The best books about extraordinary experiences of the afterlife

Who am I?

I’m an award-winning author of three books on near-death experiences across cultures and throughout history. I’ve had a lifelong interest in the ancient world, anthropology, myth, religions – and extraordinary phenomena such as near-death experiences. So it was natural to combine these interests, which I first did while studying Egyptology. While reading the ancient texts describing otherworld journeys after death, I was reminded of NDEs and their counterparts in medieval visionary literature. This sent me on a decades-long “otherworld journey” of my own, earning various degrees, fellowships, and awards. In addition to my other books, I’m now embarking on a second PhD project, on NDEs in Classical antiquity.

I wrote...

The Next World: Extraordinary Experiences of the Afterlife

By Gregory Shushan,

Book cover of The Next World: Extraordinary Experiences of the Afterlife

What is my book about?

In The Next World, historian of religions Gregory Shushan explores the relationships between extraordinary experiences and beliefs in life after death. He first shows how throughout history and around the world, near-death experiences have influenced ideas about the afterlife. Shushan also takes a deep dive into the problem of similarities and differences between NDE accounts. Not only do they vary widely, but so does a culture's way of responding to them and integrating them into their belief systems.
In this book, Shushan also compares NDEs with accounts of shamanic spirit journeys to afterlife realms, intermission states between reincarnations from people who remember past lives, and descriptions of otherworlds by souls of the dead communicating through mediums. Accounts of these phenomena bear striking similarities to NDEs, though also have important differences.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The North American Indian Orpheus Tradition: Native Afterlife Myths and Their Origins

Why did I love this book?

This is the most comprehensive book on Native American afterlife beliefs ever written.

What makes it especially interesting is that the author focuses on myths and legends of afterlife journeys – what he called “Orpheus myths.” He looks at them from many perspectives – historical and cultural – but most importantly experiential.

Writing almost 20 years before the popularization of near-death experiences in the Western world, Hultkrantz identified NDEs as a different type of experience from dreams or shamanic visions – and found that indigenous people did, too.

He also suggested that such experiences contributed to afterlife beliefs – that is, that they weren’t simply culturally created “stories” or hallucinations. Readable and entertaining as well as scholarly, it’s wonderful that this book is back in print after languishing in obscurity for decades!

By Ake Hultkrantz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The North American Indian Orpheus Tradition as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Visionaries who have made their way to the realm of the dead and then returned have told of its secrets."

In this scholarly but highly readable book, the famed anthropologist and historian of religions Åke Hultkrantz takes us on an in-depth exploration of Native American afterlife journey myths and shamanism. Anticipating the western "discovery" of near-death experiences by nearly 20 years, Hultkrantz recognized them as phenomena distinct from other extraordinary experiences such as dreams and vision quests. Equally remarkable, Hultkrantz found that Native American afterlife myths were actually influenced by NDEs and shamanic otherworld journeys. Weaving this discovery together with…

Book cover of The Afterlife in Early Christian Carthage: Near-Death Experiences, Ancestor Cult, and the Archaeology of Paradise

Why did I love this book?

Scholarly works that deal with the subject of near-death experiences in the history of religions are very rare.

This one also happens to be well-written, in a clear and accessible style. It contains a wealth of information about ideas of the afterlife in Late Antiquity that will be unfamiliar to even the most dedicated readers on the subject.

It’s also another great example of a rigorous, knowledgeable scholar concluding that visionary experiences such as NDEs contribute to the formation of afterlife beliefs.

By setting the context with chapters on “Journeys to paradise in the Jewish Apocalyptic tradition” and “Otherworld journeys in the Greco-Roman traditions,” Potthoff reminds us that Christianity did not develop in isolation but was one of various interlinked Mediterranean religions.

It also shows further how these kinds of beliefs and experiences are found around the world and throughout history. 

By Stephen E. Potthoff,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Afterlife in Early Christian Carthage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Afterlife in Early Christian Carthage explores how the visionary experiences of early Christian martyrs shaped and informed early Christian ancestor cult and the construction of the cemetery as paradise. Taking the early Christian cemeteries in Carthage as a case study, the volume broadens our understanding of the historical and cultural origins of the early Christian cult of the saints, and highlights the often divergent views about the dead and post-mortem realms expressed by the church fathers, and in graveside ritual and the material culture of the cemetery. This fascinating study is a key resource for students of late antique…

Book cover of Wondrous Events: Foundations of Religious Belief

Why did I love this book?

Wondrous Events is one the best books on the “experiential source hypothesis” – a term coined by David Hufford that describes how apparently “paranormal” experiences lead to the formation of new “supernatural,” religious, or folk beliefs.

McClenon, a sociologist, saw the importance of looking at the evidence for this hypothesis across cultures, taking in historical and modern cases in China, Japan, and elsewhere.

Rather than focusing on one particular type of experience, he hones in on the dynamics of how extraordinary experiences are interpreted in cultural terms and integrated into beliefs systems. Along the way he discusses NDEs and out-of-body experiences, apparitions, ESP, sleep paralysis, psychokinesis, poltergeists, spiritual healing, and more.

Written within a concise, clear, and authoritative style, the book is a model of how scholarly wring can appeal to mainstream readers.

By James McClenon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Wondrous Events as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

James McClenon examines the relationship between wondrous events-extrasensory perception, apparitions, out-of-body and near-death experiences, sleep paralysis, psychokinesis, firewalking, psychic surgery, and spiritual healing-and the foundations of religious belief.

Book cover of To Die is Gain: Near-Death Experience and the Art of Dying Before We Die

Why did I love this book?

This long-lost early book on near-death experiences was written around the same time as Raymond Moody’s classic Life After Life, but totally independent of any knowledge of that more famous work.

Hampe was a German philosopher, and while the book made a huge splash in Germany it’s practically unknown to the English-speaking world, even though an excellent translation was published in the 1970s (finally now reprinted).

Hampe is a deep thinker though has a very engaging style. Knowing that he had his own NDE makes the book poignant and moving to read. What I find most interesting about it is the very different approach he took compared to Moody.

Rather than looking at the phenomenon as a scientific puzzle and focusing on the possibility that NDEs are evidence for an afterlife, Hampe was interested in their metaphysical implications. 

By Johann Christoph Hampe,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked To Die is Gain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"If dying is not oppression, my knowledge that I am going to die will no longer oppress me. Instead of making me feel melancholy it will expand and deepen me."

Simultaneous with Raymond Moody's landmark book Life After Life, Johann Christoph Hampe independently "discovered" near-death experiences in the 1970s. Though both authors explored the phenomenon as possible evidence for life after death, Hampe took a very different approach and produced a profound, thoughtful, meditative exploration of "dying before we die." Hampe wrote To Die is Gain after he himself recovered from temporary clinical death caused by a serious illness and…

Book cover of The Heyday of Mental Mediumship: 1880s - 1930s: Investigators, Mediums, and Communicators

Why did I love this book?

Alan Gauld has set a new standard in the historical study of psychical research with this new in-depth examination of the history of mediumship.

Impeccably researched and with extensive use of unpublished sources, it’s also written with an engaging combination of erudition and subtle wit. Gauld brings his subjects to life in a way that gives readers a more immediate, personal glimpse of the mediums, the researchers, and their world.

He is always critical but objective when weighing the debate for and against genuine communication from souls of the dead, without flinching from considering either evidence of fraud or apparently veridical phenomena.

What I find especially satisfying is the way the book deals not only with the question of survival, but also the social history of mediumship and associated attitudes towards death and the afterlife.

By Alan Gauld,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Heyday of Mental Mediumship as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

There have been important mediums and researchers throughout the history of psychical research in many parts of the world, but the period from the 1880s to the 1930s saw a coming together of outstanding scientific minds in Europe and the USA who probed the phenomena of mental mediumship with a diligence, intellectual discipline and degree of enthusiasm not encountered on such a scale before or since.

This period saw the establishment of the Society for Psychical Research in Britain (1882), followed swiftly by the American Society for Psychical Research (1884), which resulted in close collaboration between people who, apart from…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the afterlife, psychic mediums, and near death experiences?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the afterlife, psychic mediums, and near death experiences.

The Afterlife Explore 82 books about the afterlife
Psychic Mediums Explore 21 books about psychic mediums
Near Death Experiences Explore 20 books about near death experiences

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Signs, A Wanderer in the Spirit Lands, and Never Say Goodbye if you like this list.