The Astral Plane: It's Scenery, Inhabitants, and Phenomena is fifth in the series of Theosophical manuals authored by Charles Webster Leadbeater in 19th century. As the title suggests, the book describes many features of the astral plane in great detail and, as described in the preface, is designed to meet the public demand for a simple exposition of Theosophical teachings.
Significant claims Edit
Seven planes, each with seven subdivisions The matter of each plane differs in density "the same way, though to a much greater degree than, vapour differs from solid matter", and also that "solid, liquid and gaseous are the three lowest subdivisions of the matter belonging to the physical plane" (Introduction, page 11).
While all planes exist in the same space, "the higher varieties of matter extend further away from the physical earth than the lower" (Scenery, page 15). This claim is very similar to that of J.S.M. Ward who states that scenery from further back in time on the astral plane is found further outwards from the earth.
A fully developed astral sight can "magnify the minutest particle", "ultra-red and ultra-violet .. [are] .. plainly perceptible to astral sight", and that "universal life" is visible in all physical objects on the astral plane which are, in fact, their "astral counterparts" (pages 23-25).
On the lowest subdivision of the astral plane, "all that is light and good and beautiful seems invisible" (pages 25-26). The description bears close similarity with that given in J.S.M. Ward's books given by 'The Officer', a deceased World War I veteran in J.S.M. Ward's books.
On the highest three subdivisions, "spirits call into temporary existance their houses, schools, and cities" (pages 26-27). In J.S.M. Ward's books, the 'spirits' he converses with similarly create temporary astral homes and communities.
What are "mistakenly" called the records of astral light are infact a "sort of materialization of the Divine memory - a living photographic representation of all that has ever happened". As it is stated that these records are "permanantly impressed upon a much higher level", it is possible this is a reference to what is commonly known as the 'akashic records'. Furthermore it is claimed that these records are "reflected in a in a more or less spasmodic manner on the astral plane" (page 27).
At the time of writing, all 'lodges' were aware of the the Himalayan Brotherhood, "containing among its members the highest Adepts now known on earth." (page 31).
As with many other accounts, it is claimed that people "float about in [their] astral body during sleep in a more or less unconscious condition." (page 31).
Purported objectivity Edit
"The object of this manual is to collect and arrange the information with regard to this interesting region which is scattered through Theosophical literature, and also to supplement it slightly in cases where new facts have come to our knowledge. It must be understood that any such additions are only the result of the investigations of a few explorers, and must not, therefore be taken as in any way authorative, but are given simply for what they are worth. On the other hand every precaution in our power has been taken to ensure accuracy, no fact, old or new, being admitted to this manual unless it has been confirmed by the testimony of at least two independent trained investigators among ourselves, and has also been passed as correct by older students whose knowledge on these points is necessarily much greater than ours." (Introduction, pages 9-10).
The introduction states that there are seven different planes of matter and lists the first five in order of decreasing density: "physical, astral, mental or devachanic, buddhic, and nirvanic". The difference in density between planes is claimed to be the same as between solid, liquid and gaseous. It describes the last two planes as "so far above our present power of conception that for the moment they may be left out of consideration" (page 11). The importance of translating memory between planes without a break of consciousness is stressed to avoid recollections being "partially lost or distorted during the blank interval" (page 13).
It is proposed that all planes "exist together in the same space, although it is true that the higher varieties of matter extend further away from the physical earth than the lower." (page 17).
Distinctions are made between the seven subplanes and they are split into three sections. The 4th, 5th, and 6th subplanes have for their background the physical world and a gradually decreasing focus on materiality (page 18).
With the astral eyes "fully opened", physical objects are seen "from all sides at once" with "every particle in the interior of a solid body .. as fully and clearly visible as those on the outside". Furthermore, this sense cognizes forms of matter which are invisible to human eyesight such as the "particles composing the atmosphere, the various emanations which are always being given out by everything that has life, and also four grades of a still finer physical matter which, for want of more distinctive names, must all be described as etheric." (pages 18-19).
"Every material object has an extremely complex astral counterpart being composed of various types of astral matter. In addition to this each living creature is surrounded with an atmosphere of its own, usually called its aura .. seen as an oval mass of luminous mist .. sometimes been called the auric egg." This aura extends "to a distance of eighteen "Most brilliant and most easily seen of all .. is that aura which expresses by vivid and everchanging flashes of colour the different desires which sweep across the man's mind from moment to moment. Behind that, and consisting of a finer grade of matter - that of the form levels of the devachanic plane - lies the mental body or aura of the lower mind, whose colours, changing only by slow degrees as the man lives his life, show the trend of his thoughts and disposition and character of his personality .. While still higher and infinitely more beautiful .. is the living light of the causal body, the vehicle of the higher self, which shows the stage of development of the real ego its passage from birth to birth. But to see these the pupil must .. have developed the vision of the levels to which they belong." Furthermore it is explained that these auras are not "emanations, but .. actual manifestations of the ego on their respective planes", and that, "the auric egg .. is the real man, not the physical body" (pages 19-21).
In order to function on a specific plane, one must "clothe [themself] in [its] matter". "Fuller accounts of these auras will be found in Transaction No. 18 of the London Lodge, and in a small pamphlet on The Aura which I have published." The etheric double, alternatively known as the 'nerve-ether', is claimed to be denser than the astral, existing on the physical plane, yet invisible to ordinary sight. The etheric body is described as "the mould from upon which the physical body is built up .. formed by the Lords of Karma; while the astral matter has been gathered by the descending ego .. automatically as he passes through the astral plane. (See Manual No. IV., p. 44.)". "However complicated and unusual a man's karma may be, those in whose province such work falls are able to give a mould in accordance with which a body exactly suiting it can be formed. But for information on this vast subject of karma the previous manual should be consulted." (pages 21-23).
It is claimed in regards to astral sight that, "the power of magnifying the minutest particle to any given size, as though by a microscope", is available to those with "fully developed processes". Also that, "ultra-red and ultra-violet rays .. [are] .. plainly perceptible to astral sight". "Universal life" is claimed to be visibly "circulating through .. and radiating from" even inert physical objects (pages 23-25).
The seventh, or lowest, subdivision of the astral plane is a "distorted and partial view" of the physical world where "all that is light and good and beautiful seems invisible". It is claimed that this subdivision was described four thousand years ago in the Egyptian papyrus of the scribe of Ani. This description is extremely similar to that of deceased World War I veteran in J.S.M. Ward's books referred to as The Officer, and suggests that the lowest subplane of the astral is likely to be the inspiration for the common religious concept of hell. Ward's description is also coherent with the claim that it is, "like all other hells, entirely of man's creation." When visited in the astral body it is described as feeling like "pushing .. through some black viscous fluid" due to the sense of "density and gross materiality", and that, "inhabitants and influences encountered there are also exceedingly undesirable" (pages 25-26).
The highest group of subdivisions, first, second and third, give the impression of being "less material" and entities inhabiting these levels are "deeply self absorbed, and to a large extent create their own surroundings." Commonly described by seance attendees as "summerland", it is on this plane that "spirits" call into temporary existance their houses, schools, and cities" (pages 26-27).
What is described by others "mistakenly" as "the Records of Astral Light" are claimed to be "a sort of materialization of the Divine memory, a living photographic representation of all that has ever happened", and are "permanantly impressed upon a very much higher level .. reflected in a more or less spasmodic manner on the astral plane." "A fuller account will be found in chapter vii of my little book on Clairvoyance." (pages 27-28).
"The men who manifest themselves on the astral plane during the physical life may be subdivided into four classes:-"
"1. The Adept and his Pupils." "Those belonging to this class usually employ as a vehicle not the astral body at all, but the mind-body, which is composed of the matter of the four lower or rupa levels of the plane next above. The advantage of this vehicle is that it permits of instant passage from the mental plane to the astral and back." "The mind-body is not naturally visible to astral sight at all, and consequently the pupil who works in it learns to gather round himself a temporary veil of astral matter when in the course of his work he wishes to become perceptible to the inhabitants of the lower plane." It is claimed that the Himalayan Brotherhood contains among its members the highest Adepts now known on earth." (page 31).
"2. The Phsychically-developed Person who is not under the guidance of a Master." "When a man is born with psychic powers it is simply the result of efforts made during a previous incarnation". (page 31)
"3. The Ordinary Person .. who floats about in his astral body during sleep in a more or less unconscious condition." (page 31).