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Various Descriptions of the Afterlife Realms

Stairs going uphill during autumn

The following article contains summaries of afterlife realms from a variety of sources profiled on this website. Having them all in one article allows you to compare and analyze them for yourself. Note that everyone’s experience in the afterlife is not the same. What one experiences after death is based on a wide variety of factors including religious beliefs (or lack thereof), cultural influences, personal experiences and perspectives, education, etc.

1. Tibetan Book of the Dead

Emanuel Swedenborg

The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardo Thodol), composed in the 8th century by the guru Padmasambhava, identifies six realms (bardos) of existence, namely three good realms (heavenly, demi-god, human) and three evil realms (animal, ghosts, hellish). The first period after death called the “first bardo.” At the very moment of death, there dawns the “Clear Light of Ultimate Reality” which is the soul’s own mind and self. If the soul recognizes this fact and acts in a way to remain in this state, it has been liberated from the cycle of birth and rebirth on Earth and can stay in this condition in the highest dimension for eternity called Nirvana. If the soul does not recognize the Clear Light as one’s own mind and self, it is pulled down by the weight of its karma into the second stage of the first bardo, called the “Secondary Clear Light“. If the soul is not liberated at this stage, it will descend to the second bardo.

The second bardo is divided into two stages. In the first stage, the soul encounters a number of great peaceful light beings one at a time along with lights from the six dimensions of the Buddhist universe. When the soul encounters one of these light beings, if the soul is attracted to the light of one of these beings, it will inhabit the dimension associated with that light being. If at any time, the soul realizes the light is from the soul’s own mind and self, it will be liberated.

In the final stage, if the soul has not attained liberation, it encounters a number of great angry light beings. If the soul realizes these lights stem from the soul’s own mind and self, it will be liberated. If not, it will descend to the third bardo.

In the third bardo, the soul is judged by the “Lord of Death” who holds up to the soul the “Mirror of Karma” which reflects all the soul’s deeds. The soul can attain liberation here, as well, if it recognizes its oneness with the light. If not, the lights of the six dimensions of the universe appear again and into one of these dimensions the soul is reborn into the world.

2. Timothy Leary

Timothy Leary‘s psychedelic pattern was based on the use of LSD to reach these higher states of consciousness and was based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Leary divides the psychedelic experience into three periods as does the Book of the Dead. For the initiated, the first period lasts longer. For most persons the second period is the longest. For the unprepared, the heavy role players, those who anxiously cling to their egos, the struggle to regain reality begins early and usually lasts all the way to the end.

During the first period, the soul undergoes complete transcendence – beyond words, beyond space-time, beyond self. There are no visions, no sense of self, no thoughts. There are only pure awareness and ecstatic freedom from all role playing and biological involvements.

During the second period, the soul engages in external role playing – in sharp exquisite clarity or in the form of karmic apparitions.

During the third period the soul returns to routine role playing.

3. Emanuel Swedenborg

According to Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), immediately following death, there is a period of self-discovery in which the social masks worn on Earth dissolve away and the true self is revealed. Each person then shapes their own eternity to correspond with their real inner nature. Some become irrational, driven by fear and greed and they are in the state called “hell.”

Hell is a psychological condition which corresponds to the suffering we experience on Earth when we allow ourselves to be driven by the blind greed of our own egos. In hell, each person acts out of their own malice by tormenting others.

Others find themselves in “heaven“, a joyous condition and a state of expanded awareness, of perceiving more and more of the grand plan of creation.

The first stage after death involves a soul’s more outward aspects: face, speech, manner, and personality. Here the soul meets family and friends, and is instructed about the afterlife state, and then it may be taken around to different locations, such as cities, gardens, parks, etc. Then, the soul is connected either with a particular community in heaven or a particular community in hell.

The second stage after death involves a soul’s more inward aspects: mind, intent and resultant thought. Here, it communicates with higher beings.

A separation of evil souls from good souls occurs here in various ways. Generally, it happens by taking the evil soul around to those communities it was in touch with through its good thoughts and affections during the first stage. In this way, it is taken to those communities which were persuaded by the soul’s outward appearance that it is not evil. Normally, it is taken on an extensive circuit, and everywhere it is exposed as it really is to good souls. Good souls turn away from evil souls upon seeing them and as they turn away, the evil souls go toward the hellish dimension that better suits them.

The final stage after death is a state of preparation by means of instruction. Afterward, the souls are taken to higher spiritual dimensions and are committed to guardians.

4. Frederick W. H. Myers

According to Frederick W. H. Myers (1843-1901), stage one is the Earth dimension. As soon as the Earth experience has been thoroughly comprehended – either through reincarnation, or through the exchange of experiences with others in other dimensions – the soul may proceed to dimensions beyond the reach of the material dimension.

Stage two is called the Intermediate Realm or Hades. This is the spiritual condition which is referred to in the ancient religious traditions as “hell.” This is the realm where all must go upon experiencing the Earth realm. Here, memories of our entire past lives flash before us. Whether or not this experience is “hellish” depends upon the memory of the particular person. If it contains sinister episodes and terrifying experiences, these will drift by the person’s vision along with the more joyful happenings.

Some persons begin at this stage to feel what is called “the Earth pull, the birth pull” and the person may decide to return to stage one, the Earth realm. For others, stage two is brief and is followed by entry into a more stable world which is stage three, the Realm of illusion.

The Realm of Illusion is a dimension where things may be created with the mind and shaped by the direct action of the imagination. Though a person may linger in this stage for undeterminable period of time, an eventual decision must be made. The soul either returns to Earth or progresses to stage four. Before leaving, however, the more enterprising souls may have an opportunity to experience one of the great wonders of this dimension of consciousness – a tour through some section of “The Great Memory.” Just as on Earth, one may go to a library and see newsreels of important Earth events of history, so, in stage three, one may witness any event that occurred from the beginning of human experience. Everything that has ever happened has been recorded by the Cosmic Memory.

Stage four is the Realm of Color. This dimension is an indescribably lovely existence. Here one must leave behind all rigid intellectual structures and dogmas, be they scientific, religious, or philosophical. An infinite variety of new sounds, colors and feelings are experienced here and souls find a much wider freedom to function with highly energized intellect and spirit. If, in this dimension, the soul becomes free from the Earth pull, it is qualified to experience cosmic ranges beyond Earth’s confines, such as the next dimension.

Stage five is the Realm of Flame. In this dimension, the soul acquires a body of flame, enabling it to tour the stellar universe without being harmed by its temperatures and turbulence and to return with a fuller experience of these cosmic reaches.

Stage six is the Realm of Light. Souls in this dimension are matured spirits, having lived through, with conscious comprehension, all the aspects of the created universe. They are capable of living now without form, of existing as white light in the pure thought of the Creator. They have joined the immortals, thus fulfilling their final purpose of the evolution of consciousness.

Stage seven is the Realm of Timelessness. In this dimension, souls enter full partnership with God. This dimension is of an advanced spiritual nature, so close to the ultimate essence of creativity that no adequate vocabulary has yet been evolved to describe it, and hence it is difficult to communicate to Earth-level beings.

5. Kabbalah

The Kabbalah are books of Jewish mysticism which have been around for many centuries and has been revered by Jewish people and Gentile alike. According to the Kabbalah, the cosmos is divided into ten dimensions associated with the Tree of Life in the astral planes. The first dimension is the Earth. The second dimension is astral plane associated with the moon. The third dimension is the astral plane associated with the planet Mercury. The fourth dimension is the astral plane associated with the planet Venus. The fifth dimension is the astral plane associated with the Sun. The sixth dimension is the astral plane associated with the planet Mars. The seventh dimension is the astral plane associated with the planet Jupiter. The eighth dimension is the astral plane associated with the planet Saturn. The ninth dimension is the astral plane associated with zodiac. The tenth dimension is the dimension represented by fixed stars.

6. Spiritualism

Spiritualism developed and reached its peak growth in membership from the 1840s to the 1920s. According to Spiritualism, the first realm after death is called the first heaven or the lower astral realm. This is a hell-like realm of purgatory and self-recrimination from which escape is very slow and difficult. It may take hundreds of years of Earth time for its inhabitants to accept their misdeeds, put them right and move upward. Here you would certainly find criminals and materially-obsessed individuals. We are told that the demons and poltergeists, which readily interfere with life on Earth, originate here. The “bad” parts of heaven are the closest to Earth, which explains why religion wrongly equates the occult as a pact with the devil. Messages on Ouija boards, for instance, often come from troubled “earthbound” souls in these near-Earth realms.

The next dimension, according to spiritualists, is called the second heaven. Most people who die initially find themselves in the second heaven or intermediate astral dimensions. Viewed as a sort of resting point on the way from Earth to the more rarified upper dimensions, it is a thought-created universe that closely resembles an idealized Earth. It’s inhabitants seem to live in physical bodies, wear clothes and so forth – but of an etheric kind that would be invisible to those living on Earth. Most attempts to communicate from heaven stem from here; but because the inhabitants of Earth are as yet unfamiliar with the afterlife these communications can be confusing or wrong.

The next dimension is called by many names, such as the third heaven, The Summerland, or “Marduk”. This dimension is the closest thing to the Christian concept of paradise. The most inspired and pure souls from Earth pass directly here after death; most people, however, must strive to reach it after a sojourn in the second heaven, where they assess their life on Earth and try to understand what they did wrong. It is from the third heaven that rebirth back on Earth supposedly occurs – although the decision to go back and try again is allegedly an individual one, and some may opt to forsake material life altogether and move into the higher spiritual dimensions. Some of the most accurate and most inspirational messages received via mediums are said to originate here.

The fourth heaven is the mental and causal realms. Here, most of the trappings of materialism have gone. It is here that selfless individuals work together to bring spiritual enlightenment to the lower dimensions and Earth. Supposedly all great inventions, religious and moral progressions, spiritual leadership and so on come from here, inspired by beings who were once on Earth but have had the opportunity to increase their talents in the afterlife. A few rebirths to Earth do take place from this higher place: great teachers are sent back for special reasons. Spirit guides who talk through mediums are often in this dimension as well, bringing their enhanced knowledge to Earth.

The fifth heaven is the next dimension. Reaching this dimension is difficult, for it is devoid of a physical state and aspired to by great religious figures, from Jesus to Buddha. Even those in lower dimensions view it as most of us still on Earth imagine heaven – a distant, magical, unknown place.

The sixth heaven is the next dimension. This dimension is cosmic consciousness, where the unity of souls is perfected and a kind of universal being exists. This may be close to what we think of as God, but it is even less understood by those in the lower dimensions.

The seventh heaven is the next dimension. To reach the seventh heaven one has to step not only beyond material and physical reality but beyond mental and individual reality as well. It is simply not possible to define what this ultimate level may be, but it is supposedly the goal of all individual souls. Everything we do, on Earth and in the higher dimensions, is directed toward that final transformation. For there is evolution of the soul in just the same way as there is evolution of the body, or indeed of all life, back on Earth.

7. Rudolf Steiner

In essence, after death, Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) said we expand into the planetary spheres. The moral disposition we carry over with us allows or prevents us from moving on in a conscious manner. After this experience, we fall asleep and the cosmic forces act directly upon us preparing us for the next earthly experience. Our cosmic sleep regenerates us. There comes a time when the desire to reincarnate starts to work on us. When that happens, we begin the process of going back through the planetary spheres picking up what we will need from each in order to fulfill our purpose in the next Earth life. The soul “germ” is carried in to the embryo, forgets the whole trip and is born again on Earth.

The first stage after death is the dimension represented by the moon. Here the soul reflects upon the life just lived on Earth. The second stage is the dimension represented by the planet Mercury. Here the soul reflects upon moral issues. The third stage is the dimension represented by the planet Venus. Here the soul reflects upon religious beliefs. The fourth stage is the dimension represented by the Sun. Here the soul is given the opportunity to reconcile the “true and false” aspects of the Earth dimension. The fifth stage is the dimension represented by the planet Mars. Here the soul experiences cosmic reality. The sixth stage after death is the dimension represented by the planet Jupiter. Here the harmony of the spheres increases in volume. The seventh stage after death is the dimension represented by the planet Saturn. Here the soul is shown the sum total of the last incarnation as it formed itself karmically during that life. We behold our last earthly life from a cosmic viewpoint. As mentioned earlier, as the soul travels through these realms, the soul sheds karma. After the soul expands into the planetary spheres, it begins to contract. The soul then moves through these planetary spheres again only this time picking up the karma it left behind. The soul then enters the Earth realm again for another soul experience.

8. Edgar Cayce

According to the Edgar Cayce (1877-1945) revelations, our experience relates more to the entire solar system and not just three-dimensional life on Earth. Cayce stated that each solar system is like a “university” with many dimensions of learning available and through which we must travel. Our solar system has nine planets which are physical representations of nine afterlife realms of which Earth represents the third.

The afterlife realms are associated with the planets of our solar system. This does not mean souls actually live on the surface of planets as we do on Earth, but rather, souls live in fourth and fifth level afterlife realms represented physically by the planets.

These afterlife realms that are associated with the planets are realms that souls can experience when not active in the physical body on Earth (such as deep sleep, meditation, or other altered states that free the subconscious from its normal physical constraints).

Reincarnation takes place not only in the Earth realm, but souls also reenter other realms between Earth incarnations. If a soul incarnates to Earth from one of afterlife realms associated with our solar system, the soul will manifest a personality based on the influence of the afterlife realm they came from. These influences are defined in astrological terms and are related to the afterlife realm represented by the planet. Each planet in our solar system exerts a particular influence on us which certain lessons can be learned and for which we are tested on Earth.

The first afterlife realm is physically represented by the planet Saturn. This is a realm that is equivalent to the Catholic concept of purgatory, a place for the purification of souls that have not kept their ways clean on Earth. It is the realm for starting over. Cayce called this realm to be of “earthly woes” and a place where “all inadequate flesh goes to be redone.” This realm is the “Great Changer”, the great force for starting over. It is a realm where “the Lord loves those who are willing to start over.”

The second afterlife realm is physically represented by the planet Mercury, the astrological realm of the mind. This realm gives us the ability to consider problems as a whole and has the influence to develop a keenness of perception in mental things. From this realm comes mental insight into the operative elements of ennobling, of virtues, of good, of beautiful, with the mysteries of the universal forces, given understanding, brings the development to the soul’s forces.

The third afterlife realm is physically represented by the planet Earth, the astrological realm of “testing of the flesh.” If souls believe something and they really want to test it out, they can come to Earth to be tested and apply themselves. By actually going through the experience themselves on Earth, souls can realize if what they believe is true or not for themselves. Earth is a place for souls to overcome certain weaknesses by applying themselves to see that those weaknesses are truly overcome. Here they can learn for certain whether they have really changed.

The fourth afterlife realm is physically represented by the planet Venus, the astrological realm of love. In this realm is the beauty, the joy, and the ability to write. This afterlife realm is where love is dominant and where souls find the expressions in activities in which there is the beauty seen in love, in companionship, in association, in music, in art, in all the things that bespeak of the loveliness even of nature and material things, rather than the expression of same in the earthly form or manner.

Cayce did not identify which planet is the physical representation of the fifth afterlife realm but it is probably Mars, the astrological realm of anger. This is the realm where souls learn how to control the warrior-like power, aggressions and urges that each soul has the ability to project. This realm is were we learn to control our ability to hate as well as to love.

Cayce did not identify which planet is the physical representation of the sixth afterlife realm, but it is probably Neptune, the astrological realm of mysticism. This realm is where souls have the ability to have direct experience with the Creator and perceive the Creator. It is the realm were souls find mystical, mysterious, and spiritual insight.

The seventh afterlife realm is physically represented by the planet Jupiter, the astrological realm of strength. This realm brings the bigness of vision, the nobleness of purpose, the patience with self as well as with others. Here, souls find the Universal Consciousness, that longing for the knowledge of something outside of self, the universal desire or the desire to be of help to many irrespective of the cost to self. This realm is where souls find abilities in a helpful, universal way and manner. This realm strengths the souls ability to depict situations, to analyze people and places, things and conditions. Here, the soul may become gifted in writing, lecturing, and in group direction.

The eighth afterlife realm is physically represented by the planet Uranus, the astrological realm of the psyche. This realm is where the soul develops psychic ability. This realm can develop extremes and extremism within a soul. Also, a soul can develop an interest in the occult and the mystic forces; as visions, hearings, seeing and knowing without having the physical contact with experiences in the mental body. This realm influences an interest in the spiritual things. All psychics on Earth had a sojourn within this afterlife realm before incarnating to the Earth.

The ninth afterlife realm is physically represented by the planet Pluto, the astrological realm of the subconscious. Here, souls can attain the final development of full consciousness. This realm has spiritual-minded influences outside of self. It influences demonstrative activity in the future affairs or developments of humanity.

The tenth afterlife realm according to Cayce is physically represented not by a planet but by the star system Arcturus, the astrological realm of developing. This afterlife realm is a kind of weigh station, a transient place where souls choose to travel to other realms and other solar systems. It is the door in and out of our solar system. This realm is the junction between the spheres of activity as related to the cosmic force. This is both a usual and an unusual step in soul evolution.

9. George W. Meek

The late George W. Meek‘s research describes the first realm as the Earth realm. Here a person exists in a physical, etheric and astral body. It is the astral body that survives death and travels to other realms. The second realm is called the Lowest Astral Realm. This realm is the equivalent of emotional excesses, demonic possession, and hell. The third realm is called the Intermediate Astral Realm. Rest and rehabilitation await the soul here. This realm is similar to Earth except lovelier, with many opportunities to learn. On this realm, the soul decides to progress to higher realms or to reincarnate to Earth. The fourth realm is called the Highest Astral Realm or “The Summerland.” Here the soul finds angelic assistance and unconditional love. Wider perspectives about life are gained and greater vistas to creation are revealed. Here the astral body can be shed (the so-called “second death“) and the spirit can be reborn into a higher realm for which it has become qualified. The fifth and sixth realms are the Mental and Causal Realms. These realms offer the person unlimited realms for the development of the mind and soul. Access to all accumulated wisdom is here and one can have a final opportunity for rebirth into the Earth before ascending to higher realms. Most of man’s inventions and inspirations are passed down to Earth from this realm. The seventh realm is called the Celestial Realm or the “Third Heaven.” On this realm, one can have contact with the Godhead and learn the secrets of miracles and of all creation. The eighth realm is called the First Cosmic Realm. This is the last realm of our solar system and the one where the soul can reach “at-onement” with the Godhead. The ninth realm is called the Second Cosmic Realm. This realm is the end of manifest, vibratory creation. The tenth realm is called the Third Cosmic Realm. This realm is the so-called “Void“, a realm of non-vibratory, pure consciousness. The eleventh and final realm is the Fourth Cosmic Realm. This is the realm of full “at-onement” with the Godhead and the entry into states of consciousness beyond human comprehension.

10. Michael Newton

According to the late Dr. Michael Newton (1931-2016), the hypnotherapist and author of Journey of Souls, the first realm after death is the so-called “earthbound dimension.” Those who do not accept the fact their physical body is dead and fight returning to the spirit world for reasons of personal anguish go to this dimension. These souls are often called “ghosts” or falsely called “demons.” These souls refuse to go to the spirit home after physical death and often have unpleasant influences on those of us who would like to finish out our human lives in peace.

Another dimension might be called seclusion. Those who have been subverted by, or had complicity with, criminal abnormalities in a human body go to this dimension. After death, they are separated from others in the spirit world. This happens at the time of their orientation with their guides. They are not activated along the same travel routes as other souls and will go into seclusion upon reentering the spirit world.

All souls, regardless of experience, eventually arrive at a central port in the spirit world that is like a staging area. A large number of souls are conveyed in a spiritual form of mass transit. Souls are brought in, collected, and then projected out to their proper final destinations similar to a central terminal of a metropolitan airport that has the capacity to fly people out in any direction. The most outstanding characteristic of this world is a continuous feeling of a powerful mental force directing everything in uncanny harmony. People say this is a place of pure thought.

Souls travel to the soul group level which depends upon the souls’ development.

After souls arrive into their soul groups, they are summoned to appear before a “Council of Elders.” While the Council is not prosecutorial, they do engage in direct examination of each soul’s activities before returning them to the groups. Should they decide to reincarnate to Earth, they must meet again with this “Council of Elders” to aid in their reincarnation.

11. Sylvia Browne

Psychic and near-death experiencer Sylvia Browne (1936-2013) described how upon death, most people go through a heavenly process before entering into heaven. Evil people, instead of experiencing the tunnel and bright light upon death, are sent through the “left door” and enter into an abyss of empty, joyless, nothingness for a brief period of time. After they have reflected upon their actions, they are reincarnated back to Earth.

People who commit suicide are sent to a “holding place” which is purgatory. Here they must make a choice to either proceed through the “left door” or embrace God and move on to the light. People in purgatory shuffle slowly around in despair in a gray fog with their heads down until they make their decision.

Most people, who go through the heavenly process, go through a tunnel and towards the light of God. They return home to the place they came from on the other side. Here, they have a reunion with family and friends who have departed before them. After the reunion, most of us are lead by our spirit guide to a building on the other side called the “Hall of Wisdom.” In a sacred room, we see our lives flash before us on a “scanning machine.” This device is a domed screen where our lives are placed out in three-dimensional holographic form. Once we have fully evaluated our lives, we are debriefed in an orientation process. This is when we discuss the lifetime previously lived and reviewed in the scanning machine. We meet with guides who are trained orientators who discuss ways of amending for previous mistakes. We receive help if we were unprepared for our crossing over into the spirit realm.

If those whose transition is especially difficult, the orientation process is preceded by another process called “cocooning.” This is when the person is put into a restful, healing sleep for as long as it takes for them to feel healthy. In extreme cases, people are taken to a structure called the “Towers” where extremely confused people undergo a “deprogramming” process.

Once a person has adjusted to the transition, they can visit a heavenly place called the “Hall of Records” where historical data is stored such as the records of everyone’s past lives. Another beautiful structure is the “Hall of Justice” where people go before a “Council of Elders” who are highly advanced spokespersons of God who help us decide how we are to progress further into the spirit realm.

At some point, people recognize the need for even further advancement and therefore choose to return to Earth to gain this spiritual advancement. With the help of a spirit guide, they decide on an incarnation which will meet their goals. They then proceed to the Hall of Justice where they meet once again with the Council of Elders. Here, the Council prepares people for their next incarnation. When they are ready to incarnate, their family and friends are gathered together to bid farewell. Once they have said their goodbyes, they can meet with a Spiritual Teacher, such as Buddha or Jesus, to embrace them in their divine light. People are then taken to the Towers and are eased into a deep sleep. The descent into the womb begins and a new life is born on Earth.