Whether you believe in life after death or not, you have definitely heard of heaven or probably hope to be there one day. Now, there are people who argue that one person’s heaven may actually amount to another person’s hell, and that may be true if you look at the different versions of heaven from various ancient and some modern religions from around the world. This list has no particular bias against any interpretation of heaven; it is just a look at the most interesting versions from the various religions our ancestors subscribed to.
Reincarnation is a major part of Hinduism, but that is not all there is. A person who has finished their cycles of dying and being reborn is believed to have achieved a state of self-realization known as Moksha. If you have attained that godly state, you will go to this Hindu heaven where there is no more darkness.
Vaikuntha is allegedly covered in pure gold, and it is the abode of everything good. There is no ignorance nor suffering there. It is believed to have a bright twelve-storey golden temple that shines like a thousand suns. Vaikuntha also flows with rivers full of sweet nectar. The godly will reside in this temple with Vinshu forever.
In ancient Greece, most mortals that died simply went to hades and suffering there depended on your deeds while you were alive. However, if you were favoured by the gods, you could go to this special island at the end of the Earth called Elysium.
The writer Homer described it as the land where the dead enjoyed the ultimate happiness forever with the gods and other immortals. If you entered Elysium, you immediately became immortal. Some writings later described it as part of hades. Elysium is considered the isle of the blessed and the virtuous men ruled over by Kronos, son of Zeus.
Historical Dramas like Vikings have made this version of heaven especially popular. Those who went there had to be warriors that died in battle. They were welcomed into the halls of Asgard by the Valkyries (maidens that work for the gods) to feast alongside Odin and other warriors that died in battle before them.
Here, the slain warriors feast forever with Odin drinking unlimited ale that flows from the udders of goats and meat from boars. They still have to fight one another in preparation for doomsday but all their wounds or death here are reversed in the evening so you cannot die again. Then on the day of Ragnarök or doomsday, they will march out of Asgard to fight alongside Odin against the giants. Doesn’t sound like an easy heaven to be in, does it?
While Valhalla was the most desirable heaven for the Vikings, it wasn’t the only option; it is just one of the twelve halls in Asgard. The other desirable hall is Folkvangr which is ruled over by the goddess Freyja and half of the warriors that die in battle end up here.
It is not clear how those that end here and those that end up in Valhalla are chosen, though. So while the other half feasts with the one-eyed Odin in Valhalla, the rest of you will feast in the hall of Freya, the goddess of love and fertility. She rides on a chariot drawn by two cats as she watches the warriors fight each other in preparation for Ragnarök as well.
The Otherworld-Ancient Celtics
In Celtic Mythology, there were lots of contradictory definitions of heaven, so the people just called it the Otherworld. It was believed to be the abode of deities that could have been far away or very close, depending on how close you were to the deities. It was believed to be inhabited by the Fairy people and other supreme beings who could not be seen by mortal eyes.
The Otherworld, however, revealed itself to humans at certain moments, especially at night, and a few holy people could be admitted into it. Time there passes very slowly, so a year there may be many centuries in this world. People in the Otherworld also remain young forever. Some early Christian writers considered it hell, though.
If you are hoping for a place where wine flows forever and there is no shortage of food, this will make a perfect heaven for you. It was also called Cockayne (the land of plenty), believed by some to have been developed as an opposition to the Christian version of heaven. Cockaigne was more of a dream than an actual heaven believed to be a sweet land somewhere at the end of the globe where working was forbidden. All you had to do was open your mouth, and you would be fed with whatever you desired.
The Aztecs believed that there were 13 different levels of heaven, but this one was the most interesting. It was ruled over by Tlaloc, the god of rain and thunder. His heaven was a place of eternal spring where all that died from drowning, lightning strikes and other water-related deaths went. They would live there forever, with Tlaloc enjoying an endless supply of food from edible plants. Tlaloc is still one of the most widely accepted deities today from ancient Mesoamerican cultures.
Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest religions in the world believed to have shaped Abrahamic religions, which is why their version of heaven is close to what these religions believe in today. In Zoroastrianism, when a person dies, their soul hovers around the world for three days while processing the shock of separation from the body. Then the soul is met by a woman whose appearance depends on the person’s deeds on Earth.
If you did more good than bad, the woman appears beautiful and helps you cross a bridge into paradise, which is the epitome of all good. Talk or imagine anything that can be good; That is what paradise looks like. No strife, no suffering, just everything good you could ever wish for. There is little information on what activities are there, though.
The Fields Of Aaru-Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was one of the hardest places to die. Once someone died, the soul left the body and was guided by Anubis (Guide of the dead) to Osiris, who guards the afterlife and 42 judges. The soul would then have to be judged against 42 sins, after which it would be weighed on a golden scale against a feather.
If you committed too many sins, your heart would outweigh the feather, and you would be eaten by Ammut, the female devourer, which meant eternal death or the Great death for you. If you passed, you would be allowed to go through to the path of the lake of the lilies, where you would meet many temptations and still had to pass. If you passed, you would enter Aaru, the Field of Reeds, where you would meet your loved ones and have your favourite dog, cat or any other animals you love and live happily ever after.
According to Judaism, God created man and placed him in the Garden of Eden, where a man lived in perfect bliss with God. That was disrupted when man sinned against God, so when men die, they go to Sheol awaiting admission to a higher Garden of Eden which will reappear at the end of time. The Garden will be beautiful with streams of clean water flowing without stopping and fruits that bring fruits all year round. Human beings that meet God’s requirement of holiness will live with God in harmony forever.