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Theosophy Primer on the Astral Plane

Theosophical Teachings about Post-Life Human Spirit in the Astral World

You may not know about Theosophy, but if you are reading this on ITC Voices, chances are you have been made aware of many of the Theosophical tenets due to them being re-appropriated by modern Spiritualism and the New Age movement. You may have even read some Theosophical teachings on this site in the past, specifically the classic interpenetrating worlds of life and consciousness chart of the soul’s progression, made by George Meek, which has a large foundation in Theosophical teachings.

Theosophical Society Logo

Theosophical Society Logo

Theosophy was the esoteric study of spirit, latent spiritual wisdom in man, philosophy, science and the Divine. The Theosophical Society was founded by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky in 1875 as an attempt to elucidate the world of spirit during a time when spiritualism was undergoing a renaissance in the United States. Blavatsky claimed that the wisdom taught in Theosophy was the current of truth that ran under all world religions; and all mankind was was destined to be subjected to what Theosophy taught.

When Isis Unveiled (the first book of the Theosophical Society) was published, Blavatsky spoke about how she had another consciousness inside and it helped her to write the book. Since Blavatsky’s time, hundreds, if not thousands of authors have made the same claim.

Today, Theosophy is a footnote. From the perspective of a paranormal investigator, Theosophy codifies many things in our community into written words. I chose the following passage specifically because it talks of the spirit realm (The Astral World).

In the book Elementary Philosophy (1917), published almost thirty years after the death of Blavatsky, the Astral World becomes a place where those who need to work through their life’s issues spend the necessary amount of time to lose the negativity, emotions and other drives. The Astral World is painted as a place where the spirits of the departed look in on their family and affairs. The departed are also affected by our attempts to communicate with them!

In short, although this is a longer text than is normally found on this site at over thirty pages of book length, I highly recommend reading it. This is the complete text of Chapter XIII and you will most likely find something that resonates with your understanding of spirituality and spirit communication. It will certainly cause you to reconsider some of your understandings and you may learn a thing or two as well.

If you are interested in what this chapter holds, purchase the book itself. There is a lot of wisdom within its pages.

As always, take from this what you will.

Chapter XIII: The Astral World

When the physical body dies there is an interval between the loss of consciousness here and the dawning of the astral consciousness. During that interim a review of the life scenes takes place. Everything between birth and death passes again through the consciousness, as it thus pauses in the etheric double, between the life activities of two worlds. Then peaceful unconsciousness follows, from which the man awakes in the astral world.

Elementary Theosophy by LW Rogers

Elementary Theosophy by LW Rogers

To those accustomed to thinking of the dying as passing to some remote heaven, where they become angels, it will perhaps sound startling to say that a dead man is not aware at first that the change we call death has taken place. Yet that is a common experience. Nor is it at all remarkable that it should be so with many. We have only to recall the fact that all physical matter is surrounded and permeated with astral matter to realize that the physical plane is duplicated in astral matter. Not only the physical body of the human being but, of course, every physical object, has its astral duplicate. The dying man loses consciousness of the physical plane and awakes as from a sleep to the astral consciousness. He sees then the exact duplicate, in astral matter, of the familiar scenes he has left behind. He sees, too, his friends, for their astral bodies are replicas of their physical forms.

And yet, notwithstanding all this there is a difference, though not a difference that enables him to comprehend what has occurred. He may know that only yesterday, or what seems to him to have been yesterday, he was ill and confined to his bed, and was perhaps told that he was about to die; and now he is not ill; indeed, he never felt so free from aches and pains in all his life. The pulsing energies and exhilaration of youth are his again! This mystifies him. He sees his friends and naturally speaks to them, but gets no reply and finds that he can not attract their attention. It must be remembered that he can not see their physical bodies any more than they can see his astral body. Yet he truly sees them. If a so-called dead man and a living person look at the same instant at another living person they will both see him, but the latter sees the physical body while the former sees the astral body that surrounds and permeates it.

Under these circumstances it is not strange that the new arrival in the astral world is seized with a feeling of baffling mystery. He is in full possession of his reasoning faculties, and will power, but there is a puzzling limitation to his efforts to produce expected results. A partial analogy may be found in the case of a person suddenly stricken with aphasia over night. He rises in the morning, dresses, and goes about his accustomed duties without the slightest suspicion that any change has come to him until he takes up the morning paper and discovers that he can not read—that the familiar print simply means nothing to him!

Of course, in time the living dead man gets adjusted to the new life. He soon meets others in the astral world who have been there longer and they, sooner or later, succeed in convincing him that he is not having an exceptionally vivid dream.

The astral world, as explained in a previous chapter, has seven subdivisions and the astral body contains matter belonging to each of them. While we have the physical body the matter of the astral body is in rapid circulation, every grade of it being constantly represented at the surface. But when the connection with the material plane is broken, a rearrangement of the matter of the astral body automatically takes place (unless it is prevented by an exercise of will power) and the grossest grade of matter thereafter occupies its surface. Consequently the consciousness of the man is limited to that subdivision of the astral world represented by the lowest grade of matter which his astral body contains at the time of his death. This is a fact the importance of which it would be difficult to over emphasize, because his after-death state of consciousness, his joy or sorrow—in short, his temporary heaven or hell, depends upon his location in the astral world.

There are three, and only three modes of death, or release from the physical body—by old age, by disease, or by violence. Old age is the natural and desirable close of the chapter of physical plane experience. It is most desirable to live to ripe old age and accumulate a large harvest of experience. To live long and actively is excellent fortune. It is not well to pass into the astral world with strong physical desires. As old age comes on the desire forces subside. Most of that grade of astral matter that is capable of expressing them has slowly disappeared. Old age represents the most gradual loosening of the life forces from the material plane, and that has many advantages.

Release from the physical body by disease is next in order of desirability. It is a quicker and less complete breaking down of the connection with the physical world. Nevertheless it is a condition in which much progress may be made in getting free from physical desires, as those who have had experience with invalids are aware. Desires usually grow weaker with the progress of the disease that finally ends in death.

Release from the physical form by violence is, of course, the least desirable of the three, not merely because it is violence, but for the much more important reason that sudden death finds the man, as a rule, with a considerable amount of the lower grades of astral matter in his astral body.

Whether the death by violence is the result of accident, murder, suicide or legal execution, the astral plane conditions of consciousness are alike unfortunate, in that it is sudden death, not the manner of death, that permits entry upon the astral life before the lower grades of astral matter have been eliminated from the astral body. This is one reason why suicide is unfortunate—because it ushers the man into the astral world with more of the matter of the lower levels in his astral vehicle than would be there if he had lived out his normal physical life.

Whether the death by violence is the result of accident, murder, suicide or legal execution, the astral plane conditions of consciousness are alike unfortunate, in that it is sudden death, not the manner of death, that permits entry upon the astral life before the lower grades of astral matter have been eliminated from the astral body. This is one reason why suicide is unfortunate—because it ushers the man into the astral world with more of the matter of the lower levels in his astral vehicle than would be there if he had lived out his normal physical life.

In the astral life some people linger long on the lower levels while others know them not at all, but awaken to the blissful consciousness of the higher subdivisions. Nature is everywhere consistent, grouping together people of a kind. It is, however, the manner in which one lives during physical life that determines his happiness or sorrow after death. The astral body, the seat of the emotions, is, like the physical body, constantly changing the matter that composes it. An emotion of any kind expresses itself as a vibration in the matter of the astral body. If it is a base emotion, such as anger, hatred, lust or cruelty, it throws into vibration the grossest of the astral body’s matter, for only in that can it be expressed. If it is an exalted emotion, such as love, sympathy, devotion, courage or benevolence, it affects only the rarer grades of astral matter, for in them only can such feeling be expressed.

With most people there is a constant mingling of a wide range of emotions, with a gain in one direction and a loss in another. One who fortunately understands the law of emotional cause and effect may make absolutely certain of a comfortable sojourn upon the astral plane after death. He would make it a rule to watch his emotions and control them, knowing that each time he indulged a gross one the vibration set up in his astral body would strengthen and vivify the grossest grade of matter in it, while pure and exalted emotions would strengthen the higher grades. Ultimately, the grossest grade, becoming atrophied for the lack of activity, would drop away from him.

The descriptions of purgatory given by the psychic scientists are calculated to induce even the reckless to avoid it. If we could bring together all the vilest men and women now living on the physical plane, the crudest of murderers, the most besotted drunkards, the vilest degenerates, the most conscienceless and vindictive fiends of every description, and huddle them together in hovels reeking with filth, and let them remain without any outward government, free to prey upon each other, we should perhaps have a faint comprehension of the reality of the lowest subdivision of the astral world. But no physical plane comparison can do it full justice, for we must remember that it is the emotional world and that the feelings of its inhabitants make its atmosphere in a way that would here be impossible. Astral matter instantly and exactly reproduces emotion, so that the fiend or the sensualist looks exactly what he feels. Even in the unresponsive physical matter, the evil in a man is often sufficiently expressed to fill those who behold him with terror. In the astral world every cruel thought and hideous emotion would express itself in visible form and the multitudinous emotions welling up in the lower level of the astral world would be as a loathsome swarm of reptiles gliding through its horrible life. Add to all that the fact that the hopeless despair of its denizens gives an atmosphere of utter gloom and desolation, and we have a hell that leaves no need of other torture to check the course of the erring soul. And yet there is no suffering that is not self-imposed. It is both consistent and just that a man should associate with his kind and look upon himself in others until he grows sick of his own vileness and cries out in agony of spirit against his own moral offenses. It must not be assumed that every person dying with considerable matter belonging to the lower astral level still within his emotional body will necessarily pass through such experiences. It should never be forgotten that we are dealing with a matter of the utmost complexity and that even the most exhaustive description in print would present only a fragment of the truth. The conditions of consciousness on any subplane vary as individuals vary. Some people on the lowest astral level are wholly unconscious of their surroundings. Another variation is that some people find themselves floating in darkness and largely cut off from others—a sufficiently undesirable condition, and yet better than the fate of some. All states of astral consciousness are reactions from previous good or evil conduct and are, moreover, temporary conditions that will in time be left behind.

In a different way and at a higher level there may be suffering on the astral plane that is purifying the nature. Not all offenses against nature’s laws are of so gross a type. There is the abuse of desire and the violation of conscience that may result in various kinds of regret and emotional distress. A desire of a refined type strongly built up upon the physical plane lives with an intenser vitality on the astral plane after the physical body can no longer gratify it. A glutton and a miser have strong desires of a very different type. Each of them is likely to suffer on account of it during the astral life. They need not dwell upon the lowest level to get a reaction from their folly in the physical life. We can easily imagine the distress of the glutton in a world without food. There could be no distress because of hunger, for the astral body is not, like the physical body, renewed and maintained by what it consumes. But hunger and the gratification of the sense of taste are very different things. It is the latter that would trouble the gormand, and it is said that great suffering, as in the case of the drunkard, is his lot until the desire gradually disappears because of the impossibility of its gratification.

The miser represents a subtler form of desire, but his greed for gold may be quite as intense as that of the glutton for sensual gratification. The accumulation of money has been the dominant thought of his life. He has created in his mind a wholly false value for money and it gives him real pain to part with a dollar of it. Only dire necessity forces him to spend any portion of his hoard. It is not difficult to imagine his emotions when he is obliged to leave it behind and see others spend it freely.

Any kind of a desire that is related to the physical body is without means of gratification in the astral world and if such desire has been cultivated until it becomes strong enough to play an important part in one’s life it will certainly give him more or less trouble after the loss of the physical body. Whether it grows out of an over-refinement and excess in a natural appetite, as in the case of the epicure, or is simply an artificial thing that is unrelated to any natural demand, as in the case of the smoker, the inability to gratify the desire is equally distressing. The suffering that results could hardly be judged by what would follow on the physical plane when desire is thwarted, for in the astral life emotion expresses itself much more intensely.

All of the suffering in the astral world, of whatever type, is the natural result of the thoughts, emotions and acts during the life on the physical plane. The astral world is that part of the mechanism for man’s evolution that brings him up with a sharp turn when he is moving in the wrong direction. He is not being punished. The injurious forces he has generated are simply reacting upon him. This reaction, that sets him right, is as certain as in the case of the infant that picks up a live coal. It is merely less direct, and not so immediate in result, and it works itself out in a multiplicity of ways. One of the methods of reaction that helps to stamp out a fault is the automatic repetition of the unpleasant consequences of wrong doing. The murderer will serve for a general illustration. In the case of a deliberate, premeditated and cruel murder, the assassin is moved by such base motives as revenge or jealousy. The results of these, so far as their frightful consequences to the victim are concerned, do not in the least tend to deter the assassin from further deeds of violence. He feels gratified with his success and is quite satisfied with himself. Only the possibility of detection and punishment troubles him. If they follow in due course they will accomplish something in correcting his erroneous views of life. But they will not be sufficient to register indelibly, in the very nature of the man, a proper sense of the horror of which he has been guilty. Such a man can be impressed and his viewpoint changed only by consequences to himself. It is in the reaction in the astral life of the forces he has generated here that he gets the lesson that forces in upon his consciousness the horror inseparable from murder. If he escapes the physical plane consequences of his deed he will nevertheless come into contact in the astral world with conditions sufficiently horrible. He has made a tie with his victim that can not be broken until the scales of justice are balanced and nature’s exaction has been paid to the uttermost. Just what form of retribution will follow depends, of course, on the nature of the case. But the reaction is as certain as it is multiplex. One of its variants is the gruesome experience of always fleeing from the corpse of the victim, but with the utter impossibility of a moment’s escape. In the case of a murderer who has been apprehended, tried, condemned and executed, the whole of the tragedy and its sequel would be, not only lived over in imagination but repeated automatically, in fact, and worked out in full detail in the plastic matter of the astral region. Probably few people have the imagination to comprehend what the murderer feels of apprehension and fear at his trial when his life is in the balance; or what he suffers while hiding from justice and making futile efforts to escape the pursuing officers of the law; or what his emotions are as his hands are tied and he steps upon the death trap. All this is reproduced in the astral life, repeatedly. As one whose mind is completely filled with a subject—let us say something that is the cause of much anxiety—finds it impossible to turn his attention from it and think of other things, or go to sleep, and is impelled against his desire to think the matter over and over, so the assassin is enmeshed in the emotion web of his crime and can not escape from living and acting it all over and over again until a revulsion of feeling arouses him to full comprehension of the horror of his crime.

Again it should be said that no attempt is here made to give more than a very fragmentary description, and a few hints, of the manner in which the retributory laws of nature work. A writer on the subject should also be careful that, in pointing out the fact that to certain classes of offenders against nature’s laws severe penalties accrue, the reader does not get the impression that suffering is the common lot in the astral life. The truth of the matter is that people who live clean, moderate lives, and refrain from generating forces that are injurious to others, will know nothing whatever of the unfortunate side of astral existence. In the limitations, the vexations, the physical aches and ills, the poverty, sorrow and suffering of the material plane, most of us are as near to hell-conditions of existence as we ever will be. The ordinary man of average morality has so little of the matter of the lowest level of the astral plane lingering in him that as a rule he would begin his postmortem existence on the next higher subdivision, which is the counterpart of the earth’s surface. He would therefore have no knowledge of the hell that exists on the lower level. But that is not at all true of those who live grossly and freely indulge the emotions of anger, jealousy, hatred, revenge, and their kindred impulses, that often lead to violent crimes. It is possible to live the physical life so sanely, usefully, harmoniously and unselfishly that at the death of the physical body one will pass almost immediately to a joyous and useful career in the astral world. But while that is quite possible the unfortunate fact is that a great many people so color all their emotions with selfishness that the astral sojourn is unpleasantly affected by it. It is the emotions that determine the astral life and it is said that if they are directly selfish they bring the man into conditions on the astral plane that are very unpleasant.

It must be expected that any idea we may form of the astral life will be incomplete, and inadequate to give a true conception what it is really like. Perhaps the most comprehensible of the subplanes is that which reproduces the physical landscape in astral matter. There the average man will begin his conscious astral career. If we think of the world as we know it here and then imagine all that is material to have vanished from it we shall gain some comprehension of the situation. Eliminate the necessity of providing food, clothing and shelter and nearly all of the labor of the race would cease. The tilling of the soil, the mining, the building, the manufacturing, and the transportation and exchange of the products of field and factory, constitute nearly the whole of human activity. In the astral life no food is required and one is clothed with astral matter from which garments are fashioned almost with the ease and rapidity of thought. No houses are needed for shelter. The astral body is not susceptible to degrees of heat and cold, and nothing there corresponds to our temperatures. There is no division of night and day, objects being self-luminous and light being perpetual.

If we could drop out of physical life all need of physical labor, abolish all response to heat or cold, the need of food and houses, and add unlimited wealth or, to be more exact, give each person the power to possess all that wealth can confer and much that it can not, we would have an approach to a conception of the astral world from one viewpoint. Each one entering the astral life has, of course, a fullness of liberty and freedom from responsibility that is not instantly comprehensible to the physical mind. There is nothing whatever that he must do. There is, however, plenty that he can do if he desires to be active. On the physical plane many people of wealth travel and amuse themselves with sight seeing. Thousands of others would do so if it were possible. In the astral world it is possible and large numbers of people drift aimlessly about with no particular plans. Multitudes belonging to various religious sects organize themselves into congregations, build edifices and spend much time in religious services. Others amuse themselves building houses and constructing landscapes. It is not at all necessary, but the old habits live and influence activities.

The average person in the astral world gives himself to idleness and the enjoyment of the intensified emotions of the astral life just as the majority of people would do here if it were possible to escape the round of duties so sternly imposed by their necessities. For a long time the most of them also make daily visits to the homes they have left behind on the physical plane. Those who have a strong tie of affection with some member of the family frequently spend much time lingering around and going on little journeys about the premises or elsewhere with the loved one. They understand that the dead person is not perceived by the living one, but nevertheless they desire to be near. They do not have a full consciousness of all the living person is thinking and doing, but they are fully aware of the state of feeling, or emotion, and whether the living friend is pleasantly or unpleasantly affected by passing events.

As the astral life becomes more and more familiar to the newly arrived individual he gets well settled in it and gradually readjusts his viewpoint to a truer perspective than he has here. As time passes he is less and less in touch with the affairs of the physical life and finally loses consciousness of them altogether as he passes on to the higher levels of the astral world.

But there are many people who have a more serious view of life and who lose no opportunity of acquiring knowledge, and the astral world, which is called “the hall of learning” by students of the occult, presents remarkably good conditions to them. Here we are limited in three dimensions of matter and hampered by the very narrow range of the physical senses. In the astral world matter has four dimensions and new and marvelous avenues of learning open before the student. Those who are at all interested in music, or art of any kind, find both the field and the facilities enormously extended. Those who study nature, whether by directly probing into her secrets or by cleverly combining her principles into new processes and inventions, have such opportunities as scientist and discoverer has not dreamed of on this plane. And so for all the thoughtful and studious there is a life of the most useful and fascinating kind in the astral world.

But it must not be supposed that the opportunity of usefulness and progress is only for the studious. There as here the opportunity for useful work in helping humanity forward is boundless; for while poverty and disease have disappeared absolutely there is much philanthropic work of other kinds to be done. People are to be taught, for there, as here, the majority are sadly in need of knowledge of how to take advantage of nature’s laws for our rapid progress, and how to live in harmony with them in order to get the greatest happiness from life. But the work to be done is by no means confined to teaching. The ignorance that makes the teaching so necessary has brought a great many people into the unfortunate condition, where immediate assistance is most urgently needed, and there is such a variety of helplessness that nobody need be idle.

Because of the false teaching upon the subject of life hereafter, people are bewildered when they become conscious in the astral life. Many have had their minds so vividly impressed with the awful fate that awaits those who are not “saved” before death that they fall into a state of terror when at last they realize that death has really occurred. Others, who may or may not be haunted with any such absurd misconceptions, cling so tenaciously to the physical life when about to leave it that there is not complete separation between the etheric double and astral body. The result is that the unfortunate person finds himself cut off from the physical world and yet not arrived in the astral! Wrapped in a cloud of etheric matter he drifts for a time in terror of the unknown. Those among the so-called dead who are kindly enough to rescue the distressed may come to their relief and give valuable assistance.

Perhaps the commonest thing that engages the attention of the astral worker is the fear that death brings to most people. They arrive in the astral world with the feeling that everything is unknown and uncertain. All preconceived ideas about the life after death have suddenly been found unreliable and they are afraid of, they know not what. They want to cling to anybody who knows something of the new world. When we remember that people are arriving in the astral world by the tens of thousands daily, even under normal conditions, it is evident that all who wish to be of service can find plenty to do. No special knowledge of the astral plane is necessary. Common sense is a sufficient equipment, in such simple work, for those who desire to be useful instead of giving the entire time to the pleasures of that world. The work for the astral helpers ranges upward in complexity, of course, and there is profitable activity for those with the fullest knowledge and skill. They usually work in well organized groups and render service of great practical value.

Life on the astral plane has its end for the same reason that it comes to a close on the physical plane. Nature’s purpose has been accomplished and the man is ready to go on farther in his evolution. The length of the astral life varies just as it does in the physical world. Some physical lives are very long and sometimes only when five scores of years, or more, have passed does the ego withdraw. Other lives are very short and scarcely well begun when they unexpectedly come to a close. There is nevertheless a general average to be found. It is at least possible to make averages for different classes of people and to say that a majority of those who are of ordinary health and strength are likely to attain a stated age, while it is certain that the majority of those who have such, and such, a physical handicap will lose their physical bodies when they are much younger. Such general rules may also be applied to the astral life.

Here a long and alert life is most desirable because the purpose of the physical plane is to gather experience that shall be transmuted into wisdom on a higher plane. It is a seed time against a later harvest. But the astral plane is, for the vast majority of the race, related to the purgative process. In that life the errors of the physical life are largely worked out and desires that have grown up like weeds in a garden are rooted out and the budding virtues are given a chance to grow. It is a corrective plane, where blunders are checked up and the moral perspective is re-established. Naturally enough the sooner that can be done the better. The rule of a long life being most desirable on the physical plane is, therefore, reversed on the astral plane. It is the shortest life in the astral world that is the greatest prize, and it comes to those who have lived the purest and noblest lives while here. The sooner a man gets through the astral world and begins the reaping of his harvest on the mental plane, or heaven world, the better it is for him.

The length of the astral sojourn depends primarily upon the durability of the astral body and that, in turn, depends upon the kind of a life he has lived here. Let us suppose that he has lived a very gross and sensual life. All of the emotions of that type that he indulged built more gross matter in his astral body and also strengthened and vivified the lowest grade of matter that was already there. Let us also imagine that he had an ungovernable temper and frequently gave way to outbursts of fury; further, that he was cruel and revengeful, seeking and finding many opportunities of inflicting injuries upon others. Here we have a case for long life on the lower levels of the astral world.

Let us now consider a different type of man. He lives peacefully and harmoniously with those about him. He feels strong affection for wife and children. He has a host of friends because of his cheerful, helpful and sympathetic attitude toward others. He lives cleanly and thinks nobly. His mind is kept free from trivialities and his tongue is never employed in gossip. He makes a determined and persistent effort to eliminate pride, envy and ambition. He cultivates the habit of thinking first of the welfare of others and always last of himself—in short, tries hard to eliminate selfishness and see all things impersonally. Such a man could know nothing whatever of the disagreeable part of the astral life and would pass quickly through even the higher subdivisions and reach the ecstatic happiness of the heaven world.

From the lower subdivisions a man rises very gradually to the higher. He remains on a given level so long as is required to eliminate the matter of that level from his astral body. He is then immediately conscious on the next higher level. The grosser matter falls away because the man has at last stopped sending his life force through it. Ungratified desire has finally worn itself out and he is free. The process can be greatly hastened or retarded by the man’s attitude toward life. If he foolishly dwells upon his desires, he gives new vitality and prolonged life to them. If he can resolutely turn his mind to higher things he hastens his release. His fate is in his own hands, and he is fortunate indeed if he has a knowledge of such matters.

From the lower subdivisions a man rises very gradually to the higher. He remains on a given level so long as is required to eliminate the matter of that level from his astral body. He is then immediately conscious on the next higher level. The grosser matter falls away because the man has at last stopped sending his life force through it. Ungratified desire has finally worn itself out and he is free. The process can be greatly hastened or retarded by the man’s attitude toward life. If he foolishly dwells upon his desires, he gives new vitality and prolonged life to them. If he can resolutely turn his mind to higher things he hastens his release. His fate is in his own hands, and he is fortunate indeed if he has a knowledge of such matters.

One who dies in advanced years will pass more rapidly through the astral world than he would have done had he died in the full strength of manhood. As the years accumulate the emotions that vivify the lowest grades of astral matter are not so much in evidence and the matter in which they are expressed loses its vitality. That is an additional reason why it is desirable to live to old age in the physical world.

The hold that the material world has upon the mind is one of the causes which greatly prolong existence in the astral world. Some people give their time and thought so exclusively to material things that after they lose the physical body they cannot keep the mind away from the life that lies behind them. This difficulty does not necessarily arise wholly from having given one’s energies entirely to personal ambition and material accumulation. Sometimes the ruler of a country is so determined to still manage affairs, as far as possible, that this vivid interest in the physical world stretches out the period of astral life most unfortunately.

Ordinarily one’s sojourn in the astral world is comparatively short, if we measure it in the terms of physical life. A person who has lived here seventy years may have thirty or forty years on the astral plane. But that will depend not only upon how he lived the physical life just closed but also upon his general position in human evolution. A savage of low type would have a comparatively long astral life while a man at the higher levels of civilization would have a comparatively short period there, while the man in the lower levels of civilized life might be said to come in at about midway between the two. But it must be remembered that these are very general estimates and that among civilized peoples individuals differ enormously. Some will pass very slowly and, so far as lower levels are concerned, painfully, through astral life, while the sojourn of others there is measured in minutes, and they pass happily and almost instantaneously from physical death to the heaven world. But such people are the exception, not the rule.

Communication with those who have passed on into the astral world is possible, but not always desirable, for a number of reasons. As an evidence of the continuity of consciousness in the hands of the scientific investigator, such communications have been of the greatest value. As a consolation to those who have thus come again in touch with dead friends such messages have been of inestimable value to the bereaved, particularly when they have been received in the privacy of the family circle by some of its members. For a time those who have lost the physical body are usually within easy reach through the usual methods employed for the purpose and perhaps no harm is done by such communications unless they arouse anew the grief of those who have been left behind and thus greatly depress the departed. But after the living dead get farther along, and are practically out of touch with the material world, then directing their attention backward may be positively injurious to them. For that reason careful students of the occult seldom seek to obtain messages, or at least do it with proper consideration for all the circumstances of the particular case.

Due regard for the interests of those who have passed on, as well as for those who remain, requires that all the facts be given full weight. The truth of the matter is that it is our keen sense of loss that gives rise to the desire for a message of some sort. We long to once more get into touch with one that seems to be lost to us. We are not really thinking much about his welfare. As a matter of fact he has not lost sight of us and does not have our sense of separation. Not only is he able to see us at all times and be conscious of our feelings and emotions, but during the hours when we are asleep he is in the fullest and freest communication with us and we with him. On awakening we usually have no memory of this and if we do we think it was a dream. But it is not so with him. His memory of it is perfect and the result is that he has not our sense of separation and loss at all.

The result of knowledge upon the subject, that is readily gained by a study of the researches of the skilled occultists, is that one comes to feel that one should rest satisfied with the fact that we do converse with the dead nightly, and leave mediumistic communications to the scientific investigators. The natural order of things is that the person who passes into the astral world shall in time fix his mind exclusively upon the inner life and be completely divorced from physical plane affairs. That is the mental and emotional condition which permits of his rapid passage through levels where he should not linger. It is said that to turn his attention backward at this time may cause him acute distress.

A reading of the Christian scriptures with a knowledge of occultism often throws a new light upon the subject. An instance of this is to be found in the story of the woman of Endor who is visited by Saul in his quest for psychic information about the crisis that has been reached in the affairs of his kingdom. The woman went into trance and acted as a medium for a communication from Samuel, who tells Saul just what will occur in the impending battle. Samuel’s first words were a reproach to Saul. “Why hast thou disquieted me to bring me up?” [F] was his greeting. It is the language of one who is displeased. Drawing his attention forcibly back to the material world by the strong desire Saul had to communicate with him was evidently distressing to the dead king, hence the rebuke, “Why hast thou disquieted me?”

What is here said on the subject of communication, however, has reference to general principles only. There is no intention of suggesting that it is always undesirable to communicate with those who have passed over. Often those on the other side seek means of communicating and they should then find the most willing co-operation from this side. Sometimes one who has left the physical plane life has a message of great importance to deliver and such a case reverses the general rule—he would be delayed if he could not communicate. It would be decidedly to his advantage to free his mind of the matter. Until he has done so he may remain in a restless condition and his case falls into the category of what the spiritualists call “earth bound.” He may have left undone something that a message will set right, if he can get it through, or he may have secreted something that cannot be found because he died suddenly and had no opportunity to speak of it. Or it may simply be a case of desiring to prove to materialistic friends the fact that the so-called dead are not dead, and are close at hand. It is sometimes possible for the important information to come through into physical life in the form of a dream by the living, and thus the recovery of valuables has followed. [G] In such a case the dream is a memory of facts well known in astral life but hidden from the waking consciousness by the unresponsive material brain.

It sometimes happens that one who thus most earnestly desires to communicate but is wholly ignorant of how to accomplish his purpose causes a good deal of annoyance. His blundering attempts to use psychic force may be wholly abortive and result only in meaningless noises, raps, the tumbling of books or dishes from shelves or the aimless movement of furniture. Annoyance is sometimes caused also by intention, on the part of those who think it is humorous to play pranks. It must be remembered that passing on to the astral life does not improve one’s common sense. If while living here, he thought it amusing to astonish or delude somebody, or trick a friend into seriously accepting some absurd assertion as a fact, he still regards the same course as entertaining. This accounts for many of the foolish, and sometimes startling messages, or answers to questions, received at seances.

It has often been asked why, if communication between the physical and astral planes is possible, we do not receive information that might lead to valuable discoveries and inventions. The very fact that death does not confer wisdom explains it in part. But an even more important fact is that communication is easy with the lower levels and correspondingly difficult as the higher levels are reached. All who have had much experience with seances are familiar with the fact that “guides” or “controls,” that is, the persons in the invisible realms who direct the seance and frequently speak through the medium, are very often Indians or others at a low level of evolution. The majority of the inhabitants of the astral levels with which communication is easy are not the type capable of furnishing ideas of any great value. It is on the higher levels that the man of intellectual power passes most of his astral life. The scientist or the inventor who has given so much thought to his work that he has been in some degree successful here is not likely to have much consciousness on lower levels. It is the highest of the seven subdivisions of the astral world that is the habitat of the person who has followed intellectual pursuits, during physical life, and with that level it is practically impossible for the ordinary medium to communicate.

One of the objections to indiscriminate communication with the astral plane lies in the very fact that the lowest class of entities are most accessible. That not only accounts for the commonplace messages in such abundance, but it is frequently a source of actual danger, especially where people form “circles” for the purpose of rendering themselves more sensitive to psychic influences. In such cases it is common to accept every message as absolute truth. There is no doubt that as a rule the astral people in charge of such a gathering are earnest and honest. But they are neither all-wise nor all-powerful, and it sometimes comes about that some of the sitters are partially or wholly obsessed by astral entities, and that may prove to be an exceedingly serious matter. Some people have thus lost their sanity and others their lives.

It is, of course, only the gross type of astral person who has a desire to seize upon the physical body of another. The purpose is to gratify desires that have outlived the physical body. The dead drunkard is perhaps the commonest example of the obsessing entity, and if the obsession is only partial it may lead to nothing worse than strong and perhaps irresistible impulses toward alcoholic stimulation. Obsession may, of course, occur without the psychic door being opened deliberately. But no obsession is possible, in any case, unless there is something within the victim responsive to the moral defect of the obsessing entity.

Partial obsessions are rather common and there are frequent inquiries as to the best means of treating such a case. It may amount only to the slight annoyance of astral people hanging about and refusing to depart or to actual persecution. In all such cases the victim is, of course, in conscious touch and communication with the intruders. One of the world’s greatest authorities on the subject, who is a constant investigator of the unseen regions, has given detailed answer to two questioners, and what he says is of such practical value that it is well worth reproducing. The second question itself is enlightening as to the character of the obsessing entities. The first inquirer asks:

“What is the best way to get rid of an excarnate human being who persists in occupying one’s body?”

The reply follows:

“I should simply and absolutely decline to be so obsessed. The best and kindest plan would be to have an explanation with the dead person, to enquire what he wants and why he makes such persistent attempts. Quite probably, he may be some ignorant soul who does not at all comprehend his new surroundings, and is striving madly to get into touch again with the only kind of life that he understands. In that case if matters are explained to him, he may be brought to a happier frame of mind and induced to cease his ill-directed efforts. Or the poor creature may have something on his mind—some duty unfulfilled or some wrong unrighted; if this be so, and the matter can be arranged to his satisfaction, he may then be at peace.

“If, however, he proves not to be amenable to reason, if in spite of all argument and explanation he refuses to abandon his reprehensible line of action, it will be necessary gently but firmly to resist him. Every man has an inalienable right to the use of his own vehicles, and encroachments of this nature should not be permitted. If the lawful possessor of the body will confidently assert himself and use his own willpower no obsession can take place.

“When such things occur, it is almost always because the victim has in the first place voluntarily yielded himself to the invading influence, and his first step therefore is to reverse that act of submission, to determine strongly to take matters into his own hands again and to resume control over his property. It is this reassertion of himself that is the fundamental requirement, and though much help may be given by wise friends, nothing which they can do will take the place of the development of willpower on the part of the victim, or obviate the necessity for it. The exact method of procedure will naturally vary according to the details of the case.”

The same authority answers another question on the same subject and he is here dealing with particular entities that he has evidently seen:

“I have long been troubled by entities who constantly suggest evil ideas and make use of coarse and violent language. They are always urging me to take strong drink, and goading me on to the consumption of large quantities of meat. I have prayed earnestly, but with little avail, and am driven to my wits’ end. What can I do?”

To this appeal the psychic scientist replies:

“You have indeed suffered greatly; but now you must make up your mind to suffer no more. You must take courage and make a firm stand. The power of these dead people over you is only in your fear of them. Your own will is stronger than all theirs combined if you will only know that it is; if you turn upon them with vigor and determination they must yield before you. You have an inalienable right to the undisturbed use of your own vehicles, and you should insist on being left in peace. You would not tolerate an intrusion of filthy and disgusting beings into your house on the physical plane; why should you submit to it because the entities happen to be astral? If an insolent tramp forces himself into a man’s house, the owner does not kneel down and pray—he kicks the tramp out; and that is precisely what you must do with these astral tramps.

“You will no doubt say to yourself that when I give you this advice I do not know the terrible power of the particular demons who are afflicting you. That is exactly what they would like you to believe—what they will try to make you believe; but do not be so foolish as to listen to them. I know the type perfectly, and mean, despicable, bullying villains they are; they will torment a weak woman for months together, but will fly in cowardly terror the moment you turn upon them in righteous anger! I should just laugh at them, but I would drive them out, hold not a moment’s parley with them. Of course, they will bluster and show fight, because you have let them have their own way for so long that they will not tamely submit to expulsion; but face them with iron determination, set your will against them like an immovable rock, and down they will go. Say to them: ‘I am a spark of the divine fire, and by the power of the God within me I order you to depart!’ Never let yourself think for an instant of failure or of yielding; God is within you, and God cannot fail.”

Probably there is no astral subject of more vital importance to any of us than that of the right attitude of mind and emotion toward the living dead. It is commonly said that we can do nothing more for them when they have passed away from physical plane life, but a greater error could not easily be made. The connection with us is by no means severed. Not only are they emotionally in touch with us but their emotions are very much keener than when they had a physical body through which to express them. They are now living in the astral body, the matter of which is enormously more responsive to emotional vibrations. A joyous emotion here would be tremendously more joyous there and a thing that would produce depression here would be a hundred times more depressing there. That fact should give pause to those who are inclined to think in sorrow, and with something of despair, about their friends who have passed on. They are not far away in space and in space and our emotions affect them profoundly and instantly.

We are all familiar with the fact that moods are communicable. The person who is cheerful cheers up others in his vicinity, while the one who is gloomy spreads gloom wherever he goes. It is a simple matter of vibrations. It is often within the power of a member of the family who habitually has “the blues” to destroy the happiness of the entire household. If we think of the most depressing effect that can be caused by sorrow on the physical plane, and then multiply its effectiveness by a hundred, we shall have no exaggeration of the astral effects of the emotions we indulge in the physical body. If, then, the sorrow of a weeping relative distresses us here it is clear that it must bring really keen distress to the one who is the subject of such grief. His life may thus be made miserable by the very persons who would be the last to cause him sorrow if they understood what they were doing.

We can really help the so-called dead and make them very much happier by simply changing our mournful attitude toward them. All violent expressions of grief should be avoided and a determination to make the best of the matter should be cultivated. The situation may indeed be bad, but we make it very much worse by our mourning. The funeral customs of Occidental civilization are quite consistent with its materialism. We act as nearly as possible as though we believe the dead are lost to us absolutely. We make matters as gloomy as possible. Yet we are slowly improving. Not so very long ago when anybody died those present stopped the ticking of the clock, drew down the window curtains, moved about on tiptoe, and acted generally in a way calculated to add as much as possible to the awe and the gloom. We still wear somber and depressing black and add all we can externally to our inward distress.

A more sensible attitude of mind may be observed at any theosophical funeral and, with growing frequency, at the funerals among thinking people. A funeral should not be the occasion of a final expression of grief, but a gathering of friends who send kindly thoughts and helpful good wishes to the comrade whose life work in the physical world is finished. The general feeling should be very much like that of a party of friends who go to the pier to see a well loved traveler off on a long journey to remote parts of the earth for a sojourn of many years or possibly a lifetime. There should be constant thought of his welfare, not of the loss to his friends. Grief that thinks of itself is an expression of selfishness and is detrimental to all. One should practice self control in such a matter just as one would control a feeling of anger under different circumstances.

Naturally enough the control of grief when one we love has passed on is none to easy. But any degree of success is much better than no effort, and will certainly help the one for whom we mourn. Much can be accomplished by avoiding unnecessary incidents that bring vividly back the keen sense of loss. Many people indulge the foolish custom of regularly visiting the cemetery where the body has been interred. A little analysis will show that this is only another evidence of our materialistic modes of thought, and the custom serves to perpetuate emotions that should never have existed. We can not, of course, think too often nor too tenderly of those who have passed on, but we should do nothing that leads us to think of them as being dead, or being far away. The fact that they are alive and well and happy and near should constantly fill the mind; and all of that, in nearly all cases, will be perfectly true if we do not foolishly destroy their peace of mind with our selfish sorrow.

Occasionally a hint on the subject comes from the astral plane people themselves. In the recent book [I] by Sir Oliver Lodge, on his experiments in psychic research, there is a message from his son, who was killed in battle, agreeing to attend the family Christmas dinner and to occupy the chair placed for him, provided they will all refrain from gloomy thoughts about him! No one who is informed on the subject of emotional reaction on the astral body, after the loss of the physical body, could be surprised by the conditions named by the young man.

The advocates of cremation have a strong argument in the fact that the preservation of the body for a time, whether in a tomb or a grave, tends to keep grief alive. When the body is reduced to ashes the delusion that the body is somehow the man seems to have less of a material basis. Visits to a tomb or grave are unfortunate, not alone because they renew grief through thinking upon it and thus cause great distress to those for whom we mourn, but also because the environment of a cemetery is one of the worst possible for the sorrowing. It is a dismal park of concentrated griefs where each mourner accentuates the emotional distress of all others. There is but one sensible attitude to take toward those we have lost by death—to think of them as living a joyous, busy life and at least calling on us daily even though most of us are not sensitive enough to be conscious of the fact. We should try to realize the truth of the matter and then readjust our habits to fit the facts. The average person who is afflicted with the erroneous ideas still so common, is doing an enormous amount of injury and bringing into the lives of the very people he loves a depression of which he little dreams, and which he can change to vivid pleasure by always thinking cheerfully of them and sending them daily thoughts of serenity and peace.

Rogers, L. W. (Louis William). Elementary Theosophy (p. 69-102).


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