ArticlePDF Available

A Child's Encounter with the Devil: An Unusual Near-Death Experience with Both Blissful and Frightening Elements

  • Bayfront Health, Spring Hill and Brooksville FL


I describe the near-death experience (NDE) of a 6-year-old boy who encountered both the devil and God following a near-fatal car accident, and compare recent recollections of the event with those made four years earlier. I discuss the aftereffects of this experience, and review the findings of earlier studies of frightening NDEs.
Journal of Near-Death Studies ph079-jnds-362309 November 17, 2001 11:36 Style file version March 18, 1999
A Child’s Encounter with the Devil:
An Unusual Near-Death
Experience with Both Blissful
and Frightening Elements
Richard J. Bonenfant, Ph.D.
Gainesville, FL
ABSTRACT: I describe the near-death experience (NDE) of a 6-year-old boy
who encountered both the devil and God following a near-fatal car accident, and
compare recent recollections of the event with those made four years earlier.
I discuss the aftereffects of this experience, and review the findings of earlier
studies of frightening NDEs.
KEY WORDS: near-death experience; children; frightening near-death ex-
More than ten years ago, Harvey Irwin and Barbara Bramwell (1988)
published an account of the near-death experience (NDE) of a 50-
year-old woman, which began as a blissful experience but changed
to a frightening one upon an unexpected encounter with the devil.
Conversely, the subject of the present accountis a 6-year-old boy,named
Scott, whose NDE began as a frightening experience because of an
initial encounter with the devil but which later progressed to a more
pleasant one. Scott’s experience is remarkable because of the richness
of detail that has been retrieved from his account and because of the
rarity of frightening childhood NDEs in the literature.
Richard J. Bonenfant, Ph.D., is a retired medical researcher with the Congenital
Malformations Registry at the New York State Department of Health and an Adjunct
Instructor in the Department of Computer Science at Sienna College in Loudonville,
NY. Reprint requests should be addressed to Dr. Bonenfant at 6008 S.W. 86th Drive,
Gainesville, FL 32608; e-mail: richard
Journal of Near-DeathStudies, 20(2), Winter 2001 C
2001 Human Sciences Press, Inc. 87
Journal of Near-Death Studies ph079-jnds-362309 November 17, 2001 11:36 Style file version March 18, 1999
The Accident
Scott’s NDE began as the result of an automobile accident that
occurred in front of his house on Saturday, June 10, 1995, when he
was 6 years old. On this particular day, he had joined his mother and
9-year-old brother as they went to purchase an ice cream cone from a
vendor who was touring their neighborhood. Almost immediately after
being handed his cone, Scott darted out from behind the ice cream
truck and was struck by a passing motorist. The impact caused Scott
to make several aerial somersaults before landing on the pavement
some 25 feet from where he had been struck. When his mother, Karen,
ran over to her son’s twisted torso, she found that he had no pulse. The
following narrative was written by Karen approximately ten months
after the incident:
...I heard the car slam into him, heard the deceleration of the engine
and the squeal of its brakes as its driver stopped dead. There was
nothing but silence as I watched the upper half of Scott’s body arc
away from the hood of the car, 180 degrees different from the point of
impact on the hood with the right side of his head, launching him into
three complete somersaults in the air as he catapulted away from the
car and up the street to my left about 25 feet. I was horribly fascinated
by how limp he was, like a rag doll, with legs and arms all akimbo.
He settled onto the pavement on his right side as if someone were
laying him there: his feet first, then his torso, then his head. I was
disconcerted by the fact that this all occurred in slow motion, in a
macabre fashion; there was a real grace to it.
...Scott landed on his right side: his left arm was straight down,
and underneath him; both legs were drawn up and were lying on top
of his left arm, to the left his torso was turned sharply to the right
as was his head; and his right arm was flung unnaturally across his
chest. He had landed on his right side, but the force of impact with
the ground had caused his hips to “bounce,” and flip abruptly to the
left side. I’m a hospice homecare nurse, and he looked like every dead
body that I have ever seen: waxy-looking bloodless skin, unmoving,
not breathing. I didn’t know what to do; I am also CPR certified and
was a CPR Instructor-Trainer at one time, but he looked so broken,
I was afraid to touch or move him in a way that would allow me to
perform rescue-breathing.
Scott’s father, who had been inside their house at the time, witnessed
most of the accident through the window. He immediately dialed the
911 emergency code and informed the operator of the location of the
accident. Then he ran over to his son and cradled Scott in his hands
whispering the phrase “I love you” in his ear over and over until the
Journal of Near-Death Studies ph079-jnds-362309 November 17, 2001 11:36 Style file version March 18, 1999
ambulance arrived. From the scene of the accident, Scott was taken to
a hospital and placed in the intensive care unit, where he remained
under observation until he came out of a coma and his vital signs had
stabilized. Being a nurse, Karen took careful note of her son’s injuries,
which included a concussion, a right-sided basilar skull fracture, total
perforation of the right ear drum, a fracture of the right pelvis, swelling
of the right ear and head, extended oxygen deprivation, and lacerations
of the head, hands, right arm and elbow, and feet.
The Near-Death Experience
When Scott regained consciousness in the intensive care unit some
eight hours later, he told his parents about what he had experienced
following the accident. Scott’s account began with the realization that
he could not avoid being struck by the car, followed immediately by the
memory of the impact, which he described as being “punched” by the
car. This trauma was followed by a bilocation of consciousness and an
out-of-body experience. Scott remembered being in his body as it was
struck, and he also recalled witnessing the entire accident from the
vantage point of a nearby tree some 30 feet away. He recalled seeing
his body making three somersaults in the air and then landing on the
pavement. While observing the accident and its aftermath, he felt no
pain whatsoever but was dismayed that he could not make himself
heard or seen by his family members. He shouted to his brother several
times to come “play” with him but to no avail. However, on one occasion
following the accident when his brother Graham and his mother were
going to the hospital, Graham reported that he had heard Scott call out
to him “in his head,” but that he had ignored the call because he could
see Scott’s body laying unconscious on the pavement. Scott remembered
hearing his father saying “I love you” to him but he could not make his
own reply audible to his father, and when he tried to hug his father,
Scott’s arms simply passed through his father’s body. Apparently Scott
was able to hear and see everything that was going on around him at
the scene of the accident, but no one there except Graham was able to
see or hear him.
Scott next found himself facing the entrance to a vortex-like tunnel in
a “bad dark place.” He described the tunnel as looking “like a tornado
laying flat on the ground.” As he was drawn into the tunnel Scott
found himself face-to-face with the devil. The devil spoke to Scott in
a deep, raspy voice saying, “You’re bad,” and made an attempt to grab
Journal of Near-Death Studies ph079-jnds-362309 November 17, 2001 11:36 Style file version March 18, 1999
him. At that point Scott was completely terrified. He subconsciously
felt that the devil was trying to “suck” him away from God. Scott said
that, in some way, he could feel a strong negative force emanating
from the devil. Scott described the devil as being composed of rotting,
putrid flesh, and covered with sores and slime. The devil projected the
impression of a being who was both mentally and physically ill.
Scott did not recall how he was rescued from the clutches of the
devil. He stated simply that he desperately tried to keep his faith in
God. He believes that God rescued him but he cannot remember exactly
how it occurred. Scott emphasized that he had no control over what was
happening to him and compared the experience to being moved through
the house of horror on a carnival ride. By whatever means, Scott next
found himself being whisked through the tunnel toward a distant point
of light. When asked about the characteristics of the tunnel, Scott could
remember only that it seemed to contain the faces and voices of all those
who had ever known and loved him.
Scott recounted that after emerging from the tunnel, he met his
deceased uncle Russell, who had died only a short time before Scott’s
accident. Scott and his mother gave two different versions of the
meeting with his uncle. Scott’s mother remembered that in Scott’s
original account, he described his uncle Russell as being dressed in
a gray suit. The uncle apparently never wore dress suits when alive,
so it seemed strange that Scott would describe him this way. She later
recalled that the uncle had been buried in a gray suit; that fact, however,
was unknown to Scott. In a more recent description of the meeting
with his uncle, Scott reported that his uncle was wearing the same
bedclothes that he wore before his death, and that during their meeting,
he was in bed covered with a sheet. Uncle Russell told Scott that he
had been in a bad accident, but he was not to worry because everything
would be okay. Scott remembered that during their conversation, his
uncle had addressed him by his nickname, “Buddy.
In contrast to his initial terror, Scott next reported seeing a brilliant
light that did not hurt his eyes. Scott felt a goodness and security
emanating from the light, and within it, a presence that he described
as God. He could not recall whatever transpired during this meeting
with God. However, toward the end of the encounter, a separate light
came from God. Scott felt that that lesser light was an angel. In a
recent interview, Scott could not distinguish the form or gender of this
light-being or angel. He recalled only that the light resembled a star
on a Christmas tree. However, his mother Karen remembered that on
Journal of Near-Death Studies ph079-jnds-362309 November 17, 2001 11:36 Style file version March 18, 1999
one occasion following his release from the hospital Scott had told her
that the angel’s name was Susan.
The angel escorted Scott through a dark but open place in which he
could still see things. When asked about the features of this dark realm,
Scott replied that it was different from what we see “here.” Scott felt
that the memory of these features “went away” or was taken away after
his experience.
The last scene Scott recalled was of being taken by the angel to what
he called a “dungeon.” When questioned about why an angel would take
him to a dungeon, Scott replied that “dungeon” was probably not the
right word to use. He said that “it was not a room filled with chains
and straw like in the movies” but rather a “safe place” where the devil
could not get at him. Scott recalled that this room was strongly built
but had no doors or windows. It was also a “good dark place” and he
felt the presence of a protective being, the angel, there with him. This
imagery of the sanctuary was the last thing Scott remembered before
regaining consciousness in the hospital.
Further Details and Documentation
Scott’s account of his NDE was brought to my attention through
the referral of a hospice worker. A set of questionnaires relating to an
ongoing NDE study were sent to Scott’s parents and upon completion
they were returned to me. The unusual nature of the account was
immediately evident. Since the questionnaires had been designed for a
different purpose, I contacted Scott’s parents to ask their permission to
conduct a more extensive interview with their son, then 11 years old.
Scott’s parents were both caring and protective of their son’s experience.
During the investigation, they were able to provide me with much
documentation, including a narrative of the NDE written by Scott on
November 11, 1997, two years following the original incident, when
he was 8 years old. They also provided a figure drawn by Scott a
few days after he had been discharged from the hospital representing
the devil that he encountered during his NDE. He explained to me
that various parts of the drawing represented the devil’s feet with
hook-like claws; its hands shaped like skeletal claws; a greenish
ooze similar to the slime that was emitted by the ghostly ogres in
the television cartoon “Ghostbusters”; the devil’s body covered with
infected, scab-like, rotting flesh; and the devil’s head described as
Journal of Near-Death Studies ph079-jnds-362309 November 17, 2001 11:36 Style file version March 18, 1999
being deformed and sickly looking. When Scott originally drew the
devil’s eyes, his parents noted that he mashed and twisted his marker
which such force that he wore an opening through the paper he
was drawing on. Scott added that the devil’s voice sounded like a
raspy version of Darth Vader’s voice in the movie Star Wars, a sound
coming from deep within the throat and being very coarse, like sounds
made by someone who was deathly sick. The devil told Scott that he
was “bad.”
Scott’s parents also provided me with a second drawing he had made
a few days after he had been discharged from the hospital, representing
the angel that escorted him to the safe, dark place after his encounter
with God. There was little that Scott could recall about this particular
drawing except that the head was the most important part, and that the
yellow aura was drawn to convey both the light and goodness radiated
by this entity.
In March 1999, I asked Scott if he would be willing to make new
drawings of the devil and angel, with the intent of comparing his
original drawing with those made from the perspective of a five-year
vantage point. I gave Scott no specific instructions regarding the
drawing. The newer drawing portrayed a far more conventional portrait
of the devil’s head, depicting only certain facial features, including
red eyes, raised eyebrows, nostrils, and large, pointed teeth. Scott
added words spoken to him by the devil, “Your [sic] bad!,” implying
that Scott’s soul belonged to him. Scott’s recent portrait of his angel
escort included simply a sun-like object with a white core. As Scott had
previously noted, this entity, “came from God, but was separate from
Him.” At this point in time only the impression of the angel’s brightness
Scott’s mother also provided me with a schematic chronology of his
NDE she had drawn in collaboration with her son. A brief summary
of this pictorial chronology includes (1) bilocation of consciousness at
scene of accident; (2) observing the accident from the location of a
nearby tree; (3) his out-of-body experience, in which he was unable to
hug father and to make himself seen or heard; (4) being in a “bad dark
place” facing a tunnel; (5) the encounter with the “devil” after entering
a vortex; (6) continued passage through the vortex; (7) meeting his
Uncle Russell; (8) the encounter with the Light (God); (9) awareness
of the presence of an angel; (10) being escorted by the angel to a “good
dark place” (the “dungeon”); and (11) regaining consciousness in the
Journal of Near-Death Studies ph079-jnds-362309 November 17, 2001 11:36 Style file version March 18, 1999
The term frightening, distressing, or hellish NDE refers to an
experience in which the dominant theme of the event is that of fright,
fear, and concern for one’s safety and well-being. As early as 1981,
Jim Lindley, Sethyn Bryan, and Bob Conley observed that frightening
NDEs are sometimes part of a larger experience that often begins or
ends on a positive note. In the case cited above, recounted by Irwin and
Bramwell (1988), the experience began on a positive note but ended on
a negative one. Scott’s case is just the opposite. His NDE began with
an abrupt encounter with the devil but proceeded to a vision of God.
While the later elements of his experience were positive in affect, the
dominant emotional outcome of the overall experience was anxiety over
the possibility of another encounter with the devil.
Scott’s parents reported that their son suffered from restlessness,
anxiety, and nightmares for months following his NDE. Shortly after
returning home, Scott moved from his own bedroom into that of his
older brother Graham, where both brothers felt more secure. Scott
also began to show an interest in religion and he voluntarily attended
church services more frequently. The following evaluation of these
aftereffects was offered by Scott’s father:
...I would say that Scott had difficulties resulting from the NDE.
However, he also, based on the experience, developed a spirituality
rather sophisticated for someone his age. Before that, he really hated
church and Sunday school, etc. Eventually afterwards, he became quite
interested in spiritual matters and now says that he likes church, and
often asks questions that I have to really mull over to answer for him.
For a short period of time following the NDE, it seemed that both
Scott and his parents were experiencing symptoms of posttraumatic
stress disorder. All four family members of the family began visiting a
counselor to find out whether Scott’s symptoms and its effect on their
lives were a normal consequence of his accident. These visits proved to
be reassuring because the counselor’s evaluation of their situation was
consistently positive.
Some researchers have suggested that the visions and images
witnessed by NDErs during their experiences are largely the product
of acculturation. That is, experiencers see what they expect to see.
They argue that even children are exposed to a wide range of religious
and cultural images that condition them to visualize similar imagery
Journal of Near-Death Studies ph079-jnds-362309 November 17, 2001 11:36 Style file version March 18, 1999
during their NDEs. Traditional images of devils and angels abound in
the media. Angels are depicted as being human in form, often female
in gender, dressed in white garments, with large, white, feathered
wings on their backs, and glowing with unearthly beauty. Devils are
also portrayed as being anthropomorphic but with pointed horns,
large bat-like wings, and sometimes with a barbed tail. Other popular
representations of the devil depict a satyr-like being who is human
from the waist up and goat-like from the waist down. While such
visual experiences may occur in some NDEs, they do not in Scott’s
case. Scott’s description of the devil is quite unorthodox. He described
the devil as a sick, repulsive being with rotting flesh and having the
personality of a crazy person. Neither Scott’s verbal descriptions nor
his drawings conformed to archetypal images of devils or angels. In
addition, descriptions of heaven or hell were conspicuously missing
from Scott’s narrative and drawings. One would expect that such
scenes would accompany descriptions of devils and angels because of
their historic association with these beings in literature, art, and the
popular press. This statement is not intended to deny the proposition
that subconscious imagery plays a role in what is perceived by the
experiencer. Rather, it is a rejection of the assumption that what Scott
reported was simply a product of subconscious cultural conditioning.
Scott displayed no interest in such beings prior to his experience,
and his conception of the devil did not conform to the being he
I attempted to investigate Scott’s life experience immediately prior
to his NDE to ascertain whether his mental and emotional state at
the time of the accident may have had a direct effect on the nature of
his experience. When asked, Scott conceded that he had a “bad year.
One of his teachers had adopted an adversarial relationship with Scott
and frequently rebuked him before his classmates. Scott recalled being
so angered by this constant humiliation that he retaliated by picking
fights with other classmates. His mother remarked that throughout
his first grade school year Scott would repeatedly come home and say,
“I’m bad.” Upon examination, the events that led Scott to feel this way
were usually found to be normal mischief such as talking or drawing
pictures during class. These events could have set the stage for the
frightening aspect of his NDE, as Scott probably did carry some anger,
guilt, frustration, and self-doubt into his experience, but it is very
difficult to gauge whether these subconscious emotional conditions
were sufficient to precipitate his encounter with the devil. During his
interview, Scott appeared to be genuinely shocked and surprised by his
Journal of Near-Death Studies ph079-jnds-362309 November 17, 2001 11:36 Style file version March 18, 1999
confrontation with the devil. We cannot determine definitively whether
Scott subconsciously projected his own distressing imagery or whether
he witnessed some independent source of evil.
Another interesting observation in Scott’s case relatesto the accuracy
of recall, particularly with regards to detailed imagery. While the
structure, sequence, and affect of Scott’s NDE have remained consistent
over the five years since the initial event took place, recall of visual
details appears to have been degraded by the passage of time. Two
examples typify this observation. In an early account of his NDE told
to his mother shortly after being discharged from the hospital, Scott
reported that his escort was a female angel named Susan. By March
1999 he could not recall the form, gender, or name of this angel. His
current memory was limited to a “presence” composed of warm light
that radiated a sense of comfort and security. Another example is that
in Scott’s initial account, he mentioned that his uncle was wearing a
gray suit when they met. However, recently Scott reported that his
uncle was wearing bedclothes and was partially covered by a sheet.
It is impossible to determine which version of these accounts is the
more accurate, but it is clear that later descriptions differ from earlier
accounts. This same effect can be seen by comparing original drawings
of the devil and angel with those drawn more recently. Degradation of
detail may be a function of the age at which the NDE is experienced,
or it may represent a natural process correlated with the time elapsed
since the NDE was experienced.
The elements and chronology of Scott’s NDE are consistent with
those reported by other experiencers. Out-of-body experiences, passage
through a dark tunnel, meeting deceased relatives, and feeling secure
in the presence of a being of light have been widely confirmed
since Raymond Moody first reported them (1975). Details concerning
the specific characteristics of core elements and the description of
the devil are more unusual. Children’s accounts are often informative
simply because they report exactly what they see without great concern
over the rational interpretation of their observations. A careful review
of Scott’s account reveals a number of statements that are convincing
because of their naivet ´
e. A couple of examples may illustrate this point.
When attempting to describe the tunnel that he had passed through,
Scott said that “it was like a tornado flat on its side instead of being
straight up and down.” When asked how he had moved through this
tunnel, Scott replied that he was kind of “pushed and pulled” at the
same time. Lastly, when I attempted to gain a description of the interior
of the vortex, Scott simply shook his shoulders and said that he did not
Journal of Near-Death Studies ph079-jnds-362309 November 17, 2001 11:36 Style file version March 18, 1999
remember, but that it seemed to contain the voices and facesof everyone
who had ever loved him.
Except for a remarkable recovery from the physical trauma of
the accident, Scott has experienced no unusual aftereffects, such
as synesthesia, electromagnetic effects, paranormal phenomena, or
changes in physical sensitivities. Changes in values appear to be re-
stricted to religious teachings and have already been noted. Scott’s
parents believe that their son has become very insightful and that he
is far more caring in his relationships with family and peers. They also
note that, prior to his NDE, Scott had been unusually impulsive, but
this trait greatly diminished following his NDE.
As with many accounts from children, Scott’s narrative was
fragmentary and did not neatly conform to a logical sequence of events.
Transitions between scenes and events were abrupt. His recollections
of events were more like a slide show than a film clip. While we may
speculate about the missing gaps in Scott’s recall, reported scenes were
informative, detailed, and contained a sense of authenticity. This case
study supports the conclusion that children, like adults, experience
frightening NDEs, and that such events can produce negative as well
as positive aftereffects.
Previous Reports of Frightening NDEs
Frightening childhood NDEs challenge our sense of propriety. We
equate childhood with innocence, and find it difficult to accept the
possibility that children could be subject to such experiences. Scott
was only 6 years old at the time of his automobile accident and was
obviously surprised and shocked by his encounter with the devil.
Because of the infrequency of frightening NDEs, researchers know
little of their nature and aftereffects. Early publications on NDEs were
primarily concerned with establishing the phenomenological validity
of the more common positive NDEs. Raymond Moody (1975), who first
described NDEs, did not report any frightening experiences. In a later
publication, Moody wrote that “in the mass of material I have collected
no one has ever described to me a state like the archetypical hell”
(Moody, 1977, p. 169).
The first investigator to focus the attention of the research com-
munity on frightening NDEs was cardiologist Maurice Rawlings (1978),
who claimed that at least half of all NDEs contained frightening
aspects. When subsequent researchers were unable to verify that
Journal of Near-Death Studies ph079-jnds-362309 November 17, 2001 11:36 Style file version March 18, 1999
frequency of negative cases, Rawlings theorized that many negative
experiences converted themselves to positive ones, and that patients
were biased in favor of recalling only the more positive aspects of their
Support for the existence of frightening NDEs come from an
unexpected source. In a report of a nationwide Gallup poll on “verge
of death” experiences in adult Americans, one chapter was devoted
entirely to an examination of views about hell and to the occurrence
of frightening NDEs, concluding that 1 percent of those surveyed
reported “a sense of hell or torment” (Gallup and Proctor, 1982, p. 75).
These experiences included featureless, sometimes forbidding faces;
beings who are often merely present, but not at all comforting; a
sense of discomfort, especially emotional or mental unrest; feelings of
confusion about the experience; a sense of being tricked or duped into
ultimate destruction; and fear about what the finality of death may
English psychologist Margot Grey devoted a chapter of her book on
NDEs to the topic of “negative” experiences, “usually characterised by
a feeling of extreme fear or panic . ...emotional and mental anguish,
extending to states of utmost desperation . intense feeling of
loneliness during this period coupled with a great sense of desolation”
(1985, p. 58). Grey also distinguished a type of experience she called
“hell-like,” which often included
a definite sense of being dragged down by some evil force, which
is sometimes identified with the powers of darkness. At this stage,
visions of wrathful or demonic creatures that threaten or taunt the
individual are occasionally described, while others recount being
attacked by unseen beings or figures which are often faceless or
hooded. The atmosphere can be intensely cold or unbearably hot. It
is not uncommon during this phase of the experience to hear sounds
that resemble the wailing of ‘souls’ in torment, or alternatively to
hear a fearsome noise like that of maddened wild beasts, snarling
and crashing about. Occasionally, respondents will report a situation
that resembles the archetypal hell in which the proverbial fire and an
encounter with the devil himself are experienced. (1985, p. 58)
Based upon the contents of these accounts, Grey discerned a common
sequence of events that included fear and a feeling of panic; an out-
of-body experience; entering a black void; sensing an evil force; and
entering a hell-like environment.
P. M. H. Atwater (1992) suggested that frightening NDEs may be
structured by the experiencer’s subconscious mind, and that variations
Journal of Near-Death Studies ph079-jnds-362309 November 17, 2001 11:36 Style file version March 18, 1999
in details among different accounts reflect the operation of psychic
rather than physical laws. Atwater found frightening NDEs to include
lifeless or threatening apparitions; barren or ugly expanses; threats,
screams, or silence; danger and the possibility of violence or torture;
a feeling of cold; diminished light; attack or neglect producing surges
of fear or anxiety; feeling challenged to defend one’s very existence
and struggling to stay alive; and occasional spontaneous flashbacks
of threatening or terrifying scenes. Atwater claimed that unpleasant
NDEs were “usually experienced by those who seem to have deeply
suppressed or repressed guilts, fears, and angers, and/or those who
expect some kind of punishment or accountability after death” (1992,
p. 156).
Bruce Greyson and Nancy Evans Bush (1992) summarized a
study of 50 frightening NDEs and identified three distinct types:
phenomenologically prototypical NDEs interpreted as terrifying due
to the loss of ego control; an experience of nonexistence or eternal
void, in which the experiencer feels condemned to a featureless void
for eternity; and experiences with hellish imagery, with descriptions of
hellish environments, threatening demons, or feelings of being drawn
into a dark pit. Reports of “hellish” experiences were quite variable in
phenomenology, suggesting that some personal interpretations are of
more archetypal imagery.
While Kenneth Ring found no cases of frightening NDEs in
his original study (1980), and later conceded that such cases
could account for 1 percent of all reported cases (1984), he most
recently concluded “that frightening NDEs are themselves illusory
phantasmagories thrown up by the ego in response to the threat
of its own seeming imminent annihilation” (1994, p. 22), prompting
Bush (1994) to object that he was trivializing the meaning and value
of such experiences and to urge researchers to consider that even
terrifying encounters contain valuable lessons for both individuals and
Although during the past decade near-death researchers have
uncovered a surprising number of frightening NDEs, Rawlings’
estimate that half of all NDEs contained frightening elements still
appears to be an overestimation. Recent estimates by Atwater (personal
communication, 1999) based on sample of 3000 adults and 277 children
suggest an incidence rate of 15 percent for adults and 3 percent for
children, significantly higher than the estimate of 1 percent made by
early researchers.
Journal of Near-Death Studies ph079-jnds-362309 November 17, 2001 11:36 Style file version March 18, 1999
It is evident that Scott experienced a frightening NDE that had an
impact on his subsequent behavior. Scott’s interest in religious matters,
particularly with regard to the existence of good and evil, may be the
expression of a subconscious defense mechanism geared to providing
information that could be used to improve his ability to respond in
another frightening situation. A byproduct of this process may be the
heightened awareness and insightfulness regarding moral issues that
has been observed by Scott’s parents. The noted reduction of impulsive
behavior following the NDE may be the result of Scott’s realization
of vulnerability to forces beyond his control and to a realization that
greater caution is required in the face of the unknown. It is also evident
that the passage of time has degraded the recall of some visual details
of Scott’s experience. However, the structure and affect of the NDE have
remained consistent.
Scott’s negative experience did not seem to have been the product
of cultural expectations, but there is some evidence that his prior
emotional and psychological makeup may have set the stage for the
adverse aspect of the experience. However, I was impressed by the
apparent authenticity of Scott’s experience and do not feel justified
in dismissing the possibility that some component of the experience
reflects interaction with an alternate reality.
This case supports the conclusion that frightening near-death
experiences can, and do, occur to children. It is my opinion that Scott’s
unexpected confrontation with the devil led to a prolonged period of
insecurity regarding his vulnerability to such encounters. Concern
and vigilance over this prospect led to nightmares, restlessness, and
prolonged anxiety. The passage of time does appear to have reduced
Scott’s concern over the prospect of future encounters, but emotional
support from family members and healthcare providers also played a
role in alleviating his anxiety. Frightening NDEs can produce adverse
aftereffects of various intensity and duration. This observation has
important implications to healthcare professionals in both pediatric
and adult populations.
Atwater, P. M. H. (1992). Is there a hell? Surprising observations about the near-death
experience. Journal of Near-Death Studies,10, 149–160.
Journal of Near-Death Studies ph079-jnds-362309 November 17, 2001 11:36 Style file version March 18, 1999
Bush, N. E. (1994). The paradox of Jonah: Response to “Solving the riddle of frightening
near-death experiences.Journal of Near-Death Studies,13, 47–54.
Gallup, G., and Proctor, W. (1982). Adventures in immortality: A look beyond the threshold
of death. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Grey, M. (1975). Return from death: An exploration of the near-death experience.London,
England: Arkana.
Greyson, B., and Bush, N. E. (1992). Distressing near-death experiences. Psychiatry,55,
Irwin, H. J., and Bramwell, B. A. (1988). The devil in heaven: A near-death experience
with both positive and negative facets. Journal of Near-Death Studies,7, 38–43.
Lindley, J. H., Bryan, S., and Conley, B. (1981). Near-death experiences in a Pacific
Northwest American population: The Evergreen Study. Anabiosis: The Journal of Near-
Death Studies,1, 104–124.
Moody, R. A. (1975). Life after life. Covington, GA: Mockingbird Books.
Moody, R. A. (1977). Reflections on life after life. St. Simon’s Island, GA: Mockingbird
Rawlings, M. (1978). Beyond death’s door. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
Ring, K. (1980). Life at death: A scientific investigation of the near-death experience.New
York, NY: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan.
Ring, K. (1984). Heading toward omega: In search of the meaning of the near-death
experience. New York, NY: William Morrow.
Ring, K. (1994). Solving the riddle of frightening near-death experiences: Some testable
hypotheses and a perspective based on A course in miracles. Journal of Near-Death
Studies,13, 5–23.
... Only a small number of empirical studies have addressed distressing NDEs in-depth. In addition, most of them have focused on single cases, thereby affecting the generalisability of their observations (Bonenfant, 2001;Irwin & Bramwell, 1988). One noteworthy finding is the existence of experiences beginning the same way as classical NDEs, but that suddenly become negatively toned. ...
... Our main goal was to better document distressing NDEs which remain poorly studied (Bonenfant, 2001;Bush & Greyson, 1994;Greyson & Bush, 1992;Irwin & Bramwell, 1988). This study investigated three major aspects of these experiences: (1) the proportion of distressing NDEs in our sample, (2) their distribution according to the three categories previously established by Greyson and Bush (1992), and (3) the phenomenological and contextual differences existing between the memories of distressing and classical NDEs. ...
... Our results therefore seem to corroborate previous studies describing a combination of blissful and frightening elements in some distressing NDEs (e.g. Bonenfant, 2001;Sabom, 1982). Thus, it should also be emphasised that these distressing experiences could be misinterpreted as positive on the unique basis of the Greyson NDE scale. ...
Full-text available
Near-death experiences (NDEs) are usually associated with positive affect, however, a small proportion are considered distressing. We aimed to look into the proportion of distressing NDEs in a sample of NDE narratives, categorise distressing narratives according to Greyson and Bush’s classification (inverse, void or hellish), and compare distressing and “classical” NDEs. Participants wrote down their experience, completed the Memory Characteristics Questionnaire (assessing the phenomenology of memories) and the Greyson scale (characterising content of NDEs). The proportion of suicidal attempts, content and intensity of distressing and classical NDEs were compared using frequentist and Bayesian statistics. Distressing NDEs represent 14% of our sample (n = 123). We identified 8 inverse, 8 hellish and 1 void accounts. The proportion of suicide survivors is higher in distressing NDEs as compared to classical ones. Finally, memories of distressing NDEs appear as phenomenologically detailed as classical ones. Distressing NDEs deserve careful consideration to ensure their integration into experiencers’ identity.
... Central for the purposes of the present inquiry, qualitative studies have found that 80% to 100% of people who had an NDE subsequently reported a reduction of death anxiety, compared to a 2 Most reports of NDEs are positive; however, 3-15% of NDEs are perceived as partially or entirely unpleasant (Bonenfant, 2001). Such occurrences can be characterized by: a perception of losing control of the situation, a sense of nothingness or featureless void, the presence of demons or a sense of eternal falling in a dark pit, and a feeling of being negatively evaluated during the experience (Greyson & Bush, 1992, 1996Rommer, 2000). ...
Full-text available
Near-death experiences (NDE) are intense events that can have profound psychological consequences. Although decreased fear of death after an NDE is a well-documented phenomenon, it is unclear what psychological factors are associated with reduced death anxiety. In this study, grounded in terror management theory, we compared 102 people who had an NDE with 104 individuals who did not. Participants completed measures of death anxiety, self-esteem, mindfulness, and death representation. Results indicated that people who had an NDE had lower fear of death, higher self-esteem, greater mindfulness, and viewed death more as a transition rather than as absolute annihilation. Subsequent analyses found that NDE had a direct effect on death anxiety, and that the effect of NDE on death anxiety was also mediated by indirect effects on self-esteem and death representation. Implications of these findings are considered, limitations of the present study are acknowledged, and suggestions for future theory and research are proffered.
... İlk olgu bildirimlerinden beri ÖDY, genellikle hoş, mutluluk ve huzur verici olumlu bir olay olarak tanımlanmış, ÖDY yaşayan olguların çoğunluğunun, yaşantılar sırasında derin huzur, neşe ve evrenle bütünleşme duygularını duyumsadıkları belirtilmiş, sıkıntı veren tamamen olumsuz yaşantı içeriği bildirilmemiştir (Greyson 1983b, Zisook 1995. Bazı olgularda, özel-likle özkıyım sonrası oluşan yaşantılarda, sıkıntı verici, hoş olmayan olumsuz duygulardan sözedildiği, ancak yaşantıların ileri aşamalarında bunların kaybolduğu, ÖDY yaşayan olgularda olumsuz yaşantı görülme oranının %1-%15 arasında değiştiği bildirilmiştir (Bonenfant 2001, Greyson ve Bush 1992. Greyson ve Bush (1992) olumsuz ÖDY'nı üç ayrı tipe ayırmışlardır. ...
Full-text available
The experiences of persons who almost die in the course of se¬vere illness or injury, or who are believed to be dead but subse¬quently revive or are resuscitated have been described consistently since antiquity. These profound and subjective experiences are called as neardeath experiences. Interest in these phenomena was largely in the province of religion and parapsychology, until when this sub-ject has drawn the attention of some psychiatrists and medical workers. Thereafter, many studies have been conducted in order to en¬lighten the etiology of these mystic and transcendental experiences. In this article, near-death experiences is reviewed in terms of description, incidence and prevalence, factors that affect the occurrence and quality of experiences, the theoretical explanations of near death experiences, the consequences in life and clinical implications.
... The incidence of these distressing experiences have been estimated to range from 1-15% of NDErs (Bonenfant, 2001), indicating that it is either a rare phenomena or those who have a negative NDE choose not to report it. ...
Background Electroencephalography (EEG) findings following cardiovascular collapse in death are uncertain. We aimed to characterize EEG changes immediately preceding and following cardiac death.Methods We retrospectively analyzed EEGs of patients who died from cardiac arrest while undergoing standard EEG monitoring in an intensive care unit. Patients with brain death preceding cardiac death were excluded. Three events during fatal cardiovascular failure were investigated: (1) last recorded QRS complex on electrocardiogram (QRS0), (2) cessation of cerebral blood flow (CBF0) estimated as the time that blood pressure and heart rate dropped below set thresholds, and (3) electrocerebral silence on EEG (EEG0). We evaluated EEG spectral power, coherence, and permutation entropy at these time points.ResultsAmong 19 patients who died while undergoing EEG monitoring, seven (37%) had a comfort-measures-only status and 18 (95%) had a do-not-resuscitate status in place at the time of death. EEG0 occurred at the time of QRS0 in five patients and after QRS0 in two patients (cohort median − 2.0, interquartile range − 8.0 to 0.0), whereas EEG0 was seen at the time of CBF0 in six patients and following CBF0 in 11 patients (cohort median 2.0 min, interquartile range − 1.5 to 6.0). After CBF0, full-spectrum log power (p < 0.001) and coherence (p < 0.001) decreased on EEG, whereas delta (p = 0.007) and theta (p < 0.001) permutation entropy increased.Conclusions Rarely may patients have transient electrocerebral activity following the last recorded QRS (less than 5 min) and estimated cessation of cerebral blood flow. These results may have implications for discussions around cardiopulmonary resuscitation and organ donation.
This article provides a thorough, literature-based review of the impact of near-death experiences on children and adolescents in the areas of social and academic functioning in school. Gleaned from the published literature about how various non-school health professionals can most effectively assist near-death experiencers, practical suggestions and interventions are recommended for school counselors to effectively assist student near-death experiencers.
Full-text available
I present in this paper a tale from Pu Songling's "Strange Stories from Liaozhai's Studio." This story seems to contain the following key elements ofa near-death experience: the life review, travel through a spiritual world, and a pilgrimage to obtain a healthy physical body "to return to life." 1 discuss the content of the life review in terms of emotionally tagged souvenirs. Other contents ofthe story are clearly culturally dependent and 1discuss them within the framework of Oriental thought. KEY WORDS: near-death experience; Pu Songling; culturally-shaped experi-ence; field of consciousness; long-term memory. Pu Songling (P'u Sung-ling, 1640-1715), the great Chinese writer, was born in Zibo and lived in Pujia Village, south of Zichuan District (Shandong in the Qing Dynasty). He became a famous literary figure in his youth but he never passed the imperial examinations to become an official scholar. At the age of nineteen he received the xiucai degree in the civil service examination, which entitled him to an appointment only as a government official in a township or city. It was not until he was 71 that he received the gongsheng degree. He never became wealthy in his life and he made a living as a private tutor. To the east of Pujia Village is the Manjin Well, where, according to the legend, Pu Songling offered tea to passers-by in order to collect
Full-text available
Although the considerable majority of reported near-death experiences (NDEs) are associated with positive affect, there are occasional cases of so-called negative NDEs that are dominated by fear and anguish. The phenomenological status of the negative experiences and their relationship to the more typical positive NDEs have been the subject of increasing speculation. In that light, the NDE described in this paper is of interest because it began to unfold as a positive experience but then changed course to become a negatively toned one. We present the details of this case and note its principal theoretical implications.
Full-text available
Most reported near-death experiences include profound feelings of peace, joy, and cosmic unity. Less familiar are the reports following close brushes with death of experiences that are partially or entirely unpleasant, frightening, or frankly hellish. While little is known about the antecedents or aftereffects of these distressing experiences, there appear to be three distinct types, involving (1) phenomenology similar to peaceful near-death experiences but interpreted as unpleasant, (2) a sense of nonexistence or eternal void, or (3) graphic hellish landscapes and entities. While the first type may eventually convert to a typical peaceful experience, the relationship of all three types to prototypical near-death experiences merits further study. The effect of the distressing experience in the lives of individuals deserves exploration, as the psychological impact may be profound and long-lasting.
Interviewed 49 Ss who described 55 near-death experiences. These experiences tended to fall into a common pattern marked by 5 distinct stages: (1) feelings of peace, freedom, and well-being; (2) the sensation of separation from the body; (3) the tunnel effect or entering darkness; (4) encountering light; and (5) the "inner setting." (12 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
The author discusses distressing or unpleasant near-death experiences (NDEs) and his own findings from interviews. He compares this information with reports from M. Rawlings (1978, 1980) and W. Y. Evans-Wentz. Four types of NDEs are identified: initial, unpleasant and/or hell-like, pleasant and/or heaven-like, and transcendent experiences. All 4 types can occur during the same experience, exist in combinations, or be spread throughout many episodes for an individual. To individuals who think they have been there, there is a hell. Although hell and heaven are more conceptual than fact, they must be accepted because they are what researchers go by. People who experience unpleasant NDEs must be welcomed by researchers and relieved of any trace of stigma or judgment. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Adventures in immortality: A look beyond the threshold of death
  • G Gallup
  • W Proctor
Gallup, G., and Proctor, W. (1982). Adventures in immortality: A look beyond the threshold of death. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Solving the riddle of frightening near-death experiences: Some testable hypotheses and a perspective based on A course in miracles
  • K Ring
Ring, K. (1994). Solving the riddle of frightening near-death experiences: Some testable hypotheses and a perspective based on A course in miracles. Journal of Near-Death Studies, 13, 5-23.
The paradox of Jonah: Response to " Solving the riddle of frightening near-death experiences
  • Journal Of Near-Death Studies Bush
ph079-jnds-362309 November 17, 2001 11:36 Style file version March 18, 1999 100 JOURNAL OF NEAR-DEATH STUDIES Bush, N. E. (1994). The paradox of Jonah: Response to " Solving the riddle of frightening near-death experiences. " Journal of Near-Death Studies, 13, 47–54.