So Hallowtide is about Will’s journey through his personal hell. Since I’ve read the book, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the afterlife and ghosts… Do you believe that everyone has their own personal afterlife tailored specifically for them? Or does everyone have the same afterlife (according to their religion or beliefs)? Or maybe some elements are the same in everyone’s afterlife. I can’t help but think that maybe some ghosts are just living their afterlife and that’s why they haunt specific places. For example, heaven for them would be a particular place that made them the most happy and hell would be a particular place that gave them a horrible experience (where they died, where they were abused, etc.) -Kelly G
This is a great question, and one that I thought would make a good blog post to reply to. Without giving too much away, my novel Hallowtide is indeed about a young man and his journey to Hell. This journey seems to, at the most superficial, be taking place within his dreams. Dreams are a space of subconscious interaction, and many psychologists believe that this dream state is a good place to manifest the mind’s invisible. But the questions are raised within the book when it comes to the “truth” within these dreams, the “truth” of the subconscious, and the doors that opens to much of psychologist Carl Jung’s philosophy, in which there is a deeper layer of unconscious space, the Collective Unconscious, where the collective subtleties of a culture pool. Joseph Campbell took this idea and ran with it toward his search in finding universal consistencies within mythic hero stories. I bring this back in the novel to discussions about then what might be spiritually real happening within Will’s dreams.
The research and study that I did in college and my personal life while working on the novel has definitely melted into my own thoughts on the nature of the afterlife too. Obviously this is a popular topic of reflection too with my job as a ghost hunter.
While I’m actually quite taken with Jung’s mythology, I also find a certain foundation in the theory of Mystical Experiences. Much of mysticism (a broad, broad category in its own right) suggests that there are at least two levels of worlds (more often a spectrum between the two), one of which is this physical world in which we operate (the one of empiricism, the five senses, sciences, and that which we can document) and then the more Platonic world of ideals, ideas, the abstract, a space where perhaps morality and good and evil and intention are as tangible as here, the flesh. This is the spiritual world. This is the non-physical. It seems to me that the act of death is a shedding of the physical, and that whatever is at the core of our experience, this consciousness (soul, spirit, what have you) is then in this inherently non-physical, ineffable place beyond this world we know.
But it seems that these worlds intercross (a spectrum, as many mystics believe). Indeed, if we ourselves are physical and spiritual beings both, most pertinently then, within ourselves.
Emotions play an interesting role here that I haven’t come to a conclusion on. Emotions, I’ve always felt, are what help us to transcend this place. My inner romantic believes that emotions like true love, that deep, world-shaking (indeed, breaking) feelings of compassion, or utter selflessness (even hatred perhaps) transcends this world and puts us on the level of spiritual creatures. But we also find that with emotion is often material attachment. We often find ourselves most emotionally attached to things: temporary, physical, stuff. Whether that’s a person, a place, or a thing, all of which will fade in time.
Emotions then have this kind of two-fold place, where on the one hand I think that they can help us transcend to the non-physical, on the other they tie us to the physical. And I’ve found that with spirits, with these ghosts that we interact with, there always seems to be some kind of lingering attachment. And also, as might be an inherent part of this transition to the non-physical, their emotions and attachments often seem amplified.
There’s a story I like to share, the source of which has gotten fuzzy in my memory (but I think it was from Andy Coppock), of this spirit in an old run down California hospital. Creepy place. This spirit was apparently violent and angry down in the lower levels. But this team went down there, dispensed with the bull, said ‘stop yelling at us, and instead tell us why you’re so upset.’ And what they got from this spirit was that he’d been killed accidentally on the operating table when he was a patient at this hospital in the 60s. Being so upset about this, he made it his goal to try to scare everyone away from this hospital so that the same thing didn’t happen to them. But he was still seeing this hospital as functioning and running as it was the day he died.
This to me suggests a kind of correlation to the old cliches, the Sixth Sense and Casper ghosts who have unfinished business and who see what they want to see. It seems to me though that these emotions that become so pure after death, that surround these various focuses and objects of attachment, do align with a distortion of this physical reality, and the changes in ways of interaction that so go along with it.
But most importantly it suggests to me that the individual spiritual experience is a very powerful and oftentimes unique one.
And that oftentimes it’s layered with attachments, illusions (though who is to say what’s “real” when you’re operating beyond the real), and struggles.
Buddhists, in focusing around the elimination of dukha, (suffering or dis-ease) are focused–you could say–in the study of happiness. And they don’t believe that true happiness is found in material objects because they are temporary. Every single thing in this world will break down. You. Me. Your loved ones. And so finding happiness within them is not true happiness because it will eventually turn to sadness. It’s dependent. True happiness should be independent, and stand on its own. So even, I expect, for a spirit finding happiness–its own kind of Heaven–in something of the material world (a loved one, a home, an object), is not, under this kind of thinking, truly happy. It’s a kind of false happiness. One that, the Buddhists would suggest, is bested by the peace of inner-happiness and of acceptance. Or, as the mystics might suggest, the kind of peace found in transcendence, in moving on, in letting go, in embracing the spiritual, the divine–whatever that indescribable non-physical pinnacle is of such a world.
I think letting go of this pure physical reality is difficult for many of us and that it’s a lifetime(s) of learning what we’re here to learn and then trying to overcome the intoxication of the pleasures (and pain) of the physical that is a real challenge, but a necessary and natural one. Why we don’t see many spirits from the past few hundred years alone suggests that there’s something to move on to. Whether that’s reincarnation or a more pure form of non-physical spirituality (divinity, as some mystics would suggest) (or both), I think that isn’t not nearly so absolute a process of life and death as we think here in our physical world.
Beyond that, to suggest what people see then in their afterlife experiences, I think can be a bit messy. If they’re “seeing” something, there’s an inherent suggestion that there’s still something physical happening there. They have eyes to ‘see’ and that there is something to “be seen.” All of these would suggest that in such a setting there is a still some tie to the physical. So I think if someone is seeing something that can be described, it might be again, some kind of focus or attachment that’s overwhelming the pure experience that is the afterlife. Whether that’s guilt, or whether that’s a kind of excitement for something specific, I think it could become hard to trust.
While researching mysticism, we find this idea of people accessing the divine, the spiritual. Indeed, this is the foundation of many of the religions that surround the globe, especially the theistic ones. A person has an experience of something beyond the physical. They want to share this experience and they want to share how they discovered it (setting grounds for a belief and a set of practices, the foundational cornerstones of any ideology). Of course they try to describe it in words. But the experience is beyond the physical world. And words are a limited construction of the physical. You cannot describe the indescribable. You can only point at it). The mystic also describes it in terms of their culture, which can also be very limited. The culture picks and chooses which elements fit their framework for viewing the world, the experience is repeated, doctrine is described, and in its sharing with thousands of people, is often changed. And so, it’s no surprise to me that we get wildly differing accounts of religious experiences across the world.
So by putting any one religious theory of the afterlife over another, or even trying to describe it in words at all, is to muddy the waters. But I hope that this gives some idea of my perspectives on it all. Certainly I come from a very mystical perspective, one that has lead to a much more pluralistic religious perspective, but one that sustains a lot of respect to all religions and belief systems.
But I certainly don’t know. Many far smarter than I have written many books on the subject. Some of which are quite good, many of which I haven’t gotten to yet. But this framework is what at the moment makes the most kind of sense to me, and ultimately, as structured the question, what found its way into the story of my first novel, Hallowtide.
Any more questions? Disagreements? Furthering thoughts? Dive into a conversation below. But keep it cool. Religion is touchy. Death is frightening. And we’re all just trying to figure it out.
Karl Pfeiffer is the author of the novel Hallowtide. After winning the first season of the pilot reality series Ghost Hunters Academy, he went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team on the same network. Since then he’s graduated Colorado State University with a degree in Creative Writing and an emphasis on Religious Studies. He works at the Stanley Hotel leading the weekend public ghost hunts and writes for the TAPS Paramagazine. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com