Dr. Carol Zaleski's Research of Medieval Near-Death Experiences

OBE womanDr. Carol Zaleski is the author of the NDE classic Otherworld Journeys: Accounts of Near-Death Experiences in Medieval and Modern Times for which the New York Times had to say, "Zaleski ... has had the excellent idea of putting recent near-death narratives in perspective by comparing them with those of an earlier period ... An extremely interesting piece of work, and one that offers many shrewd insights." Dr. Zaleski is also the author of The Life of the World to Come: Near-Death Experience and Christian Hope which draws relationships between the narratives of near-death experiences and the traditional Christian doctrines of hope and the afterlife. It asks the question, "Are we rationally and morally entitled to believe in life after death?" and answers with a spirited and emphatic "yes." Dr. Zaleski is also an editor with The Christian Century Magazine and together with her husband, Philip Zaleski (editor of Parabola magazine and The Best Spiritual Writing series), have authored The Book of Heaven: An Anthology of Writings from Ancient to Modern Times. The Zaleskis provide the first wide-ranging anthology of writings about heaven, drawing from scriptures, myths, epics, poems, prayers, sermons, novels, hymns and spells, to illuminate a vast spectrum of beliefs about the world beyond. The Zaleskis are currently working on a book about prayer in world religions.

 
 Table of Contents 
   
1. The Dialogues of Gregory the Great
2. The Vision of Drythelm
3. Ecstatics and Statistics
4. References
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 1. The Dialogues of Gregory the Great 
 

Gregory the GreatMoving beyond early Christian ,precedents, our next stop en route to the medieval other world is with Gregory the Great, the sixth-century pope and spiritual writer whose Dialogues helped to set the standards for medieval discussion of miracles and visions.[1] A collection of entertaining and edifying wonder-tales, the Dialogues attempt to demonstrate, in the face of epidemics, Lombard invasions, and schism, that a providential order underlies events and that the age of great saints and signs from heaven has not passed. The fourth and final book of the Dialogues is devoted to "last things"; here Gregory offers "proofs" of the soul's immortality and demonstrates -- through an assortment of deathbed visions, ghostly apparitions, and eyewitness accounts of the other world-the reality of postmortem punishment and the efficacy of masses and pious works on behalf of the dead.

Of the forty-two anecdotes in book 4, three held a special fascination for medieval readers. The first concerns a hermit who revived from death and testified that he had been to hell, where he saw several powerful men dangling in fire. Just as he too was being dragged into the flames, an angel in a shining garment came to his rescue and sent him back to life with the words (echoed in several medieval visions): "leave, and consider carefully how you will live from now on."

After his return to life, the hermit's fasts and vigils bore witness, Gregory tells us, that he had indeed seen the terrors of hell; this too would become a common formula for the transforming effects of an otherworld journey.[2]

A second memorable tale of return from death came to Gregory firsthand, from a prominent businessman named Stephen, who died while on a trip to Constantinople.[3] Stephen confessed to Gregory that he had never believed the stories about hell and punishment but that his brief visit to the infernal court had changed his mind. Fortunately for him, the judge sent him back, saying: "I ordered Stephen the blacksmith to be brought here, not this man." Webmaster note: This kind of "clerical error" in an NDE also appears also in Hindu NDEs.

Stephen regained consciousness immediately, and his testimony was confirmed by the death, in that very hour, of a blacksmith of the same name. Although this story clearly belongs to the common stock of tales of death by mistaken identity, Gregory insists that such apparent mix-ups occur "not as an error, but as a warning."[4] Gregory here shows his genius for adapting such material to his own didactic purpose; without significantly changing the story, he introduces a providential element, thereby transferring it from the realm of folklore to that of religious instruction. His example would be followed closely by later generations of otherworld journey narrators.

The most influential of Gregory's anecdotes of return from death is the story of a soldier who died and lived, and whose visionary testimony sheds additional light on the destiny of Stephen the businessman. The reverberations of this account in medieval vision literature will be discussed in Chapter 4 below; because it is such an important source, I translate it here in full: 

 

"Three years ago, as you know, this same Stephen died in the virulent plague which devastated this city [Rome], in which arrows were seen coming down from the sky and striking people dead. A certain soldier in this city of ours happened to be struck down. He was drawn out of his body and lay lifeless, but he soon returned [to life] and described what befell him. At that time there were many people experiencing these things. He said that there was a bridge, under which ran a black, gloomy river which breathed forth an intolerably foul-smelling vapor. But across the bridge there were delightful meadows carpeted with green grass and sweet-smelling flowers. The meadows seemed to be meeting places for people clothed in white. Such a pleasant odor filled the air that the sweet smell by itself was enough to satisfy [the hunger of] the inhabitants who were strolling there. In that place each one had his own separate dwelling, filled with magnificent light. A house of amazing capacity was being constructed there, apparently out of golden bricks, but he could not find out for whom it might be. On the bank of the river there were dwellings, some of which were contaminated by the foul vapor that rose up from the river, but others were not touched at all.

 

BridgeOn the bridge there was a test. If any unjust person wished to cross, he slipped and fell into the dark and stinking water. But the just, who were not blocked by guilt, freely and easily made their way across to the region of delight. He revealed that he saw Peter, an elder of the ecclesiastical family, who died four years ago; he lay in the horrible slime underneath the bridge, weighed down by an enormous iron chain. When he asked why this should be, [the soldier] was given an answer that called to our minds exactly what we know of this man's deeds. He was told, "he suffers these things because whenever he was ordered to punish someone he used to inflict blows more out of a love of cruelty than out of obedience." No one who knew him is unaware that he behaved this way.

 

He also saw a certain pilgrim priest approach the bridge and cross it with as much self-command in his walk as there was sincerity in his life. On the same bridge, he claimed to have recognized that Stephen of whom we spoke before.[5] In his attempt to cross the bridge, Stephen's foot slipped, and the lower half of his body was now dangling off the bridge. Some hideous men came up from the river and grabbed him by the hips to pull him down. At the same time, some very splendid men dressed in white began to pull him up by the arms. While the struggle went on, with good spirits pulling him up and evil spirits dragging him down, the one who was watching all this was sent back to his body. So he never learned the outcome of the struggle.

What happened to Stephen can, however, be explained in terms of his life. For in him the evils of the flesh contended with the good work of almsgiving. Since he was dragged down by the hips and pulled up by the arms, it is plain to see that he loved almsgiving and yet did not refrain completely from the carnal vices that were dragging him down. Which side was victorious in that contest was concealed from our eyewitness, and is no more plain to us than to the one who saw it all and then came back to life. Still, it is certain that even though Stephen had been to hell and back, as we related above, he did not completely correct his life. Consequently, when he went out of his body many years later, he still had to face a life-and-death battle.[6]

 

Compressed into this brief vision story are several motifs that recur throughout medieval otherworld journey literature: the river of hell, the flowery meadows of paradise, the white-clothed throngs in heaven, the test bridge, and, above all, the externalization of deeds. Gregory makes it plain that the vision should be understood symbolically: the real meaning of the house built with bricks of gold is that those who give alms generously are constructing their eternal abodes in heaven; and the houses blackened by foul vapors were prefabricated, he implies, by the unsavory deeds of those destined to dwell in them. It was thanks largely to this widely read account that the bridge -- as the setting for a psychomachia or symbolic confrontation with deeds -- became such a prominent feature of the medieval otherworld landscape.

The anecdotes in Book 4 of Gregory's Dialogues mark a turning point in the history of Western otherworld journey narration. Even more than the Vision of St. Paul, Gregory's vision stories focus on the interim period between death and resurrection. This does not mean that apocalyptic eschatology had relaxed its grip on the imagination of sixth-century Christians; Gregory speaks with urgency about the approach of Doomsday and suggests that otherworld visions are on the rise because the world to come is drawing near and mixing its light with the darkness of the present age.[7] In the Dialogues, however, Gregory is concerned with the eschatological crisis that begins with the hour of death; he seems to find more edification in contemplating the purgatorial or punitive torments that await the average sinner than in making apocalyptic predictions about the experiences that will befall the human race in its last days.[8]

Gregory also departs from the classic apocalyptic model of otherworld journey narration in that the visions he relates come from relatives, neighbors and fellow monks, rather than from remote biblical heroes. These are cautionary rather than dramatically revelatory tales; the protagonists are either sinners who revive only long enough to warn the rest of us about the penalties awaiting transgressors, or penitents mercifully sent back to amend their own lives. For this reason, Gregory's visionary anecdotes cannot lay claim to the prestige that attaches to pseudepigraphic works. But Gregory compensates for the absence of exalted credentials by offering corroborating details; almost like a psychical researcher, he interviews witnesses, provides' character references, and sets each story in familiar locales that will inspire his audience's trust; wherever possible, he cites circumstantial evidence such as the confirmation of Stephen's vision by the death of Stephen the blacksmith. Indeed, it was partly through Gregory's influence that empirical verification became a hallmark of the medieval otherworld vision.

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 2. The Vision of Drythelm 
 

DanteWhile Gregory could be described as father to the whole family of medieval Christian otherworld journey tales, his influence is especially marked in what I call the Drythelm line, a literary tradition that can be traced back to the Vision of Drythelm related by the eighth-century Anglo-Saxon monk and scholar Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People.[9] As Bede informs us, Drythelm was a pious Northumbrian family man who died one evening after a severe illness but revived the next day at dawn, terrifying his mourners by sitting up abruptly on his deathbed. He related what he had seen in the other world to his wife, and later to a monk who repeated the story to Bede.

Though similar in many respects to the narratives we have already considered, the Vision of Drythelm is far more developed as a journey and gives a fuller account of otherworld topography, even foreshadowing the purgatorial landscapes of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It therefore serves well as an introduction to the medieval form of the otherworld vision. At the beginning of the story, Drythelm meets a man "of shining countenance and bright apparel" who escorts him to an enormous valley, one side of which roars with flames while the other rages with hail and snow.[10] Countless misshapen souls are tossed to and fro between fire and ice. Appearances suggest that this is hell, but Drythelm's guide explains that it is a place of temporary torments, reserved for deathbed penitents who can be released from their punishments by masses, prayers, alms, and fasts performed by the living on their behalf.

To reach the mouth of hell, the two travel through a land of darkness, in which Drythelm can make his way only by keeping his eyes fixed on the bright silhouette of his guide. Hell is a bottomless, stinking pit. From it leap tongues of fire (in diabolic parody of Pentecost, perhaps) on which damned souls are cast upward like sparks only to fall back again amidst mingled sounds of laughter and lament. Drythelm sees malign spirits dragging the unhappy souls of a priest, a layman, and a woman into the abyss. The demons threaten Drythelm with their tongs, but are put to flight by his guide, who appears just in time in the form of a bright star.

They travel southeast to a realm of clear light, where they encounter a vast wall. Suddenly they are on top of the wall, in a bright, flowery meadow. Here Drythelm meets "many companies of happy people" and supposes that he is in heaven, but learns that it is only an antechamber for the not quite perfect. As he approaches the kingdom of heaven, he hears sweet singing and enjoys a fragrance and light even more glorious than before. Despite his longing to remain, Drythelm is dispatched back to his body, with the promise that a life of vigilance will eventually win him a place among the blissful spirits. Upon revival, he tells his astonished wife: "Do not be afraid, for I have truly risen from the death by which I was held fast, and have been permitted to live again among men; nevertheless, from now on I must live not according to my old habits, but in a much different manner."[11]

Accordingly, he distributes his property, retires to a Benedictine monastery, and takes up a life of austerity and devotion, fasting, and cold baths.

For Bede, the most impressive part of Drythelm's story is its ending; like Gregory, Bede holds that "it is a greater miracle to convert a sinner than to raise up a dead man."[12] And it is a greater miracle yet if the tale of a dead man's recovery and spiritual transformation changes the hearts of its hearers; these authors value the otherworld journey narrative primarily for its power as a model for conversion and its usefulness in advertising the cause of particular religious institutions and ideas. Whatever role Drythelm may have played in the development of the narrative, Bede's account of the vision can be read as a manifesto for Benedictine monasticism, ascetic discipline, and intercessory masses for the dead. The vision also reflects the eschatology of the Anglo-Saxon church of Bede's time; by intimating a purgatorial state distinct from hell, it departs from earlier Celtic Christian traditions and conforms to the orthodoxy of Rome.[13]

All of these features recommended the Vision of Drythelm to Anglo-Saxon spiritual writers and homilists of the ninth to eleventh centuries, who faithfully retold or creatively embroidered the return-from-death stories related by Gregory and Bede and whose endorsement contributed to the success of visions of the Drythelm line. The full flowering of this tradition, however, occurred in the period from the tenth to the mid-thirteenth centuries, which saw both the development of long; almost novelistic accounts of journey to the beyond and back, and increasing mention of otherworld visions in chronicles, sermons, and books of exempla for preachers. During that time, the otherworld journey found favor with monastic and clerical authors as a way of expressing their views on penance, intercession, and religious vows. It also played a part in what Jacques Le Goff calls the "spatialization" of purgatory, which went hand in hand with standardization of the rites by which the living purged their faults, prepared for death, and petitioned for the welfare of their departed kin.[14]

Despite such changes in its social function and eschatological content, however, in many respects the return-home-death story remained the same, preserved by literary imitation, by the pious conservation of traditional forms of expression, and by the universality of its themes. Thus it is possible to make some generalizations about the Christian otherworld journey to identify groups or types that cut across regional boundaries and persist throughout the long centuries that we loosely call the Middle Ages. 

AdamnanPart II of this book will pay special attention to a group of long narratives from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries that follow the Drythelm pattern of death, revival, and conversion. Among them are the visions of Adamnan, Alberic, the Boy William, Tundal, and the Knight Owen (St. Patrick's Purgatory). Although they depend on sources shared by all medieval otherworld journey narratives (the Bible, apocalypses, legends of martyrs and desert saints, Gregory's Dialogues, and classical works such as Vergil's Aeneid and Plutarch's Moralia), the narratives in this group display a remarkable similarity in their choice of which set phrases and images to borrow. Typically the visionary is told, after viewing purgatorial torments and mistaking them for the punishments of the damned, that there are far worse sights to come (Drythelm, Tundal, Owen); he sees souls tossed between fire and ice (Thespesius, Drythelm, Tundal) and rising like sparks horn the pit of hell (Drythelm, Alberic, the Boy William, Tundal); he is temporarily deserted by his guide (Thespesius, Drythelm, the Boy William, Tundal); he finds paradise surrounded by or on top of a wall, which he surmounts without knowing how (Drythelm, Adamnan, Alberic, the Boy William, Tundal, Owen); at the end, after a brief taste of heavenly joys, he is compelled against his will to return to life (Drythelm, Tundal); and after he revives, his newly austere mode of life testifies to the authenticity of his vision (Drythelm, Alberic, and Tundal borrow Gregory's phrasing for this). In addition, the test-bridge, whose history will be discussed in Chapter 4, recurs with many similarities in the visions of Adamnan, Alberic, Tundal, and Owen. 

These and other parallels suggest the presence of a literary tradition that is at least partly deliberate in its conformities. Yet the "Drythelm line" is far from an exact designation. One cannot determine the sequence of literary transmission or discover its causal mechanism merely by arranging similar narratives in chronological order.[15] Nor would such a linear history of motifs do justice to the complexities of interpretation. Each text has a unique functional significance within its particular social milieu. Beyond that, it seems likely that at least some of these narratives reflect actual experience and as such cannot be reduced to a matter of mechanical literary dependence; I will have much more to say in future chapters concerning the experiential basis of vision literature.

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 3. Ecstatics and Statistics
 

VERIFICATION

Contemporary narratives, like some of their medieval counterparts, move from introductory remarks that establish the credentials of the researcher and his subjects to concluding arguments that seek to verify the content of the visions. Despite this structural similarity, however, today's "proofs" have different purposes from those encountered in medieval texts. Today, the author addresses real rather than straw skeptics; he must answer the doubts of those who feel that the authority of science prevents them from believing in life beyond death or a transcendent reality of any kind.

Although Moody, Ring, Sabom, and Greyson, unlike some parapsychologists, insist that they are not trying to prove survival of death, they do wish to persuade readers of the validity and importance of near-death visions. They wish to verify that something extraordinary, even paranormal, is taking place -- yet not so extraordinary as to be beyond scientific or commonsense credence.[16] To that end, each researcher enumerates what he finds to be the most impressive or inexplicable features of near-death experience, restates the scientific objections that have been raised, marshalls counterarguments, and tentatively proposes an interpretive model or "new paradigm" that might allow science to make room for this hitherto neglected body of data.

In the minds of many readers, and to the dismay of many critics, the researchers' conclusions give us license at least to look beyond the strictures of materialism. Some readers simply ignore the repeated disavowals of "proof" for life after death; a correspondent to Vital Signs exclaims, "What Dr. Ring and others on the IANDS staff are doing is tremendous! They are creating a new science for mankind. That science will eliminate our 'last enemy' -- death."[17]

Paradoxically, the authors' caveats lend credibility to the more remarkable claims made by the visionaries themselves. Once reassured of the researchers' scientific objectivity, the reader may not feel bound to be quite so fastidious in drawing conclusions. Given the permission to take near-death narratives seriously, it is an easy step for many to embrace them as experiential evidence of life beyond death. This step is encouraged, of course, by the sensationalist books and articles that far outnumber the more moderate works of the near-death researchers.

In the next chapter I will treat the controversy between near-death researchers and their critics, and in the chapter following I will propose a way to interpret some of the disputed questions. First, it will be helpful to review the main grounds on which the researchers argue for the validity of near-death experience.

UNANIMITY

The researchers agree that the similarities of near-death reports are more striking than their differences and see this unanimity as a.key to the validity of near-death experience. As Osis and Haraldsson put it: "If there is another mode of existence, we should expect all patients to see essentially the same thing ... regardless of whether they are men or women, Americans or Indi-ans, college-educated or illiterate."[18] Speaking more cautiously, Moody observes, "If, as we have found to be the case, their independent reports agree quite well, we have the right to be impressed by that fact, even though it does not constitute proof."[19] And Ring, arguing against the idea that near-death experience is dreamlike, comments that it is unlikely that "at the moment of (apparent) death everyone should dream fragments of a common dream."[20]

INVARIANCE

What makes the apparent unanimity of near-death reports so impressive to the researchers is that it seems undisturbed by differences in cultural, medical, and demographic circumstances.[21] The evidence for this will be questioned below.

UNEXPECTED FEATURES

A corollary to the two points made above is the argument that near-death reports do not conform to individual or socially conditioned expectations. Osis and Haraldsson, among others, cite cases in which the content of the vision appears to conflict with the subject's professed desires, fears, or beliefs. Contending with the idea that near-death experience is just wish-fulfilling fantasy, Moody writes:

"First, consider the great similarity in content and progression we find among the descriptions, despite the fact that what is most generally reported is manifestly not what is commonly imagined, in our cultural milieu, to happen to the dead."[22]

Moody also stresses the nontraditional character of neat-death visions:

"In fact, in all the reports I have gathered, not one person has painted the mythological picture of what lies hereafter. No one has described the cartoonist's heaven of pearly gates, golden streets, and winged, harp-playing angels, nor a hell of flames and demons with pitchforks."[23]

Osis and Haraldsson draw a similar conclusion from their comparative study of American and Indian deathbed visions.[24] In the chapters to come, I will return to the question of "mythology" in near-death visions.

PARANORMAL. ELEMENTS

According to some investigators, the presence of verified paranormal episodes is the best evidence for the extraordinary character of near-death experience. If a patient can accurately describe the events of his resuscitation, then his account of another world may be accurate too. In addition to veridical out-of-body reports, researchers point to the life review, with its lime-defying simultaneity and rare precognitive flashes, and to the appearance of appropriate otherworld figures: the child who sees a dead uncle instead of the living parent he might like to imagine, or the patient who is surprised by the spirit of someone he did not know was dead.[25]

On the other hand, paranormal events are occasionally invoked as an argument against the out-of-body hypothesis. Some critics of survival evidence use extrasensory perception to account for mediumistic or out-of-body reports that convey information unattainable by norrnal means. They would rather accept the notion of ESP, however unproven, than admit the possibility of survival of death. In answer to the ESP explanation, Sabom tries to link veridical out-of-body reports with the moment of apparent death and to see whether the perspective matches an ascended spirit's eye view; his approach is similar to that of Karlis Osis, who has made systematic studies of out-of-body reports in an effort to distinguish them from mere clairvoyance.

PROXIMITY TO DEATH

Although the researchers acknowledge that impressive near-death reports may come from subjects who were in little physical danger, they seem glad to find any evidence that a patient was declared "dead" or was unconscious at the time of his vision. As Bruce Creyson points out, it is difficult to assign a time to a remembered vision; nonetheless, researchers search for medical data to corroborate the visionary's subjective sense of having died, or to distinguish near-death experience from the broader range of "altered states of consciousness." The implications of this will be discussed below.

SUBJECTIVE QUALITY OF NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE

Reports of lucidity and painlessness suggest to some interpreters that the subject was disengaged, at least partly, from his afflicted flesh.[26] In addition, many investigators seem to believe, even if they do not say it explicitly, that near-death experience is evidence for a transcendent reality simply because it surpasses normal states of mind. Near-death reports convey an experience that is so profound, timeless, joyful, and revelatory as to seem self-endorsing; and some interpreters assume that for such a state of consciousness to occur there must be a special realm of existence that corresponds to it.

TRANSFORMING EFFECTS

If the joyful and mystical insights of near-death experience can carry over into life, then that is a kind of evidence of its lasting validity. Thus, some investigators follow the time-honored principle of judging a revelation by moral and spiritual effects. This provides double reinforcement: as transforming effects witness to the soundness of the vision, so conviction that the vision was true helps to sustain the transformation.

CONVERGENCE OF EVIDENCE

Osis maintains that while the case for survival of death cannot be made on the basis of a single "crucial experiment," it is supported by the convergence of many different kinds of experimental evidence: deathbed visions, out-of-body trials, mediumistic phenomena (particularly spontaneous, "drop in" communications and "cross correspondence" cases), crisis apparitions, voice phenomena, and reincarnation memories.[27] Similarly, some investigators consider the most telling argument for the extraordinary character of near-death experience to be the cumulative weight of the points made above and the inadequacy of any single "explanation" to account for all its features.[28] Critics argue, on the other hand, that the combination of different kinds of evidence is no stronger than its weakest link; this will be discussed in chapter 10.

In order to support the claims just outlined, researchers turn to the quantifying methods of social science. The studies done by Osis, Ring, Sabom, and Greyson are similar in their use of statistical analysis to counter some of the reductionist interpretations of near-death experience. Their figures show, among other things, that there is little correlation between the frequency or content of near-death visions and such factors as age, gender, medical condition, use of drugs or anesthetics, religious affiliation, or prior familiarity with near-death literature.

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 4. References 
 
[1]

^ My translations from this work are based on the Latin edition by Umberto Moricca. An English version, by Odo John Zimmerman, is available in the Fathers of the Church series.

[2] ^ Dialogues 4:37
[3] ^ Ibid.
[4]

^ Evidence for the universality of lore concerning death by mistaken identity can be found in Stith Thompson's Motif Index, vol. 3, F0-F199. In our own day, the story has come to life on the screen in "Here Comes Mr. Jordan" and "Heaven Can Wait."

[5] ^ Stephen who died and revived, not Stephen the blacksmith.
[6] ^ Dialogues 4:38.
[7] ^ Dialogues 4:43.
[8]

^ On Gregory's eschatology, see Milton M. Gatch, "The Fourth Dialogue of Gregory the Great: Some Problems of Interpretation."

[9]

^ I am using the dual-language edition by Bertram Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors, but supplying my own translations of the Latin text.

[10] ^ Bede's Ecclesiastical History, ed. Colgrave and Mynors, p. 488.
[11] ^ Ibid., p. 488.
[12]

^ In the Dialogues; quoted by Benedicta Ward, "Miracles and History," in Famulus Christi, ed. Gerald Bonner (London, 1976), pp. 70-76.

[13]

^ See St. John D. Seymour, Irish Visions of the Other World and "The Eschatology of the Early Irish Church." On Anglo-Saxon eschatology, see Milton M. Gatch, Preaching and Theology in Anglo-Saxon England: Aelfric and Wulfstan (Toronto and Buffalo, 1977). On the difference between a purgatorial state and purgatory as a place, see Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory.

[14] ^ See The Birth of Purgatory, p. 228.
[15]

^ In Tours of Hell, Martha Himmelfarb points out that studies of apocalyptic literature early in this century were flawed by the assumption that the chronology of known texts is equivalent to the history of a literary tradition; Himmelfarb maintains that this fallacy helped to support a habitual overemphasis on classical precedents for the motif of visits to hell.

[16] ^ See Ring, "Paranormal Aspects," p. 34.
[17] ^ December 1982, p. 13.
[18] ^ Osis and Haraldsson, At the Hour of Death. p. 59.
[19] ^ Moody, Reflections on Life After Life, p. 133.
[20] ^ Ring, Life at Death, p. 82.
[21]

^ See Osis and Haraldsson, At the Hour of Death, pp. 48, 94,173-74; Ring, "Commentary on Rodin," p. 273; and Michael Grosso, "Toward an Explanation of Near-Death Phenomena," p. 6.

[22]

^ Moody, Life After Life. p. 175; see also pp. 140-41. It would be interesting to hear Moody comment on the Tibetan Book of the Dead (which he cites as a parallel to near-death reports); in that work, the assumption is that one's expectations and inner makeup will partly determine the content of after-death visions.

[23] ^ Ibid., p. 97.
[24]

^ Osis and Haraldsson, At the Hour of Death, pp. 17, 190-91; see also Grosso, "Toward an Explanation," pp. 14-15.

[25]

^ See Grosso, "Toward an Explanation"; Michael Sabom, "Commentary on 'The Reality of Death Experiences' by Ernst Rodin," The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 168 (May 1980): 266; Ian Stevenson, "Commentary," ibid., pp. 271-272; Osis and Haraldsson, At the Hour of Death, pp. 29, 56, 62-67; Ring,"Paranormal Aspects," p. 34, and Life at Death, p. 208. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross often speaks of such incidents, and they are a prominent feature of the survival evidence of the early psychical researchers. Osis and Haraldsson claim that there is a correlation between appropriate apparitions and "otherworldly feelings" (pp. 78, 80) and between the frequency of otherworld visions and the patients' closeness to death (p. 111). They also find it impressive that patients had visions and presentiments of death which, though they conflicted with medical prognosis, were ultimately proven right (pp. 87-88,132).

[26]

^ Ring, "Paranormal Aspects," p. 47; Osis and Haraldsson, At the Hour of Death, pp. 129-31,187; Grosso, "Toward an Explanation," pp. 8-9.

[27]

^ Osis and Haraldsson, At the Hour of Death, p. 11; comments made in talk by Osis at Harvard Divinity School, April 1980.

[28] ^ Grosso, "Toward an Explanation," p. 10.
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Books by Carol and Philip Zaleski

Otherworld Journeys: Accounts of Near-Death Experience in Medieval and Modern Times

by Carol Zaleski

This is one of the most comprehensive treatment to date of the evidence surrounding near-death experiences. Zaleski identifies universal as well as culturally specific features by comparing near-death narratives in two distinct periods of Western society: medieval Christendom and twentieth-century secular America. This comparison reveals profound similarities, such as the life-review and the transforming after-effects of the experience, as well as striking contrasts, such as the absence of hell or punishment scenes from modern accounts.

 

The Book of Heaven: An Anthology of Writings from Ancient to Modern Times

by Carol Zaleski, Philip Zaleski

In medievel times, heaven belonged to the theologians and priests. Sacred writings such as the Bible, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and ancient Greco-Roman myths have attempted to describe what happens after death. But medievel artists and literati have also shaped our picture of heaven. The Zaleskis draw on all these traditions to bring to the reader a delightful collection of descriptions of the hereafter.

 

The Life of the World to Come: Near-Death Experience and Christian Hope

by Carol Zaleski

In these graceful meditations, Zaleski searches for the affinities between narratives of NDEs and the traditional Christian doctrines of hope and the afterlife. She explores the ways that NDEs may be understood as awakenings to the reality of death and concludes that traditional Christian images of the afterlife may be greatly enriched by an encounter with the images of afterlife offered in NDE accounts.

 

The Best of Spiritual Writing 2002

by Philip Zaleski

The Zaleski's collection of spiritual writings include contributions from Christian, Muslim, Jewish, secular and pan-Hindu perspectives, and various pieces that deal with spirituality as it impacts the environment, relationships, politics, creativity and literature.

 

The Best of Spiritual Writing 2000

by Philip Zaleski

The Zaleski's collection features essays, poems and a few genre-defying pieces that were originally published not only in religious periodicals, but also in literary journals and magazines such as Atlantic Monthly and Salon. While the spiritual orientations of the writers vary widely, certain unifying themes, such as death and a love of the outdoors, emerge.

 

The Best of Spiritual Writing 1999

by Philip Zaleski

This edifying, well-chosen collection of essays and poems are diverse in form and subject but have a common function, as Zaleski states in his preface, to "tell us something about truth, beauty, and goodness ... about how to live the good life."

 

The Best of Spiritual Writing 1998

by Philip Zaleski

The Zaleski's collection satisfies the appetite for sustenance in this smorgasbord of tantalizing spiritual morsels. Collected here are 38 essays and poems drawn from 23 different periodicals, as well as some pieces published here for the first time. Zaleski's keen eye for high-quality spiritual writing makes this a significant addition to the spiritual literature of our time.