Moody’s first book, Life after Life, became a classic after it was first published in 1975. In addition to selling more than 10 million copies, the book coined the phrase “near-death experience,” of which it documented some 150 cases. It’s where we get the idea of a white light at the end of a tunnel.
“Belief in an afterlife is a quality that distinguishes human beings from all other creatures, as far as we know,” Moody said. “I think we are now in a position where reason will soon give us genuine, rigorous methods of investigating the question of life after death.”
Moody, who holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Virginia and a medical degree from the Medical College of Georgia, has written 12 books exploring the afterlife.
His newest book is a memoir: Paranormal: My Life in Pursuit of the Afterlife, written with Paul Perry and published this month by HarperOne. Moody will be at a book-signing on Wednesday at Books-a-Million in Oxford.
He spoke recently about some of the revelations in the book — a mystery illness that led to a suicide attempt — as well as his love of logic and Greek philosophy, and the psychomanteum — a chamber in which to practice the ancient art of mirror-gazing as a means to communicate with the departed — he has built at his home in the quiet countryside on the outskirts of Anniston.
Q: What do you think happens to us when we die?
A: I’ve interviewed thousands of people with near-death experiences, and the people came from all over the world. I have come to accept that when we die, we move on to another state of existence beyond this life.
Q: What prompted you to write Paranormal?
A: It never occurred to me that my life would be interesting to anyone else, so I never thought about writing my memoirs. The suggestion came from my friend and co-writer Paul Perry, a really fine journalist and scholar. When I got into the writing, though, I found that the process helped me understand myself better.
Q: Was there any particular part of your life that was especially difficult to revisit?
A: In 1985, I was diagnosed with myexedema, a severe form of hypothyroidism. It turns out I had undiagnosed Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an auto-immune disease that totally destroyed my thyroid gland.
In effect, it was like I had Alzheimer’s disease with cognitive deficits. About a three- or four-year period of my life was like a wipe-out. I don’t remember much.
The years of my recovery are like a haze or mist to me with only scattered, jumbled memories. During that period, I got divorced and just went through a period when I couldn’t function. That was a very painful time, and I regret most that my family worried so much.
Q: In 1992, you attempted suicide by overdosing on pain medications. What led you to try and take your own life, and how did that experience help you relate to people sharing their near-death experiences?
A: In 1992, I was so depressed due to thyroid difficulties that I was acting in a kind of mental haze. I tried to kill myself; I don’t remember that period so well because of the thyroid difficulties. I did discover, however, that when you are suicidal, you really do feel that everybody else would be better off without you. That has enabled me to understand suicidal people and to help my patients with their depression.
Q: How would you define the role your father played in your life?
A: My father was an Army medic, a professional military officer and a surgeon who served in the Pacific in World War II. Like others in that generation, he didn’t talk about it, but I’m sure he saw horrific things.
As I put it together, that is why he wasn’t much on religion, so I was not raised religious in my early years.
Also, my father was a very tough-minded character who was pretty tough on me. He always scoffed at things I was interested in, and I’m so happy he did. He really taught me to trust my own ideas because I saw that it always turned out that I had been right ...
Because of the resistance I always met in my research from my father, I developed the confidence to think for myself. I really respect my father, because the toughness he showed to me was ultimately the cause of my success.
Q: You’ve also been heavily influenced by philosophy, especially Greek philosophy. Where do you trace that passion to?
A: I went to the University of Virginia in September 1962 at the age of 18, intending to study astronomy. However, within the first few days of college, while reading Plato’s “Republic,” I decided to major in philosophy.
The formative experience for me was reading the great books of the Western world, particularly the works of the ancient Greek philosophers.
Academia has made a terrible mistake in abandoning the classical educational model. The reason to study ancient Greek philosophy is that all modern knowledge includes logic, itself originating with the Greek philosophers.
Q: What philosopher has had the greatest impact on you?
A: Plato. He was a very colorful, fascinating character — a professional wrestler who won the gold medal in that sport at the Olympic games, twice. Also, he set up the university system as we still have it today.
Q: In your book “Life Before Life,” you explore past-life regression, the idea that people can recover memories of past lives.
A: I got interested in past-life regression because Pythagoras and later Plato —important founders of Western thought — accepted reincarnation. Pythagoras claimed to remember eight of his past lives. My work on life after death began as an attempt to understand the role of that idea in the origins of ancient Greek philosophy.
The story of the ancient Greek philosophers is one of the most sensational, astonishing stories of history. And we can’t really understand our world today unless we grasp how their work shaped the way we think in the Western world.
Q: What is “scrying,” and how did you become interested in its study?
A: Many people see full-color, 3-D, moving visions when they gaze into an optical depth, such as a polished silver bowl filled with water; a clear, still lake; a crystal; or a mirror. Technically, these visions are called eidetic imagery, and they occur naturally in most people.
They are interesting in psychology because they are closely associated with creativity. You can actually solve creative problems by gazing into an optical depth. The solutions often appear to you in a vision. Many great writers — Jane Austen, for example — know about the technique.
Q: What is a “psychomanteum,” and why did you build one in your house?
A: The ancient Greek psychomanteums were one of the most important institutions of the Western world. According to ancient writers, people could travel to a psychomanteum and experience a sort of visionary visitation from a deceased loved one.
In 1985, by studying the archaeological report on the excavation of the most famous Greek psychomanteum, I figured out how they did it!
It turns out that it is quite easy to construct an apparatus and go through a procedure during which people actually see and converse with a deceased loved one.
I have guided hundreds of people through this procedure. This process has been independently verified by psychologists all over the world, who use it as a technique for relieving grief.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: My main professional interests have always been logic and ancient Greek philosophy. My work about life after death is a corollary of my more inclusive work on logic.
Soon I will publish a kind of logic textbook. I suspect this work is going to create a big sensation when it catches on. Specifically, I have worked out a set of rational principles that enable us to think logically about important questions that up to now have been unanswerable.
Q: There’s no doubt that you’ve made a name for yourself in the worlds of psychology and pop culture. How would you most like to be remembered?
A: My main interest and goal in life is to be a good father to my wonderful children. I enjoy my work, but that is a secondary interest.
In terms of my professional work, I think I’ll probably be remembered more for my work in logic than my ideas about the afterlife.
Contact Brett Buckner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: Raymond Moody, an expert in near-death experiences, will sign copies of his new memoir, “Paranormal: My Life in Pursuit of the Afterlife.”
When: Wednesday at Books-a-Million, Oxford