What an excellent question. Unfortunately, due to the diversity of understanding regarding the 'geography' of the afterlife across various cultures,
you are unlikely to receive a clear straight answer. Such a topic is far too broad to cover in detail (one could, for example, spend countless hours
studying merely the depiction of the geography of the Christian Heaven and Hell and how perception of it has changed over the years), yet some general
assumptions may be made, realising of course that exceptions to them exist throughout the depiction of the afterlifes of various religions and
Typically, the afterlife is viewed in one of three fashions: as an exaggerated version of life on Earth, as a purely spiritual realm which defies
comparison with Earthly features and as an individualistic realm, the composition and look of which is determined largely through one's own
expectations. Whilst there are variants on these themes, they are sufficient to cover, in a broad sense, the various understandings of what the
afterlife might actually 'look' like.
The first of these notions is the concept that the afterlife, though a spiritual realm, reflects a distinctly physical look and feel. To illustrate:
many concepts of the Christian Heaven and Hell, and especially those concepts popularised through film, television and (to a lesser extent in this
age) writing, portray these realms as places which possess physical characteristics similar to those found on Earth. Heaven contains great mansions
for the faithful and often features gardens, green fields and birds. I have also read depictions of the geography of Heaven wherein it is portrayed as
having libraries, hospitals and schools. Hell is typically depicted as a realm of fire and brimstone, of sulphur and molten rock. It is usually a
place of rocky outcroppings, vast craggy mountains and features a lake of fire. I have seen depictions of Hell in which it has prisons, cities and
even brothels. Emanuel Swedenborg
, for example, in his imaginatively titled book Heaven
, describes descending to Hell in a brass elevator and encountering a city of organised streets, lanes and buildings within which:
There are brothels disgusting to behold, being full of all sorts of filth and excrement.
, in his Divine Comedy
, describes the geography of Hell quite specifically,
envisioning it as a deep, funnel-shaped cavity with rivers and lakes and a gateway marking the entrance to Hell proper. For a modern incarnation of
the geography of Hell, look no further than television (Hell has frequently been depicted with physical features in The Simpsons, for instance) and
film (What Dreams May Come features a complex Hell of fire and darkness).
From these very basic examples, we can see that the afterlife has, both in the past and today, been portrayed as an otherworldly place that possesses
physical characteristics which most humans are familiar with. Although these depictions often exaggerate elements found on Earth (extreme conditions
of hot or cold, for example, or an idyllic physical state), they feature a spatial environment not completely alien to human understandings.
The second broad understanding of the spatial environment of the afterlife holds that such realms are ethereal, or alien - realms that are essentially
beyond the understanding of the physical. Examples of this type of categorisation include the notion that Heaven is a state of being, or a 'oneness'
with God, that the afterlife involves an individual becoming 'one with the Universe' and other concepts which have as their commonality a lack of
recognisable, tangible features. It is difficult to examine the 'look and feel' of the afterlife in these situations, simply because their defining
characteristic is that there is no single location - that the afterlife is a state of being, rather than a place that can be seen and felt. Examples
of this perception of the afterlife can be found throughout many New Age religions, although it should be noted that this is a generalisation borne of
the complexity of the issue, and that this concept is neither new nor confined solely to New Age beliefs.
An offshoot of sorts to this belief is the idea that the geography of the afterlife is tangible, but is deeply alien in its nature and
characteristics. Here the best examples of what I mean are probably horror movies such as Hellraiser, where the afterlife is portrayed as a realm
which does possess physical attributes, but where these attributes are skewed from their Earthly design. Think bizarre, impossible geometry,
surrealistic buildings and dark, dreamlike landscapes. In this depiction of the afterlife, although you might be able to see and feel things, the
environment is difficult to describe in terms of mortal geography or architecture.
The final broad categorisation of the afterlife is that it is essentially a product of your expectations, assumptions and beliefs. Heaven, or Hell, or
any other afterlife realm, is what you make it, quite literally. Again, What Dreams May Come is a good example of this depiction of the afterlife, in
which a man's personal afterlife consists of a small cottage in a landscape he had dreamed of whilst alive.
is an excellent example of this individualistic view of the afterlife. Given
the highly personal nature of this version of the afterlife, describing its spatial reality is impossible. Suffice to say that, in most accounts of
this type, the geography that is described mimics that found here on Earth, albeit often in an idyllic state.
Describing the afterlife in terms of what it actually looks like and feels like has always been difficult, since none of us has ever been there.
hope this little description went some way towards answering your question. Doubtless other people will contribute their own findings and beliefs and
those with greater knowledge than mine shall be able to fill in many of the significant gaps in my post.