Spirits: How Do World Religions View Spirits and Afterlife?

Part II of II 

by Maggie Thompson


 Image by Hartwig HKD*


In Part I, "Spirits: Are They Near?" we explored the experiences of people who have reported communicating with spirits. In this, Part II of II, we investigate spirits and afterlife through the lens of various world religions. And we ask the question: are there consequences of cremation on the soul and afterlife?

Spiritual practices, beliefs and phenomena are expressed and experienced in all kinds of ways. Religious beliefs are varied and equally impactful across each belief system and landscape.  Key, in this part II of our series, is how these varied beliefs can move a person toward disavowal or engagement with spirits and the afterlife. We'll first take a look at differing religious belief systems, offering information about each to give a general overview of some of the many ways religions view the afterlife.

How do world religions view the afterlife?


  • Protestants believe that there is an afterlife. Some think behavior on earth determines the path to heaven or hell. Others believe they will be saved by grace.
  • Roman Catholics hold similar beliefs, with the addition of purgatory, an afterlife state between heaven and hell. Following a time of suffering and repentance, the spirit can progress to heaven.


  • The Tibetan Book of the Dead gives complex descriptions of the stages of death and afterlife.
  • Following death, the spirit of the departed goes through a process lasting 49 days, divided into 3 stages called bardos. At the conclusion of the bardos, the soul either enters nirvana (extinction of all craving, that allows one to become liberated, dissolving into nothingness) or returns to earth for rebirth and reincarnation.


  • Judaism does not have much dogma about the afterlife, leaving a great deal of room for personal opinion.
    • Some believe that the souls of the righteous go to a place similar to the Christian heaven,
    • or that they are reincarnated through many lifetimes,
    • or that they wait until the coming of the messiah when they will be resurrected.
  • Some believe souls of the wicked are tormented by demons of their own creation, or that evil souls are destroyed at death, ceasing to exist in any spirit form.


  • According to the Muslim faith, death is the complete end of physical life and the beginning of a period of soul sleep until the day of resurrection when Allah judges the living and the dead, according to their deeds in life.
  • Sufism, a mystical sect of Islam, teaches that souls can ascend from the lower level of self to the Divine Light that penetrates the universe. The essence of the path to God is to find yourself.


  • The Upanishads, the ancient set of Hindu religious texts, postulate an eternal, changeless core of the self called the Atman. The Atman is entrapped in the endless cycles of death and rebirth.
  • The supreme goal of human souls is Moksha, the Sanskrit term for release or liberation from this cycle, attained in a variety of ways, from performing certain rituals to highly disciplined forms of yoga.
  • Knowledge and insight into the nature of reality enable the aspiring seeker to achieve Moksha.
  • After reaching Moksha, the individual Atman is believed to merge into the unchanging godhead Brahma.

Spiritualism, or Spiritism

  • Spiritualism says that all people, pets and animals that have been loved (thereby raising their vibrations) continue to live after death. On crossing over, 3 things come with us:
    1. Our etheric or spirit body (a duplicate of our physical body)
    2. All memories
    3. Our character
  • Most spirits go to the Third Realm, a place of enormous beauty, peace and light, where there is spaciousness to continue to spiritually refine indefinitely, gaining higher and higher vibrations, and progressing through 7 realms of light.
  • Spiritism purports to be the only religion based on evidence and direct experience that the human consciousness survives physical death, and that spirits who survive can communicate with those who are on earth. This is based on the research, writings and revelations of Allan Kardec (1804-1869).

One similarity runs through each of the above religions: each system of belief described offers a glimpse across the possible barrier that death may entail, a potential explanation of a landscape that is unknown. A conclusion can be drawn from this: how each of us views the afterlife depends on what we believe. 

Cremation - Are there spiritual consequences?

Erin Pavlina, intuitive counselor, says that cremation is safe for the soul. At death, the connection between body and soul is severed, and the body becomes an organic casing, incapable of registering pain. It is believed, at this point, that all consciousness transitions into the spirit or soul.

If a death is sudden or unexpected, however, spirits can hover near the body – from 20 minutes to several days – while they try to make sense of their situation. Pavlina suggests waiting three or four days to cremate the body. “It gives the living time to adjust, and it gives the dead time to let go.”

Each religion offers a view on cremation, and the similarities and differences are many and fascinating. To read what we discovered, explore our article, “Cremation in Relationship to Religious and Spiritual Traditions, Part I.” 

Many people who choose cremation do so to honor and keep a loved one's memory near to them in an urn for human ashes or a pet cremation urn. Urn jewelry, or jewelry for ashes, is also a popular way to keep a loved one's memory near. A piece of cremation jewelry that holds ashes can be an especially poignant way to invoke a loved one’s memory.

The afterlife continues to intrigue us, and across beliefs, there are themes that we all ponder. The questions posed in this series are deep and thought-provoking, and we hope they will offer a space that supports your journey into the realm of your own beliefs.

Share your thoughts with us!

We’d love to hear your comments!
Do spirits of loved ones have a genuine presence we can feel?
Can they communicate with us?
How does your religion or belief inform your attitude toward cremation?


*Image can be found here: http://bit.ly/2mG1eTm

Maggie Shopen Thompson, MFA, is a freelance writer and writing workshop facilitator in Montpelier, Vermont. She is a contributing author/artist in Healing Art & Writing – using creativity to meet illness, curated and edited by Patricia Fontaine, published in August 2016.

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