The Supreme Adventure: Analyses of Psychic Communications, by Robert Crookall, was published in 1961. It consists of reports describing the dying process, culled by Crookall from various books about mediumship.
There are two points of particular interest about this material. First, even though it was collected from a variety of sources spanning many decades, it displays a remarkable set of similarities. Second, it anticipates descriptions of the dying process reported by near-death experiencers -- descriptions that were not popularized until the mid-1970s.
Of course, some near-death experiences were reported before that date. In fact, in some of his other books Crookall himself collected accounts that he classified as out-of-body experiences, but which today would be called NDEs. (The term "near-death experience" was not coined until 1975, with the publication of Raymond Moody's book Life After Life.) But in the years before the development of advanced medical technology, NDEs were rare , and the distinctive elements of an NDE do not appear to have been widely known. It is therefore of some interest that so many mediums, ostensibly conveying messages from the deceased, indicated the very same elements that would later be understood as characterizing an NDE.
A preview of The Supreme Adventure can be read on Google Books; the book itself is available from Amazon and other online retailers. Trying to summarize all this information inevitably does a disservice to Crookall's work, because its most interesting aspects are the repetitive similarities among the various accounts, and these details must be lost in any brief recap. Still, an overview at least gives the flavor of the book.
Crookall divides his accounts into "natural death" and "enforced death," pointing out interesting dissimilarities between the two. For our purposes, we will limit the discussion to natural death.
Here are the main features of the natural dying process, according to Crookall:
1. The call. The dying person consciously or unconsciously calls out to departed loved ones, who arrive to assist in the transition.
2. The life review. Crookall: "Communicators often declare that, in the early stages of transition, they experienced a panoramic review of their past earth-lives." This review is impersonal and nonjudgmental.
3. Leaving the body. The messages spoke of rising out of the body and floating in the air, then passing through a tunnel or passageway, while experiencing an expansion of consciousness. (Much more about the tunnel accounts is found here.) The deceased persons frequently met friends who had passed over before them. They also reported seeing "a cord of light" connecting the spiritual body to the earthly body -- a cord that snapped at the moment of irrevocable physical death.
4. The sleep, or the second death. For a short time after death, many communicators indicated that they existed in a half-conscious or unconscious state, which was apparently necessary to recharge their energy and help acclimate them to their new environment.
5. The awakening. After the sleep, communicators described coming back to full consciousness. As one said, "Death really is just a sleep and an awakening." (p. 39)
6. The judgment. This experience is held to be separate from the earlier life review, which is nonjudgmental. Crookall calls the judgment "an emotional and a personally-responsible review of the past earth-life which, with average people who die natural deaths, occurs within a few months (reckoned in our time) of 'passing'.... The 'Judgment' takes place after the 'second death' (which occurs, with average men who 'pass' naturally, some three or four days after their transition)." One communicator is quoted as saying, "The judgment-bar is the innermost of yourself." (p. 43)
7. The assignment. Each spirit gravitates toward the sphere of existence that is most closely aligned with his or her personal development.
Crookall notes that many communicators go on to describe conditions in these celestial spheres: "'Communications' of the unverifiable type deal with innumerable subjects -- the supposed conditions of the after-life, the 'spheres', 'planes' or environments in which the 'dead' live, their occupations and activities, their relationships to each other and to us mortals, the methods by which they communicate with us, their 'lecture halls', 'libraries', 'hospitals', etc. Many who have made a study of the numerous independent accounts of such matters have pointed out that they exhibit remarkable similarities and that, although they cannot be taken as literally true and exact descriptions, they must, presumably, refer to reality of some sort. A study of such matters will not, however, contribute towards a demonstration of survival." (p. 5)
Perhaps not, but it is, at the very least, interesting that some modern NDErs, who presumably had no acquaintance with mediumistic messages or spiritualist teachings, describe the afterlife environment in much the same terms, right down to the lecture halls, libraries, and hospitals.
Getting back to the specific steps enumerated by Crookall, we can see that the most obvious similarities with NDEs are found in #1 (the call), #2 (the life review), #3 (leaving the body), and #6 (the judgment). These similarities include: a panoramic review of one's past life; separating from the body and hovering over it; moving through a tunnel; and meeting deceased loved ones, who often are reported to assist in the transition. At least one communicator said there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and in general, the tunnel experience seems to be reported as an interval of darkness followed by new light. Crookall regards the tunnel experience as something like an extended blackout.
The biggest difference between these mediumistic communications and NDEs is that, in NDEs, the early life review is frequently seen as an opportunity for passing judgment on oneself, while in the accounts collected by Crookall, judgment does not take place until a second, later life review. Whether or not this difference is significant is debatable. One might speculate that the NDEr is allowed to learn from his life review ahead of schedule, while he has the opportunity, before being sent back to his physical body. Since his "death" is only temporary, he would not get the chance to go through the extended life review if it was delayed.
Note that the most distinctive feature of the NDE life review -- the sense that one is not only re-experiencing one's own life but also directly experiencing the effect that one has had on others -- is reported by some mediumistic communicators in their description of the judgment: "Each incident brings with it the feelings not only of oneself alone but of all those others who were affected by the events." "One is faced with the effects emotionally of all one's actions." "All the pain he had given to people he experienced himself, and all the pleasure he had given he received back again." "He becomes aware of all the emotions aroused in his victims by his acts... He becomes purified through his identification with the sufferings of his victims." "I have been shown the effects of all my acts upon other people's minds. Their thoughts were shown to me." (pp. 42-45)
Of course, NDErs do not report the second death (#4), subsequent awakening (#5), or permanent assignment to a particular plane (#6). But this is to be expected, since these events -- according to the mediums -- take place only after the silver cord has been cut and death is irrevocable.
The impression I get from comparing these reports with NDEs is that the NDEr is something like a visitor on the celestial plane. He does not have the opportunity to become fully acclimated to his environment (which is the purpose of the second death), nor is he permanently assigned to any particular spiritual sphere. Whisked out of his body before the appointed time, he is allowed a reunion with departed loved ones, a chance to commune with his higher self (or God, or however we look at the "being of light" who appears in so many NDEs), a chance to learn from his past life, and a glimpse of his future home. But he does not go through all the steps that would accompany the full and final dying process.
Nevertheless, the early steps taken by the NDEr dovetail pretty neatly with the accounts provided by mediums. Despite any differences, there are obvious parallels between the two sets of reports.
The recurrent similarities in mediumistic communications could perhaps be explained as the product of the general environment of spiritualism; the mediums, it might be said, simply picked up these ideas from spiritualist literature and then perpetuated them. But most people who've reported an NDE are not spiritualists, and probably have no knowledge of esoteric writings. It is more than doubtful that the average cardiac arrest patient who describes an NDE has spent any time poring over the works of Swedenborg or Blavatsky, or reading the obscure books cited by Crookall -- books like Philip in Two Worlds, by Alice Gilbert (1948) and Shadow Land by Mme. d. Esperance (1897), to choose just two of the titles in Crookall's extensive bibliography. Yet the NDErs consistently report many of the same details, sometimes in almost the same words.
I think it's because the mediumistic communications, or at least a great many of them, are genuine, as are the NDE accounts. There are commonalities between them because they are reports of the same reality -- a reality the rest of us will get to explore for ourselves soon enough.