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Near Death

Near Death

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Published by Old as the Sun
The light at the end of the tunnel.......
The light at the end of the tunnel.......

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Published by: Old as the Sun on Jul 26, 2008
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Near-Death and UFO Encounters As Shamanic Initiations:Some Conceptual and Evolutionary Implications
Kenneth Ring
 
[reprinted from
 ReVision
, Vol. 11, No. 3, Winter 1989]Kenneth Ring, Ph.D., is professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut and pastpresident of the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS). He is the author of 
 Life at Death: A Scientific Investigation of the Near-Death Experience, Heading Toward Omega: In Search of the Meaning of the Near-Death Experience
, and over forty articles in the fields of social psychology, transpersonal psychology, and near-death studies. Dr. Ring received his Ph.D.in social psychology from the University of Minnesota. He lives in Ashford, Connecticut.I
N RECENT YEARS
, there has been an effort, particularly by American folkloric scholars (e.g., Hufford 1982;Rojcewicz 1986), to bring some conceptual order to a disparate array of paranormal and transcendental experienceswhose academic study has heretofore tended to be associated with distinct and somewhat insular disciplines.Included in this set of nonordinary occurrences are such phenomena as out-of-body experiences (traditionally theprovince of parapsychology), near-death experiences (near-death studies, medicine), shamanic experiences(anthropology), psychedelic experiences (transpersonal psychology), night terrors (folklore), and UFO encounters(“ufology”). That there are significant similarities among subsets of these experiences, both in terms of phenomenology and aftereffects, has long been recognized, but so far there has been no sustained scholarly effort tobuild conceptual bridges between these experiential domains or to foster their comparative study, despite someexpressions of interest in such undertakings (e.g., Ring and Agar 1986). In the spirit of this kind of endeavor, theneed for which has been persuasively set forth by Rojcewicz (1986), I would like to present here a framework for apartial conceptual integration of two nonordinary experiences previously held to be quite separate and unrelated. Iam referring to near-death experiences (NDEs) and alleged UFO encounters (UFOEs),
1
between which I believethere are some hitherto unsuspected links.This paper has second purpose as well. After delineating certain commonalities between these types of experiences, I intend to explore their possible joint significance for the evolution of human consciousness. This willinvolve an attempt to embed these and other types of nonordinary experiences in a
second 
kind of conceptual matrixthat will provide a still more encompassing perspective in terms of which to view the implicit connections amongthe variety of experiences we will be concerned with.Before setting out on the first of these conceptual journeys, I need to enter a couple of caveats. First, in stressingcertain linkages between NDEs and UFOEs, I make no claim that
all
varieties of these two phenomena are thusentwined. UFOEs especially cover an extraordinary range, and therefore no one model is likely to do even nominal justice to them all. In this instance, however, I will be dealing with a particular and nowadays increasingly well-known
type
of UFOE, the nature of which I will specify shortly. Second, the kind of integrative model I will offerhere attempts to join these experiences only in terms of their
archetypal patterning
and
 functional significance
. Atthe
 phenomenological
level, NDEs and UFOEs are of course quite dissimilar, but it is in their “deep structure,” as itwere, rather than in their surface contentual manifestations that important commonalities can be discerned.
Prototypic NDEs and UFOEs
Research on modern NDEs has been carried on for more than a decade; thus the prototypic pattern for this typeof nonordinary experience will be quite familiar to most readers of this journal. This pattern is made up of suchelements as (1) a psychological sense of separation from the physical body; (2) a feeling of overwhelming peace and
 
Kenneth Ring, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut and past president of the InternationalAssociation for Near-Death Studies (IANDS).
 
Kenneth Ring2
well-being; (3) a sense of movement through a dark but not frightening space, sometimes described as a “tunnel”;(4) the perception of a brilliant white or golden light by which one is (5) gradually encompassed and from which one(6) feels a sense of total love and unconditional acceptance; (7) an encounter with a “being of light” or otherspiritual entities who (8) may afford the occasion for panoramic life review following which (if it occurs) one (9)may decide or be told to “return to one’s body,” thereby (10) terminating the NDE. Such experiences tend to coherein a highly meaningful way for the individual, are almost always said to be “hyper-real” (i.e., not like a dream orhallucination), and usually have a profound transformative effect on the survivor (e.g., Ring 1980, 1984; Sabom1982; Grey 1985; Flynn 1986; Atwater 1988). In any event, this is the kind of NDE that will be of focal relevancehere.Another type of experience that, owing to the popularity of such books as
Communion
(Strieber 1987) and
 Intruders
(Hopkins 1987a), is likewise coming to be increasingly well known to a broad segment of the Americanpublic is the so-called UFO abduction experience.
2
This is an encounter for which the prototypic pattern can be, forour purposes at least, reduced to the following four elements: (1) a sense of being taken away, usually against one’swill, by one or more humanoid beings, and (2) brought into a strange, alien environment where (3) one is subjectedto an invasive physical examination that in some instances seems to have to do with one’s reproductive organs,following which (4) one is returned to the physical world, though not necessarily to exactly the same location wherethe abduction apparently originated. These experiences often lack the coherence of NDEs, are not infrequentlytemporarily repressed or forgotten but when recalled are re-experienced as traumatic, and often entail a period of time for which one cannot account (e.g., Lorenzen and Lorenzen 1977; Fowler 1979; Rogo 1980; Hopkins 1981,1987a; Strieber 1987, Bullard 1987). Again, it is this kind of UFO encounter with which we will be especiallyconcerned in this paper.Now, when one reads accounts of these two types of prototypic experiences or, better yet, has a chance to talk directly to persons who report having undergone them, one cannot fail to be impressed with the obvious
differences
 between them. The typical NDE, for example, is usually recounted in such a way as to impress the reader or listenerwith its ineffable beauty, transcendental influx or knowledge, and spiritual profundity. In my own work with NDErs,I confess to having often been struck and indeed deeply affected by the radiant glow and strong positive emotionsthat emanate from NDErs while in the throes of describing their experiences to me. With UFO abductees, on theother hand, both the content and tone are radically different. Here, for instance, one senses one is reading about orlistening to people who may feel — especially in the immediate aftermath of their experience — that they have beenthe victims of a form of psychological rape. Their reactions afterward are indicative in any case of some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder (Spiegel, Hunt, and Dondershine 1988; Laibow 1988), and their difficulties in dealingwith their experience are only compounded by the knowledge of others’ likely reactions to learning about theincredible (in the literal sense) circumstances and bizarre events associated with the abduction.Nevertheless, when one begins to probe beneath the divergent phenomenological surfaces of these two types of experiences, one sees that for all their dissimilarities there does appear to be a common
structural
basis for themboth — a shared
archetypal
patterning that binds them. And if I were to try to encapsulate this common element in asingle phrase, the one I’d choose is
the shamanic journey
. To see this more clearly now, we need to examine theseprototypic experiences from an explicit shamanic perspective. When we do so, it will become apparent that most of the defining features of NDEs and UFOEs can be coordinated to a model of shamanic initiation.
NDEs and UFOEs As Shamanic Initiations
To begin, we need a template of sorts for shamanic initiations in order to appreciate the extent to which such atemplate might indeed overlap with the underlying form of NDEs and UFOEs. Needless to say, given the enormouswealth of anthropological literature on shamanic initiation, any one model will be a patent oversimplification.Nevertheless, even a crude and overgeneralized outline of some of the main features of this kind of initiation willprove workable for our purposes. In any case, the following account is based chiefly on Eliade (1958, 1964),Nicholson (1987), and Kalweit (1988).
 
Near-Death And UFO Encounters3
Typically, an individual who may be somewhat unusual because of his (or her) sensitivities or exceptionalgiftedness — or because he has survived a serious illness, accident, or other ordeal is selected for shamanictraining. He is then separated from his community and put into the hands of his shamanic trainer. The apprentice isrequired to undergo various ordeals, both physical and psychological, as his training progresses. Often, as is wellknown, these rites involve powerful dismemberment (and reconstitutive) motifs as the candidate undergoes a death-and-rebirth ordeal — a necessary component for all true initiations, of course, as well as the experiential foundationsfor a new sense of identity as a shaman. Sacred mysteries are disclosed to the individual as he learns to enter intootherworldly realms and acquires his particular shamanic skills, his power animals, sacred songs, secret language,and so forth. After his initiation is complete, he returns to his community as a healer, a psychopomp, a master of ecstasy, a mystic and visionary — as a man (or woman), in short, who now knows how to live in
two
worlds: theworld of the soul as well as that of the body. And though indispensable to the welfare of his community, he oftenremains somewhat apart from it precisely because of his special knowledge and his unusual and sometimesdisturbing presence.Now, taking this sketch of shamanic initiation as our template, let us see how well it maps onto the underlyingform of the prototypical experiences of interest to us. We begin with the NDE. Here, we find ourselves with anindividual who has by whatever means been brought to the threshold of apparent imminent biological death, acondition that, as we have seen, is often preludic to a shamanic career. This state of affairs means that at leastpsychologically and in some cases physically (as when he is removed to a hospital), the individual is separated fromhis community of peers. Inwardly, he, too, embarks on a journey of initiation, and he is not long into it before hemeets the equivalent of his shamanic trainer. A luminous figure — a true psychopomp — will appear to guide theindividual in his journey. This figure represents what I call
the archetype of the cosmic shaman
. For in this role he isnot merely a guide in the passive sense of escort but is, rather,
a man (or woman) of knowledge
. He is a being whoappears to know all about the life of the individual undergoing this experience — and all about the realm into whichthe individual has entered. And while in this realm, the NDEr will receive — instantaneously and telepathically —the answers to all of his questions from this being, this cosmic shaman. Knowledge will simply flood into his soul asthe mysteries of life and death are finally and fully illuminated.The NDE literature is, of course, replete with such testimonies, and I myself have published quite a few of them(Ring 1984, 50–89). Here, however, I will simply use one illustrative case to indicate the extraordinary clarity andemotional depth of these encounters.Jayne Smith was in the process of giving birth to her second child when she had her NDE. Hers was a very deepexperience of ecstatic gratitude and cosmic knowledge during which she almost immediately lost all body awarenessand says she existed, while cradled in the light, as “pure consciousness.” When she later came back to her sense of individualized identity as Jayne, she found herself at the top of a hill where she encountered a group of men. Shethen said (mentally) to one of them:“I know what has happened to me. I know that I’ve died….” And [she says] one man in thegroup did all the talking to me. He was taller than the rest and he had an absolutely marvelousface. It was very noble, very kind. …He also had about him a great deal of authority… In order totalk, we didn’t have to move our mouths. I only know that I only had to have the impulse of what Iwanted to say and he immediately would get that and answer it. I could hear the sound of his voicein my inner ear.“I said, “Everything [here] is so beautiful, everything is so perfect. What about my sins?”And he said, “There are not sins, not the way you think of them on earth. The only thing thathas any meaning here is what you think.” And then he asked me a question: “What is in yourheart?”And in some incredible way… I was enabled to look deeply inside myself, really into the coreof me, into my essence, and I saw what was there was
love
and nothing else. My core was perfectlove, loving perfection. I had complete love and acceptance for everything.

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