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By Annie Besant
This book is intended to place in the hands of the general reader an epitome of theosophical teachings, sufficiently plain to serve the elementary student, and sufficiently full to lay a sound foundation for further knowledge. It is hoped that it may serve as an introduction to the profounder works of H.P. Blavatsky, and be a convenient steppingstone to their study.
Those who have learned a little of the Ancient Wisdom know the illumination, the peace, the joy, the strength, its lessons have brought into their lives. That this book may win some to con its teachings, and to prove for themselves their value, is the prayer with which it is sent forth into the world.
We have just seen that the source from which a universe proceeds is a manifested Divine Being, to whom in the modern form of the Ancient Wisdom the name LOGOS, or Word has been given. The name is drawn from Greek Philosophy, but perfectly expresses the ancient idea, the Word which emerges from the Silence, the Voice, the Sound, by which the worlds come into being. We must now trace the evolution of spirit-matter, in order that we may understand something of the nature of the materials with which we have to deal on the physical plane, or physical world. For it is in the potentialities wrapped up, involved, in the spirit-matter of the physical world that lies the possibility of evolution. The whole process is an unfolding, self-moved from within and aided by intelligent beings without, who can retard or quicken evolution, but cannot transcend the capacities inherent in the materials. Some idea of these earliest stages of the world’s “becoming” is therefore necessary, although any attempt to go into minute details would carry us far beyond the limits of such an elementary treatise as the present. A very cursory sketch must suffice. (Page 41)
Coming forth from the depths of the One Existence, from the ONE beyond all thought and all speech, a LOGOS, by imposing on Himself a limit, circumscribing voluntarily the range of His own Being, becomes the manifested God, and tracing the limiting sphere of His activity thus outlines the area of His universe. Within that sphere the universe is born, is evolved, and dies ; it lives, it moves, it has its being in Him ; its matter is His emanation ; its forces and energies are currents of His Life ; He is immanent in every atom, all-pervading, all-sustaining, all-evolving ; He is its source and its end, its cause and its object, its centre and circumference ; it is built on Him as its sure foundation, it breathes in Him as its encircling space ; He is in everything and everything in Him. Thus have the sages of the Ancient Wisdom taught us of the beginning of the manifested worlds.
From the same source we learn of the Self-unfolding of the LOGOS into a threefold form ; the First LOGOS, the Root of all being ; from Him the Second, manifesting the two aspects of Life and Form, the primal duality, making the two poles of nature between which the web of the universe is to be woven – Life-Form, Spirit-Matter, Positive-Negative, Active-Receptive, Father-Mother of the worlds. Then the Third LOGOS, the Universal Mind, that in which all archetypically exists, the source of beings, the fount of fashioning energies, the treasure house in which are stored up all the archetypal forms which are to be brought forth and elaborated in lower kinds (Page 42) of matter during the evolution of the universe. These are the fruits of past universes, brought over as seeds for the present.
The phenomenal spirit and matter of any universe are finite in their extent and transitory in their duration, but the roots of spirit and matter are eternal. The root of matter (Mulâprakriti ) has been said by a profound writer to be visible to the LOGOS as a veil thrown over the One existence, the supreme Brahman (Parabrahman) –to use the ancient name.
It is this “veil” which the LOGOS assumes for the purpose of manifestation, using it for the self-imposed limit which makes activity possible. From this He elaborates the matter of His universe, being Himself its informing, guiding, and controlling life. ( Hence He is called “The Lord of Mâyâ” in some Eastern Scriptures, Mâyâ, or illusion, being the principle of form; form is regarded as illusory, from its transitory nature and perpetual transformations, the life which expresses itself under the veil of form being the reality).
Of what occurs on the two higher planes of the universe, the seventh and sixth, we can form but the haziest conception. The energy of the LOGOS as whirling motion of inconceivable rapidity “digs holes in space” in this root matter, and this vortex of life encased in a film of the root of matter is the primary atom; these and their aggregations, spread throughout the universe, form all the subdivisions of spirit-matter of the highest or seventh plane. The sixth plane is formed by some of the (Page 43) countless myriads of these primary atoms, setting up a vortex in the coarsest aggregations of their own plane, and this primary atom en-walled with spiral strands of the coarsest combinations of the seventh plane becomes the finest unit of spirit-matter, or atom of the sixth plane. These sixth plane atoms and their endless combinations form the subdivisions of the spirit-matter of the sixth plane.
The sixth-plane-atom, in its turn, sets up a vortex in the coarsest aggregations of its own plane, and, with these coarsest aggregations as a limiting wall, becomes the finest unit of spirit-matter, or atom, of the fifth plane. Again, these fifth-plane atoms, and their combinations form the subdivisions of the spirit-matter of the fifth plane. The process is repeated to form successively the spirit-matter of the fourth, the third, the second, and the first planes. These are the seven great regions of the universe, so far as their material constituents are concerned. A clearer idea of them will be gained by analogy when we come to master the modifications of the spirit-matter of our own physical world.
The world “spirit-matter” is used designedly. (Page 44) At implies the fact that there is no such thing as “dead” matter ; all matter is living, the tiniest particles are lives. Science speaks truly in affirming : “No force without matter, no matter without force.” They are wedded together in an indissoluble marriage throughout the ages of the life of a universe, and none can wrench them apart. Matter is form, and there is no form which does not express a life ; spirit is life, and there is no life that is not limited by form. Even the LOGOS, the Supreme Lord, has during manifestation the universe as His form, and so down to the atom.
This involution of the life of the LOGOS as the ensouling force in every particle, and its successive enwrapping in the spirit-matter of every plane, so that the materials of each plane have within them in a hidden, or latent condition, all the form and force possibilities of all the planes above them as well as those of their own – these two facts make evolution certain and give to the very lowest particle the hidden potentialities which will render it fit – as they become active powers – to enter into the forms of the highest beings. In fact, evolution may be summed up in a phrase : it is latent potentialities becoming active powers.
The second great wave of evolution, the evolution of form, and the third great wave, the evolution of self-consciousness, will be dealt with later on. These three currents of evolution are distinguishable on our earth in connection with humanity ; the making of the materials, the building of the house, and the growing (Page 45) of the tenant of the house, or, as said above, the evolution of spirit-matter, the evolution of form, the evolution of self-consciousness.If the reader can grasp and retain this idea, he will find a helpful clue to guide him through the labyrinth of facts.
We can now turn to the detailed examination of the physical plane, that on which our world exists and to which our bodies belong.
Examining the materials belonging to this plane, we are struck by their immense variety, the innumerable differences of constitution in the objects around us, minerals, vegetables, animals, all differing in their constituents : matter hard and soft, transparent and opaque, brittle and ductile, bitter and sweet, pleasant and nauseous, coloured and colourless. Out of this confusion three subdivisions of matter emerge as a fundamental classification : matter is solid, liquid, gaseous. Further examination shows that these solids, liquids and gases are made up by combinations of much simpler bodies, called by chemists “elements,” and that these elements may exist in a solid, liquid, or gaseous condition without changing their respective natures.
Thus the chemical element oxygen is a constituent of wood, and in combination with other elements forms the solid wood fibres ; it exists in the sap with another element, yielding a liquid combination as water ; and it exists also in it by itself as gas. Under these three conditions it is oxygen. Further , pure oxygen can be reduced from a gas to a liquid, (Page 46) and from a liquid to a solid, remaining pure oxygen all the time, and so with other elements. We thus obtain as three subdivisions, or conditions of matter on the physical plane, solid, liquid, gas. Searching further, we find a fourth condition, ether, and a minute search reveals that this ether exists in four conditions as well defined as those of solid, liquid and gas ; to take oxygen again as an example : as it may be reduced from the gaseous condition to the liquid and the solid, so it may be raised from the gaseous through four etheric stages the last of which consists of the ultimate physical atom, the disintegration of the atom taking matter out of the physical plane altogether, and into the next plane above.
In the annexed plate three gases are shown in the gaseous and four etheric states ; it will be observed that the structure of the ultimate physical atom is the same for all, and that the variety of the “elements” is due to the variety of ways in which these ultimate physical atoms combine. Thus the seventh subdivision of physical spirit-matter is composed of homogeneous atoms ; the sixth is composed of fairly simple heterogeneous combinations of these, each combination behaving as a unit ; the fifth is composed of more complex combinations, and the fourth of still more complex ones, but in all cases these combinations act as units .
The third subdivision consists of yet more complicated combinations, regarded by the chemist as gaseous atoms or “elements,” and on this subdivision many of the combinations have received special names, oxygen, hydrogen, (Page 47) nitrogen, chlorine, etc., and each newly discovered combination now receives its name ; the second subdivision consists of combinations in the liquid condition, whether regarded as elements such as bromine, or as combinations such as water or alcohol ; the first subdivision is composed of all solids, again whether regarded as elements, such as iodine, gold, lead, etc., or as compounds, such as wood, stone, chalk, and so on.
The physical plane may serve the student as a model from which by analogy he may gain an idea of the subdivisions of spirit-matter of other planes. When a Theosophist speaks of a plane, he means a region throughout which spirit-matter exists, all whose combinations are derived from a particular set of atoms; these atoms, in turn, are units possessing similar organisations, whose life is the life of the LOGOS veiled in fewer or more coverings according to the plane, and whose form consists of the solid, or lowest subdivision of matter, of the plane immediately above. A plane is thus a division in nature, as well as a metaphysical idea.
Thus far we have been studying the results in our own physical world of the evolution of spirit-matter in our division of the first or lowest plane of our system. For countless ages the fashioning of materials has been going on, the current of the evolution of spirit-matter, and in the materials of our globe we see the outcome at the present time. But when we begin to study the inhabitants of the physical plane, we come to the evolution of form, ( Page 48) the building of organisms out of these materials.
When the evolution of materials had reached a sufficiently advanced state, the second great life-wave from the LOGOS gave the impulse to the evolution of form, and He became the organising force of His Universe, countless hosts of entities, entitled Builders taking part in the building up of forms out of combinations of spirit-matter. The life of the LOGOS abiding in each form is its central, controlling, and directing energy.
This building of forms on the higher planes cannot here be conveniently studied in detail; it may suffice to say that all forms exist as Ideas in the mind of the LOGOS, and that in this second life-wave these were thrown outwards as models to guide the Builders. On the third and second planes the early spirit-matter combinations are designed to give it facility in assuming shapes organised to act as units, and gradually to increase its stability when shaped into an organism.
This process went on upon the third and second planes, in what are termed the three elemental kingdoms, the combinations of matter formed therein being called generally “elemental essence,” and this essence being moulded into forms by aggregations, the forms (Page 49) enduring for a time and then disintegrating. The outpoured life, or Monad, evolved through these kingdoms and reached in due course the physical plane, where it began to draw together the ethers and hold them in filmy shapes, in which life-currents played and into which the denser materials were built, forming the first minerals. In these are beautifully shown – as may be seen by reference to any book on crystallurgy – the numerical and geometrical lines on which forms are constructed, and from them may be gathered plentiful evidence that life is working in all minerals, although much “cribbed, cabined, and confined.” The fatigue to which metals are subject is another sign that they are living things, but it is here enough to say that the occult doctrine so regards them, knowing the already-mentioned processes by which life has been involved in them.
Great stability of form having been gained in many of the minerals, the evolving Monad elaborated greater plasticity of form in the vegetable kingdom, combining this with stability of organisation. These characteristics found a yet more balanced expression in the animal world, and reached their culmination of equilibrium in man, whose physical body is made up of constituents of most unstable equilibrium, thus giving great adaptability, and yet which is held together by a combining central force which resists general disintegration even under the most varied conditions.
Man’s physical body has two main divisions : the dense body, made of constituents from the three (Page 50) lower levels of the physical plane, solids, liquids, and gases: and the etheric double, violet-gray or blue-gray in colour, interpenetrating the dense body and composed of materials drawn from the four higher levels. The general function of the physical body is to receive contacts from the physical world, and send the report of them inwards, to serve as materials from which the conscious entity inhabiting the body is to elaborate knowledge. Its etheric portion has also the duty of acting as a medium through which the life-currents poured out from the sun can be adapted to the uses of the denser particles.
The sun is the great reservoir of the electrical, magnetic, and vital forces for our system, and it pours out abundantly these streams of life-giving energy. They are taken in by the etheric doubles of all minerals, vegetables, animals, and men, and are by them transmuted into the various life-energies needed by each entity. ( When thus appropriated the life is called Prāna, and it becomes the life-breath of every creature. Prāna is but a name for the universal life while it is taken in by an entity and is supporting its separated life.)
The etheric doubles draw in, specialise, and distribute them over their physical counterparts. It has been observed that in vigorous health much more of the life-energies are transmuted than the physical body requires for its own support, and that the surplus is rayed out and is taken up and utilised by the weaker. What is technically called the health aura is the part of the etheric double that extends a few inches from the (Page 51) whole surface of the body and shows radiating lines, like the radii of a sphere, going outwards in all directions. These lines droop when vitality is diminished below the point of health, and resume their radiating character with renewed vigour. It is this vital energy, specialised by the etheric double, which is poured out by the mesmeriser for the restoration of the weak and for the cure of disease, although he often mingles with it currents of a more rarefied kind. Hence the depletion of vital energy shown by the exhaustion of the mesmeriser who prolongs his work to excess.
Man’s body is fine or coarse in its texture according to the materials drawn from the physical plane for its composition. Each subdivision of matter yields finer or coarser materials ; compare the bodies of a butcher and of a refined student ; both have solids in them, but solids of such different qualities. Further , we know that a coarse body can be refined, a refined body coarsened. The body is constantly changing ; each particle is a life, and the lives come and go. They are drawn to a body consonant with themselves, they are repelled from one discordant with themselves. All things live in rhythmical vibrations, all seek the harmonious and are repelled by dissonance.
A pure body repels coarse particles because they vibrate at rates discordant with its own ; a coarse body attracts them because their vibrations accord with its own. Hence if the body changes its rates of vibration, it gradually drives out of it the constituents that cannot fall into the new rhythm, and fills up their places by drawing in from external nature fresh constituents that are harmonious. (Page 52) Nature provides materials vibrating in all possible ways, and each body exercises its own selective action.
In the earlier building of human bodies this selective action was due to the Monad of form, but now that man is a self-conscious entity he presides over his own building. By his thoughts he strikes the keynote of his music, and sets up the rhythms that are the most powerful factors in the continual changes in his physical and other bodies. As his knowledge increases he learns how to build up his physical body with pure food, and so facilitates the tuning of it. He learns to live by the axiom of purification : “Pure food, pure mind, and constant memory of God.” As the highest creature living on the physical plane, he is the vice-regent of the LOGOS thereon, responsible, so far as his powers extend, for its order, peace, and good government ; and this duty he cannot discharge without these three requisites.
The physical body, thus composed of elements drawn from all the subdivisions of the physical plane, is fitted to receive and to answer impression from it of every kind. Its first contacts will be of the simplest and crudest sorts, and as the life within it thrills out in answer to the stimulus from without, throwing its molecules into responsive vibrations, there is developed all over the body the sense of touch, the recognition of something coming into contact with it. As specialised sense-organs (Page 53) are developed to receive special kinds of vibrations, the value of the body increases as a future vehicle for a conscious entity on the physical plane. The more impressions it can answer to, the more useful does it become ; for only those to which it can answer can reach the consciousness.
Even now there are myriads of vibrations pulsing around us in physical nature from the knowledge of which we are shut out because of the inability of our physical vehicle to receive and vibrate in accord with them. Unimagined beauties, exquisite sounds, delicate subtleties, touch the walls of our prison house and pass on unheeded. Not yet is developed the perfect body that shall thrill to every pulse in nature as the aeolian harp to the zephyr.
The vibrations that the body is able to receive, it transmits to physical centres, belonging to its highly complicated nervous system. The etheric vibrations which accompany all the vibrations of the denser physical constituents are similarly received by the etheric double, and transmuted to its corresponding centres. Most of the vibrations in the dense matter are changed into chemical heat, and other forms of physical energy; the etheric give rise to magnetic and electric action, and also pass on the vibrations to the astral body, whence, as we shall see later, they reach the mind.
Thus information about the external world reaches the conscious entity enthroned in the body, the Lord of the body, as he is sometimes called. As the channels of information develop and are exercised, the conscious entity (Page 54) grows by the materials supplied to his thought by them, but so little is man yet developed that even the etheric double is not yet sufficiently harmonised to regularly convey to the man impressions received by it independently of its denser comrade, or to impress them on his brain. Occasionally it succeeds in doing so, and then we have the lowest form of clairvoyance, the seeing of the etheric doubles of physical objects, and of things that have etheric bodies as their lowest vesture.
Man dwells, as we shall see, in various vehicles, physical, astral, and mental and it is important to know and remember that as we are evolving upwards, the lowest of the vehicles, the dense physical, is that which consciousness first controls and rationalises. The physical brain is the instrument of consciousness in waking life on the physical plane, and consciousness works in it – in the undeveloped man – more effectively than in any other vehicle. Its potentialities are less than those of the subtler vehicles, but its actualities are greater, and the man knows himself as “ I “ in the physical body ere he finds himself elsewhere. Even if he be more highly developed than the average man, he can only show as much of himself down here as the physical organism permits, for consciousness can manifest on the physical plane only so much as the physical vehicle can carry.
The dense and etheric bodies are not normally separated during earth life; they normally function together, as the lower and higher strings of a single (Page 55) instrument when a chord is struck, but they also carry on separate though coordinated activities. Under conditions of weak health or nervous excitement the etheric double may in great part be abnormally extruded from its dense counterpart ; the latter then becomes very dully conscious , or entranced, according to the less or greater amount of the etheric matter extruded. Anesthetics drive out the greater part of the etheric double, so that consciousness cannot affect or be affected by the dense body, its bridge of communication being broken. In the abnormally organised person called mediums, dislocation of the etheric and dense bodies easily occurs, and the etheric double, when extruded, largely supplies the physical basis for “materialisations.”
In sleep, when the consciousness leaves the physical vehicle which it uses during waking life, the dense and etheric bodies remain together, but in the physical dream life they function to some extent independently. Impressions experienced during waking life are reproduced by the automatic action of the body, and both the physical and etheric brains are filled with disjointed fragmentary pictures, the vibrations as it were, jostling each other, and causing the most grotesque combinations. Vibrations from outside also affect both, and combinations often set up during waking life are easily called into activity by currents from the astral world of like nature with themselves. The purity or impurity of waking thoughts will largely govern the pictures arising in dreams, (Page 56) whether spontaneously set up or induced from without.
At what is called death, the etheric double is drawn away from its dense counterpart by the escaping consciousness ; the magnetic tie existing between them during life earth life is snapped asunder, and for some hours the consciousness remains enveloped in this etheric garb. In this it sometimes appears to those with whom it is closely bound up, as a cloudy figure, very dully conscious and speechless – the wraith. It may also be seen, after the conscious entity has deserted it, floating over the grave where its dense counterpart is buried, slowly disintegrating as time goes on.
When the time comes for rebirth, the etheric double is built in advance of the dense body, the latter exactly following it in its ante-natal development. These bodies may be said to trace the limitations within which the conscious entity will have to live and work during his life.
The astral plane is the region of the universe next to the physical, if the word “next” may be permitted in such a connection. Life there is more active than on the physical plane, and form is more plastic. The spirit-matter of that plane is more highly vitalised and finer than any grade of spirit-matter in the physical world. For , as we have seen, the ultimate physical atom, the constituent of the rarest physical ether, has for its sphere-wall innumerable aggregations of the coarsest astral matter. The word “next” is, however, inappropriate, as suggesting the idea that the planes of the universe are arranged as concentric circles, one ending where the next begins. Rather they are concentric interpenetrating spheres, not separated from each other by distance but by difference of constitution.
As air permeates water, as ether permeates the densest solid, so does astral matter permeate all physical. The astral world is above us, below us, on every side of us, through us; we live and move in it, but it is intangible, invisible, inaudible, imperceptible, because the prison of the physical body shuts us (Page 58) away from it, the physical particles being too gross to be set in vibration by astral matter.
In this chapter we shall study the plane in its general aspects, leaving on one side for separate consideration those special conditions of life on the astral plane surrounding the human entities who are passing through it on their way from earth to heaven. ( Devachan, the happy or bright state, is the Theosophical name for heaven. Kâmaloka, the place of desire, is the name given to the conditions of intermediate life on the astral plane).
The spirit-matter of the astral plane exists in seven subdivisions, as we have seen in the spirit-matter of the physical. There, as here, there are numberless combinations, forming the astral solids, liquids, gases, and ethers. But most material forms there have a brightness, a translucency, as compared to forms here, which have caused the epithet astral, or starry, to be applied to them – an epithet which is, on the whole, misleading, but is too firmly established by use to be changed. As there are no specific names for the subdivisions of astral spirit-matter, we may use the terrestrial designations. The main idea to be grasped is that astral objects are combinations of astral matter, as physical objects are combinations of physical matter, and that the astral world scenery much resembles that of earth in consequence of its being largely made up of the astral duplicates of physical objects.
One peculiarity, however, arrests and confuses the untrained observer; partly because of the translucency of astral objects, (Page 59) and partly because of the nature of astral vision – consciousness being less hampered by the finer astral matter than when encased in the terrestrial – everything is transparent, its back is visible as its front, its inside as its outside. Some experience is needed, therefore, ere objects are correctly seen, and a person who has developed astral vision, but has not yet had much experience in its use, is apt to receive the most topsy-turvy impressions and to fall into the most astounding blunders.
Another striking and at first bewildering characteristic of the astral world is the swiftness with which forms – especially when unconnected with any terrestrial matrix – change their outlines.
An astral entity will change his whole appearance with the most startling rapidity, for astral matter takes the form under every impulse of thought, the life swiftly remoulding the form to give itself new expression. As the great life-wave of the evolution of form passed downwards through the astral plane, and constituted on that plane the third elemental kingdom, the Monad drew round itself combinations of astral matter, giving to these combinations – entitled elemental essence – a peculiar vitality and the characteristic of responding to, and instantly taking shape under, the impulse of thought vibrations.
This elemental essence exists in hundreds of varieties on every subdivision of the astral plane, as though the air became visible here – as indeed it may seen in quivering waves under great heat – and were in constant undulatory motion with changing (Page 60) colours like mother-of-pearl.
This vast atmosphere of elemental essence is ever answering to vibrations caused by thoughts, feelings, and desires, and is thrown into commotion by a rush of any of these like bubbles in boiling water. ( C.W. Leadbeater, Astral Plane). The duration of the form depends on the strength of the impulse to which it owes its birth ; the clearness of its outline depends on the precision of the thinking, and the colour depends on the quality – intellectual, devotional, passional – of the thought.
The vague loose thoughts which are so largely produced by undeveloped minds gather round themselves loose clouds of elemental essence when they arrive in the astral world, and drift about, attracted hither and thither to other clouds of similar nature, clinging round the astral bodies of persons whose magnetism attracts them – either good or evil – and after a while disintegrating, to again form a part of the general atmosphere of elemental essence. While they maintain a separate existence they are living entities, with bodies of elemental essence and thoughts as the ensouling lives, and they are then called artificial elementals, or thought-forms.
Clear, precise thoughts have each their own definite shapes, with sharp clean outlines, and show an endless variety of designs. They are shaped by vibrations set up by thought, just as on the physical plane we find figures which are shaped by vibrations set up by sound. “Voice-figures” offer a very fair analogy for “thought-figures,” for nature, with all (Page 61) her infinite variety, is very conservative of principles, and reproduces the same methods of working on plane after plane in her realms.
These clearly defined artificial elementals have a longer and much more active life than their cloudy brethren, exercising a far stronger influence on the astral bodies (and through them on the minds) of those to whom they are attracted. They set up in them vibrations similar to their own, and thus thoughts spread from mind to mind without terrestrial expression. More than this: they can be directed by the thinker towards any person he desires to reach, their potency depending on the strength of his will and the intensity of his mental power.
Among average people the artificial elementals created by feeling or desire are more vigorous and more definite than those created by thought. Thus an outburst of anger will cause a very definitely outlined and powerful flash of red, and sustained anger will make a dangerous elemental, red in colour, and pointed, barbed, or otherwise qualified to injure. Love, according to its quality, will set up forms more or less beautiful in colour and design, all shades of crimson to the most exquisite and soft hues of rose, like the palest blushes of sunset or the dawn, clouds of tenderly strong protective shapes. Many a Mother’s loving prayers go to hover round her son as angel-forms, turning aside from him evil influences that perchance his own thoughts are attracting.
It is characteristic of these artificial elementals, (Page 62) when they are directed by the will towards any particular person, that they are animated by the one impulse of carrying out the will of their creator. A protective elemental will hover round its object, seeking any opportunity of warding off evil or attracting good – not consciously, but by a blind impulse, as finding there the line of least resistance.
So, also, an elemental ensouled by a malignant thought will hover round its victim seeking opportunity to injure. But neither the one nor the other can make any impression unless there be in the astral body of the object something skin to themselves, something that can answer accordingly to their vibrations, and thus enable them to attach themselves. If there be nothing in him of matter cognate to their own, then by a law of their nature they rebound from him along the path they pursued in going to him – the magnetic trace they have left – and rush to their creator with a force proportionate to that of their projection. Thus a thought of deadly hatred, failing to strike the object at which it was darted, has been known to slay its sender, while good thoughts sent to the unworthy return as blessings to him that poured them forth.
A very slight understanding of the astral world will thus act as a most powerful stimulus to right thinking, and will render heavy the sense of responsibility in regard to the thoughts and feelings, and desires that we let loose into this astral realm. Ravening beasts of prey, rending and devouring, are too many of the thoughts with which men people the (Page 63) astral plane. But they err from ignorance, they know not what they do. One of the objects of theosophical teaching, partly lifting up the veil of the unseen world, is to give men a sounder basis for conduct, a more rational appreciation of the causes of which the effects only are seen in the terrestrial world.
A few of its doctrines are more important in their ethical bearing than this of the creation and direction of thought-forms, or artificial elementals, for through it man learns that his mind does not concern himself alone, that his thoughts do not affect himself alone, but that he is ever sending out angels and devils into the world of men, for whose creation he is responsible, and for whose influences he is held accountable. Let men, then, know the law, and guide their thoughts thereby.
If, instead of taking artificial elementals separately, we take them in the mass, it is easy to realise the tremendous effect they have in producing national and race feelings, and thus in biasing and prejudicing the mind. We all grow up surrounded by an atmosphere crowded with elementals embodying certain ideas ; national prejudices, national ways of looking at all questions, national types of feelings and thoughts, all these play on us from our birth, aye, and before. We see everything through this atmosphere, every thought is more or less refracted by it, and our own astral bodies are vibrating in accord with it.
Hence the same idea will look quite different to the Hindu, an Englishman, a Spaniard, and a Russian ; some conceptions easy to (Page 64) the one will be almost impossible to the other, customs instinctively attractive to the one are instinctively odious to the other. We are all dominated by our national atmosphere, i.e., by that portion of the astral world immediately surrounding us.
The thoughts of others, cast much in the same mould, play upon us and call out from us synchronous vibrations ; they intensify the points in which we accord with our surroundings and flatten away the differences, and this ceaseless action upon us through the astral body impresses on us the national half-mark and traces channels for mental energies into which they readily flow. Sleeping and waking , these currents play upon us, and our very unconsciousness of their action makes it the more effective. As most people are receptive rather than initiative in their nature, they act almost as automatic reproducers of the thoughts which reach them, and thus the national atmosphere is continually intensified.
When a person is beginning to be sensitive to astral influences, he will occasionally find himself suddenly overpowered or assailed by a quite inexplicable and seemingly irrational dread, which swoops upon him with even paralysing force. Fight against it as he may, he yet feels it, and perhaps resents it. Probably there are few who have not experienced this fear to some extent, the uneasy dread of an invisible something, the feeling of a presence, of “not being alone.” This arises partly from a certain hostility which animates the natural elemental world against the human, on account of the various (Page 65) destructive agencies devised by mankind on the physical plane and reacting on the astral, but is also largely due to the presence of so many artificial elementals of an unfriendly kind, bred by human minds.
Thoughts of hatred, jealousy, revenge, bitterness, suspicion, discontent, go out by millions crowding the astral plane with artificial elementals whose whole life is made of these feelings. How much also is there of vague distrust and suspicion poured out by the ignorant against all whose ways and appearance are alien and unfamiliar. The blind distrust of all foreigners, the surly contempt, extending in many districts even towards inhabitants of another country – these things also contribute evil influences to the astral world. There being so much of these things among us, we create a blindly hostile army on the astral plane, and this is answered in our own astral bodies by a feeling of dread, set up by the antagonistic vibrations that are sensed, but not understood.
Outside the class of artificial elementals, the astral world is thickly populated, even excluding, as we do for the present, all the human entities who have lost their physical bodies by death. There are great hosts of natural elementals, or nature-spirits, divided into five main classes –the elementals of the ether, the fire, the air, the water, and the earth ; the last four groups have been termed, in mediaeval occultism, the Salamanders, Sylphs, Undines, and Gnomes (needless to say there are two other classes, completing the seven, not concerning us here, as they are (Page 66) still unmanifested).
These are the true elementals, or creatures of the elements, earth, water, air, fire and ether, and they are severally concerned in the carrying on of the activities connected with their own element ; they are the channels through which work the divine energies in these several fields, the living expressions of the law in each. At the head of each division is a great Being, the captain of the mighty host, (Called a Deva, or God, by the Hindus. The student may like to have the Sanskrit names of the five Gods of the manifested elements ; Indra, lord of the Akâsha, or ether of space ; Agni, lord of fire ; Pavana, lord of air, Varuna, lord of water ; Kshiti, lord of the earth). the directing and guiding intelligence of the whole department of nature which is administered and energised by the class of elementals under his control.
Thus Agni the fire-God, is a great spiritual entity concerned with the manifestation of fire on all planes of the universe, and carries on his administration through the host of the fire-elementals. By understanding the nature of these, or knowing the methods of their control, the so-called miracles of magical feats are worked, which from time to time are recorded in the public press, whether they are avowedly the results of magical arts, or are done by the aid of “spirits” – as in the case of the late Mr. Home, who could unconcernedly pick a red-hot coal out of a blazing fire with his fingers and hold it in his hand unhurt. Levitation (the suspension of a heavy body in the air without visible support) and walking on the water have been done by the aid (Page 67) respectively of the elementals of the air and the water, although another method is more often employed.
As the elements enter into the human body, one or another predominating according to the nature of the person, each human being has relations with these elementals, the most friendly to him being those whose element is preponderant in him. The effects of this fact are often noted, and are popularly ascribed to “luck”. A person has “ a lucky hand” in making plants grow, in lighting fires, in finding underground water, etc. Nature is ever jostling us with her occult forces, but we are slow to take her hints. Tradition sometimes hides a truth in a proverb or a fable, but we have grown beyond all such “superstitions.”
We find also on the astral plane, nature-spirits – less accurately termed elementals – who are concerned with the building of forms in the mineral, vegetable, animal, and human kingdoms. There are nature-spirits who build up minerals, who guide the vital energies in plants, and who molecule by molecule form the bodies of the animal kingdom ; they are concerned with the making of the astral bodies of minerals, plants, and animals, as well as with that of the physical.
These are the fairies and elves of legends, the “little people” who play so large a part in the folk lore of every nation, the charming irresponsible children of nature, whom science had coldly relegated to the nursery, but who will be replaced in their own grade of natural order by the wiser scientists of a later day. Only poets and occultists believe in them just now, poets by the intuition of their genius, occultists by the vision of their trained inner senses. The multitude laugh at both, most of all at the occultists ; but it matter not – wisdom shall be justified (Page 68) of her children.
The play of the life-currents in the etheric doubles of the forms in the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms, awoke out of latency the astral matter involved in the structure of their atomic and molecular constituents. It began to thrill in a very limited way in the minerals, and the Monad of form, exercising his organising power, drew in materials from the astral world, and these were built by the nature-spirits into a loosely constituted mass, the mineral astral body.
In the vegetable world the astral bodies are a little more organised, and their special characteristic of “feeling” begins to appear. Dull and diffused sensations of well-being and discomfort are observable in most plants as the results of the increasing activity of the astral body. They dimly enjoy the air, the rain, and the sunshine, and gropingly seek them, while they shrink from noxious conditions. Some seek the light and some seek the darkness ; they answer to stimuli, and adapt themselves to external conditions, some showing plainly a sense of touch. In the animal kingdom the astral body is more developed, reaching in the higher members of that kingdom a sufficiently definite organisation to cohere for some time after the death of the physical body, and to lead an independent existence on the astral plane. (Page 69)
The nature-spirits concerned with the building of the animal and human astral bodies have been given the special name of desire-elementals, (Kâmadevas, they are called "desire-gods") because they are strongly animated by desires of all kinds, and constantly build themselves into the astral bodies of animals and men.
They also use the varieties of elemental essence similar to that of which their own bodies are composed to construct the astral bodies of animals, those bodies thus acquiring, as interwoven parts, the centres of sensation and of the various passional activities. These centres are stimulated into functioning by impulses received by the dense physical organs, and transmitted by the etheric physical organs to the astral body.
Not until the astral centre is reached does the animal feel pleasure or pain. A stone may be struck, but it will feel no pain ; it has dense and etheric physical molecules, but its astral body is unorganised ; the animal feels pain from a blow because he possesses the astral centres of sensation, and the desire-elementals have woven into him their own nature.