In occult cosmology, the astral plane is one of several (most often, seven or twelve) planes of existence, along with physical, etheric, causal, and mental. Although humans function within all these dimensions at once, they are usually only conscious of the physical plane. The astral plane is the level beyond the physical, the realm of dreams, spirits, and psychic phenomena, the substance and vehicle for contact between the material and the mystical. Within the astral plane, there are believed to be numerous densities and vibrations, commonly divided into lower, middle, and higher planes, each associated with a distinctive sound and color. After death, people are thought to shed their physical bodies and exist in the astral plane in astral bodies resembling their previous physical ones; from there, they may ascend to a higher plane of existence and/or be reincarnated in a different physical form.
Although many occult traditions believe in astral planes, including Spiritualism, Sufism, and Kabbalah, it is central to at least three: Theosophy, Eckankar, and the New Age movement. One of the earliest interpreters of astral planes was Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–1891), cofounder with Henry Steel Olcott of the Theosophical Society in 1875 in New York City. She posited the existence of Masters or Mahatmas, human and once-human beings who have transcended the physical plane and exist in the astral. These highly evolved adepts, together constituting the Great White Brotherhood, were said to possess extraordinary paranormal powers and manifest their presence through astral projection. Blavatsky claimed that the Masters revealed a tradition of ancient and esoteric wisdom that enabled Theosophists to experience authentic humanity on all planes of existence.
Founded by John Paul Twitchell (c. 1910–1971) in 1965, Eckankar, or the Ancient Science of Soul Travel, teaches techniques thought to enable individual souls to be freed from the limitations of physical being to experience Sugmad, the boundless source of love and mercy equivalent to God in theistic religions. Chelas, as students are called, aim to learn to travel along the Eck, or Audible Life Current, a cosmic current which is depicted as flowing and ebbing in waves from the Sugmad and back again. Through spiritual exercises that are kept confidential from outsiders, chelas are said to learn to apprehend the Eck in sounds and colors, and they journey on it through the planes of existence back to the Sugmad. Although Eckists claim to learn to trek the astral plane, they place greater significance on experiencing higher levels closer to the Sugmad.
Although the term "New Age" incorporates a wide variety of beliefs and practices, belief in astral planes is held by many, if not most, advocates of the New Age. While the astral plane is thought to be experienced spontaneously in dreams or near-death experiences, New Agers actively seek awareness of and movement within it through lucid dreaming and astral projection, also known as astral travel, soul travel, or out-of-body experiences. Both lucid dreaming and astral projection are characterized by reports of bilocation, consciousness of the body remaining in one place, asleep or in a trance, while the soul travels freely in the astral plane. For some in the New Age, beginning soul travelers learn to relax, imagine shadowy-gray astral bodies hovering above the ground, and float toward a white light "doorway" to the astral plane. Advanced soul travelers navigate Earth, the cosmos, and beyond, communicating psychically with the living and the dead, retaining control and memory of their experiences.
See alsoAfterlife; Body; Channeling; Death and Dying; Dreams; Eckankar; God; Heaven; Journeys and Journeying; Mysticism; Near Death Experiences; New Age Spirituality; NirvĀṆa; Occult, The; Psychic; SÉance; Spirit; Spirit Guides; Theosophical Society.
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Evelyn A. Kirkley