The astral plane, also called the astral world, is a plane of existence postulated by classical (particularly neo-Platonic), medieval, oriental and esoteric philosophies and mystery religions. It is the world of the celestial spheres, crossed by the soul in its astral body on the way to being born and after death, and generally said to be populated by angels, spirits or other immaterial beings. In the late 19th and early 20th century the term was popularised by Theosophy and neo-Rosicrucianism.
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Plato and Aristotle taught that the stars were composed of a type of matter different from the four earthly elements - a fifth, ethereal element or quintessence. In the "astral mysticism" of the classical world the human psyche was composed of the same material, thus accounting for the influence of the stars upon human affairs. In his commentaries on Plato's Timaeus, Proclus wrote;
Man is a little world (mikros cosmos). For, just like the Whole, he possesses both mind and reason, both a divine and a mortal body. He is also divided up according to the universe. It is for this reason, you know, that some are accustomed to say that his consciousness corresponds with the nature of the fixed stars, his reason in its contemplative aspect with Saturn and in its social aspect with Jupiter, (and) as to his irrational part, the passionate nature with Mars, the eloquent with Mercury, the appetitive with Venus, the sensitive with the Sun and the vegetative with the Moon.
Such doctrines were commonplace in mystery-schools and Hermetic and gnostic sects throughout the Roman Empire and influenced the early Christian church. Among Muslims the "astral" world-view was soon rendered orthodox by Quranic references to the Prophet's ascent through the seven heavens. Scholars took up the Greek Neoplatonist accounts as well as similar material in Hindu and Zoroastrian texts. The expositions of Ibn Sina (Avicenna), the Brotherhood of Purity and others, when translated into Latin in the Norman era, were to have a profound effect upon European mediaeval alchemy and astrology. By the 14th century Dante was describing his own imaginary journey through the astral spheres of Paradise.
Throughout the Renaissance, philosophers, Paracelsians, Rosicrucians and alchemists continued to discuss the nature of the astral world intermediate between earth and the divine. Once the telescope established that no religious heaven was visible around the solar system, the idea was superseded in mainstream science.
The astral plane and astral experience
According to occult teachings the astral plane can be visited consciously through astral projection, meditation and mantra, near death experience, lucid dreaming, or other means. Individuals that are trained in the use of the astral vehicle can separate their consciousness in the astral vehicle from the physical body at will.
In early theosophical literature the term "astral" may refer to the aether. Later theosophical authors such as Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater make the astral finer than the etheric plane but "denser" than the mental plane. In order to create a unified view of seven bodies and remove earlier Sanskrit terms, an etheric plane was introduced and the term "astral body" was used to replace the former kamarupa - sometimes termed the body of emotion, illusion or desire.
According to Max Heindel's Rosicrucian writings, desire-stuff may be described as a type of force-matter, in incessant motion, responsive to the slightest feeling. The desire world is also said to be the abode of the dead for some time subsequent to death. It is also the home of the archangels. In the higher regions of the desire world thoughts take a definite form and color perceptible to all, all is light and there is but one long day.
In his book Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramhansa Yogananda provides details about the astral planes learned from his resurrected guru. Yogananda reveals that nearly all individuals enter the astral planes after death. There they work out the seeds of past karma through astral incarnations, or (if their karma requires) they return to earthly incarnations for further refinement. Once an individual has attained the meditative state of nirvikalpa samadhi in an earthy or astral incarnation, the soul may progress upward to the "illumined astral planet" of Hiranyaloka. After this transitionary stage, the soul may then move upward to the more subtle causal spheres where many more incarnations allow them to further refine before final unification.
Astral projection author Robert Bruce describes the astral as seven planes that take the form of planar surfaces when approached from a distance, separated by immense coloured "buffer zones". These planes are endlessly repeating ruled Cartesian grids, tiled with a single signature pattern that is different for each plane. Higher planes have bright, colourful patterns, whereas lower planes appear far duller. Every detail of these patterns acts as a consistent portal to a different kingdom inside the plane, which itself comprises many separate realms. Bruce notes that the astral may also be entered by means of long tubes that bear visual similarity to these planes, and conjectures that the grids and tubes are in fact the same structures approached from a different perceptual angle.
In popular culture
The Astral Plane is referred to in the songs "The Doorway" by Neurosis, "Gonna See My Friend" by Pearl Jam, "Mary Jane" by Megadeth, "Stormrider" by Iced Earth, "Over the Mountain" by Ozzy Osbourne, "Dream Weaver" by Gary Wright, "New Invaders" by Iris, "Legend of a Mind" by The Moody Blues, "Forest of Legend" by Vektor, "Vatos of the Astral Plane" by Fatso Jetson The two songs "Astral Plane" and "Astral Plane Pt Deux" by Morphine Machine are specifically about it. "Astral Plane" is the name of a song on the debut album of Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers and the astral concept informed the lyrics of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks. An early piece by the progressive rock band Yes was entitled "Astral Traveller". The Phoenix metalcore band The Word Alive's album "Life Cycles" contains a song named "Astral Plane".
In the Marvel Universe, the Astral Plane is the realm of minds. Telepaths are able to access the Astral Plane by projecting their mind onto this realm, more commonly known as Astral Projecting, this also allowing them to enter the minds of others. The realm plays a significant role in the stories of many characters. Doctor Strange has practiced astral projection since his inception in 1963. Illyana Rasputin [alias Magik] was able to astral project her own consciousness in New Mutants (Series 1) #15. Other mutants such as Professor X, Emma Frost, Jean Grey, and other powerful psychics, have access to the astral plane. Professor X imprisons the Shadow King on the astral plane. There are beings who live there such as Cassandra Nova. The Hulk is capable of seeing astral bodies. In the DC/Vertigo Universe, the Astral planes are used for travel and magic by a certain number of individuals such as Doctor Fate, Zatanna, and Doctor Occult, though use of astral projection is mostly illusionary.
In the standard Dungeons & Dragons RPG planar cosmology, the Astral Plane is a dimension coexistent with all others (or all non-elemental planes in some editions of the game), used as a means of transportation between planes. The Astral Plane is the final level of the computer game NetHack. The Astral plane is featured as a level in the video game X-Men Legends.
The Astral plane as well as other planes of existence such as the etheric are featured prominently in the Deverry Cycle of fantasy books by Katharine Kerr. It is a major part of the musical The True Story of the Bridgewater Astral League by The World/Inferno Friendship Society. It is featured in the television show Charmed, in which it is described as a realm of "spirits and energies" and a place where time does not progress.
- Astral projection
- Celestial sphere
- Celestial spheres
- Esoteric cosmology
- Linga sarira (subtle body)
- Plane (esotericism)
- Pure land
- G.R.S.Mead, The Doctrine of the Subtle Body in Western Tradition, Watkins 1919.
- Plato, The Republic, trans. Desmond Lee, Harmondsworth.
- Quoted in; G.R.S.Mead, The Doctrine of the Subtle Body in Western Tradition, Watkins 1919, page 84 (Slightly adapted).
- Frederick Copleston, The History of Philosophy Vol 2, IMAGE BOOKS 1993–1994.
- The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: "There are two states for man – the state in this world and the state in the next; there is also a third state, the state intermediate between these two, which can be likened to the dream [state]. While in the intermediate state a man experiences both the other states, that of this world and that in the next; and the manner whereof is as follows: when he dies he lives only in the subtle body, on which are left the impressions of his past deeds, and of those impressions is he aware, illumined as they are by the light of the Transcendent Self"
- Miguel Asín Palacios La Escatología musulmana en la Divina Comedia [Muslim Eschatology in the Divine Comedy] (1919). Seyyed Hossein Nasr, An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines, University of New York Press, passim. Idries Shah, The Sufis, Octagon Press, 1st Ed. 1964.
- Frances Yates - see;
- J. H. Brennan, Astral Doorways, Thoth Publications 1996 ISBN 978-1-870450-21-8
- Paramhansa Yogananda (1946). Autobiography of a Yogi. The Philosophical Library, Inc.
- Paramhansa Yogananda (1946). "Autobiography of a Yogi". Retrieved 20 July 2011.
- The Power of Three Blondes
- Bruce, Robert, Astral Dynamics: A NEW Approach to Out-of-Body Experiences, 1999, ISBN 1-57174-143-7
- Buhlman, William, Adventures Beyond the Body: How to experience out-of-body travel. ISBN 978-0-06-251371-7
- Heindel, Max, The Rosicrucian Mysteries (Chapter III: The Visible and the Invisible Worlds), 1911, ISBN 0-911274-86-3
- Leadbeater, Charles Webster, The Astral Plane: Its scenery, inhabitants and phenomena, 1900
- Powell, Arthur E., The Astral Body and other Astral Phenomena
- Steiner, Rudolf, Theosophy: An introduction to the supersensible knowledge of the world and the destination of man. London: Rudolf Steiner Press. (1904) 1970
- Twitchell, Paul, "ECKANKAR - The Key to Secret Worlds" Eckankar, 2nd Ed. 2001. ISBN 1-57043-154-X
- ----- Occult Science - An Outline. Trans. George and Mary Adams. London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1909, 1969
- Tommaso Palamidessi, Come sdoppiarsi e viaggiare nei mondi soprasensibili, Vol. III, ed. Archeosofica, 1989.