The Theosophical Explanation of Ghosts

Since many people are very interested in ghosts and say that they have seen such things, it is worthwhile to state and examine how Theosophy explains this phenomenon.

First of all, the tremendous amount of people in all ages and periods of history, of all races, nations, and ethnicities, of all levels and grades of education and intelligence, of all religious beliefs and even no religious beliefs, and of all social classes, who claim to have seen what are generally called “ghosts” or “phantoms,” should be sufficient proof – to all except the closed-minded bigot – that such curious phenomena do exist and are not merely the result of hallucinations or an hysterical disposition.

But how can ghosts be accounted for? To believe that every so-called ghost is actually the real departed soul itself is a very simplistic and naïve stance to adopt. The universe is a majestically complex and intricate thing and there are no simple answers and explanations for its inner workings and subtle mechanisms…hence the inevitably deep and complex nature of the Theosophical teachings, in which many of these answers and explanations are presented.

According to Theosophy, the majority of the ghosts that people see are one of the following:

(1) An astral body that has not properly dissipated after the individual’s death.

The astral body (or Linga Sharira) is the subtle and unseen framework, blueprint, or mould, upon and around which the outer shell of the physical body (or Sthula Sharira) is formed and exists. It is the “vitalising body” for the physical, since the flow of vitality or life energy (Prana) through the astral body is what keeps the physical body alive and functioning. The transition known as physical death occurs due to the fact that the physical body and astral body permanently separate from one another.

The actual soul then moves on to more subtle planes of existence, whilst the physical corpse and its astral double are left behind. The two are no longer vitally connected, yet the now unensouled remains of the astral body linger close to the physical remains and decay and disintegrate at the same rate. Thus, if the body is cremated, the astral body swiftly dissipates and is almost immediately done away with. If the body is buried, however, the astral body is likely to remain near the grave until the corpse is completely disintegrated which, as we know, can take a long time. This is just one of numerous reasons why cremation is so much more advisable than burial, as our article titled The Benefits of Cremation explains.

In the article “Astral Bodies, or Doppelgangers,” H.P. Blavatsky explains that “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.”

However, it occasionally happens – due to certain circumstances and various reasons – that the astral body does not disintegrate at all and thus remains as a sort of trapped and senseless phantom. This most frequently occurs with cases of tragic and violent death. One of many such cases involves the “ghost” of the decapitated English noblewoman who can be seen walking silently through a particular corridor in an old castle at around the same time every day, holding her head in her hands. It is important to understand that this is not the real person, since that soul has most probably already reincarnated by now. It is but a trapped Linga Sharira, mindlessly and automatically repeating certain actions connected with the death of the physical body to which it was once attached.

(2) Something imprinted on the “astral light” which briefly becomes visible or perceptible to someone.

Every thought that a person thinks, every word that a person speaks, and every action that a person performs, becomes indelibly imprinted and recorded in what Theosophy calls the “astral light.” This is the psychic atmosphere which closely surrounds and to some extent even interpenetrates the physical plane. There is thus a subjective record of everything that has ever happened.

In his “Epitome of Theosophy,” William Quan Judge speaks of “the immense body of images in the Astral Light” and describes it as “the repository of all past, present, and future events, and in it are recorded the effects of spiritual causes, and of all acts and thoughts from the direction of either spirit or matter.”

Sometimes a person’s consciousness becomes slightly heightened and elevated – often without them even realising it – and they then witness and perceive things that are recorded in the astral light but make the understandable mistake of thinking that they are seeing a ghost or ghosts. A woman felt emotional and sad when visiting the site of an old battlefield and thinking of the awful violence and slaughter that had once taken place there. The next moment she was shocked to hear the loud noises of battle and saw the bloody conflict going on right in front of her. Before long it all faded away and she was once again looking at the empty and overgrown field.

Had she seen two opposing armies of ghosts? No. She had simply unwittingly “tuned in” to the records of the astral light for a brief moment.

(3) A victim of unnatural death who is temporarily trapped “between Earth and Heaven” and attempting to make contact with the physical plane.

The person who dies a natural death does so because the various parts or components of their inner constitution (generally called the Seven Principles in the teachings of Theosophy) have gradually and naturally run their destined course and – of their own accord – ceased to cohere with one another.

But this is obviously not the case for someone who dies suddenly in an accident or who is murdered or commits suicide. They are just as alive afterwards, albeit now bodiless, and have to remain in the Kama Loka for the remaining duration of the life they had been destined to live on Earth. This is not in any sense a form of “punishment” but merely due to the fact that the unchangeable Laws of Nature require that our Principles separate from one another in the right way, the right order, and at the right time, in order for the complete death process to proceed naturally and normally. The soul is unable to enter into the state of Devachan – or “Heaven” – until then.

This “Kama Loka” mentioned above is described by Madame Blavatsky in “The Key to Theosophy” as “an astral locality, the limbus of scholastic theology, the Hades of the ancients, and, strictly speaking, a locality only in a relative sense. It has neither a definite area nor boundary, but exists within subjective space, i.e., is beyond our sensuous perceptions. Still it exists.” It is closely related to the astral light we have referred to.

The states and experiences in Kama Loka of the victims of unnatural death vary greatly and many will be virtually unconscious, resting “in a sleep of rosy dreams” as the Masters have expressed it, for the remaining number of years of their destined “life term” and then awaking to the perfect bliss of Devachan. But for others, especially those who commit the act of self-murder or suicide – described in “The Key to Theosophy” as “the worst of crimes and dire in its results” – things are not quite so “rosy.” This can be explored in greater detail in the article What happens to people who commit Suicide? It will suffice for now to give just one related example.

A middle-aged man committed suicide one recent Christmas Eve, leaving his body to be discovered by his wife and young children on Christmas morning. The man had suffered with depression and other mental health problems for quite some time, yet it was naturally still a great shock for his family and left them terribly distraught. After several months, however, they had begun to rebuild their shattered lives.

It was around this time that the wife awoke one night to find her husband sitting on the chair in the bedroom and watching her. He looked just the same as he had done when he was still alive, apart from seeming a little “wavy” and ethereal in the form and outline of his body. He expressed deep regret for what he had done and begged her to help him to get out of the awful state he had found himself in. They were able to carry on a brief conversation before he disappeared, although this continued to happen on an almost nightly basis for some time. Lest it be dismissed as the mere hallucination of a grieving widow, we should add that the man proceeded to appear on numerous occasions to his children as well.

Many people would describe this as a visitation from a ghost. Theosophists, on the other hand, would describe it as a visitation from a trapped soul in Kama Loka and would be aware that it is spiritually unlawful for individuals to attempt to reinitiate contact with the life of which they have purposely deprived themselves. The above case was personally known to us and it is to be regretted that the woman turned for help and advice to psychic mediums and Spiritualists rather than heeding the Ancient Ageless Wisdom of Theosophy.

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Such an extensive and intricate subject can by no means be treated exhaustively in an online article such as this. For a start, we have not even touched upon such matters as poltergeists or haunted houses, although the above descriptions and explanations may provide helpful hints and clues in those directions. Theosophy is not in the world for the purpose of studying ghosts and hauntings but chooses instead to leave such matters to the paranormal investigators. It is hoped, however, that these Theosophical insights may have helped to shed some light on the matter.

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SOME RELATED ARTICLES: Death and the Afterlife, What happens to people who commit Suicide?, Mysteries of the Astral Body, The Sevenfold Nature of Man, 12 Things Theosophy Teaches, The Danger and Deception of Channelling, The Skandhas, A Right Understanding of Reincarnation, Being Sensible about Past Lives, The Difference between Soul and Spirit and The Benefits of Cremation.

2 thoughts on “The Theosophical Explanation of Ghosts

  1. You quoted very good texts about the afterlife state. I realise that who studies thesophy will enter too into Devachan, but how?
    Devachan is a plastic state built upon my aspirations. The theosophical study dismounts many superstitions about heaven and another idealizations.
    How the Devachan will be built without these aspirations?

    1. As you rightly suggest, the more one overcome’s one’s illusions and delusions, the more the nature and content of one’s Devachanic condition will change, until eventually there is no longer anything to put one in the Devachanic state after the death of the body. This is the situation with the Masters and many of Their initiated chelas.

      It can also be borne in mind, however, that there are seven degrees of Devachanic experience and that the highest of these are described as very refined “arupa” states of formless abstract contemplation, almost bordering on Nirvanic.

      So even a lofty metaphysician will have some sort of appropriate Devachan between incarnations, until that soul finally triumphs over the last of its illusions.

      In the meantime, those who have committed and consecrated themselves to aiding the Masters’ Work in this world may sometimes be helped out of Devachan by the Masters at a faster than usual rate. It has not been explained what this “helping out of Devachan” actually consists of but it’s worth thinking about.

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