Friday, June 12, 2009

Just Like Heaven

Most of you have probably used the phrase "in seventh heaven" when describing one of your life's particularly happy moments. You might have even watched an episode of the television variety on the WB back in the late '90s. But did you ever wonder about an eighth heaven? How about a ninth? Do these celestial spheres even exist in religious belief systems?

That's exactly what one of our patrons asked us last week. The night before, she had experienced a vivid dream that ended with a deep voice bellowing, "you have reached the ninth level of heaven." Unable to shrug off the glaring details of her slumber vision, she approached our desk for help. Essentially, she wanted to know if a ninth level of heaven was ever mentioned in religious history or if the phrase only existed in her dream.

We immediately began scanning dream dictionaries, celestial guides, and various materials dedicated to Judaism (from which the term "seventh heaven" is derived) and world religions for any mention of a hierarchy of heavenly spheres, particularly a ninth heaven. Coming up empty-handed after a solid twenty minutes of searching, we turned to the Internet and tried our luck with the sometimes valuable/sometimes unreliable force of Wikipedia.

In its entry for heaven, Wikipedia includes a reference to Tuamotus, a Polynesian chief who, in 1869, penned an illustration of the universe according to his culture's system of beliefs. In the drawing were nine spheres of heaven, each linked to a stage of the earth's evolution. This definitely looked promising to our weary eyes!

After printing out a copy of Tuamotus' work of art, we probed the Polynesian religion a bit more for answers. The illustration we found was a great starting point, but it proved somewhat futile until we found a bit more information about its origins and for what certain symbols stood. After a bit more digging, we discovered that the Journal of the Polynesian Society devoted an entire article to an explanation of the drawing's nine spheres of heaven in volume 28, issue 112 of their publication. We were convinced that the article, penned in 1919, would not be available online (or with free access!), so imagine our surprise when we found the text in its entirety!

We breathed a sigh of relief, our patron clapped her hands with excitement, and our Reference Department found itself with one more tricky reference question under its belt!

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