Throughout documented human history for at least six thousand years is evidence of a fundamental belief by different cultures in some kind of afterlife for certain people under types of conditions.
Today, most cultures and religious organisations use the word “heaven” to describe their various models of what is the state of the hereafter. However, the word and concept of heaven is just one of the many that have existed and still exist in some way.
What is heaven?
The simple answer is that there has never been a proven, consistent nor unanimous answer to the concept of what is heaven.
At any one time in human history, multiple descriptions and differing attitudes to life in the hereafter, to heaven have existed.
However, the common themes of contemporary descriptions is a dimension where the souls of dead human beings are reunited with loved ones, with a higher force and are part of that life force.
The first documented writings on heaven
The first concept of heaven emerged in the Egyptians, the ancient Persian and Gaelic culture around 2200 to 1800 BCE.
By 600 BC, the concept bodily resurrection had been incorporated into the Jewish religion. The book of Ezekiel for example described a field of dry bones, which at God’s bidding “came together, bone by bone” and lived again. The same theme recurs in the later books of the Hebrew Bible, sometimes in combination with the concept of the “Messiah” and the re-establishment of paradise located in a “new Jerusalem”.
In Greece, the privileged dead gradually came to inhabit the Isles of the Blessed, later called the Elysian fields. Around 400BC, Plato championed the concept of judgement after death and proposed an immortal soul that strove ever upward after gaining its freedom from the flesh.
However, the most dramatic and radical teachings of heaven did not occur until the appearance of Jesus, in a historical context. The teachings traditionaly attributed to Jesus talk of a place, not principally a “waiting room”, or a temple of worldly pleasures but a reunion with God. More, that Heaven is a human “souls” true home, its ultimate destination.
What is the general human philosophical/ scientific agreement on the description of heaven?
Quite simple, there isn’t one, and there has never appeared to be one that unites humanity. The definition has been like a cherished prize for philosophers and religion builders for thousands of years. With the victorious publication of their definition and description came the right to the front door of the new revised location.
Hence, a fundamental tenet of most religions has been (a) to define the true description of what heaven is and (b) to be the only people allowed to determine, or the only people allowed to go in.
There have been two principle schools of thought in the battle for supremacy in describing heaven over the thousands of years of documented human thought:
• God- centred visions;
• More humanistic arrangements, primarily focused on the reunion,
form and interactions of the dead.
What is the historical description of a heaven in dimension?
The descriptions of religious scholars is unclear about the precise description of what “heaven looks like” in terms of their actually visiting heaven. In various forms, it has been described in writings as a garden, a city, a kingdom, a temple or, less often, a nut, and even a womb.
In many written descriptions, heaven features buildings and streets of precious metals and jewels, doves, palm trees (first allegedly discerned by the church father Lactantius), singing stones (a late borrowing from the Celtic myth), white clothing , milk, honey, wine, olive oil, harps, fountains and ladders.
In fact there are many dozens of descriptions of heaven, too many to provide detail for all of them here. Instead, we will look at those that have had the greatest influence on the development of human understanding of heaven and afterlife.
The earliest model of an afterlife appears to be the belief that an “otherworld” connected literally with the Earth for the spirits exist. This belief probably has natural roots in parallel with the first burials of important people and the belief that the spiritual journey must somehow have a link to the physical.
The Egyptians were one of the first cultures to develop a sophisticated mythology at least around 1800 BCE to 1600 BCE concerning the “underworld” such as the world of Aaru in which Osiris ruled as king of the dead. Under Egyptian mythology, being buried underground was an important element to their belief system. That is why any claim the Pyramids were tombs remain false.
The ancient Israelites from at least 1100 BCE also had a belief in an underworld which they called Sheol which comes directly from Hebrew translation and means “The Underworld; the abode of the dead or departed spirits, conceived by the hebrews as a subterranean region clothed in thick darkness, return from which is impossible.”
The ancient Greeks also had a belief in a principle underworld from at least 800 BCE which they called Hades, from Ancient Greek word originally Ades (aidhz). In Greek mythology, Hades son of Kronos and Rhea, was the oldest name of the God of the Dead (also called Pluto)
Afterlife as Paradise
In contrast to the ancient belief of an underworld afterlife, two cultures, the Irish celts and the Zoroastrians developed sophisticated models of Heaven that were both completely new worlds and paradise.
In ancient Irish mythology at least 1500 BCE, Mag Mell ("plain of joy") was a mythical realm achievable through death and/or glory (also Tír na nÓg and Ablach). Unlike the underworld in some mythologies, Mag Mell was a pleasurable paradise, identified as either an island far to the west of Ireland or a kingdom beneath the ocean. In its island guise it was visited by various Irish heroes forming the basis of the Adventure Myth.
In Zoroastrianism from at least 900 BCE, the word Paradise is used to describe a positive heaven. “Paradise” comes from the Latin translation of the Indo-European word pairidaeza (pairi = around, diz = form), translated in Latin as paradisus. The word first appeared in writing as a description attributed by Xenophon (around 400 BCE) of the parks of Persian kings (hence) the word being used to describe garden, orchard as in the Old Testament Garden of Eden.
Zoroastrianism is also recorded as being the first religion to provide a clear structure and hierarchy in heaven concerning the positions of certain celestial beings and departed souls.
Another example of Heaven is the Buddhist word Nirvana which comes directly from Sandskrit translation, and is derived from a combination of the words nirva= be extinguished nis= out, va=wind, meaning “In Buddist theology, the extinction of individual existence, or of the extinction of all desires and passions and attainment of perfect beautitude.”
In northern European mythology, a heaven known as Valhalla is described. Valhalla comes directly from two old Norse words valr ( from which the word valour comes) meaning “those slain in battle” and holl meaning “hall”. The word valhalla according to ancient Scandinavian religion means “the hall assigned to those who have died in battle, in which they feast with Odin.”
In a later Hellenic (Alexander the Great influenced) model of the afterlife, the concept of a heaven called Elysium (often mistranslated as Elysian) was born around 400 BCE. Elysium is the translation of a Greek word, the derivative of the Greek word for plain, hence the popular description the “Elysian Fields” meaning “the abode assigned to the blessed after death, according to ancient Greek belief.” Also, “a place or state of ideal happiness.”
The literal place called Heaven
The word “heaven” comes from the Old English word heaofon, and hefen which are derivations of the Old Saxon word heben itself a modification of the ancient Greek translated word (hebe) meaning “youthful prime”.
It is believed that the Nazarenes, the original disciples and church of Jesus Christ created the word and its original meaning, later stolen and modified by Paul of Tarsus and the Christians. One of the oldest definitions of Heaven is listed as “the celestial abode of immortal beings; the habitation of God and his angels and of beatified spirits, the state of the blessed hereafter.” Heaven is also defined as a “state of bliss.”
Medieval heaven, approached intellectually by the scholastics or passionately by the mystical school of love, expanded St Augustine’s idea of the early-Christian’s idea of heaven as a place of raptuous and direct communion between the saints and God.
By the 13th Century, the aspect on humanistic behaviour being repeated in a state of heaven was expanded to a belief of heaven more resembling an ongoing human-to-human celebration presided over by the Virgin Mary.
Then in the 14th Century, Dante Alighieri published the epic Paradiso and its celebration of heaven as a “state of being in which we open up more to love.” It was a time where the more etherial nature of heaven emerged, as opposed to the mechanical descriptions of heaven, like a magnificent precinct of a city. In this way, the 14th Century represented a return to a closer connection between spiritual philosophies of the West and Asia.
However, Protestant reformers of the 1600’s reinstated a vision severely centred on Christ and his last judgement and tangible description. Their motivation was no doubt enhanced by the onset of the Great Plague, quickly followed by such catastrophes as the great fire of London 1666.
Interestingly, as the Puritans largely colonised America, the Puritanical view of Heaven largely became the dominant basis of American religious philosophy largely up until the late 1700’s. The Puritanical view of God that continues to be displayed throughout American culture remains even today strongly influenced by America’s Puritanical philosophical heritage.
But by the mid-19th century the harsh image of heaven crafted by the Puritans gave way to what is now known as the “Victorian-era” concept of what Heaven looks like.
The Victorian heaven therefore appears a response to the Puritanical heaven and a return to a more humanistic approach. Its strongest proponents were not clergy but a new breed of popular novelists like Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, whose 1868 The Gates Ajar, was a best seller through to the end of the century. She described heaven as: “We stopped before a small and quiet house built of curious inlaid woods... So exquisite was the carving and colouring, that on larger scale the effect might have interfered with the solidity of the building, but so modest were the proportions of this charming house, that its dignity was only enhanced by its delicacy...There were flowers- not too many; birds; and I noticed a fine dog sunning himself upon the steps.”
In the 1960’s evangelist Billy Graham was one of the most successful in providing some model of what heaven is supposed to look like. At the time he stated, “heaven is a place, as real as Los Angeles, London, Algiers or Boston.” Graham postulated that heaven is 2,600 km long, 2,600 km wide and 2,600 km high. Once there, “we are going to sit around the fireplace and have parties and the angels will wait on us, and we’ll drive down the golden streets in a yellow Cadillac convertible.”
New Age philosophers now speak of heaven as “Heaven is not a place; it’s a state of awareness. Heaven is where your heart is, where your soul needs to be.”
What is the historical description of the actual location of Heaven?
Just as there has been differing descriptions promulgated by various religions and philosophers over thousands of years, there has been an equal number of historical descriptions of where heaven is actually located.
One of the most sophisticated yet fraudulent explanations of Heaven explained it as an “area surrounding the outermost of nine nested spheres, of which Earth was innermost (the old concept of the Solar System) and composed of a substance that was neither earth, air, fire nor water but rather a marvellous fifth essence”- or as the word has come down to mean today- “quintessence”.
One Heaven versus Many Heavens
As has been outlined, over centuries there have been many heavens across many cultures. For the faithful of a particular religion such as Christianity, this might come as a shock, given they are brought up to believe there is only "one heaven".
In truth, heaven has been a battlefield just as on earth between rival models, rival gods, rival beliefs, all claiming to be superior.
And it is because these various faiths have continued to fight one another to claim "their" version of heaven as superior that there is no unity in heaven.
The miracle of the United States of Spirits- One Heaven
In contrast, the United States of Spirits, formed from a treaty between all the major and minor heavens and all the major deities and spirits is a historic moment, concept and blessing.
For the first time, it can be rightfully claimed that a framework exists for an end of the warfare between various models of heavens and deities, between angels and demons, between beliefe and cultures. For under the treaty, each state of heaven agrees to become part of a united heaven in which each state, each major deity, saints, ascended masters and elders are recognized and respected.
This is the historic framework of One Heaven, that every single human and higher order lifeform soul is permitted entry and citizenship to One Heaven.
This is the new heaven, the final covenant, the reality of heaven today.
And if someone says to you heaven does not exist, just point them to the constitution of One Heaven to show them they are wrong.