The afterlife can lead you to paradise, eternal damnation or right back to Earth, but you need to understand its make up to get where you want to go.
What happens after death, where does the soul go? This is another of those tricky questions that religions address for their worshippers and many of them offer possibilities from eternal bliss to eternal torment.
The afterlife varies across the world's religions and has existed in the imagination since the first humans.
For the Egyptians, depending on your conduct in life, you joined the company of the gods or were annihilated. Greeks went to the underworld, but only a privileged few enjoyed the pleasures of the Elysian Fields; the rest wandered Tartarus as restless shades. The Vikings are famous for Valhalla, the halls where the souls of warriors fought all day and feasted all night, but most people went to the dismal realm of the Goddess Hel.
For religions that believe in reincarnation, the afterlife is more of a transient phase before being reborn.
Is there life after death?
Over the millennia, many cultures have claimes to have the inside track on what happens to you when you die.
Some have intricate versions of another plane of existence, others suggest some extraterrestrial intervention and others just send you straight back to Earth in a new body or form. There are hundreds of different philosophies on the aftermath of this unavoidable event of life.
With the advent of science, many people came to believe that when you die, that's it - you're gone. This existential point of view has been adopted by many, but there is still evidence of continued existence after death in the both the religious and secular worlds.
Different persepectives on the afterlife.
The afterlife has perplexed and enlightened those who have tried to unravel its mysteries. Here are just a few of the established viewpoints about life after death.
No matter what your belief system, it's likely that you have spent some time wondering what will happen once you are dead. You may have even put some preparation into the events immediately surrounding death, such as organ donation, cremation, a wake or a funeral. All of these practices are matters of this realm, however. What happens in the mysterious afterlide is a contentious issue debated by many belief systems throughout the world.
ONE LIFE TO LIVE?
The possibility - or not - of the afterlife is a deeply personal issue and it's a journey that by its very nature must be taken alone. What happens to you may depend soley on your beliefs and convictions, and it is these that will dictate where you spend the hereafter.
Athiests do not believe in the existence of deity. This may not necessarily preclude some type of afterlife, but it is more usual that an athiest will believe that once they are dead they'll stay that way. Along a similar vein, existentialists and agnostics often find that life can only be understood through personal experience and if there are any supreme deities they'll never be known.
In monotheistic religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam, a clear view of the afterlife if offered. Christians can go to limbo, purgatory, heaven or hell; Jews will go to a place of spiritual perfection called the Garden of Eden (not that of Adam and Eve) or the less pleasant Gehenna or Sheol; and Islam has a graduated system of seven different heavens, the holiest nearer to God on all levels. According to all of these systems you'll be going to heaven or hell.
MORE THAN ONE GOD
Many of the polytheistic religions will allow you to spend the afterlife with the gods of your choice, or in a realm that mirrors life in this one. The Ancient Romans and Greeks are known for their Olympian gods and the River Styx, but there are even more Pagans such as the Vikings, Celts and Druids who have varying afterlives.
Some religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, believe in reincarnation and Nirvana; this means you'll always have another chance at paradise.
A WORD OF SCIENCE
You may believe that science, with its need for repeatable, observable facts can never lend its expertise to affirm the existence of an afterlife, but this is not necessarily the case.
Some scientists believe that there is a finite amount of energy in the universe. If this is the case, then the energy you have in your body during your life must transfer elsewhere.
Experiments performed at the deathbeds pf volunteers have proven on a repeated basis that, at the moment of death, the deceased loses 21 grams of body mass. This may not offer conclusive evidence of an afterlife, but it does raise some interesting questions. What has left the body to make it lighter? Was it the person's soul? And if it was the soul, where did it go?
Science has a long history with religion and it may yet prove many of its dearly held tenets.
Next: Understanding near-death experiences.
To the believer, no proof is necessary - to the skeptic, no proof is enough!
You can't die for the life of you - Gordon Smith