The Astral Body, Astral Travel and the Dream Body
The term ‘astral’, ‘etheric’, or even ‘dream’ body, refers to the theory that human consciousness can become completely separate from the body, and in this form be free of the limitations the body has. The astral body is said to appear very much like the physical body, with all the features and limbs, but be made of subtler material, or even of thought and emotion. This concept of a finer body most likely arose out of two basic human experiences in the earliest period of human thought. Because while dreaming it is common to be in places far distant from where one is asleep, it was thought that the dreamer actually visited that place while they slept, or that a finer spiritual body had travelled away from the corporeal self and gone to a heavenly or spirit world. Also early human beings, just as occurs today, experienced impressive out-of-body events which at face value again show a distinct self moving at a distance from, and having a life completely independent of, the physical body.
This concept and the experiences it arose from, have led to the development of whole belief systems, such as that of spiritualism and occultism. If you have a good grounding in what is understood about dreaming these are fascinating areas of human thought and experience to explore, as they illustrate the variety of ways human experience can be described and theorised about. See What we need to remember about dreams.
In spiritualism for instance a whole heaven world, or life after death state, is said to exist around the concept of the subtler bodies. With these subtler bodies, it is said we can exist after the death of the physical body, and have total and fascinating involvement in the different dimensional worlds these bodies exist in.
In occultism there is an attempt to define the function of the astral body in the overall process of human existence. Rudolph Steiner, stating his doctrine of occultism, says of the astral body that as long as a person has no organs of perception that can sense the subtler aspects of human nature, the only apparent world is that of the physical body. He goes on to say that during sleep ‘the soul is fully active’… ‘but a man can know nothing of this … as long as he has no spiritual organs of perception through which he can observe what is going on around him and see what he himself is doing during sleep as easily as he can observe his daily physical environment with his ordinary senses.’ In this supersensible world, Steiner says, the astral body is that which brings consciousness to the otherwise vegetative existence of our body. Without the process that the astral body produces, we would exist in a similar way to a plant, in a sort of sleep without traces of self-awareness. To quote Steiner more extensively, he says -
Man has his physical body in common with the minerals and his etheric body with the plants. In the same sense he is of like nature with the animals in respect of the astral body. The plant is in a perpetual state of sleep. Anyone who does not judge accurately in these matters may easily fall into the error of attributing to plants too a kind of consciousness such as the animals and man have in their waking state. But this mistake is only possible when one’s idea of consciousness is inexact. One may then aver that a plant too, when subjected to an outer stimulus, will perform movements, just as an animal will do. One will refer to the ‘sensitiveness’ of many plants, which for example contract their leaves when certain outer things affect them. But the criterion of consciousness does not lie in the fact that to a given action a being shows a definite reaction. It lies in this, that the being has an inner experience, and this is a new factor, over and above the mere reaction. Otherwise we might as well speak of consciousness when a piece of iron expands under the influence of heat. Consciousness is only there when for example, through the effect of heat, the being inwardly experiences pain.
This is not, however, the general view of the astral body in popular spiritualism and alternative thinking. In these the astral body is a vehicle through which one can experience awareness separated from the physical body. Through this one can travel anywhere in the world and beyond in moments, and witness what is happening at a distance. One can meet and commune with other individuals who are also projected from their body, as well as meet people who are dead and therefore have no physical existence at all.
The reasons or causes for this projection from the body may be due to an induced trance, an anaesthetic or other drugs, or an illness or the approach of death. A fascinating account of the experience of astral projection and the world one exists in is give by William Lilley, a renowned spiritual healer working within the belief system of Spiritualism. He says he was able to consciously ‘leave his body’ and visit the ‘Beautiful Place’, where he meets the dead. His description of this is typical of many other peoples, even to the ‘going through the mists’.
When I am going into trance, I breathe in the Yoga method shown me by Dr. Letari. Immediately I get a sensation as though I am falling, or being pulled backwards. As this sensation comes to a climax, I seem to be travelling through space at terrific speed.
I have opened my eyes many times but the only vision I had was of passing through a dense fog; then, quite suddenly, the fog clears and I am at a stile. I climb over this stile and immediately there is a voice speaking to me over my shoulder. This voice is always with me, explaining everything I see and everyone I meet. The stile seems to be on the edge of a large field, which rises gradually to the form of a hill. I walk up the hill, and beyond it I visit many places.
I have been to the Children’s Land many times and have spoken to children with whom I used to go to school, many of whom I did not know had died until I met them. I have paid visits too, to the Halls of Learning, which seem to me more like the Acropolis at Athens.
It is always the same stile, the same hill, the same voice, and it just seems like a large country with so many different towns to visit.
The most interesting and remarkable experience I ever had during these visits into the Spirit, happened before I went into trance. Several sitters had been speaking of consciousness. They had asked me to describe the Spirit. Was it solid? Did I appear solid? I promised the Sitters that if I could, I would find out.
I arrived at my stile, the voice came to me and it evidently knew my desire because it said ‘Feel the earth!’ I did. It was solid. ‘Feel the grass beneath your feet!’ I did. That was solid too, and even had dew on it. ‘Smell these flowers!’ They were perfectly natural and had the usual perfume. In fact, everything around was natural. Then I was told, ‘Feel your body’. I did so. It was as solid as I am materially.
The voice then said, ‘Close your eyes; make your consciousness passive’, or as one would do when preparing for a trance state. ‘Now feel the earth beneath your feet!’ There was nothing. ‘Open your eyes’. It wasn’t dark, it wasn’t light. ‘Feel at your body’. It wasn’t there. ‘Such is Spirit’ said the voice. ‘Just a consciousness holding within it all experiences of your lifetime, all the joys and sorrows, your desires, achievements and failures, whence comes spiritual evolution. In your world of the material, you are able to examine matter; everything is matter. When you think of the spiritual, naturally you build in your consciousness another material world.’
Here is an experience of an out of body experience. Sir Auckland Geddes, an eminent British Anatomist, describes his own OBE, which contains many of these features.
Example: Becoming suddenly and violently ill with gastro-enteritis I quickly became unable to move or phone for help. As this was occurring I noticed I had an ‘A’ and a ‘B’ consciousness. The ‘A’ was my normal awareness, and the ‘B’ was external to my body watching. From the ‘B’ self I could see not only my body, but also the house, garden and surrounds. I need only think of a friend or place and immediately I was there and was later able to find confirmation for my observations. In looking at my body, I noticed that the brain was only an end organ, like a condensing plate, upon which memory and awareness played. The mind, I saw, was not in the brain, the brain was in the mind, like a radio in the play of signals. I then observed my daughter come in and discover my condition, I saw her telephone a doctor friend, and saw the doctor also at the same time.
The extraordinary experiences we can meet are here so clearly describe. Geddes is not only aware of his physical body but observes it in a way he had never before perceived. His brain was only an end organ, not the originator or thoughts; he could see his whole surroundings, garden as well without moving; he witnessed his daughter and the doctor without travelling anywhere; here and there were the same place for him.
Spiritualism, through the experience of people like Lilley and Geddes, tells us the ‘dead’ have a subtle body and live in worlds in many ways similar to physical life, except in their beauty, colour, lack of sickness and pain, and without war and in its possibilities. In these worlds we can fly like birds, swim underwater like fish, communicate with others heart to heart, mind to mind, soul to soul, without the use of clumsy words. We have a body, but it is a body at its prime, without weight or tiredness. We have clothes, but they are creations of our thoughts, and we are clothed by our own love and wisdom. We experience heaven or hell, not as punishment or reward, but because we create our own environment by our own thoughts and emotions. Here we explore music, the arts, creativity, knowledge, relationships, without the limitations the body imposes, and with the added wonder of a new dimension of experience. Our senses are extended so that when we look at someone, we see not only a body shape and their posture and expression, but also we perceive their quality as a person, perhaps through a surrounding field of colour or emanation from within. When we consider a painting in this world, we not only appreciate the colours and forms, but we commune with the artist through the work, and experience for ourselves the artist’s vision and feelings, their unique quality and spirit.
With the development of the theory attached to Quantum Mechanics – The New Physics – a very different view is emerging of time, space and human consciousness. This vastly subtler view of the cosmos and our place in it brings a shift also to the way we can look at experiences such as the projection of the astral body, or the concept of the astral body itself. These shifts appear to offer an open door to greater freedom of experience within these areas, and an entirely new way of explaining them. Well, perhaps not entirely new, as many of the subtlest of thinkers of East and West have already written much about these subtlest aspects of ‘Reality’.
As Lilley’s inner voice had said, ‘Close your eyes; make your consciousness passive’, or as one would do when pre-paring for a trance state. ‘Now feel the earth beneath your feet!’ There was nothing. ‘Open your eyes’. It wasn’t dark, it wasn’t light. ‘Feel at your body’. It wasn’t there. ‘Such is Spirit’ said the voice. ‘Just a consciousness holding within it all experiences of your lifetime, all the joys and sorrows, your desires, achievements and failures, whence comes spiritual evolution. In your world of the material, you are able to examine matter; everything is matter. When you think of the spiritual, naturally you build in your consciousness another material world.’
In other words we create in those subtler dimensions of experience replicas of what we have known in the body. But as we accept the growth beyond limitations we can drop those physical forms and operate as formless and genderless beings. This does away with the need to feel that we travel anywhere and have moved away from the physical. My own experience tells me that our consciousness is all pervading and so called astral travel is not travelling, but tuning into a particular tiny area of the cosmos, and becuase of our physical experience of travel needing to move our body, we create the dream of travelling..
See Levels of Awareness in Waking and Sleeping; consciousness – the body mind split; esp in dreams; out of body experiences; paralysis while asleep; http://dreamhawk.com/dream-encyclopedia/what-we-need-to-remember-about-dreaming/#Paralyzed.