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An emanation said to surround human beings, chiefly encircling the head and supposed to proceed from the nervous system. It is described as a cloud of light suffused with various colors. This is seen clairvoyantly, being imperceptible to the physical sight.

Some authorities trace the existence of the aura in such biblical instances as the bright light shining about Moses, which the children of Israel were unable to look upon when he descended from the mountain bearing the stone tablets engraved with the Ten Commandments (Exod. 34:29-30); in the exceedingly brilliant light that shone about St. Paul's vision at the time of his conversion (Acts 9:3); and in the transfiguration of Jesus Christ, when his raiment shone so brightly that no one on Earth could match it (Matt. 17:1-2). Many of the medieval saints were said to be surrounded with a cloud of light.

It is told that when St. John of the Cross knelt at the altar in prayer, a certain brightness darted from his face. St. Philip Neri was constantly seen enveloped in light, and St. Charles Borromeo was similarly illuminated. This is said to be due to the fact that when a person is engaged in lofty thought and spiritual aspiration, the auric colors become more luminous and translucent and therefore more easily discernible.

In Christian art, around the heads of saints and the sacred characters is portrayed the halo, or nimbus, which is supposed to represent the aura. Medieval saints and mystics distinguished four different types of aura; the Nimbus, the Halo, the Aureola, and the Glory. The first two stream from the head, the aureola from the whole body, the glory is a combination of the two. Theosophists speak of five divisions: the health aura, the vital aura, the karmic aura, the aura of character, and the aura of spiritual nature. Clairvoyants often claim the ability to see the human aura. From its colors they draw inferences as to the emotional state of character. Brilliant red means anger and force; dirty red, passion and sensuality; brown, avarice; rose, affection; yellow, intellectual activity; purple, spirituality; blue, religious devotion; green, deceit and jealousy; a deeper shade of green, sympathy. Polish psychic Stephan Ossowiecki occasionally saw a kind of dark aura that always meant the approach of unexpected death. It is also thought that the colors of the body and clothing in medieval paintings and stained glass are intended to represent the auric colors of the person portrayed.

The crowns and distinctive headdresses worn by the kings and priests of antiquity are said to be symbolic of the aura. In many of the sacred books of the East, representations of the great teachers and holy men are given with the light extending around the whole body. Instances of this may be found in the temple caves of India and Ceylon, in the Japanese Buddhistic books, also in Egypt, Greece, Mexico, and Peru.

In occult literature the tradition of the aura is an old one. Paracelsus mentioned it in the sixteenth century in the following terms: "The vital force is not enclosed in man, but radiates round him like a luminous sphere, and it may be made to act at a distance. In these semi-natural rays the imagination of man may produce healthy or morbid effects. It may poison the essence of life and cause diseases, or it may purify it after it has been made impure, and restore the health."

Paracelsus said further that "Our thoughts are simply magnetic emanations, which, in escaping from our brains, penetrate into kindred heads and carry thither, with a reflection of our life, the mirage of our secrets."

A theosophical description is as follows:

"The aura is a highly complicated and entangled manifestation, consisting of many influences operating within the same area. Some of the elements composing the aura are projected from the body, others from the astral principles, and others again from the more spiritual principles connected with the "Higher Self," or permanent Ego; and the various auras are not lying one around the other, but are all blended together and occupy the same place. Guided by occult training the clairvoyant faculty may make a complete analysis of the various elements in the aura and can estimate the delicate tints of which it is composedthough all blended togetheras if each were seen separately."

Classified more exactly, the divisions of the aura are stated to be (1) the health aura (2) the vital aura, (3) the karmic aura, that of the animal soul in man (4) the aura of character, and (5) the aura of the spiritual nature.

The health aura "is almost colorless, but becomes perceptible by reason of possessing a curious system of radial striation, that is to say, it is composed of an enormous number of straight lines, radiating evenly in all directions from the body." The second, or vital aura, is said to be to a certain extent under the control of the will, when it circulates within the "linga charira" or astral body, of a "delicate rosy tint, which it loses, becoming bluish as it radiates outward." The third aura is "the field of manifestation, or the mirror in which every feeling, every desire is reflected." Of this aura the colors constantly change, as seen by the clairvoyant vision. "An outburst of anger will charge the whole aura with deep red flashes on a dark ground, while sudden terror will, in a moment, change everything to a ghastly grey." The fourth aura is that of the permanent character, and is said to contain the record of the past earth life of the personality. The fifth aura is not often seen even by clairvoyants, but it is described by those who have seen it, only in the cases where the spiritual nature is the most powerful factor, as "outshining all the rest of the auras with startling brilliancy." The auric colors, it is declared, cannot be adequately described in terms of the ordinary colors discernible to the physical vision, being very much brighter and of more varied hues and shades. The symbolic meaning of these is roughly of the following order: rose, pure affection; brilliant red, anger and force; dirty red, passion and sensuality; yellow of the purest lemon color, the highest type of intellectual activity; orange, intellect used for selfish ends as well as pride and ambition; brown, avarice. Green is a color of varied significance; its root meaning is the placing of one's self in the position of another. In its lower aspects it represents deceit and jealousy; higher up in the emotional gamut, it signifies adaptability, and at its very highest, when it takes on the color of foliage, it represents sympathy, the very essence of thinking for other people. In some shades, green stands for the lower intellectual and critical faculties, merging into yellow. Blue indicates religious feeling and devotion, its various shades being said to correspond to different degrees of devotion, rising from fetishism to the loftiest religious idealism. Purple represents psychic faculty, spirituality, regality, spiritual power arising from knowledge, and occult preeminence.

Apart from occult beliefs in the aura, there is also some scientific basis. The most important experimental investigations into the subject were conducted by Dr. Walter J. Kilner (1847-1920) of St. Thomas Hospital in London. In the first edition of his book, The Human Atmosphere (1911), he describes a dicyanin screen that rendered the aura visible to normal sight. The screen was a solution of coal-tar dye between two hermetically sealed pieces of glass. Looking through it in daylight and then turning the eye to view a naked man in dim light before a dark background, three distinct radiations, all lying in the ultraviolet end of the spectrum, became visible.

The first, dark and colorless, surrounded the body to the depth of a quarter to half an inch. Kilner called this the etheric double. The second, the inner aura, extended three inches beyond. The third, the outer aura, was about a foot in depth.

Kilner tried various experiments. He found that the depth of the aura is influenced by a magnet and that it is sensitive to electric currents, completely vanishing under a negative charge from a Wimshurst machine, then increasing to an additional 50 percent after the charge dissipates. It is also affected by the vapors of various chemicals and loses brilliance in hypnosis. Illness affects both its size and color. Impairment of the mental powers causes a diminution in size and distinctness. Nervous diseases result in highly observable changes.

From all this Kilner concluded that the higher brain centers are intimately concerned in the output of auric force. This suggested an identity with the "nerve-aura" of Dr. Joseph Rhodes Buchanan, the first explorer of the mysteries of psychometry, which was postulated as early as 1852, and with the "nerve atmosphere" of Dr. Benjamin Richardson.

As death approaches, the aura gradually shrinks. No trace of it is discovered around the corpse. Kilner also claimed the discovery that the aura may be affected by an effort of will, that it may be projected to a longer distance from the body, and change its colors. He said that the auras of different people may show attraction; they may blend and become more intense. From the influence of the state of health on the aura, Kilner drew medical conclusions. Dr. Johnson of Brooklyn followed in his footsteps and based his medical diagnoses on the change in the auric color.

Important as the researches of Kilner were, he was not the first in the field. Baron Karl von Reichenbach asserted at an early age that the aura can be plainly seen issuing from the fingertips. Dr. Hereward Carrington cited a forgotten book, Ten Years with Spiritual Mediums published by Francis Gerry Fairfield in 1874 in America, in which the author anticipated Kilner's conclusions. Claiming that all organic structures have a special form of nerve aura, Fairfield "constantly observed that epileptics, pending the incubation of the fit, appear to be enveloped in a sensitive and highly excited nerve-atmosphere, which heralds the attack; or eventuates in clairvoyance and trance. Though subsensible, observation and experiment seem alike to indicate that the nerve-aura is materialan imponderable nervous ether, possibly related to the odyle. It is thus at once a force and a medium, susceptible of control by the will of the operator, and capable of sensory impression: an atmosphere to take shape of his command, and to dissolve the moment volition ceases, or, when the habit of the medium's will has become fixed in that direction, to come and pass in visible apparitions, without conscious objective impulse on his part."

As the excerpt shows, Fairfield attempted to explain in terms of "nerve-aura" the supernormal manifestations of mediums. To be all-inclusive, he endowed it with a self-directive and self-directing power.

This is essentially the same hypothesis at which Enrico Morselli, Theodore Flournoy, Gustav Geley, and Carrington later arrived, relative to the exteriorization of nervous energy in the case of Eusapia Palladino. Dr. Paul Joire 's experiments in the exteriorization of sensibility also lend support to the theory of the aura, and medical observations occasionally bear it out too.

In the Annales des sciences psychiques (July 1905), Dr. Charles Féré of the Asylum Bicêtre quoted two cases of his own experience in which he had seen neuropathic halos. The first was the case of a 28-year-old woman of a neuroarthritic family, subject to various hysterical symptoms:

"It was during an unusually painful attack, accompanied by a sensation of frontal bruising, and by cold in the cyanosic extremities, that I was struck, towards four o'clock in the afternoon (23 February 1883) by the sight of a light possessing a radius of about 20 cm., which encircled her head; the light, which was of an orange colour, diminished in intensity near the periphery. The same phenomenon was manifested around her hands. The skin, which was usually white and matt, had an orange tint of a deeper shade than the halos. The colouring of the skin had preceded, by a few seconds, the lights surrounding the head and hands which had appeared about two hours before my observation. The colouring of the skin and the lights ceased about two hours later at the moment of the habitual vomiting."

The second case was similar to the first, except that, save monthly headaches, nothing indicated nervous trouble.Dr. O'Donnell of the Chicago Mercy Hospital controlled and confirmed Dr. Kilner's experiments; they were, according to a note by psychic researcher Harry Price in Psychic Research (June 1930), also revived by Dr. Drysdale Anderson in West Africa. He detected a distinct band "like a wreath of tobacco smoke." This smoky aura appeared to "envelope the body and stream out of the tips of the fingers like white elastic bands."

Modern scientific interest in the aura was stimulated briefly in 1970 by the development of Kirlian photography, which many believed made the aura visible. Kirlian photography involved taking a picture of an object placed directly onto an unexposed photonegative by sending an electric current across the film. The object would appear with a discharge of energy coming from it. The corona discharge shown surrounding objects seemed to fluctuate in interesting ways. However, when carefully controlled experiments were done, carefully regulating the pressure between the film and the object photographed, the interesting effects disappeared.


Bagnall, Oscar. The Origin and Properties of the Human Aura. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1970.

Berger, Ruth. The Secret Is in the Rainbow: Aura Interrelationships. Clearwater, Fla.: Beau Geste, 1979.

Cayce, Edgar. Auras. Virginia Beach, Va.: ARE Press, 1970. Johnson, Kendall L. The Living Aura: Radiation Field Photography and the Kirlian Effect. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1975.

Kilner, Walter J. The Human Aura. 1911. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1965.

Krippner, Stanley, and Daniel Rubin. The Kirlian Aura: Photographing the Galaxies of Life. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1974.

Ouseley, S. G. J. The Science of the Auras. London: L. N. Fowler, 1970.

Roberts, Ursula. The Mystery of the Human Aura. London: Spiritualist Association of Great Britain, 1972.

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aura From the Greek meaning ‘breath’, the word aura is mostly used in the metaphorical sense of someone having simply ‘an aura’ about him or, more vividly, one of ‘wisdom’, ‘saintliness’, or ‘evil’. However, for those suffering migraine or epilepsy, an aura is no longer simply a metaphor relating to their perception of a person in the external world but now a disagreeable perceptual experience heralding an impending attack of their sick headache or convulsion (grand mal). In the case of migraine the aura is most commonly visual. The images do not relate to previous visual experience but can take the form of scintillating, wavy patterns of bright, silvery light that superimpose on the current visual image — but in contrast to the latter they persist when the eyes are closed.

In epilepsy the simplest form of aura may be an ill-defined feeling of uncertainty or nausea preceding a convulsion. This may be an expression of changes in the cardiovascular and digestive systems induced by the autonomic nervous system as an early aspect of the epileptiform activity within the brain. Undoubtedly the most remarkable ‘aura’ occurs in the particular type known as ‘temporal lobe epilepsy’. At its simplest the aura may take the form of a familiar odour, or more commonly a disagreeable or even disgusting one. At its most complex the aura can be a perceptually complete image of a person with no counterpart in the external world. Such an image is to be distinguished from one summoned voluntarily in the mind's eye, or from an illusion due to the brain's interpretation of conflicting visual stimuli from the external world. Instead, that of the aura is a remarkable product of the uncontrollable discharge of neurones associated with an epileptiform focus in the temporal lobe(s) of the brain, demonstrable in the recording of the electrical activity of the brain, and, when the severity of the condition demands, abolished by surgical removal of the offending lobe.

Tom Sears

See also epilepsy; migraine.
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au·ra / ˈôrə/ • n. (pl. au·ras ) [usu. in sing.] the distinctive atmosphere or quality that seems to surround and be generated by a person, thing, or place: the ceremony retains an aura of mystery. ∎  a supposed emanation surrounding the body of a living creature, viewed by mystics, spiritualists, and some practitioners of complementary medicine as the essence of the individual. ∎  any invisible emanation, esp. a scent or odor: a faint aura of disinfectant. ∎  Med. (pl. also au·rae / ˈôrē/ ) a warning sensation experienced before an attack of epilepsy or migraine. ORIGIN: late Middle English (originally denoting a gentle breeze): via Latin from Greek, ‘breeze, breath.’ Current senses date from the 18th cent.

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auraabhorrer, adorer, Andorra, angora, aura, aurora, bora, Bora-Bora, borer, Camorra, Cora, corer, Dora, Eleonora, Eudora, explorer, fedora, flora, fora, ignorer, Isadora, Kia-Ora, Laura, Leonora, Maura, menorah, Nora, pakora, Pandora, pourer, roarer, scorer, senhora, señora, signora, snorer, soarer, Sonora, sora, storer, Theodora, Torah, Tuscarora, Vlorë •goalscorer • cobra • okra • Oprah •Socotra • Moira • Sudra •chaulmoogra • supra •Brahmaputra, sutra •Zarathustra • Louvre • fulcra •Tripura •borough, burgh, Burra, curragh, demurrer, thorough •Rubbra •penumbra, umbra •tundra • chakra • ultra • kookaburra

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aura (or-ă) n. the forewarning of an attack, as occurs in epilepsy (e.g. as an odd smell or taste) and migraine (e.g. as flickering lights, blurring of vision, pins and needles).

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aura subtle emanation. XVIII. — L. — Gr. aúrā breath, breeze.