Åke Hultkrantz (1920-2006) was born in Kalmar, Sweden. He earned a doctorate in ethnology from University of Stockholm in 1946, followed by a second PhD in comparative religion in 1953. Between 1948 and 1990, he often conducted fieldwork and lived among Californian Native American tribes, the Arapaho, and the Shoshone who adopted him as a tribal member.

Professor Hultkrantz wrote hundreds of articles and numerous books, including Native Religions of North America: The Power of Visions and Fertility, The Attraction of Peyote, Shamanic Healing and Ritual Drama, Conceptions of the Soul among North American Indians, and Belief and Worship in Native North America. He held many distinguished academic appointments, and was a visiting lecturer at universities across Europe and the United States. He authored some four hundred papers and twenty-five books, including standard works on Native American religions. His interest in afterlife-related subjects, shamanism, and peyote spanned his entire career.

The North American Indian Orpheus Tradition: Native Afterlife Myths and Their Origins

Åke Hultkrantz

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“Visionaries who have made their way to the realm of the dead and then returned have told of its secrets.”

In this scholarly but highly readable book, the famed anthropologist and historian of religions Åke Hultkrantz takes us on an in-depth exploration of Native American afterlife journey myths and shamanism. Anticipating the western “discovery” of near-death experiences by nearly 20 years, Hultkrantz recognized them as phenomena distinct from other extraordinary experiences such as dreams and vision quests. Equally remarkable, Hultkrantz found that Native American afterlife myths were actually influenced by NDEs and shamanic otherworld journeys. Weaving this discovery together with various cultural and psychological factors, Hultkrantz also delves into other supernatural beliefs and practices such as soul-retrieval, ghosts, funerary rituals, reincarnation, and the Ghost Dance religions in which initiates deliberately induced NDE-like experiences. Rounding off his study with comparisons to afterlife journey myths in ancient Greece, Mesopotamia, across Asia, and the Pacific islands, Hultkrantz crafted an unsurpassed masterpiece of comparative religion and paranthropology, many years ahead of its time.

Originally published in a small edition in Europe, the book was never widely available to the general public and has been out-of-print for decades. Afterworlds Press is proud to now make this groundbreaking work accessible to a new generation of readers.

“A landmark book in the study of afterlife beliefs and their origins in extraordinary experiences, and a major influence on my own work. Rich in both description and analysis, this book deserves an honored place on the shelf of anyone interested in the anthropology of the paranormal, comparative religions, mythology, and life after death.” – Gregory Shushan, PhD, author of The Next World: Extraordinary Experiences of the Afterlife, and Near-Death Experience in Indigenous Religions.

“An exemplary analysis….lively and captivating…an extremely valuable contribution….deserves a privileged place in the literature on ethnographical religious studies.” – Ivar Paulson, Stockholm University.

“Excellent and scholarly…of outstanding importance. For the style of its presentation, its abundant documentation, and the general interest of the author’s ideas, this can fairly be regarded as a model monograph.” – Frederic C. Bartlett, Professor of Experimental Psychology, University of Cambridge.

Published May 3rd 2022

344 pages

Size: 5.83 x 8.27 inches / 210 x 148 mm

ISBN: 978-1-78677-187-2

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