Steve Beckow, a resident of Vancouver, B.C., has a very unusual pastime. You might call him an afterlife cartographer. A sociologist, historian, and a former member of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Beckow prefers to call himself a student of cross-cultural spirituality. His primary interest now is in making sense of the afterlife from revelations that have come to us through various forms of mediumship, including the mediumship of the Bible and other sacred texts. I recently had the opportunity to interview Beckow by e-mail. Here are my questions and his answers:
Steve, what prompted your interest in charting the heavens?
I followed what must have been a common path for my generation in the 1970s - through encounter groups, off to India, into spirituality. At one point I spent time in a British-spiritualist development circle and at another time I had an out-of-body experience. It was these two latter influences that made me resolve to write a book on the conditions of life after death.
Other spiritual experiences and the writing projects they inspired intervened, but a few years ago. I returned to the original promise I had made myself and, drawing on my sociological training, began to piece together a picture of life beyond physical death.
What did you find?
Well, first of all, working on the subject is a little like piecing together a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, all of whose pieces are in soft shades of blue. It is only by nuances that one can tell the pieces apart. For instance, the flora, buildings, and art of the Astral and Mental Planes are alike, both dazzling and indescribable. How is one to distinguish between them from an earthly standpoint? Moreover, unlike earth, which is arranged geographically, the spirit planes are arranged hierarchically. As Julia Ames said, “there are degrees in heaven.”
This has several impacts. First, examining the communicators themselves, I found that I was mostly reading accounts by the newly-arrived. They occupied planes nearest to earth and knew the least about what they were describing. Second, the conditions of life become increasingly hard to describe as one mounts higher in the spiritual realms. Third, communicators lose their desire to communicate with us on this side the further up they mount the ladder of the planes. All this biases communication in the direction of the least well-informed, speaking on the most familiar territory.
Have you succeeded in drawing a new map of heaven?
Like all early explorers, I and other afterlife investigators so far have only mapped out known “continents,” mostly the Borderlands or the Higher Summerlands. Most spiritual communications, in earlier times, were primarily proving that we survive. Following them was a raft of spirit teachings. It is only rarely that a spirit communicator actually turns his or her attention to the conditions of life on the other side.
Moreover, of the planes above the Astral (that is, above the Winterlands and Summerlands) and perhaps the Mental we know little at all. Theosophical commentators give only a general paragraph to what they called the Buddhic and Nirvanic Planes and confide that they are forbidden to say anything at all about higher planes. All of this means that afterlife cartography is very much in its infancy.
What are the “Winterlands”?
The Winterlands are the bottom planes of the astral - the Stony Plane and the Dark Plane. These are the equivalent of what Christians call “Hell.” The Stony Plane is described as resembling the American desert regions with much less heat and light. The Dark Plane is a quite miserable place to land in, cold, dark, and, in many respects, noxious. Some people spend hundreds of years wallowing in self-pity before climbing their way back out of it. Others work hard and make a mad dash to leave them behind.
Nonetheless, they are not the same “Hell” as pictured in orthodox religion. In the first place, they are not everlasting; spirits are given the opportunity to mend themselves and leave. In the second, there is no hellfire in which souls are tormented. The worst torment that occurs arises from the individual’s own mind. An example of that would be a murderer condemned mentally to endlessly relive his or her crimes, which is what I understand occurs.
Incidentally, one of the questions I had in the back of my mind that spurred this research was to discover what happened to the Nazis after death. Almost all of them ended up in the Dark Planes, but I learned something else that startled me. I have encountered several spirits who say that the worst among evil spirits - Philip Gilbert even named one Nazi (google “Irma Grese”) - have been, shall we say, re-assimilated back into the cosmic Spirit. They no longer exist as individuals. That was one of the sobering revelations from this work. Until then I thought not one sheep would be lost, but apparently this is not the case.
If there is a Hell, is there a Purgatory?
Purgatory is a state rather than a place. There are several purgatories. The Borderlands are a “place of purging,” where we undergo a “full-life review” immediately after death. You probably already know that some people may undergo this review during an out-of-body experience.
But there is a second place of purging, after one has become established in the “Mental Plane” or “Heaven” proper, which lies “above” the Astral Summerlands. Here one goes through a much more intensive review than the first, in concert with one’s spirit teachers, which communicators call “the Judgment.” After this second review, there follows a time of making amends for one’s errors and then what is called the “Second Death,” when the remaining earthly traces fall away and one emerges in the mental body. I have heard that there are other purgations, or purgatories, as well.
Does your research confirm the existence of “earthbound spirits”? If so, exactly what are they? Do they know that they are dead?
Yes, there are large numbers of earthbound spirits. They share in common an unfinished longing for continued experience of mortal life. Some may not know they are dead; some may know.
Some may be malevolent spirits, spurring embodied people on to excesses and crimes so that the earthbound spirit can enjoy the sensations if even in a limited and vicarious fashion. Some may be loving spirits, unable to bear the pain of separation from loved ones. Others may simply miss their old castle or their old flat.
Others can be mistaken for earthbound spirits, but are actually souls who remain near the earth for exalted purposes. The fascinating Nirmanakaya are one example. The Nirmanakaya are incredibly-developed souls, who have renounced the right to enter Nirvana and agreed to remain more or less stationary in the spirit plane showering it and the earth with love. Occasionally Theosophists would bump into one of these “stones in the guardian wall.”
What is the highest plane from which we have communications?
Again, spirits do not often say what plane they are communicating from. One who does is John Heslop, who communicates from an exalted region called the Christ Sphere. This sphere is mentioned by others, but Heslop actually describes as many details of it as can be captured in our language. Unfortunately these details are fewer than I would like, but listening to Heslop we can, from his words, get a sense of the caliber of inhabitants of that exalted sphere.
Here I might add that two sources - John Heslop and Julia Ames - actually describe being taken up into heaven, Julia by an angel, meeting the Lord Jesus with a heavenly host behind him, and experiencing enlightenment at his hands. I mention this because some people - incarnate and discarnate - debunk Biblical descriptions like the “Rapture” these days, but I have found interesting examples bearing these descriptions out. They simply do not happen to most folks (and so are little known to, and sometimes denied by, the average spirit communicator). They happen to more highly-developed beings.
This raises the interesting question of the fallibility of spirits. Because most communicators are recently transitioned, they can be mistaken in their assessments of what does and does not happen on the other side. It was the newly-arrived Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson who said that there was no “rapture” and no “judgment.” But in fact he was in error on both points.
The other source that is well worth studying is Stainton Moses’ Spirit Teachings. His chief communicator, “Imperator,” last incarnated as the prophet Malachi, who was one of those responsible for putting the Old Testament in the form it takes today. He is assisted by a band of 49 lofty souls and his teachings are fascinating. Unfortunately Imperator does not talk about his own plane specifically, but still gives much valuable information on spirit life in general.
I haven’t read the Seth books again since long ago, but expect the same high-quality information from that source too.
How many planes are there? Can you name them all?
No, I cannot name them all. No classification scheme I have seen so far takes them all in - not those of the Theosophists or the Rosicrucians or anyone else. A comprehensive map would have to include the Buddhic and Nirvanic Planes, the two planes above them that the Theosophists refuse to discuss, and the realms of the Dharmarajas, Elohim, Lipika, and nine orders of angels. No cartographical scheme that I have seen shows where they all fit in or even names (or numbers) them in a consistent manner.
Most schemes of description go no farther than the Third Heaven or third subplane of the Mental Plane. There may very well be no words to describe them even if they were named or numbered.
Moreover, there are no maps that I am aware of that also include the life streams parallel to but independent of humans that exist alongside our planes, such as fairies, sylphs, etc. I have not concerned myself with these or, for that matter, with the spiritual planes that are associated with life forms on other planetary and star systems. (Yes, they exist too.)
Not only can I not name all the planes, but I am faced with a plethora of names which appear to point to the same region while lacking spirit confirmation that they actually do. Thus, the Borderlands are called the Near-Earth Plane, Kamaloka, Hades, Purgatory, the Vestibule, and the “Blue Island.” That would be well and good if someone like Annie Besant did not come along and extend the word “Kamaloka” to the whole of the Astral Plane or someone else point out that there are many Purgatories, etc. There is frighteningly little agreement on matters of prime importance in surveying the Heavens.
Your website mentions that there is a convalescence period in the Borderland realm. Does the time spent there vary for different souls? Do earthbound spirits undergo convalescence? If so, why are they still earthbound?
Spirits may or may not convalesce after their deaths. It depends on a number of factors. First, it depends on the degree of their familiarity with life after death. Those familiar may pass quickly through the Borderlands and take up their residence on the higher Astral Planes - Robert Hugh Benson, for instance. Some will move quickly through the Astral Planes before taking their residence on the Mental Planes - W.T. Stead, for example.
It also depends on the nature of their death conditions. Those who have suffered a long illness or a sudden and violent death will generally need more time to convalesce than those who died, say, peacefully in their sleep. Some people may need only a day’s sleep and they are ready to function. Benson is an example of this too.
In Grace Rosher’s The Travellers’ Return, there is a wonderful description of the joyous reception Sir Winston Churchill received on the Astral Plane from former prime ministers and other historic figures. Prior to that reception, Sir Winston was convalescing. One detail that was interesting to hear was that he was awakened temporarily from his rest to hear the trumpets at St. Paul’s cathedral and then sent back to bed. What a nice touch!
Most earthbound spirits are surrounded by a mental wall of unconsciousness that spirits who help with transitions cannot penetrate. Sometimes these earthbound spirits do and sometimes they do not know they have died. Others consciously choose to be earthbound and transition guides will not violate their freedom of choice. Most of us are “earthbound” in a manner of speaking. Even Julia Ames sought permission to leave Jesus and return to tell her loved ones on earth the good news. We all spend a certain amount of time around those we have left behind.
Again, certain spirits receive permission to work with their mediumistic relatives - Philip Gilbert, for instance, or “Sigwart” of The Bridge Across the River. While we don’t usually consider them “earthbound,” they do account for some sustained spiritual activity around mortals.
Which have been your best or favorite resources for this information?
I certainly have my favourites. I have mentioned some already. I have found invaluable the books communicated by Philip Gilbert through his mother Alice (Philip in Two Worlds, Into the Everywhere, and Philip in the Spheres), Julia’s letters in W.T. Stead’s After Death, T.E Lawrence’s Post-Mortem Journal, and Benson’s Life in the World Unseen series. F.W.H. Myers is informative but idiosyncratic. It is difficult to know where to fit some of his information. Again I have not finished my reading for this project.
Among the books by incarnate scholars, my favourite is Paul Beard’s Living On. The Theosophists are also wide-ranging and informative. I should mention that there are a great number of primary and secondary texts available these days online.
What does this research show us?
Well, even more distinctly than research on earth life, research on spirit life shows us the Divine Plan: namely, spiritual evolution, from God to God. (All of what follows is covered in clearly-marked sections of my website.) We have all of us come from God and are destined, at some distant future time, to return to God after we have experienced a very advanced stage of enlightenment.
God’s Will, as I understand it, is that, through Its created life forms, the Formless will enjoy the experience of Its own Bliss. And that moment of enjoyment occurs during enlightenment. The purpose of our lives therefore is enlightenment and our journey down and up the spirit planes, as depicted in Jacob’s ladder, is to serve the Divine Plan of which our enlightenment forms a part.
Following spirit travel from plane to plane shows Jacob’s ladder of spiritual evolution about as plainly as anything we could ever expect to see. The march from the Winterlands to the Summerlands to Heaven and beyond is a graphic illustration of the trajectory of our return to Divinity. Revealing a picture of the Divine Plan at work is one of the major contributions of afterlife research.
Is there anything else you are hoping to achieve by drawing new maps of heaven?
I know that spirits listen to us as much as we listen to them. While drawing maps, I am also trying to convey to them the message that we need them to tighten up the process of communication. One way would be to ensure that all communicators be required to tell us specifically from which plane (and subplane) they are communicating. Location on the other side is of critical importance to us who are trying to fit the pieces together.
I also ask for the help of spirit teachers in correlating the different terminologies that spirits use. For example, I do not know what planes names like the “Christ Sphere” or “Empyrean Plane” refer to in general, but also how they correlate to numbering systems like “the seventh plane,” etc.
Even more importantly than that, I hope to persuade spirit and physical folks to get together on some really broad anthropological projects that would subject spirit planes to rigorous social-scientific study. Until recently, most accounts have resembled tourist guides. We can do better than that and, I think, we are ready for intensive, scholarly examinations carried out by groups on this side co-operating with groups on “the other.” I still don’t think this research should be affiliated with universities, though, who still appear to adhere to a paradigm of empirical materialism and can be influenced by the state.
I think of the various interviews carried out by Robert Leichtman in the Seventies, collectively called From Heaven to Earth (unfortunately out of print now and hard to come by). Leichtman, through medium David Kendrick Johnson, interviewed Tesla, Churchill, Shakespeare, Cayce, Garrett, and many others. His work, while anecdotal, was still fascinating and showed the potential of organized, co-operative cross-border research, embodied spirits sitting down with disembodied.
We are all of us interested in a small area of the total picture. Just because I don’t mention something outside my own area of interest does not mean it is not important. The same cross-border research that I request for anthropological purposes will be used by others to receive in-depth spiritual teachings that may help us end the tremendous difficulties we are falling into these days. Many of the chief problems of our era, and I mention the use of planet-threatening depleted-uranium weapons as just one example, are hardly mentioned in our press. We need spirit help with these problems too, even if I personally would not be prominent among the researchers carrying on that work.
In my view it is time to pick up the pace and get serious about cross-border communication. We have passed through the evidential phase quite some time ago, without having necessarily moved to much more intensive communication. I am saying that the time has now arrived to begin the next phase.
Steve can be found at http://www.stevebeckow.com