An Esoteric Cosmology
IX. The Astral World I
2 June 1906, Paris
How are we to conceive of the astral world? The three different worlds of which occultism speaks are as follows: —
- The physical world.
- The astral world (Purgatory)
- The spiritual world, or Devachan in Sanscrit terminology (The Christian Heaven)
There are yet other worlds above and beyond these three but they will not concern us in these lectures. They are, moreover, beyond all human conception. Even the highest Initiates can have but a faint presentiment of them. We will concern ourselves here with planetary evolution within the confines of our solar system.
The physical world encloses us in the narrow span of material existence between birth and death. Between two incarnations we live and move in the astral and devachanic worlds. The kernel of man's being is immutable, reincarnating perpetually but not eternally. The rhythm of incarnation and reincarnation had a beginning and will have an end. Man comes from other-where and passes other-where.
The astral world is not a place but a state, a condition of existence. It surrounds us and we are immersed in it while we live on Earth. We live in it as beings born blind who guide themselves by touch. If sight is opened up for them by operation they see for the first time the forms and colours with which they have always been surrounded.
Thus does the astral world open up to clairvoyant sight. It is another state of consciousness. In Goethe's scientific works there is a wonderful passage on the essence of the light as the language of Nature:
“It is useless to attempt to express the nature of a thing abstractedly. Effects we can perceive, and a complete history of those effects would, in fact, sufficiently define the nature of the thing itself. We should try in vain to describe a man's character, but let his acts be collected and an idea of the character will be presented to us.
“The colours are acts of light — its active and passive modifications: thus considered, we may expect from them some explanation respecting light itself. Colours and light, it is true, stand in the most intimate relation to each other, but we should think of both as belonging to Nature as a whole, for it is Nature as a whole which manifests itself by their means in an especial manner to the sense of sight.
“The completeness of Nature displays itself to another sense in a similar way. Let the eye be closed, let the sense of hearing be excited, and from the lightest breath to the wildest din, from the simplest sound to the highest harmony, from the most vehement and impassioned cry to the gentlest word of reason, still it is Nature that speaks and manifests her presence, her power, her pervading life and the vastness of her relations; so that a blind man to whom the infinite visible is denied, can still comprehend an infinite vitality by means of another organ.
“And thus as we descend the scale of being, Nature speaks to the senses — to known, misunderstood, and unknown senses: so speaks she with herself and to us in a thousand modes. To the attentive observer who is nowhere dead nor silent, she has even a secret agent in inflexible matter, in a metal, the smallest portions of which tell us what is passing in the entire mass.” [Theory of Colours. Preface.]
Let us endeavour to form some conception of the astral world. We must accustom ourselves to quite a different mode of vision. To begin with, everything is confused and chaotic.
The first thing to realise is that in the astral world, everything that exists is revealed as it were in a mirror, inversed. In the astral light the cipher 365 must be read backwards: 563. If an event unfolds before us, it is perceived in inverse sequence. In the astral world the cause comes after the effect, whereas on Earth, the effect follows the cause. In the astral world, the aim appears as the cause — proving that the aim and the cause are identical, acting in an inverse sense according to the sphere of life in which we are functioning. The teleological problem which no metaphysician has been able to solve by dint of abstract thought is thus solved by clairvoyance.
Another result of this inverse unraveling of things in the astral world is that it teaches man to know himself. Feelings and passions are expressed by plant and animal forms. When man begins to behold his passions in the astral world he sees them as animal forms. These forms proceed from himself, but he sees them as if they were assailing him. This is because his own being is objectivised — otherwise he could not behold himself. Thus it is only in the astral world that man learns true self knowledge in contemplating the images of his passions in the animal forms which hurl, themselves upon him. A feeling of hatred entertained against another being appears as an attacking demon.
This astral self-knowledge occurs in an abnormal way in those who are troubled with Psychical illnesses which consist in constant visions of being pursued by animals and menacing entities. The sufferers are seeing the mirror images of their emotions and desires.
No psychical trouble arises in true initiation, but the premature and sudden flashing-up of the astral world may give rise to insanity. In clairvoyance, man is liberated from his physical body. Hence the dangers that may threaten the mind and brain of one who attempts this kind of training without being absolutely balanced.
The Rosicrucian initiation involved a discipline which was directed to making man objective to himself, to producing, as it were, an objective self. We must begin by seeing ourselves objectively. This outer personification of the self makes it possible for the astral body to go forth from the physical body.
What happens at the moment of death? After death, the etheric body, the astral body and the Ego of man have left the physical body. The corpse alone remains in the physical world. A short time after death the etheric and astral bodies unite. The etheric body imprints in the astral body the memory of the life just passed; then the etheric body slowly dissolves and the astral body passes alone into the astral world.
The astral body then contains all the desires generated by life and, being bereft of the physical body, has no means of satisfying them. This gives rise to a sensation of devouring thirst — the basis of the imagination of the punishment of Tantalus in Greek Mythology. There is also the impression of being immersed in fire — Gehenna or Purgatory. The idea of the fire of Purgatory which is laughed at by materialists is a true expression of the subjective state of man after death. By contrast, unsatisfied thirst for action produces the sensation of cold in the soul. It is this cold — born of action unrealised on Earth — that is said to be sensed by the spirits in mediumistic séances. The soul living in the astral body must learn to break free from the forces of the physical organs and acquire a new organism for existence in the astral world.
The soul now begins to live through the past life in backward order, beginning at death and going back to birth. Not until the life has been lived through in this purifying fire to the point of birth is the soul ready to pass into the spiritual world — into Devachan. Such is the import of Christ's words to His disciples: “Verily, verily I say unto you, unless ye become as little children, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Man is impelled by desire when he is descending to earthly incarnation. Not for nothing is desire for the Earth born in man. The end and aim is that he shall learn.
We learn through all our experiences and they enrich our store of knowledge. But in order that man may learn on the Earth, he must be allured by, [or] involved in enjoyment.
When the soul is experiencing the past life in the astral world after death, in backward order, there must be abnegation of enjoyment, while the essence of the experience itself is retained. The passage through the astral world is thus a purification whereby the soul learns to forego all taste for physical pleasures.
Such is the purification of the Hindu Kamaloca, of the ‘consuming fire.’ Man must grow accustomed to existence without a physical body. Death gives rise, at first, to the impression of an immeasurable void.
In cases of violent death and of suicide, the impressions of emptiness, thirst and burning are much more terrible. An astral body that is not prepared for existence outside the physical body, separates with great travail, whereas in natural death the detachment of the matured astral body takes place easily and smoothly. In the case of violent death that is not caused by the will of man, the process of separation is less distressing than in the case of suicide.
During life itself a kind of spiritual death may occur, caused by a premature separation of the Spirit from the body. The astral world is confused with the physical world. Nietzsche is an example of this. In his book Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche has all-unconsciously transferred the astral into the physical world. The result is a confusion and chaos of ideas, culminating in error, insanity and death.
The dim, dreamy life of many mediums is an analogous phenomenon. The medium invariably loses his orientation between these different worlds and is unable to distinguish the true from the false.
A lie in the physical world becomes an agent of destruction in the astral world. A lie is a murder in the astral world. This phenomenon is the origin of black magic. The earthly commandment, Thou shalt not kill, may therefore be translated into Thou shalt not lie, in reference to the astral world. The lie is nothing but a word, an illusion. It may do untold harm, but nothing is actually destroyed. In the astral world, every feeling, every idea is a visible form, a living force. The astral lie brings about an impact between the false and true forms, resulting in death.
The white magician would impart to other souls the spiritual life he bears within him. The black magician has the urge to kill, to create a void around him in the astral world because this void affords him a field in which his egoistic desires may disport themselves. He needs the power which he acquires by taking the vital force of everything that lives, that is to say, by killing it.
That is why the first sentence on the tables of black magic is: Life must be conquered. For the same reason, in certain schools of black magic the followers are taught the horrible and diabolical practice of gashing living animals with a knife at the precise part of the body which will generate this or that force in the wielder of the knife. From the purely external aspect, there are certain points in common between black magic and vivisection. On account of its materialism, modern science has need of vivisection. The anti-vivisection movements are inspired by deeply moral motives. But it will not be possible to abolish vivisection in science until clairvoyance has been restored to medicine. It is only because clairvoyance has been lost that medicine has had to resort to vivisection. When man has regained conscious access to the astral world, clairvoyance will enable doctors to enter spiritually into the inner conditions of diseased organs and vivisection will be abandoned as worthless.
Knowledge of life in the astral world leads us to a conclusion of fundamental importance, namely that the physical world is the product of the astral world.
The epidemics which raged notably in the Middle Ages are one example among thousands of the relation of human sins to astral events, as well as of the repercussion in the astral world of sins committed in earthly life. Leprosy was the result of the terror caused by the invasions of the Huns and hordes of Asiatic peoples. The Mongolians, the descendants of the Atlanteans, bore within them the germs of degeneracy. This contact with the European populace produced, in the first instance, the moral malady of fear in the astral world; the substance of the astral body decomposed and this field of astral decomposition became a field for the development of bacteria, giving rise, on Earth, to diseases such as leprosy.
All that we throw out of ourselves into the astral world at one time will reappear in times to come, on the physical plane. What we sow in the astral world we reap on Earth in future times. We are reaping today the fruits of the narrow, materialistic thoughts strewn by our ancestors in the astral world.
This will make us realise how essential it is to nourish ourselves with occult truths. If science would accept the truths of occultism — merely as hypotheses to begin with — the very world would change. Materialism has cast man into such depths that a mighty concentration of forces is necessary to raise him again. He is subject to illnesses of the nervous system which are veritable epidemics of the life of the soul.
What on the Earth we call feeling comes back again to Earth in the form of actuality, event, fact. The nerve-storms that exhaust man have their origin in the astral world.
It is for this reason that the Occult Brotherhoods decided to demonstrate and reveal the hidden truths. For humanity is passing through a crisis and must be helped to regain health and equilibrium. Only by virtue of spirituality can this health and equilibrium be restored.