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For centuries it has been a common idea that man is made of two components, a material body of flesh and a soul or spirit which comes from God. But some philosophers and occult theorists have suggested that each man has a third component, an astral body. This body is an exact copy of the flesh and body but is made of a finer material and has a shining and luminous appearance.
According to these theorists during sleep, or a trance, the astral body is supposed to be capable of separating itself from the physical body and travelling about, passing through walls, ceilings and other solid obstructions, sometimes travelling great distances. It exists in what is called the astral plane which includes the normal, every day world but extends beyond it. In the teachings of Theosophy, this astral or ethereal world, is the first of seven places through which the body supposedly travels after death.
The term “astral projection”, is used by the Theosophical Society for out-of-body experiences and has been the spring-board for much study and research into this apparent phenomenon. This society was founded in the United States in 1875 by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Col. H. S. Olcott and others, and it relies for many of its ideas on Eastern, mystical and occult philosophies and notions.
OUT-OF-BODY EXPERIENCES (OBE)
It is helpful to distinguish between involuntary OBEs and voluntary OBEs:
(1) INVOLUNTARY OBE
This category can be divided up into two areas;
a) This occurs when a person subjected to pre-operative anaesthesia, apparently leaves his/her body and seems to observe him/her self and others around whilst lying on the bed or operating table. It is called involuntary because the person does not actively pursue the experience and most often it is unexpected. It has taken place under hypnosis.
b) The second type is believed to occur involuntarily and spontaneously after one has been pronounced dead or perhaps during the resuscitation procedure of CPR or electro-shock. There experiences are now called near-death experiences (NDE).
(2) VOLUNTARY OBE
This is the category with which we are concerned here, for this is the path chosen by those who are deliberately seeking to experience astral projection. There are many claim to practice voluntary OBE, especially in New Age groups, and the idea has been popularised by people such as Shirley MacLaine. There people believe and/ or claim that they can wilfully project or loosen their astral bodies from the confines of their physical bodies and allow their astral bodies to travel some distance. Claiming to be one of the most experienced of modern astral travellers, American author Sylvan Muldoon, attached importance to building into the subconscious of a strong desire to be conscious in the astral body, then used techniques such as the practise of concentrating one one’s own image in a mirror, followed by a conscious effort to slow-down the heart-beat.
FANTASY OR REALITY?
At one end of the spectrum we have the sceptics who dismiss these experiences out-of-hand. Certainly atheistic scientists will find many ways to disprove any mystical or metaphysical experience. Dr McCreery, a scientist who received Oxford University’s first doctoral degree for studying OBEs, set up an experiment to induce his subjects to experience an OBE. His subjects were given a pair of goggles made of split table-tennis balls, a light then shone on to them so that the subjects saw a white blackness. Then a very soporific voice told them to relax, followed by a sound like a throbbing static. At the same time the brain waves were measured by an electro-encephalograph. Of the 40 subjects tested, about 20 percent reported an OBE. Dr. McCreery believes that what happens in the brain during such experiences resembles the hallucinations of schizophrenics. He does not doubt the experiences of the 400 people he interviewed but has another interpretation. ”I don’t doubt they experience them, the question is the interpretation. I don’t put a spiritualist interpretation of the soul getting separated from the mind. It’s a form of hallucinatory experience that occurs in normal people.” (West Australian Newspaper 11/10/1993) He says that OBEs are fleeting visual hallucinations, much like the voices heard by schizophrenics.
Another experimenter who would agree with Dr. McCreery is a British parapsychologist, Susan J. Blackmore. In her book Beyond the Body (1981). She proposed that the experience is an altered state of consciousness characterised by vivid imagery, in which the subject’s cognitive system is disturbed, losing input control and replacing normal reality with one drawing upon memory. Her work is of special interest because, unlike other investigators, she has experienced the OBE phenomenon herself (Encyclopedia of Occultism – Parapsychology Vol. 2. p. 969).
A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE
Yet again, we are reminded of the warning in Deuteronomy 18:10-12, against any such practises. There is no reason for Christians to show any interest in astral travel.
(1) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF OCCULTISM – PARAPSYCHOLOGY: 4th Edition Vol.1 A – L Ed. J. Gordon Melton; Gale Research Inc
(2) DICTIONARY OF CULTS, SECTS, RELGIONS & THE OCCULT Mather, George A. & Nichols, Larry A; Lonervan Publishing House
(3) MAN, MYTH & MAGIC, Vol 1. p. 145 Ed. Richards Cavendish; Purnell
(4) THE OCCULT McDowell, Josh & Stewart, Don; Here’s Life Publishing
(5) NEW AGE ENCYCLOPEDIA: 1st Edition Ed. J. Gordon Melton; Pub. Gale Research
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