NDEs can be profoundly transforming, but they can also disrupt
personal relationships. Divorce may follow. The experiences
have side effects.
Passing from the living to the dead is marked by
rituals in all cultures. It is a “betwixt and between” period.
Anthropological theories of ritual and rites of passage offer much for
Earlier peoples knew that the demarcation between
the living and the dead is not as clear and sharp as we assume it today.
NDEs, mediumship, reincarnation, ghosts, and spirits all blur the life-death
distinction. They call into question our assumptions about reality.
The realm betwixt and between major binary oppositions
(the life-death opposition is only one example) is also referred to as
a “liminal” space. Liminal conditions and periods are not governed
by the usual rational rules. Things are disrupted. Typical
expectations of what is proper and possible no longer apply. This
domain is governed by the trickster.
Paranormal phenomena, including NDEs, are given little
attention by establishment science. There are reasons for that.
The phenomena are extremely problematic.
Raymond Moody, in his book The Last Laugh
(1999), seems to realize the difficulty in intellectually and scientifically
grappling with NDEs, and he appears to have abandoned the effort himself.
The NDE fundamentally challenges the Western rational worldview.
But so does the trickster, and in a very similar way.
Kenneth Ring’s book The Omega Project (1992)
compared NDEs with UFO experiences. Mixing the two seems bizarre.
It appears to violate categories in an almost irrational manner.
But Ring is not alone in seeing the connection, and in the late 1980s a
number of people involved with IANDS became intrigued with UFOs.
Also, pychic phenomena are associated with both NDEs and UFOs, and
NDEs have elements in common with shamanic and visionary experiences.
These unexpected links are illuminated with trickster theory.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was perhaps the most publicly
prominent advocate of the importance of NDEs. But she was not untouched
by the phenomena herself. She regularly communicated with spirits,
but she was also victimized by a phony medium. Her life was marked
by instability. These are subtle indications of the side effects
and dangers of interacting with the phenomena. They also hint at
why the scientific establishment shies away from NDEs.