Divisions of the spirit world, both in spatial and moral-spiritual senses. The doctrine of spheres, in a literal sense, was integral to the ancient world, and much of occult teachings— astrology, magic, Gnosticism—emerged in such a cosmology. It was retained in the occult culture and has passed into modern theosophical and Spiritualist circles, where it has remained, though the spheres are usually thought of as levels of a multidimensional world.
Spiritualists have developed a doctrine of the spheres based upon the communications of spirits in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The information conflicts at many points, and there is no authority to declare for one opinion over another, but there is a general agreement as to the number of spheres. They are seven: (1) Hell, (2) Sphere of Desires, (3) Summerland, (4) Mind, (5) Abstract, (6) Meeting of the Sexes, and (7) Union of the Sexes.
There is some contradiction as to whether the Earth should be considered as the first sphere. It is said that the first sphere is the abode of gross and ignorant spirits. It is gloomy and desolate, replete with sadness and misery. After a realization of their state and the circumstances that cast them into it, the desire for progress and betterment will transfer the spirits into the second sphere where, in a scenery as natural as that on Earth, harmony, love, and kindness help to develop the higher qualities of the soul.
The period of the stay in a particular sphere varies individually. The higher spheres cannot be perceived by spirits in the lower ones. Information on the higher spheres is obtained from visitors descending to lower spheres. Owing to a lack of conception, no adequate description can be conveyed to us. It is also said that beyond the spheres are the heavens of boundless extent. These are the ultimate abodes of the glorified and blessed.
Hudson Tuttle, in his book Arcana of Spiritualism (1871), furnishes an interesting exposition of the origin of the spheres. According to Tuttle, the spirit world is built up from atomic emanations. Exhalations from all substances ascend as mist rises from a sheet of water. The spirit world therefore depends on the Earth for its existence and is formed through its refining instrumentality. Without the Earth there could not have been corresponding spirit spheres, actually zones rather than spheres. They are 120 degrees wide; that is, they extend 60 degrees on each side of the equator. If we take the sixtieth parallel of latitude each side of the equator and imagine it projected against the blue dome of the sky, we have the boundaries of these zones.
The first zone, or the innermost one, is 60 miles from the Earth's surface. The next external one is removed from the first by about the same distance. The third is just outside the moon's orbit, or 265,000 miles from the Earth. From the third sphere rise the most sublimated exhalations, which mingle with the emanations of the other planets and form a vast zone around the entire solar system, including even the unknown planets beyond the vast orbit of Neptune (the spirits had yet to inform him of the existence of Pluto).
The first zone is nearly 30 miles in thickness, the second 20, the third but two miles. While the Earth is slowly diminishing, the spheres are gradually increasing. The surface of the zones is diversified with changing scenery. Matter, when it aggregates there, is prone to assume the forms in which it existed below. Hence there are all the forms of life there as on Earth, except those, such as the lowest plants and animals, that cannot exist surrounded by such superior conditions. The scenery is of mountain and plain; river, lake and ocean; and of forest and prairie. It is like Earth with all its imperfections perfected, and its beauties are multiplied.
The first trance reference to spheres in the lineage of modern Spiritualism seems to have been made by Frederica Hauffe, the seeress of Prevorst. The second is contained in a letter from G. P. Billot to J. P. F. Deleuze in 1831. Billot wrote: "They taught that God was a grand Spiritual Sun—life on earth a probation—the spheres, different degrees of comprehensive happiness or states of retributive suffering—each appropriate to the good or evil deeds done on earth. They described the ascending changes open to every soul in proportion to his own efforts to improve."
The first exact dimensions were claimed by J. A. Gridley in his book Astounding Facts from the Spirit World (1854). According to his data, the first sphere is 5,000 miles, the sixth 30,000 miles from the Earth's surface.
Diagrams of the spheres were first drawn by Hauffe. Nahum Koons in the Koon loghouse was the second to provide detailed sketches; his information was supplemented by accounts given through the trumpet (see also Jonathan Koons ).
Robert Hare differed from Gridley and agreed with Hudson Tuttle inasmuch as his communicators put the distance of the nearest sphere as 60 miles from the Earth's surface. But his further distances did not tally with Tuttle's calculations. He placed the sixth sphere within the area of the moon. He was told that the spheres are concentric zones, or circles, of exceedingly refined matter encompassing the Earth like belts or girdles. They have atmospheres of peculiar vital air, soft and balmy. Their surfaces are diversified with an immense variety of picturesque landscapes, with lofty mountain ranges, valleys, rivers, lakes, forests, trees and shrubbery, and flowers of every colour and variety, sending forth grateful emanations.
As flights of unverifiable speculation proceeded, almost every trance description of the spheres asserted something different. Eugene Crowell, in The Identity of Primitive Christianity with Modern Spiritualism (2 vols., 1875-79), states that he had received the following figures: the first sphere is within our atmosphere, the second is about 60 miles from the earth, the third about 160, the fourth 310, the fifth 460, the sixth 635, the seventh 865 miles.
Precise information was tendered in J. Hewat McKenzie 's Spirit Intercourse (1916). The supposed spirit of William James was quoted as the authority behind the statements. The disagreement is all too apparent. "The third sphere, the Summer Land, is 1,350 miles from the earth, the fourth 2,850, the fifth 5,050, the sixth 9,450, and the seventh 18,250."
The sustenance of the body in superphysical states is derived from the atmosphere by inhalation in the ordinary act of breathing; the material for clothing and houses is manufactured; there is a union of sexes in a bond of affection, with no offspring; the animals that live there have previously existed on Earth; the spiritual worlds of each planet unite at the seventh sphere; the spheres are built of essences cast off by millions of tons of matter that condense into solid substance and float in space like vast continents, by the operation of centripetal and centrifugal attraction; and the passage from one sphere to the other is effected by gradual refinement of the spiritual body under the effect of the spirit.
An impressive conception of after-death states was disclosed in Geraldine Cummins 's The Road to Immortality (1932), a book said to be dictated by the spirit of F. W. H. Myers. According to the chapter "The Chart of Existence," the journey of the soul takes place through the following stages:
- The Plane of Matter.
- Hades or the Intermediate State.
- The Plane of Illusion.
- The Plane of Color.
- The Plane of Flame.
- The Plane of Light.
- Out Yonder, Timelessness.
Between each plane or new chapter in experience, there is existence in Hades or in an intermediate state when the soul reviews his past experiences and makes his choice, deciding whether he will go up or down the ladder of consciousness.
Although there is marked disagreement between different accounts of spirit worlds in the afterlife, it will be recalled that this is also characteristic of the eschatology (considerations of the afterlife) of the different Eastern and Western religions.
It has been claimed that spirits who have not become purified and refined and remain tied to earthly desires have been easier to contact and that their communications would be unreliable. Advance spirits would have moved on to more rarified planes of existence. However, that idea seems to be contradicted by the attempts to identify various spirits with advanced beings from the past.
It is interesting to note that many individuals who have experienced out-of-the-body travel, especially as part of a near-death experience, have reported a remarkable similarity of content in terms both of positive experiences of moving toward a bright light and meeting light beings, as well as negative experiences of a purgatorial realm. These experiences, however, have no relation to the spiritualist doctrine of the spheres.
Cummins, Geraldine Dorothy. The Road to Immortality. London: I. Nicholson & Watson, 1933.
Tuttle, Hudson. Arcana of Spiritualism. N.p., 1871. Reprint, Manchester: The Two Worlds Publishing, 1900; Chicago: J. R. Francis, 1904.