Interesting article on the Eastern view of the post-mortal state, easily applied to the Germanic view.

To start I have to tell you about the sevenfold constitution of man. Without this information I can't possibly begin talking about afterlife.
In many people's vision man is a divine creature. Often ancient philosophies will tell you that 'inside' we've got a sparkle of the divine fire, to use a familiar metaphor. Esoteric groups have a pretty complicated vision on this. The words in the 'strange' language that I use are in Sankrit, the ancient language of India. Nowadays Sankrit is also often used in New-Age. They're much better terms than we have in our own languages. Our terms are often used incorrectly or vaguely for many years and when you say spirit or mind, everyone will have a different idea about it. Therefor many groups decided to use a different language, like Sankrit.
Our divine sparkle may be called atma. Imagine it "falling from grace" or entering the physical world. 6 Times it takes a more physical vehicle. First vehicle is budhi, second manas, third kama rupa, fourth linga sarira, fifth prana (this isn't really a vehicle, but "life") and at last sthula sarira.
A short overview of the vehicles:
  • Buddhi is the 'spiritual' soul (there you have it! 'Spiritual' here is almost divine);
  • Manas - thinking, can be divided in higher (abstract) and lower thinking;
  • Kama rupa is the 'desire body';
  • Linga sarira the often mentioned astral body (astral: from the stars, refers to the 'material' it's made off);
  • Prana means life, the Chi of the Chinese;
  • Sthula sarira is the physical body with wich we're most familiar with.
These are of course words to give to an idea. The words often differ and the classification does too. Many groups leave Prana from the row and give separate names to the higher and lower thinking. The variations are almost countless.
Of course you'll also hear about more and less vehicles or bodies, from two, to the Christian (and not very wrong) three to upto about 18 in Zoroastrian philosophies.
But then to the interesting part.
In most cases dead is preceded by a periode in which the individuality (astral and lower mental vehicles) are beginning to withdraw from the physical body. Think of old-age which often comes with dementia and infantality. When death has occured, the astal body will -for a short periode of time- remain with the physical body and it will leave when the body starts to decay. As long as there're still parts of the physical body present (for example in a grave, hospital or balsemed) the astral body will feel attracted to it and have a hard time leaving. Also the wining of family makes it's depart more difficult, especially because it won't realize immediately that the physical body is dead.
Eventually the kama rupa will be leaving to it's own world, the kama loka (world of desire or "purgatory"), which -so to say- is the astral body of mother earth. In kama loka we're supposed to break every single bond that has been tied in our incarnation. The 'time' that we'll spend in kama loka depends on how material-minded we were. If we long strongly for the physical world, the stay in kama loka may get pretty long. For most western people, kama loka takes the most time between two incarnations. In the end manas (thinking) will also die away in kama loka.
Then off we go to heaven, or with a more appropriate term: Devachan (litt. domain of the gods). For most people who lived a rather descent and noble life, Devachan will be a place of unspeakable joy, happiness and beauty. All things noble from physical life will be (as a matter of speech) multiplied by 1000. Every unfulfilled desire to do good will be finally fulfilled. Of course this dream is a good example of Maya (illusion), but the main purpose of it is rest. Kama loka and devachan are different for everybody, you get what you expect, to a certain level, but you certainly get what you deserve!
In rare occasions, people can pass or live through Devachan and be taken into Nirvana. This is not for the common man though. Nirvana -I must say- isn't a static situation either. It may take much much longer than the usual 'bardo' of most people, but in the end people will have to choose between becoming a pratyeka Buddha or a Buddha of Compassion, but that's an entirely different subject.
Being in Devachan you finally reach a point where the desire for physical experiences returns and then you make yourself ready to find a proper set of new vehicles. 'Going down' most people fall into an unconscious state, not able to choose the family, town, country or even continent where (s)he will be born. At the end a new man is being created and you get tied to the body. Around the seventh year in it's life the reïncarnation is completed and you're beginning a new cycle of physical experience.