A Taxonomy of Afterlives

As a rule, Afterlives fall into a few small categories. Most of the classic examples exist in Christianity, so the following list starts with their schema – but proceeds to expand upon it. Suggestions for further examples are welcome.

The classic afterlife, the one where good people are presumed to go after they die. Generally features beautiful natural scenery and/or exquisitely well-kept gardens, angelic inhabitants, and a good (and quite often G-rated) time being had by all. Very frequently, Heavens are the abode of the god or gods. Also called Paradises. A traditional selling point of Heavens is that they are, in one or more ways, quantifiably better than the world of the living.
The in-between place. Limbos are often featureless voids or otherwise free from anything much of interest. The nicer Limbos tend to be Heaven-Lites. They tend to be where you go if you’re kinda bland in life, neither good nor evil, although in some belief systems they are the only afterlife.
The other classic afterlife, the one where bad people go after they die. Generally features a whole lot of suffering going on, the details of which vary wildly depending on the origin of the Hell in question. A Purgatory is a Hell with an escape clause, usually release after time-served. In a particularly sadistic cosmology, those who go to Heaven may get to watch those who go to Hell. And eat popcorn.
This World:
The afterlife consists of hanging around this world until you either fade away entirely, or achieve some form of transcendence (often bearing a suspicious resemblance to ticking off a karmic To Do List until one has enough ticks to get into the local Heaven).
Other Worlds:
An afterlife that bears a great resemblance to the pre-afterlife portion of existence. Other World afterlives are often the result of a lack of imagination in either their creators, their inhabitants, or both. Similar in some ways to Miscellaneous (see below), only blander.
An afterlife in which the self per se ceases to exist, becoming merely fuel for either the realm itself or the rulers of the realm. This is not the same thing as achieving oneness with the Godhead, although the similarities are striking. It is the same thing as have your soul eaten by Great Cthulhu, though. Thankfully rare, and on the bright side, should you find yourself in one of the, the chances are you’ll never know it.
More or less the opposite of the Other World afterlife, the Miscellaneous afterlife does not suffer from any lack of imagination. These are the afterlives that defy classification, often because they either let in almost no one or absolutely everyone. They frequently make little or no sense, and just as frequently, are all the more entertaining because of this. Very often, they are invented by science fiction writers, or members of other professions likewise notorious for the use of hallucinogens.
Game over, no reset. When you die, you either cease to exist, or you are no longer aware that you exist (which amounts to the same thing from your perspective).
Technological afterlives in which consciousnesses are stored via computational means, whether they are then placed into a virtual reality or decanted into cloned bodies (or both).
An afterlife only in the most literal sense, Reincarnation is another life in the same world. As such, it is beyond the scope of 1001 Afterlives to Visit After You Die, although if the belief system in question features an eventual escape from the cycle of Reincarnation, that escape is not.



It should be noted that, insofar as determining worthiness is concerned, weighed human hearts against a feather, even the Feather of Ma’at, is a dubious pastime. But for those who have passed this rigourous ordeal – sins, apparently, weigh down a heart, and a sinless heart weighs exactly the same as the feather – Aaru awaits in all its splendor.

Well, once you get through all the demon-guarded gates between the place of judgment and Aaru itself, at any rate. Did I mention that the demons are described as being evil and wielding knives? And that there are at least 15, and possibly as many as 21 of these gates?

Aaru proper is described as a rich and fertile series of islands, separated from each other by fields of rushes (or reeds, if your prefer). It is also the dwelling place of Osiris, the king (or pharaoh, to be precise) of the gods – and who can argue with a paradise that’s fit for a king?

Visitors to Aaru are advised to keep their thoughts on the unusual origins and nature of Osiris‘s deformity to themselves. There are no recorded incidents of him smiting people for mentioning it, but who wants to be the first?


  • Type: Limbo
  • Origin: Ross Leckie’s novels Hannibal and Carthage
  • Admission: Carthaginians.

When a Carthaginian dies, they must cross two rivers to enter the afterlife.

The first is the River of Ordeal. I don’t know much about it, but you’ve gotta admit, it doesn’t sound inviting, does it?

The second is the River of Forgetfulness – Ashroket, in the Punic tongue – which is much like the Lethe of the Greeks. When you drink from it, you remember all your past lives, something which you cannot pass to your next life until you do.

On the banks of Ashroket stands a great and giant elm tree, under which throng those cowardly members of the undead wait endlessly to have the courage to do drink.

If at all possible, I recommend that you not be a Carthaginian. I mean, for a start, they ceased to exist as a recognizable people over 2000 years ago, so it’s likely that by now, even the most cowardly shades of the dead have drunk from and crossed Ashroket.
Let’s hope so, anyway.


  • Type: Hell, with some traits of an Other World.
  • Origin: TSR’s Planescape line
  • Admission: followers of the deities who live there, those of lawful evil alignments, or making a spectacularly ill-advised deal with a devil.

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Bill and Ted’s Heaven

Heaven, for Bill S. Preston Esq. and Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan, is a purple series of regular cities, floating through an endless white void like the contents of an unusually serene and orderly lava lamp. Admission is fairly straight forward – you merely need to tell the gatekeepers what the meaning of life is. (By implication, this meaning is personal and different for each person, but can almost certainly be found in the lyrics of a popular song.)

Everyone arrives in Heaven wearing whatever they had on when they died, only changed to a muted colour scheme of whites and mauves. Within its gates, the great and the good amuse themselves with pastimes such as charades. And God himself is a distant presence, although willing to intervene to assist those who petition him. He is, as Bill puts it, “a just and noble Creator.”

Insofar as Heavens go, this one is kinda G-rated. It seems like a nice place to visit, if one can deal with the monotony of the colour scheme, but it is entirely too much like a retirement home for some tastes. Like mine.

Bill and Ted’s Hell

The Hell of Bill and Ted has two aspects. One is a rocky, fiery realm occupied by huge cast iron machines and Satan himself. It resembles nothing so much as, well, a million heavy metal album covers (despite what the dudes say to the contrary).

The second aspect is an apparently endless series of corridors, in which opening any of the many doors will lead you directly to your personal hell (or a shared ‘personal’ hell if you’re in numbers). The hells are cartoonishly distorted, and occupied by either your worst fears or your greatest regrets. They are, however, fairly easy to escape, although the principal occupants of them will pursue you into the corridors. Of course, you can always choose to play the Grim Reaper and possibly win back your life.

Despite my dismissal of its dangers above, there are few images in modern cinema I find more terrrifying than that of Granny S. Preston Esq.

Bryan Adam’s Heaven

  • Type: Heaven, presumably located in This World.
  • Origin: Bryan Adams’ Heaven
  • Admission: Bryan Adams and his ‘baby’

A Heaven that seems to have lasted for a number of years (at least, so long as you ignore all the other songs on the album – particularly ‘Run To You’ and ‘One Night Love Affair’), but a rather small one. Probably no larger than, say, a single bed.
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  • Type: Heaven, with some traits of an Other World.
  • Origin: TSR’s Planescape line
  • Admission: followers of the deities who live there, those of neutral good or lawful good alignments.

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  • Type: Hell, with some traits of an Other World.
  • Origin: TSR’s Planescape line
  • Admission: followers of the deities who live there, those of neutral evil or chaotic evil alignments, or pissing someone off enough that they imprison you there.

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