Jouni Marjanen, Antti Savinainen, and Jouku Sorvali, eds. Foreword by Richard Smoley
Literary Society of the Finnish Rosy Cross, 2017; 123 pp., PDF. Available for download at http://www.teosofia.net/e-kirjat/From_Death_to_Rebirth_Pekka_Ervast.pdf
Speculation about what happens to us after we die has been a staple of philosophy, religion, and poetry for millennia. But especially over the last fifty years, the literature on this subject has exploded into a cottage industry of first-hand accounts about life on the other side. This has been due largely to advances in medical technology, which have enabled us to revive individuals from illnesses or accidents that would have killed them a hundred years ago, but who now return to life with their eyewitness accounts in hand. The upshot has been a profusion of works about NDEs (or near-death experiences), as reflected in popular books by Eben Alexander, Betty Eadie, Natalie Sudman, and Dannion Brinkley, among others.
But this renaissance of interest in the afterlife has also triggered a closer look backward at accounts of such experiences that were written prior to the advent of modern medicine. In part, the intent has been to compare what those earlier figures described with what contemporary experiencers have related about their own otherworldly journeys. This has meant revisiting the insights of writers like Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritist Allan Kardec, clairvoyant Andrew Jackson Davis, Anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner, and Theosophist C.W. Leadbeater, to name a few.
Among the lesser-known figures to have resurfaced recently is the Finnish writer and teacher Pekka Ervast (1875–1934). A pioneer of the Finnish Theosophical movement, he lectured and wrote extensively on a multitude of Theosophical topics for almost forty years, and in various talks and writings discussed life after death from multiple points of view, apparently derived by psychic and intuitive means. Some of the most important of these have been brought together into this volume. The result is a fascinating collection of commentaries on the stages of consciousness beyond physical death, as well as their spiritual and psychological implications. It’s possible some of his terms will initially seem a bit quaint to some readers—Hades, purgatory, heaven, hell—but soon it becomes apparent that these are simply convenient labels for identifying various aspects and stages of the afterlife journey, rather than just vestiges of an earlier worldview.
Some of those descriptions correspond closely with what many modern near-death experiencers have related, such as encounters with deceased loved ones on the other side, or the panoramic life review, in which individuals see various episodes of their lives replayed back. Ervast writes: “[The individual] does not live in his reminiscences as he did while being physically alive. He just watches the great play and judges it objectively, calling each thing—depending on its own quality—as good or bad, crime or merit, and so on. He remains in a great light, so to speak . . . In fact, the viewer is the personalized higher self. In death the solemn experience of memories is not due to the ordinary physical personality; instead, it is due to the higher self, the ‘I,’ which is behind the physical personality. He is in the light of the higher self and watches the past life.” It is worth noting that Ervast published his first book on death and the afterlife as early as in 1904, whereas the first book about NDEs was published in 1975 (Raymond Moody’s Life after Life).
But some elements in Ervast’s teachings are less commonly found in the NDE literature, if at all—such as his claim that the deceased not only reviews experiences of the just-lived incarnation but also those of the prebirth state, as well as the individual’s collected dream states throughout life. Also, while some writers over the years have suggested that life in the afterworld is essentially similar to life in bodily form, Ervast’s view is different. In one difficult but intriguing passage, he describes how death brings about a division between the “lower” and “higher” selves—that is, between our mortal personality and the more spiritual component of our nature—and he goes on to address some of the surprising consequences this division holds for our survival in the afterlife.
The book includes a number of interesting tidbits for those interested in afterlife studies, such as speculations about a historical phenomenon that’s been long discussed in the paranormal literature: reports by soldiers during wartime of phantom presences or “angels” seen either over or on battlefields (as during the famed Battle of Mons in World War I). Ervast writes: “Some [of the deceased] are still eager to fight, and they continue fighting in the invisible world that is near the physical world, that is, in the etheric world. That is why another group is often seen fighting in the air above the physical troops. They are shadows, filled with vigor, attacking each other.”
That description struck a particular chord with me in light of something I once heard from a man who described a similar wartime experience. A battlefield medic while young, he remarked how he watched as a fellow soldier leapt up from the trenches and marched towards enemy lines, only to be fatally shot seconds later. But although the poor fellow’s body collapsed to the ground, my friend described psychically seeing his astral body continue marching into battle, seemingly oblivious to the fact he had just died!
While reading this book, I was reminded of a fascinating Brazilian film I happened to see recently, Astral City, based on the teachings of the South American medium Francisco Cândido Xavier (also known as Chico Xavier). Like Ervast’s writings, such accounts can only be taken as interesting speculation, of course, since they can’t be confirmed one way or another until we pass through that mysterious doorway ourselves. But until that day comes—hopefully later rather than sooner!—we have intriguing works like these to pique our curiosity, and maybe even to provide us with a kind of roadmap to help prepare us for what lies ahead.
The reviewer worked on the editorial staffs of Quest Books and Quest magazine for ten years, and is author of several books, including The Waking Dream and Under a Sacred Sky. Excerpts from his latest book, An Infinity of Gods, appeared in the fall 2017 issue of Quest. He is a practicing astrologer, and his website is www.raygrasse.com.