Belief in the astral plane is part of the common heritage of occult

philosophy which is shared by witch and ceremonial magician alike.

The word ‘astral’ is derived from the Latin astrum, a star. It was used

by medieval occultists to designate that super-physical medium by

means of which the influence of the heavenly bodies was conveyed to

the earth, and affected all things upon it.

In brief, the astral plane is part of the super-physical world, a world

composed of finer essence or of energy at a higher rate of vibration,

than that of the physical world. It is not higher in the sense of being

above in heaven. On the contrary, everything in the visible world of

matter is surrounded and permeated by its astral counterpart. Occultists

see the universe as a great scale of vibrations, of which our physical

plane is only one ; the one to which our physical senses respond.

Because the writings of such nineteenth-century Theosophical authors

as Madame Blavatsky, and the many books on modern Spiritualism,

have tended to familiarise readers with the idea of the astral plane, it is

not always realised that this is in fact a very old magical concept. Nevertheless, Francis Barrett in The Magus, published in 1 801 (one of the

classics of ceremonial magic), explains it as one of the fundamental

ideas upon which magical practice depends. Eliphas Levi, another

great nineteenth-century magus, treats extensively of this concept,

which he calls ‘the Astral Light’.

One of the chief claims made by occultists about the substance of

the astral plane is that it is responsive to thoughts and emotions. Hence

the astral body of man, the double, doppelganger or ‘fetch’, is called

by the Hindus the Kama Rupa, or ‘desire body’. It is a remarkable fact

that all ancient occult philosophers, even though they lived continents

and centuries apart, have had these ideas and beliefs. The Ancient

Egyptians, too, believed in the human double, which they called the Ka.

Old Norse legends tell of the Scin Laeca, or ‘shining body’, the apparition of the human being surrounded by ghostly light. If the beliefs of

occultism are a mere chimera, why does the same mythical beast gallop

through the minds of men, from one race and one time to another ?

The astral body is the means by which man functions upon the

astral plane, and which survives the death of the physical form. He can,

however, visit the astral plane, and perceive visions in the astral light,

while still incarnate upon this earth. This clairvoyant travel is one of the

attainments sought by the witch. It is the reality behind the wild stories

of witches flying through the air. The flying witch is not in her physical,

but her astral form.

This was realised by Henry More as long ago as 1 647. More was a

Platonist and a student of occult philosophy. In his Poems (University

of Manchester, 1 931 and AMS Press, New York, 1 878) published in

that year, when witchcraft was still a capital offence in Britain, occurs

the following significant passage :

And ’tis an art well known to Wizards old

And wily Hags, who oft for fear and shame

Of the coarse halter, do themselves withold

From bodily assisting their night game.

Wherefore their carcasses do home retain,

But with their souls at these bad feasts they are,

And see their friends and call them by their name,

And dance about the Goat, and sing har, bar,

And kiss the Devil’s breech, and taste his deadly cheer

More, as a Christian, regarded the witches’ Sabbat as being diabolical

but his occult studies had enabled him to penetrate to the truth behind

the tales of popular fantasy, namely that astral projection is one of the

secrets of witchcraft.

This is also the explanation of the old belief that a witch or wizard

casts no shadow. If one saw them in their astral form, of course the

double, not being of physical matter, would cast no shadow ; and such

was the superstitious terror engendered by the Church’s ban on any

use of psychic powers, that a person who could project their astral

body was automatically regarded as a witch.

The astral plane and its related phenomena constitute such a vast

subject that whole books could be and have been written about it. Any brief sketch such as this must necessarily omit many interesting and

important points. Many occultists divide the astral plane into seven

gradations, or sub-planes, from the lowest to the highest ; though it

must be remembered that in this connection the terms ‘lowest’ and

‘highest’ do not refer to position in space, but to different states of


The higher gradations of the astral plane are regions of beauty

transcending that of earth ; they are the ‘Summerland’ of the Spiritualist.

The lowest regions of the astral, on the contrary, are the dwellings of

spiritual darkness; but this darkness proceeds from the debased and

vicious souls of their dwellers. The mind creates its own surroundings;

this is even true of the physical world, and still more so of the astral.

Like attracts like ; and the soul after death is drawn to that region which

is its natural affinity.

These ideas are by no means the invention of modern Spiritualists or

Theosophists. They are as old as Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt, and

probably older. Even Neanderthal Man buried his dead with gravegoods, indicating a belief in a continuing life in the Beyond.

Beside the discarnate human souls who dwell upon the astral plane,

there are many orders of other spirits which are not human. There are

the souls of animals, some of whom have achieved individuality, while

others belong to a group soul of their species. There is the vast kingdom

of nature-spirits, which contains many ranks, some lower than humanity

and some much higher. The nature spirits were divided by medieval

occultists according to that element of Nature with which they had

affinity. The earth spirits were called gnomes, the water spirits undines,

the air spirits sylphs, and the fire spirits salamanders.

These spirits of the elements should not be confused with the semiintelligent entities called artificial elementals. The latter are formed

from the elemental essence of the astral plane, by the power of human

thought and desire acting upon that essence. Hence they may be

beautiful or hideous, protective or menacing. Their life depends upon

the power of the thought which calls them forth. Most people are quite

unconscious of the power of their thought, and what it can do ; but the

occultist uses this power deliberately, to create artificial elementals and

thought-forms. This power of thought is another of the fundamentals

of magic, which have been known all over the world, throughout the

ages. It is known in the East as Kriyashakti.

Artificial elementals and thought-forms may be perceived by one

whose power of astral vision is opened, intentionally or otherwise. They

account for many of the fantastic visions seen by people who rashly

experiment with so-called ‘psychedelic drugs’.

Beyond the astral plane are still higher and more spiritual levels of

being. To attain these is the goal of the true occultist and magician, so

that he may master the astral light, instead of being mastered by it