The term "astral plane" is variously used in New Age, occult, and
theosophical thought to designate the reality corresponding to the
next most subtle body or vehicle beyond the etheric body, which one
experiences in astral travel and so on.
More broadly, it can be
interpreted as the "subtle" aspect of the Physical (i.e. the subtle
physical) and the physical aspect of Orectic reality. It is divided
into a number of sub-gradations, but the descriptions and details
differ according to the particular teaching.
The Astral plane is well-known in many esoteric traditions.
References to this reality are:
Dreaming of the Australian Aborigines
the Spirit-world of
the Duat of the ancient
the Bardo (Intermediate
State) of the Tibetans
the Imaginal world of Islamic
Esotericism - e.g. the Barzakh (Interworld) or of
Suhrawardi and the the Mithal (Imaginal realm) of
the Universe of Asiyah of
some Kabbalists, or of Yetzirah according to others
Other descriptions are:
the Nervo degree of the Physical
State of Theon
the Astral or 2nd Prakritic
plane (corresponding to the Linga Sharira or Subtle or
the Kama (Desire-Plane) of
the Astral Plane of the Adyar
school of Theosophy and of popular occultism, Rudolph
Steiner's "Soul World"
the Vital and Subtle Physical
described by Sri Aurobindo and Mirra
These are just a few of the innumerable
descriptions of this plane of existence.
The fractal approach to occultism (e.g.
Max Theon) suggests that there is
not a single astral reality, but rather the astral plane, and
the corresponding astral body, pertains to a number of realities,
mostly in the Subtle Physical, but also in the Physical Orectic
One might even formulate a gradation
the Greater Astral or Kosmic
Orectic Universe such as the Numinocosm,
to Subtle Physical,
and finally to objective
These can be related as fractal
resonances, with a lesser or kosmic physical Astral/Orectic
distinguished from the greater or numinocosmic kosmic
Astral/Orectic, as being a reflection or resonance of the
The kosmic physical Astral/Orectic in
turn creates a resonance in the subtle physical (or etheric) astral,
as well as in other octaves.
In contrast to the universes of pure ideas (the ideational universe)
above it, here the ability of consciousness to even formulate ideas
is lost, due to the increasing preponderance of the material pole of
existence. This coarseness also brings about, for the first time, a
limitation in the multiplicity of things, as it screens out more and
more the infinite number of possible subtleties.
There is also, for the first time, the
beginning of egotism, the mistaken belief that one's own little self
is the centre of the universe, and the consequent desire to
aggrandize that petty self (there is no egotism in the higher
worlds; mental egotism only comes about through mind being mixed
with the substance of the lower planes).
representative of the Psychic Universe
from "The Return of Authur
Like the other planes and ontological universes, the Physical Astral
plane seems to consist of a number of resonances or subplanes, such
as are illustrated in the above diagram. These sub-planes constitute
a "vertical" gradation of zones from dark to light, dense to subtle,
material to spiritual.
They have been described and categorized
in different esoteric teachings, including the system of chakras and
planes in Sant Mat, the occult cosmologies of the Kabbalists, Theon,
Blavatsky, Rudolph Steiner, Spiritualism, Adyar school of Theosophy,
and Sri Aurobindo.
Regions of the
The following is a diagram that, although presented from a
mythological New Age ufological perspective, which interprets
the the Subtle Physical Astral in terms of galactic
extraterrestrials and so on. Although this should not be taken too
literally, it presents a useful representation of the planes and
graduations of this region.
Here, "time-space influence" refers to
proximity to the Cosmic Physical planes and subplanes, "time-space
independent" to the higher regions of Cosmic Astral (i.e. the Astral
and higher subplanes).
Terms like interplanetary and
intergalactic may be pseudoscientific interpretations of various
degrees of ascent of consciousness, or they may refer to genuine
subdivsions of the Astral Universes
Various occult teachers give different descriptions and enumerations
(the Theosophists have seven, the Kabbalists ten, and so on).
Following Sri Aurobindo's division of the Vital we posit four
distinct Psychic planes, here termed,
...four distinct "resonances" or states
However this is only one classification system, and
the others can be considered just as valid.
The first, the Mental-Psychic
Plane, Noeric of Psychic, is the higher octave of the physical
intellect, and the lower of the Divine intellect. It takes the
form of the source of imagination, and creativity. There are
also higher resonances, which pertain to the descent of higher
angelic or Divine Light, and constitute a sort of "Divinised"
Astral. This Divinized Astral is the region of many Gods.
The second, the
Psychic-Emotional, is the octave of higher emotion, especially
love (the highest and purest of the emotions). This is a higher,
more "spiritual" and "heavenly", Psychic Plane, the plane of
pure feelings and emotions, especially the higher emotions such
as Love. We can call this the Emotional Plane.
The third, the Higher or
Greater Astral, is the octave of will, power, and egotism. The
sense of an individual self or personality comes from here. This
is the plane of pure desires and ambitions and power and will,
which we can call the Connative or Will or
Higher Astral Plane.
The lowest, Physical Psychic,
or Lower Astral, refers to that aspect of the Psychic nature
that have taken on or reproduced forms from the world of
Physical (what are variously referred to by occult writers as
"thought-forms", "elementals", and "artificial elementals",
although there are other beings also called "elementals" that
are native to these and other planes).
19th century occultists such as
Eiphas Levi and Madame Blavatsky refer to this as the
"astral light", and it presumably occurs on a number of planes.
This is a lower, more "material" and "purgatorial" Psychic
Plane, which - borrowing a term from Plato's three-fold
psychology (the division into reason, will, and desire) - we can
refer to as the epithymia or Desire or Lower
The Emotional Plane corresponds to the Lurianic Kabbalistic
World of Angels (Yetzirah), and the "higher Astral Plane" of
Theosophy and contemporary occultism.
It is on this Higher Psychic or
Greater Astral or Thymatic Plane that we find the
various paradises and heavens. Here the "soul" or
ba (to give the Egyptian term) ascends after physical death.
This would also seem to be the plane which the Spiritualists refer
to as "Summerland", the paradisiacal after-life state described in a
number of spiritualist teachings.
Psychologically, this is the universal counterpart of what Sri
Aurobindo describes as the emotional vital,
"the seat of various feelings, such
as love, joy, sorrow, hatred, and the rest."
[Letters on Yoga, Vol 1, p.334].
But the Emotional-Spiritual Plane is not
the same as the Emotional body of the Omni-Physical Universe.
The Emotional body in the Etheric is the
Psychic incarnate in the etheric, while the Emotional-Spiritual
Plane represents the original impulse or source, "metaphysical
emotion" so to speak, as distinct from Physical-Etheric Emotion.
Higher Astral Plane
The Upper Astral corresponds in part to the Lurianic Kabbalistic
World of Making (Asiyah), and pretty much to Blavatsky's Kamic
(not "karmic") or Desire Plane. As with the Emotional Plane, this is
a vast psychic region.
Theosophical writers such as Leadbeater and Steiner,
and a number of Spiritualist sources, refer here to a progression of
gradations (usually seven), going from purgatorial to heavenly.
Although the purgatorial regions are usually associated in
these writings most closely with the Earth plane, this is not
strictly correct. What we have here is a "horizontal" series of
regions, from Gross to Subtle and Causal Astral, the Gross Astral
being most caught up with physical consciousness (and hence still
tied to physical things), the Causal (or noetic) Astral being the
In the psychological-yogic system of Sri Aurobindo, this
faculty especially is referred to as the Vital. This refers
not to etheric or life-force body as such, but the various emotions,
desires, lusts, likes, dislikes, and so on. The Vital can be
identified with the element of Will, of motivation and energy.
Without the help of the vital, nothing can be achieved.
Various powerful occult practices, such as Magic, extend the
consciousness into the Higher Astral or Psychic universe. This is
done through attuning oneself to, and contacting, various entities
or powers of those worlds, through the means of ritual,
visualization, sex, and other potent techniques. Even the most basic
magical ritual, such as the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram,
in many ways the foundation-stone of the entire Golden Dawn
tradition, can have a strikingly powerful effect on the Lower and
Higher Astral planes.
Ritual Magic as a whole, with its emphasis on the acquiring
of powers and abilities, pertains very much to the Upper Astral
world of Yetzirah; to exploring and mastering the phenomena of
this plane, just as science and technology explore and master the
phenomena of the physical plane (but with each, how important, and
how often neglected, is the guidance of proper wisdom and true
Exploration of the Higher Astral plane is often to be had through a
form of clairvoyance included under the heading of Magical
imagination or scrying, a sort of modified astral travelling. In
this, one doesn't actually "see" colors and beings "objectively", as
the true clairvoyant does, but rather imaginatively, with the
"mind's eye". Still, this can be a powerful technique, especially
when combined (as in the Golden Dawn system) with Ritual Magic.
Sometimes this state can also be
achieved through taking drugs in an appropriate frame of mind, but
by far the majority of all drug experiences are Asiyatic.
The emotional and higher astral regions would seem to constitute the
origin of that phenomenon known as Channeling. Channeling is the
process whereby a higher nonphysical intelligence or entity, in
conjunction with the channeler's own subconscious, dictates a
teaching, usually of a spiritual or pseudo-spiritual nature.
Generally, material of this genre tends to be turgid, verbose,
obscure, and poorly presented.
Despite, or maybe because of, this, such
communications have become enormously popular and influential in the
so-called "New Age" movement. But this is by no means a unique
modern Western phenomenon. Close analogies can be made with the
Hebraic prophets and also the Voodoo ceremonies of possession by a
god (loa), to give just two examples.
It is in the Psychic Planes then that one can encounter the Gods of
religions, as reflections of the original Gods and Godheads
of the Divine Ontocosm. Each Astral God creates its
own empire, and human entities of lesser understanding (which
includes the great mass of humanity at present) can easily get stuck
This is the basis of the Monotheist's
claim that there is only one God, the God of their
Religion, and all the other religions have only an inferior
understanding of their God, is false. His consciousness is
stuck in the empire of that one god, and overpowered by its strength
and radiance. He is thus unable to recognize or acknowledge other
realities, gods, etc.
In addition there are innumerable other orders of beings here, most
of which have no connection or relation to human or earthly
Psychic or Epithymic Plane
The Lower Astral Plane, or plane of psychic desire is the
region of lower astral spirits, elementals, formations and
thought-forms, and various other phenomena. These constitute a sort
of psychic zone pervading and surrounding the Earth. If we see a
certain place a particular "atmosphere" for example, we are attuning
to the astral energy of that place.
Spiritualist mediums tend to attune to
this plane, and the so-called "spirits" they contact are actually
the psychic "shells" of deceased people, what Blavatsky
called kama-rupa ("desire-forms").
The Lower Astral is the most
accessible of the Yetziratic worlds, because it is closest (i.e.
most similar in "density") to the Physical Universe
The most dramatic way to experience this plane is to actually bodily
transfer one's field-of-consciousness from Physical to Psychic; to
leave one's physical body behind and travel "out of body" in the
Psychic Universe itself. In popular terminology this is referred to
as "astral projection" or "astral travelling." Some individuals have
a greater aptitude for it than others. In any case, most of these
experiences pertain to the Lower Astral; only skilled astral
travelers ascend to higher planes.
Another method of experiencing the Lower Astral is, while remaining
in the physical vehicle, to extend one's sensorium into the
Psychic worlds. One form of this is called "Clairvoyance" ("seeing
auras", etc). Most clairvoyants only function on the Etheric and the
Lower Astral planes. This is because the higher up you go on the
scale of being, the more subtle the realities (the "vibrations" to
use the originally Gurdjieffian New Age term) and hence the
greater difficulty in perceiving them.
The Lower Psychic or Epithymic Plane corresponds in
Neoplatonism and Kabbalah to the so-called "animal soul", the lower
or instinctual self; the "lower self".
Says Sri Aurobindo:
"The lower vital as distinguished
from the higher is concerned only with the small greeds, small
desires, small passions, etc, which make up the daily stuff of
life for the ordinary sensational man; while the vital-physical
proper is the nervous being giving vital reflexes to contacts of
things with the physical consciousness."
[Letters on Yoga, vol. 1,
The Lower Psychic or Lesser
Astral is much less diverse than the higher (for now the further
down we go, the less multiplicity). Yet this is still an exceedingly
diverse reality, relative to the Physical. It includes the "spirit
world" of shamanism, and the "astral plane" of popular occultism;
and is directly experienced by individuals who "go out of their
body" and travel around the spirit-world.
This plane corresponds to the
Manipura or navel and solar plexus chakras (there are two
distinct chakras here - call them "Manipura A" and "Manipura B" -
although the Indian Tantric tradition only recognizes one). All
phenomena imagined by the mind of man have their existence here, as
thought-forms [Besant and Leadbeater, Thought forms].
The Lower Astral or Epithymatic Plane is also the
region of lower desires and "earth-bound" spirits; human entities
who have died but are still unable to break free of their former
In Theosophy and Occultism this is
usually called the "Lower Astral plane".
Blavatsky describes the Astral Light as a region of
illusion [quoted in Farthing, p.92].
"Our Astral Light is ...the Linga
Sharira [subtle body] of our earth; only instead of being
its primordial prototype...it is the reverse. Human and animal
bodies grow and develop on the model of their antetypal Doubles,
whereas the Astral Light is born from the terrene
emanations, grows and develops after its prototypal parent, and
in its treacherous waves everything from the upper planes and
from the lower solid plane, the earth,... is reflected reversed.
Hence the confusion of its colors
and its sounds in the clairvoyance and clairaudience of the
sensitive who trusts to its records, be (he)... a Hatha yogi or
[S.D. vol. III, p.500;
quoted in Geoffrey Farthing, Exploring the Great Beyond, p.90]
"The Astral Light is that which
mirrors the three higher planes of consciousness, and is above
the lower, or terrestrial plane; therefore it does not extend
beyond the fourth plane [Kama-Manas] where, one may say, the
[quoted Ibid, p.91]
The study of this one plane would
require a whole book in itself, so perhaps we better leave it off
now, with the above quotations as a basic description. But certainly
it is in references such as these that we see the origin of
widespread modern occult-theosophical idea of the "Astral Plane" as
"the plane of illusion".
It is interesting though to find a brief
reference to what seems to be the same phenomena in the Tibetan
Bardo Thodol ("Tibetan Book of
the Dead") where the following instruction is given to the soul
or consciousness of the deceased newly departed from its body:
"O son of noble family, after being
unconscious for four and a half days you will move on, and
awakening from your faint you will wonder what has happened to
you, so recognize it as the bardo [intermediate] state.
At this time samsara is reversed, and everything you see
appears as lights and images."
[The Tibetan Book of the
Dead - the Great Liberation through hearing in the Bardo,
transl. by Francesca Fremantle and Chogyam Trungpa, p.41 (1975,
The illusory, self-created nature of
these visions is stressed elsewhere in text by the words:
"...the essential point to recognize
with certainty is that whatever appears, however terrifying, is
your own projection"
This emphasis on the
subjectively-generated nature of the phenomena of the astral (or "bardo")
world is constantly reiterated by other clairvoyants, like the
The Gross Astral/Orectic
By Gross Astral Reality is meant here that aspect of the
Astral/Orectic that is closest to Gross Physical (the
Material or Mundane Physical) reality.
Sri Aurobindo (in Letters on
Yoga) uses the term "physical vital" in an integral
psychological context, while The Mother speaks of the "Material
Vital"; this seems to be a rather more dense and inconscient level,
an interface between the Lower Astral and the Physical,
and responsible for things like illness, delirium, etc (Mother's
Agenda vol.4, 6th July 1963).
Blavatsky also refers to the lower
astral subplanes in this context (ref), although she also refers
to "Opening of the Material Vital to the Light" and "Joyous
enthusiasm in the most material vital".