Astral projection or astral travel is an interpretation of any form of out-of-body experience (OBE) that assumes the existence of an “astral body” separate from the physical body and capable of traveling outside it. Astral projection or travel denotes the astral body leaving the physical body to travel in the astral plane.
The idea of astral travel is rooted in common worldwide religious accounts of the afterlife in which the consciousness’ or soul’s journey or “ascent” is described in such terms as “an…out-of body experience, wherein the spiritual traveler leaves the physical body and travels in his/her subtle body (or dream body or astral body) into ‘higher’ realms.
It is therefore associated with near death experiences and is also frequently reported as spontaneously experienced in association with sleep and dreams, illness, surgical operations, drug experiences, sleep paralysis and forms of meditation.
It is also sometimes attempted for its own sake, or may be believed to be necessary to, or the result of, some forms of spiritual practice.
It may involve “travel to higher realms” called astral planes but is commonly used to describe any sensation of being “out of the body”[in the everyday world, even seeing one’s body from outside or above.
It may be reported in the form of an apparitional experience, a supposed encounter with a doppelganger, some living person also seen somewhere else at the same time.
Through the 1960s and 70s, surveys reported percentages ranging from 8% to as many as 50% (in certain groups) of respondents who state they had such an experience.
The subjective nature of the experience permits explanations that do not rely on the existence of an “astral” body and plane. There is little beyond anecdotal evidence to support the idea that people can actually “leave the body”.
According to classical, medieval, renaissance Neoplatonism, later Theosophist and Rosicrucian philosophy, the astral body is an intermediate body of light linking the rational soul to the physical body, and the astral plane is an intermediate world of light between Heaven and Earth composed of the spheres of the planets and stars.
These astral spheres were held to be populated by angels, demons and spirits.
The subtle bodies, and their associated planes of existence, form an essential part of the esoteric systems that deal with astral phenomena. In the neo-platonism of Plotinus, for example, the individual is a microcosm (“small world”) of the universe (the macrocosm or “great world”).
“The rational soul…is akin to the great Soul of the World” while “the material universe, like the body, is made as a faded image of the Intelligible”.
Each succeeding plane of manifestation is causal to the next, a world-view called emanation-ism; “from the One proceeds Intellect, from Intellect Soul, and from Soul – in its lower phase, or Nature – the material universe”.
Often these bodies and their planes of existence are depicted as a series of concentric circles or nested spheres, with a separate body traversing each realm.
The idea of the astral figured prominently in the work of the nineteenth-century French occultist Eliphas Levi, whence it was adopted by Theosophy and Golden Dawn magical society.
A common belief is that the subtle body is attached to the physical body by means of a psychic silver cord./The final chapter of the Biblical Book of Ecclesiastes is often cited in this respect;
“before the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be shattered at the fountain, or the wheel be broken at the cistern”
Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (Chapter 12, verse 2) is more generally agreed to refer to the astral planes;
“I know a man in Christ, fourteen years ago, (whether in the body I know not, or out of the body I know not, God knows) such a one caught up to the third heaven…”‘
This statement gave rise to the Visio Pauli, a tract that offers a vision of heaven and hell, a forerunner of visions attributed to Adomnan and Tnugdalus as well as of Dante’s Comedy.
Similar concepts of “soul” travel appear in various other religious traditions, for example ancient Egyptian teachings present the soul as having the ability to hover outside the physical body in the ka, or subtle body.
Taoist alchemical practice involves creation of an energy body by breathing meditations, drawing energy into a ‘pearl’ that is then “circulated”. “Xiangzi … with a drum as his pillow fell fast asleep, snoring and motionless.
His primordial spirit, however, went straight into the banquet room and said, “My lords, here I am again.”
When Tuizhi walked … with the officials to take a look, there really was a Daoist sleeping on the ground and snoring like thunder. Yet inside, in the side room, there was another Daoist beating a fisher drum and singing Daoist songs.
The officials all said, “Although there are two different people, their faces and clothes are exactly alike. Clearly he is a divine immortal who can divide his body and appear in several places at once. …”
At that moment, the Daoist in the side room came walking out, and the Daoist sleeping on the ground woke up. The two merged into one.”
The Theosophists also took note of similar ideas (Lin’ga S’ari-ra) found in ancient Hindu scriptures such as the YogaVashishta-Maharamayana of Valmiki.
Modern Indians who have offered experiences of astral projection include Paramahansa Yogananda and Osho (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh)
“Astral” & “Etheric”
The expression “astral projection” came to be used in two different ways. For the Golden Dawn and some Theosophists it retained the classical and medieval philosophers’ meaning of journeying to other worlds, heavens, hells, the astrological spheres and other imaginal landscapes, but outside these circles the term was increasingly applied to non-physical travel around the physical world rather than the astral.
Though this usage continues to be widespread, the “etheric travel” label coined by later Theosophists such as Leadbetter and Bailey is more appropriate to such scenarios.
Commonly in the astral projection experience, the experiments describe themselves as being in a domain which often has no parallel to any physical setting, although they say they can visit different times and/or physical settings.
Environments may be populated or unpopulated, artificial, natural or completely abstract and from beatific to horrific. A common belief is that one may access a compendium of mystical knowledge called the Akashic records.
In many of these accounts, the experience r correlates the astral world with the world of dreams.
They report seeing dreamers enact dream scenarios on the astral plane, unaware of the wider environment around them. Some also state that “falling” dreams are brought about by projection.
The astral environment is often theoretically divided into levels or planes. There are many different views concerning the overall structure of the astral planes in various traditions.
These planes may include heavens and hells and other after-death spheres, transcendent environments or other less-easily characterized states.
In contrast to astral projection, etheric projection is described as the ability to move about in the material world in an etheric body which is usually, though not always, invisible to people who are presently “in their bodies.”
Robert Monroe describes this type of projection as a projection to “Locale I” or the “Here-Now”, and describes it as containing people and places that he feels actually exist in the material world.
Robert Bruce refers to a similar area as the “Real Time Zone” (RTZ) and describes it as the nonphysical, dimension-level closest to the physical.
According to Max Heindel, the etheric “double” serves as a medium between the astral and physical realms. In his system, the ether, also called prana, is the “vital force” that empowers the physical forms in order for that change to take place.
From his descriptions it can be inferred that when one views the physical during an out-of-body experience, one is not technically “in” the astral realm at all.
The subtle vehicle remains connected to the physical body during the separation by a so-called “silver cord”, said to be that mentioned in Ecclesiastes 12:6.
Stephen LaBerge suggested in his 1985 book Lucid Dreaming that all such “out-of-body experiences” may represent partially lucid dreams or “misinterpreted dream experiences”, in which the sleeper does not fully recognize the situation.
“In the dark forest, one may experience a tree as a tiger, but it is still in fact only a tree.”
Although there are many twentieth century publications on astral projection, only a few of their authors remain widely cited as influential after their deaths. These include Robert Monroe, Oliver Fox, Sylvan Muldoon, and Yram.
Living authors that receive repeated coverage in popular media include Robert Bruce, William Buhlmann and Albert Taylor, all of whom have discussed their theories and findings on the syndicated show Coast to Coast AM several times.
Michael Crichton gives lengthy and detailed explanations and experience of astral projection in his non-fiction book “Travels”.
William Buhlman and Robert Bruce are among the most popular author-practitioners on the OBE. Waldo Vieira is a physician and dentist that claims to have had his first OBE at the age of 9 and has gone on to write numerous articles and over 20 books, including Projectiology.
Wagner Alegretti, president of and researcher at International Academy of Consciousness, is another experienced out-of-body experience recently featured on the Discovery Channel en Espanol and New York’s New Realities series.
And rock singer Marilyn Manson, who used astral projection to help inspire him throughout the recording of Antichrist Superstar.
Robert Monroe’s accounts of journeys to other realms (1971–1994) popularized the term “OBE” and were translated into a large number of languages.
Though his books themselves only placed secondary importance on descriptions of method, Monroe also founded an institute dedicated to research, exploration and non-profit dissemination of auditory technology for assisting others in achieving projection and related altered states of consciousness.
Hereward Carrington, a psychical researcher, along with Sylvan Muldoon, who professed ease with astral projection, published The Projection of the Astral Body in 1929. Both Callaway and Muldoon wrote of techniques they felt facilitated a projection into the astral.
Among these practices included visualizing such mental images as flying or being in an elevator traveling upward, just before going to sleep. They also recommended trying to regain waking consciousness while in a dream state (lucid dreaming).
This was done, they wrote, by habitually recognizing apparent incongruities in one’s dream, such as noticing a different pattern of wallpaper in one’s home.
Such recognition, they said, sometimes resulted in normal consciousness, but with the feeling of being outside the physical body and able to look down on it.
Emanuel Swedenborg was one of the first practitioners to write extensively about the out-of-body experience, in his Spiritual Diary (1747-65).
French philosopher and novelist Honoré de Balzac’s fictional work “Louis Lambert” suggests he may have been a lucid projector (astral projector or out-of-body experiencer).
In occult traditions, practices range from inducing trance states to the mental construction of a second body, called the Body of Light in Aleister Crowley’s writings, through visualization and controlled breathing, followed by the transfer of consciousness to the secondary body by a mental act of will.