The concept of a multiverse is explored in various religious cosmologies that propose that the totality of existence comprises multiple or infinitely many universes, including our own.
Usually, such beliefs include a creation myth, a history, a worldview and a prediction of the eventual fate or destiny of the world.
The worldview discusses the current organizational form of our universe and may contain references to other supernatural world or worlds. These references have aided several esoteric practices, including contacts with spirit worlds, and activities concerning personal or inner spiritual development.
Many of these worlds include an afterlife existence, which may be very different from existence in the physical plane or the world of the living; common afterlife realms include heaven, hell, and realm of the dead.
Eschatological scenarios may include a new, different world after the end time of the current world. For example, Hindu cosmology includes the idea of an infinite cycle of births and deaths and an infinite number of universes with each cycle lasting 8.64 billion years.
The cosmological ideas in various religious traditions have clearly evolved in time due to the introduction of new concepts and the exchange of ideas with other cultures. Nevertheless, perennial philosophers believe that these traditions all share a single supernatural truth or origin.
Ancient Egypt and Multiverse
In Egyptian mythology, Duat is the realm of the dead, an underworld placed beneath the earth and associated with both positive concepts such as fertility and rebirth — personified by the god Osiris — but also negative concepts such as chaos — personified by the snake Apophis.
Apophis threatened Maat, the cosmic order that was central to Egyptian religious thought, and that regulated all natural cycles, including death and rebirth.
Pyramid texts (and later Coffin and Book of the Dead texts) had the main purpose of guiding the spirit of the king (and of his people) out of the tomb, and into a new life.
They consist of provision, transition and protective spells to help the deceased to become an Akh (a light being). When this rite of passage was completed the Egyptians believed they lived on in “the fields of Reeds“, a paradisiac likeness of the real world.
Egyptian culture has had a strong religious influence on other ancient cultures and in the classical world.
The term animism refers to the philosophical, religious and spiritual concept that not only humans and animals, but also plants, rocks and other natural objects and phenomena such as mountains, rivers, and the thunder have a distinct spiritual essence.
Contact with non-corporeal entities from this spirit world is also possible in animism. The concept of animism can be found in polytheistic and monotheistic religions, and also in the belief systems of indigenous people, such as shamanism.
The oldest found evidence for the general idea of spiritual essence dates back to the Middle Palaeolithic Period.
The concept of infinite worlds is mentioned in the Apannaka Jataka:
“Disciples,” the Buddha said “nowhere between the lowest of hells below and the highest heaven above, nowhere in all the infinite worlds that stretch right and left, is there the equal, much less the superior, of a Buddha. Incalculable is the excellence which springs from obeying the Precepts and from other virtuous conduct.” – Apannaka Jataka
Hinduism and Multiverse
The concept of a multiverse is mentioned many times in Hindu Puranic literature, such as in the Bhagavata Purana:
Every universe is covered by seven layers — earth, water, fire, air, sky, the total energy and false ego — each ten times greater than the previous one. There are innumerable universes besides this one, and although they are unlimitedly large, they move about like atoms in You. Therefore You are called unlimited (Bhagavata Purana 6.16.37)
Analogies to describe multiple universes also exist in the Puranic literature:
Because You are unlimited, neither the lords of heaven nor even You Yourself can ever reach the end of Your glories. The countless universes, each enveloped in its shell, are compelled by the wheel of time to wander within You, like particles of dust blowing about in the sky. The śrutis, following their method of eliminating everything separate from the Supreme, become successful by revealing You as their final conclusion (Bhagavata Purana 10.87.41)
The layers or elements covering the universes are each ten times thicker than the one before, and all the universes clustered together appear like atoms in a huge combination (Bhagavata Purana 3.11.41)
And who will search through the wide infinities of space to count the universes side by side, each containing its Brahma, its Vishnu, its Shiva? Who can count the Indras in them all–those Indras side by side, who reign at once in all the innumerable worlds; those others who passed away before them; or even the Indras who succeed each other in any given line, ascending to godly kingship, one by one, and, one by one, passing away (Brahma Vaivarta Purana)
There are seven verses in the Quran describing seven heavens. One verse says that each heaven or sky has its own order, possibly meaning laws of nature.
After mentioning the seven heavens, another verse says, “and similar earths“. Examples include verse (67:3) “He (God) who created the seven tournaments (heavens) one imposed over the other…” The Quranic verse 65:12 also states, “It is Allah who has created seven heavens and of the earth, the like of them.”
Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (1149–1209), in dealing with his conception of physics and the physical world in his Matalib, “explores the notion of the existence of a multiverse in the context of his commentary” on the Qur’anic verse, “All praise belongs to God, Lord of the Worlds.”
He raises the question of whether the term “worlds” in this verse refers to “multiple worlds within this single universe or cosmos, or too many other universes or a multiverse beyond this known universe.” In volume 4 of the Matalib, Al-Razi states:
It is established by evidence that there exists beyond the world a void without a terminal limit (khala’ la nihayata laha), and it is established as well by evidence that God Most High has power over all contingent beings (al-mumkinat). Therefore He the Most High has the power (qadir) to create a thousand thousand worlds (alfa alfi ‘awalim) beyond this world such that each one of those worlds be bigger and more massive than this world as well as having the like of what this world has of the throne (al-arsh), the chair (al-kursiyy), the heavens (al-samawat) and the earth (al-ard), and the sun (al-shams) and the moon (al-qamar). The arguments of the philosophers (dala’il al-falasifah) for establishing that the world is one are weak, flimsy arguments founded upon feeble premises.
Al-Razi rejected the Aristotelian and Avicennian view of the impossibility of multiple universes. He pointed out what he saw as weaknesses of the main Aristotelian arguments against the existence of multiple universes.
His rejection arose from his affirmation of the atomism advocated by the Ash’ari school of Islamic theology. This version of atomism has specific views about the vacant space, or void, in which the atoms move, combine and separate.
He spoke of the “void” in greater detail in volume 5 of the Matalib. He argued that God can fill the vacuum with an infinite number of universes.
Ibn Arabi (1165-1240) held that, since God is endless, consequently there can be no end of created universes.
The concept of parallel worlds is also mentioned in Kabbalah:
“There are five worlds between the Creator and our world. Each of them consists of five Partzufim and each Partzuf of five Sefirot. In total there are 125 levels between us and the Creator. Malchut, moving through all these levels, reaches the last one, and in this way, Behina Dalet, the only creation, merges with the four previous phases.”
The philosopher and forerunner of the New Age movement P. D. Ouspensky stated in 1934:
“Our mind follows the development of possibilities always in one direction only. But, in fact, every moment contains a very large number of possibilities. And all of them are actualised, only we do not see it and do not know it. We always see only one of the actualisations, and in this lie the poverty and limitation of the human mind. But if we try to imagine the actualisation of all the possibilities of the present moment, then of the next moment, and so on, we shall feel the world growing infinitely, incessantly multiplying by itself and becoming immeasurably rich and utterly unlike the flat and limited world we have pictured to ourselves up to this moment.”
Many attempts at research, labeled by proponents as scientific, into contact with spirit worlds have yielded various results, including alleged information about the multiverse.
Much of the research primarily focused on discovering the connection between life and the afterlife and the nature of this connection.
The majority of these contacts are labeled as Instrumental Trans-Communication (ITC) by the physicist Ernst Senkowski. Researcher Mark Macy understands these contacts to be a telepathically assisted form of communication, that is still affected by the beliefs, thoughts, and attitudes of the researchers, but to a lesser degree than during channeling.
Much rarer Trans-Dimensional Communications (TDC), on the other hand, are understood by Alan Bennet of the Scole Experimental Group (SEG) as a form of transcommunication which uses an artificial receptor as a point of entry for spiritual waves. This receptor is directly connected to earthside instruments.
In the listed investigations as well as others, spiritualistic researchers concluded to have received detailed reports from the spiritual dimensions describing a vast, inhabited world in the astral planes.
The spirit realms are described as dimensions or planes distinguishable by the differing densities and vibratory rates (or frequencies) of the substance they contain, and the various dimensions are said to interpenetrate, just as do the spiritual bodies inside us.
Such research – and hence its outcome – is controversial, and the principles underlying it as well as its methods are regarded as pseudoscience in the scientific community.
In esotericism, however, the belief in the legitimacy of such research – labeled “rejected knowledge” by professor Wouter Hanegraaff – is studied as an integral part of western history, culture, and society.
According to Hanegraaff, the proper attitude of scholars towards this subject is “methodological agnosticism“ since the supernatural – per definition – lies outside the scope of normal academic research.