New Maps of Heaven Introduction
Last revised: 9 September 2008
From Death, a New Beginning
A Jigsaw of a Thousand Pieces
This book came about as the result of two experiences, dating back to the 1970s. First was the experience of sitting in a British Spiritualist development circle in 1976, which awakened in me an interest in the whole subject of the afterlife. Second was an out-of-body experience that occurred in 1977, which literally let the cat out of the bag. If I was not my body, who was I?
Many spiritual experiences followed. One of them, a vision in 1987, (1) showed me that enlightenment was the purpose of life and resulted in the creation of a dictionary of enlightenment (2) and then a book on the subject, (3) both featured on this site.
After completing thirty years of research on these topics, I returned to my original resolve to look at life after death and the work on this book began.
Writing it has had a tremendous impact on me. It has taken away from me the fear of "death." It has opened the doors on other realms of existence, whose contours I hardly knew before undertaking this research. It has filled in gaps in my knowledge of our continuous journey from God to God, shown me in my vision experience.
It is not an easy book to write. Looking at what has been written so far, I see many differences among commentators and not as many similarities as I might like. For instance, the names of the spheres used by well-respected sources like Society for Psychical Research co-founder Frederic Myers, (4) Vedantic master Sri Yukteswar Giri, (5) or Theosophist Charles Leadbeater (6) do not line up. The numbers used by Stainton Moses' lofty spirit control "Imperator" (7) conflict with the numbers used by Christ-Sphere resident John Heslop. (8)
Hindu sages say there are five bodies (pancha kosas); (9) Helena Blavatsky's ascended teacher says there are seven. (10) The Theosophists change their own classification schemes over time. (11) Viewed from this halfway point, most everything seems chaos. I have felt myself facing a jigsaw puzzle with a thousand pieces. Restricting our attention to the spirit planes, all the pieces seemed to be in nuanced shades of white. How am I ever going to figure this whole thing out, if indeed it is possible to do so?
Paul Beard, in Living On, held that "it would hardly be useful" to come up with "yet another scheme, another necessarily oversimplified structure" for the planes of life. Hence he attempted to draw together a number of typical experiences and to describe the areas of consciousness they reflected. He says:
If one ponders upon these accounts and comes eventually to accept some of them as reports of genuine experience, however incomplete, they will become guide-posts to some of the 'many mansions.' In time, other people will add new guide-posts and a picture will gradually arise a little closer to the real situation. Meanwhile, we have to be content with explorers' trails over an only partly known country. Schematic statements are the corresponding maps and are bound to be faulty or misleading, however honourably constructed. These maps are incomplete. Hence it can become confusing if they are laid, like tracings, one upon the other. ...
Nevertheless, in spite of differences of attribution or of emphasis, a picture emerges which does unquestionably point to an overall spiritual plan, though almost certainly not in the neat but somewhat rigid order which rational attention prefers and expects. (12)
I am aware that, in attempting to draw new maps of heaven, I am flying in the face of Beard's warning. I fully anticipate that I shall be in error in my conclusions perhaps more often than I am correct. But I shall have obliged others to correct those errors and thereby have stimulated their research. And it is further research I am wanting to stimulate.
The attempt to draw clear-cut distinctions among experiences invites peril - we find that some people, for instance, come upon an event like the Judgment in the Astral Plane, some in the Mental Plane; some people experience the Second Death at the edge of the Astral and others at the transition point between the First and Second Heavens. There may be clearcut boundaries among planes and subplanes, but there is no hard and fast rule concerning when people experience the various events that characterize the postmortem journey.
At times my energy has flagged and I have wondered if the attempt to draw maps or put the puzzle together, in light of Beard's dire predictions, will make a difference to anyone. One such moment of despair came before I did a recent workshop. But, at that retreat, there were so many people around me who expressed a fear of death, concern for a friend or relative who faced a terminal illness, or grief over the loss of a loved one that I knew that working this puzzle out will surely make a difference in a lot of lives. And so I have returned with renewed determination to draw new maps of heaven if that can possibly be done.
Spirits Can Be Fallible
What other challenges face what Michael Tymn called the "afterlife cartographer"? (13)
It became quickly apparent that another of the challenges was that of the fallibility/infallibility of discarnate commentators. The spirits who have the greatest desire to communicate are often the newly-arrived. But they can usually communicate only about the regions closest to the earth and, as new arrivals, they have the least depth of knowledge. Once spirits have acclimatized themselves to the other side and really begin to involve themselves in the many facets of life there, their desire to communicate with the earth begins to fade. The discarnate Julia Ames describes the change that comes over them:
It is with us as with immigrants to my former country. When they arrive their hearts are in the old world. The new world is new and strange. They long to hear from the old home and the post brings them more joy than the sunrise. But after a very little time the pain is dulled, new interests arise, and, in a few years, sometimes in a few months, they write no more. With us here the change is even more rapid. For the new life is more absorbing and the survivors constantly recruit our ranks. When the family circle is complete, when those we loved are with us, why should we trouble to communicate? ... Our life lies on our own plane. Therefore, do not think that what I said of the eager, passionate longing of those on this side to communicate with you is true of any but those in the midst of whom I was when I wrote [earlier]. (14)
Many projects of communication have been created by spirits from higher planes like Seth, Silver Birch, and White Eagle (Imperator (15) is an exception). However, these advanced teachers often take upon themselves the task of educating mortals on the wisest use of their earth life rather than describing conditions on the planes.
There are a certain number of developed Spiritualists, Theosophists, and other lights who, after "death," communicate back from the Mental Plane (or "Heaven" proper) and they do give details on their locales. But the largest number remains the newly-transitioned to the Borderlands and Astral Plane, with the result that our data is biased towards the least informed on the realms closest to our own.
If we listen closely, we shall see many instances of information from entities on one plane being contradicted by entities from higher planes. One example is Msgr Robert Hugh Benson's allegation that there is no Judgment on the other side. Benson was a resident of the Astral Plane at the time of his comment.
"There are no judges, or even a single great Judge, anywhere in ... the spirit world. Any judging to be done, we do it for ourselves and manage very nicely. You'll find you will become extremely critical of yourself as we all do. We can be very hard on ourselves even. So whatever you may have thought about Judgment Day, dismiss the whole idea from your mind. There is no such thing, there never has been, and there never will be." (16)
It may be that Benson is only familiar with what is called the "full-life review," which happens soon after death or before death in, say, an out-of-body experience. Here is T.E. Lawrence's description of it.
"At first my mind was entirely occupied with my predicament [of awakening after death] and the past did not concern me, but, as I wandered, now one, now another vision flashed across my mental retina. A ribbon of road, boys on bicycles, my cottage, and soon these discrete memories began to coalesce into a continuous series of past experiences. Before long I was racing back along the years faster and faster, helpless to stay the record and obliged to feel as well as to remember as my past unrolled back to the earliest childhood memories, I had come to a stand while this disquieting survey held me and as it checked at the unconsciousness of the infant my own consciousness flickered out. At the very moment of oblivion I gasped with relief and just had time to think: this is really the end." (17)
However, many travelers who have passed beyond the level from which Msgr Benson speaks report that there is indeed a Judgment that takes place. In a moment, I shall turn to W.T. Stead's description of it. But before I do, I must pause to express disagreement with Stead as well, who implies that the Judgment only takes place on the Mental Plane. Later in this book we shall examine accounts which suggest that the Judgment can occur on the Astral Plane in certain cases. Now here is Stead on the Judgement:
"At first [i.e., on the Astral Planes] there is nothing done but what is both helpful and comforting - later there is a refining process to be gone through. ...
"On being established here, in the Real World [i.e., the Mental Plane], each one is interviewed by one of the Advanced Spirit Instructors and the whole record of earth is discussed and analysed. Reason, motive and result. The full and detailed record contains everything, there is nothing overlooked, and this is the time for paying the bill. Each is interviewed alone, and there is a minute analysis of all events, acts and thoughts. Then there is the making good to be gone through, the sum total to be paid ... for all our thoughtlessness and our unkind acts and words - all that have had direct results must be paid for." (18)
There may be good reason why Benson has not yet experienced the Judgment. It could be that his desire to write back to earth in so much detail would wane, as Julia Ames has described, if he were to have passed through the Judgment and passed to higher planes. However, unless Benson means that there is no God who sits in judgment of the soul but there is an in-depth scrutiny of our lives by us and our guides, his assertion that there is no judgment is contradicted.
On another occasion, Benson says that there is no such thing as the rapture. (19) But we hear from Julia Ames and John Heslop stories of being escorted to a high realm (Julia by an angel), greeted by angelic hosts, where they are taken into the presence of Jesus and enlightened. (20) In my opinion, these are indeed instances of the rapture, but they happen to personalities who are more advanced than Benson. Most probably, spirits like he are simply not aware of events like this.
Sometimes a spirit communicator makes a statement which, judged from credible testimony on the subject, seems mistaken. Thus when spirit guide Thavis is asked whether death comes when the silver cord is snapped, he asks for a moment's pause, makes an inquiry of a higher spirit, and replies that there is definitely no such thing as a silver cord. (21)
However, the existence of the silver cord has been known since Biblical times:
"Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it." (22)
The silver cord has been observed by numerous psychics and is a well-established phenomenon. Most modern spirit sources agree with Solomon, in the passage from Ecclesiastes just quoted, that the moment of death is the moment of the snapping of the silver cord.
Unnamed spirit teacher through Betty Bethards: The only difference between the death state and the dream state is that the silver cord, which is much like an umbilical cord connecting the soul with the body, is severed in death. (23)
Mike Swain: When the soul detaches itself from the body, the silver cord is severed completely. This is the beginning and the end of the mechanics of death. (24)
Monsignor Benson: The death of the physical body, then, is simply the severance of the magnetic cord, and, as far as the physical body is concerned, it is closely akin to ordinary sleep. (25)
It appears not only that Thavis is mistaken, but that his more experienced spirit teacher, whom Thavis asks for information, is also deceived. As Frederic Myers warned his readers, "truth is far from us all." (26)
The Limits of Language
Another difficulty is that, very soon into our travels through the spheres, our informants find they cannot describe in human language what they are seeing or experiencing. Their mode of sight is radically different from ours. The objects they see present themselves in ways that are akin to nothing on earth. The difficulty increases with each advance, each increase in vibratory rate. It is not the case that we are dealing with untrained or unskilled observers. The preponderant possibility is that the most highly trained and skilled observers would find the same difficulty. The problem of how to describe life on the spirit planes may confront us until we too leave the body and travel to these regions. Then we too may find ourselves unable to report back. Describing the higher planes in earth language may remain an impossible task, however we feel about the situation.
Even if we wanted to, we could not get up from our armchairs and go visit the Astral Plane. We won't find photographs of the Mental Plane online or in the Library of Congress. I have attempted to address this evidentiary lack by including a number of accounts under any one heading so that people can see the range of opinion on these matters for comparison's sake. That is the only available test that I am aware of. As yet I see no way around dilemmas regarding testability. We shall see here numerous instances of spirits saying that they too see no way around it. Yet there are intimations that spirit is evolving instruments that may allow physical investigators to bridge the gap, but nothing decisive has arisen yet.
Thus, afterlife cartography remains very much in its infancy. That having been said, I am taking for granted that my reader will release me from the task of establishing that spirit life exists at all. I think the extensive body of literature that establishes the reality of spirit, culminating in the unsurpassable cross-correspondences, (26) should have settled for all time the reality of life after death. In my view, it is time to move on from that phase of study. Here I do not deal with probative phenomena, but turn directly to an examination of the conditions of life on the various planes.
I recommend a serious study of this subject to anyone. It is liberating to know that we survive bodily death and exciting to hear what awaits us. It helps us with our daily life and ameliorates the burdens we carry. If this is an opiate, so be it. The facts cannot be changed to please the theorists. The afterlife is what it is, regardless of anyone's opinions about it or objections to it. It is the future of us all.
Your correspondence has led to many interesting discussions and much clarification on my part, for which I thank you. Let me add a few comments here arising out of those discussions.
Questions have arisen as to which books are included and which are not. I do exercise discretion over what goes into NMH. I will give several examples. If I find that an account attributed to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is brought into serious question by more-credible accounts of Sir Arthur's afterlife, I will strip everything from the first account out of NMH.
If I see that an afterlife account appears to be plagiarized, rather than authentic and psychically or mediumistically derived, I will drop that book entirely from this. Having said that, if you find out before I do that there is some reason to suspect an account that I have used, please let me know and I will be happy to eliminate that source from this book. I would rather reduce the number of sources than use questionable ones.
I have also rejected one book of spirit guidance which actively preached what was known as, when I was a historian, a climatic theory of race development; that is, the notion that races which evolved in colder climates developed in a hardier and more progressive manner than races which evolved in warmer climates. Whatever scientific merit this theory may or may not have, it was used to justify imperialist and fascist subjugation of other peoples and warrants no place in this study. Rather than use some quotes from such a source, and appear to be recommending the guide's words to others, I have eliminated the whole of the testimony from this research. The careful reader will see that one source which appeared to be making a residual, tangential nod to this theory was kept in the study and the reference to the theory identified.
I have also eliminated a spirit account that calls certain lines of behaviour perverse, lines which international conventions on human rights today recognize as legitimate and valid human expressions. The credentials of the spirit guide who uttered these statements make no difference to me. The teaching is inappropriate and deserves no place here.
Moreover, I have kept from this book some peripheral spirit discussions of circumstances and situations which, I believe, the world in general is not yet ready for. I do not want the subject of the conditions of life after death to be dismissed because the reader's credulity is stretched past the breaking point by matters which are not central to my theme. If these matters are true now, they will remain true in the future and can be included in a future study. I am cognizant of the numerous statements of "Imperator" to medium Stainton Moses that the former did not want to swamp Moses' mind with matters that he was certain to reject. I feel the same way with regard to my readership. What has been conveyed here is enough to ponder. It was never intended to be, and could never be, the end of the story.
How are we to judge which of two disagreeing spirits is more accurate? Although it is not foolproof, we can in most cases assume that the further advanced the spirit is (by plane, not subplane), the more knowledgeable, wiser, and far-seeing he or she is. Imperator in the "seventh plane" could safely be said to know more and be more reliable than Msgr Benson in the "third plane" (or High Astral). There will be exceptions to this rule, of course, but it has, I believe, a certain validity.
I have not consulted the literature on night visits to the astral planes or out-of-body or near-death experiences. I do not question the validity of these studies. I simply have had to set boundaries to it, lest it become larger than it already promises to be.
NMH is descriptive rather than prescriptive. The Purpose of Life is Enlightenment and From Darkness Unto Light, also on this website, are prescriptive. If you are interested in how to achieve enlightenment, I suggest that you read those two books. NMH is designed to describe the conditions of life on other planes. Admittedly there are two chapters that are partially prescriptive ("Earth Teachings" and "Reincarnation and the Purpose of Life"). But they are not the heart of this book. The heart is the description of the planes.
Yes, there is an intentional cultural bias here. I have found that when I look at many of the descriptions of the planes from other cultures, I simply increase the problems I have to deal with. For instance, looking at Russian mystic Daniel Andreev's treatment of the planes in The Rose of the World (28) leaves me with terms like Enfor, Bramfatura, Zatomi, and Shadanakar to fit into the jigsaw puzzle I am already struggling with. No, let me get some agreement from my own culture first and then I will branch out into descriptions from other cultures.
Moreover, there is an intentional temporal bias here as well. Let me work with the evolving terminology that arises among late-ninteteenth and twentieth-century sources first before I tackle, say, a Swedenbourg from an earlier time. I need to obtain agreement on matters of terminology first before I go back in time or out into other cultures.
If you wish a taste of the cross-cultural, let me direct you to two articles on this website, which will give you what I hope is a Rosetta Stone by which the various religions can be taken apart and knit together again. (29)
What virtues and vices are associated with each plane? I don't think anyone can answer this question. As far as I'm aware, it is not the development of one virtue or the elimination of one vice that determines advancement. But I am also conscious that no ordinary being can know exactly how the law of advancement works. To quote the Master Hilarion in Light on the Path in a passage whose truth value I accept:
The operations of the actual laws of karma are not to be studied until the disciple has reached the point at which they no longer affect himself. The initiate has a right to demand the secrets of Nature and to know the rules which govern human life. He has become a recognized portion of the divine element and is no longer affected by that which is temporary. He then obtains the knowledge of the laws which govern temporary conditions. (30)
Now some questions as to my personal beliefs. I personally believe that the number of planes and the number of bodies we inhabit is very large. I do not lean towards those models of life which depict a small number of planes (say, seven or ten) before the individual merges with God. Talking here only of planes and not of subplanes, I personally think we evolve past the angels, whose ranks, in my opinion, we eventually join. They inhabit nine orders beyond us. I have no idea how many planes exist per order, but I assume that our evolution as angels will occupy many, many earth years.
I cannot at this point guess how many planes actually exist and both discarnate and incarnate commentators have difficulties describing many more than three or four above the earth plane so the problem will not soon be solved. Certainly the masters of enlightenment, which I studied to write the dictionary of enlightenment, From Darkness Unto Light, suggest that the evolutionary journey from God to God is virtually endless.
Because this subject is so inspiring to me, and in the hopes that it will prove the same to you, I'd like to quote at some length from their teachings on the virtual endlessness of spiritual evolution:
Twentieth-century Christian mystic Beinsa Douno: We think that man is on the highest rung of the evolutionary ladder, but evolution is without end. Just as there are beings that exist below man, there are Beings that exist above man as well. These Beings evolved from the universes of the past. (31)
Avatar Paramahamsa Ramakrishna: No one can put a limit to spiritual experience. If you refer to one experience, there is another beyond that, and still another, and so on. (32)
The Koran: I swear by the glow of sunset; by the night, and all that it brings together; by the moon, in her full perfection: that you shall march onwards from state to state. (33)
Meister Eckhart: Though [the soul] sink in all sinking in the oneness of divinity, she never touches bottom. For it is of the very essence of the soul that she is powerless to plumb the depths of her creator. (34)
Ascended Master Hilarion: The soul of man is immortal, and its future is the future of a thing whose growth and splendour has no limit. (35)
When after ages of struggle and many victories the final battle is won, the final secret demanded, then you are prepared for a further path. When the final secret of the great lesson is told, in it is opened the mystery of the new way -- a path which leads out of all human experience, and which is utterly beyond human perception or imagination. (36)
Inquire of the inmost, the One, of its final secret, which it holds for you through the ages. .. When the time of learning ... is reached, man is on the threshold of becoming more than man. (37)
Franklin Merrell-Wolff: A certain Sage..., speaking of unfolded Consciousness above the level of the highest human Adepts, said: "We attain glimpses of Consciousness so Transcendent, rising level upon level, that the senses fairly reel before the awe-inspiring Grandeur."
Here, certainly, is space for evolution far beyond the highest possibility of man as man. (38)
Truly, within the Infinite there are Mysteries within Mysteries, Deeps beyond Deeps, Grandeurs beyond Grandeurs. ... Mystery of Mysteries, reaching inward and outward, but ever Beyond! And from that Beyond ever there come new whisperings of other imponderable Glories. Ah! How little is this world at the beginning of the Trail, barely a point in a Space of unlimited dimensions! (39)
The wildcard in the deck is that, when we finally merge with God, "we" are gone. Thus, we can indeed say, with Meister Eckhart, that the soul will never touch bottom - never touch bottom and survive, that is. The union with God which occurs as the culmination of the totality of our millions of lives (not to be mistaken for early levels of enlightenment like Brahmajnana, Vijnana, or Nirvana) will result in our utter dissolution. Thus, it can truly be said that "we" can never know or reach God.
Now let us distinguish between the end of personality and the end of individuality. I believe that we incarnate physically until such time as "personality" or "ego" is transcended. My own sense is that the level at which ego is transcended is what Sri Ramama Maharshi called "sahaja nirvikalpa samadhi" (search on that term here). At sahaja, the spiritual heart opens and remains open. Once we reach sahaja, we need "go no more out," as Jesus said. (40)
But the end of personality is not the same as the end of individuality. Even angels are known by names like Gabriel and Michael and are discussed as if they were individuals. Lord Tennyson describes his enlightenment at the hands of a Seraph. A Seraph stands in the face of God, at the apex, if I am correct, of the nine orders of angels. Yet listen to what the Seraph is reported to have said to Tennyson:
"There is no mightier Spirit than I to swayThe heart of man: and teach him to attainBy shadowing forth the Unattainable...." (41)
If this passage is accurate, then even a Seraph has individuality ("I"). Our individuality is extinguished when we finally merge with God and God, in relation to us at least, "becomes" all in all. Thus, the ego is transcended at a relatively early level of enlightenment, when viewed from the standpoint of the total perspective, but individuality is not transcended until an infinitely later time.
I do not recommend that you look to New Maps of Heaven to tell you about enlightenment or to The Purpose of Life is Enlightenment or From Darkness Unto Light to tell you about life after death. Though there is a little overlap in each, in the main, they draw on different sources and look at different topics. But, read together, they can give you a huge overview of where we came from, what we are doing here, where we are going, and what the end of all life is. Have a wonderful time with these sources. Download them. Use their contents freely as raw material for your own investigations and speculations. No need to credit me. Spread the word. And have a joyful time doing it.
Your joy is my reward.
Towards a more abundant life,
(Steve Beckow, Owner, The Golden Age of Gaia, http://goldengaia.com)
All sources used in this book are fully cited in the Bibliography.
- (1) The experience is described here.
- (2) The dictionary, From Darkness Unto Light, can be found here.
- (3) The book, The Purpose of Life is Enlightenment, can be found here.
- (4) F.W.H. Myers, the planes as described in RTI and BHP, n.d.
- (5) Sri Yukteswar Giri, HS, 33-4.
- (6) For instance, see Charles Leadbeater, TT, 43.
- (7) Spirit leader Imperator in Stainton Moses, ST, 34; Dowding, MM, 59-60.
- (8) John Heslop, FMABL, 9-10.
- (9) Sri Yukteswar Giri, HS, 35-6.
- (10) Helena Blavatsky, KTT, n.p.
- (11) Cf. Charles Leadbeater: "The President has now decided upon a set of names for the planes, so for the future these will be used instead of those previously employed." (TT, 42.)
- (12) Paul Beard, LO, 180 and 182.
- (13) In "No Humdrum Heaven, No Hellfire, Says Afterlife Cartographer," at Gaia Community, updated and reproduced here.
- (14) Julia Ames, AD, 175-6.
- (15) See Stainton Moses' ST and MST.
- (16) Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson, MALIWU, 21-2.
- (17) T.E. Lawrence, PMJ, 16.
- (18) W.T. Stead quoted in LO, 98-9.
- (19) Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson, HH, 23-4.
- (20) Julia Ames, AD, 43-5 and 71-2 and John Heslop, FMABL, 12-3.
- (21) Thavis, TIH, 151.
- (22) Ecclesiastes 12:6-7.
- (23) TIND, 3.
- (24) FMW, 50.
- (25) HH, 14.
- (26) F.W.H. Myers, RTI, n.p.
- (27) "Myers ... is credited with giving us perhaps the strongest evidence yet obtained for survival in the "cross correspondence" cases. In those famous cases, Myers is said to have provided fragments of information through four mediums in separate parts of the world - fragments which seemed meaningless and incoherent until pieced together." (Frederic W.H. Myers," Red Pill. http://redpill.dailygrail.com/wiki/Frederick_W._H._Myers.) :(28) Daniel Andreev, The Rose of the World. Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne, 1997; c1996, xiv-xv.
- (29) "On the Nature of the Divine Mother" and "Christianity and Hinduism are One".
- (30) Master Hilarion in LOP, 38-9.
- (31) Beinsa Douno, "Culture of the Angels," WOG, n.p.
- (32) Paramahansa Ramakrishna in GSR, 624.
- (33) Koran, 48.
- (34) Meister Eckhart in PP, 12.
- (35) Ascended Master Hilarion, channeling through Mabel Collins, LOP, 20; IWL, 114.
- (36) Ibid., 11-2.
- (37) Ibid., 29-30.
- (38) Franklin Merrell-Wolff in PTS, 17.
- (39) Ibid., 115.
- (40) "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall no more go out." (Jesus in Revelation 3:12.) "Overcometh" means to overcome the ego in the experience of sahaja nirvikalpa samadhi.
- (41) Alfred Lord Tennyson in ECST, 402.