The Long History of Near-Death Experiences

The Long History of Near-Death Experiences

The following post is from Sandy Coghlan’s blog “Heaven Knows…” and is reposted with permission. The original can be viewed HERE.

“Those who report nde’s are just parroting what they’ve already read or heard.”

WAIT!!! Before you jump through my computer screen, that’s not what I believe!

But it was. Once.

Near-death experiences became such a familiar concept after Life After Life was published in 1975, that these days, phrases like heavenly tunnels, life reviews and beings of light roll of most tongues with ease. It’s tempting to agree with the skeptics and assume that those who say they had an ‘nde’ were already familiar with the concept.

OK, but what about before 1975? Did people have near-death experiences before these accounts were gathered, labelled, catalogued, examined, and subsequently published as a best-selling book?

You betchya! Sorry, skeptics, but we can’t credit Dr. Raymond Moody with inventing near-death experiences!

Ah yes, you say, but were accounts prior to 1975 similar to modern-day accounts?

Photo by Clarisse Meyer

Absolutely! Throughout history, survivors have described whizzing through tunnels, seeing a bright light and being prevented from entering it. Some were told to “go back, it’s not your time!”

Let’s take a moment to think about this. How likely is it that people who were separated by thousands of miles could make up eerily similar stories? There were no google searches, few if any telephones, and not a lot of local bookshops where they could buy paperback books on the subject!

To satisfy my own curiosity that modern-day nde’s are not merely copycat accounts, I have spent half a lifetime gathering pre-Moody near death experiences, and I am currently writing a book about them. Following are just a few examples I found – can you put names to any of them?

  • A world-renowned psychiatrist who died of a heart attack in 1944. In his 1965 memoir, he recalled finding himself high in space and described how the earth looked from his vantage point. Thirty years after his experience, astronauts described identical views.  (hint: his name is very youthful – with an accent)
  • A high profile American author who was hit by numerous pieces of shrapnel during the first world war. In a letter reproduced in a 1962 biography about him, he described how he felt like “a pocket handkerchief” as he left his body. The incident so deeply affected him that he later had a character in one of his most famous novels have the same experience. (hint: his way was to be a determined writer!)
  • A famous admiral and intrepid explorer who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in the 1920’s. He struggled to climb over a wall in a desperate attempt to gain access into heaven. His account was featured in his autobiography, published in 1938.  (hint: he made many feathered friends during his shivery journeys)
  • A nineteenth century admiral whose nde occurred as a result of almost drowning, and included a detailed life review. His experience was carefully documented by the personal physician to King George IV and was later included in an 1847 memoir by a knighted naval administrator.  (hint: the wind scale he invented was named after him, and it is still in use today)

Perhaps the most exciting references to pre-Moody ‘nde’s’ came to my attention when I thought I had exhausted all possibilities. These actually made news around the world this century!

Book contributor: Fisher – University of Toronto. Digitizing sponsored by University of Ottawa

In 2004, Dr. Phillippe Charlier was browsing in a Paris bookshop and came across an old medical book. Published in 1740, ‘Anecdotes de Medecine’ had been written by French military physician Pierre-Jean du Monchaux.

Dr. Charlier purchased it for the equivalent of one dollar.

This battered old book had held its secrets for almost three centuries. One was an account by a man the author referred to as M.L.C and who was described as “one of the most famous apothecaries of Paris.” (Perhaps, like many nder’s today, M.L.C’s fame prompted him to request anonymity for fear of ridicule.)

“M.L.C. had a bad fever in Italy” Monchaux wrote, and he was “cured by French doctors and surgeons using bleedings. After the last bleeding, which was very abundant, he remained unconscious for such a long time that the doctors were worried.”

The patient later declared that “after losing all external sensations, he saw a light that was so pure and strong, he thought he was in paradise. He perfectly remembers this sensation, the most pleasant and beautiful he ever felt in his life.”

Almost 300 years ago, the author compared accounts he collected with those reported by others who had similar experiences, and stated: “Many people of all ages and gender claim to have felt a similar sensation in the same conditions.”

The book’s purchaser, Dr. Charlier, was intrigued. A medical doctor himself, he followed Monchaux’s example and compared these accounts to modern-day reports. Like the original author, Charlier discovered many similarities – indescribable peace, a light so pure and strong it seemed like paradise, pleasant and beautiful sensations, and a clear recall of the event.

Photo by Giammarco

Charlier published his findings in the peer-reviewed Journal of Resuscitation.

Were all these people, including M.L.C., merely parroting what they’d heard or read?

If you know of other accounts of near-death experiences published before 1975, I’d be delighted to hear about them. (Sandy can be reached via her blog, Heaven Knows…)



Sandy Coghlan worked in advertising and television in Australia and London prior to becoming an on-air director at a Melbourne TV station in 1979. Her first book, Travel Guide to Tasmania (Penguin) was commissioned by ‘Life. Be In It’ in 1984, while her articles on health and metaphysical subjects have been published nationally. From 1990 until retirement, Sandy qualified in a variety of alternative therapies, and in 1991, wrote and conducted a nutrition correspondence course for pharmacy assistants around Australia. She also taught creative writing and healing techniques at adult education centers. Sandy now lives with her partner Barry and their 2 cats in a bayside area of Victoria, Australia and is working on the second book in the Heaven Knows series.

You can read more of Sandy’s writing in a previous post from her about Elizabeth Kübler-Ross HERE.


  1. Kim Collie

    Sandy, thanks for some historical perspective. I’m sure there are so many NDEs unrecorded & recorded out there. I guess you’re familiar w/ Hieronymus Bosch’s Ascent of the Blessed? There’s probably a cave painting somewhere that hasn’t been discovered yet.

  2. My aunt lived with me in her last days.She was 97 years old and one night she walk up and turned the lights on.I asked her why and she told me that her father and my father both dead a long time ago went to visit her.She was perfectly logical till that time and with a clear mind.Some days later she passed away.

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