The river

Interestingly, two out of three participants described a vision of a river which divided the world of the living from that of the dead. For both of them, to cross the river meant acceptance that they would die. A similar conclusion also emerged from previous studies (Hata, in Hadfield 1991; Tachibana 1994).

A vision of the afterlife is very common in Greek and Roman mythology, where the rivers have been called various names (Chevalier and Gheerbrant 1986: 452). Moreover, it has a strong link with Shinto beliefs where the element of the river (or water in general) has the significance of purification (Kasulis 2004; Bocking 1996). For instance, in the myth of the creation of Japan, Izanagi, the creator god of Japan, travels in the afterlife to meet his deceased wife, Izanami. When he returns from the realm of Yomi (or the 'world of the dead'), he purifies himself in the water of a river. This is because in Japanese tradition the land of the dead is depicted as the land of filth and uncleanliness (Kingsley 1998: 24-5). The latter consideration could be meaningful in the context of the study by Hata and his colleagues at the Kyorin University where five out of eight participants had negative near-death experiences (Hata, in Hadfield 1991).

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