The following excerpt is from Stop Worrying! There Probably is an Afterlife, which looks into the evidence for the survival of consciousness beyond death. The book is available right now as an eBook download and in paperback format.
NDEs and Communication Through Mediums
After days of struggle against the disease that had struck him down, Dr. Horace Ackley could take no more. All of a sudden, he felt himself gradually rising from his body, with the distinct feeling that he had been divided, though the parts retained a tenuous connection of some sort. As the organs within his physical body ceased functioning, the feeling of being divided came to an abrupt halt, and he found himself whole again. Except he now appeared to be in a position slightly above his lifeless physical body, looking down on it and those who had been in the room with him. Then, without warning…
…the scenes of my whole life seemed to move before me like a panorama; every act seemed as though it were drawn in life size and was really present: it was all there, down to the closing scenes. So rapidly did it pass, that I had little time for reflection. I seemed to be in a whirlpool of excitement; and then, just as suddenly as this panorama had been presented, it was withdrawn, and I was left without a thought of the past or future to contemplate my present condition.
Dr. Ackley realized that he must have died, and was gratified to learn that it seemed a rather pleasant experience. “Death is not so bad a thing after all,” he said to himself, “and I should like to see what that country is that I am going to, if I am a spirit.” His only regret, looking down on the whirl of activity in the room, was that he was unable to inform his friends that he lived on, to set their minds and hearts at ease. At this point, two ‘guardian spirits’ appeared before Dr. Ackley, greeting him by name before leading him from the room into an area where a number of ‘spirits’ whom he was familiar with had assembled.
You may well be saying to yourself “ho-hum, another stock-standard near-death experience”. You might guess that Dr. Ackley then woke up in his resuscitated body and told an NDE researcher about his experience. But if you did, you would be wrong. Dr. Horace Ackley truly did die that day, never to return to this life. The report that you read above was an account of his death, allegedly given by him through a spirit medium – one Samuel Paist of Philadelphia. And what makes it truly remarkable is that it was written down by Paist in his book A Narrative of the Experience of Horace Abraham Ackley, M.D., and published in 1861 – more than a century before the near-death experience had come to the attention of researchers and the general public. And yet Paist/Ackley tells of an OBE shortly after death, a “panoramic” life review (the exact word “panoramic” is used, just as in many other NDEs), and being greeted by spirits who subsequently guided him to an afterlife realm!
The after-death narrative of Dr. Horace Ackley is not an isolated instance. More than a decade before the publication of Raymond Moody’s Life After Life – the book that started the modern fascination with near-death experiences – another scientist had already investigated and written at length on the topic. In a pair of relatively obscure books – The Supreme Adventure (1961) and Intimations of Immortality (1965) – Dr. Robert Crookall cited numerous examples of what he called “pseudo-death,” noting the archetypal elements that Moody would later bring to the public’s attention as the near-death experience. What’s more however, Crookall also compared these tales of ‘pseudo-death’ with accounts of the dying process as told by ‘communicators’ through mediums – and found a number of these same recurring elements, well before they became public knowledge through Moody’s Life After Life.
For example, Crookall showed that, according to ostensibly dead ‘communicators’ talking through mediums, the newly-deceased are usually met by other deceased loved ones: “Usually friends or relatives take the newly-dead man in charge”. This of course may not be considered a surprising thing for a medium to say – it’s probably what most people would expectantly hope for upon entering the spirit realm. But the common elements continue, and include some of the more idiosyncratic features of the NDE. For instance, Crookall noted that, as with the case of Dr. Ackley above, communicators often declare through mediums that “in the early stages of transition, they experienced a panoramic review of their past lives”. In one case the communicator recounted that shortly after death “the scenes of the past life” are revealed; another said that upon ‘waking’ his “entire life unreeled itself”. A dead communicator by the name of Scott told medium Jane Sherwood that his thoughts “raced over the record of a whole long lifetime”, while another communicator said that he saw “clearer and clearer the events of my past life pass, in a long procession, before me.” Crookall even discovered a reference in ancient texts to the experience of dying which agreed with the above accounts: the great Greek philosopher Pythagoras (circa 500 BCE) taught that at the time of death, the soul “sees, over and over again, its earthly existence, the scenes succeeding one another with startling clearness”.
Considering how many near-death experiencers say the life review is a personal ‘judgement day’, with feelings of right and wrong accompanying each action and scene, it is fascinating to note the recurring motif that accompanies this aspect, as told to mediums by ‘dead’ communicators. “I saw my life unfold before me in a procession of images. One is faced with the effects emotionally of all one’s actions”, said a communicator quoted in a 1929 book. “Each incident brings with it the feelings not only of oneself alone but of all those others who were affected by the events”, according to another communicator. And again, this account given by a medium, from 1928: “Like everyone who passes over, he had been through the whole of his past life, re-living his past actions in every detail. All the pain he had given to people he experienced himself, and all the pleasure he had given he received back again”. Given the similarities to some of the NDE accounts mentioned earlier, we must remind ourselves here that this is the apparent testimony from deceased communicators, speaking through mediums, not accounts of near-death experiencers – and well before the elements of the archetypal NDE were well known. And yet the parallels are extraordinary.
Beyond the meeting with the familiar dead, and the past life review, Crookall’s research also found that mediumistic communicators regularly make note of the out-of-body experience component. For example, one communicator noted that he “seemed to rise up out of my body”. According to another, “I was not lying in the bed, but floating in the air, a little above it. I saw the body, stretched out straight”. Furthermore, they also describe the familiar element of traveling through a tunnel! “I saw in front of me a dark tunnel,” said one communicator, before travelling through it and then stepping “out of the tunnel into a new world”. Another communicator noted that they remembered “a curious opening, as if one had passed through subterranean passages and found oneself near the mouth of a cave… The light was much stronger outside”. And once through the ‘tunnel’, the environment is once again familiar to anyone who has perused a catalogue of NDEs: “I was with ‘B’ [her son, killed in the War]: he took me to a world so brilliant that I can’t describe it”.
The common elements are compelling. For anyone familiar with the NDE literature, these reports through mediums are startlingly similar to the accounts of near-death experiencers – and yet Crookall collected them years before the archetype of the NDE became common knowledge. And not only do they seem to offer support for the validity of the near-death experience, they also hint that there may well be more to the much-maligned subject of mediumship.