History of religion

The view over the threshold

Published in Grail World special issue 24
There is one certainty in a person's life: that the earthly life cycle is limited. From a physical point of view, living beings are unstable systems that have to be maintained through a continuous supply of energy. In the process, they are constantly changing and at some point come to their inevitable end. The maximum lifetime of a living organism on earth is species-specific. It varies between minutes for microorganisms [1] and many centuries for some types of plants. This brings us to a question that only humans asks of all earthly forms of life: Will it continue after my physical death, and if so, how?

Mysterious in the clear day
Nature cannot be deprived of the veil;
And what she may not reveal to your mind,
You won’t win it with levers and screws.
(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

Where are we going?

The three basic religious and philosophical questions are: Where do we come from? Where are we going? What is the meaning of our earthly life?

All religions offer answers that are often counted among the "basic religious truths". But nowadays the belief in these basic truths is often only lip service. Only relatively few people are convinced, for example, that despite the death of the earthly body, the actual human being, his spiritual personality, will continue to exist. And whoever believes in the "eternal life" of the human soul or the human spirit is still unsure how it will look over there, in the other world, and how it will continue for him personally.

What happens to us after crossing the threshold into the otherworld, into the levels of the hereafter? Millennia ago people asked the same questions about this as we do today, in the post-industrial age of materialism. Answers to this basic question of existence have been and are still being sought in a wide variety of ways. Indeed where are these answers sought? What ways are there to catch a “glimpse over the threshold”?

The science of death

A relatively new branch of science, thanatology, has been dealing with the processes at the boundary between life and (earthly) death, i.e. the transition of the human soul - or in other words: the "substance" that is conscious of consciousness - from being on this side into being on the other.

For example, attempts are made to gain first insights into the afterlife through reports on near-death experiences. Near-death experiences are the experiences of people who were temporarily clinically dead. Although their brains showed no function based on the measurements carried out, they perceived their surroundings and also elements of a world beyond. There is a deluge of publications on near-death or out-of-body experiences on the border between life and death. Numerous reports on this from different continents have been collected, published and interpreted, for example by the IANDS (International Association for Near-Death Studies). Even in antiquity, authors such as Pythagoras and Plato reported on near-death experiences (4, p. 36).

Today's natural scientists find it difficult to accept non-material processes. This includes, among other things, the psychological experiences of a clinically dead person, which suggest a continued existence after the earthly death. The often observed fact of mental clarity and awareness in the event of clinical loss of consciousness - for example in a coma or diagnosed brain death [2] - does not fit into our materialistic worldview.

Therefore, an attempt is made to interpret such impressions as special brain conditions, such as those that could be caused by a lack of oxygen. Depending on their personal attitudes, however, the individual can see evidence of the existence of an afterlife in the many known near-death experiences.


Almost all religions teach ideas of being after death, of heaven, hell and purgatory, which, despite their differences, also have parallels. Many ideas of the hereafter are even surprisingly similar. Do these similarities only prove early cultural contacts between peoples, or do they show that we are dealing with natural processes of being human that - regardless of ethnicity and religion - take place in the same way for all people everywhere in the world?

In contrast to Christianity, some religions - such as Buddhism - have developed detailed ideas of the transition to the otherworldly world, the stay there and the subsequent rebirth [3]. In addition, in many peoples and religions there are ritual acts that support a dying person in leaving his earthly body or also facilitate the first steps in the afterlife after death.

Many would like to keep searching, to learn more of the otherworldly world that is alien to us and yet so close, into which we will one day immerse. It may be an ancient knowledge that we have just lost access to.


Just about every religion has its mysteries. They can be secret cults that are not accessible to everyone. Or revelations whose ostensible content is known, but whose deeper understanding remains a mystery for most. In antiquity there were secret cults like the Eleusis Mysteries (5, p. 40). Those who were admitted to these were allegedly facing a special religious experience.

In Christianity, too, there are “secrets of faith” that have been revealed but are not accessible to skeptical questioning. These Christian mysteries include the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation of God, Jesus' vicarious atoning death and the Eucharist [4]. They became part of the liturgy. Here we encounter the difficult balancing act between science and religious experience that has threatened to tear theology apart for centuries.

The mysteries raise the fundamental question of whether there is privileged knowledge, a knowledge that can only be experienced by everyone under certain circumstances and not automatically. This assumption is also behind the talk of gurus, masters or initiates.

The initiation

Ancient mystery cults - for example in Egypt and Greece - had an "initiation" which supposedly consisted in familiarizing people with the closer realms of the afterlife. Those who had gone through these mysteries, which have been highly respected for centuries, had gained insights into the hereafter in their personal experience. After that, life after death was a self-experienced certainty for him. 

In Asia, for example, initiated Tibetan lamas are said to be familiar with the processes involved in the transition from the earthly to the otherworldly world (see box).

Initiation in Tibetan Buddhism
Alexandra David-Néel (1868–1969), trained as a Buddhist Lama herself, wrote on the subject of "initiation":
“The Lamaists start from the view that 'method' and skill in general play a large role. So in addition to the art of living well, one also has to understand the art of dying well, if one is not to fare badly in the hereafter.
As an initiate you know what is in store for you after death, and through deep contemplation you have already experienced the feelings that accompany death beforehand. The detachment from the body can therefore neither surprise nor excite, and 'that' which then has to continue on its way, since it now enters the hereafter with wakeful consciousness, will wander on well-known paths to well-known destinations. " (2, p. 29)

Some modern esoteric circles in Europe or America offer an initiation that wants to connect to the old mysteries or revive them. To what extent this can succeed is questionable. Such modern initiation rites are not only connected to the ancient mysteries. These were secret cults, of whose rituals only little is handed down, since each initiate was obligated to strict secrecy. Writers like Apuleius (about 125-170 A.D.) could report only in hints about their initiation experiences[5]. Therefore, modern efforts to initiate into deeper knowledge also included afterlife experiences as well as Rosicrucian and other occult or magical traditions or Asian teachings.

Personal mystical experiences

How do you come to a deepened inner, emotional, spiritual experience? Religious people or esotericists see different possible ways to inner awakening:
• Experience nature (no enthusiasm for nature)
• High sense of true art
- Great joy or deepest happiness
• Going through a great internal crisis
• Love felt deeply and purely
• Spiritual religious rituals
• prayer
Experience has shown that such religious approaches do not always, ie “on command”, lead to the desired spiritual experience, to religious experience, to “enlightenment” [6]. It depends very much on the open-mindedness of the seeker, on his willingness to absorb higher insights.

Since an ancestor of the higher world cannot be achieved by everyone in a direct way, for example through spiritual opening to the numinous (sacred, divine), some groups want to force the desired expansion of consciousness through occult procedures. They also resort to questionable, sometimes perverse tools, such as those known from some natural religions.

But even in occultism, sometimes even in recognized religions, such means of coercion can be found: breathing techniques, exercises, ecstatic rapture, hypnosis, magic, necromancy (necromancy), (cruel) sacrificial cults, pendulums, drugs, sexual magic, spiritualism - there are innumerable Methods to artificially generate the sought after contacts or the missing inner experience. In this way, the seeker can end up on paths that mislead him and that are by no means harmless (1).

Wrongly connected?

In natural religions such as shamanism or in ancient cults, drugs (narcotics) [7] played an important role. One has to assume that some religious ideas arose in the absence of writing - perhaps even under the influence of mind-altering drugs - and were only written down much later.

An often overlooked echo of the former cultic significance of intoxicating drugs can be found in high religions to this day: for example in the ritual use of incense or alcohol (mass wine). It can certainly be assumed that some “impressions from the hereafter” - thousands of years ago as today - were created on such paths, for example under psychedelic intoxication. These bring apparent "expansion of consciousness", but no reliable impressions from the "other world". Drugs have an effect on the brain, can create impressive "fireworks" in it, but certainly do not convey reliable images from the mind.

It is similar with visions that arose in ecstatic rapture. According to the statements of the Grail Message (1), it is above all one's own, but also other people's images, that have an effect on the visionary. Even a Christian holiday probably owes its origin to such visions [8].

In such cases, the clairvoyants themselves believe that they have been given higher inspirations, because there is hardly anything more convincing for a person than the confirmation of their own views. In fact, such clairvoyants have often lost their way in the vast field of human thought forms that cannot provide any further information. They were "wrongly connected" and mistook human thought images for higher wisdom, were misguided by "phantoms" (thought forms) or "demons" (forms of perception). (Cf. "Gods and oracles - old hat?".

In individual cases it is not easy to distinguish real insights into the hereafter from distorted images of human ideas. Spiritists therefore sometimes fiercely discuss “false spirits”, “lying spirits”, “spooky spirits” or “unclean spirits” that lead seekers astray. Reports on this can also be found in the Bible (e.g. Mark 1: 21-26).

In order to find one's way in this jumble of religious teachings and transcendent ideas, ultimately only one's own sense of truth can serve as a compass and a reliable guide, as it is a real revelation.

Recognizing higher worlds

Not every person can be a clairvoyant, a (gifted) visionary, to whom insights into the other world open up. That is a good thing, because real, high vision makes demands that only a few can handle.

But the rest of us still have options, in a natural way - without artificial tuition! - To arrive at an experience of the transcendent: Every person has experiences in the course of his life that show him that thinking, understanding, is not everything. There are emotional experiences that go much deeper and go further.

Also, most people - usually in emergency situations - find contact with nature beings or even secluded people several times in their lives, who warn or encourage them. Countless reports of such experiences can be found in the literature; often under the keyword "Guardian Angel". If one lets such experiences work on oneself, one arrives at the picture of a world that is hidden from our eyes, but very much alive beyond the earthly. Living on after the death on earth can become a certainty for you personally.

One can build on these humble, personal experiences on a small scale and draw further conclusions: If there is a world beyond, in which human spirits and natural beings work, then it is to be expected that above the transcendent levels of creation that lie above us there will be even higher, finer areas . Then the thought is not far removed that above the natural beings that we occasionally suspect, feel, feel, there are other, higher beings as “leaders of the elements” (1), similar to the ancient deities. With further extrapolation, a very old idea of humanity finally emerges: The idea of a supreme god. 

You can also read "The first steps in the Otherworld" under "History of religion".

[1] In the case of single-cell organisms (bacteria), the maximum lifespan cannot be well defined. Since they multiply through division, they are “potentially immortal”, unless one wants to see the end of the life cycle in division.
[2] On the controversial death criterion "brain death" see GralsWelt No. 72/2012, p. 30.
[3] For example in the "Tibetan Book of the Dead" (Walter-Verlag Solothurn, 1994), which has similarities with the "Egyptian Book of the Dead".
[4] Eucharist = Thanksgiving. The focus is on the change, to which the Council of Trent (1545–1563) said that in the sacrament of the Eucharist after the change of bread and wine "Our Lord Christ as true God and man is truly, really and essentially present under the form of those visible things (bread and wine)." (3, p. 149).
[5] The "Golden Donkey" of Apuleius, which was highly regarded by esotericists, comes from the late period of the mystery cults and is written in a cheerful style that lacks the once strict seriousness of the mystery cults.
[6] In Zen Buddhism, enlightenment is referred to as the knowledge of the universal nature of existence. This probably corresponds to the unified experience of occidental mystics, the “unio mystika”.
[7] From a cultural and historical point of view, every people had their special intoxicants, the type of which depended on regional availability (cf. Grail World No. 67/2011, "The violent man", Box “Geography of Intoxicants”).
[8] The Corpus Christi feast (Corpus Christi = man's body) was created on the basis of visions of the Augustinian choirwoman Juliana of Mont Cornillon from 1208 and after.

(1) Abd-ru-shin, In the light of truth, Grail Message, publisher of the Grail Message Foundation, Stuttgart o. J. Book review.
(2) David-Néel Alexandra, Saints and Witches, Brockhaus, Wiesbaden 1981.
(3) Outline of Faith, Kösel, Munich 1980.
(4) Hagl Siegfried, The gap between science and truth, published by the Grail Message Foundation, Stuttgart 1986.
(5) Hagl Siegfried, Chaff and Wheat, Gralsverlag, Purgstall 2003.
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