Some NDEs have elements that bear little resemblance to the "typical" near-death experience. Anywhere from one percent (according to a 1982 Gallup poll) to 25 percent (according to some researchers) of subjects do not experience feelings of peace, nor do they visit Heaven or meet friendly spirits. Instead, they feel terrified and are accosted by demons or malicious imps. They may visit places that fit Biblical descriptions of Hell, including lakes of fire, tormented souls and a general feeling of oppressive heat.
There have been a few reports of shared NDEs, in which someone connected to the dying person accompanies them on their out-of-body journey. This might take the form of a dream that occurs at the same time that the subject was near death. Children have also been the subjects of NDEs. Very young children tend to report surreal experiences that have some common NDE elements. As children get older, their religious teachings often color their NDEs with more spiritual connotations, such as meeting God or Jesus.
A small percentage of NDE subjects report a prophetic vision that reveals to them the fate of earth and humanity. This is generally an apocalyptic vision showing the end times, but some report visions of humanity evolving into higher beings. One group of subjects, unknown to each other, reported that the world would end in 1988 [ref].
Near-death Experience Traits
Most NDEs share certain common traits, but not all NDEs have every trait and some NDEs don't follow a pattern at all. Here are the traits that "typical" NDEs share:
- Intense, pure bright light - Sometimes this intense (but not painful) light fills the room. In other cases, the subject sees a light that they feel represents either Heaven or God.
- Out-of-body experiences (OBE) - The subject feels that he has left his body. He can look down and see it, often describing the sight of doctors working on him. In some cases, the subject's "spirit" then flies out of the room, into the sky and sometimes into space.
- Entering into another realm or dimension - Depending on the subject's religious beliefs and the nature of the experience, he may perceive this realm as Heaven or, in rare cases, as Hell.
- Spirit beings - During the OBE, the subject encounters "beings of light," or other representations of spiritual entities. He may perceive these as deceased loved ones, angels, saints or God.
- The tunnel - Many NDE subjects find themselves in a tunnel with a light at its end. They may encounter spirit beings as they pass through the tunnel.
- Communication with spirits - Before the NDE ends, many subjects report some form of communication with a spirit being. This is often expressed a "strong male voice" telling them that it is not their time and to go back to their body. Some subjects report being told to choose between going into the light or returning to their earthly body. Others feel they have been compelled to return to their body by a voiceless command, possibly coming from God.
- Life review - This trait is also called "the panoramic life review." The subject sees his entire life in a flashback. These can be very detailed or very brief. The subject may also perceive some form of judgment by nearby spirit entities.
Near-death experiences and out-of-body experiences are sometimes grouped together, but there are key differences. An OBE can be a component of an NDE, but some people experience OBEs in circumstances that have nothing to do with death or dying. They may still have spiritual elements or feelings of calm. OBEs can happen spontaneously, or drugs or meditation can induce them.
In the next section, we'll take a look at who typically has NDEs and how they're affected.