Reviewed by Karl Schlotterbeck, M.A., C.A.S.
(as included in the The Journal of Regression Therapy Volume VI, No. 1, Fall 1992)
Out of this World is an impressive exposition of the variety of otherworldly experiences in and conceptualizations about the netherworld. Although of tangential interest to past-life therapists, as a survey of world cultures and their beliefs about the world outside of time and space, this history is of central importance to anyone interested in the life of the soul.
Couliano concerns himself with ecstatic experiences of a shamanic nature, whether designated as such or not. His survey covers Egyptian texts, Tibetan bardo writings, legends of gods and goddesses in their otherworldly activities, Taiwanese ghost brides, Taoist priests, Islamic journeys and visions, along with Jewish, Greek, Chinese, and Hindu conceptualizations, to name just a few.
Since most past-life regressions involve taking the client through a death experience, some of the after-death concepts will be of direct interest in their own right, such as the two paths after cremation described by the Upanishads—going the “way of the gods”—or the “way of the fathers” (thereby returning to earth through rebirth). Further importance for past-life workers is in the way local cultural beliefs may influence the after-death experience of a client we have just taken through a regression death.
In addition, Couliano notes how differences in reports of near-death experiences depend on the researchers who study them (another case of the observer’s impact on “reality”). Thus, we find the possibility of preconceptions of the therapist/researcher distorting some of the clients’ experience.
One of the book’s strengths is also to its detriment: in its comprehensiveness, all cultures could not be treated equally without making the volume unwieldy. Hence, Couliano only mentions some practices (like “skeletal visualization”) while, at other times, he goes into more satisfying depth. Greek otherworldly travelers, for example, are treated more completely. In addition, some concepts are used (e.g., “witchcraft”) without clearly defining them, leaving the reader unclear whether he is referring to sorcery or nature religions. He also defines shaman as meaning “sorcerer,” which I have seen elsewhere translated as “one who sees in the dark.”
Although mention is given to Pythagoras and Empedocles having recollection of their previous lives, past-life therapy is mentioned only in passing in the next to last paragraph (in which he labels Senoi dream interpretation a “therapeutic hoax” without explanation).”
In summary, although Out of this World has its limitations, it is, nevertheless, a useful and mind-altering experience in itself. Couliano’s survey of after-death beliefs of world cultures should widen the perspectives of any reader, especially those of us who have firm beliefs about what happens after death.
ISBN 13: 9780877734888