was so disquieting. I saw many different ways my life could have taken. I saw my past life in there and other past lives I was unable to recall. (Vincent, 1994, p. 119).
It is interesting to note that these experiences are highly similar despite differences in time or culture. Thomas Harriot (who was a member of the Jamestown Colony in 17th Century Virginia) recorded two stories of NDEs told to him by the Roanoke Indians which, significantly, took place prior to the arrival of the British settlers. The first story told of an Indian who died and was buried; the next day, the grave seemed to move, and he was dug up. He told of being very near a terrible place of torment, but the gods saved him and let him come back to life to teach his friends what they should do to avoid hell. The second story was similar, except that in this story, the Indian went to Paradise (Baym, pp. 76 - 80).
James McClenon (1991) discusses NDEs in Medieval China and Japan. In one case, he tells of a ruler named Muh who died but revived 2-1/2 days later. He told of meeting the Emperor of Heaven, hearing beautiful music, seeing 10,000 dances, and returning to life with prophetic information. Prof. McClenon notes that these Medieval Taoist NDEs resemble modern ones.
The next example describes the DBV of a 7th Century Mahayana (Northern) Buddhist. They believe that the Amida Buddha is a “savior god” who can rescue you from hell and take you to the pure land of bliss. Once there, you can work out your final ascent to Nirvana under blissful conditions. “A butcher is dying. He first has a vision of hell, whereupon he was terrified into chanting the name of ‘Amida;’ He then had a vision of the Amida Buddha offering him a lotus seat and passed peacefully away.” (McClenon, 1994, p.176)
If a negative ADC is delivered by a STRANGER, he or she is properly termed a “ghost!” If it comes from some super-human entity, it is usually called a “demon.” The following two examples are taken from Merete Jakobsen’s Negative Spiritual Experiences: Encounters with Evil (pp.17, 21). The first is an evil presence in a British house, “This evil presence was masculine and seemed to come from the wall facing me, nearer and nearer as though straining to get me. I saw nothing but the blackness of the room, as my sister had (previously), but although it is 20 years or more ago, I’ll never disbelieve that there are powers of evil. A very violent family had lived there.” The second account is Danish and takes place in the woods. “As we progressed, I found several dead birds along the path.
We reached an open space where there had been a bonfire. I felt more and more anxious and eventually said to my husband, ‘I don’t know how you feel, but I have a sense of evil and horror in this wood.’ My husband said he had not wanted to tell me, but he had heard that a satanic cult had used the wood. I wanted to go home immediately. I find it extraordinary that human evil can change the whole atmosphere in a large wood.”
Religious/Spiritual/ Mystical Experiences
There are ancient and modern accounts of tours of the afterlife. St. Paul, in II Cor. 12 tells us of his out-of-body experience in which he is transported to the third level of heaven.
Mohammed in Sura 17:1 of the Quran, tells us of his out-of-body experience in which he also is transported to heaven.
Other religious figures in history have had encounters with evil, including Jesus’ encounter with Satan recorded in the Synoptic Gospels and Buddha’s encounter with the demon, Mara. The following is St. Teresa of Availa’s account of her mystical experience of hell: “The entrance, I thought, resembled a very long, narrow passage like a furnace, very low, dark and closely confined; the ground seemed to be full of water which looked like filthy, evil-smelling mud, and in it were many wicked-looking reptiles. At the end, there was a hollow place scooped out of a wall like a cupboard, and it was there that I found myself in close confinement. But the sight of all this was pleasant by comparison to what I felt there… I felt a fire within my soul, the nature of which I am utterly incapable of describing … The fact is that I cannot find words to describe that interior fire and that despair which is greater than the most grievous torture and pains… There was no light, and everything was in the blackest darkness” (Bush, 2002).
There are accounts of individuals who are given tours of both heaven and hell. One is the story of Arda Viraf, a 9th Century follower of the religion of the Magi who was given hensbane (a non-hallucinogenic drug) that put him in a coma for several days. (Segal, 2004, pp.195-196) The Magi had chosen him for this holy quest because of his righteousness. He awoke to tell of his tour of heaven and hell. The psychiatrist George Richie (1998, pp.37-41) who had an NDE in 1943 tells of visiting hellish realms invisible but on the earth-plane,
as well as tours of other realms where people were trapped because of their own desires.
All around these lost souls were Beings of Light just waiting to assist them out of their hellish state. During his NDE, Richie reports that he was given this tour by Jesus Christ himself!
Regarding mystical religious experiences, Merete Jakobsen (1999, p.52) notes that evil encounters are terminated when the person calls upon God or God’s emissary, usually through prayer.
Hell is for Rehabilitation and Is Not Eternal
Is there a way out of hell? Most (but not all) religious experience researchers think so. Both
Nancy Evans Bush (2002) and Barbara Rommer (2000, p. 27) note that these negative
NDEs are for instruction and are thought to be a “wake-up call” to those who have them.
This echoes the purpose of hellish experience as expressed in the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Evans-Wentz, pp. 28-68).
Both the Northern Buddhist and Universalist Christian traditions have saviors (Amida Buddha and Jesus) who rescue people from hell (Vincent, 2005, p. 8). In the New Testament book of I Peter (3:18-20; 4:6, NRSV), it is stated that Jesus descended into hell after his crucifixion but before his resurrection: “For Christ also suffered for sins once and for all, the righteous for the unrighteous in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey.” “For this reason, the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is, they might live in the spirit as God does.”