The Essays of Brother Anonymous
New Maps of Heaven: An Interview with Afterlife Cartographer Steve Beckow, Apr. 9, 2008
Steve Beckow, a resident of Vancouver, B.C., has a very unusual pastime. You might call him an afterlife cartographer. A sociologist, historian, and a former member of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Beckow prefers to call himself a student of cross-cultural spirituality. His primary interest now is in making sense of the afterlife from revelations that have come to us through various forms of mediumship, including the mediumship of the Bible and other sacred texts.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Beckow by e-mail. Here are my questions and his answers:
Steve, what prompted your interest in charting the heavens?
I followed what must have been a common path for my generation in the 1970s - through encounter groups, off to India, into spirituality. At one point I spent time in a British-spiritualist development circle and at another I had an out-of-body experience. It was these two latter developments that made me resolve to write a book on the conditions of life after death.
Other spiritual experiences and the writing projects they inspired intervened, but a few years ago, I returned to the original promise I had made myself and, drawing on my sociological training, began to piece together a picture of life beyond physical death.
What did you find?
Well, first of all, working on the subject is a little like piecing together a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, all of whose pieces are white. It is only by nuances that one can tell the pieces apart. For instance, the flora, buildings, and art of the subplanes of the Astral and Mental Planes seem to me alike, both dazzling and indescribable. How is one to distinguish between them from an earthly standpoint?
Unlike Earth, which is arranged geographically, the spirit planes are arranged hierarchically. As Julia Ames said, "there are degrees in heaven." This has several impacts. First, examining the communicators themselves, I found that I was mostly reading accounts by the newly-arrived. They occupied planes nearest to Earth and knew the least about what they were describing. Some who communicated soon after passing over, like Private Dowding, are disoriented and confused.
Second, the conditions of life become increasingly hard to describe as one mounts higher in the spiritual realms.
Third, communicators lose their desire to communicate with us on this side the further up they mount the ladder of the planes. All this biases communication in the direction of the least well-informed speaking on the same, near-earth territory.
Have you succeeded in drawing a new map of heaven?
Not yet. I and other afterlife investigators, like all early explorers, have so far only mapped out well-known "continents," mostly the Borderlands and the Summerlands, with some knowledge of the Winterlands and the Mental Plane. We haven’t charted the less known planes yet or even figured out how to transcend the barriers presented by Earth language.
Most spirit communicators, in earlier times, were primarily interested in proving that we survive. Following them came a raft of spirit teachings. It is only rarely that a spirit communicator actually turns his or her attention to the conditions of life on the other side.
Of the planes above the Mental we know little at all. Theosophical clairvoyants like Leadbeater and Besant give only a general paragraph to what they called the Buddhic and Nirvanic Planes and confide that they are forbidden to say anything at all about the higher planes. All of this means that afterlife cartography is very much in its infancy.
What are the "Winterlands"?
The Winterlands, as I use the term, refer to the bottom two subplanes of the Astral Plane. The higher of the two, or Stony Plane, is described as resembling the American desert regions with much less heat and light. The lower, or Dark Plane, which Christians call “Hell,” is a miserable place to land in - cold, dark, and noxious. Some people spend hundreds of years wallowing in self-pity before climbing their way back out of this plane. Others work hard and make a mad dash to leave it behind.
Nonetheless, the Dark Plane is not the same "Hell" as pictured in orthodox religion. In the first place, residence there is not everlasting; spirits are given the opportunity to mend their ways and leave. In the second, there is no hellfire in which souls are tormented. One of the worst torments that occurs arises from the individual's own mind. An example of that would be a murderer condemned mentally to endlessly relive his or her crimes, which is what I understand occurs.
Incidentally, one of the questions I had in the back of my mind that spurred this research was to discover what happened to the Nazis after death. Probably all of them ended up on the Dark Plane, but I learned something else, that startled me. I have encountered several spirits who say that the worst among the Nazis - Philip Gilbert even named one (google "Irma Grese") - have been, shall we say, re-assimilated back into the cosmic Spirit. They no longer exist as individuals. That was one of the sobering revelations from this work. Until then I thought that not one sheep would be lost, but apparently this is not the case.
If there is a Hell, is there a Purgatory?
Purgatory is a state rather than a place. There are several “purgatories.” The Borderlands are a "place of purging," where we undergo a "full-life review" immediately after death. You probably already know that some people may undergo this review during an out-of-body experience.
But there is a second place of purging, after one has become established in the "Mental Plane" or "Heaven" proper, which lies "above" the Astral Summerlands. Here one goes through a much more intensive review than the first, in concert with one's spirit teachers, which communicators call "the Judgment." After this second review, there follows a time of making amends for one's errors and then what is called the "Second Death," when the remaining earthly traces fall away and one emerges in the mental body. I have heard that there are other purgations, or purgatories, as well.
Does your research confirm the existence of "earthbound spirits"? If so, exactly what are they? Do they know that they are dead?
Yes, there are large numbers of earthbound spirits. They share in common an unfinished longing for continued experience of mortal life. Some may know they are dead; some may not.
Some may be malevolent spirits, spurring embodied people on to excesses and crimes so that the earthbound spirit can enjoy the sensations if even in a limited and vicarious fashion. Some may be loving spirits, unable to bear the pain of separation from loved ones. Others may simply miss their old castle or their old flat.
Others can be mistaken for earthbound spirits, but are actually souls who remain near the Earth for exalted purposes. The fascinating Nirmanakaya are one example. These are incredibly-developed souls, who have renounced the right to enter Nirvana and agreed to remain more or less stationary in the spirit plane showering it and the Earth with love. Occasionally Theosophists would bump into one of these "stones in the guardian wall."
What is the highest plane from which we have communications?
Most spirits do not say what plane they are communicating from. One who does is John Heslop, who communicates from an exalted region called the Christ Sphere. This sphere is mentioned by others, but Heslop actually describes as many details of it as can be captured in our language. Unfortunately these details are fewer than I would like, but listening to Heslop we can, from his words, get a sense of the caliber of inhabitants of that exalted sphere.
Here I might add that two sources - John Heslop and Julia Ames - actually describe being taken up into heaven - Julia by an angel - meeting the Lord Jesus with a heavenly host behind him, and experiencing enlightenment at his hands. I mention this because some people - incarnate and discarnate - debunk Biblical descriptions like the "Rapture" these days, but I have found interesting examples bearing these descriptions out. They simply don’t happen to most folks (and so are little known to, and sometimes denied by, the average spirit communicator). They happen to more highly-developed beings.
This raises the interesting question of the fallibility of spirits. Because most communicators are recently transitioned, they can be mistaken in their assessments of what does and does not happen on the other side. It was the newly-arrived Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson who said that there was no "rapture" and no "judgment." But in fact he was mistaken on both counts.
The other source that is well worth studying is Stainton Moses' Spirit Teachings. His chief communicator, an exalted spirit using the name "Imperator," allegedly last incarnated as the prophet Malachi, who was one of those responsible for putting the Old Testament in the form it takes today. He is assisted by a band of 49 lofty souls and his teachings are rivetting. Unfortunately, Imperator does not say much about his own plane specifically, but still gives much valuable information on spirit life in general.
I haven't read the Seth books again since long ago, but expect high-quality information from that source too.
How many planes are there? Can you name them all?
No, I cannot name them all. No classification scheme I have seen so far takes them all in - not those of the Theosophists or the Rosicrucians or anyone else. A comprehensive map would have to include the Buddhic and Nirvanic Planes, the two planes above them that the Theosophists refuse to discuss, and the realms of the Manus, Buddhas, Builders, and Lipikas that Annie Besant mentions in the Ancient Wisdom, as well as the nine orders of angels. No cartographical scheme that I have seen shows where they all fit in or even names (or numbers) them in a consistent manner.
Most descriptions go no farther than the Second Heaven or second subplane of the Mental Plane. There may very well be no words to describe higher planes even if they were named or numbered.
Moreover, there are no maps that I am aware of that also include the life streams parallel to but independent of humans, such as fairies, sylphs, etc. I have not concerned myself with these or, for that matter, with the spiritual planes that are associated with life forms on other planetary and star systems. (Yes, they exist as well.)
Not only can I not name all the planes, but I am faced with a plethora of names which appear to point to the same region while lacking spirit confirmation that they actually do. Thus, the Borderlands are called the Near-Earth Plane, Kamaloka, Hades, Purgatory, the Vestibule, and the "Blue Island." That would be well and good if someone like Annie Besant did not come along and extend the word "Kamaloka" to the whole of the Astral Plane. There is frighteningly little agreement on matters of prime importance in surveying the Heavens.
Your website mentions that there is a convalescence period in the Borderland realm. Does the time spent there vary for different souls? Do earthbound spirits undergo convalescence? If so, why are they still earthbound?
Spirits may or may not convalesce after death. It depends on a number of factors. First, it depends on the degree of their familiarity with life after death. Those familiar may pass quickly through the Borderlands and take up their residence on the higher Astral Planes - Robert Hugh Benson, for instance. Some will move quickly through the Astral Planes before taking their residence on the Mental Planes - W.T. Stead, for example.
It also depends on the nature of their death conditions. Those who have suffered a long illness or a sudden and violent death will generally need more time to convalesce than those who died, say, peacefully in their sleep. Some people may need only a day or two of sleep and they are ready to function. Benson is an example of this too.
In Grace Rosher's The Travellers' Return, there is a wonderful description of the joyous reception Sir Winston Churchill received on the Astral Plane from former prime ministers and other historic figures. Prior to that reception, Sir Winston was convalescing. One detail that I found interesting was that he was awakened temporarily from his rest to hear the trumpets at St. Paul's cathedral and then sent back to bed. What a nice touch!
Most earthbound spirits are surrounded by a mental wall of unconsciousness that spirits who help with transitions cannot penetrate. Some earthbound spirits do and some don’t know they have died. Others consciously choose to be earthbound and transition guides will not violate their freedom of choice.
Most of us are temporarily "earthbound" in a manner of speaking because we spend time around our grieving relatives. Many sightings of “earthbound” spirits are of this type. Even Julia Ames sought permission to leave Jesus to return and tell her loved ones on Earth the good news. We all spend a certain amount of time around those we have left behind.
Again, certain spirits receive permission to work with their mediumistic relatives - Philip Gilbert, for instance, or "Sigwart" of The Bridge Across the River. While we don't usually consider them "earthbound," they do account for some sustained spiritual activity around mortals.
Which have been your best or favorite resources for this information?
I certainly have my favourites. I have mentioned some already, like “Imperator.” I have also found invaluable the books communicated by Philip Gilbert through his mother Alice (Philip in Two Worlds, Into the Everywhere, and Philip in the Spheres), Julia's letters in W.T. Stead's After Death, T.E Lawrence's Post-Mortem Journal, and Benson's Life in the World Unseen series. F.W.H. Myers is informative but idiosyncratic. It is difficult to know where to fit some of his information in. Where fits the Plane of Color? Helios? No one else has taken up these terms, as they have Theosophical labels for instance. However, I caution that I have not finished my reading for this project and can only speak tentatively here.
Among the books by incarnate scholars, my favourite is Paul Beard's Living On. Theosophists Leadbeater and Besant are also wide-ranging and informative.
Perhaps I should mention here that a great number of primary texts are available these days online, which eliminates the need to transcribe, making research easier.
What does this research show us?
Well, even more distinctly than research on Earth life, research on spirit life shows us the Divine Plan: namely, spiritual evolution, from God to God. (All of what follows here is covered in clearly-marked sections of my website.) As I understand it, we have all of us come from God and are destined, at some distant future time, to return to God after we have experienced a very advanced stage of enlightenment.
God's Will, as I understand it, is that, through Its created life forms, the Formless will experience Itself and enjoy Its own Bliss. That moment of enjoyment occurs during our enlightenment. The purpose of our lives therefore is enlightenment and our journey down and up the spirit planes, as depicted in Jacob's ladder, is to serve the Divine Plan of which our enlightenment forms a part.
Following spirit travel from plane to plane shows Jacob's ladder of spiritual evolution about as plainly as anything we could ever expect to see. The march from the Winterlands to the Summerlands to Heaven and beyond is a graphic illustration of the trajectory of our return to Divinity. Revealing a picture of the Divine Plan at work is one of the major contributions of afterlife research.
Is there anything else you are hoping to achieve by drawing new maps of heaven?
I know that spirits listen to us as much as we listen to them. While drawing maps, I am also trying to convey to them the message that we need them to tighten up the process of communication. One way would be to ensure that all communicators are required to tell us specifically from which plane (and subplane) they are communicating. Location on the other side is of critical importance to us who are trying to fit the pieces together.
I also ask for the help of spirit teachers in correlating the different terminologies that spirits currently use. For example, I do not know what planes names like the "Christ Sphere" or "Empyrean Plane" refer to or how they correlate to numbering systems like "the seventh plane," etc.
Even more importantly, I hope to persuade spirit and physical folks to get together on some really broad anthropological projects that would subject spirit planes to rigorous social-scientific study. Until recently, most accounts have resembled tourist guides. We can do better than that and, I think, we are ready for intensive, scholarly examinations carried out by groups on this side co-operating with groups on "the other." I still don't think this research should be affiliated with universities, though, who still appear to adhere to a paradigm of empirical materialism and can be influenced by the state.
I think of the various interviews carried out by Robert Leichtman in the Seventies, collectively called From Heaven to Earth. Usually Leichtman interviewed and David Kendrick Johnson served as medium, for Tesla, Churchill, Shakespeare, Blavatsky, Cayce, and many others. These books, while anecdotal, are still fascinating and show the potential of organized, co-operative cross-border research, embodied spirits sitting down with disembodied.
We are all of us interested in a small area of the total picture. Just because I don't mention something outside my own area of interest does not mean it is not important. The same cross-border research that I request for social-scientific purposes will be used by others to receive in-depth spiritual teachings that may help us end the tremendous difficulties we are falling into these days. Many of the chief problems of our era, and I mention the use of planet-threatening depleted-uranium weapons as just one example, are hardly mentioned in our press. We need spirit help with these problems too, even if I personally would not be prominent among the researchers carrying on that work.
In my view it is time to pick up the pace and get serious about cross-border communication. We have passed through the evidential phase quite some time ago, without having necessarily moved to much more intensive communication. I am saying that the time has now arrived to begin the next phase.
The Essays of Brother Anonymous