An examination of ‘out-of-body experience’ and the subconscious will
by Douglas Lockhart.
I can always remember reading with gusto, at the age of ten, a collection of science fiction novels by Edgar Rice Borroughs (the creator of Tarzan), and being enchanted by the story of John Carter, a World War I soldier who, lying in a bomb crater physically maimed and dying, leaves his body and travels to the planet Mars in another, less tangible body of identical appearance. It was a great romp, and I devoured the whole John Carter series never suspecting that the idea of consciously leaving one’s body and travelling on some other plane of existence was not only an experience attested to by many well-known and respected individuals, but a subject which would crop up again and again as the years slid by.
I think I was in my teens when, by chance, I stumbled on a novel called Resurrection by William Gehardi, a 30s novel in which Gehardi describes a personal experience of being jettisoned from his physical body and thrust into a totally different dimension of existence – a dimension which he eventually learns to enter at will. Writing of that experience in an article some time after the publication of Resurrection, Gehardi states that he was astounded one day when, on falling asleep, he found himself floating in space in another body, looking down on his recumbent physical body. He goes on to relate the reception he got from friends and acquaintances when he tried to describe this out-of-body experience, and apparently wrote the novel Resurrection out of frustration at not being taken seriously.
On publishing a fragment of that novel in a British newspaper, he received about a hundred letters from readers who had had substantially the same experience. They too had travelled in their ‘astral body’ (more about this term later), and had seen their natural bodies asleep in bed. They too had passed through doors and walls and witnessed friends and strangers without being seen by them. Gehardi adds that he would not have believed any of it but for his own experience, and says that it is a thankless and all but impossible task trying to convince others of such an experience.
As I read Gehardi’s novel, I realised that both Borroughs and Gehardi were describing the same basic experience, and I began to wonder if Borroughs, too, had had the experience of slipping out of his physical body. A few years later, I came across further descriptions of out-of-body experiences in other books and articles, and was eventually lucky enough to stumble on the definitive text on this bizarre subject written by Sylvan J Muldoon and Dr Hereward Carrington. On reading their work, it seemed pretty certain that Muldoon, Carrington, Gehardi and Borroughs were all describing the same basic experience.
According to Muldoon, anyone could experience conscious out-of-body jaunts if they desired them strongly enough, and were willing to put in a little work before going to sleep. The entrance to sleep was where the fun started, and we had to learn how to manipulate our consciousness and not simply slide into temporary oblivion. There were momentous possibilities available if one could balance one’s self between sleep and wakefulness.
Envelope of the Soul
A little more reading informed me that the idea of leaving ones body and travelling in another dimension was very old. Ancient Indian writings described the eight siddhis or supernormal powers which could be acquired through a type of yoga called Pranayama. The sixth of these siddhis was ‘flying in the sky’, and referred directly to out-of-body experience. The western idea of out-of-body experience had however originated in classical Greek philosophy, and was apparently uninfluenced by oriental ideas. In his Laws (book ten), Plato said that the soul ‘enflolds us in a fashion utterly imperceptible to all bodily senses’, and in the Timaeus, the Creator was said to have made souls which he ‘mounted on the stars as it were on chariots’. These souls were later born as men, and if they lived good lives, returned happily to the stars in the life after death.
Plato’s pupil, Aristotle, also developed an ‘alternative body’ theory based on the breath (pneuma) in which the soul resides, and which is ‘analogous to that element of which the stars are made’. The linking together of starry ‘soul-chariots’, the ‘fiery air bodies of the souls of stars’, and the Aristotelian ‘starry soul-container’, eventually produced the idea of the body’s soul being a starry envelope – hence the term ‘astral body’ now currently in use. Dante’s Purgatorio (canto 25), written in the 14th century, attempts to explain the same phenomena. Dante says that after death the soul ‘around it beams its own creative power, like to its living form in shape and size . . . the circumambient air adopts the shape the soul imposes on it’.
Dr Peter Bicknell, Reader in the Department of Classical Studies, Monash University, has had a long-standing interest in ancient Greek theories of telepathy and precognition. In recent times he has taken an active interest in out-of-body case histories; or, as they are now known, OBEs. His survey parallels that of a researcher in Britain called Celia Green. Bicknell has collected around 200 local cases, and says that his interest in the phenomenon began as a schoolboy; he had, like many another, read Sylvan Muldoon’s book on astral projection. Being of a religious frame of mind, however, Muldoon’s statements ran counter to his beliefs, and he did not return to the subject until many years later. The reason for his renewed interest was that in 1975 he himself underwent an OBE, and his studies show that during such an experience most people see in colour, some in sepia, and some in grey. There are also reports of additional tactile awareness, and the occasionally experience of having 360 degree vision. Bicknell also observes that it was at one time common for projectors to speak of an ‘astral double’ connected to the physical body by an umbilical cord, but that this is now seldom mentioned. Celia Green’s research reported only 3.5% of her subjects having seen both their astral double and the cord, and Bicknell’s study turned up only two people out of 200 who reported this.
But there was, I soon discovered, a complication in all of this – the terms ‘astral body’ and ‘etheric double’ were often used indiscriminately to cover several different types of phenomena. There was an ‘etheric body’ and an ‘astral body’, and only the ‘astral’ was capable of carrying the full-functioning consciousness of an individual. The etheric body was seemingly identical with what the ancient Egyptians called the ‘Ka’, the vital force which gives the body life. In Hindu parlance it is the linga sharira or ‘vital form’ which is, so to speak, the body’s ‘wiring system’. Dr Douglas M Baker in his book Practical Techniques of Astral Projection describes the etheric body as a force-field which energises the physical tissues and therefore cannot be separated from the physical body for long. Dislodgement of the etheric matrix apparently brings death to the physical body.
Another false trail occurs in the concept of the likeness of a person projected at some point in space through intense thought (preoccupation), or reverie. In Scotland they speak of ‘the forerunner’, and this refers to a manifestation of a person’s presence occurring at a destination before he or she arrives! Some writers refer to this as ‘spontaneous projection’.
An interesting example of ‘spontaneous projection’ can be found in the story of Wolfgang Goethe’s unexpected meeting with a friend called Frederick at Weimar. Accompanied by another friend labelled ‘K’ while out walking one rainy summer evening, the poet stopped suddenly as if someone was about to speak to him. K could see no one. Goethe exclaimed: ‘My God! If I were not sure that my friend Frederick is at this moment at Frankfurt I should swear that it is he!’
The next moment he burst out laughing. ‘But it is he – my friend Frederick. You here at Weimar? But why are you dressed so – in your dressing gown, with your nightcap and my slippers here on the public road?’ K, seeing nothing, became alarmed; he thought the poet had lost his wits. But Goethe, totally caught up with what he alone could see, cried out again: ‘Frederick, what has become of you?’ And then, ‘My dear K, did you notice where that person went who came to meet us just now?’
Stupified, K did not answer. Looking all around, the poet said in a dreamy tone: ‘Yes, I understand . . . it is a vision. What can it mean though? Has my friend suddenly died? Was it his spirit?’ On returning home, Goethe found Frederick there already. The poet’s hair stood on end. ‘Avaunt, you phantom!’ he shouted, pale as death. ‘But my friend,’ remonstrated Frederick, ‘is this the welcome that you give to your best friend?’ ‘Ah, this time,’ exclaimed the poet with much emotion, ‘it is not a spirit, it is a being of flesh and blood.’ The friends embraced warmly and Frederick explained that he had arrived at Goethe’s lodging soaked by the rain, had dressed himself in the poet’s dry clothing and having fallen asleep in his chair, had dreamed that he had gone out to meet him and that Goethe had greeted him with the words: ‘You here! At Weimar? What? With your dressing gown, your nightcap and my slippers here on the public road?’ From that moment on Goethe believed in life after death.
Another quite extraordinary example of spontaneous projection concerns St. Anthony of Padua. This took place before witnesses in the Church of St. Pierre du Queyroix at Limoges on Holy Thursday, 1226 – the Catholic Church admits to the incident under the term ‘biolocation’. Remembering suddenly that he was due at a service in a monastery at the other end of town, St Anthony drew his hood over his head and knelt down for some minutes while the congregation reverently waited. At that moment he was seen by the assembled monks to step from his stall in the monastery chapel, read the appointed passage in the office and immediately disappear. Similar stories are recorded of St Serverus of Ravenna, St Ambrose and St. Clement of Rome.
But the best known case of this type is dated September 17th, 1774. Alphonse de Liguori, imprisoned at Arezzo, remained quiet in his cell and took no nourishment. Five days later he awoke in the morning and said that he had been at the death-bed of Pope Clement XIV. His statement was later confirmed by those in attendance by the bedside of the dying Pope.
In modern times there are countless descriptions of OBE experiences from victims of road accidents, the seriously ill, and those who have undergone clinical death but recovered to tell the tale. The number of cases is in fact so great that studies of OBEs are now being compiled by some doctors and psychiatrists.
Conscious Projection & the Subconscious Will
According to those deemed ‘expert’, the first thing that has to be known before conscious control of the astral body can be attained is the route followed by the astral body during the process of separation from the physical body during sleep. The route is said to be specific. When lying on one’s back, the astral body apparently advances from the physical in an upright direction while remaining parallel to the latter. On attaining a height somewhere between three and six feet above the physical shell, the still horizontal astral body will then either upright itself or begin to move a few yards on the horizontal plane before coming down into a vertical or standing position some distance from the physical body. According to Muldoon, and other researchers, if the subject’s senses are particularly keen during sleep, the specific manoeuvring of the slumbering astral self will produce peculiar dreams entailing rising, falling, floating or flying. Falling dreams are apparently caused by the subject returning to consciousness as the astral body descends into the physical.
Those claiming to know this territory differ in some of their basic descriptions of the projected state, but they are all in strict agreement on one particular issue: the attempt to consciously will oneself out onto the astral plane will automatically result in failure.
The fact that projection generally occurs unconsciously shows that the conscious will is not a suitable instrument for attaining that state. The secret of success seems to lie in the subject’s ability to delicately program the ‘subconscious’. The subconscious controls every function of the human body. It is through the subconscious that we successfully cross a street while thinking about other things. The big question is: How can the subconscious be voluntarily incited to move the astral body out of coincidence with the physical body while the subject is still conscious? Muldoon has it that this can be achieved through imaginative dream construction.
Imaginative Dream Construction
Muldoon’s basic rule for successful astral projection is as follows: When the action of self, in a dream, corresponds to the action of the astral phantom while exteriorising, the dream will cause the phantom to exteriorise.
Two things come together at this point: (a) The route naturally taken by the astral body during unconscious projection, and (b) the creation of a dream sequence which imaginatively follows this route. The route is specific; the dream must also be specific. Success is totally dependent on one’s ability to hang on to the remnants of consciousness as the balance is tipped towards sleep and one enters the half-awake, half-asleep state. It is at this point that one activates the predetermined dream sequence.
Of the many dream sequences possible, the best one is thought to be that of being in an elevator as it rises; but one should of course be lying flat out on the floor, not standing. Having already trained yourself to hold consciousness up to the point of going to sleep, you then imagine yourself being slowly carried upwards in your private elevator. Slowly, quietly it is going up. You are conscious of going up and are enjoying the sensation. Having already decided to go to the top of the building, you allow yourself to be carried upwards. On arrival, you rise to your feet and walk out of the elevator and out into the building. This part of the building must be observed carefully, its contents (if any) committed to memory.
Muldoon’s injunction at this point is to use the same dream each night. Repeat your constructed dream night after night until it becomes quite automatic – the subconscious is not impressed by conflicting dream images; it prefers continuity.
Such a dream is a suggestion, or to be more exact, a chain of connected suggestions, to your subconscious.
But the main problem lies in gaining full consciousness once you are projected, and this requires a further act of auto-suggestion prior to going to sleep, prior to engaging in your elevator dream sequence.
Most of us have had the experience of how the mind can be ‘set’ at night, like an alarm clock, and it is apparently this quite natural ability which can switch consciousness back on after real projection has taken place. For it has to be remembered that the elevator dream sequence is being used at the entrance to sleep, and you will probably succumb to sleep at some point during the dream sequence. But if you have programmed yourself to become fully conscious after sleep has overpowered you and projection has taken place, then you will (according to Muldoon’s theory) become fully conscious on the astral level due to the power of the subconscious. Click, the light of consciousness will go on and you will be in the privileged state of knowing without doubt that there exists another realm of existence quite without the restrictions of the material world!
The Riddle Called Death
It goes without saying that if one succeeds in becoming conscious on the astral plane, then the age old question of whether there is survival after death has in all probability been answered – well, at least partially. But it will of course have been answered for you alone. As William Gehardi learned, and learned the hard way, only personal experience will convince anyone that such things are possible. And if possible, then it could be said that we are living in a very strange and perplexing world indeed, a world where, in spite of the incredible advances in science and psychology, we are nevertheless almost totally ignorant of what lies around us, and within us. We are more than we seem, and may even be more than we can presently imagine.