THE GROWTH OF THE SOUL
CHAPTER 7: THE ASTRAL PLANE.
The superphysical not necessarily spiritual European and Sanscrit terms Different aspects of the astral plane The newly "dead" Astral matter Visibility of thoughts Astral plane inhabitants Their control The sub-divisions of the astral plane As viewed after death The matter of the sub-planes The corresponding condition of the fourth principle Consciousness on the sub-planes Illustrative experiences on the astral plane.
While tracing out the manifold considerations that support the doctrine of Re-incarnation as the true explanation of the way Nature provides for the progress and growth of the soul, I refrained from complicating the argument by more than a slight reference to the varied conditions under which consciousness is qualified to function on the various planes of existence it may reach during the protracted period intervening between two physical lives. But before it is possible to understand the opportunities of spiritual evolution that lie before us, it will be necessary to obtain a thorough comprehension of the different planes of Nature which, though all superphysical, are by no means all equally refined, elevated or spiritual in their characteristics.
Indeed, that plane or region which is immediately in contact with the plane of physical matter, and of which the phenomena first become perceptible to the psychic senses of an ordinary clairvoyant, is not regarded as spiritual at all in the estimation of the occult student. One of the earliest and most pardonable mistakes of people who in one way or another acquire the privilege, or through the faculties of others obtain the opportunity of investigating mysteries of Nature invisible to the physical eye, is the mistake of assuming that the realm they are thus able to cognise is the whole spiritual realm the "other world" of commonplace theological speculation. In this vast ante-chamber of the spiritual world the conditions of Nature are no less bewildering for those who first wake up in it, uninstructed, after death, than for those who may become qualified to observe its phenomena while still in physical incarnation. This region it will be convenient to speak of by the name long familiar to the literature of European mysticism and occultism, and to call it the Astral Plane. The term is not particularly well chosen, as the region in question has nothing whatever to do with the stars, but it has become so time-honoured an expression that it is not worth while to set it aside now. The corresponding term in Oriental occultism is Kama-loka, the region of craving or desire, in which the conditions of existence are so imperfectly spiritualised that they have not yet been emancipated from the appetites of animal life. However, it will be better to speak here of the astral plane rather than of kamaloka because however deeply European occultism at the present day may stand indebted to the light from the East, an unnecessary stumbling-block is put in the way of European students who wish to assimilate the ideas of Oriental philosophy when they are disguised in phrases derived from a language with which they are unacquainted. There is nothing in the teachings of Eastern Theosophy that need defy intelligible expression in Western tongues. There is much indeed which may perhaps defy translation into speech at all. Probably for that matter Sanscrit, for those who can handle it as freely as we in this country handle English, is a better vehicle of metaphysical thinking than any European language as at present developed. But new words rise up to meet new necessities as thought itself develops, and at all events whoever truly understands the idea represented by any given term of Oriental philosophy as expressed in Sanscrit will be able to find the means of embodying that idea in his own Western speech. After all, as applied to the astral plane, the term kama-loka merely fastens on one of the attributes of that natural region. For human beings whose consciousness after death may be focussed on some of its lower levels, it may be a region of desire, of unsatisfied desire if their affinities are still too much of the earlier earth to allow of their ascent to higher levels, but it is also a region in which natural forces unknown to the physical life have free play and which for that reason we shall inadequately appreciate if we think of it merely by reference to its purgatorial aspect.
To begin with, we must always bear in mind that the astral plane and this remark also applies to the more truly spiritual plane of which I shall have to speak later on is a very different region for the departed souls of deceased humanity from that which it constitutes for the emancipated Higher Self of a soul, still incarnate, which by reason of occult development is capable of existing there during the temporary trances of the body to which it belongs. For the deceased personality, in most ordinary cases the will power which is an attribute of the spirit is inactive on the astral plane. That is practically reserving itself for expansion in the realm of spirit, and if we think of the soul that has passed away from earth as occupied with the interests and aspirations which during life have been directed towards the idea of an incorporeal state, we are thinking of it as it will be when the spiritual plane is reached, and not as it is in the astral condition. For those who die, the astral plane is in most cases the first stage of the world of effects, and is no longer a sphere in which spiritual causes can be generated. The higher aspects of the entity are in abeyance, awaiting the awakening later on, on the spiritual plane, and meanwhile the lower aspects that may be functioning on the astral plane are merely reverberating there with impulses already set going during the earth life. Thus it ensues that although on the astral plane, the soul working out its natural destinies is really in presence of opportunities which, if it had all its wits about it, so to speak, would be full of interest, it is as a rule quite unqualified to make use of these.
For example, the astral plane, which is co-extensive with the material plane of this earth life, is infinitely more subtle, elastic, and ethereal than the physical plane, so that the astral body, which is the vehicle of human consciousness on that plane as the physical body is its vehicle during incarnation, is capable of an easy and rapid translation from place to place under the influence of forces which its own occupant is capable of directing. The higher Ego of a living person on the astral plane may be able to control those forces, and thus pass at will almost with the rapidity of thought from one region of earth to another; but the spiritual will of the deceased personality on the astral plane, in the ordinary course of things, is dormant, as I have said, and consequently the astral consciousness does not know how to direct its own wanderings; it becomes the sport of magnetic currents, which it has nothing to do with setting in motion. Immediately after death, indeed, its movements may be the consequence of currents set in motion by the last thoughts or desires of affection of its expiring incarnate life, and this consideration has to be kept in mind to explain much that occurs in connexion with visions of people dying at a distance presented sometimes to their surviving friends. But the power of directing its own movements would very soon be lost by the astral personality in most cases, and then it would drift about in rather an aimless way unless riveted to certain persons or places by very strong ties of attachment or emotion, pleasurable or painful.
In reference to such attachments, and indeed with a view to the proper comprehension of the plane of Nature we are discussing, it must always be remembered that the astral region is not a remote, other world, far removed from our own either by characteristics or space. It is all about us, though invisible to common-place organs of sight. It is another aspect of the physical world, plus forces and inhabitants, of which the physical world knows nothing material even in its nature, though its materiality is of a finer kind than that of the physical plane.
What is meant by refinement of matter? Nothing is of greater importance in connexion with the study of the superphysical planes of Nature than a proper appreciation of the answer to that question. The habit of thinking of the liquid, solid, and gaseous states of such matter as the senses can cognise, is apt to be misleading here. In the occult significance of the term there is nothing more refined and ethereal in the lightest of the gases hydrogen than in the heaviest of the minerals. The atmosphere and the rocks are equally composed of matter on the physical plane, and to the senses qualified to apprehend the matter of the astral plane, that might appear as solid as gold or granite, though its presence would be unperceived in the most delicate balance, just as the balance itself, indeed, and the laboratory in which it might have a place might be unperceived, by a being with none but senses adapted to the phenomena of the astral plane.
I have spoken already of the manner in which the matter of the astral plane is amenable to the influence of thought, sympathy, and will. It is in harmony with that condition of things that on the astral plane thought should be, as it is, much more naked and visible than with us, so that astral beings can see one another's thoughts in a way which is wholly outside the range of incarnate experience. This is the explanation of a great many wonderful observations of "spiritualism," and of the exaggerated estimation in which spiritualists hold that plane of existence the astral with which they come most readily into relation. A being who can read their thoughts, and even read long forgotten thoughts which occupied their minds at bygone periods, and thus show knowledge of incidents in their lives known only to themselves (as far as the physical plane is concerned), is easily exalted in their imaginations on that account to a place in nature not far removed from one of spiritual omniscience.
Meanwhile, a person who has passed on from the physical plane, and is still entangled in the astral region, or even the Higher Self of a clairvoyant or mesmeric sensitive, functioning in the astral body, may be subject to delusive impressions arising from this very transparency of thought all around him. Impressions that are merely the echo of other thoughts will seem objective realities, and beyond this, the human consciousness, transferred to the astral plane either after death or in trance, will be in presence of innumerable phenomena, which are objective realities of that plane but are of so strange and unfamiliar a kind as to be wholly unintelligible, for on the astral plane we are not only in presence of an order of matter peculiar to that phase of Nature, but of an order or rather of many orders of beings peculiar to that plane. Every region of Nature is teeming with life, and the experience of the ordinary world should prepare us to expect that on the astral plane, as here, the stage of Nature is peopled with others besides human beings. At least as voluminous and varied as the animal life of the earth is the psychic life of the astral plane. Swarming on that plane there are elemental beings of infinite variety which are sub-human, as measured on the scale of natural evolution, but are often endowed with powers just as many of the animals with us are endowed with muscular powers transcending those of ordinary mankind.
The control of these beings is one of the most momentous secrets of practical occultism, and the encouraging truth of the matter is that just because they are sub-human if we take the spiritual potentialities of man's nature fully into account they are all controllable for the human being who has completely evolved on the spiritual as well as on the astral plane. But it does not follow from this that every human being who passes after death on to the astral plane has either the power of dealing with them, or the knowledge that enables him to realise who and what they are. Their mere presence around him is calculated to bewilder the unprepared intruder into their wonderful domain. He has to learn the exercise on the astral plane of the strength of his spiritual soul and very gruesome experiences may be encountered during this process for just as some of the animals of this world are ferocious in their bearing towards humanity, so on the astral plane many of the elemental beings are hostile to the human intruder seeking to acquire mastership amongst them.
Further researches on that head need only concern persons who are coming within measurable distance of the mysteries of initiation, but meanwhile it is desirable that the reader should realise as much as possible of the structure and general design of the astral plane, regarded as a region of Nature irrespective of the different conditions under which human consciousness may function there.
Hitherto I have spoken of it as though it were a homogeneous territory, but that is merely because it is impossible to deal with all its characteristics in the same breath. Between the lower and the higher regions of the astral world there are enormous differences.
These have to be studied in two aspects, that which they present to the soul set free from the body at death, and that which they wear for the competent observer gradually acquiring some of the characteristics of adeptship, who is enabled, by his spiritual advancement, to penetrate at will to any of those various sub-divisions, to pass from one to the other freely, to make use, for purposes connected with his work in this world, of forces that he may find on any region of the astral. To make the whole situation intelligible it will be best to take a survey, first of all, of the various subdivisions from the point of view of the normal entity after death. And here, at the outset, we have to face one embarrassment which often presents itself to the student's mind, the question namely, how far the various sub-divisions may be thought of as actual regions of space, and how far they interpenetrate one another, representing in that way varying aspects of consciousness rather than differences of locality. The more we study spiritual science the less will this notion, involving the interpenetration, so to speak, of one world by another, present difficulties to the mind. The phenomenon is obviously going on all around us before we get entirely quit even of the physical plane. The ether itself, the medium of the vibrations of light and electricity, interpenetrates solid bodies as well as the atmosphere, and carries on its own functions without being in the least degree impeded by the surrounding molecules, so it is quite certain that the matter of the astral plane, together with all the vehicles of consciousness that belong to it, may co-exist as regards the space they occupy, with the physical phenomena of the earth's surface. They certainly do so co-exist, and can be observed by a qualified occultist in intimate juxtaposition with our houses and landscapes. At the same time it is also true that the astral plane, thought of as a sphere or world, has a larger volume or at any rate a greater external diameter than the solid earth, so that we are not thinking incorrectly in imagining some regions of the astral plane as distinctly exalted above the earth's surface. Indeed, if we take care not to hold on to the thought too rigorously, we may not incorrectly work with the rough hypothesis, that the sub-divisions of the astral plane consist of a series of concentric shells, certainly interpenetrating one another wherever they are in contact, as the colours of the spectrum interpenetrate each other, but nevertheless presenting conditions in which the highest need not be thought of as interpenetrating the lowest.
Going back then to the lowest and examining it from the point of view of its relations with humanity after death, we find this to be the sphere in which are entangled the souls of the lowest and most degraded of our race, those whose thoughts and desires during life have been all but wholly concentrated on the selfish gratification of the senses, in whom emotions of the highest kind have played scarcely any part, and by whom, therefore, during life, the astral matter they have attracted around them has been of the lowest order. The comprehension of what I have to say will, perhaps, be best facilitated by an explanation which belongs properly to a very recondite region of occultism, but will here help to dispel the notion that a person after death is arbitrarily assigned, by some superior power, to a specific realm of Nature, in which he will meet with either reward or punishment. Occultism would be ridiculously misunderstood if it were supposed to ignore the existence of Divine Will operating through Nature to determine just results in connection with the progress of humanity. What we are studying now, however, are the methods and laws through which that will operates, and when we only approach the comprehension of these we see cause and effect operating on the mental plane with the same regularity that is observable in the relations of the chemical elements. And just in the same way that we think it unnecessary to treat every union between molecules of hydrogen and oxgyen as a separate act of the Divine Will, so, in occultism, we learn to recognise the working of good and evil as bound up in a concatenation of laws that can be comprehended up to a certain point, and can thus be dealt with far more reverently in the language of science than in that of a court of justice.
To go on with the explanation I am aiming at, we find that the sub-divisions of the astral plane represent distinctly defined orders of matter, though all falling in with some particular category of astral matter, just as matter of this plane is all physical, even though it may sometimes assume a solid, sometimes a liquid, and at others a gaseous ethereal state. Every human being during life gathers from matter as he grows, not merely the physical particles which constitute the matter of his physical body, but other particles belonging to higher regions of Nature which permeate the grosser vehicle and are ready in turn, when that is cast off, to become the vehicles of his consciousness on astral and ultimately on spiritual planes of Nature. But these do not flow in spontaneously; they are attracted, however little the person setting up attractions is conscious of the process, by the character and colour of his daily thoughts and life. The material of the higher astral sub-divisions is drawn into the corresponding vehicle of consciousness in the case of people whose predominant mental condition is of an elevated type; the lower kinds of matter assimilating themselves with more degraded states of consciousness, and the ultimate progress after death of the soul which is then launched on an existence in the astral body it has itself been unconsciously forming during life, is determined entirely (keeping our attention on the immediate scientific working of natural law), by the quality of the matter his astral envelope contains. In truth the astral vehicle of every human being must contain astral matter belonging to each of the seven sub-divisions of the astral plane, but here a beautiful complication comes into play, the charm of which will be readily appreciated by any scientifically minded thinker. The matter of each sub-division is itself capable of existing in different States, roughly corresponding to the solid, liquid, gaseous, and so on. Now, if the matter of the lowest plane which is attracted to the astral body of any given person is of the high ethereal kind, that person is no sooner launched upon the astral plane after death, coming in contact first with the lowest sub-division as a matter of inevitable necessity, than such ethereal particles fly asunder almost instantaneously. The dispersion of such particles or atoms is a process of which the person concerned is unconscious, and the soul thus liberated from the body would in such a case pass through the lowest sub-division of the astral plane, to use the old familiar illustration, as an arrow passes through a cloud. So again, in reference to the second. If the matter of that plane drawn into the composition of the astral envelope is altogether of the higher kind, it disintegrates no less spontaneously as soon as the soul is on that plane, so that by an automatic working of natural law each soul finds itself immediately after death on precisely that sub-division of the astral plane to which its affinities naturally belong.
Going back now to the lowest plane, we realise the way in which the soul, whose astral body is largely composed of the lower orders of matter belonging to that sub-division, would be entangled there for appreciable periods of time, sometimes for very long periods. Existence on that level is, of course, of an eminently undesirable kind. We need not stop to discuss fantastic superstitions concerning physically painful states attaching to the after-life, but we may easily see that where the whole body of consciousness represented by a soul has been absorbed in desires entirely connected with the physical plane of existence, a state of craving thus set up to which the after-life, even on the lowest sub-division of the astral plane, can make no response, must give rise to an unsatisfied wretchedness, which can only be thought of as morally painful in a very high degree. There is, of course, a gloomy fitness of things in the spectacle that region of Nature presents to our observation, but I am more concerned at present with describing the conditions of the superphysical world than in moralising in reference to their propriety. In the second, third, and fourth divisions of the astral plane, counting from the bottom upwards, we have to recognise a greater relaxation of all the disagreeable characteristics attaching to existence on the lowest, without, up to that point, coming into contact with anything of a distinctly different character. Up to the fourth sub-division consciousness would always be revolving round the experiences of the life just quitted, but in the second, third and fourth sub-divisions, it would not be exclusively bent upon the lowest aspects of earth life. Characteristics of the consciousness destined at a later period to a beautiful fruition on regions of Nature more exalted than any part of the astral plane, the emotions, that is to say, which have to do with love and affection, may begin to permeate the consciousness of the astral being, although for the moment he may be kept back from the realm of Nature in which these feelings would blossom forth most freely, by the continued operation of petty attractions. Of course, it must always be kept in mind that from the strictly scientific point of view, the question in every case has to do with getting rid, from the astral body, of the material of any plane in which it is entangled, but in discussing so subtle a subject we naturally work back to the moral causes at the back of the material condition, and speak of them as determining the result So that the lower levels of the astral region above the lowest would be the natural habitat of those whose lives are largely dominated by the pettier trivialities of existence, for whom their things have been of very much greater moment than their thoughts, for whom the work they may have had to do has not been merely performed as a necessary part of life's duty, but has itself become an end, as in the case of the miser whose wealth is not merely accumulated for the sake of the ease of mind it may procure for himself or others, but for its own sake.
As we ascend to the higher regions of the astral plane keeping for the present to those of its aspects which concern the souls of people dying in the ordinary course of Nature the conditions change very materially. Putting the same idea another way, we may say, as we come to consider the condition on the astral plane of those who are imbued with aspirations, emotions, and desires of a higher order, we find this region of existence a very different one for them as compared with what it is for humanity of a lower type. My great difficulty now is to do justice to the ethereal and graceful features of the higher astral existence without giving rise to conceptions of it which only belong properly to the spiritual plane. But let the clue to the mystery be sought for in the question, what would be the appropriate response of Nature to a state of mind, which without being degraded or sensual, had yet never risen above, or had, at least, been mainly dominated by, conceptions of happiness and ideals having to do entirely with earthly pursuits, enjoyments, and surroundings? We may even recognise these ideals as blended with the exercise of the affections; still, if the affections concerned are not altogether the main thing if the craving of the soul is for the whole aggregation of circumstances constituting earth life it cannot get entirely beyond the attraction of the astral counterparts of the earth life's scenery and decorations.
Instead of pressing onward to higher realms of thought and feeling to that spiritual plane in which interior states of consciousness are the all-important conditions such a personality as I am now endeavouring to depict will be content to reproduce for himself on the astral plane a routine of life not very dissimilar from that he has quitted on earth.
As I have said already, the matter of the astral plane is much more plastic and obedient to imagination and desire than that of the gross earth; and the astral body is entirely exempt from those imperious cravings and necessities, and from those liabilities to fatigue, heat and cold, injury and suffering, which put so many obstacles in the way of attaining the ideals of well being on the physical plane. It follows, therefore, that for beings on the astral plane, free of distinctly physical, without being free of material, desires, an ethereal counterpart of the earth life may gradually be constructed or thought out, which becomes a complete world in its way. A populous world, too, reproducing many of the companionships of earth life, and in which such as are still missing from the circle of old acquaintanceship may be looked forward to as destined to be welcomed eventually.
These remarks especially apply to the three higher regions of the astral condition which we come now to consider in detail. The fifth is that phase in which the external characteristics of life, in regard to its more graceful, but still non-spiritual aspects, are most completely reproduced. Here we find in their fullest development the conditions which represent the realities as the back of that somewhat too idealistic conception of the astral plane existence, which gather round the notion some Spiritualists have formed of what they call the "summer land." In this condition of being people are well aware that they have quitted the earth life and have passed through the change spoken of here as death, but conceive themselves translated to another world filled with the same interests and occupations as those they have quitted, although these are divorced completely from the strained and painful aspects they have worn down here. The inhabitants of this region create for themselves dwellings, churches, entertainments, music and instruments, and social surroundings of all sorts, in the midst of which they pass their time in a state of placid contentment. Those to whom this mere purified reflection of physical life would be an unsatisfactory version of the after-state, would be carried on by interior forces to other regions of which we will speak hereafter; but by the hypothesis, this fifth level of astral life must necessarily fulfil the aspirations of those to whom it is appropriate, and a gentle self-sufficient incredulity on their part is exhibited towards anyone whose higher evolution enables him to function on that plane of existence for a while, though still in incarnation, and who may endeavour to represent to those around him that loftier states of being are attainable. From the point of view, indeed, of those whose perceptions are more widely open, the scenery and decorations of summer land are woefully imperfect and unfinished, although so eminently satisfactory to their creators. These, by a curious misapprehension of the actual truth, regard with a certain sympathetic pity persons whose interior growth is tending to carry them higher; but who, through some characteristics in their astral vehicle, are entangled on this plane, and remain during their sojourn in a torpid and imperfectly conscious state.
The fully awakened inhabitants of the fifth plane look upon these persons as less developed than themselves rather than more so, and confidently anticipate a period when they will wake completely and appreciate the excellences of the life around. Their complete awakening is really reserved for higher planes, perhaps for those truly spiritual regions to be dealt with hereafter, perhaps for those immediately superior conditions of astral life which we find in manifestation on the sixth and seventh sub-divisions. On the sixth especially the predominant nature of the prevalent feeling has to do with religious sentiment. In its finer and purer aspects, religious sentiment would seek its fruition on Devachanic levels. But intervening conditions of thought and religious emotion lying between the worldly temperament and the truly spiritual aspiration which concerns itself pre-eminently with the externals of religious worship rather than with its essence, are those which delay the soul in the astral region we are considering. Thus the sixth level of the astral plane becomes in one, at all events, of its aspects, the home of those who are devoted to what may be called the ecclesiastical side of religion rather than its spiritual aspect, who find their delight in rituals and services, for whom the material ceremonies of church-going and pious formality have taken the place of a more deeply-seated devotion. By a natural gravitation the representatives of each great faith gather together on this level of astral existence, and each great group constitutes a world for itself, altogether out of touch with that developed by adjacent groups. We must remember on the astral plane we are not by any means outside the range of time and space, so that we are not doing violence to the truth of things if we recognise the astral levels as involving some correspondence with the geographical distribution of the physical population on the earth's surface.
The predominant characteristic of the highest level of the astral plane is intellectual activity. This, as we see but too plainly around us, is often dissociated entirely from spiritual growth; it may be compatible with the total neglect of all problems having to do with the unity of consciousness, or the possibilities connected with the enlargement of that consciousness beyond the limits assigned to it by the activity of the physical brain. Of course the physical brain of the most intellectual person during life is, after all, merely an instrument on which he plays; those capacities which guide its exercise reside really in the constitution of the Ego; but while they are unaccompanied by any true spiritual evolution they may seek for no other manifestation than that to which they are used during earth life. They do find themselves, however, in presence of a condition of things in which intellectual activity is emancipated from some of the restraints imposed upon it during physical life, and thus they have an exhilarating consciousness of enlarged capacity. This may be associated to a considerable degree with philanthropic instincts, and the inhabitants of the highest astral plane are strongly impressed with the idea that their influence may contribute largely to the growth and development of human intelligence, and with that end in view they are often on the alert to find persons amongst those still living on the physical plane, on whom they may impress their improved and brighter conceptions. They too construct for themselves quasi-material surroundings libraries and laboratories in which they provide themselves with a semi-material expression of the new ideas engendered within their consciousness by the free exercises of their astral senses, and they are not by any means unfamiliar with the current progress of incarnate human thinking, nor indeed unprovided with the astral counterparts of new books and new instruments of research. The intensity of their intellectual life operates to fill up their existence in a way which they find highly agreeable, but at the same time it has a tendency to retard, to an even greater degree than the pettier avocations of the lower astral sub-divisions, the progress which they might otherwise make towards loftier conditions of existence.
Thus we must avoid the impression that regular progress through these various sub-divisions of the astral world up to the highest, is necessarily the programme reserved for all who pass on from the ordinary physical, to the life in the next world. Already we have seen that all people of decent character slip unconsciously through the lower levels and only awaken to consciousness on those with which they have some natural affinity. And from any of the intermediate regions it is possible that eventually any of their denizens may pass directly to truly spiritual levels transcending all sub-divisions of the astral world, without ever coming in contact with the sub-divisions described above as the sixth and seventh.
But in truth this comparatively cold and scientific survey of the whole subject still leaves out of account a great deal that has to be appreciated in order to understand the part that the astral plane plays in human evolution, and in order to realise the enormously important aspect which it must wear for the great majority of our companions in life at this stage of evolution. Its importance has to some extent been ignored in earlier theosophical writings because their main purpose was to illuminate the world with a knowledge of the great truth that paths of evolutionary progress lie open to mankind with which the normal routine of evolution, so to speak, is not concerned. But the normal routine must, by the necessities of the case, be profoundly interesting to the normal majority and at all events theosophical research enables us to comprehend this with much more satisfactory precision than any previous scheme of theological teaching has provided for. Indeed so hopelessly obscure does the mist which enshrouds the future seem for most of those whose thought has been inspired by nothing better than conventional teaching, that immense relief would be afforded to multitudes still doubtful concerning the fate that awaits them beyond the grave if only, without knowing more of the brighter spiritual possibilities beyond, they were enabled to realise that which for many of us is a familiar territory, the next world in which they will infallibly awaken when the death they dread so needlessly shall overtake them. Many of those with whom occult students are enabled to come into contact after the great change has been accomplished, describe with enthusiasm the delighted surprise with which, when they realise that they are " dead " in the ordinary acceptation of the word, they find themselves still living and more intensely alive than ever. Apart altogether from the regrettable fact that ordinary mankind at present knows nothing concerning the loftier possibilities of its future spiritual progress, it is grotesquely ridiculous that knowledge really within its reach concerning that which to a circumscribed imagination is all-important, the condition immediately awaiting the soul after the death of the body, should be supposed a mystery beyond the reach of our research.
In order to give life to the picture, I will deal with two or three illustrative cases that have come within my own knowledge, showing various aspects of astral plane experience differing from each other not according to any cold scientific classification but representing thrilling experiences of very different kinds, all befalling persons belonging to what we may call ordinary humanity, and thus untouched by the peculiar influences which occult study during life, had that been their portion, would have gathered around their course. In one case we have to deal with the experiences of a man who passed from the earth plane in middle life with a terrible record of thoroughly misspent years behind him; saturated in fact, with the karma of selfishness in all its forms, and of reckless indifference to the suffering he had thus brought upon others. His earlier experiences of the next world for a period equivalent to many years of our time, were intensely miserable. On all but the very lowest levels of astral condition he wandered in gloom and loneliness, and he very gradually learned from the teaching of beings wiser than himself carrying on works of philanthropy in that forlorn region, the lesson he had so completely ignored during life, the great principle that only by contributing in some degree to the divine purpose of evolution, by rendering some sort of helpful service to others, is it possible for any human soul to accomplish its own advancement. Stimulated by one pure streak of emotion in his life, genuine love for a woman left behind on earth, the hero of this instructive narrative eventually contrives to work his way onward and on the intermediate planes of astral existence achieves eventually a condition of happiness which to him, in contrast with what he has gone through, seems fairly celestial.
Another case which has perhaps more personal interest for most of those of our own race and time endeavouring to forecast the conditions of their own future, introduces us to the after death experiences of a man of high culture, of ordinarily good life, who, awakening to astral consciousness on one of the intermediate planes, soon finds his natural habitat on the 6th (without of course realising the numerical relationship of that plane to the others) and describes himself as exhilarated beyond measure when first realising that he had actually passed through that change he had in life regarded with such deep foreboding, and instead of suffering the extinction he had anticipated was in the enjoyment of a brighter and fuller life than any he had previously dreamt of. It was difficult for him to believe at first that the new consciousness was real. He told himself that he was dreaming and would awake to the old life. But it was only by the assurance of friends and relatives he had long supposed to be lost, and who now welcomed him in the region he had reached, that at last he was enabled to comprehend the glorious truth of survival. From him, as indeed from others in similar positions, we gather much interesting detail concerning the better kind of astral experience which occult investigation in its broader range may often fail to supply. The life which our friend i9 now leading is one of continued mental activity untroubled by fatigue, broken by no intermission of day and night, embarrassed by none of the ever recurring needs of physical existence, and rich in opportunities for intelligent activity as well as for study concerning infinite possibilities beyond.
Such narratives as he supplies would be productive of incalculable good in the world if the dull stupidity around us did not rule off the majority from appreciating their importance. For incidentally they show by what kind of preparatory life here, happy conditions hereafter are provided for. That such happy conditions are not always provided for even by lives that seem blameless on the surface, is illustrated by another case coming within the range of my enquiries, which illustrates yet another of the varied possibilities associated with existence in the next world. In this case, a girl of the upper class, the only and idolised child of wealthy parents, the happy wife for a few years of an adoring husband, passes while still quite young into the next life and is of course vaguely supposed by her mourning devotees on earth to have inherited all the richest blessings that heaven could bestow. Nearly a score of years after her death she finds means of communicating back with a friend endowed with the necessary psychic gifts and tells her somewhat pitiful story. The years had passed under conditions very unlike those she had been credited with enjoying. The blamelessness of her life, in fact, had been due merely to the absolute absence of temptation in any form. Her character below the surface was in reality altogether selfish and undeveloped. For a long period of time her nature was incapable of association with any of the higher conditions of astral life, and thus she was entangled in the very deplorable existence of its lower levels. Again by slow degrees, experience and the teaching of those who came to her aid enabled herby toilsome efforts to win her upward way, and thus her story introduces us to the conception that in some cases the astral plane may actually be a region of moral effort, purification, and progress, to an extent which seems at the first glance to conflict with the broad teachings of occult philosophy that used to recognise the physical life alone as the school of spiritual growth. The conditions, whether astral or devachanic, intervening between incarnations were regarded rather as intervals of rest or refreshment than as periods appointed for further activity and struggle. And in truth that view of the matter rather than the tale of our sorely tried heroine represents the normal course of events, An absolutely normal experience for her, even, would have been unconsciousness on the astral, such happiness on devachanic levels as her nature was capable of assimilating, and a return to life with her character no further developed than at the period of her death. But it may sometimes happen where powerful intervention is possible in the interest of a particular entity, that life on the astral plane may be specially directed with an end in view. The story just told really indicates the activity on behalf of the soul concerned, of beings powerful enough to guide it through a course which however painful at the time was in the truest sense of the phrase a blessing in disguise, averting calamities in future lives which would have been infinitely more terrible in the long run. Had the soul concerned returned to earth life at some future date without haying undergone the astral training described, it would infallibly have misused the opportunities of that life more terribly than ever, and would have launched itself on a long career of miserable incarnations that would incidentally have been fraught with consequences on other planes as well, beside which the temporary suffering imposed as a purifying process would have been insignificant. But exhaustive speculation along these lines would constitute a protracted essay on the mysteries of karma, with which as a general rule the life of incarnation has certainly more to do than that of the astral plane.
I have made some reference already to the vast varieties of non-human existence by which all the regions of the astral plane are more or less saturated. With these, however, the normal entity after death has not much to do, and this branch of the subject may be more conveniently considered by itself.