There are just a few “components” I could think of:
- NOTHING. The spirit simply ceases to exist, there is nothing after the Life.
- The Judgement. The Judge(s) will look at your life, your deeds and behaviour, and decide where your soul belongs to, or a test of some kind decides it. The soul may or may not defend itself. Many possible combinations of judges, trials, and end stations.
- Moral paradise. Being good in life, the spirit comes into an exalted state of mind, forever happy, with beloved ones, etc. May become an angel or other pure being.
- Viking paradise. Being noble in life, the spirit can feast and drink with great heroes forever, and have fun of all sorts. A duty to fight for some major deity is often included, too.
- Hell. An awful place where you spend eternity, or it feels so at least…
- Consuming. The bad guys’ souls are devoured by some terrible creature.
- Merging. Fitting individuals will become one with a god they are worthy of. If there are few gods, only the best and closest ones will be chosen, others have other afterlife. If there are many gods (or this is the base of all deities), all souls merge with others eventually.
- Freedom. All become spirits (ghosts), and stay in the mortal world, or move into another, or can do both.
- Neighbours. People live with their gods after death.
- Pet Animals. People become the servants of the mighty gods themselves, or indeed pet animals.
- True Hero. Very exceptional people may become promoted into demigods or true gods, or marked as starsigns.
- Rebirth. The soul comes back to live again, in some other individuum. Some time could be spent with wandering or contemplation in-between.
- Reincarnation. The soul comes back to live again, the current life heavily influences the social standing in the next life, or the life-form one is born into. Caste-system possible.
- The Jump. Soul is reborn in a _different_ world. May be another plane, or planet, or whatever.
- Undeath. The souls of the worst sinners are torn apart by the gods, and parts are put into Undead (possibly only the lowest Undead). However repulsive Undead may be, this horrible fate makes their presence even harder to tolerate.
A variant on “Reincarnation”, soul is reborn into a new species. Thinking of the Ideal Elves, what if the really good people are reborn as Elves, and the bad people as Orcs, for example?
The Elves (or the “higher” race) may reject these teachings, or support them to increase their influence. A strange racial-based caste system may ensue.
Alternatively, people are reborn randomly or into the race they best fit into (so the serious guy obsessed with smithing may become a Dwarf in the next life). While it supports the racial stereotypes, it may bring more respect between the races, as their souls are all of the same kind.
(This whole list was made during the search for a fitting afterlife for my game world. Thanks to all for the inspiration.)
Additional Ideas (9)
Arth and Death
In the Known World, the Spirit seperates from the body at death.
If it is too weighted down with binding ties to the world, it becomes a ghost.
It is collected by Deth and passed on to the otherside. The person receives the rewards or punishments they are due based upon their commitments to spiritual entities (Dieties of the tiers and Masters) and their life's way. Often times the soul is seperated into its true spirit and the memory spirit.. The memory spirit being the part of the spirit that is and remembers being a given person. Sometimes these memory spirits are saves in a library, or they are merged into a diety, or they allowed to disappate. It all depends on the promises made to the spiritual entities. Once the rewards and punishments are completed, the soul is passed on to Ge-EM. It then recycles the true spirit into a new soul, then stuffs it in a new being. Since the "you" is either gone or saved as appropriate, it does not matter what body each soul is stuffed into.
So it is a combination of Judgement (based upon commitments made and how well they were made), time in Heaven or Hell, and Reincarnation.
Yin being the evil one, most similar to hell, however it even more so resembles that of an abyss. (Not to be confused with The Abyss) Time is usually halted here, which makes it seem as though you are spending eternities in Yin.
And Yang being the more subtle, good one. Resembling that of the Prime-Material Plane. Time moves normally, however spirits do not age, leaving them to dwell in what would -seem- like a paradise.
A rare few immaculate souls are drawn out of the cycle and are elevated to celestials, greater than men, but still servitors to the Gods on high. These are often immortalized in lore and legend as the greatest of holy men, and saints.
Those who have bargained away their souls to the fallen, or demons find their soul carried down into the nether realms where they are used as currency, bartered and traded with. Many of these unfortunate souls are used in the manufacture of demonic weapons, armor, and tools. The ghostly realm has harnessed the same skill, and will malleate unwitting, or weak ghosts into their tools and weapons.
When a mortal dies, its soul splits. The Hun passes away into the Wheel of Reincarnation, where the soul is scrubbed clean of memories and personality and sent to the Earth to reincarnate. Those Hun which are too encrusted with old being and cannot be cleaned satisfactorily are placed in the bodies of animals.
The Po, on the other hand, taking a shadow of the old personality and memory, descend through shadow into the Underworld, where they live a gloomy, hopeless parrallel of their lives on the Earth, sustained by grave offerings and fond remembrances of their descendants. These resident Po continue to live a shadow of their former existences in the Underworld for as long as these rememberances continue- the personalities of forgotten ancestors pace sadly to Oblivion, allowing the Po soul to be cleaned and recycled into a beast or person. Some, those who have ancestor cults, or the ghosts of great heroes and the worthies of the past who are remembered as patrons of a nation, may linger in the Underworld for thousands of years- some begin tenebral kingdoms in the Underworld, ruling other spectres, or dwell as the masters of the shadow-images of their former homes. Some spirits remain in the Underworld by sheer force of will, shunning any remembrance- these terrible creatures are often insane and maniacal, driven by a will to continue their gloom-ridden existences for whatever reason.
Naturally, the supply of Hun and Po is limited. Therefore, wars must be ignited, conflict must be caused, or, in very worst cases, new souls must be created by the sacrafice of a lesser God's own soul.
Reprinted from Death: The Pale Horse, Lost Souls Publishing
Killian typically fear ghosts, but not their own deaths. The culture is one where you are reminded of your own mortality often, but not in a morbid fashion. Killian get an early brush with death, in that most of the eggs laid do not successfully hatch. Bushi-Killian in particular have a phrase that they often think or say upon rising each day, "today I may die." Killian think of death as a total end; anything that cheats that inevitable conclusion is unwelcome. Killian view the afterlife as something akin to a deep sleep or coma, when they think of it at all. Even followers of the Red God feel this way. They do not share in the vision of an eternal tavern - that philosophy is only common to the religion's Human and Dwarven adherents. Killian rarely pursue careers involving death, other than warriors. Morticians and butchers are subtilely, and unconsciously, avoided. In this warrior culture where death is a constant factor, few are willing to deal with it other than at the point of a blade. Rarely does one encounter a Killian necropolitan, or other expert worker with death.
Ghosts are considered abhorrent by the Killian for one simple reason: you cannot kill them. If one is able to return in such a fashion, they are a power to be reckoned with. If a warrior strikes with his sword immediately upon being awakened, how much more wrathful would one be if aroused from eternal rest?
Many Heldanns, and most Dwarves throughout Midian, are not strongly religious and do not believe in an afterlife. For them, dead is dead. Followers of the Red God however, have large numbers in those cold lands. They envision that one who is worthy joins a great feast of heroes after they die. Those who died gloriously in battle are the most honoured, followed by those who lived exemplary lives. Those who died cowardly are doomed to spend eternity as servers of the fallen warriors. A common insult of someone's bravery is to tell them that you are going to make them your eternal serving wench in the afterlife.
Humans, Dwarves, and Trolls of the Heldannic confederation feel that one's deeds will reflect directly upon future generations. This is certainly true in many respects, such as: social status, reputation, or finances. Moreover, to these proud folk, one's worth is measured in large part by one's parents & grandparents. Few are willing to disrespect their legacy, and fewer still are willing to leave their children & grandchildren a legacy of ill repute.
In the Kingdom of Formour, the afterlife is viewed as something rather pleasant, at least this is the official story you will hear if you ask the average citizen his or her opinions. Of course, everyone is creeped out by the thought of death, and afraid of the deaths of themselves or their loved ones - certain necropolitans being a notable exception. The main religion in that land - the Temple of Light - views death as a merging with The Light for the faithful. Of course, death is a painful time of loss for those still living. The Book of the Cannon says, "Shed tears for your loss, but not for your loved one, for they have joined with The Light in eternal oneness and bliss" (Sermon of Mammon the Prophet after the Battle of Jerich, Chapter 7, verses 13 & 14). Even those Formourians who are not baptised LightWalkers are still affected - inversely - by the culture of this powerfully influential church. Many of them feel that there isn't some indefinable "better place" that they will travel to when dead. This counterview of the church's stand on the afterlife is one of the chief tools of converting the unbelievers. Then again, a loss of identity and sense of "self" after death is one of the main arguments used against the Mammonites.
Ogres and Firps have a similar "return to the source" theme for their afterlife beliefs. For them, death is simply another state of being - one to be postponed as long as possible of course - but an essential part of the life-cycle nonetheless. While the concept of blissful eternity in spirit form in another plane of existence is foreign to their native religions, their shamans and witch-doctors teach about the decaying body returning its life to the world.
At least one small vile cult amongst the Orcks have taken this one step further and more directly, by eating the flesh of their fallen foes as part of their religious observance. They feel that they are consuming the life and the strength of a worthy enemy. The typical Orck view on death is much simpler: dead is dead. The Orcks don't have any views on the afterlife. These pragmatic folk don't see a corpse as anything other than an object - or possibly dinner. While one's deeds may live on in stories, their corpse is just more junk to throw into the river. Orcks do not have the same care for how they are perceived after death that the Heldanns do - after all, you're dead, what would you care? How would you care? They generally find the thought of transcendence to another level after death just as distasteful as would a Formourian atheist. It's not a form of selfishness, but rather one of practical apathy: death is the end of worries (and everything else). More specifically from an Orckish perspective, the death of an enemy means that you no longer have to worry about him. It is worth noting that necropolitans are extraordinarily rare among Orcks. It is even more interesting that reports of spectral activity are also rather rare from them - Orck children don't tell ghost stories around the campfire. They have much more immediate concerns with problems from the living.
Hobgoblins do not have the richness of cultural elements regarding the afterlife that others do, even Humans have greater diversity and depth to their beliefs. This stems in part from their immortal Fae heritage. To their Goblinfolk ancestors, death was something that occurred because you did something terribly wrong, like pissing off the wrong person. In their early development as a people they were surrounded by immortal semi-spirit beings: Elves, Fairies, Pixies, and of course Goblins. As they distanced themselves and generations passed, this early involvement began to shape an informal type of spiritualism. Elves watching carefully from the trees & handed-down memories of their odd ways resulted in a general paranoia with things unseen in the "spirit world." With knowledge gained from stories of Elementals, they learned that even the rocks and streams could house unseen presences. Hobgoblins generally have neither the aptitude nor desire for things mystical, so there was no curiosity or attempts to control these unseen forces. These were things best left alone. When the Hobgoblins first forged the Olde Empire, they had not encountered other beings like them - Humans had not yet arrived on the scene, Trolls were viewed only as monsters, Dwarves were not discovered until the fifth century of the Empire (and enslaved by the end of the sixth), and all other races the Hobgoblins knew about were immortal - with the decided lack of views on the afterlife that condition brings. As such, the Hobgoblins did not have any other cultures with which to share or borrow belief structures. The resulting Hobgoblin belief system is difficult to codify with regards to their views on the afterlife, or death in general - other than that they got very good at causing it.
In a world where you know the Gods are real, you know there is a spiritual component to your existance.
In Arth all life has a spark, that which allows the confluence of materials to be a life. There is a progression of spark from rocks to animals to intelligent beings to either spirit forms or immortal Elventi (or other immortals). Sparks of less than intelligent level are generally ignored, as those sparks seemingly choose not to advance (or have a long way to go).
There are three key concepts you need to remember when dealing with Arth and religion.
1) Law/ Order vs Chaos are the important precepts of the religion. Order is structure, controlled motion, and the way of things. Chaos is more of uncontrolled change, total randomness without (apparent) purpose, entropy/ things breaking down, and other things that the people of Arth find totally scary.
2) Way is the next concept. Each biome has a "way". This is the patterns that are most common for the biome. These patterns are natural, organic, material, mystical, and social. Some things are dictated by the way, while others are not. Thus if there are no mystical rules in the biome's way, there will be no restrictions on magic, its type or form. If the way has mystical rules, then magic/ spirit will not function unless it conforms. So if the way says that all spell energy comes from blood, unless you bleed your spells will not work... no matter how skilled you are. You can check out the Arth thread for Way examples, but non-compliance to a biome's way can be pretty disruptive/ destructive.
Way is very important, as it determine how the universe should be on the macroscopic level, as well as the biome and personal level. No compliance with the way of the universe or biome creates chaos to bring the world more into line with what it should be. What makes this more complicated is that the way of a given place or person can change over time. Change that is too slow or too fast is disruptive to The Way, thus generate chaos. Thus the people of Arth are always in a perpetual balancing act between law and chaos, following the thin path that is The Way.
3) Cycles and Balance: All things can be seen as the balance between two forces. Inability to see a duality means you are not seeing the whole picture. These forces achieve balance and a dancing (dynamic) balance at that. This dancing balance cycles through the same basic pattern, like a dance repeats. Thus cycles are created.
A Spark follows the cycle of Life/ Death/ Rebirth(life).
Now comes the Great Mystery. Each soul has its own way (and it is individual for each person). By following its way, by meetings its goals for each cycle, it will move forwards in the Spark's development. By not following its way, the Spark will generate chaos and either repeat the cycle. No one, not even The Spak knows its exact goals for the cycle.
Some need to find love, others certain goals in life, these acts bring one into harmony with a Master or Deity. There may even be two or three goals to achieve.
Upon death, the Spark will transfer to The Other Side. There it will spend some time with its appropriate Deity or Master. There are various sects on exactly how this manifests... some say a "paradise" of sorts, others see it as an abstract joining and splitting off from a Master or Deity. The Spark gains "energy" or complexity during this time. If one is inappropriate or discordant to its way, the Spark is given to Deamons who absorb the discordent energy from the soul. The method of this absorbtion is disputed by various sects, but all agree it is unpleasant and undesirable. After a time, the Spark splits off from the its Deity or demon, and re-incarnates - starting the cycle anew.
In the world of Elbelos, death is intricately liked to the reason for life. (talk about the obvious...) The entity Aeo (the first one, or the universal spirit) created the material plane for one reason only: he wanted to gift his creations with free will. Only the emergent properties of the material planes allowed true freedom of choice. His previous creations, the gods, were bound to their essence. The god of chaos, for example, is bound to chaos.
By creating the material plane, Aeo allowed the spirits born within to choose their essence. The only problem was that the tradeoff for this was eventual death after a long cycle of resurrections culminating into sentience.
Aeo was faced with a dilemma.
The souls (or essence) of the dead could not perpetually reside on the material plane. Most (although not all) lacked a strong enough attachment, and their soul would simply drift between the material and divine plane, unsure of where to go, slowly dissolving into nothingness. Could the precious souls with free will truly be left to disappear into the void?
To solve this, Aeo created the aspect planes. These planes represent the aspects of the souls, and after death, each soul is draw to his dominant plane. A predominantly cruel soul will be drawn to the plane of cruelty, and so on. This pleased Aeo, since it balanced out the different forces in the universe he created.
Soon, many of the gods saw how the planes reflected their own essence, and moved to lord over the created planes.
It has been so since time immemorial
edit: That would make it a long cycle of resurections, every time increasing in complexity, until the soul reaches self awareness, in the form of a human/dwarve/elf etc.... the race itself not an issue, but rather the complexity level. After a self-aware being dies, their "essence" is basically subject to ironic retribution, and goes to the plane which best fits them. punishing or rewarding them accordingly. There is no judgement, it is simply an effect of affinity (think opposite poles of a magnet).
Death is a great Divide between the Living and the Dead. Whoever dies will be missed on this side, but will be welcome (or not) on the other side!
As a consequence, if it is known you will die you will be visited by throngs of peoples. Disease, injury or death penalty, no matter. Will you please carry a message to someone? Could you check how my grandpa is doing, or the child that died too young? Some people will use the chance to settle disagreements you had in life, while there's always opportunists that will suck up to you to have a friend when they pass over. Death is what it is, premeditated death is a major social event.
And speaking of opportunists: it is not rare for people to commit suicide after publicly announcing it. Some just are miserable, some really want to get together with that special someone, some want the attention. And they will get it. Just know that as traditional is respect for someone deciding to commit suicide, the backlash to someone reconsidering is legendary amongst these peoples...
So what is on the other side?
The Divide is powerful. What little has slipped back through indicates the afterlife is a world very much like ours, where the dead continue to live. They can't talk to us, but they know everything they knew in life. Beyond that, there's only rumors and theories.