Usually, we think of the Otherworld in a spatial way. As another layer of heightened reality or another higher dimension. However, there is also a temporal dimension here. Prominent examples are mythical stories about a magical past. Most of the fantasy literature uses mythical past as a concept. It is the premise of most fairy tales. The mythic past is often reminiscent of medieval times. Or it is the Golden Age. It is a reality full of wonders, dragons, wizards and magic. In some stories this mythic dimension is destroyed for different reasons. It is then replaced by a bleak and soulless reality. That is a very familiar idea.
However, there is another prominent idea. This is an idea about an darker otherworld which is replacing ordinary idea in the future. It’s simple the apocalypse. At a closer look the apocalypse is a much more complex thing as we usually think. If we refer to apocalypse most people associate some sort of catastrophe or doomsday. And most of the time apocalypse refers to Revelation to John, also called Book of Revelation or Apocalypse of John. This is an important book in the Bible.
The Book Of Revelation is indeed a doomsday vision. Total destruction, plague, the rising of monstrous creatures. It is in some ways like a feverish dream with fear and terror. The four horsemen of the apocalypse appear, which present conquest, war, famine, and death. The apocalypse in The Book Of Revelation unfolds as drama. Seven seals are broken and the destruction and annihilation of the world as we know it happens.
A new kind of reality follows the destruction of the common world, which is the hope of believers. This new world would be some sort of Otherworld. And that part of the vision is important for believers and it played a crucial role for the early Christians in the first century. It was a useful “tool”. However, it triggered also fundamentalism and radical movements.
The Apocalypse Is A Genre
The idea of the Apocalypse is much older as the Revelation of John and was indeed a popular genre. It appears also in the Old Testament. As a genre there are certain stable conventions. There is a narrator, a prophet who has a visionary experience. The core of the visionary experience is a sort of revelation, a sort of new knowledge what reality is about.
This is the real core of the term. The Greek verb “Apo Kalypto” meaning ‘uncover; disclose, reveal’. It is the UNVEILING. If the assume that the Otherworld is the “real world” and we live in the world of shadows (see Platons Caves) it makes sense that Apocalypse can be the future coming of the otherworld.
There is also a psychological interpretation of Apocalypse going back to C.G. Jung which was suggested by Edward. F. Edinger in “The Archetype Of Apocalypse“. He sees the idea of the apocalypse not just as a genre but as an archetype, something like a living psychic agency which floats at the bottom of the unconscious.
As a vision the apocalypse was very vivid at critical times as the first century B.C.. Scientists in a documentary series by network ARTE pointed out that it was then a problem when the Apocalypse not happened as announced. Early Christians expected to experience the Apocalypse in their lifetime. Some of them even embraced the burning of Rome as sign of the Apocalypse.
Some scientists think that the “failed delivery” of the Apocalypse was helpful for the rise of gnostic ideas. Here the Otherworld is not the coming of a new world in the future, it is more another dimension. It is the real world which is hidden. The gnostics tried to get closer to this hidden Otherworld with the help of rites and practices.
Both conceptions are alive through all the centuries. These ideas are not bound to a certain religion. They represent very fundamental and mythological ideas. Most people are familiar with it in some way. However, both the Otherworld as temporal and the Otherworld as a spatial dimension are simplifications. These are useful models and also useful in a political sense. Christianity and other religions developed these models further because they suited their missionary efforts.
What should we believe in?
If we look deeper into visionary experiences or even our most advanced models of higher dimension in modern physics it is more like the Otherworld and ordinary world are not separated. The Otherworld is right here and it is happening right now. Let’s remember the original meaning of Apocalypse: Unveiling. We don’t see it because there is a veil. For example in near death experiences, but also in Ufo encounters there might be cases where the witness says he was transported to another place but the coordinates doesn’t suggest any meaningful “travel route”. The witness could have been anywhere. The problem – or if we want “the veil” – is that our brain is not really fit to think beyond spatial and temporal dimensions. Thus, we will live on with these conceptions.
In stories, movies and in series we always use “portals” as gateways between our dimension and the otherworldly realm. There are both portals between spatial dimensions but some portals seem have a more temporal quality. Time travellers use portals too. In folk stories often somebody enters a cave and returns a hundred years later. David Lynch’s Twin Peaks – The Return series shows a perhaps more accurate or more sophisticated worldview. It suggests that our world and the dimension of the otherworld are interwoven in many and mysterious ways.
Will the apocalypse actually happen?
What about all these myths and belief-systems suggesting that there will be a doomsday event followed by a new world, sometimes sort of a heaven, sometimes more a hellish uncanny Otherworld? Of course, there is no final answer to this. It is remarkable how vivid, active and powerful the “archetype of apocalypse” is. It is one of the most compelling ideas. Apocalyptic visions seems to be as old as mankind. They occur often in visionary experiences. They have ups and downs. Around the end of the first millennium apocalyptic thinking was very strong. As for the end of the second millenium there was a peak of doomsday predictions. Same in 2012. The End times is always around the corner. Remarkable a climate change at the end of the middle ages and the beginning of modern times was also a period where the doomsday expectation where high. The doomsday fever was accompanied by intimidating sinister apparitions as the celestial phenomena above Nuremberg. The plague and the 30 years war literally erased populated areas. It was indeed apocalypse.
However, there was no new beginning, no relief, no heaven on Earth after that. Nevertheless, the world-view changed, it was the beginning of the age of modern science. Thus, there was indeed some sort of unveiling. Perhaps, there is literal truth in the coming of the Apocalypse. We might consider to think in different time spans as we are used to. The coming of the otherworld could be also seen as a constant process. As we look into deep space with sophisticated telescopes we learn about catastrophes of unimaginable dimensions. Whole galaxies collide, radio and gamma bursts might destroy many worlds, monstrous black holes are lurking in deep space. Of course, there will be a doomsday. But not a day. It could be sort of a transformation lasting for eons. It is good not to simplify. Maybe it has already begun and we can only see vaguely through that big veil what’s really going on or what is coming.
So, what about all these apocalyptic visions with a sheer incredible imagination? This is where most of this stuff comes from. From the psyche. We have apocalyptic dreams, we have visions, premonitions, revelations and sudden overwhelming experiences. It is even true that apocalyptic imaginary is a dominant theme throughout all times. Therefore, there is some sense behind the idea of an archetype of apocalypse. Perhaps we may never know but it seems like an unknown source is projecting these images from somewhere in space in time directly into our consciousness. The frequency and the intensity seems to change, but it is a bit like what Jacques Vallée said that there seems to be somewhere a projectionist creating these images. Who, what or where that source is we don’t know.
Peter Engelmann, July 13, 2022