The Astral Plane, "Spirit World", "Afterlife", "Eldritch Dimension", etc.
In the Mythos
The "Astral Plane" is used loosely as any of a variety of parallel "spiritual" dimensions outside of the Material Plane we are familiar with, worlds outside of or just beyond our own, afterlives and dream worlds just as real as this world, but not quite as grounded in matter as we understand it. At the further reaches of the Astral Plane can be found the Dreamlands, but closer to the Earth are the Astral Depths of the Other Side, a shadowy and unpleasant region for explorers of the Astral world to explore and visit. If a monstrous alien entity is trying to break through into our world, the boundary between the Material and Astral Planes might be thought of as the closest and thinnest barrier between our world and the Lovecraftian Unknown....
The Astral Plane in Theosophy
Though every precaution in our power has been taken to ensure accuracy, it must be understood that no genuine human beings are native to the Astral Plane and suited by nature to explore and accurately perceive or describe it; any detailed information is only the result of the investigations of a few explorers, and must not, therefore, be taken as in any way authoritative, but are given here simply for what they are worth.
The astral plane, or Kâmaloka as it is called in Sanskrit, is one of the seven greater planes of nature, the next one above that physical world with which we are all familiar. It is sometimes called a realm of dream or illusion - not that this plane is any more illusory or real than the physical world, but because of the extreme unreliability of the impressions brought back from it be the untrained seer. This is to be accounted for mainly by he two remarkable characteristics of the astral world - first, that many of its inhabitants have a marvelous power of changing their forms with Protean rapidity, which they may use to make sport of or to deceive others, and second that perception and especially sight works very differently on the Astral Plane, with vision working in an extended and often altered capacity from that of the physical world, such that seers may perceive numbers, letters, and words in an altered order or configuration, and see multiple aspects or layers or faces of a subject at the same time, overlayed upon one another. An object might be seen from all sides at once, or in the past/future and present simultaneously, or the inside of a solid being might be as plainly visible as the outside. Not infrequently, an inexperienced visitor to the Astral Plane may be bewildered and confused by what is seen, and experience a great deal of difficulty in describing it to others.
The first introduction to this remarkable region comes to people in various ways; many are all but completely deaf and blind to it; some only once in their whole lives under some unusual influence become sensitive enough to recognize one of its inhabitants, and perhaps, because of the singular and unrepeated nature of the experience, come in time to believe they must have been the victims of hallucination; for some, it is a vivid flash of artistic or poetic inspiration which they might believe to have been conjured only from their imagination; for others, the astral world impinges upon them with greater frequency and and clarity over time; for a small portion of the populations of the mad house, the astral world invades upon and becomes impossible to separate and distinguish from the real world. Among those who make a study of such subjects, such as cultists, wizards, and dreamers, some try to develop astral vision by gazing into crystal balls or black mirrors or other such devices, or by astral projection through deep meditation and lucid dreaming techniques, or by the force of drugs or other dangerous artificial means that may rob the experimenter of complete use of his/her instincts, senses, reason, and other faculties of self-preservation against the more dangerous aspects of the astral world.
Of the scenery of the astral world, there might be said to be several subdivisions, loosely corresponding to such states of matter the material world as solids and liquids, ascending from a state roughly corresponding to the material world, to a further or higher energetic state beyond and independent of matter, with most of the astral realm being some combination of these subdivisions in much the same way that most of the material world consists of various interactions between liquids, solids, gases, and so on: the lowest level or division (see the Other Side) is a sort of foundation or background of shadow and darkness, the depths of the astral sea, where all that is light and good is obscured and nearly invisible; the darkness is projected from within the entities on the material and astral planes - including the seer - a kind of hell of one's own creation, where the astral equivalent of demonic or nocturnal beings and monsters gather, awaken, thrive, and hide and hunt. Many students of the occult will find their investigation of this section of the astral world to be an unpleasant or even repellent task, experiencing it as if pushing one's way through some black, viscous fluid, while the inhabitants and influences encountered here are typically also exceedingly unpleasant and undesirable.
Extending above and beyond these depths of the astral world, however, are subdivisions that become further and further removed from the material world, and thus correspondingly less material. Entities inhabiting these levels lose sight of the earth and its material belongings, and with their independence from the material world they tend to become increasingly self-absorbed, or at least absorbed in the mundane minutae of their astral lives; these beings to a large extent create their own surroundings, carving their artificial astral world from the raw substance of that plane in much the same way that material creatures and man shape the matter of their surroundings to suit their material lives, the wondrous and shining "Summerland" cities, countries, and palaces described in such glowing terms by many a spirit under seance, and these constructs of astral imagination are real enough in their own way, though to a clearer sight these Dreamlands may sometimes be pitiably unlike what their delighted creators suppose them to be. Nevertheless, many of the imaginations that take form there are of real though temporary beauty, and a visitor who knew of nothing higher might wander contentedly enough there among forests and mountains, lovely lakes and pleasant flower-gardens, or might even construct such surroundings to suit his own fancies.
The inhabitants of The Astral Plane fall naturally into two categories, the "living" (those who still have a physical body) and the "dead" (those who either no longer have a physical body, do not yet possess one, or never have possessed a material body):
- Dreamers, Cultists, and Magicians:
- The Living Adept (Chela): a wizard or powerful cultists or investigator who has consciously constructed a (by default invisible) astral body from which to explore the astral realm, a form which can be "materialized" into visible shape of the wizard's choice by a guided act of will. These adepts may travel freely throughout the astral world as they will, and may consciously shape artificial astral structures, objects, and Dreamlands with effort as they please.
- Living Sorcerers and Cultists: This class corresponds closely to the first, except that the development has been for evil instead of good, and the powers acquired are used for purely selfish purposes instead of for the benefit of humanity.
- The Living but Undeveloped/Inexperienced Investigator: similar to the adept or wizard, though in this case a spiritually undeveloped dreamer who has made his/her way unguided and usually conscious into the astral plane. These undeveloped investigators are often greatly deceived as to what is seen, and though they might have all the freedom to travel and shape the astral world as a trained adept, this class of investigator more typically find themselves confined or drawn to specific regions of the astral realm, or to specific Dreamlands, where they frequently see the realities and play by the rules chosen for them by more powerful travelers in the astral plane. These undeveloped dreamers typically settle on a familiar or favorite astral form which they may more or less accidentally "materialize" onto the astral plane from which they interact with the strange Dreamlands they explore.
- The Living Ordinary Person: A person without any psychic development, floating about in his astral body in a more or less unconscious condition. The condition of these ordinary people may range from the lethargy of a deep sleep, to an unguided state of dreamily floating about on the various astral currents, occasionally recognizing other people in a similar condition, and meeting with dreamlike experiences of all sorts, pleasant and unpleasant, the memory of which, hopelessly confused and often travestied into a grotesque caricature of what really happened, will cause the man to think next morning what a remarkable dream he has had. The ordinary person's astral body, depending on his/her spiritual development and intellect, typically range from the almost shapeless and indefinite, to a more well-defined form defined by the person's self-image.
- The Dead Adept (Chela) Awaiting Reincarnation: Rather than ascending to the bliss of higher planes of existence, some adepts may chose instead to step out of their material bodies upon death, and wait in the astral world until such a time that a reincarnation or walk-in to a suitable living material body might be arranged, so that the adept can continue their spiritual development and other important work such as teaching and guiding others uninterrupted by ascension.
- The Ordinary Person After Death: A class that makes up a vast and diverse population of the astral world. Among this class of unguided and unenlightened souls are those higher-minded and better people who, in time, will adjust to their astral existence, rise up through the astral world in time, and eventually cast off their astral form and ascend in their time to higher planes of existence; a few very noble individuals in this class may achieve enlightenment and develop into the former and choose to sacrifice their bliss on the astral and higher planes in time, choosing instead to reincarnate or walk-in to the material plane again to achieve a greater work, though the decision may pain them greatly. Also found in this class are those ghosts of a more ordinary character who may spend a great deal of time lost and wandering unguided through the astral world, aimlessly trapped in the shadows of the depths of the astral world or within shadowy and pitiable Dreamlands and "Summerlands" of their own unconscious design, cowering in fear of advancement into the unknown of higher planes of enlightenment. And, as a counterpart to the spirits of good, pure-minded, and noble ordinary people, there may also be found wicked, depraved, or low-minded ghosts who, having squandered their material lives in pursuit of evil, have come at long last upon the astral world, where they continue a selfish or malevolent existence of mischief and evil, enacting a petty reign of terror within the shadows of the depths of the astral world, and returning with an unhealthy and morbid fascination to the material world whenever possible to resume as much of their wicked lives as they are able from beyond the walls of death.
- Shades and Shells: The astral equivalent of decaying, animate corpses, abandoned by spirits which have ascended beyond the Astral Plane. Shades may look exactly like those who once inhabited them, and may possess enough of the impressions of their former inhabitants' personalities to impersonate their ascended owners, but typically exist as a creature of lower intellect and their former inhabitant's worst qualities, typically appearing at seances in their former owner's form and, to the extent that they are self-aware, fully believing themselves to be that person, but instead presenting to the seance a feeble shadow of their owner, and subject to all manner of evil influences. In time, as more and more of its former owner disappears, the Shade may deteriorate, borrowing temporary intelligence and vitality from the mediums it has begun to depend upon for existence, and identity purpose from the malevolent guidances of malign astral beings and black magicians, before at last decaying into nearly lifeless Shells of their former selves. These lifeless shells make up the bulk of those dull and lifeless spirits mindlessly thronging cemeteries by the hundreds or even thousands.
- Astral Monsters, Demonic and Angelic Spirits, and "Gods":
- Victims of Sudden Death, Violence, and Suicide: Similar to the ghosts of ordinary people, but animated by amplified and unresolved sensations, emotions and urges, unfulfilled wishes and goals, or other such psychic wounds that bind the spirit's morbid and unhealthy attentions to the material plane. Many such wretched spirits can be found tied to the material world in places of violent death and terrible crime, while many more can be found in the darkness of the depths of the astral plane, swarming like flies around living persons who are willing to indulge in the spirits' unhealthy fantasies of life, living pleasures and habits, and living crimes and miseries, with such spirits often taking the form of demons of temptation to violence, lust, sadism, gluttony, and other horrible and obsessive habits. Sensitive investigators may often see crowds of these unfortunate spirits crowding around butchers' shops, public-houses, brothels, opium dens, cult compounds, and other such disreputable places. Not uncommonly, these spirits will cling to the homes and the persons of their children and other descendants, tempting those poor living souls to follow in their own wicked footsteps from beyond the grave; thus, there is much truth to be found in the shadows of the astral plane in the ancient belief that the sins of the father may be visited upon his sons....
- The Devas: This class of astral spirit includes beings that were once human adepts, but which have rejected spiritual advancement to higher planes of existence, choosing instead to carve for themselves an existence on the Astral Plane as supernatural "angels", "gods", "devils", or other such beings, thus "yielding to the temptation to become a god". A few of these beings may be benevolent and helpful toward lesser beings, and among their ranks may be counted some (if not all) of the so-called "Elder Gods" said to be friendly to the human cause. Likewise, a few such beings may choose a more malevolent path (it may be that entities such as Nyarlathotep may have once held the form of man before crowning themselves as angels or gods), but by and large, this class of astral spirit tends to dwell in the highest levels of the Astral plane, remote from material humanity, and almost thoroughly self-involved to the exclusion of any concern for mere humanity.
- The Vitalized Shell: These entities are only superficially "human", being intelligences and entities which have temporarily made their astral homes within the abandoned shells of human spirits which have since moved on. In many cases, these Shells are artificial entities constructed by black magicians from cast-off astral Shells from such animating wills as portions (often the worst aspects) of the sorcerer's own personality, disembodied astral spirits who have lost their own shells, monstrous inhuman spirits of all kinds, and worse. Among the sorts of Vitalized Shell entities thus animated can be found the immaterial forms of many of the monsters of myth and legend, such as astral forms of vampires, incubi, succubae, werewolves, and countless other horrors.
- Inhuman Spirits of Animals: Similar to the astral spirits of living humans or ghosts of dead humans, ranging from those of ordinary animals, to those self-aware spirits of enlightened animals (such as Cats) who have attained individual personalities, intellects, imaginations, and egos as part of their own spiritual enlightenment. Such enlightened animal spirits can take all the same forms that human spirits can, though adept animal spirits are rare outside of mammals such as higher Primates, Cats, some of the wiser Wolves and Dogs, and similar creatures.
- Inhuman Natives of Higher Planes: Rarely encountered in so low a place as the Astral Plane, where it may pain them to exist for very long, natives of higher planes may sometimes be brought there in the course of their sublime and mysterious work to achieve a specific goal, or through the summons and mischief of cultists, magicians, and sorcerers, or to act in the capacity of gurus and spirit guides, or perhaps to study or to maintain the lower planes. Such beings may sometimes support worthy investigators in their occult spirtual development or recruit living investigators into undertaking quests and tasks for which beings from higher planes would be ill-suited.
- Inhuman Elementals and Creatures of the Astral Plane: This class includes nature spirits, and any variety of astral entities roughly equivalent to the plants, insects, and animals of the material plane and lower planes. Just like life in the material plane, these natives of the astral world may originate from astral regions bordering on the Earth and roughly corresponding to Earthly life forms, or they may derive from alien regions of the astral world bordering on other material worlds in Earth's solar system, and the countless planets, moons, and other material lands beyond the solar system. Most such artificial astral entities are formed unconsciously in the dreams of ordinary humans, or in the thoughts both good and ill of ordinary people for others. A smaller number are the artificial constructs of adept dreamers, wizards, occultists, sorcerors, and black magicians. Many of these are similar to the spirits that have ascended from lower planes, except that these entities are creatures of the astral world alone, and typically exist in a sort of temporary, artificial form, only rarely being "real" enough to have the foundation and capacity to extend into the higher planes and perfect themselves beyond the Astral world.
- The Neverborn: Inhuman intelligences native to the Astral Plane, self-aware beings which were never born into material bodies; like the previous class, these beings are of a more temporary and artificial nature, rarely existing beyond the astral world, though it is believed that some of the Neverborn intelligences are capable of acting as "reincarnating" walk-in spirits, obtaining (often through theft) and possessing dead or living material bodies or bodies from lower planes, in an attempt to try to ape the extra-planar spiritual development of human and other beings. It is doubtful that the results of such incarnation on lower planes and unnatural spiritual development can achieve anything beyond an abominable mockery of natural spiritual development, though there are Devas who insist that it has been done before, and those successes can be repeated by determined and clever spirits.
- Artificial Human Spirits: Similar to the Neverborn, these are inhuman intelligences native to the Astral Plane, in this case deliberately and consciously constructed by powerful adepts to simulate human beings for various purposes. Most notable are the ancient works of well-meaning spiritual teachers who, wishing to ascend to bliss beyond the astral realm while still fulfilling their responsibilities in teaching and leading their students, constructed artificial stand-ins to inhabit the Shells of their astral forms and act in their stead after they have left this world - a disastrous experiment, in that their imperfect imitations over time have lost the spark of their creators' wisdom, replaced it with invention, and have for generations been leading their followers further and further astray in their spiritual advancement; to this day, and perhaps forever, there may be found in remote corners of the astral world secluded cults of utter madness, folly, and confusion, faithfully following the bizarre and wildly misguided teachings of deteriorated artificial gurus in unspeakable little Dreamlands of their own twisted device, from which they in turn lead living human cultists and astral travelers far astray in their material spiritual developments; many of the most hideous ills and abominations of the Atlantean and Hyborean Ages and after may have been the result of the meddling of deranged artificial human gurus constructed in an earlier age which, having run amok, led their mortal followers into deception and madness.
Heresies and Controversies
Associated Mythos Elements