From the Teachings of H.P. Blavatsky & William Quan Judge
It may possibly be useful to read the article The Sevenfold Nature of Man before reading this article, as this one is a sort of expansion on the short section in that one about the Linga Sharira, the astral part of the human being. To quote briefly here from part of that article as a way of providing an introduction to the “Mysteries of the Astral Body” –
Linga Sharira – called the astral body – is the subtle, unseen “double” of the dense physical body. It is the form, mould, and blueprint upon and around which the dense physical body is built. It comes into existence before the physical body and it only fully fades out and dies when the very last remaining particle of the deceased physical body disappears and disintegrates, excepting the skeleton.
The astral body can also be thought of as the “vital body” or “energy body” of the human being because it is the vehicle through which Prana (the 3rd Principle) flows to the physical body. It is this part of our constitution which is utilised in the activities which have become known as astral travel, astral projection, and so forth. The term “astral” is used in Theosophy simply as a synonym for “subjective,” “subtle” or “inner.”
Its main connection point with the physical body is in the area of the spleen and these two bodies that we have are connected with one another throughout each lifetime by a sort of unseen umbilical cord which some have called the “silver thread” or “silver cord.”
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“This astral body, or double, permeates the physical one as color does the bowl of water. And although to the materialistic conceptions of the present day such a misty shadow is not admitted to have parts, powers, and organs, it nevertheless has all of these with a surprising power and grasp. Although perhaps a mist, it can exert under proper conditions a force equal to the viewless wind when it levels to earth the proud constructions of puny man.” – William Q. Judge, Mesmerism
Mr Judge explains in this same article that the astral body, the astral double, “is the mediator between mind and matter.” People use the phrase “mind over matter” but the only way the mind has any control, influence, and effect over the MATTER of the physical body is via the astral body, upon and around which the physical one is built.
The astral body hears the commands of the mind and causes the physical nerves and physical body to respond accordingly, to whatever extent they are able. We have all heard of cases where people have succeeded in healing their physical bodies through the use of various positive thinking or positive affirmation techniques, also known as autosuggestion. Dr Émile Coué’s “Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better,” is perhaps the most well known of these. We also know that people who were perfectly healthy have managed to make themselves ill through incorrectly thinking and believing that there was something wrong with them.
The teachings of Theosophy about the Seven Principles or sevenfold nature of the human being explain that the mind principle stands higher in our inner constitution than the astral principle and that the astral principle in its turn stands higher than the physical principle. Thus our astral body which is our vital body, our energy body, receives and hears the commands and impulses from the mind – whether these are sent out consciously or unconsciously – and reacts accordingly through its vehicle of manifestation, which is our dense physical body.
Of course, the extent and degree to which this can actually take place is thoroughly regulated by our own Karma. Nothing can or does or will happen to us outside of our own Karmically predetermined lot in life, for the Law of Karma is the law of self-created destiny and in the past we created our present and in the present we are creating our future. But we are always functioning under definite restrictions and limitations, which we ourselves created through our past actions in preceding lifetimes. Here lies the main explanation as to why the vast majority of “self-healing” attempts end in failure. As H.P. Blavatsky emphatically stated in “The Key to Theosophy,” Karma is “the ultimate law of the universe.”
In explaining that the true senses belong to the astral body and that the physical senses are merely their outer representatives on the plane of gross matter, WQJ writes, “All the senses have their seat in this [body], and every one of them is a thousand-fold more extensive in range than their outer representatives, for those outer eyes and ears, and sense of touch, taste, and smell, are only gross organs which the inner ones use, but which of themselves can do nothing.”
Emphasising the fact that the physical body is merely our outer shell and that it serves as the vehicle for the astral body, he goes on to remind us that the death of the physical body is not simply due to physical disintegration but that this physical disintegration which brings about physical death is the reflection of, and reaction to, the disintegration and decay of the inner astral double. Our astral double, our astral body, remains coherent and intact for as long as our Karma permits until eventually “the term of the astral body is reached” and then “it is no longer able to hold the outer frame intact.”
In the paragraph quoted earlier, we saw that the astral body has its own “parts, powers, and organs” and that therefore “the structure of the inner astral man is definite and coherent. … Just as the outer body has a spine which is the column whereon the being sustains itself with the brain at the top, so the astral body has its spine and brain.”
WQJ teaches that the astral body is permeated with “currents,” somewhat similar to currents of electricity, which “may be called astro-nerves.” These spread out all over the astral body from the astral brain and the astral spine. “All of these are related to every organ in the outer visible body.” They are particularly connected with such centres in the outer physical body as the heart, throat, solar plexus, and spleen. Here he is making a direct reference to the chakras or energy centres but it should be borne in mind that it is unwise to focus and concentrate too much on these.
“The astral body is made of matter of very fine texture as compared with the visible body, and has a great tensile strength, so that it changes but little during a lifetime, while the physical alters every moment. And not only has it this immense strength, but at the same time possesses an elasticity permitting its extension to a considerable distance. It is flexible, plastic, extensible, and strong. 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. But it is not raw or crude matter.” – William Q. Judge, The Ocean of Theosophy
As a young woman and also on occasions in later life, Madame Blavatsky would sometimes astound those present by causing items from one end of a room – or even from another room – to be carried to her through the air or by causing a piano to start playing by itself when there was no-one sat anywhere near it. She later explained that there were several different methods by which she was able to accomplish such feats but that one of them was the ability to extend the arms and hands of her astral body as far as necessary – while her physical body remained in a seated position – and then use them to pick up the various objects and bring them back to where she was physically sat. In the same way, she was able to play the piano in a far corner of the room with her astral hands. Since no-one present on these numerous occasions possessed any suitable faculties of clairvoyance, they were unable to see what was actually going on and could only see the physical effects of her astral actions.
She did not perform such phenomena for the sake of entertaining or shocking people but in order to clearly demonstrate the actual existence of unseen powers and forces which are present – although usually latent, dormant, and undeveloped – in human beings.
On the day that HPB passed away in London in May 1891, it seems that she paid a farewell “astral visit” to her aunt Nadia in Russia. Nadia was as yet unaware that her niece had died and thus didn’t recognise until later the significance of certain phenomena that occurred in her home that day. She later explained in a letter to HPB’s sister Vera that “Several times during the night, and once during the day … the organ near her large portrait began to play suddenly. It was closed and had been touched by no one. Also, bells sounded forth without cause or reason.”
William Judge continues in “The Ocean of Theosophy”:
“The astral body 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.”
H.P. Blavatsky, in her teachings recently published in “The Secret Doctrine Dialogues,” explains that the seed of the father, which begins to grow and take form in the mother, contains the seed of the Linga Sharira, the astral double. The astral body and the subsequent and corresponding physical body which begins to grow over and around it within the mother’s womb, is related directly to a soul who at that time is in the state of Devachan (see the articles Death and the Afterlife and When We Die) but who is preparing to reincarnate on this physical plane.
WQJ writes that “at the present time the model for the growing child in the womb is the astral body… 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.”
“Man has his ‘double’ or shadow, properly so called, around which the physical body of the fetus – the future man – is built. The imagination of the mother, or an accident which affects the child, will affect also the astral body. The astral and the physical both exist before the mind is developed into action, and before the Atma awakes. This occurs when the child is seven years old, and with it comes the responsibility attaching to a conscious sentient being. This ‘double’ is born with man, dies with him, and can never separate itself far from the body during life, and though surviving him, it disintegrates, pari passu, with the corpse. It is this which is sometimes seen over the graves like a luminous figure of the man that was, during certain atmospheric conditions. From its physical aspect it is, during life, man’s vital double, and after death, only the gases given off from the decaying body. But, as regards its origin and essence, it is something more. This double is what we have agreed to call Linga-sarira, but which I would propose to call, for greater convenience, ‘Protean’ or ‘Plastic Body’.” – H.P. Blavatsky, Astral Bodies, or Doppelgangers
Studying further in “The Ocean of Theosophy,” we read that “In the ordinary man who has not been trained in practical occultism or who has not the faculty by birth, the astral body cannot go more than a few feet from the physical one. It is a part of that physical, it sustains it and is incorporated in it just as the fibers of the mango are all through that fruit. But there are those who, by reason of practices pursued in former lives on the earth, have a power born with them of unconsciously sending out the astral body. These are mediums, some seers, and many hysterical, cataleptic, and scrofulous people. Those who have trained themselves by a long course of excessively hard discipline which reaches to the moral and mental nature and quite beyond the power of the average man of the day, can use the astral form at will, for they have gotten completely over the delusion that the physical body is a permanent part of them, and, besides, they have learned the chemical and electrical laws governing in this matter. In their case they act with knowledge and consciously; in the other cases the act is done without power to prevent it, or to bring it about at will, or to avoid the risks attendant on such use of potencies in nature of a high character.”
There is great danger in the ever-increasing interest in what have become known as “astral travel” and “astral projection.” Hundreds, if not thousands, of websites purport to be able to tell people how to function at will in their astral body and how to have all sorts of out-of-body experiences on the astral plane. Many websites charge money – sometimes a lot of money! – in exchange for revealing the supposed “secrets” of astral travel and other similar things. We sincerely hope that everyone reading these words will avoid and ignore such fraudulent, dangerous, and exploitative schemes. These types of people present and portray the conscious use of the astral body as being merely for fun, excitement, and personal pleasure. They make no mention whatsoever of helping and serving humanity or of the vital importance of inner spiritual development and of the absolute purity of our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual nature.
The vast majority of people would be filled with terrible fear if they were to actually begin functioning consciously in their astral body, particularly if they lack the ability and knowledge to be able to return to the physical body at will. The fact is that the information offered by such websites is hopelessly incomplete and usually hopelessly inaccurate too. Astral travel and astral projection are NOT for personal entertainment and they are impossible for the vast majority of people, regardless of how many different “techniques” they attempt. As Mr Judge says, they are fully and properly available only to “those who have trained themselves by a long course of excessively hard discipline which reaches to the moral and mental nature” and who “have gotten completely over the delusion that the physical body is a permanent part of them.”
And even then, they are not to be sought after but will arise and come about naturally, safely, in their own time and of their own accord, for the person who lives a pure, selfless, spiritual life, committed wholly to the welfare of others and to living at a high level of consciousness at all times. The ability to function in the astral body brings with it sacred responsibilities. It simply isn’t necessary or beneficial for the average person to be able to function at will in their astral vehicle and the person who manages to do so but without really knowing what he’s doing may easily end up creating awful Karma for himself through engaging in “astral misbehaviour” and sensually and passionately motivated antics on the astral plane, not to mention the possibility of accidentally severing the silver cord that connects the astral body to the physical body and thus causing their own death.
In the third volume of “Echoes of The Orient” (a three volume compilation of writings of William Quan Judge, published by Theosophical University Press) there is an interesting section titled “By Astral Hand.” It reports an unusual happening which occurred during the last few moments of Mr Judge’s life, in 1896. One of several Theosophists who was there at his bedside reported that, “It was a solemn scene, and one I shall never forget. The soul was about to leave its earthly tenement and the president’s [Judge’s] hand was utterly powerless. But, as the serenity of what is called death was settling on his features, we all observed a slight fluttering among the papers that lay on the table beside his bed. Turning our eyes in that direction, what was our astonishment to see the hand of a man, a white delicate hand, write several lines on the blank page of a book, the title of which is The Ocean of Theosophy. Those best acquainted with Mr Judge say the hand was his. As for the lines, I cannot remember them exactly, but I know they related to one of the principal tenets of our belief. When the hand had completed the writing, Mr Judge sighed lightly, and closed his eyes.”
Newspapers in New York were so intrigued by such accounts that they contacted Claude Falls Wright, one of Judge’s main associates, who had also been there at the time of his passing. Wright was reported as saying to The Morning Advertiser that “We are not accustomed to seek publicity or notoriety, but as we have nothing to conceal, and since you are persistent, here is the paper you refer to.” The March 26, 1896 edition of that newspaper contained a photographic reproduction of the message that had been written by William Judge’s astral hand. It read:
There is no room for sorrow in the heart of him who knows and realizes the Unity of all spiritual beings. While people, monuments and governments disappear – the self remains and returns again. The wise are not disturbed; they remain silent; they depend on the Self and seek their refuge in it.
~ BlavatskyTheosophy.com ~
SOME RELATED ARTICLES: The Sevenfold Nature of Man, A Right Understanding of Karma, Questions about Karma, A Right Understanding of Reincarnation, Who was William Quan Judge?, The Welcome Influence of William Q. Judge, Death and the Afterlife, 12 Things Theosophy Teaches, Prana, Tiredness, and Sleep, The Benefits of Cremation, The Theosophical Explanation of Ghosts, The Two Paths, and The “Etheric” Body Does Not Exist.