4 Creepy Visions of Hell From Real Near Death Experiences
Recently, a high school student in Fort Worth, Texas was running laps in gym class when he suddenly collapsed. His heart stopped for almost 20 minutes. During that time, he claims to have seen a figure with wavy hair and a beard, whom he immediately recognized as Jesus. That's cool, but it's also the exact same thing you hear anytime someone shows up on their local news to talk about their near-death experience.
Not all of them work that way, though. Sometimes, people who have near-death experiences report going in a different direction. Even worse, some of their accounts of what they experienced while dead match up frighteningly well with some of history's most famous and enduring visions of Hell. We talk about some particularly metal-worthy close calls on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by comic Vanessa Gritton and Cracked editor Tom Reimann. That's also what I'm talking in this column right now. Let's do it!
Angie Fenimore attempted suicide in January of 1991. The first thing she recalls after dying is being subjected to a "life review," a phenomenon that's common to several descriptions of near-death experiences. Basically, your entire life unfolds in front of you in a series of images, and you relive the events from the point of view of the people you interacted with during each of those moments. You feel how your actions made them feel.
So, for example, when my life review inevitably happens, this moment will be punctuated with a photo of a frowny-faced Kurt Cobain, and I'll feel his sadness over my decision to cut the joke about him I was planning to make in the first sentence of this entry.
At any rate, after the life review ended, Fenimore remembers being surrounded in darkness that seemed to go on forever. She could make out the figures of a group of young people nearby and blurted out, "Oh, we must be the suicides." I know that's inappropriate, but at the same time, it's still pretty great. Also great: the fact that she didn't actually have to speak to say it. She realized she could communicate using thought alone, but also that no matter how much she tried, she would never make a connection with or elicit a response from any of the damned souls around her, as evidenced by the lack of crowd response to her suicide bit.
At one point, she was banished to a different part of Hell, one that resembled something more like an open field, and in which lost souls roamed about, fully able to communicate with each other but too consumed by their own misery to engage in any sort of human interaction.
It's this detail from Fenimore's account that brings to mind the Revelation of Sister Josefa Menendez. She was an early-20th-century Spanish nun who was directed by God to write a description of Hell. She didn't want to, on account of how it would require her to visit Hell and all, but she did it anyway. What she came back with included the same physical pain and torture by demons and such that you've come to know and love, but she swore that what the soul endures is far worse. In her Hell, souls wander aimlessly, too consumed by grief and anger to ever know love or human connection again.
Sister Menendez died at the age of 34, after just a few years of service in God's dedicated staff of travel reporters. Angie Fenimore is still around, though! She's got a book you can buy -- on cassette, no less -- and has apparently been named the Divine Royal of Utah and Prophetess of the Church of Latte Dei Saints.
I don't think I have to tell you what that last part means! At least, I hope I don't have to, because I have no clue. But seeing as how she was already being referred to as "Her Royal Majesty Princess Angie Fenimore" before the promotion, it's probably not that big of a deal.
Matthew Botsford was standing outside an Atlanta restaurant when a shot rang out. Two men who'd been denied entry into the establishment moments earlier, in what has to be one of the most over-the-top customer service freakouts of all time, were indiscriminately firing at the front of the building. One of the bullets hit Botsford in the head. He remembers feeling a pain like a hot needle driving into his skull, then falling to the pavement, at which point everything went black. He died three times on the way to and at the hospital before doctors finally put him into a medically-induced coma that lasted for 27 days.
His descriptions of the things he saw while in that coma are nothing short of terrifying. Things began with him shackled at his wrists and ankles, suspended in midair over a deep, glowing red pit. Inside the pit, four-legged creatures roamed the floor while smoke billowed up from the magma below. Each plume of smoke contained exactly one tortured soul, suffering all alone.
That's something else Botsford made note of ... the isolation. All around him he could hear the screams of millions of damned souls, but their company was meaningless, because he understood that he was by himself and that this would last for eternity.
He's kind of overstating that loneliness, though, because at one point, a team of demons showed up to eat his flesh right from the bone, only to have it immediately grow back so they could eat it again.
Finally, he was spared when a gigantic hand reached through the wall and pulled him out. As it did, he heard someone say, "It's not your time."
All of this sounds eerily similar to the Vision of Drythelm, which depicts a Hell that includes a gigantic pit, above which the souls of the damned hang suspended in globes of black flame, suffering alone for all of eternity. No word on whether everyone gets the same cliched "Hand of God" ending that Matthew Botsford eventually got, but here's hoping they do.
Howard Storm was a devout atheist for most of his life. At the age of 38, he suffered a perforated stomach, and as you've probably gathered from the direction of this article so far, it led to a near-death experience. His didn't start with a life review. Instead, it started exactly how most films that involve people dying and becoming ghosts tend to start. When he "woke up," he could see the people around his hospital bed, but they couldn't hear him speak. He'd stop someone walking in his direction to ask them a question and they'd breeze right through him. Not past him; through him. He was dead. He was a ghost.
Soon, he noticed a group of figures gathered at a door leading to a hallway. They urged him to follow them, and he reluctantly stepped out into the hallway. Upon doing that, he found himself enveloped in a thick fog. The figures he'd followed into the hall were moving ahead. He followed along.
On the first part of the journey, he described the figures as "playful" when they badgered him to keep up. He could see his hospital room when he looked back, but as he moved further, it got smaller and smaller. As he followed the shadowy figures deeper into the fog, their demeanor changed. Soon, it escalated to pushing and shoving. Next thing you know, they started doing what demons do and decided to eat his flesh.
He cowered on the ground ready to give up when a voice in his head, which he recognized as his own, said, "Pray to God." Being a lifelong Ricky-Gervais-level atheist, he responded to himself with the most honest answer possible: "I don't know how." Still, when you're in Hell, you throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. Lacking any formal prayer training, he just started shouting out random phrases like "Our Father who art in Heaven" and "One nation under God."
Try singing a Beach Boys song!
Guess what? That shit totally worked! In short order, he was saved from his fate by way of divine intervention.
Does this sound like any famous visions of Hell throughout history? Sure, how about Swedenborg's Hell? Emmanuel Swedenborg was an 18th-century philosopher whose most famous work is a book aptly titled Heaven And Hell, which describes the Great Below using several different settings and scenarios; everything from decaying cities of sex to bleak forests filled with deformed animals. Why so many variations? Because according to his theory, every person carries a personalized version of Hell around in their head.
What would an atheist's version of Hell look like? No one can say for sure, but it might look something like reaching the afterlife and finally, at that point, deciding to blindly put your faith in a group of otherworldly figures in the hope that following them will lead to your salvation, only to find in the end that it was all a scam. Even worse, it's the kind of scam that ends with demons eating your flesh.
The lesson here? Stick to your guns, atheists! Death is no time to start being a follower, apparently.
Dr. George Ritchie
Dr. George Ritchie's trip to Hell started in a place where a lot of us would also probably dread spending an eternity: Richmond, Virginia.
After dying of pneumonia in 1943 during World War II, he awoke in what appeared to be a hospital room. He looked around and noticed that all of his stuff was missing, but before he had time to get upset about that, he noticed something else: There was someone lying in his bed.
He found that odd, seeing as how he'd just gotten out of that bed, but rather than stopping to contemplate what was going on, he decided to leave. He stepped out into the hospital hallway and headed through a set of metal doors that led outside. It was then that he decided he needed to get to the aforementioned Richmond, and he decided to do it in the most practical way possible. He was going to run there.
While he did make note of the fact that he was running faster than any train or vehicle of any sort ever could, his time to wonder why was cut short when he happened upon a small town, where he saw a decrepit red cafe building with a neon PBR sign in the window, because apparently hipsters decide the beer menu in Hell.
Oh! He was also suspended 50 feet in the air above that building. Keep in mind that up to this point, Dr. George Ritchie has no idea he was dead. That changed when a man came ambling down the street of that mysterious small town he'd landed in. When the doctor tried to talk, the man couldn't hear him. When he tried to touch the man's shoulder, his hand moved through his body as if there was nothing there but air. It was then that he remembered that man lying in his hospital bed and came to a shocking realization: It was him. He'd seen his own dead body.
Desperate to figure out what was happening, he made his way back to his hospital room, presumably using the same kind of travel magic that allowed Jack Bauer to get anywhere in Los Angeles in 15 minutes or less on the pro-torture television classic 24. In no time at all, he was back in his room, standing next to his lifeless form. And that's when he met Jesus.
So there's a twist! Meeting Jesus upfront is rare in these situations, it seems, but things took a standard turn from there when he was subjected to the same life review that so many other people who go through near-death experiences talk about.
Things got far stranger after that. Rather than being banished straight to Hell, Ritchie was taken on a guided tour of various afterlife locations. The first looked a lot like Earth. In fact, it was inhabited by both living and dead beings. The living were surrounded by a sort of light or aura, the dead were not.
In one scene, he saw a packed bar in which lost souls uselessly grasped at the drinks being consumed by the living, desperate to drink, but completely unable. There was also a woman doing the exact same thing to anyone smoking a cigarette. What he surmised was that this was a version of Hell where the dead spend the rest of eternity unable to enjoy the things they loved the most, even though they're right in front of them.
His next stop, unlike the rest of the places he'd seen, was filled exclusively with the souls of the dead. They did not walk side by side with the living. Instead, they engaged in battle on a huge plain, engaging in endless displays of physical violence, but suffering no injuries. The fight just went on forever. Oh, and then there was the sex! Well, he described the acts as sexual abuses and perversions he "had never dreamed of" being attempted in vain.
While that whole Richmond bit once again brings Swedenborg's Hells to mind, another famous depiction, the Vision of Wetti, merits a mention here also. In that terrifying glimpse into the afterlife, souls engage in sodomy in the streets, pausing only to partake in combat that centers mostly around genital mutilation.
Sounds awful, but I bet it's still better than spending eternity in Richmond.
Follow Adam on Twitter @adamtodbrown.
For more from Adam, check out 5 Things You Didn't Know Are Signs Of Impending Danger and 5 Insane Police Forces No One Ever Talks About.
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