To Hell and Back: The Dark Side of Near Death Experiences

What happens after we die, and what becomes of us after we push through the mysterious boundary between life and death? This is a question which has enthralled, puzzled, and captured the imagination of mankind since time unremembered. There are no easy answers, and it sometimes seems that there are as many ideas of what happens when we pass on as there are religions and philosophies of those who do; ranging being whisked off to some kind of heaven where loved ones await us, to the idea that we are reborn into new bodies, to the sobering thought that we merely blink out of existence into the chasm of oblivion. In the end no one really knows, and for the most part the realm of death remains an impenetrable, vast sea of mysteries.

One of the only clues we have as to what might lie beyond our mortal coil is the phenomenon of near death experiences, commonly referred to as NDEs, wherein someone who has died or is at the edge of the precipitous ledge between life and death is somehow resuscitated and comes crashing back to the world of the living, often with a bizarre story to tell of their glimpse through a cracked window into the afterlife. Yet even with NDEs there are a plethora of different, very often conflicting accounts of what happens when we die. For some, they are ejected from their bodies to float above their corpse. Some frighteningly remember nothing, only a yawning black void as if they were in a deep, dreamless sleep. Others see a pleasant tunnel of light leading off to some mystical realm or even Heaven itself, and many report actually visiting these realms and being met by long gone loved ones and relatives. And then there are tales from those who were met not by a tunnel of light or love, but rather a peak into a terrifying place of suffering that can only really be described as Hell itself.


Near death experiences have long been reported by people throughout history, but it was not until the 1970s that it was ever really seriously studied or brought to the public consciousness. Indeed, it was in the 1975 smash hit book, Life After Life, that author Raymond Moody first coined the term “near death experience” to describe the mystical, transcendental, very often bizarre experiences that those brushing with death claimed they experienced. From there the phenomenon captured the attention of psychiatrists, psychologists, and other scientific researchers, who studied these experiences in clinical settings. Although a great many NDEs described out of body experiences or bright visions of something that might be called Heaven, these studies began to uncover a disturbing subset of the phenomenon that seemed to indicate that some of these experiences were far from pleasant, and pointed at people actually visiting Hell itself, or a realm akin to our understanding of it.