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History of the concept
Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) inspired Andrew Jackson Davis (1826–1910), in his major work The Great Harmonia, to say that Summerland is the pinnacle of human spiritual achievement in the afterlife; that is, it is the highest level, or 'sphere', of the afterlife we can hope to enter.
The common portrayal of the Summerland is as a place of rest for souls in between their earthly incarnations. Some believe that after one experiences life to its fullest, and has come to know and understand every aspect and emotion of physical human life (usually after many reincarnations), their deity will allow them to stay in the Summerland for an eternal afterlife, although this belief is not universal among contemporary pagans. Another common element is that the soul has little, if any, recollection of the Summerland once it arrives on the mortal plane again. The Summerland is also envisioned as a place for recollection and reunion with deceased loved ones.
As the name suggests, it is often imagined as a place of beauty and peace, where everything people hold close to their hearts is preserved in its fullest beauty for eternity. It is envisioned as containing wide (possibly eternal) fields of rolling green hills and lush grass. In many ways, this ideology is similar to the Welsh view of Annwn as an afterlife realm. However, the Summerland is also viewed as the place where one goes in the afterlife in traditions of Spiritualism and Theosophy, which is where Wicca got the term.
Summerland is the term mostly synonymous with the Wiccan afterlife. While some non-Wiccan neopagans may hold the Summerland to be their afterlife, the majority of Neopagans who believe in the Summerland are Wiccan. All people, except spirits who remain behind lost and wandering, go to the Summerland, even the wicked. The Summerland will be different for everyone, their own version of Shangri-La. There, they can be reunited with their loved ones, look over those they left behind on Earth, and take time to recuperate from life. Our time in the Summerland is spent processing what we learned, recovering from the hardships, walking with the Lord and Lady and being one with them, and then planning our next life.
Most Wiccans agree that when you are ready, you are reincarnated. You may choose what form you take and even a little about your situation. You decide this based upon which lessons you wish to learn in your next life. Someone who was very selfish and arrogant may choose a life of humility to humble themselves, for example. People even choose lives of hardship in order to learn their lessons, although they don't get to plan specifically what the circumstances will be.
Wiccans do not believe in Hell or in an eternity of punishment for one life-time of sin. Some, however, do believe that you may be punished for the harm you do. Whether or not Wiccans believe in angels and demons depends upon the person. Those who do believe in such creatures each have their own opinions about them. Most practitioners it seems, believe that angels and spirit guides are simply spirits that have reached an enlightened existence after many lifetimes. They exist to guide, protect, and help humans become who they are meant to be.
Wicca is a very diverse religion. Some Wiccans believe in Reincarnation, the Summerland, or both. Specifics about these paths vary from person to person. There are different traditions of Wicca just as there are different denominations of Christianity. Many Wiccans are solitary, or prefer to practice their craft alone. All of life moves in a circle, not a straight line, like the changing of the seasons and the water cycle. It only makes sense that life itself should do the same.
The essence of the Summerland is that it is a resting ground where souls can reflect on the life they led, see if they learned the lesson they had intended on learning, and then try again in due course. The Summerland is not seen as a place of judgment, but rather as a spiritual self-evaluation where a soul is able to review its life and gain an understanding of the total impact its actions had on the world. Some may believe each particular lesson (and hence, life) is chosen and planned out by the soul itself while in Summerland, whereas others may believe that lessons are planned by an external party (deities, a spirit guide, etc.).
In Theosophy, the term "Summerland" is used without the definite article "the". Summerland, also called the Astral plane Heaven, is depicted as where souls who have been good in their previous lives go between incarnations. Those who have been bad go to Hell, which is believed to be located below the surface of the earth and is on the astral plane and is composed of the densest astral matter; the Planetary Logos of Earth (Gaia) functions on the etheric plane below the surface of the earth. It is believed by Theosophists that most people (i.e., those at the zeroth level of initiation) go to a specific Summerland that is set up for people of each religion.
For example, Christians go to a Christian heaven, Jews go to a Jewish heaven, Muslims go to a Muslim heaven, Hindus goes to a Hindu heaven, Theosophists go to a Theosophical heaven, and so forth, each heaven being like that described in the scriptures of that religion. There is also a generic Summerland for those who were atheists or agnostics in their previous lives. People who belong to religions that don't believe in reincarnation are surprised to find out when they get to heaven that they will have to reincarnate again within a few dozen to a few hundred years. Those who are assigned to Hell are gratified to find that they will be able to resume reincarnating within a few dozen to a few hundred years, unless they are extremely evil people that have committed crimes like genocide, in which case they may languish in Hell for millions or billions of years. Each heaven is believed to be an extensive structure composed of astral matter located on the astral plane about three or four miles (5-6 km) above the surface of Earth, above that part of the world where the particular religion that the heaven is meant for is most predominant.
Theosophists believe the Summerlands are maintained by hosts of planetary angels serving Sanat Kumara, the Nordic alien from Venus who Theosophists believe is the governing deity of Earth and leader of the Spiritual Hierarchy of Earth. Sanat Kumara is believed to rule over our planet from the floating city of Shamballa, believed by Theosophists to exist on the etheric plane (a plane between the physical plane and the astral plane), about five miles (8 km) above the Gobi Desert.
Theosophists also believe there is another higher level of heaven called Devachan, also called the Mental plane Heaven, which some but not all souls reach between incarnations — only those souls that are more highly developed spiritually reach this level, i.e., those souls that are at the first, second, and third levels of initiation. Devachan is several miles (around 10 km) higher above the surface of Earth than Summerland.
The final permanent eternal afterlife heaven to which Theosophists believe most people will go millions or billions of years in the future, after our cycle of reincarnations in this Round is over, is called Nirvana, and is located beyond this physical Cosmos. In order to go to Nirvana, it is necessary to have attained the fourth level of initiation or higher, meaning one is an arhat and thus no longer needs to reincarnate.
- Leadbeater, C.W A Textbook of Theosophy 1912
- Rev. Daniel 'Nightwolf' Couch, MTh.
- Rev. Daniel 'Nightwolf' Couch, MTh.
- Various Levels of the Afterlife in Theosophy: