The Astral Plane
Last revised: 6 September 2008
The Astral Plane Resembles the Physical Plane
Ed. Also called Sphere Three and the Desire World.
General Characteristics of the Astral World
The astral plane is the region of the universe next to the physical, if the word "next" may be permitted in such a connection. (Annie Besant, AW, 63.)
The word "next" is ... inappropriate, as suggesting the idea that the planes of the universe are arranged as concentric circles, one ending where the next begins. Rather they are concentric interpenetrating spheres, not separated from each other by distance but by difference of constitution. (Annie Besant, AW, 63.)
Since this astral plane lies next to our world of denser matter, it is usually in connection with it that our earliest super-physical experiences take place. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 9.)
The astral plane is much larger than the physical, and extends some thousands of miles above its surface. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 16.)
The dimensions of our astral world are considerable, and we are able to determine them with some approach to accuracy from the fact that our astral world touches that of the moon at perigee, but does not reach it at apogee; but naturally the contact is confined to the highest type of astral matter. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 16.)
Though for the most part entirely unconscious of it, man passes the whole of his life in the midst of a vast and populous unseen world. During sleep or in trance, when the insistent physical senses are for the time in abeyance, this other world is to some extent open to him, and he will sometimes bring back from those conditions more or less vague memories of what he has seen and heard there. When, at the change which men call death, he lays aside his physical body altogether, it is into this unseen world that he passes, and in it he lives through the long centuries that intervene between his incarnations into this existence that we know. By far the greater part of these long periods is spent in the heaven-world. ... The lower part of this unseen world, the state into which man enters immediately after  death [is] the Hades or underworld of the Greeks, the purgatory or intermediate state of Christianity which was called by mediæval alchemists the astral plane. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 1.)
The astral region ... is the second of these great planes of Nature - the next above (or within) that physical world with which we are all familiar. It has often been called the realm of illusion - not that it is itself any more illusory than the physical world, but because of the extreme unreliability of the impressions brought back from it by the untrained seer. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 6-7.)
The reports from the other world are all agreed as to the pleasant conditions of life in the beyond. They agree that like goes to like, that all who love or who have interests in common are united, that life is full of interest and of occupation, and that they would by no means desire to return. All of this is surely tidings of great joy, and I repeat that it is not a vague faith or hope, but that it is supported by all the laws of evidence which agree that where many independent witnesses give a similar account, that account has a claim to be considered a true one. If it were an account of glorified souls purged instantly from all human weakness and of a constant ecstasy of adoration round the throne of the all powerful, it might well be suspected as being the mere reflection of that popular theology which all the mediums had equally received in their youth. It is, however, very different to any preexisting system. It is also supported, as I have already pointed out, not merely by the consistency of the accounts, but by the fact that the accounts are the ultimate product of a long series of phenomena, all of which have been attested as true by those who have carefully examined them. (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, NR, n.p.)
The life has a close analogy to that of this world at it its best. It is pre-eminently a life of the mind, as this is of the body. Preoccupations of food, money, lust, pain, etc., are of the body and are gone. Music, the Arts, intellectual and spiritual knowledge, and progress have increased. The people are clothed, as one would expect, since there is no reason why modesty should disappear with our new forms. These new forms are the absolute reproduction of the old ones at their best, the young growing up and the old reverting until all come to the normal. People live in communities, as one would expect if like attracts like, and the male spirit still finds his true mate though there is no sexuality in the grosser sense and no childbirth. (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, NR, n.p.)
These, roughly speaking, are the lines of the life beyond in its simplest expression, for it is not all simple, and we catch dim glimpses of endless circles below descending into gloom and endless circles above, ascending into glory, all improving, all purposeful, all intensely alive. All are agreed that no religion upon earth has any advantage over another, but that character and refinement are everything. At the same time, all are also in agreement that all religions which inculcate prayer, and an upward glance rather than eyes for ever on the level, are good. In this sense, and in no other--as a help to spiritual life -- every form may have a purpose for somebody. (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, NR, n.p.)
The Relative Illusion of the Astral Plane Vis-à-vis the Mental Plane
Ed. Please note that all planes, vis-à-vis the plane before it, are called "illusory." Surely no plane is "real" save one - the non-dual or transcendental plane of God's own existence.
Except possibly for a brief space for readjustment, the easy-going enjoyment of Summerland is not for eager souls of sterner temperament because its experiences would already be worthless to them. They bypass it, or, to put it more accurately, they come to the next life having already lived at a level of consciousness beyond that at which such an existence could ensnare them. It holds no necessity for them. Hence they do not meet the experience. It is not for those who, in Milton's phrase, 'scorn delight and live laborious days.' Others of more easy going and unchallenging character need it as a comparatively gentler way of becoming shorn of their illusions of what makes up bliss. The Summerland, then, far from being the heaven with which some equate it, represents a comparatively lowly experience, but one necessary to the majority of people. (Paul Beard, LO, 92.)
It would not be wise, however, to take everything in the Summerland as empty illusion. It is real in the exhilaration the traveler feels in living without the heaviness of a physical body, his 'gross and muddy vesture of decay.' This absence of physical illness and deterioration brings a degree of freedom. He is beginning to discover that his interior self, his vehicle of consciousness, is far more important than the physical body into which it had been confined. He has access to thoughts and feelings in a much more unimpeded way and in an environment much less clogging and resistant.
The Summerland is also real enough in providing early lessons in the use of the creative powers which lie in his thoughts and emotions, as evidenced in the malleable nature of his new environment. He is educating himself in powers he will learn to control in due time. And of course there is truth in the whole process of casting off veils in his nature, which will later on lead to the discovery of his true inner being.
The Summerland is also a foreshadowing of later surroundings. It is described as a land of sunlight. Here it must be said that the sunlight, the water, the landscape, the moving stream, the woods and hills which are described must not be regarded too literally. Myers found them to be brought about by those he calls the Wise Ones, (1) who create an environment appropriate to their charges but more skillfully than these could do it for themselves. The environment resembles a pictorial representation, an artist's composition - like Helen Salter's drawing-room (2) but on a vaster scale.
These landscape-like surroundings are meaningful images, as an artist's design is meaningful. It is like a less obdurate form of nature, one not heartless, witless, as Housman declares, but somehow imbued with intelligent purpose. Water there is said to bring a sense of deeply vivifying refreshment. Fruits, too, unusual fruits, are described, which can in some way be imbibed and which, too, produce this sense of vivification. (Paul Beard, LO, 92-3.)
- (1) Angels.
- (2) Helen Salter's parents created a Victorian house for her to rest in on the Near-Earth Plane after her passing.
Most Communicators are Newcomers
Communications usually come from those who have not long passed over, and tend to grow fainter, as one would expect. It is instructive in this respect to notice that Christ's reappearances to his disciples or to Paul, are said to have been within a very few years of his death, and that there is no claim among the early Christians to have seen him later. The cases of spirits who give good proof of authenticity and yet have passed some time are not common.
There is, in Mr. Dawson Roger's life, a very good case of a spirit who called himself Manton, and claimed to have been born at Lawrence Lydiard and buried at Stoke Newington in 1677. It was clearly shown afterwards that there was such a man, and that he was Oliver Cromwell's chaplain. So far as my own reading goes, this is the oldest spirit who is on record as returning, and generally they are quite recent. Hence, one gets all one's views from the one generation, as it were, and we cannot take them as final, but only as partial.
How spirits may see things in a different light as they progress in the other world is shown by Miss Julia Ames, who was deeply impressed at first by the necessity of forming a bureau of communication, but admitted, after fifteen years, that not one spirit in a million among the main body upon the further side ever wanted to communicate with us at all since their own loved ones had come over. She had been misled by the fact that when she first passed over everyone she met was newly arrived like herself. (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, NR, n.p.)
Length of Stay on the Astral Plane
The length of his stay in [the astral] world depends upon the amount of passion and emotion which he has developed within himself in his physical life. If there is much of these the astral body is strongly vitalized, and will persist for a long time; if there is but little, the astral body has less vitality, and he will soon be able to cast that vehicle aside in turn. (Charles Leadbeater, TT, 44.)
All agree that life beyond is for a limited period, after which they pass on to yet other phases, but apparently there is more communication between these phases than there is between us and Spiritland. (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, NR, n.p.)
Subplanes of the Astral World
The Astral Plane Has Seven Subdivisions
The spirit-matter of the astral plane exists in seven subdivisions. (Annie Besant, AW, 64.)
Most material forms there have a brightness, a translucency, as compared to forms here, which have caused the epithet astral, or starry, to be applied to them - an epithet which is, on the whole, misleading, but is too firmly established by use to be changed. As there are no specific names for the subdivisions of astral spirit-matter, we may use the terrestrial designations. The main idea to be grasped is that astral objects are combinations of astral matter, as physical objects are combinations of physical matter, and that the astral world scenery much resembles that of earth in consequence of its being largely made up of the astral duplicates of physical objects. (Annie Besant, AW, 64.)
First of all, then, it must be understood that the astral plane has seven subdivisions, each of which has its corresponding degree of materiality and its corresponding condition of matter. Although the poverty of physical language forces us to speak of these sub-planes as higher and lower, we must not fall into the mistake of thinking of them (or indeed of the greater planes of which they are only subdivisions) as separate localities in space - as lying above one another like the shelves of a book-case or outside one another like the coats of an onion. It must be understood that the matter of each plane or sub-plane interpenetrates that of the plane or sub-plane below it, so that here at the surface of the earth all exist together in the same space, although it is true that the higher varieties of matter extend further away from the physical earth than the lower. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 15.)
So when we speak of a man as rising from one plane or sub-plane to another, we do not think of him as necessarily moving in space at all, but rather as transferring his consciousness from one level to another - gradually becoming unresponsive to the vibrations of one order of matter, and beginning instead to answer to those of a higher and more refined order; so that one world with its scenery and inhabitants would seem to fade slowly away from his view, while another world of a more elevated character dawns upon him in its stead. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 16.)
Returning to the consideration of these sub-planes, and numbering them from the highest and least material downwards, we find that they naturally fall into three classes, divisions 1, 2 and 3 forming one such class, and 4, 5 and 6 another, while the seventh and lowest of all stands alone. The difference between the matter of one of these classes and the next would be commensurable with that between a solid and a liquid, while the difference between the matter of the subdivisions of a class would rather resemble that between two kinds of solid, such as, say, steel and sand. Putting aside for the moment the seventh, we may say that divisions 4, 5 and 6 of the astral plane have for their background the physical world in which we live, and all its familiar accessories. Life on the sixth division is not unlike our ordinary life on this earth, minus the physical body and its necessities; while as it ascends through the fifth and fourth divisions it becomes less and less material, and is more and more withdrawn from our lower world and its interests. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 18.)
The higher we rise the less of the denser matter do we find. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 17.)
Thus we see that the length of a man's detention upon any level of the astral plane will be precisely in proportion to the amount of its matter which is found in his astral body, and that in turn depends upon the life he has lived, the desires he has indulged, and the class of matter which by so doing he has attracted towards him and built into himself. It is, therefore, possible for a man, by pure living and high thinking, to minimize the quantity of matter belonging to the lower astral levels which he attaches to himself, and to raise it in each case to what may be called its critical point, so that the first touch of disintegrating force should shatter its cohesion and resolve it into its original condition, leaving him free at once to pass on to the next sub-plane.
In the case of a thoroughly spiritually-minded person this condition has been attained with reference to all the subdivisions of astral matter, and the result is a practically instantaneous passage through that plane, so that he recovers consciousness for the first time in the heaven-world. As was explained before, we never think of the sub-planes as being divided from one another in space, but rather as interpenetrating one another; so that when we say that a person passes from one subdivision to another, we do not necessarily mean that he moves in space at all, but that the focus of his consciousness shifts from the outer shell to that next within it. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 52-3.)
To a large extent people make their own surroundings. We have already referred to the seven subdivisions of this astral world. Numbering these from the highest and least material downwards, we find that they fall naturally into three classes - division one, two and three forming one such class, and four, five and six another; while the seventh and lowest of all stands alone. As I have said, although they all interpenetrate, their substance has a general tendency to arrange itself according to its specific gravity, so that most of the matter belonging to the higher subdivisions is found at a greater elevation above the surface of the earth than the bulk of the matter of the lower portions.
Hence, although any person inhabiting the astral world can move into any part of it, his natural tendency is to float at the level which corresponds with the specific gravity of the heaviest matter in his astral / body. The man who has not permitted the rearrangement of the matter of his astral body after death is entirely free of the whole astral world; but the majority, who do permit it, are not equally free - not because there is anything to prevent them from rising to the highest level or sinking to the lowest, but because they are able to sense clearly only a certain part of that world. (Charles Leadbeater, TT, 79-80.)
Every one after death - any ordinary person, that is, in whose case the rearrangement of the matter of the astral body has been made - has to pass through all these subdivisions in turn. It does not follow that every one is conscious in all of them. The ordinary decent person has in his astral body but little of the matter of its lowest portion - by no means enough to construct a heavy shell. The redistribution puts on the outside of the body its densest matter; in the ordinary man this is usually matter of the sixth subdivision, mixed with a little of the seventh, and so he finds himself viewing the counterpart of the physical world.
The ego is steadily withdrawing into himself, and as he withdraws he leaves behind him level after level of this astral matter. So the length of the man's detention in any section of the astral world is precisely in proportion to the amount of its matter which is found in his astral body, and that in turn depends upon the life he has lived, the desires he has indulged, and the class of matter which by so doing he has attracted towards him and built into himself. Finding / himself then in the sixth section, still hovering about the places and persons with which he was most closely connected while on earth, the average man as time passes on finds the earthly surroundings gradually growing dimmer and becoming of less and less importance to him, and he tends more and more to mould his entourage into agreement with the more persistent of his thoughts. By the time that he reaches the third level he finds that this characteristic has entirely superseded the vision of the realities of the astral world.
The second subdivision is a shade less material than the third, for if the latter is the summerland of the spiritualists, the former is the material heaven of the more ignorant orthodox; while the first or highest level appears to be the special home of those who during life have devoted themselves to materialistic but intellectual pursuits, following them not for the sake of benefiting their fellow men, but either from motives of selfish ambition or simply for the sake of intellectual exercise. All these people are perfectly happy. Later on they will reach a stage when they can appreciate something much higher, and when that stage comes they will find the higher ready for them. (Charles Leadbeater, TT, 82-3.)
First or Lowest Subplane
[Ed. Also called the Winterlands, the Dark Plane, and Hell.] In Victorian times, some pictures of Winterland were coloured (whether by communicator or recipient) by a self-righteousness unlikely to be felt now. Quite other, for instance, is the compassion in Frances Banks' picture. Communicators have gradually overcome and laid aside concepts which to their recipients of nearly a hundred years ago formed part of the general fabric of religious thought. In recent accounts, as we have seen, the idea of punishment is replaced by that of impersonal consequences and of re-education and rehabilitation. (Paul Beard, LO, 181.)
I have described something of the fate of a man who is on the lowest level, shut in by a strong shell of coarse matter. Because of the extreme comparative density of that matter he is conscious of less outside of his own subdivision than a man at any other level. The general specific gravity of his own astral body tends to make him float below the surface of the earth. The physical matter of the earth is absolutely non-existent to his astral senses, and his natural attraction is to that least delicate form of astral matter which is the counterpart of that solid earth. A man who has confined himself to that lowest subdivision will therefore usually find himself floating in darkness and cut off to a great extent from others of the dead, whose lives have been such as to keep them on a higher level. (Charles Leadbeater, TT, 80.)
The first or lowest, division is the one that contains the conditions described in so many Hindu and Buddhist Scriptures under the name of "hells" of various kinds. It must be understood that a man, in passing into one of these states, is not getting rid of the passions and vile desires that have led him thither; these remain, as part of his character, lying latent in the mind in a germinal state, to be thrown outwards again to form his passional nature when he is returning to birth in the physical world. (See chapter VII, on "Reincarnation"). His presence in the lowest region of Kâmaloka is due to the existence in his kâmic body of matter belonging to that region, and he is held prisoner there until the greater part of that matter has dropped away, until the shell composed of it is sufficiently disintegrated to allow the man to come into contact with the region next above.
The atmosphere of this place is gloomy, heavy, dreary, depressing to an inconceivable extent. It seems to reek with all the influences most inimical to good, as in truth it does, being caused by the persons whose evil passions have led them to this dreary place. All the desires and feelings at which we shudder, find here the materials for their expression; it is, in fact, the lowest slum, with all the horrors veiled from physical sight parading their naked hideousness. Its repulsiveness is much increased by the fact that in the astral world character expresses itself in form, and the man who is full of evil passions looks the whole of them; bestial appetites shape the astral body into bestial forms, and repulsively human animal shapes are the appropriate clothing of brutalised human souls.
No man can be a hypocrite in the astral world, and cloak foul thoughts with a veil of virtuous seeming; whatever a man is that he appears to be in outward form and semblance, radiant in beauty if his mind be noble, repulsive in hideousness if his nature be foul. It will readily be understood, then, how such Teachers as the Buddha - to whose unerring vision all worlds lay open - should describe what was seen in these hells in vivid language of terrible imagery, that seems incredible to modern readers only because people forget that, once escaped from the heavy and unplastic matter of the physical world, all souls appear in their proper likenesses and look just what they are. Even in this world a degraded and besotted ruffian moulds his face into most repellent aspect; what then can be expected when the plastic astral matter takes shape with every impulse of his criminal desires, but that such a man should wear a horrifying form, taking on changing elements of hideousness?
For it must be remembered that the population - if that word may be allowed - of this lowest region consists of the very scum of humanity, murderers, ruffians, violent criminals of all types, drunkards, profligates, the vilest of mankind. None is here, with consciousness awake to its surroundings, save those guilty of brutal crimes, or of deliberate persistent cruelty, or possessed by some vile appetite. The only persons who may be of a better general type, and yet for a while be held here, are suicides, men who have sought by self-murder to escape from the earthly penalties of crimes they had committed, and who have but worsened their position by the exchange. Not all suicides, be it understood , for self-murder is committed from many motives, but only such as are led up to by crime and are then committed in order to avoid the consequences.
Save for the gloomy surroundings and the loathsomeness of a man's associates, every man here is the immediate creator of his own miseries. Unchanged, except for the loss of the bodily veil, men here show out their passions in all their native hideousness, their naked brutality; full of fierce unsatiated appetites, seething with revenge, hatred, longings after physical indulgences which the loss of physical organs incapacitates them for enjoying, they roam, raging and ravening, through this gloomy region, crowding round all foul resorts on earth, round brothels and gin-palaces, stimulating their occupants to deeds of shame and violence, seeking opportunities to obsess them, and so to drive them into worse excesses.
The sickening atmosphere felt round such places comes largely from these earthbound astral entities, reeking with foul passions and unclean desires. Mediums - unless of very pure and noble character - are special objects of attack, and too often the weaker ones, weakened still further by the passive yielding of their bodies for the temporary habitation of other excarnate souls are obsessed by these creatures, and are driven into intemperance or madness.
Executed murderers, furious with terror and passionate revengeful hatred, acting over again, as we have said, their crime and recreating mentally its terrible results, surround themselves with an atmosphere of savage thought-forms, and, attracted to any one harbouring revengeful and violent designs, they egg him on into the actual commission of the deed over which he broods. Sometimes a man may be seen constantly followed by his murdered victim, never able to escape from his haunting presence, which hunts him with a dull persistency , try he ever so eagerly to escape. The murdered person, unless himself of a very base type, is wrapped in unconsciousness, and this very unconsciousness seems to add a new horror to its mechanical pursuit.
Here also is the hell of the vivisector, for cruelty draws into the astral body the coarsest materials and the most repulsive combinations of the astral matter, and he lives amid the crowding forms of his mutilated victims - moaning, quivering, howling (they are vivified, not by the animal souls but by elemental life) pulsing with hatred to the tormentor - rehearsing his worst experiments with automatic regularity, conscious of all the horror, and yet imperiously impelled to the self-torment by the habit set up during earth-life.
It is well once again, to remember, ere quitting this dreary region, that we have no arbitrary punishments inflicted from outside, but only the inevitable working out of the causes set going by each person. During physical life they yielded to the vilest impulses and drew into, built into, their astral bodies the materials which alone could vibrate in answer to those impulses; this self-built body becomes the prison house of the soul, and must fall into ruins ere the soul can escape from it.
As inevitably as a drunkard must live in his repulsive soddened physical body here, so must he live in his equally repulsive astral body there. The harvest sown is reaped after its kind. Such is the law in all the worlds, and it may not be escaped. Nor indeed is the astral body there more revolting and horrible than it was when the man was living upon earth and made the atmosphere around him fetid with his astral emanations. But people on earth do not generally recognise its ugliness, being astrally blind.
Further, we may cheer ourselves in contemplating these unhappy brothers of ours by remembering that their sufferings are but temporary, and are giving a much-needed lesson in the life of the soul. By the tremendous pressure of nature's disregarded laws they are learning the existence of those laws, and the misery that accrues from ignoring them in life and conduct. The lesson they would not learn during earth-life, whirled away on the torrent of lusts and desires, is pressed on them here, and will be pressed on them in their succeeding lives, until the evils are eradicated and the man has risen into a better life. Nature's lessons are sharp, but in the long run they are merciful, for they lead to the evolution of the soul and guide it to the winning of its immortality. (Annie Besant, AW, 100-6.)
The seventh or lowest subdivision of the astral plane also, this physical world of ours may be said to be the background, though what is seen is only a distorted and partial view of it, since all that is light and good and beautiful seems invisible. It was thus described four thousand years ago in the Egyptian papyrus of the Scribe Ani: "What manner of place is this unto which I have come? It hath no water, it hath no air; it is deep, unfathomable; it is black as the blackest night, and men wander helplessly about therein; in it a man may not live in quietness of heart." For the unfortunate human being on that level it is indeed true that "all the earth is full of darkness and cruel habitations", but it is darkness which radiates from within himself and causes his existence to be passed in a perpetual night of evil and horror - a real hell, though, like all other hells, entirely of man's own creation.
I do not mean by this that the sub-plane is wholly imaginary - that it has no objective existence. It lies partly on the surface of the earth, and partly  (perhaps mostly) beneath that surface, interpenetrating the solid crust. But I do mean that no man who lives an ordinarily pure and decent life need ever touch this eminently undesirable region, or even become conscious of its existence. If he does contact it, is entirely due to his own coarse and evil action, speech and thought.
Most students find the investigation of this section an extremely unpleasant task, for there appears to be a sense of density and gross materiality about it which is indescribably loathsome to the liberated astral body, causing it the feeling of pushing its way through some black, viscous fluid, while the inhabitants and influences encountered there are also usually exceedingly objectionable. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 30-31.)
When the man passes away at death from the physical plane the disintegrating forces of Nature begin to operate upon his astral body, and this elemental thus finds his existence as a separate entity endangered. He sets to work therefore to defend himself, and to hold the astral body together as long as possible; and his method of doing this is to rearrange the matter of which it is composed in a sort of stratified series of shells, leaving that of the lowest (and therefore coarsest and grossest) sub-plane on the outside, since that will offer the greatest resistance to disintegration.
A man has to stay upon this lowest subdivision until he has disentangled so much as is possible of his true self from the matter of that sub-plane; and when that is done his consciousness is focussed in the next of these concentric shells (that formed of the matter of the sixth subdivision), or to put the same idea in other words, he passes on to the next sub-plane. We might say that when the astral body has exhausted its attractions to one level, the greater part of its grosser particles fall away, and it finds itself in affinity with a somewhat higher state of existence. Its specific gravity, as it were, is constantly decreasing, and so it steadily rises from the denser to the lighter strata, pausing only when it is exactly balanced for a time. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 51-2.)
The only persons who normally awake to consciousness on the lowest level of the astral plane are those whose desires are gross and brutal - drunkards, sensualists, and such like. There they remain for a period proportioned to the strength of their desires, often suffering terribly from the fact that while these earthly lusts are still as strong as ever, they now find it impossible to gratify them, except occasionally in a vicarious manner when they are able to seize upon some like-minded person, and obsess him. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 53-4.)
There are spirits who cannot bear even the dim radiance of Sphere One. These go and consort with their like in the lower regions and they make for themselves their own Hell. ...
There is no need for devils with pitch-forks and lakes of burning brimstone. Man's inhumanity to man is quite sufficient, as we can imagine from what we see on earth.
Even in a Nazi concentration camp the guards must have some humanity, the prisoners may help and cheer one another by unselfish thoughts and deeds, and kindly death comes as a release from the worst tortures. But imagine such a camp where all are bad, warders and prisoners alike, and where death may not be wooed by any device. Add to these external torments an internal state of envy. Hatred, malice and unsatisfied lusts - is Hell.
Yet there is no personal Devil. Evil is not a positive thing in itself - it is merely the effect of obstruction to, and the negation of, Good. Every soul will eventually be set on the upward path and even the great Archangels of Darkness will eventually come into the light. (Lord Dowding, MM, 52.)
First or Lowest Subplane: "Eternal Damnation"
The horrible doctrine of eternal punishment, too, is responsible for a vast amount of most pitiable and entirely groundless terror among those newly arrived in this higher life. In many cases they spend long periods of acute mental suffering before they can free themselves from the fatal influence of that hideous blasphemy, and realize that the world is governed not according to the caprice of some demon who gloats over human anguish, but according to a benevolent and wonderfully patient law of evolution. Many members of the class we are considering do not really attain an intelligent appreciation of this fact of evolution at all, but drift through their astral interlude in the same aimless manner in which they have spent the physical portion of their lives. Thus after death, exactly as before it, there are the few who comprehend something of their position and know how to make the best of it, and the many who have not yet acquired that knowledge; and then, just as now, the ignorant are rarely ready to profit by the advice or example of the wise. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 53-4.)
First or Lowest Subplane: The Mysterious "Eighth Sphere"
The lost entity would very soon after death find himself unable to stay in the astral world, and would be irresistibly drawn in full consciousness into "his own place", the mysterious eighth sphere, there slowly to disintegrate after experiences best left undescribed. ...
Since the eighth sphere cannot claim him until after the death of the body, he preserves it in a kind of cataleptic trance by the horrible expedient of the transfusion into it of blood drawn from other human beings by his semi—materialized astral, and thus postpones his final destiny by the commission of wholesale murder. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 80-1.)
The Second to Fourth Subplanes
Divisions four, five, and six (1) of the astral world (to which most people are attracted) have for their background the astral counterpart of the physical world in which we live, and all its familiar accessories. Life in the sixth subdivision is simply like our ordinary life on this earth minus the physical body and its necessities while as it ascends through the fifth and / fourth divisions it becomes less and less material and is more and more withdrawn from our lower world and its interests. (Charles Leadbeater, TT, 80-1.)
- (1) Leadbeater is numbering from the bottom as seven and the top as one, whereas I have reversed the numbering to be consistent with the schemes used by most other commentators.
The Second Subplane
The ordinarily decent man has little to detain him on that seventh sub-plane; but if his chief desires and thoughts had centred in more worldly affairs, he is likely to find himself in the sixth subdivision, still hovering about the places and persons with which he was most closely connected while on earth. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 61.)
Let us pass to a more cheerful region. The second division of the astral world may be said to be the astral double of the physical, for the astral bodies of all things and of many people are largely composed of the matter belonging to this division of the astral plane, and it is therefore more closely in touch with the physical world than any other part of the astral. The great majority of people make some stay here, and a very large proportion of these are consciously awake in it. These latter are folk whose interests were bound up in the trivial and petty objects of life, who set their hearts on trifles, as well as those who allowed their lower natures to rule them, and who died with the appetites still active and desirous of physical enjoyment.
Having largely sent their life outwards in these directions, thus building their astral bodies largely of the materials that responded very readily to material impacts, they are held by these bodies in the neighbourhood of their physical attractions. They are mostly dissatisfied, uneasy, restless, with more or less suffering according to the vigour of the wishes they cannot gratify; some even undergo positive pain from this cause, and are long delayed ere these earthly longings are exhausted.
Many unnecessarily lengthen their stay by seeking to communicate with the earth, in whose interests they are entangled, by means of mediums, who allow them to use their physical bodies for this purpose, thus supplying the loss of their own. From them comes most of the mere twaddle with which every one is familiar who has had experience of public spiritualistic séances, the gossip and trite morality of the petty lodging-house and small shop - feminine, for the most part. As these earth bound souls are generally of small intelligence, their communications are of no more interest- (to those already convinced of the existence of the soul after death) -than was their conversation when they were in the body, and - just as on earth - they are positive in proportion to their ignorance, representing the whole astral world as identical with their own very limited area. There as here:
They think the rustic cackle of their burgh The murmur of the world.
It is from this region that people who have died with some anxiety on their minds will sometimes seek to communicate with their friends in order to arrange the earthly matter that troubles them; if they cannot succeed in showing themselves, or in impressing their wishes by a dream on some friend, they will often cause much annoyance by knockings and other noises directly intended to draw attention or caused unconsciously by their restless efforts. It is a charity in such cases for some competent person to communicate with the distressed entity and learn his wishes, as he may thus be freed from the anxiety which prevents him from passing onwards. Souls, while in this region, may also very easily have their attention drawn to the earth, even although they would not spontaneously have turned back to it, and this disservice is too often done to them by the passionate grief and craving for their beloved presence by friends left behind on earth.
The thought-forms set up by these longings throng round them, and oftentimes arouse them if they are peacefully sleeping, or violently draw their thoughts to earth if they are already conscious. It is especially in the former case that this unwitting selfishness on the part of friends on earth does mischief to their dear ones that they would themselves be the first to regret; and it may that the knowledge of the unnecessary suffering thus caused to those who have passed through death may, with some, strengthen the binding force of the religious precepts which enjoin submission to the divine law and the checking of excessive and rebellious grief. (Annie Besant, AW, 106-9.)
The Third and Fourth Subplanes
The third and the fourth sub-planes are of similar character, except that as we rise through them mere earthly associations appear to become of less and less importance, and the departed tends more and more to mould his surroundings into agreements with the more persistent of his thoughts. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 54.)
The third and fourth regions of the Kâmalokic world differ but little from the second, and might also be described as etherialised copies of it, the fourth being more refined than the third, but the general characteristics of the three subdivisions being very similar. Souls of somewhat more progressed types are found there, and although they are held there by the encasement built by the activity of their earthly interests, their attention is for the most part directed onwards rather than backwards, and, if they are not forcibly recalled to the concerns of earth-life, they will pass on without very much delay. Still, they are susceptible to earthly stimuli, and the weakening interest in terrestrial affairs may be reawakened by cries from below. Large numbers of educated and thoughtful people, who were chiefly occupied with worldly affairs during their physical lives, are conscious in these regions, and may be induced to communicate through mediums, and, more rarely, seek such communication themselves. Their statements are naturally of a higher type than those spoken of as coming from the second division, but are not marked by any characteristics that render them more valuable than similar statements made by persons still in the body. Spiritual illumination does not come from Kâmaloka. (Annie Besant, AW, 109-10.)
Sphere Three seems to the highest of these directly associated with earth. This would be the habitat of spirits like Raymond and Private Dowding and the workers under Colonel Gascoigne who are designated for further advancement but are retained got the time being on the duty of meeting soldiers killed in battle and other work bring them directly in touch with earth. It also appears to be the site of Universities or Halls of Instruction, as Private Dowding calls them. (Lord Dowding, MM, 57.)
The Fifth to Seventh Subplanes
[Ed. Also called the Summerlands.] The first, second and third subdivisions [Ed. Fifth, sixth, and seventh, counting from the bottom up], though occupying the same space, yet give the impression of being much further removed from this physical world, and correspondingly less material. Entities inhabiting these levels lose sight of the earth and its belongings; they are usually deeply self-absorbed, and to a large extent create their own surroundings, though these are sufficiently objective to be perceptible to other entities and also to clairvoyant vision.
This region is the "summer-land" of which we hear so much at spiritualistic séances, and those who descend from and describe it no doubt speak the truth as far as their knowledge extends. It is on these planes that "spirits" call into temporary existence their houses, schools, and cities, for these objects are often real enough for the time, though to a clearer sight they may sometimes be pitiably unlike what their delighted creators suppose them to be. Nevertheless, many of the imaginations which take form there are of real though temporary beauty, and a visitor who knew of nothing higher might wander contentedly enough there among forests and mountains, lovely lakes and pleasant flower —gardens, which are at any rate much superior to anything in the physical world; or he might even construct such surroundings to suit his own fancies. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 31-2.)
This region is the summerland of which we hear in spiritualistic circles - the world in which, by the exercise of their thought, the dead call into temporary existence their houses and schools and cities. These surroundings, though fanciful from our point of view, are to the dead as real as houses, temples or churches built of stone are to us, and many people live very contentedly there for a number of years in the midst of all these thought creations.
Some of the scenery thus produced is very beautiful; it includes lovely lakes, magnificent mountains, pleasant gardens, decidedly superior to anything in the physical world; though on the other hand it also contains much which to the trained clairvoyant (who has learned to see things as they are) appears ridiculous - as, for example, the endeavors of the unlearned to make a thought form of some of the curious symbolic descriptions contained in their various scriptures. An ignorant peasant's thought image of a beast full of / eyes within, or of a sea of glass mingled with fire, is naturally often grotesque, although to its maker it is perfectly satisfactory. This astral world is full of thought-created figures and landscapes. Men of all religions image here their deities and their respective conceptions of paradise, and enjoy themselves greatly among these dream forms until they pass into the mental world and come into touch with something nearer to reality. (Charles Leadbeater, TT, 81-2.)
The Fifth Subplane
By the time we reach the third subdivision [Ed. Fifth, counting from the bottom up] we find that this characteristic has entirely superseded the vision of the realities of the plane; for here the people are living in imaginary cities of their own - not each evolved entirely by his own thought, as in the heaven-world, but inheriting and adding to the structures erected by the thoughts of their predecessors. Here it is that the churches and schools and "dwellings in the summerland," so often described at spiritualistic séances, are to be found; though they often seem much less real and much less magnificent to an unprejudiced living observer than they are to their delighted creators. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 54-5.)
The fifth subdivision of Kâmaloka offers many new characteristics. It presents a distinctly luminous and radiant appearance, eminently attractive to those accustomed only to the dull hues of the earth, and justifying the epithet astral, starry, given to the whole plane. Here are situated all the materialised heavens which play so large a part in popular religions all the world over.
The happy hunting grounds of the Red Indian, the Valhalla of the Norsemen, the houri-filled paradise of the Muslim, the golden jewelled-gated New Jerusalem of the Christian, the lyceum-filled heaven of the materialistic reformer, all have their places here. Men and women who clung desperately to every "letter that killeth" have here the literal satisfaction of their cravings, unconsciously creating in astral matter by their powers of imagination, fed on the mere husks of the world's Scriptures, the cloud-built palaces whereof they dreamed.
The crudest religious beliefs find here their temporary cloud-land realisation, and literalists of every faith, who were filled with selfish longings for their own salvation in the most materialistic of heavens, here find an appropriate, and to them enjoyable, home, surrounded by the very conditions in which they believed. The religious and philanthropic busybodies, who cared more to carry out their own fads and impose their own ways on their neighbours than to work unselfishly for the increase of human virtue and happiness, are here much to the fore, carrying on reformatories, refuges, schools, to their own great satisfaction, and much delighted are they still to push an astral finger into an earthly pie with the help of a subservient medium whom they patronise with lofty condescension.
They build astral churches and schools and houses, reproducing the materialistic heavens they coveted; and though to keener vision their erections are imperfect, even pathetically grotesque, they find them all-sufficing. People of the same religions flock together and co-operate with each other in various ways, so that communities are formed, differing as widely from each other as do similar communities on earth.
When they are attracted to the earth they seek, for the most part, people of their own faith and country, chiefly by natural affinity, doubtless, but also because barriers of language still exist in Kâmaloka; as may be noticed occasionally in messages received in spiritualistic circles. Souls from this region often take the most vivid interest in attempts to establish communication between this and the next world, and the "spirit guides" of average mediums come, for the most part, from this and from the region next above. They are generally aware that there are many possibilities of higher life before them, and that they will, sooner or later, pass away into worlds whence communication with this earth will not be possible. (Annie Besant, AW, 110-2.)
The Sixth Subplane
The second sub-plane [Ed. Sixth, counting from the bottom up] seems especially the habitat of the selfish or unspiritual religionist; here he wears his golden crown and worships his own grossly material representation of the particular deity of his country and time. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 55.)
The sixth Kâmalokic region resembles the fifth, but is far more refined, and is largely inhabited by souls of a more advanced type, wearing out the astral vesture in which much of their mental energies had worked while they were in the physical body. Their delay is here due to the large part played by selfishness in their artistic and intellectual life, and to the prostitution of their talents to the gratification of the desire-nature in a refined and delicate way.
Their surroundings are the best that are found in Kâmaloka, as their creative thoughts fashion the luminous materials of their temporary home into fair landscapes and rippling oceans, snow-clad mountains and fertile plains, scenes that are of fairy-like beauty compared with even the most exquisite that earth can show. Religionists also are found here, of a slightly more progressed kind than those in the division immediately below, and with more definite views of their own limitations. They look forward more clearly to passing out of their present sphere, and reaching a higher state. (Annie Besant, AW, 112-3.)
The Seventh and Highest Subplane
The highest subdivision appears to be specially appropriate to those who during life have devoted themselves to materialistic but intellectual pursuits, following them not for the sake of benefiting their fellowmen thereby, as from motives of selfish ambition or for the sake of intellectual exercise. Such persons will often remain upon this level for many long years - happy enough indeed in working out their intellectual problems, but doing no good to anyone, and making but little progress on their way towards the heaven-world. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 55.)
The seventh, the highest, subdivision of Kâmaloka [Ed. The first subdivision if one is counting from the lowest up], is occupied almost entirely by intellectual men and women who were either pronouncedly materialistic while on earth, or who are so wedded to the ways in which knowledge is gained by the lower mind in the physical body that they continue its pursuit in the old ways, though with enlarged faculties. One recalls Charles Lamb's dislike of the idea that in heaven knowledge would have to be gained "by some awkward process of intuition" instead of through his beloved books. Many a student lives for long years, sometimes for centuries - according to H.P.Blavatsky - literally in the astral library, conning eagerly all books that deal with his favourite subject, and perfectly contented with his lot.
Men who have been keenly set on some line of intellectual investigation, and have thrown off the physical body, with their thirst for knowledge unslaked, pursue their object still with unwearied persistence, fettered by their clinging to the physical modes of study. Often such men are still sceptical as to the higher possibilities that lie before them, and shrink from the prospect of what is practically a second death - the sinking into unconsciousness ere the soul is born into the higher life of heaven. Politicians, statesmen, men of science, dwell for a while in this region, slowly disentangling themselves from the astral body, still held to the lower life by their keen and vivid interest in the movements in which they have played so large a part, and in the effort to work out astrally some of the schemes from which Death snatched them ere yet they had reached fruition. (Annie Besant, AW, 13-4.)
The Astral Faculties
The Astral Body
The astral or kâmic body, the desire-body ... is composed of astral matter only, is able to range the astral plane when freed from the physical body, and is the proper vehicle of the Ego on that plane; it is brought with him by the Ego when he comes to re-incarnate. (Annie Besant, MHB, n.p.)
For the astral body is the vehicle of man's kâmic consciousness, the seat of all animal passions and desires, the centre of the senses, as already said, where all sensations arise. (Annie Besant, MHB, n.p.)
The astral body is definitely needed in order that by means of it one may be able to sympathize with people, and also because of its function as a reflector of the buddhic body. In the case of a developed person there is no colour in his astral body except what is mirrored from the higher planes; it only reflects and shows the most delicate tints of colour. (Charles Leadbeater in Annie Besant and Leadbeater, CLP, 46.)
The Astral vs. the Etheric Bodies
On looking at a man's lower bodies with astral vision, the etheric double (Linga Sharira) and the astral body (kâmic body) are seen interpenetrating each other, as both interpenetrate the dense physical, and hence some confusion has arisen in the past and the names Linga Sharira and astral body have been used interchangeably, while the latter name has also been used for the kâmic or desire-body. This loose terminology has caused much trouble, as the functions of the kâmic body, termed the astral body, have often been understood as the functions of the etheric double, also termed the astral body, and the student, unable to see for himself, has been hopelessly entangled in apparent contradictions. Careful observations on the formation of these two bodies now enable us to say definitely that the etheric double is composed of the physical ethers only, and cannot, if extruded leave the physical plane or go far away from its denser counterpart; further, that it is built after the mould given by the Lords of Karma, and is not brought with him by the Ego, but awaits him with the physical body formed upon it. The astral or kâmic body, the desire-body, on the other hand, is composed of astral matter only, is able to range the astral plane when freed from the physical body, and is the proper vehicle of the Ego on that plane; it is brought with him by the Ego when he comes to re-incarnate. Under these circumstances it is better to call the first the etheric double, and the second the astral body, and so avoid confusion. (Annie Besant, MHB, 29-30n.)
Astral Matter and Auras
Every material object, every particle even, has its astral counterpart; and this counterpart is itself not a simple body, but is usually extremely complex, being composed of various kinds of astral matter. In addition to this each living creature is surrounded with an atmosphere of its own, usually called its aura, and in the case of human beings this aura forms of itself a very fascinating branch of study. It is seen as an oval mass of luminous mist of highly complex structure, and from its shape has sometimes been called the auric egg. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 20-1.)
Most brilliant and most easily seen of all, perhaps, though belonging to a more refined order of matter - the astral - is that part of the aura which expresses by its vivid and ever-changing flashes of colour the different desires which sweep across the man's mind from moment to moment. This is the true astral body. Behind that, and consisting of a finer grade of matter again - that of the form-levels of the mental plane - lies the mental body or aura of the lower mind, whose colours, changing only by slow degrees as the man lives his life, show the trend of his thoughts and the disposition and character of his personality. Still higher and infinitely more beautiful, where at all clearly developed, is the living light of the causal body, the vehicle of the higher self, which shows the stage of development of the real ego its passage from birth to birth. But to see these the pupil must, of course, have developed the vision of the levels to which they belong.
It will save the student much trouble if he learns at once to regard these auras not as mere emanations, but as the actual manifestation of the ego on their respective planes - if he understands that it is the ego which is the real man, not the various bodies which on the lower planes represent him. So long as the reincarnating ego remains upon the plane which is his true home in the formless levels, the vehicle which he inhabits is the causal body, but when he descends into the form-level he must, in order to be able to function upon them, clothe himself in their matter; and the matter that he thus attracts to himself furnishes his mind-body.
Similarly, descending into the astral plane he forms his astral or desire-body out of its matter, though still retaining all the other bodies, and on his still further descent to this lowest plane of all the physical body is formed according to the etheric mould supplied by the Lords of Karma. ... As they all occupy the same space, the finer interpenetrating the grosser, it needs careful study and much practice to enable the neophyte to distinguish clearly at a glance the one from the other. Nevertheless the human aura, or more usually some one part of it only, is not infrequently one of the first purely astral objects seen by the untrained, though in such a case its indications are naturally likely to be misunderstood. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 22-3.)
Though the astral aura from the brilliancy of its flashes of colour may often be more conspicuous, the nerve-ether and the etheric double are really of a much denser order of matter, being within the limits of the physical plane, though invisible to ordinary sight. If we examine with psychic faculty the body of a newly-born child, we shall find it permeated not only by astral matter of every degree of density, but also by the several grades of etheric matter. If we take the trouble to trace these inner bodies backwards to their origin, we find that it is of the latter that the etheric double - the mould upon which the physical body is built up - is formed by the agents of the Lords of Karma; while the astral matter has been gathered together by the descending ego, not consciously, but automatically, as he passes through the astral plane. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 24.)
The Astral Senses
When a man definitely attains the astral conscious—ness he finds himself much less hampered along all the three lines which we have instanced. In the astral body he has no longer sense-organs, but he does not need them, for what in that world corres—ponds to our senses works without needing a specialised organ. Strictly speaking, the word sight is hardly applicable to the perception of things in the astral world; but that knowledge of surrounding objects which we gain by seeing them is as readily and much more perfectly acquired in that higher vehicle. Every particle of the astral body is res—ponsive, though only to vibrations of its own sub—level; thus in that higher life we get the effect of seeing all round us simultaneously, instead of only in one direction. (Charles Leadbeater, MON, 38.)
This vast atmosphere of elemental essence is ever answering to vibrations caused by thoughts, feelings, and desires, and is thrown into commotion by a rush of any of these like bubbles in boiling water. ( C.W. Leadbeater, Astral Plane, p. 52).
The duration of the form depends on the strength of the impulse to which it owes its birth; the clearness of its outline depends on the precision of the thinking, and the colour depends on the quality - intellectual, devotional, passional - of the thought. The vague loose thoughts which are so largely produced by undeveloped minds gather round themselves loose clouds of elemental essence when they arrive in the astral world, and drift about, attracted hither and thither to other clouds of similar nature, clinging round the astral bodies of persons whose magnetism attracts them - either good or evil - and after a while disintegrating, to again form a part of the general atmosphere of elemental essence. While they maintain a separate existence they are living entities, with bodies of elemental essence and thoughts as the ensouling lives, and they are then called artificial elementals, or thought-forms. Clear, precise thoughts have each their own definite shapes, with sharp clean outlines, and show an endless variety of designs. They are shaped by vibrations set up by thought, just as on the physical plane we find figures which are shaped by vibrations set up by sound. "Voice-figures" offer a very fair analogy for "thought-figures," for nature, with all her infinite variety, is very conservative of principles, and reproduces the same methods of working on plane after plane in her realms. These clearly defined artificial elementals have a longer and much more active life than their cloudy brethren, exercising a far stronger influence on the astral bodies (and through them on the minds) of those to whom they are attracted. They set up in them vibrations similar to their own, and thus thoughts spread from mind to mind without terrestrial expression. More than this: they can be directed by the thinker towards any person he desires to reach, their potency depending on the strength of his will and the intensity of his mental power. (Annie Besant, AW, 66-7.)
Feeling or Desire Forms
Among average people the artificial elementals created by feeling or desire are more vigorous and more definite than those created by thought. Thus an outburst of anger will cause a very definitely outlined and powerful flash of red, and sustained anger will make a dangerous elemental, red in colour, and pointed, barbed, or otherwise qualified to injure. Love, according to its quality, will set up forms more or less beautiful in colour and design, all shades of crimson to the most exquisite and soft hues of rose, like the palest blushes of sunset or the dawn, clouds of tenderly strong protective shapes. Many a Mother's loving prayers go to hover round her son as angel-forms, turning aside from him evil influences that perchance his own thoughts are attracting. (Annie Besant, AW, 67-8.)
The Astral Body of an Undeveloped Person
We must now turn to the consideration of the human astral body during the period of existence in this world, and study its nature and constitution as well as its relations with the astral realm. We will take the astral body of (a) an undeveloped man, (b) an average man, and (c) a spiritually developed man.
(a) An undeveloped man's astral body is a cloudy, loosely organised, vaguely outlined mass of astral spirit-matter, containing materials - both astral matter and elemental essence - drawn from all the subdivisions of the astral plane, but with a predominance of substances from the lower, so that it is dense and coarse in texture, fit to respond to all the stimuli connected with the passions and appetites. The colours caused by the rates of vibration are dull, muddy, and dusky - brown, dull reds, dirty greens, are predominant hues. There is no play of light or quickly changing flashing of colours through this astral body, but the various passions show themselves as heavy surges, or, when violent, as flashes ; thus sexual passion will send a wave of muddy crimson, rage a flash of lurid red.
The astral body is larger than the physical, extending round it in all directions ten to twelve inches in such a case as we are considering. The centres of the organs of sense are definitely marked, and are active when worked on from without ; but in quiescence the life-streams are sluggish, and the astral body, stimulated neither from the physical nor mental worlds, is drowsy and indifferent. (the student will recognise here the predominance of the tâmasic guna, the quality of darkness or inertness in nature.)
It is a constant characteristic of the undeveloped state that activity is prompted from without rather from the inner consciousness. A stone to be moved must be pushed; a plant moves under the attractions of light and moisture; an animal becomes active when stirred by hunger: a poorly developed man needs to be prompted in similar ways. Not till the mind is partly grown does it begin to initiate action. The centres of higher activities, (the seven Chakras, or wheels, so named from the whirling appearance they present, like wheels of living fire when in activity) related to the independent functioning of the astral senses, are scarcely visible. A man at this stage requires for his evolution violent sensations of every kind, to arouse the nature and stimulate it into activity. Heavy blows from the outer world, both of pleasure and pain, are wanted to awaken and spur to action.
The more numerous and violent the sensations, the more he can be made to feel, the better for his growth. At this stage quality matters little, quantity and vigour are the main requisites. The beginnings of this man's morality will be in his passions; a slight impulse of unselfishness in his relations to wife and child or friend, will be the first step upwards, by causing vibrations in the finer matter of his astral body and attracting into it more elemental essence of an appropriate kind. The astral body is constantly changing its materials under this play of the passions, appetites, desires, and emotions.
All good ones strengthen the finer parts of the body, shake out some of the coarser constituents, draw into it the subtler materials, and attract round it elementals of a beneficent kind who aid in the renovating process. All evil ones have diametrically opposite effects, strengthening the coarser, expelling the finer, drawing in more of the former, and attracting elementals who help in the deteriorating process.
The man's moral and intellectual powers are so embryonic in the case we are considering that most of the building and changing of his astral body may be said to be done for him rather than by him. It depends more on his external circumstances than on his own will, for, as just said, it is characteristic of a low stage of development that a man is moved from without and through the body much more than from within and by the mind. It is a sign of considerable advance when a man begins to be moved by the will, by his own energy, self-determined, instead of being moved by desire, i.e., by a response to an external attraction or repulsion.
In sleep the astral body, enveloping the consciousness, slips out of the physical vehicle, leaving the dense and etheric bodies to slumber. At this stage, however, the consciousness is not awake in the astral body, lacking the strong contacts that spur it while in the physical frame, and the only things that affect the astral body may be elementals of the coarser kinds, that may set up therein vibrations which are reflected to the etheric and dense brains, and induce dreams of animal pleasures. The astral body floats just over the physical, held by its strong attraction, and cannot go far away from it. (Annie Besant, AW, 80-4.)
The Astral Body of an Average Person
(b) In the average moral and intellectual man the astral body shows an immense advance on that just described. It is larger in size, its materials are more balanced in quality, the presence of the rarer kinds giving a certain luminous quality to the whole, while the expression of the higher emotions sends playing through it beautiful ripples of colour. Its outline is clear and definite, instead of vague and shifting, as in the former case, and it assumes the likeness of its owner. It is obviously becoming a vehicle for the inner man, with good definite organisation and stability, a body fit and ready to function, and able to maintain itself, apart from the physical. While retaining great plasticity, it yet has a normal form, to which it continuously recurs when any pressure is removed that may have caused it to change its outline.
Its activity is constant, and hence it is in perpetual vibration, showing endless varieties of changing hues ; also the "wheels" are clearly visible though not yet functioning (here the student will note the predominance of the râjasic guna, the quality of activity in nature). It responds quickly to all the contacts coming to it through the physical body, and is stirred by the influences rained on it from the conscious entity within, memory and imagination stimulating it to action, and causing it to become the prompter of the body to activity instead of only being moved by it.
Its purification proceeds along the same lines as in the former case - the expulsion of lower constituents by setting up vibrations antagonistic to them and the drawing in of finer materials in their place. But now the increased moral intellectual development of the man puts the building almost entirely under his own control, for he is no longer driven here and there by stimuli from external nature, but reasons, judges, and resists or yields as he thinks well. By the exercise of well-directed thought he can rapidly affect the astral body, and hence its improvement can proceed apace. Nor is it necessary that he should understand the modus operandi in order to bring about the effect, any more than that a man should understand the laws of light in order to see.
In sleep, this well-developed astral body slips, as usual, from its physical encasement, but is by no means held captive by it, as in the former case. It roams about in the astral world, drifted hither and thither by the astral currents, while the consciousness within it, not yet able to direct its movements, is awake, engaged in the enjoyment of its own mental images and mental activities, and able also to receive impressions through its astral covering, and to change them into mental pictures. In this way a man may gain knowledge when out of the body, and may subsequently impress it on the brain as a vivid dream or vision, or without this link of memory it may filter through into the brain-consciousness. (Annie Besant, AW, 84-6.)
The Astral Body of a Spiritually-Developed Person
(c) The astral body of a spiritually-developed man is composed of the finest particles of each subdivision of astral matter, the higher kinds largely predominating in amount. It is therefore a beautiful object in luminosity and colour, hues not known on earth showing themselves under the impulses thrown into it by the purified mind. The wheels of fire are now seen to deserve their names, and their whirling motion denotes the activity of the higher senses. Such a body is, in the full sense of the words, a vehicle of consciousness, for in the course of evolution it has been vivified in every organ and brought under the complete control of its owner.
When in it he leaves the physical body there is no break in consciousness; he merely shakes off his heavier vesture, and finds himself unencumbered by its weight. He can move anywhere within the astral sphere with immense rapidity, and is no longer bound by the narrow terrestrial conditions. His body answers to his will, reflects and obeys his thought. His opportunities for serving humanity are thus enormously increased, and his powers are directed by his virtue and his beneficence. The absence of gross particles in his astral body renders it incapable of responding to the promptings of lower objects of desire, and they turn away from him as beyond their attraction. The whole body vibrates only in answer to the higher emotions, his love has grown into devotion, his energy is curbed by patience.
Gentle, calm, serene, full of power, but with no trace of restlessness, such a man "all the Siddhis stand ready to serve." (here the sâttvic guna, the quality of bliss and purity in nature, is predominant. Siddhis are superphysical powers). (Annie Besant, AW, 86-7.)
Life in the High Astral or Summerlands
The Process of Growth on the Other Side
Post-mortem values have very little to do with earth reputations or achievement, nor are they always speedily discovered. Persons well known on earth, T.E. Lawrence for example, do not always get on well.
These travelers gradually extricate themselves from their difficulties with help, but fundamentally but their own efforts. We see various ways in which, meanwhile, some remain entangled in the same problems they failed to deal with when on earth. In time a self-judgement arises of all the events of the past life and the result is sometimes painful. With adjustment to this new life, the mental and emotional powers gradually become keener and deeper, but the resulting growth and change in values calls for a good deal of strenuous effort. Ethical and spiritual laws are found to govern life after death, but these do not fully coincide with those given in conventional religious teaching on earth.
Many accounts picture how human beings come to revalue the various aspects of their own character. They reorient themselves, too, to changes in the nature of human relationships. Meetings are described with superior intelligences who, it becomes evident, have little interest in what we would call their own personality. Companionship alters and intensifies. As such changes come about, narrators proclaim that they are finding that life is much larger than foreseen by them on earth and yet they recognize that they are still only at the very beginning of knowledge. (Paul Beard, LO, 13.)
Recapturing the Prime of Life
In the Summerland many declare that they find that their new 'body' or vehicle of consciousness gradually comes to resemble the one which was theirs on earth when in their youthful prime. This too is a condition of mind. They find that they need no longer carry around with them the concept of an old, tired and imperfect body - the illusion of age. When they claim to be growing younger every day, and to be growing back to their prime, this must not be looked upon as some sort of physiological miracle. It is simply a change of consciousness to which the feeling-self adapts. (Paul Beard, LO, 82.)
Life is More Active, Plastic, Vitalized than on Earth
Life there is more active than on the physical plane, and form is more plastic. The spirit-matter of that plane is more highly vitalised and finer than any grade of spirit-matter in the physical world. (Annie Besant, AW, 63.)
The first point which it is necessary to make clear in describing this astral plane is its absolute reality. In using that word I am not speaking from that metaphysical standpoint from which all but the One Unmanifested is unreal because impermanent; I am using the word in its plain, every-day sense, and I mean by it that the objects and inhabitants of the astral plane are real in exactly the same way as our own bodies, our furniture, our houses or monuments are real - as real as Charing Cross, to quote an expressive remark from one of the earliest Theosophical works. They will no more endure for ever than will objects on the physical plane, but they are nevertheless realities from our point of view while they last - realities which we cannot afford to ignore merely because the majority of mankind is as yet unconscious, or but vaguely conscious, of their existence. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 3-4.)
A great deal of totally unnecessary uneasiness and even acute suffering has been caused by those who still continue to teach the world silly fables about nonexistent bugbears instead of using reason and common sense. The baseless and blasphemous hellfire theory has done more harm than even its promoters know, for it has worked evil beyond the grave as well as on this side. But presently the 'dead' man will meet with some other dead person [in the astral plane] who has been more sensibly instructed, and will learn from him that there is no cause for fear, and that there is a rational life to be lived in this new world, just as there was in the old one.
He will find by degrees that there is very much that is new as well as much that is a counterpart of that which he already knows; for in this astral world thoughts and desires express themselves in visible forms though these are composed mostly of the finer matter of the plane. As his astral life proceeds, these become more and more prominent, for we must remember that he is all the while steadily withdrawing further and further into himself. (Charles Leadbeater, LAD, 12.)
The majority of men spend the greater part of their waking life and most of their strength in work that they do not really like, that they would not do at all if it were not necessary in order to earn their living, or support those who are dependent upon them.
Realize the condition of the man when all necessity for this grinding toil is over, when it is no longer necessary to earn a living, since the astral body requires no food nor clothing nor lodging. Then for the first time since earliest childhood that man is free to do precisely what he likes, and can devote his whole time to whatever may be his chosen occupation - so long, that is, as it is of such a nature as to be capable of realization without physical matter.
Suppose that a man's greatest delight is in music; upon the astral plane he has the opportunity of listening to all the grandest music that earth can produce, and is even able under these new conditions to hear far more in it than before, since here, other and fuller harmonies than our dull ears can grasp are now within his reach. The person whose delight is in art, who loves beauty in form and colour, has all the loveliness of this higher world before him from which to choose. If his delight is in beauty in Nature, he has unequalled possibilities for indulging in it; for he can readily and rapidly move from place to place, and enjoy in quick succession wonders of Nature which the physical man would need years to visit.
If his fancy turns towards science or history, the libraries and the laboratories of the world are at his disposal, and his comprehension of processes in chemistry and biology would be far fuller than ever before, for now he could see the inner as well as the outer workings, and many of the causes as well as the effects. And in all the cases there is the wonderful additional delight that no fatigue is possible. Here we know how constantly, when we are making some progress in our studies or our experiments, we are unable to carry them on because the brain will bear no more than a certain amount of strain; outside of the physical no fatigue seems to exist, for it is in reality the brain and not the mind that tires.
All this time I have been speaking of mere selfish gratification, even though it be of the rational and intellectual kind. But there are those among us who would not be satisfied without something higher than this - whose greatest joy in any life would consist in serving their fellowmen. What has the astral life in store for them? They will pursue their philanthropy more vigorously than ever, and under better conditions than on this lower plane. There are thousands whom they can help, and with far greater certainty of really being able to do good than is usually possible in this life.
Some devote themselves thus to the general good; some are especially occupied with cases among their own family or friends, either living or dead. It is a strange inversion of the facts, this employment of those words living and dead; for surely we are the dead, we who are buried in these gross cramping physical bodies; and they are truly the living, who are so much freer and more capable, because less hampered. Often the mother who has passed into that higher life will still watch over her child and be to him a veritable guardian angel; often the 'dead' husband still remains within reach, and in touch with his sorrowing wife, thankful if even now and then he is able to make her feel that he lives in strength and love beside her as of yore. (Charles Leadbeater, LAD, 17-9.)
The dead man is all the while steadily withdrawing into himself, and therefore passing rapidly out of touch with earthly things; and the most highly developed, and therefore the most helpful of men, are precisely those who must pass away from earth most quickly. (Charles Leadbeater, LAD, 54.)
3. The Ordinary Person after death. Needless to say this class is millions of times larger than those of which we have spoken, and the character and condition of its members vary within extremely wide limits. Within similarly wide limits may vary also the length of their lives upon the astral plane, for while there are those who pass only a few days or hours there, others remain upon this level for many years and even centuries. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 47-8.)
The average man has by no means freed himself from all lower desires before death, and it takes a long period of more or less fully conscious life on the various subdivisions of the astral plane to allow the forces which he has generated to work themselves out, and thus release the ego.
Every one after death has to pass through all the subdivisions of the astral plane on his way to the heaven—world, though it must not be inferred that he will be conscious upon all of them. Precisely as it is necessary that the physical body should contain within its constitution physical matter in all its conditions, solid, liquid, gaseous, and etheric, so it is indispensable that the astral vehicle should contain particles belonging to all the corresponding subdivisions of astral matter, though the proportions may vary greatly in different cases.
It must be remembered that along with the matter of his astral body a man picks up the corresponding elemental essence, and that during his life this essence is segregated from the ocean of similar matter around, and practically becomes for that time what may be described as a kind of artificial elemental. This has temporarily a definite separate existence of its own, and follows the course of its own evolution downwards into matter without any reference to (or indeed any knowledge of) the convenience or interest of the ego to whom it happens to be attached - thus causing that perpetual struggle between the will of the flesh and the will of the spirit to which religious writers so often refer.
Yet though it is "a law of the members warring against the law of the mind", though if the man obeys it instead of controlling it his evolution will be seriously hindered, it must not be thought of as in any way evil in itself, for it is still a Law - still an outpouring of the Divine Power going on its orderly course, though that course in this instance happens to be downwards into matter instead of upwards and away from it, as ours is.
When the man passes away at death from the physical plane the disintegrating forces of Nature begin to operate upon his astral body, and this elemental thus finds his existence as a separate entity endangered. He sets to work therefore to defend himself, and to hold the astral body together as long as possible; and his method of doing this is to rearrange the matter of which it is composed in a sort of stratified series of shells, leaving that of the lowest (and therefore coarsest and grossest) sub-plane on the outside, since that will offer the greatest resistance to disintegration. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 49-51.)
We can Move Fast but not Instantaneously
Realise how in the astral body we can move quickly through space - not instantaneously, but still quickly; for in two or three minutes we might move round the world. But even then we cannot get anywhere without passing through the intervening space. (Charles Leadbeater, MON, 14.)
The limitation of space has not yet disappeared, but its inconveniences are reduced to a minimum. We no longer need the clumsy methods of trans—portation with which we are familiar down here; the finer matter of this higher world responds so readily to the action of thought that merely to wish to be at any place is at once to begin to journey towards it. The journey still takes an appreciable time, even though the amount is small and we can reach the other side of the world in a few minutes. But the few minutes are necessary, and we still have the sensation of passing through space, and can check ourselves at any moment of our journey, so as to visit the intermediate countries. (Charles Leadbeater, MON, 38.)
Our Vision is Radically Different
To change abruptly ... into the astral consciousness gives one so different an outlook that many familiar objects are entirely unrecognisable. Such a thing, for example, as a book or a water-bottle presents to us a certain appearance with which we are familiar; but if we / suddenly find ourselves able to see that object from all sides at once, as well as from above and below, we shall perhaps realise that it presents an appear—ance so different that we should require a considerable amount of mental adjustment before we could name it with certainty. (Charles Leadbeater, MON, 56-7.) When a man definitely attains the astral conscious—ness he finds himself much less hampered along all the three lines which we have instanced. In the astral body he has no longer sense-organs, but he does not need them, for what in that world corres—ponds to our senses works without needing a specialised organ. Strictly speaking, the word sight is hardly applicable to the perception of things in the astral world; but that knowledge of surrounding objects which we gain by seeing them is as readily and much more perfectly acquired in that higher vehicle. Every particle of the astral body is res—ponsive, though only to vibrations of its own sub—level; thus in that higher life we get the effect of seeing all round us simultaneously, instead of only in one direction. (Charles Leadbeater, MON, 38.)
Residents of Astral Plane Cannot See Earth Material
The regular inhabitant of the astral plane is under ordinary circumstances conscious only of the objects of that plane, physical matter being to him as entirely invisible as is astral matter to the majority of mankind. (Charles Leadbeater, AP, 29.)
Thoughts can be Hidden but not Feelings
All their feelings lie open to us, so that they cannot deceive us about them, although they can do so with regard to their thoughts. (Charles Leadbeater, MON, 14.)
Emotions are Keen
The astral world is the very home of passion and emotion, and therefore those who yield themselves to an emotion can / experience it with a vigour and a keenness merci—fully unknown on earth. Just as we have said that most of the strength of thought is spent in setting in motion the brain-particles, so most of the efficiency of any emotion is exhausted in transmission to the physical plane, so that all that we ever see down here is the remnant which is left of the real feeling, after all this work has been done by it. The whole of that force is available in its own world, and so it is possible there to feel a far more intense affection or devotion than we can ever gain amid the mists of earth.
Naturally, the same thing is true with regard to the less pleasant emotions; accessions of hatred and envy, or waves of misery or fear, are a hundred times. more formidable on that plane than on this. So that the man who has no self-control is liable to experience an intensity of suffering which is unimaginable amidst the benignantly-imposed res—trictions of common life.
The advantage is that, little as most people realise it, in the astral world all pain and suffering is in reality voluntary and absolutely under control, and that is why life at that level is so much easier for the man who understands. (Charles Leadbeater, MON, 38-40.)
We gain greatly also from the fact that fatigue has disappeared, so that we axe able to work steadily and continuously. (Charles Leadbeater, MON, 38.)
The Intellect Works Freer
The intellect is far freer here than in the lower world, as it has no longer to exhaust most of its strength in setting in motion the heavy and sluggish particles of the physical brain. (Charles Leadbeater, MON, 38.)
Pain and Suffering are Lessened
Another advantage is that we are far less hampered at this level by pain and suffering. I do not mean that there is no suffering in the astral world; on the contrary, it may be in many ways more acute than it can be down here, but on the other hand it can much more readily be controlled. (Charles Leadbeater, MON, 38.)
The far finer astral matter responds immediately to an exertion of the will, so that while only the few can perfectly and instantly banish severe physical pain, every one can in a moment drive away the suffering, caused by a strong emotion. The man has only to exert his will, and the passion straightway dis—appears. This assertion will sound startling to many; but a little thought will show that no man need be angry or jealous or envious; no man need allow himself to feel depression or fear; all these emotions are invariably the result of ignorance, and any man who chooses to make the effort can forth-with put them to flight. (Charles Leadbeater, MON, 41.)
Also, most of the reasons which cause suffering amid terrestrial surroundings are quite unrepresented. When we lay aside this body, there is no longer hunger or thirst, cold or heat, fatigue or sickness, poverty or riches; what room is there then for pain and suffering? One sees at a glance that that less material world cannot but be a happier one, for in that, far more than even in this, a man makes his own surroundings and can vary them at his will. (Charles Leadbeater, MON, 42.)
Our Astral Body Cannot be Injured
In the physical world fear may sometimes have a certain amount of excuse, for it is undoubtedly possible for one who is more powerful than we to injure our physical bodies. But on the astral plane no one can do hurt to another, except indeed by employing methods congruous to the plane, which are always gradual in their operation and easy to be avoided. In this world a sudden blow may / actually injure the texture of the physical body; but in the astral world all vehicles are fluidic, and a blow, a cut, or a perforation can produce no effect whatever, since the vehicle would close up again immediately, precisely as does water when a sword has passed through it. (Charles Leadbeater, MON, 40-1.)
But We can be Injured Through Emotional Outbursts
It is the world of passions and emotions, and only through his passions and emotions can man be injured. A man may be corrupted, and persuaded to harbour evil passions, unworthy emotions; but these after all can be induced only slowly, and any man who wishes to resist them can do so with perfect ease. Therefore there is no reason what—ever for fear upon the astral plane, and where it exists it is only through ignorance - ignorance which can be dispelled by a few moments' instruction and a little practice. (Charles Leadbeater, MON, 42.)
Some Live Trapped in Illusion
A group of brothers of the Celtic Church of the ninth century, former monks of Lindisfarne, speak of their life in the 'etheric' world. They too have been caught in a dream of their own...; it is a comparatively harmless dream, very much a continuation of their old earth life, which after all was the life they then chose and for which they renounced much else. They tell of the abbey, a duplicate of the one they knew on earth; they tell, even, of the flocks they believe they still tend and theirs must be almost the only account where money is spoken of as still in active circulation after death. These brethren look on their life as a loyal and patient waiting for the second coming of Christ on earth. When some of their members leave them, the remainder sorrow at this infidelity, but of course the absentees are really the brethren who have made progress, casting off this enclosing illusion and going on to a wider life. (Paul Beard, LO, 84.)
Some can Travel the Whole of the Astral Plane
The dead man who has not permitted the rearrangement of the matter of his astral body is free of the entire world, and can wander all over it at will, seeing the whole of whatever he examines, instead of only a part of it as the others do. He does not find it inconveniently crowded, for the astral world is much larger than the surface of the physical earth, while its population is somewhat smaller, because the average life of humanity in the astral world is shorter than the average of the physical. (Charles Leadbeater, TT, 84.)
Spirits Can Descend at Will but not Ascend
The lower cannot ascend, but the higher can descend at will. (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, NR, n.p.)
National and Interest Groups Tend to Stay Together
In this astral life people of the same nation and of the same interests tend to keep together, precisely as they do here. The religious people, for example, who imagine for themselves a material heaven, do not at all interfere with men of other faiths whose ideas of celestial joy are different. There is nothing to prevent a Christian from drifting into the heaven of the Hindu / or the Mohammedan, but he is little likely to do so, because his interests and attractions are all in the heaven of his own faith, along with friends who have shared that faith with him. This is by no means the true heaven described by any of the religions, but only a gross and material misrepresentation of it; the real thing will be found when we come to consider the mental world. (Charles Leadbeater, TT, 83-4.)
Since connections still endure, and those in the same state of development keep abreast, one would expect that nations are still roughly divided from each other, though language is no longer a bar, since thought has become a medium of conversation. (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, NR, n.p.)
Not only the dead, however, are the inhabitants of this astral world, but always about one third of the living as well, who have temporarily left their physical bodies behind them in sleep. (Charles Leadbeater, TT, 84.)
Nature Spirits in the Astral Plane
The astral world has also a great number of non-human inhabitants, some of them far below the level of man, and some considerably above him. The nature spirits form an enormous kingdom, some of whose members exist in the astral world, and make a large part of its population. This vast kingdom exists in the physical world also, for many of its orders wear etheric bodies, and are only just beyond the range of ordinary physical sight. Indeed, circumstances not infrequently occur under / which they can be seen, and in many lonely mountain districts these appearances are traditional among the peasants, by whom they are commonly spoken of as fairies, good people, pixies or brownies.
They are protéan, but usually prefer to wear a miniature human form. Since they are not yet individualized, they may be thought of almost as etheric and astral animals; yet many of them are intellectually quite equal to average humanity. They have their nations and types just as we have, and they are often grouped into four great classes, and called the spirits of earth, water, fire and air. Only the members of the last of these four divisions normally reside in the astral world, but their numbers as so prodigious that they are everywhere present in it. (Charles Leadbeater, TT, 84-5.)
Angels on the Astral Plane
Another great kingdom has its representatives here - the kingdom of the angels (called in India the devas). This is a body of beings who stand far higher in evolution than man, and only the lowest fringe of their hosts touches the astral world - a fringe whose constituent members are perhaps at about the level of development of what we should call a distinctly good man.
We are neither the only nor even the principal inhabitants of our solar system; there are other lines of evolution running parallel with our own which do not pass through humanity at all, though they must all pass through a level corresponding to that of humanity. On one of these other lines of evolution are the nature spirits above described, and at a higher level of that line comes this great kingdom of the angels. / At our present level of evolution they come into obvious contact with us only very rarely, but as we develop we shall be likely to see more of them - especially as the cyclic progress of the world is now bringing it more and more under the influence of the Seventh Ray. This Seventh Ray has ceremonial for one of its characteristics, and it is through ceremonial such as that of the Church or of Free-masonry that we come most easily into touch with the angelic kingdom. (Charles Leadbeater, TT, 85-6.)