Out-of-the-Body Travel

views updated

Out-of-the-Body Travel

A phenomenon based on the belief that individual consciousness can leave the physical body during sleep or trance and travel to distant places or into an ethereal or astral realm. Different religions in the ancient world taught that men and women were essentially spiritual beings (souls) incarnated for a divine purpose, and that they shed the body at death and survived in an afterlife or a new incarnation.

The ancient Hindus believed in the phenomenon of out-ofthe-body travel, featured in such Scriptures as the Yoga Vashishta-Maharamayana of Valmiki. Hindu teachings recognize three bodiesphysical, subtle, and causal. The causal body builds up the characteristics of one's next reincarnation by the desires and fears in its present life, but the subtle body may sometimes leave the physical body during its lifetime and reenter it after traveling in the physical world. Ancient Egyptian teachings also represented the soul as having the ability to hover outside the physical body in the ka, or subtle body.

In the twentieth century, psychical researchers began to study and conduct experiments on the possibility of out-of-the-body travel. Their interest was provoked by its possible contribution to evidence of the survival of death. Beginning in 1920 Hugh G. Callaway, under the pseudonym Oliver Fox, published a series of articles in The Occult Review. His articles would later become the basis of a book, Astral Projection (1939). Meanwhile, Sylvan J. Muldoon, an American experimenter who professed an ease with astral projection (another name for out-ofthe-body travel), began to work with psychical researcher Here-ward Carrington, their work resulting in the first of a series of books, The Projection of the Astral Body, in 1929.

Both Callaway and Muldoon gave detailed firsthand accounts of consciously controlled and involuntary journeys outside the body. Sometimes these involved appearances to other individuals or the obtaining of information that could not have been ascertained by other means. Such accounts were thus highly suggestive.

Certain techniques were also described by both Callaway and Muldoon for facilitating the release of the astral or ethereal body from the physical body. These included visualizing such mental images as flying or being in an elevator traveling upward, just before going to sleep. Some involuntary releases occurred as a result of regaining waking consciousness while still in a dream state (i.e., lucid dreaming). This was often stimulated by some apparent incongruity in the dream, such as dreaming of one's own room but noticing that the wallpaper has the wrong pattern. Such awareness sometimes resulted in normal consciousness, but with a feeling of being outside the physical body and able to look down at it.

Many individuals who claimed to have experienced astral projection describe themselves as joined to the physical body by an infinitely extensible connectionrather like a psychic umbilical cordthat would snatch the astral body back to the physical body if one were disturbed by fear.

Some cases of astral projection have reportedly occurred as a result of anesthetization (during operations) or even a sudden shock.

In spite of the significance attributed to out-of-the-body experiences (OBEs), both as a parapsychological phenomenon and for their relevance to the question of survival after death, they did not receive the acknowledged attention of the parapsychological community until British scientist Robert Crookall began to publish a number of books in which he cataloged and analyzed hundreds of cases of astral projection from individuals in all walks of life. It seems that the phenomenon is much more widespread than generally supposed, but some people are sensitive about discussing such experiences. Moreover, the majority of cases are of involuntary projection; consciously controlled projection under laboratory conditions is rare.

Crookall distinguished between the physical body of everyday life, a "vehicle of vitality," and a "soul body," connected by an extensible cord. Movement from one body to another is reported as often accompanied by strange sounds and sensationsa "click" in the head, a "blackout," or a "journey down a long tunnel." Reportedly, the projector often sees his own physical body lying on the bed and sometimes the semiphysical vehicle of vitality is observed by other people. Crookall also cited instances of the condition of consciousness in which one sees a double of oneself (see also Vardo / gr ).

Again, while much astral travel is supposedly in the world of everyday life, one sometimes moves into regions of otherworldly beauty or depression, characterized by Crookall as "Paradise condition" (the finer area of earth) or "Hades condition" (a kind of purgatorial area). Here one sometimes encounters friends and relatives who have died, or even angelic or demonic beings. Return to the physical body is often accompanied by violent loud "repercussion" effects. Sometimes the transition to and from the physical body appears to be assisted by "deliverers" or spirit helpers, or even obstructed by "hinderers."

Projection may be preceded by a cataleptic condition of the body in which there are hypnogogic illusions. Because of the close association of dreaming and hallucinatory images, many people have dismissed claimed OBEs as illusory or merely dreams.

One controlled experiment in astral projection was undertaken by the medium Eileen J. Garrett in 1934, when a test was set up between observers Dr. Mühl in New York and Dr. D. Svenson in Reykjavik, Iceland. Reportedly, Garrett projected her astral double from New York to Iceland and acquired test information afterward verified as correct. The case is described in her book My Life as a Search for the Meaning of Mediumship (1939), although at the time the experimenters were not named, in order to protect their anonymity, and "Newfound-land" was substituted for Reykjavik.

Since World War II, parapsychologists have given special attention to the phenomenon of OBEs. A number of special terms were devised by Celia Green, director of the Institute of Psychophysical Research, Oxford, England, in a scientific study of approximately four hundred individuals claiming OBEs. The general term ecsomatic was applied where objects of perception appeared organized in such a way that the observer seemed to observe from a point of view not coincident with the physical body. Parasomatic was defined as an ecsomatic experience in which the percipient was associated with a seemingly spatial entity with which he felt himself to be in the same kind of relationship as, in the normal state, with his physical body. Asomatic denoted an ecsomatic state in which the subject was temporarily unaware of being associated with any body or spatial entity at all.

Other experiments have been conducted at the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) in New York and the Psychical Research Foundation, Durham, North Carolina. At the ASPR Dr. Karlis Osis used a special target box designed to eliminate ordinary ESP. Subjects were invited to "fly in" astrally and read the target. Over a hundred volunteers participated in the test. Although Osis reported that the overall results were not significant, some of the subjects were tested further under laboratory conditions. Among those who reportedly performed well in such tests was psychic Ingo Swann.

At the Psychical Research Foundation, brain wave recordings were taken from OBE subjects, with special attention given to detection of the subject at the target location. There is a suggestion that some subjects may have been able to manifest psychokinetic effects while projecting. PK effects had been reported earlier in the experiments of Sylvan J. Muldoon in the book The Projection of the Astral Body (1929).

In 1956 Dr. Hornell Hart made a survey of reported apparitions of the dead, which he compared with apparitions of living persons when having OBE experiences. He concluded that "the projected personality carries full memories and purposes."

As with other laboratory experiments in parapsychology, OBE tests lack the intrinsic interest of involuntary experiences, and acceptable evidence is correspondingly reduced. Many laboratory experimenters regard OBEs as a form of traveling clairvoyance and have criticized the methodology employed in many experiments because the methodology fails to distinguish between the two. A person experiencing astral travel may be having an experience somewhat analogous to "virtual reality." It remains to be seen whether scientists can devise techniques that can validate objectively the phenomena of OBEs.

Meanwhile, in the many cases of involuntary projection, it is belived the experience itself often has a profound effect on the outlook of the subject, since it seems to give firsthand subjective evidence for the existence of a soul that survives the death of the physical body. Such experiences have become the subject of study by psychologists such as Elizabeth Kübler-Ross and Raymond Moody, who claimed to have been affected by the intensity of the accounts and their long-term, life-changing quality. Critics of such stories have noted that ultimately there is little independent confirmation of the stories, and while there is a high degree of similarity between the experiences, there is enough divergence to call the nature of the experience into question. Others have also noted that the use of OBEs as evidence of survival is somewhat limited in that even if the consciousness could leave a living body and return there is no reason to jump to the conclusion that the consciousness could survive the death of its host body.

Some psychologists are confident that OBEs can be fully explained as hallucinatory mental phenomena. British parapsychologist Susan J. Blackmore has given special attention to the phenomenon in attempting to discover a psychological explanation. Her book Beyond the Body (1981) proposes that the experience is an altered state of consciousness characterized by vivid imagery, in which the subject's cognitive system is disturbed, losing input control and replacing normal reality with one drawing upon memory. Blackmore's experiments and theories have special interest to parapsychologists because, unlike so many investigators of claimed out-of-the-body phenomena, she has had such experiences herself.


Battersby, H. F. Prevost. Man Outside Himself. London, 1942. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1969.

Black, David. Ekstasy: Out-of-the-Body Experiences. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1975.

Blackmore, Susan J. Beyond the Body: An Investigation of Outof-the-Body Experiences. London: Heinemann, 1981.

Crookall, Robert. Case-Book of Astral Projection. 545-746 New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1972.

. Ecstasy: The Release of the Soul from the Body. Moradabad, India: Darshand International, 1975.

. Out-of-the-Body Experiences. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1970.

. The Study and Practice of Astral Projection. London, 1960. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1966.

Fox, Oliver. Astral Projection. London, 1939. Reprint. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1963.

Green, Celia E. Out-of-the-Body Experiences. Oxford, England, 1968.

Greenhouse, Herbert B. Astral Journey: Evidence for Out-ofthe-Body Experiences from Socrates to the ESP Laboratory. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1975.

King, Francis. Astral Projection, Ritual Magic, and Alchemy: Being Hitherto Unpublished Golden Dawn Material. London: Neville Spearman, 1971.

Mead, G. R. S. The Doctrine of the Subtle Body in Western Tradition. London, 1919.

Monroe, Robert A. Journeys Out of the Body. Garden City,N.Y.: Doubleday, 1971. Muldoon, Sylvan J., and Hereward Carrington. The Phenomena of Astral Projection. London, 1951.

. The Projection of the Astral Body. London, 1929.

Shirley, Ralph. The Mystery of the Human Double. London, 1938. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1965.

Smith, Susy. The Enigma of Out-of-body-Travel. New York: Helix, 1968. Reprint, New York: New American Library, 1968.

Turvey, Vincent N. The Beginnings of Seership. London, 1911. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1969.

Walker, George B. Beyond the Body: The Human Double and the Astral Planes. London/Boston: George Benjamin Walker, 1974.

Wilkins, Hubert, and Harold Sherman. Thoughts Through Space. London: Frederick Muller, 1971.

Yram [Marcel L. Forham]. Le Medecin de l'Ame'. Translated as Practical Astral Projection. London, 1935. Reprint, New York: Samuel Weiser, 1966.