The Astral & Subtle Bodies

 Astral Body

The astral body is a subtle body posited by many religious philos-ophers, intermediate between the intelligent soul and the physical body, composed of a subtle material.[1] The concept ultimately derives from the philosophy of Plato: it is related to an astral plane, which consists of the planetary heavens of astrology. The term was adopted by nineteenth-century Theosophists and neo-Rosicrucians.

The idea is rooted in common worldwide religious accounts of the afterlife[2] in which the soul’s journey or “ascent” is described in such terms as “an ecstatic.., mystical or out-of body experience, wherein the spiritual traveler leaves the physical body and travels in his/her subtle body (or dreambody or astral body) into ‘higher’ realms”.[3] Hence “the “many kinds of ‘heavens’, ‘hells’ and purgatorial existences believed in by followers of innumerable religions” may also be understood as astral phenomena, as may the various “phenomena of the séance room”.[4] The phenomenon of apparitional experience is therefore related, as is made explicit in Cicero’s Dream of Scipio.

The astral body is sometimes said to be visible as an aura of swirling colors.[5] It is widely linked today with out-of-body experiences or astral projection. Where this refers to a supposed movement around the real world, as in Muldoon and Carrington’s book The Projection of the Astral Body, it conforms to Madame Blavatsky’s usage of the term. Elsewhere this latter is termed “etheric”, while “astral” denotes an experience of dream-symbols, archetypes, memories, spiritual beings and visionary landscapes. In reference to the secular scientific world view the concept is now generally considered superseded, being rooted in an attribution of materiality and dimensionality to the psychic world.


The subtle body in Indian mysticism, from a Yoga manuscript in Braj Bhasa language, 1899, now in the British Library.

According to various esoteric, occult, and mystical teachings, living beings are constituted of a series of psycho-spiritual subtle bodies, each corresponding to a subtle plane of existence, in a hierarchy or great chain of being that culminates in the physical form.

It is known in different spiritual traditions; “the resurrection body” and “the glorified body” in Christianity, “the most sacred body” (wujud al-aqdas) and “supracelestial body” (jism asli haqiqi) in Sufism, “the diamond body” in Taoism and Vajrayana, “the light body” or “rainbow body” in Tibetan Buddhism, “the body of bliss” in Kriya Yoga, and “the immortal body” (soma athanaton) in Hermeticism.[1] The various attributes of the subtle body are frequently described in terms of often obscure symbolism: Tantra features references to the sun and moon as well as various Indian rivers and deities, while Taoist alchemy speaks of cauldrons and cinnabar fields.

Clairvoyants say that they can see the subtle bodies as an aura. The practice of astral projection, as described in various literature, is supposed to involve the separation of the subtle body from the physical. The theosophical movement was important in spreading such ideas throughout the West in the late nineteenth century. The existence of subtle bodies is unconfirmed by the mainstream scientific community.;;