Silver Cord

Thrill-seekers in search of the ultimate adventure might want to consider an out-of-body experience. I have not yet ventured outside my own earthly frame – at least not in this lifetime -- but those who are so inclined will find easy-to-follow instructions on the Internet. It can even happen spontaneously, most notably in so-called near-death experiences (NDEs), in which people who show no vital signs are revived and report having left their bodies and travelled through a dark tunnel toward a heavenly light. Survivors of NDEs occasionally report seeing a silver cord connecting body and soul as they floated about in the ethereal realm (sometimes referred to as the astral plane by students of the occult). The silver cord seems to be a combination life line and bungee cord that enables out-of-body travelers to float about in the ether without wandering too far from the mother ship. Those who claim to know about such things warn that if the silver cord is cut, you will die.

You might ask how anyone would know that a severed cord means death, since presumably if it happened to you during an out-of-body excursion, there would be no way to get word back to the living. You would expect there might be something about it in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Egyptian Book of the Dead or a similar metaphysical classic. But as it happens, the only authoritative reference to the silver cord comes from the Old Testament’s Book of Ecclesiastes. The relevant passage reads: “…before the silver cord is snapped, and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it.” These verses clearly refer to death, but there is no indication here or elsewhere in Scripture that the silver cord is some sort of umbilical cord connecting the body to the soul. Indeed, the concept of a soul that outlives the body is found nowhere in the Jewish Bible and only became part of Christian doctrine after the New Testament was written.

There is no way to determine whether NDEs offer a gateway to the spiritual realm or are merely the paroxysms of a dying brain, as skeptics insist. Either way, they draw upon profound mythological elements of death and rebirth that are rooted in what depth psychologist Carl Jung called the collective unconscious. NDEs have been documented in all parts of the world, and survivors’ accounts may reflect differing religious and cultural influences. But there are common archetypal elements, including the dark tunnel, which may represent the birth canal, and the bright light at the other end, which may represent either this world or the next. The silver cord, if present, might symbolize the umbilical cord.

As it happened, Jung himself reported an NDE after breaking his foot and then suffering a heart attack at age 68. This episode occurred in 1944, before the term “near-death experience” existed. Jung recounted it in a chapter of his autobiography entitled “Visions,” but he insisted his experience was “not a product of imagination.” Close to death, Jung lost consciousness and found himself floating high above the earth, where he encountered a hollowed-out stone monolith, like a big black meteor, with a temple inside. As he approached, he felt the “whole phantasmagoria of early existence” stripped away from him, until nothing remained but his essential being. Inside was an illuminated room where Jung believed the whole meaning and purpose of his life would be revealed to him. However, before he could enter, a figure that he recognized as his physician, Dr. H., in primal form floated up from the earth to tell him that he must return, and instantly Jung was transported back to his hospital bed.

Jung did not report being attached to a silver cord, but presumably it did not break if there was one and he lived to tell about his experience. He expressed alarm that he had encountered his physician on his out-of-body journey, interpreting it as a sign that the good doctor was in grave danger. Jung tried to warn him, but Dr. H. assumed that his patient was delirious. On the day Jung sat up in bed for the first time after his heart attack, his doctor took to his bed and died soon after of septicemia. There was, of course, no word as to whether the silver cord was broken in his case. The severing of the cord might signify death from the standpoint of a life just ended, but the presence of an umbilical-like cord might also point to a new life just beginning.

Ecclesiastes (12:6-7)
Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections

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