Experience Description

Contributed by Lee Miller.

Hariot, who did the recording, first relayed a story told of a man of the Secotan nation (an Indian nation in Hyde and Dare Counties, North Carolina, and on the Outer Banks) who had died and been buried a few years before the Englishmen came to their country (around 1582.) ‘The next day the earth of the grave was seen to move, [he] was taken up again: who made declaration where his soul had been.’

Hariot had a better first-hand account of a Secotan or Chowanoc man who died while the English were there. ‘And it was told me for strange news that one being dead, buried, and taken up again as the first. I was shown that although his body had lain dead in the grave, yet his soul was alive, and had traveled far in a long broad way, on both sides whereof grew most delicate and pleasant trees, bearing more rare and excellent fruits than ever he had seen before or was able to express. And at length came to most brave and fair houses, near which he met his father that had been dead before, who gave him great charge to go back again and show his friends what good they were to do to enjoy the pleasures of that place. Which, when he had done, he should after come again.’

Another recorded near death experience was of Handsome Lake, who was Seneca. He collapsed and his nephew, Blacksnake was sent for. Blacksnake recounted the story to another person in their nation who could read and write a little English, and wrote this account: Blacksnake ‘went near [to his] next neighbor, notified them that his uncle is dead and got them to help to take the body into the house, and did so, laid back to his bed. And give all the rest notice in the morning, and they gather together and watched the dead one [like a wake], and the Council concluded that they shall put into his grave next day at noon. And when the next day did come, about seven o'clock before noon, they took his body into the coffin and they examine again and put their hands onto his bosom and they did feel little warm, but still had no beat of the heart, and the Council concluded again to let it till next day. That is the third day, the time called death upon Handsome Lake. The third day did come, but still his bosom continues warm and then the Council decides that shall put off until the fourth day morning come to his senses again. Immediately [they] heard sound from him, saying, ‘I am called to death and now I come to life again, and I have been with the happy company of the angel.’ He then describes how four days ago, he saw three angels come to his door and call him to come outside. He went, and then fell down on the ground because of the beauty and radiance of their faces. They were all alike, but their clothes were different and curious and beautiful feathers, both curious and different, were worn on their heads. They took his hand, asked him to go with them, led him to a beautiful garden, and bade him sit down. He did and they told him that they would teach him the truth and duties that should be done in the world, and then they told him that he must go back and tell the people what he had seen and heard.’ Upon reviving, he told his brother that he expected to go again, and that he anticipated seeing his son, who was dead, and his brother's daughter, who likewise had been dead.

Soon after that, he fell into a coma that lasted seven hours. During that time, his arms and legs were cold, and his breathing imperceptible. This time, four messengers came, and he went up to the sky with one of them, a guide, who was dressed in sky-blue clothes. Together, they traversed heaven and hell and he learned the Creator's moral plan for the universe. They followed the Milky Way, and the stars were all different sizes, which he believed, were the tracks of the human race. He then saw a brilliant light and was told that that was the path by which souls reached the afterworld. He saw many dead people on the path, walking toward the light, children as well as adults, including someone he knew in life: George Washington sitting on a porch with his dog! Then finally the guide told him to stop and said that he had reached the point where he had to go back, and that Handsome Lake wouldn't see them again until death. He was told that there was a house waiting for him, but that if he even entered a single room, he wouldn't be able to go back to the earth world, so they parted.

Handsome Lake became a religious leader of his people and the surrounding nations, traveling to them and telling them what he had seen and how to conduct their lives so that they would be pleasing to the Creator and reach the same afterworld. This near death experience happened in 1799.

Among the Shawnee, Tecumseh's brother had a near death experience in the early 1800s, before the War of 1812. I may be able to find the account for that. I'll look.