Its Scenery, Inhabitants, and Phenomena, Kessinger Publishing Facsimile Edition, 1997, Originally Written in 1894
The Astral Plane: Its Scenery, Inhabitants and Phenomena by Charles W. Leadbeater is a quite dumbfounding account of the astral world from the perspective of a highly-developed clairvoyant. Leadbeater was not a daydreamer and high-strung delusional, but possessed a scientific mind. Judging what he wrote from the perspective of the lesser developed ‘ordinary consciousness’ would be a pitfall of perception.
When I first came in touch with theosophy, thirty years ago, by reading Helena P. Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine and so much the more after December 1997, when I joined the Theosophical Society of Adyar in Germany e.V., I went to study the biographies of the notorious and more or less famous founders of theosophy, Blavatsky, Leadbeater, and Besant. With regard to Leadbeater this in-depth lectures reassured that he was not the high-strung and scandal-ridden Anglican bishop he was painted in the media, but a nobleman who made his life’s mission from his extraordinary gift of clairvoyance, by meticulously and systematically exploring its phenomena, building a scientific framework for explaining them in a verifiable manner.
Today’s intelligent elite surely has less of a problem to accept paranormal abilities than this was the case a hundred years ago, and a person such as Leadbeater would probably not come over in the same suspicious manner in the press than this was the case in a time when these phenomena were to be seen only in circuses, but were seldom subjected to serious scientific investigation.
This being said, I will try, in this book review, to cast some light on a number of quotes taken from this erudite booklet, so as to show that it is a highly important item for the library of any even moderately spiritual-minded scientist and any curious individual open enough to look over the fence of ‘school wisdom’ to explore a realm of existence that he or she will inevitably join one day, after passing over, and for a certain time of transition: the astral world. The author introduces in the topic in his concise, brilliant and lucid diction:
No one can get a clear conception of the teachings of the Wisdom-Religion until he has at any rate an intellectual grasp of the fact that in our solar system there exist perfectly definite planes, each with its own matter of different degrees of density, and that some of these planes can be visited and observed by persons who have qualified themselves for the / work, exactly as a foreign country might be visited and observed; and that, by comparison of the observations of those who are constantly working on these planes, evidence can be obtained of their existence and nature at least as satisfactory as that which most of us have for the existence of Greenland or Spitsbergen. /2-3
Very early in his book, Leadbeater comes up with the idea of planes; he argues that the world consists of a set of layers that are superimposed on each other, and that he calls planes—a very interesting idea indeed! He develops some kind of theory that these layers are all connected and behave interactively, and that our experience of them is not sequential, but simultaneous. Actually, the idea of a sequential order of experiencing the present world and the afterworld seems to be a myth given that we travel every night into the afterworld or astral world, using the same astral energy body that we use when we pass over to this realm of existence. So it would be highly unscientific to speak about a sequential behavior of these worlds or dimensions of existence.
There is now a huge body of evidence that shows that time travel is possible both forward and backward in time, and this would be impossible if the planes were sequential. The astounding characteristic of our universe is that, while it is multi-layered like an onion, it is interconnected and interacts simultaneously on all levels at once. In addition, on the astral plane objects are not definite but shapeshift constantly. Leadbeater explains:
The astral region which I am to attempt to describe is the second of these great planes of nature—the next above or within that physical world with which we are all familiar. It has often been called the realm of illusion—not that it is itself any more illusory than the physical world, but because of the extreme unreliability of the impressions brought back from it by the untrained seer. This is to be accounted for mainly by two remarkable characteristics of the astral world —first, that many of its inhabitants have a marvellous power of changing their forms with Protean rapidity, and also of casting practically unlimited glamour over those with whom they choose to sport; and secondly, that sight on that plane is a faculty very different from and much more extended than physical vision. An object is seen, as it were, from all sides at once, the inside of a solid being as plainly open to / the view as the outside; it is therefore obvious than an inexperienced visitor to this new world may well find considerable difficulty in understanding what he really does see, and still more in translating his vision into the very inadequate language of ordinary speech./3-4
First of all, then, it must be understood that the astral plane has seven subdivisions, each of which has its corresponding degree of materiality and its corresponding condition of matter. Now numbering these from the highest und least material downwards, we find that they naturally fall into three classes, divisions 1, 2 and 3 forming one such class, and 4, 5 and 6 another, while the seventh and lowest of all stands alone./8
Now, there are certain laws of geometry, for example the law of perspective, that are valid in our dimension, but that do not apply in the astral region, and yet we can say that the view of matter on the astral plane is less of an illusion:
Looked at from the astral plane, for example, the sides of a glass cube would all appear equal, as they really are, while on the physical plane we see the further side in perspective – that is, it appears smaller than the nearer side, which is, of course, a mere illusion./9
I know only of two other books that explain the human aura with a similarly comprehensive language as the present book. It is Leadbeater’s book The Inner Life (1911/1942) and Shafica Karagulla’s The Chakras (1989). Now, in addition, the present booklet does not only explain the human aura in the present dimension, but also what Leadbeater calls the kâmic aura, which is the astral body.
We must note first that every material object, every particle even, has its astral counterpart; and this counterpart is itself not a simple body, but is usually extremely complex, being composed of various kinds of astral matter. In addition to this each living creature is surrounded with an atmosphere of its own, usually called its aura, and in the case of human beings this aura forms of itself a very fascinating branch of study. It is seen as an oval mass of luminous mist of highly complex structure, and from its shape has sometimes been called the auric egg./10
Most brilliant and most easily seen of all, perhaps, though belonging to quite a different order of matter—the astral—is the kâmic aura, which expresses by its vivid and ever-changing flashes of colour the different desires which sweep across the man’s mind from moment to moment. This is the true astral body./10
One other point deserves mention in connection with the appearance of physical matter when looked at from the astral plane, and that is that the astral vision possesses the power of magnifying at will the minutest physical particle to any desired size, as though by a microscope, though its / magnifying power is enormously greater than that of any microscope ever made or ever likely to be made./13-14
On the other hand, while the astral point of observation, according to the author, offers a very minutely detailed view of objects, this view is limited to that very plane and a look ‘over the fence’ seems to be excluded:
It must also be remembered that the regular inhabitant of the astral plane, whether he be human or elemental, is under ordinary circumstances conscious only of the objects of that plane, physical matter being to him as entirely invisible as is astral matter to the majority of mankind./15
That our ‘real’ existence here on earth is not a very high level of evolution in our present cosmos can be seen in the fact that vibrationally or energetically it is related to the lowest of the seven subdivisions of the astral plane. Leadbeater points out:
For the seventh and lowest subdivision of the astral plane also this physical world of ours may be said to be the background, though what is seen is only a distorted and partial view of it, since all that is light and good and beautiful seems invisible. It was thus described four thousand years ago in the Egyptian papyrus of the Scribe Ani: ‘What manner of place is this unto which I have come? It hath no water, it hath no air; it is deep, unfathomable; it is black as the blackest night, and men wander helplessly about therein; in it a man may not live in quietness of heart’./16
The following explanation of the Akashic Records is uncanny and unfortunately it is left open what the Akâsha is.
Fortunately we have arrived, as a culture, despite our initial ignorance, at a point of bifurcation. Ervin Laszlo’s amazing ‘theory of everything’ stands exemplarily for this fact and what me miss out in Leadbeater we can look up, at least in principle, in Laszlo’s book Science and the Akashic Field (2005) that I have reviewed in The New Paradigm in Science and Systems Theory (2014). So far, Leadbeater states the principle:
An account of the scenery of the astral plane would be incomplete without mention of what are commonly called the Records of the Astral Light, the photographic representation of all that has ever happened. These records are really and permanently impressed upon that higher medium called the Akâsha and are only reflected in a more or less spasmodic manner in the astral light, so that one whose power of vision does not rise above this plane will be likely to obtain only occasional and disconnected pictures of the past instead of a coherent narrative. But nevertheless pictures of all kinds of past events are constantly being reproduced on the astral plane, and form an important part of the surroundings of the investigator here./18
The book now expands in various smaller entities that treat the astral life of specific kinds of people, as in principle Leadbeater stated that the astral body significantly differs according to the spiritual development of the person. For the ordinary human, the author notes:
[The Ordinary Person] These extruded astral / bodies are almost shapeless and very indefinite in outline in the case of the more backward races and individuals, but as the man develops in intellect and spirituality his floating astral becomes better defined and more closely resembles his physical encasement. Since the psychical faculties of mankind are in course of evolution, and individuals are at all stage of their development, this class naturally melts by imperceptible gradations into the former one./21-22
For clarification purposes, it is useful to see our recent advances in holistic research confirmed and preceded by more than hundred years: death is not what it appears to be in popular culture. The author remarks:
To begin with, of course this very word ‘dead’ is an absurd misnomer, as most of the entities classified under this heading are as fully alive as we are ourselves; the term must be understood as meaning those who are for the time unattached to a physical body./23
Another fact that is hardly known is that emotions, and emotional memories, and also our emotional scars are not stripped off at death, but transported in their vibrational essence into the astral, and here they can cause distress. And in this sense, death is not the leveler it has been looked at by many poets. To summarize: we are not born equal, and we don’t die equal either. Leadbeater writes:
The average man has by no means freed himself from the lower desires before death, and it takes a long period of more or less conscious life on the astral plane to allow the forces he has generated to work themselves out, and thus release the higher Ego./26
The poetic idea of death as the universal leveler is a mere absurdity born of ignorance, for, as a matter of fact, in the / vast majority of cases the loss of the physical body makes no difference whatever in the character or intellect of the person, and there are therefore as many different varieties of intelligence among those whom we usually call the dead as among the living./27-28
A very important rectification theosophy has brought forward concerns the so-called heavenly punishment of ‘bad deeds’ that is notoriously a constant theme in Catholic dogma—and that was unveiled for the first time in religious history as a complete misnomer, and even a blasphemy:
The horrible doctrine of eternal punishment, too, is responsible for a vast amount of most pitiable and entirely groundless terror among those newly arrived in Kâmaloka, who in many cases spend long periods of acute mental suffering before they can free themselves from the fatal influence of that hideous blasphemy, and realize that the world is governed not according to the caprice of some demon who gloats over human anguish, but according to a benevolent and wonderfully patient law of evolution./28
Grief over departed family members and friends is not only unwise but is to their detriment, a fact that is stressed now frequently by channeled messages, and begins to be known in modern society. Leadbeater explains:
Apart altogether from any question of development through a medium, there is another and much more frequently exercised influence which may seriously retard a disembodied entity on his way to Devachan, and that is the intense and uncontrolled grief of his surviving friends or relatives. It is one among many melancholy results of the terribly inaccurate and even irreligious view that we in the West have for centuries been taking of death, that we not only cause ourselves an immense amount of wholly unnecessary pain over this temporary parting from our loved ones, but we often also do serious injury to those for whom we bear so deep an affection by means of this very regret which we feel so acutely./30
Not that occult teaching counsels forgetfulness of the dead—far from it; but it does suggest that a man’s affectionate remembrance of his departed friend is a force which, of for his progress towards Devachan and his quiet passage through Kâmaloka, might be of real value to him, whereas when wasted in mourning for him and longing to have him back again it is not only useless but harmful./31
Another important insight from astral knowledge is suicide. There are in the West many people who suicide themselves for the mere reason of ongoing depression, and most of them have not the faintest idea what they are doing to their astral vehicle. Suicide is the single most unintelligent act one can commit in one’s life. It is clearly a form of harm to self, and thereby on the same level karmically than harm done to others. But the reasons for this fact have nothing to do with morality; they are scientific.
[The Suicide, or victim of sudden death] It will be readily understood that a man who is torn from physical life hurriedly while in full health and strength, whether by accident or suicide, finds himself upon the astral plane under conditions differing considerably from those which surround one who dies either from old age or from disease. In the latter case the hold of earthly desires upon the entity is more or less weakened, and probably the very grossest particles are already got rid of, that the Kâmarûpa will most likely form itself on the sixth or fifth subdivision of / the Kâmaloka, or perhaps even higher; the principles have been gradually prepared for separation, and the shock is therefore not so great. In the case of the accidental death or suicide none of these preparations have taken place, and the withdrawal of the principles from their physical encasement has been very aptly compared to the tearing of the stone out of an unripe fruit; a great deal of the grossest kind of astral matter still clings around the personality, which is consequently held in the seventh or lowest subdivision of the Kâmaloka./39
The position of the suicide is further complicated by the fact that his rash act has enormously diminished the power of the higher Ego to withdraw its lower portion into itself, and therefore has exposed him to manifold and great additional dangers: but it must be remembered that the guilt of suicide differs considerably according to its circumstances, from the morally blameless act of Seneca or Socrates / through all degrees down to the heinous crime of wretch who takes his own life in order to escape from the entanglements into which his villainy has brought him, and of course the position after death varies accordingly. It should be noted that this class, as well as the shades and the vitalized shells, are all what may be called minor vampires; that is to say, whenever they have the opportunity they prolong their existence by draining away the vitality from human beings whom they find themselves able to influence./41
Leadbeater firmly contests folk wisdom in stating that it is very difficult for even any villain to be villain enough to deprive himself or herself of spiritual support in the afterlife. In fact, his observations brought him to be convinced that human beings are basically good, as the human nature is quite flexible, and very difficult to be forced in one single direction. In so far, moral teachings that attempt to divide humanity in ‘good souls’ and ‘bad souls’ are all basically flawed. Leadbeater points out:
All readers of Theosophical literature are familiar with the idea that it is possible for a man to live a life so absolutely degraded and selfish, so utterly wicked and brutal, that the whole of his lower Manas may become entirely immeshed in Kâma, and finally separated from its spiritual source in the higher Ego. Some students even seem to think that such an occurrence is quite a common one, and that we may meet scores of such ‘soulless men’ as they have been called, in the street every day of our lives, but this, happily, is untrue. To attain the appalling pre-eminence in evil which thus involves the entire loss of a personality and the weakening of the developing individuality behind, a man must stifle every gleam of unselfishness or spirituality, and must have absolutely no redeeming point whatever; and when we remember how often, even in the worst of villains, there is to be found something not wholly bad, we shall realize that the abandoned personalities must always be a very small minority./42
Now, as Ervin Laszlo attempts to describe in Science and the Akashic Field, the ether, zero-point-field, ch’i, orgone, prana, mana or however you want to call it, is very difficult to grasp for the observer. Not so for the clairvoyant for he can sense the fluctuant, vibrational, flowing nature of this field. In fact, the field is so unpredictable that the only prediction that can be made about it is that it will change, and change again. Leadbeater gives a few details:
In spite of these manifold subdivisions, there are certain properties which are possessed in common by all varieties of this strange living essence; but even these are so entirely different from any with which we are familiar on the physical plane that it is exceedingly difficult to explain them to those who cannot themselves see it in action. Let it be premised, then, that when any portion of this essence remains for a few moments entirely unaffected by any outside influence (a condition, by the way, which is hardly ever realized) it is absolutely without any definite form of its own, though even then its motion is rapid and ceaseless; but on the slightest disturbance, set up perhaps by some passing thought-current, it flashes into a bewildering confusion of restless, ever-changing shapes, which form, rush about, and disappear with the rapidity of the bubbles on the surface of boiling water./52
Another important matter that has been discussed by countless philosophers over the course of human history is the question ‘what is thought’?
Leadbeater clearly states that we do not own our thoughts and that we do not often think our own thoughts, as we pick up thoughts from the quantum field that links us all together:
A question naturally arises in the mind here as to what intelligence it is that is exerted in the selection of an appropriate shape or its distortion when selected. We are not dealing with the more powerful and longer-lived artificial elemental created by a strong definite thought, but simply with the result produced by the stream of half-conscious, involuntary thoughts which the majority of mankind allow to flow idly through their brains, so that the intelligence is obviously not derived from the mind of the thinker; and we certainly cannot credit the elemental essence itself, which belongs to a kingdom further from individualization even than the mineral, with any sort of awakening of the mânasic quality. (…) When we read of a good or evil elemental, it must always be either an artificial entity or one of the many varieties of nature-spirits that is meant for the elemental kingdoms proper do not admit of any such conception as good and evil, though there is undoubtedly a sort of bias or tendency permeating nearly all their subdivisions which operates to render them rather hostile than friendly towards man, as every neophyte knows, for in most cases his very first impression of the astral plane is of the presence all around him of vast hosts of Protean specters who advance upon him in threatening guise, but always retire or dissipate harmlessly if boldly faced. It is to this curious tendency that the distorted or unpleasant aspect above mentioned must be referred, and mediaeval writers tell us that man has only himself to thank for its existence. In the golden age before this Kaliyuga men were on the whole less selfish and more spiritual, and then the ‘elementals’ were friendly, though now they are no longer so because of man’s indifference to, and want of sympathy with, other living beings./53
On the same line of reasoning, Leadbeater stresses that we should not judge a human being by their acts only; in fact, as thoughts are much more important as an influence upon the world than most of us know, when we go to laud somebody for his achievements and judge him or her ‘a good person’, we may be wrong, because that person may have exerted a ravaging influence on others and the world by his or her self-talk, by their way of thinking about others, and by their way of judging others harshly over years and years, in their mind. What this creates are elementals or thought-forms and these thought forms are more or less permanent, and gain permanence over time and also depending on the emotional energy invested in those thoughts. I think it’s a good thing that Leadbeater addresses this point so clearly here because most people in our culture are ignorant about the impact of thought on the world, on others and their own karma:
The fact that we are so readily able to influence the elemental kingdoms at once shows us that we have a responsibility towards them for the manner in which we use that influence; indeed, when we consider the conditions under which they exist, it is obvious that the effect produced upon them by the thoughts and desires of all intelligent creatures inhabiting the same world with them must have been calculated upon in the scheme of our system as a factor in their evolution. In spite of the consistent teaching of all the great religions, the mass of mankind is still utterly regardless of its responsibility on the thought-plane; if a man can flatter himself that his words and deeds have been harmless to others, he believes that he has done all that can be required of him, quite oblivious of the fact that he may / for years have been exercising a narrowing and debasing influence on the minds of those about him, and filling surrounding space with the unlovely creations of a sordid mind./54-55
Now, regarding the elementals that are created through thought and intent, and the gestation that is brought about by the repeated fostering of a well-defined thought pattern, Leadbeater explains that elementals are not autonomous in the sense that they can begin to act on their own and trigger changes; they must be pushed to do so:
But the ‘elemental’ must never be thought of as itself a prime mover; it is simply a latent force, which needs an external power to set it in motion. It may be noted that although all classes of the essence have the power of reflecting images from the astral light as described above, there are varieties which receive certain impressions much more readily than others—which have, as it were, favourite forms of their own into which upon disturbance they would naturally flow unless absolutely forced into / some other, and such shapes tend to be a trifle less evanescent than usual./55-56
The spirits of nature, shunned so much by religious fundamentalism and reborn now in the course of the new age, and the revival of the folk lore of fairies, as it was, for example, rediscovered by Dr. Evans-Wentz in his remarkable study The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries (1911/2002), and observed by clairvoyant Dora van Gelder in her book The Real World of Fairies (1977/1999), have certain well-defined characteristics and they are quite distinct of human beings. Leadbeater explains:
We might almost look upon the nature-spirits as a kind of astral humanity, but for the fact that none of them—not even the highest—possess a permanent reincarnating individuality. Apparently therefore, one point in which their line of evolution differs from ours is that a much greater proportion of intelligence is developed before permanent individualization takes places; but of the stages through which they have passed, and those through which they have yet to pass, we can know little. The life-periods of the different subdivisions vary greatly, some being quite short, others much longer than our human lifetime. We stand so entirely outside such a life as theirs that it is impossible for us to understand much about its conditions; but it appears on / the whole to be a simply, joyous, irresponsible kind of existence, much such as a party of happy children might lead among exceptionally favourable physical surroundings. Though tricky and mischievous, they are rarely malicious unless provoked by some unwarrantable intrusion or annoyance; but as a body they also partake to some extent of the universal feeling of distrust for man, and they generally seem inclined to resent somewhat the first appearances of a neophyte on the astral plane, so that he usually makes their freaks, they soon accept him as a necessary evil and take no further notice of him, while some among them may even after a time become friendly and manifest pleasure on meeting him./61
The Adept knows how to make use of the services of the nature-spirits when he requires them, but the ordinary magician can obtain their assistance only by processes either of invocation or evocation—that is, either by attracting their attention as a suppliant and making some kind of bargain with them, or by endeavouring to set in motion influences which would compel their obedience. Both methods are extremely undesirable, and the latter is also excessively dangerous, as the operator would arouse a determined hostility / which might prove fatal to him. Needless to say, no one studying occultism under a qualified Master would ever be permitted to attempt anything of the kind at all./61-62
Now, the last group of entities in the astral sphere that Leadbeater discusses in his book are so-called Devas, divine creatures. Leadbeater writes:
Thought connected with this earth, the Devas are by no means confined to it, for the whole of our present chain of seven worlds is as one world to them, their evolution being through a grand system of seven chains. Their hosts have hitherto been recruited chiefly from other humanities in the solar system, some lower and some higher than ours, since but a very small portion of our own has as yet reached the level at which for us it is possible to join them; but it seems certain that some of their very numerous classes have not passed in their upward progress through any humanity at all comparable to ours. It is not possible for us at present to understand very much about them, but it is clear that what may be described as the aim of their evolution is considerably higher than ours; that is to say, while the object of our human evolution is to raise the successful portion of humanity to a certain degree of occult development by the end of the seventh round, the object of the Deva evolution is to raise their foremost rank to a very much higher level in the corresponding period./63
Let me comment on the very last pages of the book that treat the exciting question of how superphysical forces are managed. The author wonders what the forces are that move tables at spiritistic sessions, or that can levitate objects of quite considerable space and weight? To begin with, Leadbeater writes:
First, there are great etheric currents constantly sweeping over the surface of the earth from pole to pole in volume which makes their power as irresistible as that of the rising tide, and there are methods by which this stupendous force may be safely utilized, though unskilful attempts to control it would be fraught with frightful danger. Secondly, there is what can best be described as an etheric pressure, somewhat corresponding to, / though immensely greater than, the atmospheric pressure. In ordinary life we are as little conscious of one of these pressures as we are of the other, but nevertheless they both exist, and if science were able to exhaust the ether from a given space, as it can exhaust the air, the one could be proved as readily as the other. The difficulty of doing that lies in the fact that matter in the etheric condition freely interpenetrates matter in all states below it, so that there is as yet no means within the knowledge of our physicists by which any given body of ether can be isolated from the rest. Practical occultism, however, teaches how this can be done, and thus the tremendous force of etheric pressure can be brought into play. Thirdly, there is a vast store of potential energy which has become dormant in matter during the involution of the subtle into the gross, and by changing the condition of the matter [so that] some of this may be liberated and utilized, somewhat as latent energy in the form of heat may be liberated by a change in the condition of visible matter. Fourthly, many striking results, both great and small, may be produced by an extension of a principle which may be described as that of sympathetic vibration. Illustrations taken from the physical plane seem generally to misrepresent rather than elucidate astral phenomena, because they can never be more than partially applicable; but the recollection of two simple facts of ordinary life may help to make this important branch of our subject clearer, if we are careful not to push the analogy further than it will hold good. It is well-known that if one of the wires of a harp be made to vibrate vigorously, its movement will call forth sympathetic vibrations in the corresponding string of any number of harps placed round it if they are tuned to exactly the same pitch. It is also well known that when a large body of soldiers crosses a suspension bridge it is / necessary for them to break step, since the perfect regularity of their ordinary march would set up a vibration in the bridge which would be intensified by every step they took, until the point of resistance of the iron was passed, when the whole structure would fly to pieces. With these two analogies in our minds (never forgetting that they are only partial ones) it may seem more comprehensible that one who knows exactly at what rate to start his vibrations—knows, so to speak, the keynote of the class of matter he wishes to affect—should be able by sounding that keynote to call forth an immense number of sympathetic vibrations. When this is done on the physical plane no additional energy is developed; but on the astral there is this difference, that the matter with which we are dealing is far less inert, and so when called into action by these sympathetic vibrations it adds its own living force to the original impulse, which may thus be multiplied many-fold; and then by further rhythmic repetition of the original impulse, as in the case of the soldiers marching over the bridge, the vibrations may be so intensified that the result is out of all apparent proportion to the cause. Indeed it may be said that there is scarcely any limit to the conceivable achievements of this force in the hands of the Adept Who fully comprehends its possibilities; for the very building of the Universe itself was but the result of the vibrations set up by the Spoken Word./89-91
In the last, most interesting part of the book, Leadbeater explains phenomena such as disintegration, materialization, spirit photographs, reduplication, precipitation, slate-writing, levitation, spirit lights, handling fire, transmutation or repercussion. I shall end my review here and let you order and fully read and understand this uncanny book. The book is not an easy read, but a great treasure for scientific minds.