A young woman is admitted to the psych ward of a large city hospital, claiming she is a witch and has the evil eye. She also claims she is being punished for this and wants to be baptized. Oh, and she says she died; while she was in the afterlife state she traveled across time and continents and is now caught up between two great world powers who want to make use of her knowledge. While watching a lightning storm, she has visions of great holy men and receives the revelation that she is to join them and lead a new religious era. She will be the new Virgin Mother and queen; but this is to be kept secret. Her city, she says, is about to become a new hell; but a new city will drop from the sky, from spaceships, bringing a whole new order into the world. People will then have wisdom enough to live together in peace.
Psychotic episode. Stark, raving mad. Oh, weird. Fruitcake.
Well, yes and no. Certainly a riot of archetypes.
As it happened, that young woman’s narrative extended over a long enough period of time for her to be considered psychotic and needing care. Had it occurred all at once, it might have been considered one walloping near-death experience, the kind that gets its teller on television and writing bestsellers that wide-eyed buyers interpret as literal prophecy of a real-world future. She might have started a whole new religion. She might have had to figure some kind of meaning out all by herself.
Fortunately, she came under the care of a remarkable psychiatrist, the late John Weir Perry, who recognized in her images a familiar, repetitive pattern. The pattern involves themes of death and birth, world destruction and creation, clashes of political or religious or even cosmic powers, sacred marriages and messianic callings, and programs of reform. Why, it sounds somewhat familiar.
It is, wrote Perry, “The world…shifted from the consensual outer reality to this inner myth-styled reality that tends not to be validated in our culture…According to the psyche’s purposes, in order to break out of the security of solid consensus and convention, one must encounter the experience of dying or of having already died, which symbolizes a dissolution of the accustomed self.”
In some especially rich experiences, the second element is a vision of the death of the world. “One must encounter the death of the familiar self-image and the destruction of the world image to make room for the self regeneration of them both. Life cannot be repaired, it can only be re-created.”
…one must encounter the experience of dying or of having already died, which symbolizes a dissolution of the accustomed self.
What a remarkable gift to many troubled people it would be, if we could only get out the word that a distressing NDE, especially a hellish one, needs to be approached as neither an afterlife threat or punishment but as a mandate to take a new perspective of life and world. One’s previous life cannot be repaired, it can only be re-created.
John Weir Perry, Trials of the Visionary Mind, Spiritual Emergency and the Renewal Process. Google Books.