Frankly, I believe there is no serious right answer to this. It is also true, that men tried to imagine the otherworld since the early ancient beginnings. Religious literature and art are full of descriptions of the otherworld. Artists used their imagination and talent to give us an incredible amount of ideas about what the otherworld might look like. The unknown authors of creation myths formed our ideas about mythical forlorn landscapes. People who had a near-death experience gave us numerous accounts of otherworld journeys.
In Christianity often heaven is a synonym of the otherworld. It is often depicted as a brightly illuminated paradise. However, this is only one of the endless ideas about the otherworld. Our idea of the otherworld is strongly influenced by Celtic culture. The Celtic Otherworld is a plane of another reality, a strange country or a higher dimension surrounding our ordinary world. It is more or less a kind of a mirror world hidden at a secret place. That otherworld has many names, for example Annwn (Welsh), Albios, Bitu and Dubnos in Gaul, or Tír na nÓg in Ireland. It is a place for myth and fantastic stories. The epic stories about King Arthur resemble that idea about the otherworld. For example the enchanted island of Avalon.
There are much darker ideas about the otherworld too. It can be Hades, the land of the dead, an in-between zone between the living and the dead, a bleak Netherland or simply hell. The otherworld, of course, is a constant theme in film and television.
We will find countless variations about ideas of what the otherworld looks like. Commonly the otherworld resembles somehow our own world. Reality might be different in the otherworld. There might be different rules in the otherworld. Wonders are possible in the otherworld. Time runs sometimes backward in the otherworld. Things are not what they seem in the otherworld. Nevertheless, the otherworld is familiar. It is a fairy tale landscape or a dangerous zone (the terra incognita where dragons live) but it is still a terrain we can somehow understand.
Which ideas are correct?
This is a critical question but there might no answer to this too. It is critical in human history, since the “right idea” about the higher realms is often connected with power. It is part of religious war to impress others with powerful images. However if we reflect about the otherworld there is no right or wrong. It is indeed important to ask much deeper and sometimes troubling questions. Is the otherworld a spatial thing? Where is the otherworld? Is the otherworld comparable to our reality? Is the otherworld really separated from our world? Maybe our world, our everyday reality is simply a part of the otherworld.
Dualism might be wrong
The Matrix Franchise is culturally very influential on how we think when it comes to “this world” vs “other world”. The “blue pill, “red pill” dichotomy is widely accepted. It means, that you have one choice between two sets of reality. Ordinary reality is “fake”. Behind there is a deeper reality which is the one and only right reality. What has been a memorable movie scene and cultish idea once is in the end an oversimplification. It is a reductionist dualism evading the fact that reality is much more complex. The otherworld is a complex thing that is perhaps impossible to understand in itself. We see the flipside in the abuse of the blue pill red pill idea by conspiracy theorists. The problem is as old as history. False prophets promise to enlighten audiences pretending to know the real world behind our “fake” world. However, there is no proof that there is any other world that is more real than our world and furthermore, nobody knows exactly what that world looks like.
There are signs of higher dimensions, higher realities, other worlds intermingling with our own. The otherworld is the very fabric of reality. In some moments it might be possible to take a glimpse into that fabric. Imagination is key. The otherworld is not strictly inside or outside too. We may have already stored images of the otherworld inside of us. In some moments we are able to remember these images. Therefore, there is no right or wrong here. The otherworld is not some distant country. It is right here and there in this very moment.
The raising era of virtual realty can trigger a new and broader worldview. Even there are many new possibilities for deception we become more acquainted to a more complex idea of reality. There is one thing about virtual reality and that is that it is kind of reality creation. There is a creator making up these images but mixing them with real stuff.
Perhaps there is a similarity here: We might also create images on our own if we enter an unknown realm because otherwise we could not cope with that higher realm. The true nature of that otherworld is so different or so incomprehensible it would blow our mind in the blink of a second.
This is perhaps what visionary experience is about. We have countless accounts of visionary experiences as near-death-experiences, shaman journeys, drug-induced-experiences, experiences in meditation and extreme situation, supernatural encounters, dreams, alien-abduction-records. Even as we see that there is a cultural influence (the images resemble sometimes the culture in which a witness lives) there is no uniform “look” of the otherworld. It might be a product of individual imagination, a real outer realm or higher dimension which cannot be encompassed by the human mind.
Finally there might be the projections from an outer source. The rich imaginary, the experiences which can’t be identified by some personal memory, the high strangeness suggest some sort of “projectionist”. Somebody who is creating otherworldly images. In 2001 the hotel or the 18th century suite is created by an alien entity which doesn’t reveal itself. In the story of Richard Clarke we don’t learn where Bowman actually has been.
Perhaps some otherworldly imaginaries (as experienced in near death experience or visionary encounters) are kind of a message. There is no proof here but if we learn to read the images of the otherworld from any source we know we might get a better idea about the otherworld itself in the end.
Peter Engelmann, February 13, 2022