Photo from South African Tourism
Our Images of the Afterlife are Culturally-Subjective
One thing I've learned from years of studying comparative religion is that our mystical experiences are influenced by our cultural references. Afterlife experiences and beliefs are vastly different across cultures, and the "new age" theology that many of us embrace has latched on to a particular view of the afterlife that is unique to our own cultural influences.
Consider these diverse concepts
- In one Zulu community it is believed that we can reincarnate as animals, but only a chief can reincarnate as a lion.
2. Zoroastrians believe that bad people go to a temporary "hell," but instead of heat and flames, it is intensely cold there. Fire is sacred in their culture, so punishment would include a life without fire (by the way, do you know that the idea of eternal, everlasting punishment only exists in Christianity?).
3. Some native tribes believe that placing the bones of an animal you've killed in the spot where it died will enable it to reincarnate. *
One hundred percent of the information we have about the afterlife is based on reports from near-death experiences, channeled messages from mystics, or the out-of-body journeys of shamans, saints and sages throughout history. What they bring back from these visions and journeys is subjective, and reflects their unique personal perspectives and cultural references. It is highly unlikely that a white, Protestant-raised American would envision a cold hell or a political leader incarnated as a lion. Equally unlikely is a South American shaman journeying to a place where he meets St. Peter at the pearly gates of heaven.
The point is this... we really can't say what happens in the afterlife, because it is different for everybody. I asked one of our resident afterlife experts, William Buhlman to comment on this, and he said, " Since the afterlife is highly thought-responsive, it is shaped by the collective thoughts and beliefs of the local inhabitants. This is why we must be very discriminating in what we accept and believe as a valid reality. There is no escaping our own mindset when we die. We are completely responsible for the nonphysical reality we enter and experience at death."
* Thanks to Dr. Mark Mirabello and his excellent book, A Traveler's Guide to the Afterlife for this information.