THEOSOPHY, Vol. 10, No. 2, December, 1921
(Pages 40-46; Size: 23K)
THE ASTRAL BODY
[Part 1 of a 7-part series]
NO MAN however gross and material he may be, can avoid leading a double existence; one in the visible universe, the other in the invisible.
The life-principle which animates his physical frame is chiefly in the astral body; and while the more animal portions of him rest, the more spiritual ones know neither limits nor obstacles.
The visible physical man is:-- brain, nerves, blood, bones, lymph, muscles, organs of sensation and action, and skin. The unseen physical man is:-- astral body, passions and desires, and life-principle, called prana, or jiva.
There are many names for the astral body, and with the Hindus it is Bhuta, or devil, when it is by death released from the body and the mind: they are not far wrong if we abolish the old notion that a devil is an angel fallen from heaven, for this bodily devil is something which rises from the earth.
The model for the growing child in the womb is the astral body already perfect in shape before the child is born. It is on this the molecules arrange themselves until the child is complete, and the presence of the ethereal design-body will explain how the form grows into shape, how the eyes push themselves out from within to the surface of the face, and many other mysterious matters in embryology which are passed over by medical men with a description, but with no explanation.
The matter of which it is composed is electrical and magnetic in its essence, and is just what the whole world was composed of in the dim past when the processes of evolution had not yet arrived at the point of producing the material body for man. It is the guiding model for the physical one, and all the other kingdoms have the same astral model. Vegetables, minerals, and animals have the ethereal double, and this theory is the only one which will answer the question how it is that the seed produces its own kind, and all sentient beings bring forth their like. Biologists can only say that the facts are as we know them, but can give no reason why the acorn will never grow anything but an oak except that no man ever knew it to be otherwise. But in the old schools the true doctrine was known, and it has been once again brought out in the west through the efforts of H. P. Blavatsky and those who have found inspiration in her words.
That which survives as an individuality after the death of the body is the astral soul, which Plato, in the Timaeus and Gorgias, calls the mortal soul, for, according to the Hermetic Doctrine, it throws off its more material particles at every progressive change into a higher sphere.
Socrates narrates to Callicles, that his mortal soul retains all the characteristics of the body after the death of the latter; so much so, indeed, that a man marked with a whip will have his astral body "full of the prints and scars." The astral soul is the faithful duplicate of the body, both in a physical and spiritual sense.
The astral body, which in this life is covered with a gross physical envelope, becomes, -- when relieved of that covering by the process of corporeal death, -- in its turn the shell of another and more ethereal body.
This begins developing from the moment of death, and becomes perfected when the astral body of the earthly form finally separates from it. This process, they say, is repeated at every new transition from sphere to sphere.
From the remotest antiquity mankind as a whole has always been convinced of the existence of a personal spiritual entity within the personal physical man. This inner entity was more or less divine according to its proximity to the crown-Chrestos. The closer the union the more serene man's destiny, the less dangerous the external conditions. This belief is neither bigotry nor superstition, -- only an ever-present instinctive feeling of another spiritual and invisible world, which, though it be subjective to the senses of the outward man, is perfectly objective to the inner ego.
The Divine, the highest and immortal spirit can be neither punished nor rewarded. To maintain such a doctrine would be at the same time absurd and blasphemous, for it is not merely a flame lit at the central and inexhaustible fountain of light, but actually a portion of it, and of identical essence. It assures immortality to the individual astral being in proportion to the willingness of the latter to receive it.
So long as the double man, i.e., the man of flesh and spirit, keeps within the law of spiritual continuity, so long as the divine spark lingers in him, however faintly, he is on the road to an immortality in the future state. The secret doctrine teaches that man, if he wins immortality, will remain forever the trinity that he is in life, and will continue so throughout the spheres.
But those who resign themselves to a materialistic existence, shutting out the divine radiance shed by their spirit at the beginning of the earthly pilgrimage, which serves as a focus for the light in the soul, -- such beings as these, having left behind conscience and spirit, and crossed the boundaries of matter, will of necessity have to follow its laws. Matter is as indestructible and eternal as the immortal spirit itself, but only in its particles, and not as organized forms.
The body of so grossly materialistic a person as above described, having been deserted by its spirit before physical death, when that event occurs the plastic material -- astral soul -- following the laws of blind matter, shapes itself thoroughly into the mould which vice has been gradually preparing for it through the earth-life of the individual. Then, as Plato says, it assumes the form of that "animal to which it resembled in its evil ways" during life. "It is an ancient saying," he tells us, "that the souls departing hence exist in Hades and return hither again and are produced from the dead. But those who are found to have lived an eminently holy life, these are they who arrive at the pure abode ABOVE, and dwell on the upper parts OF THE EARTH".
We have shown that the "secret doctrine" does not concede immortality to all men alike. "The eye would never see the sun if it were not of the nature of the sun," said Plotinus. "Only through the highest purity and chastity we shall approach nearer to God, and receive in the contemplation of Him the true knowledge and insight," writes Porphyry. If the human soul has neglected during its life-time to receive its illumination from its Divine Spirit, our personal God, then it becomes difficult for the gross and sensual man to survive for a great length of time his physical death.
If during life the ultimate and desperate effort of the inner self to reunite itself with the faintly glimmering ray of its divine parent is neglected: if this ray is allowed to be more and more shut out by the thickening crust of matter, the soul, once freed from the body, follows its earthly attractions and is magnetically drawn into and held within the dense fogs of the material atmosphere. Then it begins to sink lower and lower, until it finds itself, when returned to consciousness, in what the ancients termed Hades. The annihilation of such a soul is never instantaneous; it may last centuries, perhaps, for nature never proceeds by jumps and starts, and the astral soul being formed of the elements, the law of evolution must bide its time. Then begins the fearful law of compensation.
No more than the misshapen monster can live long after its physical birth can the soul, once that it has become too material, exist after its birth into the spiritual world. The viability of the astral form is so feeble that the particles cannot cohere firmly when once it has slipped out of the unyielding capsule of the external body. Its particles, gradually obeying the disorganizing attraction of universal space, finally fly asunder beyond the possibility of reaggregation. Upon the occurrence of such a catastrophe the individual ceases to exist; his glorious Augoeides has left him.
During the intermediary period between his bodily death and the disintegration of the astral form, the latter, bound by magnetic attraction to its ghastly corpse, prowls about, and sucks vitality from susceptible victims. The man, having shut out of himself every ray of the Divine light, is lost in darkness, and therefore clings to earth and the earthly.
No astral soul, even that of a good and virtuous man, is immortal in the strictest sense; "from the elements it was formed -- to elements it must return." Only, -- while the soul of the wicked vanishes and is absorbed without redemption, that of every other person, even moderately pure, simply changes its ethereal particles for still more ethereal ones; and while there remains in it a spark of the Divine the individual man, or rather his personal ego, cannot die. "After death," says Proclus, "the soul (the spirit) continueth to linger in the aerial body (astral form) till it is entirely purified from all angry and voluptuous passions .... then doth put off by a second dying the aerial body as it did the earthly one.
Whereupon the ancients say that there is a celestial body always joined with the soul and which is immortal, luminous, and starlike."
Socrates entertained opinions identical with those of Pythagoras; and both, as the penalty of their divine philosophy, were put to a violent death. The rabble has been the same in all ages. Materialism has been, and will ever be blind to spiritual truths.
These philosophers held, with the Hindus, that God had infused into matter a portion of his own Divine Spirit, which animates and moves every particle. They taught that men have two souls, of separate and quite different natures; the one perishable -- the astral soul, or the inner fluidic body -- the other incorruptible and immortal -- the Augoeides, or portion of the Divine Spirit; that the mortal or astral soul perishes at each gradual change at the threshold of every new sphere, becoming with every transmigration more purified. The astral man, intangible and invisible as he might be to our mortal, earthly senses, is still constituted of matter, though sublimated.
In the anterior states the senses existed in germ, as it were, or in idea, until the astral plane, which is next to this one, was arrived at, and then they were concentrated so as to be the actual senses we now use through the agency of the different outer organs. These outer organs of sight, touch, hearing, and tasting, are often mistaken by the unlearned or the thoughtless for the real organs and senses; but he who stops to think must see that their outer organs are but mediators between the visible universe and the real perceiver within.
Thus is it shown that the astral body has in it the real organs of the outer sense organs. It has a complete system of nerves and arteries of its own for the conveyance of the astral fluid which is to that body as our blood is to the physical. It is the real personal man. There are located the subconscious perception and the latent memory, which the hypnotizers of the day are dealing with and being baffled by.
It is on the indestructible tablets of the astral light that is stamped the impression of every thought that we think, and every act that we perform; and that future events -- effects of long-forgotten causes -- are already delineated as a vivid picture for the eye of the seer and prophet to follow. Memory, -- the despair of the materialist, the enigma of the psychologist, the sphinx of science, -- is to the student of old philosophies merely a name to express that power which man unconsciously exerts, and shares with many of the inferior animals -- to look with inner sight into the astral light and there behold the images of past sensations and incidents. Instead of searching the cerebral ganglia for "micrographs of the living and the dead, of scenes that we have visited, of incidents in which we have borne a part," they went to the vast repository where the records of every man's life as well as every pulsation of the visible cosmos are stored up for all eternity.
That flash of memory which is traditionally supposed to show a drowning man every long-forgotten scene of his mortal life -- as the landscape is revealed to the traveller by intermittent flashes of lightning -- is simply the sudden glimpse which the struggling soul gets into the silent galleries where his history is depicted in imperishable colors.
In the stillness of the night hours when our bodily senses are fast locked in the fetters of sleep and our elementary body rests, the astral form oozes out of its earthly prison, and as Paracelsus has it, "confabulates with the outward world" and travels round the visible as well as the invisible worlds. "In sleep," he says, "the astral body (soul) is in freer motion; then it soars to its parents, and holds converse with the stars."
Dreams, forebodings, prescience, prognostications, and presentiments are impressions left by our astral spirit on our brain, which receives them more or less distinctly according to the proportion of blood with which it is supplied during the hours of sleep. The more the body is exhausted the freer is the spiritual man, and the more vivid the impressions of our soul's memory.
In heavy and robust sleep, dreamless and uninterrupted, upon awakening to outward consciousness men may sometimes remember nothing. But the impressions of scenes and landscapes which the astral body saw in its peregrinations are still there, though lying latent under the pressure of matter. They may be awakened at any moment, and then during such flashes of man's inner memory there is an instantaneous interchange of energies between the visible and the invisible universe. Between the "micrographs" of the cerebral ganglia and the photo-scenographic galleries of the astral light a current is established. And a man who knows that he has never visited in body, nor seen the landscape and person that he recognizes, may well assert that still he has seen and knows them, for the acquaintance was formed while travelling in "spirit."
To this the physiologists can have but one objection. They will answer that in natural sleep, -- perfect and deep, -- "half of our nature which is volitional is in the condition of inertia"; hence unable to travel; the more so as the existence of any such individual astral body or soul is considered by them as little else than a poetic myth.
Theologians as well as laymen labor under the erroneous impression that soul and spirit are one and the same thing. But if we study Plato and other philosophers of old we may readily perceive that while the "irrational soul," by which Plato means our astral body, or the more ethereal representation of ourselves, can have at best only a more or less prolonged continuity of existence beyond the grave, the Divine Spirit -- wrongly termed soul by the church -- is immortal by its very essence.
Some of the noble Vedantic precepts on the soul and man's mystic powers have been contributed by a Hindu scholar. "The Sankhya," he writes, "inculcates that the soul (astral body) has the following powers: shrinking into a minute bulk to which everything is pervious; enlarging to a gigantic body; assuming levity, (rising along a sunbeam to the solar orb); possessing an unlimited reach of organs, as touching the moon with the tip of the finger; irresistible will, (for instance sinking into the earth as easily as in water); dominion over all things, animate or inanimate; faculty of changing the course of nature; ability to accomplish every desire." Further he gives their various appellations: "The powers are called: 1. Anima; 2. Mahima; 3. Laghima; 4. Garima; 5. Prapti; 6. Prakamya; 7. Vashita; 8. Ishita, or divine power. The fifth, predicting future events, understanding unknown languages, curing diseases, divining unexpressed thoughts, understanding the language of the heart. The sixth is the power of converting old age into youth. The seventh is the power of mesmerizing human beings and beasts, and making them obedient; it is the power of restraining passions and emotions. The eighth power is the spiritual state, and presupposes the absence of the above seven powers, as in this state the Yogi is full of God."
The phantom hand is the extrusion of the man's inner or astral member. This is that real self whose limbs the surgeon cannot amputate; they remain behind after the outer casing is cut off, and have all the sensations the physical parts formerly experienced. This is that spiritual (astral) body which is "raised in incorruption." The same principle in the unconscious extrusion of a phantom limb by the cataleptic medium applies to the projection of his entire "double" or astral body. This may be withdrawn by the will of the medium's own inner self without his retaining in his physical brain any recollection of such an intent -- that is one phase of man's dual capacity.
Mediums are usually diseased, but the adepts of Eastern magic are uniformly of perfect mental and bodily health, and in fact the voluntary and independent production of phenomena is impossible to any others. Many have been known by Madame Blavatsky and others, and never a sick man among them. The adept retains perfect consciousness; shows no sign of bodily temperature; or any signs of morbidity; requires no "conditions," but will do his feats anywhere and everywhere; and instead of being passive and in subjection to a foreign influence, rules the forces with an iron will. The body, soul, and spirit of the adept are all conscious and working in harmony, and the body of the medium is an inert clod, and even his soul may be away in a dream while its habitation is occupied by another.
The medium need not exercise any will-power. The medium's "spiritual" entity, when not obsessed by other spirits, will act outside the will or consciousness of the physical being as surely as it acts when within the body during a fit of somnambulism. Its perceptions, external and internal, will be acuter and far more developed, precisely as they are in the sleep-walker. And this is why the materialized form sometimes knows more than the medium, for the intellectual perception of the astral entity is proportionately as much higher than the corporeal intelligence of the medium in its normal state as the spirit entity is finer than itself.
Generally the medium will be found cold, the pulse will have visibly changed, and a state of nervous prostration succeeds the phenomena, bunglingly and without discrimination attributed to disembodied spirits; whereas but one-third of them may be produced by the latter, another third by elementals, and the rest by the astral double of the medium himself.
An adept can not only project and make visible a hand, a foot, or any other portion of his body, but the whole of it. In Isis Unveiled Madame Blavatsky relates having seen one do this in full day while his hands and feet were being held by a sceptical friend whom he wished to surprise.
Little by little the whole astral form oozed out like a vapory cloud, until before them stood two forms, of which the second was an exact duplicate of the first, only slightly more shadowy.
To project this ethereal body, at no matter what distance; to render it more objective and tangible by condensing over its fluidic form the waves of the parent essence, is the great secret of the adept-magician.
COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:
We have not come up from the lower kingdoms. As self-conscious beings, with knowledge and with memory, we have voluntarily assumed the task of moving downward through the various stages of substance to meet the uprising kingdoms of the lower intelligences. The only way we can arrive at any conception of these processes is to begin at the top and not at the bottom, and follow the stages down. With each step down the stairs of being there has been a greater concretion and a greater feeling of separateness, and yet the source of all is the same and the powers that exist in every one potentially are the same.
THE DEATH OF THE BODY
[Part 2 of a 7-part series]
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(1) NOTE--[This article] is compiled from Isis Unveiled, by Madame H. P. Blavatsky, viz.: Vol. I, pages 12, 178, 179, 180, 281, 319, 327, 328, 329 and 432; Vol. II, pages 180, 503, 592, 595, 596 and 506; and 506; and from The Ocean of Theosophy, by William Q. Judge, pages 21, 33, 39, 40 and 42.
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