I originally intended to post this piece as a palate cleanser after the "Charlie Charlie" viral Twitter phenomenon was exposed as an ad campaign for a movie. However, I'm no longer completely sure that the tweets were a hoax. Snopes.com offers an interesting analysis that's worth reading in full. Here's an excerpt:
The UK’s Independent ... explained how most sites jumped upon the “viral marketing stunt” explanation with both feet despite the timeline discrepancy and the fact that the details of the challenge were contrary to the film’s context ...
It seems fairly evident that the connection between the social-media-driven “Charlie Charlie challenge” and the upcoming film The Gallows emerged well after the former had come and gone from Internet “trending” lists: No link between the challenge and the film was mentioned in the game’s first wave of popularity, nor was the film’s trailer referenced in mainstream news coverage prior to 1 June 2015. As the Independent noted, the social media challenge originated in a time and place far removed from any tangible connection to the film ...
While the Charlie Charlie challenge was certainly utilized with alacrity by The Gallows's marketing team, it appears that marketing tie-in was created after the fact: the film was neither an initial part of the story nor the driver (primary or otherwise) of the viral trend’s popularity.
So maybe the hoax explanation is premature.
In any case, for those who still would like a palate cleanser, or at least a change of topic, here's an interesting case study from more than 300 years ago. I found it in The Immortal Mind, by Ervin Laszlo and Anthony Peake, which I'm still in the process of reading. Though I've read many accounts of near-death experiences, I don't think I've come across this one before.
Laszlo and Peake write:
An early report on human NDE concerns the experience that took place in November 1669, in Newcastle upon Tyne in the North East of England (or, in some reports, in South Wales). The report is in a religious pamphlet written by Dr. Henry Atherton and published in London in 1680. Atherton's fourteen-year-old sister, Anna, had been ill for some time, then was thought to have finally died. The woman attending to her used to the only method available at the time for ascertaining death: placing a mirror to her mouth and nose. There was no evidence of breathing. They then placed red-hot coals to her feet and received no response. She was clearly in a state of what would now be termed "clinical death." However, she subsequently recovered. When she was able, she described how she had visited heaven and was guided there by an angel. This being showed her:
"things glorious and unutterable, as Saints and Angels and all in glorious apparell." She heard 'unparalel'd Musick Divine Anthems and Hallelujahs.' She was not allowed to enter Heaven but the angel told her that "she must go back again for a while, and take leave of her friends, and after short time she should be admitted."
As predicted by her "Angel," Anna died four years later and according to the pamphlet she departed "with great as[s]urance of her happiness hereafter."
While she was in her near-death state, Anna reported seeing people she had known, all of whom had died. There was one individual who, as far as Atherton knew, was alive. However, he subsequently discovered that this individual had passed on a few weeks earlier.
The source cited is Henry Atherton, The Resurrection Proved (T. Dawes, 1680).
The account contains many of the notable features of modern NDE's, including:
- A state of apparent death in which the patient is completely unresponsive
- Visions of heavenly beings
- Ethereal music
- A barrier that prevents entry into heaven
- A heavenly being who commands the person to return to life
- The presence of deceased friends and loved ones
- Assurance of life after death that persists even after being revived
It also includes a feature sometimes observed in deathbed visions: the patient's report that a certain person had died when, at the time, this fact should have been unknown to her. And there is the interesting detail of the accurate prediction of her coming death – there would seem to be no obvious reason for a fourteen-year-old to assume that her return to life would last only a "short time," yet she did in fact die not long afterward. (The actual pamphlet, the full text of which is online, says, she died two years later, not four years as stated in The Immortal Mind.)
The pamphlet, which is quite short, makes interesting reading. It includes the further details that Anna passed through three different gates but was stopped before the fourth, "Heaven Gate," and that the angel who guided her was "all in white" and was present in the sickroom when she told her story. In modern NDEs, the ethereal beings encountered in the next life are often described as being clad in white robes.
Anna's brother, described as a "Physician in Caermarthen," naturally interpreted her story in accordance with his Protestant faith, publishing it "in this Adulterous, Atheistical and Papistical Generation, wherein neither God, Christ, Soul, Heaven nor Hell are minded; but Whoring, Swaring, Lying, &c. and, it may serve as a Curb to Vice, and a Spur to Vertue."
No doubt there are significant elements of cultural overlay in the NDE itself, such as the "hallelujahs" Anna heard. But the core elements transcend cultural differences — and can be seen to persist over more than three centuries, even to the present day.