Astral projection

This article is about the paranormal concept. For the psychedelic trance musical band, see Astral Projection (band). For physical travel to other stars, see Interstellar travel.
"The Separation of the Spirit Body" from The Secret of the Golden Flower, a Chinese handbook on alchemy and meditation

Astral projection (or astral travel) is a term used in esotericism to describe a willful out-of-body experience (OBE), a supposed form of telepathy,[1][2] that assumes the existence of a soul or consciousness called an "astral body" that is separate from the physical body and capable of travelling outside of it throughout the universe.[3][4][5]

The idea of astral travel is rooted in esotericism and occultism, and was promoted by 19th century Theosophists—philosophers who explored the mystical and preternatural origins of the natural world.[3] It is sometimes reported in association with dreams, and forms of meditation.[6] Some individuals have reported perceptions similar to descriptions of astral projection that were induced through various hallucinogenic and hypnotic means (including self-hypnosis). There is no scientific evidence that there is a consciousness or soul which is separate from normal neural activity or that one can consciously leave the body and make observations.[7] Claims of scientific evidence of astral projection are pseudoscientific.[8][9][10][11][12][13][14]



According to classical, medieval and renaissance Hermeticism, Neoplatonism, and later Theosophist and Rosicrucian thought the astral body is an intermediate body of light linking the rational soul to the physical body while the astral plane is an intermediate world of light between Heaven and Earth, composed of the spheres of the planets and stars. These astral spheres were held to be populated by angels, demons and spirits.[15][16]

The subtle bodies, and their associated planes of existence, form an essential part of the esoteric systems that deal with astral phenomena. In the neo-platonism of Plotinus, for example, the individual is a microcosm ("small world") of the universe (the macrocosm or "great world"). "The rational akin to the great Soul of the World" while "the material universe, like the body, is made as a faded image of the Intelligible". Each succeeding plane of manifestation is causal to the next, a world-view called emanationism; "from the One proceeds Intellect, from Intellect Soul, and from Soul - in its lower phase, or that of Nature - the material universe".[17]

Often these bodies and their planes of existence are depicted as a series of concentric circles or nested spheres, with a separate body traversing each realm.[18] The idea of the astral figured prominently in the work of the nineteenth-century French occultist Eliphas Levi, whence it was adopted and developed further by Theosophy, and used afterwards by other esoteric movements.


Some have claimed that the Bible contains mentions of astral projection.

Carrington, Muldoon, Peterson, and Williams—renowned experts in the field of astral projection—claim that the subtle body is attached to the physical body by means of a psychic silver cord.[19][20] The final chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes is often cited in this respect: "Before the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be shattered at the fountain, or the wheel be broken at the cistern."[21] Scherman, however, contends that the context points to this being merely a metaphor, comparing the body to a machine, with the silver cord referring to the spine.[22]

Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians is more generally agreed to refer to the astral planes;[23] "I know a man in Christ, fourteen years ago, (whether in the body I know not, or out of the body I know not, God knows) such a one caught up to the third heaven..."[24] This statement gave rise to the Visio Pauli, a tract that offers a vision of heaven and hell, a forerunner of visions attributed to Adomnan and Tnugdalus as well as of Dante's Divine Comedy.

Ancient Egypt

Similar concepts of soul travel appear in various other religious traditions. For example, ancient Egyptian teachings present the soul (ba) as having the ability to hover outside the physical body via the ka, or subtle body.[25]


Taoist alchemical practice involves creation of an energy body by breathing meditations, drawing energy into a 'pearl' that is then "circulated".[26] "Xiangzi ... with a drum as his pillow fell fast asleep, snoring and motionless. His primordial spirit, however, went straight into the banquet room and said, "My lords, here I am again." ... When Tuizhi walked ... with the officials to take a look, there really was a Taoist sleeping on the ground and snoring like thunder. Yet inside, in the side room, there was another Taoist beating a fisher drum and singing Taoist songs. The officials all said, “Although there are two different people, their faces and clothes are exactly alike. Clearly he is a divine immortal who can divide his body and appear in several places at once. ..." ... At that moment, the Taoist in the side room came walking out, and the Taoist sleeping on the ground woke up. The two merged into one."[27]


Similar ideas such as the Lin'ga S'ari-ra are found in ancient Hindu scriptures such as the YogaVashishta-Maharamayana of Valmiki.[25] Modern Indians who have vouched for astral projection include Paramahansa Yogananda who witnessed Swami Pranabananda doing a miracle through a possible astral projection[28] and Osho (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh) who practiced it himself.[29]

The Indian spiritual teacher Meher Baba described one's use of astral projection:

In the advancing stages leading to the beginning of the path, the aspirant becomes spiritually prepared for being entrusted with free use of the forces of the inner world of the astral bodies. He may then undertake astral journeys in his astral body, leaving the physical body in sleep or wakefulness. The astral journeys that are taken unconsciously are much less important than those undertaken with full consciousness and as a result of deliberate volition. This implies conscious use of the astral body. Conscious separation of the astral body from the outer vehicle of the gross body has its own value in making the soul feel its distinction from the gross body and in arriving at fuller control of the gross body. One can, at will, put on and take off the external gross body as if it were a cloak, and use the astral body for experiencing the inner world of the astral and for undertaking journeys through it, if and when necessary....The ability to undertake astral journeys therefore involves considerable expansion of one’s scope for experience. It brings opportunities for promoting one’s own spiritual advancement, which begins with the involution of consciousness.[30]

Astral projection is one of the Siddhis considered achievable by yoga practitioners through self-disciplined practice. In the epic The Mahabharata Drona leaves his physical body to see if his son is alive.


The 'ikiryō' as illustrated by Toriyama Sekien.

In Japanese mythology, an ikiryō (生霊) (also read shōryō, seirei, or ikisudama) is a manifestation of the soul of a living person separately from their body.[31] Traditionally, if someone holds a sufficient grudge against another person, it is believed that a part or the whole of their soul can temporarily leave their body and appear before the target of their hate in order to curse or otherwise harm them, similar to an evil eye. Souls are also believed to leave a living body when the body is extremely sick or comatose; such ikiryō are not malevolent.[32][33]


In some Inuit groups, people with special capabilities are said to travel to (mythological) remote places, and report their experiences and things important to their fellows or the entire community; how to stop bad luck in hunting, cure a sick person etc.,[34][35] things unavailable to people with normal capabilities.[36]


The yaskomo of the Waiwai is believed to be able to perform a "soul flight" that can serve several functions such as healing, flying to the sky to consult cosmological beings (the moon or the brother of the moon) to get a name for a new-born baby, flying to the cave of peccaries' mountains to ask the father of peccaries for abundance of game or flying deep down in a river to get the help of other beings.[37]

"Astral" and "etheric"

The expression "astral projection" came to be used in two different ways. For the Golden Dawn[38] and some Theosophists[39] it retained the classical and medieval philosophers' meaning of journeying to other worlds, heavens, hells, the astrological spheres and other imaginal[40] landscapes, but outside these circles the term was increasingly applied to non-physical travel around the physical world.[41]

Though this usage continues to be widespread, the term, "etheric travel", used by some later Theosophists, offers a useful distinction. Some experients say they visit different times and/or places:[42] "etheric", then, is used to represent the sense of being "out of the body" in the physical world, whereas "astral" may connote some alteration in time-perception. Robert Monroe describes the former type of projection as "Locale I" or the "Here-Now", involving people and places that actually exist:[43] Robert Bruce calls it the "Real Time Zone" (RTZ) and describes it as the non-physical dimension-level closest to the physical.[44] This etheric body is usually, though not always, invisible but is often perceived by the experient as connected to the physical body during separation by a “silver cord”. Some link "falling" dreams with projection.[45]

According to Max Heindel, the etheric "double" serves as a medium between the astral and physical realms. In his system the ether, also called prana, is the "vital force" that empowers the physical forms to change. From his descriptions it can be inferred that, to him, when one views the physical during an out-of-body experience, one is not technically "in" the astral realm at all.[46]

Other experients may describe a domain that has no parallel to any known physical setting. Environments may be populated or unpopulated, artificial, natural or abstract, and the experience may be beatific, horrific or neutral. A common Theosophical belief is that one may access a compendium of mystical knowledge called the Akashic records. In many accounts the experiencer correlates the astral world with the world of dreams. Some even report seeing other dreamers enacting dream scenarios unaware of their wider environment.[47]

The astral environment may also be divided into levels or sub-planes by theorists, but there are many different views in various traditions concerning the overall structure of the astral planes: they may include heavens and hells and other after-death spheres, transcendent environments, or other less-easily characterized states.[43][45][47]

Notable practitioners

Emanuel Swedenborg was one of the first practitioners to write extensively about the out-of-body experience, in his Spiritual Diary (1747–65). French philosopher and novelist Honoré de Balzac's fictional work "Louis Lambert" suggests he may have had some astral or out-of-body experience.[48]

There are many twentieth century publications on astral projection,[49] although only a few authors remain widely cited. These include Robert Monroe,[50] Oliver Fox,[51] Sylvan Muldoon, and Hereward Carrington,[52] and Yram.[53]

Robert Monroe's accounts of journeys to other realms (1971–1994) popularized the term "OBE" and were translated into a large number of languages. Though his books themselves only placed secondary importance on descriptions of method, Monroe also founded an institute dedicated to research, exploration and non-profit dissemination of auditory technology for assisting others in achieving projection and related altered states of consciousness.

Robert Bruce,[54] William Buhlman,[55] and Albert Taylor[56] have discussed their theories and findings on the syndicated show Coast to Coast AM several times. Michael Crichton gives lengthy and detailed explanations and experience of astral projection in his non-fiction book Travels.

The soul's ability to leave the body at will or while sleeping and visit the various planes of heaven is also known as "soul travel". The practice is taught in Surat Shabd Yoga, where the experience is achieved mostly by meditation techniques and mantra repetition. All Sant Mat Gurus widely spoke about this kind of out of body experience, such as Kirpal Singh.[57]

Eckankar describes Soul Travel broadly as movement of the true, spiritual self (Soul) closer to the heart of God. While the contemplative may perceive the experience as travel, Soul itself is said not to move but to "come into an agreement with fixed states and conditions that already exist in some world of time and space".[58] American Harold Klemp, the current Spiritual Leader of Eckankar[59] practices and teaches Soul Travel, as did his predecessors,[60] through contemplative techniques known as the Spiritual Exercises of ECK (Divine Spirit).[61]

In occult traditions, practices range from inducing trance states to the mental construction of a second body, called the Body of Light in Aleister Crowley's writings, through visualization and controlled breathing, followed by the transfer of consciousness to the secondary body by a mental act of will.[62]

Scientific reception

There is no known scientific evidence that astral projection as an objective phenomenon exists.[7][8][9]

There are cases of patients having experiences suggestive of astral projection from brain stimulation treatments and hallucinogenic drugs.[9]

Robert Todd Carroll writes that the main evidence to support claims of astral travel is anecdotal and comes "in the form of testimonials of those who claim to have experienced being out of their bodies when they may have been out of their minds."[63] Subjects in parapsychological experiments have attempted to project their astral bodies to distant rooms and see what was happening. However, such experiments have produced negative results.[64]

According to Bob Bruce of the Queensland Skeptics Association, astral projection is "just imagining", or "a dream state". Although parallel universes are mathematically possible,[65] Bruce writes that the existence of an astral plane is contrary to the limits of science. “We know how many possibilities there are for dimensions and we know what the dimensions do. None of it correlates with things like astral projection.” Bruce attributes astral experiences such as "meetings" alleged by practitioners to confirmation bias and coincidences.[66]

The psychologist Donovan Rawcliffe has written that astral projection can be explained by delusion, hallucination and vivid dreams.[67]

Arthur W. Wiggins, writing in Quantum Leaps in the Wrong Direction: Where Real Science Ends...and Pseudoscience Begins, said that purported evidence of the ability to astral travel great distances and give descriptions of places visited is predominantly anecdotal. In 1978, Ingo Swann provided a test of his alleged ability to astral travel to Jupiter and observe details of the planet. Actual findings and information were later compared to Swann's claimed observations; according to an evaluation by James Randi, Swann's accuracy was "unconvincing and unimpressive" with an overall score of 37 percent. Wiggins considers astral travel an illusion, and looks to neuroanatomy, human belief, imagination and prior knowledge to provide prosaic explanations for those claiming to experience it.[11]

A recent study, The AWARE Study, conducted by medical researcher Sam Parnia, was designed to get information on possible OBEs during cardiac arrest.

See also

  • Ghost
  • Ring-a-Ding Girl - fictional treatment of astral projection in popular media The Twilight Zone, in which a fading actress is able to project her consciousness from her body by means of magic and rescue the inhabitants of her home town from an impending natural disaster


  1. Varvoglis, Mario, Out-Of-Body Experiences (OBE or OOBE), retrieved 9 July 2016
  2. Myers, Frederic W.H. (2014), "Astral Projection", Journal for Spiritual & Consciousness Studies, 37 (1): 52
  3. 1 2 Crow, John L (2012), "Taming the astral body: the Theosophical Society's ongoing problem of emotion and control", Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 80 (3): 691–717, doi:10.1093/jaarel/lfs042
  4. "Webster's New Millennium Dictionary of English, Preview Edition (v 0.9.7)",, n.d., retrieved 9 July 2016
  5. "Astral projection", The Skepdic's Dictionary, 27 October 2015
  6. Zusne, Leonard; Jones, Warren H. (1989), Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Magical Thinking', Psychology Press, ISBN 0-8058-0508-7
  7. 1 2 Brian Regal. (2009). Pseudoscience: A Critical Encyclopedia. Greenwood. p. 29. ISBN 978-0-313-35507-3 "Other than anecdotal eyewitness accounts, there is no known evidence of the ability to astral project, the existence of other planes, or of the Akashic Record."
  8. 1 2 Terence Hines. (2003). Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. pp. 103-106. ISBN 978-1573929790
  9. 1 2 3 Robert L. Park. (2008). Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science. Princeton University Press. pp. 90-91. ISBN 1-4008-2877-5.
  10. Martin Gardner (17 October 2001). Did Adam and Eve Have Navels?: Debunking Pseudoscience. W. W. Norton. pp. 158–. ISBN 978-0-393-32238-5.
  11. 1 2 Charles M. Wynn; Arthur W. Wiggins; Sidney Harris (2001). Quantum leaps in the wrong direction: where real science ends-- and pseudoscience begins. Joseph Henry Press. pp. 95–. ISBN 978-0-309-07309-7. Retrieved 24 December 2011.
  12. Patrick Grim (1982). Philosophy of Science and the Occult. SUNY Press. pp. 92–. ISBN 978-1-4384-0498-1.
  13. "Why I Stopped Believing in Pseudoscience". Cosmopolitan. 2015-03-12. Retrieved 2015-11-25.
  14. Massimo Pigliucci; Maarten Boudry; Daniel Thurs; Ronald Numbers (16 August 2013). Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem. University of Chicago Press. pp. 138–. ISBN 978-0-226-05182-6.
  15. Dodds, E.R. Proclus: The Elements of Theology. A revised text with translation, introduction, and commentary, 2nd edition 1963, Appendix.
  16. Pagel, Walter (1967). William Harvey's Biological Ideas. Karger Publishers. pp. 147–148. ISBN 3-8055-0962-6.
  17. John Gregory, The Neoplatonists, Kyle Cathie 1991 pp15–16
  18. Besant, Annie Wood (1897). The Ancient Wisdom: An Outline of Theosophical Teachings. Theosophical publishing society. ISBN 0-524-02712-9.
  19. Projection of the Astral Body by Carrington and Muldoon
  20. Out of Body Experiences: How to have them and what to expect by Robert Peterson (chapters 5, 17, 22)
  21. Ecclesiastes 12:6
  22. Rabbi Nosson Scherman, ed. (2011). The ArtScroll English Tanach. ArtScroll Series (First ed.). Brooklyn, New York: Mesorah Publications, Ltd. p. 1150. ISBN 1-4226-1065-9.
  23. Hankins, James. Ficino, Avicenna and the Occult Powers of the Rational Soul.
  24. 2 Corinthians 12:2
  25. 1 2 Melton, J. G. (1996). Out-of-the-body Travel. In Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology. Thomson Gale. ISBN 978-0-8103-9487-2.
  26. Chia, Mantak (2007) [1989]. Fusion of the Five Elements. Destiny Books. pp. 89+. ISBN 1-59477-103-0.
  27. Erzeng, Yang (2007). The Story of Han Xiangzi. University of Washington Press. pp. 207–209. ISBN 978-0-295-98690-6.
  28. Wikisource:Autobiography of a Yogi/Chapter 3
  29. Osho, The Transmission of the Lamp, Chapter 3, Rebel Press
  30. Baba: 90, 91.
  31. Clarke, Peter Bernard (2000). Japanese new religions: in global perspective, Volume 1999 (annotated ed.). Routledge. p. 247. ISBN 978-0-7007-1185-7.
  32. Ramesh Chopra Academic Dictionary Of Mythology 2005, p. 144
  33. Patrick Drazen A Gathering of Spirits: Japan's Ghost Story Tradition: from Folklore and Kabuki to Anime and Manga 2011, p. 131
  34. Kleivan & Sonne 1985: 7–8, 12, 23–24,26, 27–29, 30, 31
  35. Merkur 1985: 4–6
  36. Hoppál 1975: 228
  37. Fock 1963: 16
  38. Chic Cicero, Chic C, Sandra Tabatha Cicero The Essential Golden Dawn, Llewellyn Worldwide, 2003.
  39. Arthur A.Powell, THE ASTRAL BODY AND OTHER ASTRAL PHENOMENA, The Theosophical Publishing House, London, England; Wheaton,Ill, U.S.A.; Adyar, Chennai, India, 1927, reprinted in 1954 and 1965, page 7, online June 2008 at
  40. Henri Corbin, Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi, tr. Ralph Mannheim, Bollingen XCI, Princeton U.P., 1969
  41. e.g. William Judge, The Ocean of Theosophy 2nd Ed. TPH, 1893, Chapter 5, book online June 2008 at
  42."Secret Guide To Instant Astral Projection Archived 22 November 2009 at the Wayback Machine."
  43. 1 2 Journeys Out of the Body by Robert A. Monroe, p 60. Anchor Press, 1977.
  44. Astral Dynamics by Robert Bruce Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc, 1999. p 25-27, 30-31
  45. 1 2 Astral Dynamics by Robert Bruce. Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc, 1999 ISBN 1-57174-143-7
  46. Heindel, Max, The Rosicrucian Mysteries (Chapter IV, The Constitution of Man: Vital Body - Desire Body - Mind), 1911, ISBN 0-911274-86-3
  47. 1 2 Monroe, Robert. Far Journeys. ISBN 0-385-23182-2
  48. Frederick Lawton Balzac The Echo Library, 2007, p. 18
  49. Substantial bibliography of general OBE and astral projection literature
  50. A biography of Robert Monroe by Susan Blackmore
  51. A biography of Oliver Fox by Susan Blackmore
  52. A biography of Sylvan Muldoon by Susan Blackmore
  53. A biography of Yram by Susan Blackmore
  54. Coast To Coast archives of shows featuring Robert Bruce
  55. Coast To Coast archives of shows featuring William Buhlman
  56. Coast To Coast archives of shows featuring Albert Taylor
  57. See chapter V of the book Crown of Life by Kirpal Singh available online at
  58. "Soul Travel".
  59. "Sri Harold Klemp, Spiritual Leader of Eckankar".
  60. "ECKANKAR: ECK Masters".
  61. "ECKANKAR: The Spiritual Exercises of ECK".
  62. Greer, John (1967). Astral Projection. In The New Encyclopedia of the Occult. Llewellyn Worldwide. ISBN 1-56718-336-0.
  63. Robert Todd Carroll (31 July 2003). The skeptic's dictionary: a collection of strange beliefs, amusing deceptions, and dangerous delusions. John Wiley and Sons. pp. 33–. ISBN 978-0-471-27242-7. Retrieved 24 December 2011.
  64. Blackmore, Susan (1991). "Near-Death Experiences: In or out of the body?". Skeptical Inquirer 1991, 16, 34-45. Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Retrieved 2008-06-17.
  65. "Parallel universe proof boosts time travel hopes", Daily Telegraph
  66. Frazer, Peter (30 September 2010). "Astral projection? In your dreams, say sceptics". Brisbane Times. Retrieved 24 December 2011.
  67. Donovan Rawcliffe. (1988). Occult and Supernatural phenomena. Dover Publications. p. 123

Further reading

External links

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