My Understanding of the Afterlife

March 5, 2024

Although this website and blog tend to focus primarily on indigenous people and their history and the sites they consider sacred, I realize I need to make a small detour to talk about the Afterlife. Because in my blog and talks I occasionally mention “psychopomp” work (the task of helping to guide spirits to the Light), I thought I might explain my current (and always evolving) understanding of the Afterlife. For those of you who were raised with Christian, Judaic, or Islamic belief systems, the word “spirit” may make you a bit uncomfortable. However, those raised in an indigenous culture–whether in the Americas, Africa, Australia, or Asia–as well as psychic mediums, will have much familiarity with the spirit world. Perhaps it will help you if you realize there may be a few more steps before one arrives at heaven’s metaphoric gate.

I was raised as a Christian in a Christian home. Later, I was also a hospice chaplain for several years. For most of that time, I thought that after we died we rose directly to heaven. But during the ensuing years, I’ve had many personal experiences with the dying, including several members of my family and a few former boyfriends. I’ve also had dream visitations and interesting teaching dreams. And then, I’ve also read from many diverse traditions about death and dying and the Afterlife, learned from spiritual teachers, and had a couple experiences with mediums. All of this has contributed to a broader understanding of what happens after we die. I now understand that the Afterlife is much more nuanced than I had formerly understood, and that there are many realms after our spirits leave this physical plane.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned:

Many of us, after we die, linger near our loved ones, because that’s where we feel the strongest connection. My understanding is that most of us will also be present for our memorial service or funeral.

Some of us, after we die, enjoy remaining in the spirit world where we can continue to play a significant role in our loved ones’ lives as an ancestor or as an angel. In the spirit world there is a lot of freedom, and spirits also have a greater ability to help those of us still in physical form because the power of their thoughts is very great. (As are ours!) Psychic mediums are most easily able to access those spirits in this realm. Talking with the spirits of our loved ones who have passed on can be extremely comforting for those in the throes of grief.

Some of us, after many, many lifetimes, learn that there are higher realms of heaven. We may choose to bypass the planes closer to the earth and go to the higher realms where we can deepen our spiritual understanding or be of greater service to humanity as a whole. From work I do with a spiritual teacher, I’ve learned that there is a realm beyond our universe, beyond several universes, in fact. It is a world of Light, and those who led beautiful lives of service may find themselves there after they die.

Buddhists have a term called bodhissatva. Bodhisattvas are beings who work for the enlightenment of all beings. They choose not to go into the realms of Light but to be reborn again and again and again until all beings achieve enlightenment.

I learned from a Tibetan Buddhist friend that Buddhists teach the importance of non-attachment because if we can learn to let go of attachments in this lifetime, we will be better able to ascend to higher planes. Because if we are still too attached to earthly pleasures, we may want to stay in or near a place where we can still engage in them. In Buddhist tradition, there is a lower realm, one of the “hungry ghosts” who are never quite satisfied, always hungry, always craving or addicted to something they can’t have.

For Christians, hell is depicted as a place of fire. I personally don’t believe in this kind of hell. But to Buddhists, hell is a place of anger and aggression. One can easily understand that many human beings are caught in a hell of their own making here on Earth, in the physical realm.

Some unfortunate spirits are caught in denser realms, not because they were not good people, or because they were unable to let go of attachments, but because their deaths came very suddenly and violently. Their spirits had no time to prepare, and so they can get stuck in a kind of pergatory, unable to rise to higher realms without assistance. This can happen to people who die in war, or in massacres, or during terrorist acts.

In my ministry school, one weekend a Cherokee elder demonstrated psychompomp work during which those spirits who were stuck following the violent attack on the World Trade Centers were able to be ushered into the Light. This would become a very important teaching for me.

To know that good people, good spirits are sometimes stuck in these dense planes, through no fault of their own, is horrifying to me. It doesn’t seem right or fair. But because I now understand it to be true, I feel compelled to make psychopomp work part of my mission on the planet. I want to help these spirits–especially indigenous people who were so badly treated by conquering races and nations.

Buddhists have a term called bodhissatva. Bodhisattvas are beings who work for the enlightenment of all beings. They choose not to go into the realms of Light but to be reborn again and again and again until all beings achieve enlightenment.

All of these teachings are not necessarily antithetical to Christian and other beliefs, they are just a bit more detailed.

I hope this is helpful. If it doesn’t resonate, of course feel free to let it go. But I felt it important to share for those who might not understand my references to the spirit world.

Blessings to all beings.

Banner image: “Second Life Landscape champ des fleurs.” Wikimedia Commons.

Angel hands. Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash

Statue of Quan Yin with infant, in Paris. Quan Yin is a goddess, once human, who is widely acknowledged to be a great bodhissatva. Wikimedia Commons

If you want to read some of the stories of my experiences with those who were dying and those who moved into the realm of Light, you can order a copy of Grief and Grace: Stories at the Intersection of Life and Death. You may get it from Amazon, or directly from me. To request a copy, contact me at

About the Author

Cynthia Greb

Cynthia Greb is a writer, Nature lover, Dreamer, interfaith minister, and occasional artist. She has a great love for this beautiful planet and a deep connection to the ancient people who once lived so respectfully upon this Earth.
You can find her on Facebook, on YouTube, and occasionally on Instagram.

2 thoughts on “My Understanding of the Afterlife

  1. Suzan Bartels has strongly recommended I find your words and pictures. She is my cousin; our mothers were sisters. When we were young, our families lived in easy distance, and Su and I remain as close as loving siblings. We were in a short conversation the other night ( via texting ), and some of my comments pertained to Spirit. At this moment, I don’t recall what our statements were, but she guided me to you. I have just this morning found your site(s) and am looking forward to absorbing as much of it as I can.
    Thank you for Being.

  2. Dear Mike,
    I am so very glad you found this site! Sounds like serendipity and grace were at play! You can also find me on Facebook where I post rather regularly, often about things of Spirit and beauty and Light.
    I wish you well!

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