Accounts of the moments before and after death abound
with reports of paranormal phenomena, including apparitions
of the dying in distant places and phantom forms seen by the
dying and occasionally by others. Such near-death apparitions
remain a topic of intense debate in both psychological and
parapsychological circles. Those who accept a psychic explanation
of near-death experiences assert that the individuals spirit,
when near to being freed from its connection to the body,
is immersed in two planes of existence and acts in both the material
and spiritual worlds. Many reports also exist in which
persons who were dead returned to life and remembered their
experience of death. They verify an often-told story that in the
last moments of earthly existence a panorama of the persons
life flashes by.
A Professor Heiron of Zurich slipped in the Alps on a snow
covered crag, slid head first about a mile, and then shot 60 feet
through the air, landing on his head and shoulders. He was not
killed. Returning to consciousness, he not only testified to havEncyclopedia
of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed. Death
ing seen a panoramic view of his life but also said he had heard
the most delightful music. He interviewed many people who
had a similar experiences; the great rapidity of mental action
and the absence of terror and pain was narrated by all of them.
Prof. A. Pastore of the Royal Lyceum at Genoa relates his experience
in the Annals of Psychic Science of February 1906
I have been through a very severe illness. At the crisis,
when I had entirely lost consciousness of physical pain, the
power of my imagination was increased by an extraordinary degree,
and I saw clearly in a most distinct confusion (two words
which do not accord, but which, in this case, are the only ones
which will express the idea). I saw myself as a little boy, a youth,
a man, at various periods of my life; a dream, but a most powerful,
intense living dream. In that immense, blue, luminous
space my mother met memy mother who had died four years
previously. It was an indescribable sensation. Rereading the
Phaedo of Plato after that experience, I was better able to understand
what Socrates meant.
Still more is told by Leslie Grant Scott in Psychic Research
Dying is really not such a terrifying experience. I speak as
one who has died and come back, and who found Death one
of the easiest things in lifebut not the returning. That was difficult
and full of fear. The will to live had left me and so I died.
I had been ill for some time but not seriously so. I was in a rundown
condition, aggravated by the tropical climate in which I
was then living. I was in bed, a large old fashioned bed, in which
I seemed lost. I lay there quietly thinking and feeling more at
peace than I had felt for some time. Suddenly my whole life
began to unroll before me and I saw the purpose of it. All bitterness
was wiped out for I knew the meaning of every event and
I saw its place in the pattern. I seemed to view it all impersonally,
but yet with intense interest and, although much that was
crystal clear to me then has again become somewhat veiled in
shadow, I have never forgotten or lost the sense of essential justice
and rightness of things.
After telling of the doctors visit and his attempts at reviving
him, Scott continues
My consciousness was growing more and more acute. It
seemed to have expanded beyond the limits of my physical
brain. I was aware of things I had never contacted. My vision
was also extended so that I could see what was going on behind
my back, in the next room, even in distant places. I wondered
if I should close my eyes or leave them open. I thought that it
would be less gruesome for those around me if they were
closed, and so I tried to shut thembut found that I could not.
I no longer had any control over my body. I was dead. Yet I
could think, hear and see more widely than ever before. From
the next room came great engulfing waves of emotion, the sadness
of a childhood companion. My increased sensitiveness
made me feel and understand these things with an intensity
hitherto unknown to me. The effort to return to my body was
accompanied by an almost unimaginable sensation of horror
and terror. I had left without the slightest struggle. I returned
by an almost superhuman effort of will.
Sometimes, it appears, the return is automatic and against
the will of the dying. In the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical
Research (SPR) (vol. 8, 1892), F. W. H. Myers published the
narrative of a Dr. Wiltse (first printed in the St. Louis Medical
and Surgical Journal, November 1889), who, in a state of apparent
death, lost all power of thought or knowledge of existence.
Half an hour later, his narrative continues,
I came again into a state of conscious existence and discovered
that I was still in the body and I had no longer any interests
in common. I looked with astonishment and joy for the first
time upon myselfthe me, the real Ego, while the not me
closed upon all sides like a sepulchre of clay. With all the interest
of a physician I beheld the wonders of my bodily anatomy,
intimately interwoven with which even tissue for tissue, was I,
the living soul of that dead body. . . . I realised my condition
and calmly reasoned thus, I have died, as man terms death, and
yet I am as much a man as ever. I am about to get out of the
body. I watched the interesting process of the separation of soul
and body. By some power, apparently not my own, the Ego was
rocked to and fro, laterally as the cradle is rocked, by which
process its connection with the tissues of the body was broken
up. After a little while the lateral motion ceased, and along the
soles of the feet, beginning at the toes, passing rapidly to the
heels, I felt and heard, as it seemed, the snapping of innumerable
small cords. When this was accomplished I began slowly to
retreat from the feet, towards the head, as a rubber cord shortens.
I remember reaching the hips and saying to myself Now
there is no life below the hips. I can recall no memory of passing
through the abdomen and chest, but recollect distinctly
when my whole self was collected in the head, when I reflected
thus I am all the head now, and I shall soon be free. I passed
around the brain as if I were hollow, compressing it and its
membranes slightly on all sides towards the centre and peeped
out between the sutures of the skull, emerging like the flattened
edges of a bag of membranes. I recollect distinctly how I appeared
to myself something like a jelly-fish as regards colour
and form. As I emerged, I saw two ladies sitting at my head. I
measured the distance between the head of my cot and the
knees of the lady opposite the head and concluded there was
room for me to stand, but felt considerable embarrassment as
I reflected that I was about to emerge naked before her, but
comforted myself with the thought that in all probability she
could not see me with her bodily eyes, as I was a spirit. As I
emerged from the head I floated up and down and laterally like
a soap bubble attached to the bowl of a pipe, until I at last broke
loose from the body and fell lightly to the floor, where I slowly
rose and expanded to the full stature of a man. I seemed to be
translucent, of a bluish cast and perfectly naked. With a painful
sense of embarrassment, I fled towards the partially open door
to escape the eyes of the two ladies whom I was facing, as well
as others whom I knew were about me, but upon reaching the
door I found myself clothed, and satisfied upon that point, I
turned and faced the company. As I turned, my left elbow came
in contact with the arm of one of two gentlemen who were
standing in the door. To my surprise, his arm passed through
mine without apparent resistance, the severed parts closing
again without pain, as air reunites. I looked quickly up at his
face to see if he had noticed the contact but he gave me no
signonly stood and gazed toward the couch I had just left. I
directed my gaze in the direction of his, and saw my own dead
body. . . .
Suddenly I discovered that I was looking at the straight
seam down the back of my coat. How is this, I thought, how do
I see my back and I looked again, to reassure myself, down the
back of the coat or down the back of my legs to the very heels.
I put my hand to my face and felt for my eyes. They are where
they should be, I thought. Am I like an owl that I can turn my
head half way round I tried the experiment and failed.
No! Then it must be that having been out of the body but
a few moments I have yet the power to use the eyes of the body,
and I turned about and looked back in at the open door where
I could see the head of my body in a line with me. I discovered
then a small cord, like a spiders web, running from my shoulders
back to my body and attaching to it at the base of the neck,
I was satisfied with the conclusion that by means of that
cord, I was using the eyes of my body and turning, walked down
the street. . . . a small, densely black cloud appeared in front
of me and advanced toward my face. I knew that I was to be
stopped. I felt the power to move or to think leaving me. My
hands fell powerless at my side, my shoulders and my head
dropped forward and I knew no more.
Without previous thought and without great effort on my
part, my eyes opened. I looked at my hands and then at the little
white cot upon which I was lying and, realising that I was in
the body, in astonishment and disappointment I exclaimed
What in the world has happened to me Must I die again
Death Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed.
The clairvoyant description by Spiritualist medium Andrew
Jackson Davis of the process of dying in Death and the After Life
(1865) is often quoted. He writes
Suppose the person is now dying. It is to be a rapid death.
The feet first grow cold. The clairvoyant sees right over the
head what may be called a magnetic halo, an ethereal emanation,
in appearance golden, and throbbing as though conscious.
The body is now cold up to the knees and elbows, and
the emanation has ascended higher in the air. The legs are cold
to the hips and the arms to the shoulders; and the emanation,
though it has not risen higher in the room, is more expanded.
The death-coldness steals over the breast and around on either
side, and the emanation has attained a higher position near the
ceiling. The person has ceased to breathe, the pulse is still, and
the emanation is elongated and fashioned in the outline of the
human form. Beneath it is connected with the brain. The head
of the person is internally throbbinga slow, deep throbnot
painful, like the beat of the sea. Hence, the thinking faculties
are rational, while nearly every part of the person is dead.
Owing to the brains momentum, I have seen a dying person,
even at the last feeble pulsebeat, rouse impulsively and rise up
in bed to converse with a friend; but the next instant he was
gonehis brain being the last to yield up the life principle. The
golden emanation, which extends up midway to the ceiling, is
connected with the brain by a very fine life-thread. Now the
body of the emanation ascends. Then appears something white
and shining, like a human head; next, in a very few moments,
a faint outline of the face divine; then the fair neck and beautiful
shoulders; then, in rapid succession, come all parts of the
new body down to the feeta bright shining image, a little
smaller than its physical body, but a perfect prototype, or reproduction
in all except its disfigurements. The fine life-thread
continues attached to the old brain. The next thing is the withdrawal
of the electric principle. When this thread snaps the
spiritual body is free and prepared to accompany its guardians
to the Summer Land. Yes, there is a spiritual body; it is sown
in dishonor and raised in brightness.
The description is paralleled by the curious case sent by a
Dr. Burgers to Richard Hodgson in 1902 and published in the
Journal of the SPR (vol. 13, 1908). In it a Mr. G. gives this account
of the death of his wife
At half-past six I urged our friends, the physician and
nurses to take dinner. . . . All but two left the room in obedience
to my request.
Fifteen minutes later . . . I happened to look towards the
door, when I saw floating through the doorway three separate
and distinct clouds in strata. Each cloud appeared to be about
four feet in length, from six to eight inches in width, the lower
one about two feet from the ground, the others at intervals of
about six inches.
My first thought was that some of our friends . . . were
standing outside the bedroom smoking, and that the smoke
from their cigars was being wafted into the room. With this idea
I started up to rebuke them, when lo! I discovered there was no
one standing by the door, no one in the hall-way, no one in the
adjoining rooms. Overcome with astonishment I watched the
clouds; and slowly, but surely these clouds approached the bed
until they completely enveloped it. Then, gazing through the
mist, I beheld standing at the head of my dying wife a womans
figure about three feet in height, transparent, yet like a sheen
of brightest gold; a figure so glorious in its appearance that no
words can be used fitly to describe it. She was dressed in the
Grecian costume, with long loose and flowing sleevesupon
her head a brilliant crown. In all its splendour and beauty the
figure remained motionless with hands uplifted over my wife,
seeming to express a welcome with a quiet glad countenance,
with a dignity of calmness and peace. Two figures in white knelt
by my wifes bedside, apparently leaning towards her; other figures
hovered above the bed, more or less distinct.
Above my wife, and connected with a cord proceeding from
her forehead, over the left eye, there floated in a horizontal position
a nude, white figure, apparently her astral body. At times
the suspended figure would lie perfectly quiet, at other times
it would shrink in size until it was no longer than perhaps eighteen
inches, but always was the figure perfect and distinct; a
perfect head, a perfect body, perfect arms and perfect legs.
When the astral body diminished in size it struggled violently,
threw out its arms and legs in an apparent effort to escape. It
would struggle until it seemed to exhaust itself, then become
calm, increase in size, only to repeat the same performance
again and again.
This vision, or whatever it may be called, I saw continuously
during the five hours preceding the death of my wife. Interruptions,
as speaking to my friends, closing my eyes, turning away
my head, failed to destroy the illusion, for whenever I looked
towards that deathbed the spiritual vision was there. All
through these five hours I felt a strange feeling of oppression
and weight upon my head and limbs; my eyes were heavy as if
with sleep, and during this period the sensations were so peculiar
and the visions so continuous and vivid that I believed I was
insane, and from time to time would say to the physician in
charge Doctor, I am going insane.
At last the fatal moment arrived; with a gasp, the astral figure
struggling, my wife ceased to breathe, she apparently was
dead however, a few seconds later she breathed again, twice,
and then all was still. With her last breath and last gasp, as the
soul left the body, the cord was severed suddenly and the astral
figure vanished. The clouds and the spirit forms disappeared
instantly, and, strange to say, all the oppression that weighed
upon me was gone; I was myself, cool, calm and deliberate, able
to direct, from the moment of death, the disposition of the
body, its preparation for a final resting place.
Mr. G. was known to be hostile to Spiritualism, and the physician
in attendance appended a statement to the effect that he
had known him long enough to affirm that he had no tendency
to any form of mental delusion.
Phenomena at Death
Watchers by the deathbed have often claimed to hear rushing
sounds and see some kind of curious luminosity. Hyppolite
Baraduc attempted to secure a photographic record when his
son and wife died. He found that in each case a luminous,
cloud-like mass apparently hovered over the bodies and appeared
on the photographic plate.
Telekinetic phenomena (see movement) have been known
to occur before death. A Mme. Martillet and a Mme. Claudet,
who nursed Alfred de Musset in his last illness, said that as he
lay in his armchair they saw by the light of the lamp that he was
looking at the bell near the mantelpiece. But he was so feeble
that he could not rise. At the moment, says Martillet, we
were surprised and frightened; the bell-pull that the sick man
had not reached, moved, as if by an invisible hand, and my sister
and I took each others hands, saying Did you hear Did
you see He did not leave his chair. The servant came, having
heard the bell (Annales des Sciences Psychiques ).
Charles Richet, in a report on the case, inquires,
Should the singular phenomena mentioned in all ages as
accompanying a death or serious event be considered as akin
to hauntings There are legends of clocks stopping, pictures
falling, some object noisily breaking, etc., but it is difficult to
determine the part played by chance coincidence.
George Micklebury reported in the Daily Graphic (October
4, 1905) a startling instance of clairaudient premonition of impending
death that occurred as he was listening to the High
Mass in London. He suddenly heard his daughters distressful
voice Pray for me, father, I am drowning. Two friends, between
whom he was kneeling, heard nothing, but asked him
whether he was ill, because he looked so startled. After the mass
he took a train to the farm where his daughter was working and
found her in bed, alarmed, but safe. She had fallen into the
river from a capsized boat and become entangled in weeds. She
had lost consciousness before she was rescued. During the moEncyclopedia
of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed. Death
ments of unconsciousness, she said, she saw her father at High
Mass between two friends, whom she named, and also saw Father
Pycke, the celebrant. Then she saw no more.
The vision of traditional family apparitions, death-coaches,
banshees, and phantasmal animals often proves to be a true
premonition of death. In the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical
Research (vol. 10, 1894), Mrs. E. L. Kearney narrates
My step-grandfather was lying ill in my fathers house. I
was coming downstairs when I saw a strange cat coming towards
me along the hall. When it saw me it ran behind a green baize
door which separated one part of the hall from the other. This
door was fastened open, and I went forward quickly to hunt the
strange cat (as I thought) away, but to my utter astonishment
there was no cat there, or anywhere else in the hall. I at once
told my mother (and she told me the other day that she remembers
the occurrence). My grandfather died the next day. Taken
in connection with the above the following is interesting. My
mother told me that the day before he died she saw a cat walk
round her fathers bed she also went to hunt it out, but it was
The question, what happens immediately after death is
more difficult to answer since it is beyond observation and researchers
must rely on accounts of after-death communications.
They do not even know for certain whether the apparitions
of the dead are the result of a voluntary effort or a simple
repercussion of strong thought and emotions on the material
Death-compact cases and purposive apparitions, conveying
in some form a definite message, suggest conscious action of
which the living remain ignorant. Such cases imply that the
thoughts and emotional reactions of the dead may greatly depend
on the circumstances of their dying. For example, a Private
Dowding, who died by shell explosion, said through a medium.
Something struck, hard, hard, hard against my neck. Shall
I ever lose the memory of that hardness It is the only unpleasant
incident that I can remember. I fell, and as I did so, without
passing through any apparent interval of unconsciousness, I
found myself outside myself. You see, I am telling my story simply;
you will find it easier to understand. You will know what
a small incident dying is.
Pelham (the control of Leonora Piper), who claimed to
have died in a horse-riding accident, described his death as follows
All was dark to me. Then consciousness returned but in
a dim, twilight way as when one wakens before dawn. When I
comprehended that I was not dead at all I was very glad. Significance
should be attached to the phrase When I comprehended.
According to numerous communications, many of those
who died did not realize that they were dead at all, and finding
themselves fully conscious and in a body which, to their perception,
was just as material as the earthly one, refused to believe
they were in the Beyond. It is still said that these ghosts keep
performing their former actions in an aimless, automatic way
the physician continues to visit his patients, the minister continues
preaching. It is usually not until they meet the spirit of
someone who died before them that they realize what has happened
and begin to learn the conditions of their new existence.
Of the nature of this life, in spite of scores of descriptive accounts,
man has only vague notions. William T. Stead, in a
message quoted by Estelle Stead in a magazine article My Father,
is reported to have said, When I think of the ideas that
I had of the life I am now living, when I was in the world in
which you are, I marvel at the hopeless inadequacy of my
dreams. The reality is so much, so very much greater than ever
I imagined. It is a new life, the nature of which you cannot understand.
A deceased friend of Richard Hodgsons gave an incoherent
communication through Leonora Pipers husband. The control
Pelham insisted that they should not go on because the spirit
would be confused for some time, having suffered from headaches
and neurasthenia while on Earth. Sometimes even the clearest
minds give the impression of mental debility if they communicate
too soon after death. Pelham said on this, The words
of the wisest persons who have left the material world but a
short time ago are incoherent and inexact owing to the severe
shock of being disincarnated and their arrival in a new environment
where everything is unintelligible.
Public interest in death and claimed after-death communications
is regularly stimulated by the loss of so many by unnatural
causes during and immediately after wars. The intense interest
in communicating with loved ones who have died
frequently overrides a more rational approach to death. Many
of the learned through the early twentieth century saw the secular
approach as leading to an abandonment of belief in the afterlife
by the public. However, numerous contemporary
studies, such as those of Robert Crookall, who collected and
collated hundreds of accounts of out-of-the-body travel experiences,
have given a sense of scientific support to belief in survival
of death and have contributed some knowledge of afterdeath
consciousness. Whereas astral projection or out-of-body
travel can be regarded as a temporary release from the physical
body, death is the final release. Through the 1960s Crookall
drew attention to many accounts from individuals who nearly
died, or who were briefly dead but revived. Their accounts of
another sphere of existence may have been colored by their religious
background or expectations, but still demand careful
consideration. In particular Crookall drew attention to reports
of paradise and hell-like conditions in the accounts.
Since World War II a number of specialists in studies of
death and dying (thanatology) have arisen. While most of these
studies have been rather mundane, the work of pioneering
thanatologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross has caught the popular
imagination. Kübler-Ross is a psychiatrist who has spent many
years dealing with dying patients and studying related states of
consciousness. Her work since the early 1970s has added a spiritual
dimension to the purely physical and medical aspects of
death in dealing with terminally ill patients.
Experiences of the clinically dead have been widely reported
by Raymond A. Moody, Jr., in his books Life After Life (1975)
and Reflections on Life After Life (1977). A similarly conducted
study by Kenneth Ring in 197879 confirmed many of Moodys
observations (see Theta, vol. 7, no. 2, 1979).
A more specialized area of research into death has been the
study of claims of reincarnation by psychiatrist Ian Stevenson
and several associates at the University of Virginia. In the face
of a growing belief in reincarnation by Westerners, a wide variety
of attempts to demonstrate its reality have been made including
those of hypnotists, such as Arnall Bloxham, who have
obtained accounts from hypnotized subjects claiming to remember
former earthly lives.
Baird, Alexander T. One Hundred Cases for Survival After
Death. New York Bernard Ackerman, 1944.
Barker, Elsa. Letters From A Living Dead Man. London, 1914.
Barrett, Sir William. Death Bed Visions. London, 1926.
Beard, Paul. Survival of Death For and Against. London,
Carington, W. W. The Foundations of Spiritualism. New York
E. P. Dutton, 1920.
Carrington, Hereward, and J. Meader. Death, Its Causes &
Phenomena. London, 1911.
Crookall, Robert. Case-Book of Astral Projection. New Hyde
Park, N.Y. University Books, 1972.
. The Study & Practice of Astral Projection. London,
1960. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y. University Books, 1966.
Delacour, J. B. [Hanns Kurth]. Glimpses of the Beyond. New
York Delacorte Press, 1974.
Death Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed.
Ducasse, C. J. A Critical Examination of the Belief in a Life After
Death. Springfield, IL Thomas, 1961.
Flammarion, Camille. Death and Its Mystery. 3 vols. London
Guirdham, Arthur. The Cathars & Reincarnation. London,
1970. Reprint, Theosophical Publishing House, 1978.
Knight, David C., ed. The ESP Reader. New York Grosset &
Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth. Death; The Final Stage of Growth. Englewood
Cliffs, NJ Prentice-Hall, 1975.
. On Death & Dying. New York Macmillan, 1970.
. Questions & Answers on Death & Dying. New York
Kutscher, M. L., et al., eds. A Comprehensive Bibliography of the
Thanatology Literature. New York Irvington Publications, 1975.
Lodge, Sir Oliver. Raymond, or Life and Death. London, 1917.
Lombroso, Cesare. After DeathWhat Cambridge, MA
Small Maynard, 1909.
Mead, G. R. S. The Doctrine of the Subtle Body in Western Tradition.
Miller, Albert J., and M. J. Acrí. Death A Bibliographical
Guide. Metuchen, NJ Scarecrow Press, 1977.
Moody, Raymond A., Jr. Life After Life. Covington, GA
Mockingbird Books, 1975. Reprint, New York Bantam Books,
. Reflections on Life After Life. New York Bantam
Muldoon, Sylvan, and Hereward Carrington. The Phenomena
of Astral Projection. London Rider, 1951. Reprint, New York
Samuel Weiser, n.d.
Myers, F. W. H. Human Personality & Its Survival of Bodily
Death. 2 vols. London Longmans, Green, 1954.
Osis, Karlis. Deathbed Observations by Physicians and Nurses.
New York Parapsychology Foundation, 1961.
Ring, Kenneth. Life at Death A Scientific Investigation of the
Near-Death Experience. New York William Morrow, 1980.
Simpson, M. A. Death and Grief A Critically Annotated Bibliography
& Source Book of Thanatology and Terminal Care. New York
[Stead, William T.] Letters from Julia; or Light from the Borderland
A Series of Messages as to the Life Beyond the Grave Received
by Automatic Writing. London, 1897.
Stevenson, Ian. Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation. New
York American Society for Psychical Research, 1966.
Stokes, Doris. Voices in My Ear. London Futura, 1980.
Tyrrell, G. N. M. Apparitions. London, 1943. Reprint, New
York Macmillan, 1962.