by John L. Steadman
The relationship between the astral body, the chakras and the physical body is often misunderstood by novice magickal practitioners. What is meant by the term “astral” body, indeed, is subject to differing interpretations; occultists tend to associate the astral body with the etheric, which they envision as a plane of invisible, subtle matter that serves, in turn, as a pattern or prototype for the physical word, and they use such terms as the Etheric Double, or the Body of Light interchangeably with the Astral Body; all of this tends to create obfuscation rather than clarity. Likewise, occultists, seeking to explain exactly what the chakras are, offer definitions that end up confusing the novice; they speak of the chakras (rightly) as linked to actual physical nerve plexi and glands, and yet, they assert that these chakras are “potent energy sources” in themselves, and thus, beyond the physical. Again, obfuscation rather than clarity is the result.
In attempting to explain the connection between the astral body, the chakras and the physical body, then, I think that it is important initially to recognize and to accept two basic premises. First, the human mind is not “in” the brain, nor is it “in” the body; instead, the reverse is true; the brain and the body are “in” the mind. The mind, thus, exists equally independent from the rarified activity known as cognition as well as the basic, often distasteful rag and bone shop of horrors that characterizes human emotions and instinctive human activity. Second, the sole, genuine power of the mind is the Imagination. As the root word “image” suggests, the Imagination makes images. Even more importantly, it creates images. Most of these images are anchored in the familiar word that we are born into and are imprisoned in by our perceptions. But a fraction of these images are separate from the physical world, and these latter images exist, like the mind itself, behind or apart from the physical world. The mind, as it imagines, then, is very much like the God of Abraham, spoken of in the first book of the Old Testament, a free, creative spirit that moves upon the face of a great void and then simply does what it is in its nature to do, to create.
Given these two premises, it is possible to examine the elements of the individual human being. Following the eastern esoteric tradition, which begins its analysis from the lower, material levels to the spiritual, we will move from the less subtle to the subtler. The most basic element of the human being is the physical body and this is – well – the physical body. It gives the impression of being real, so much so, in fact, that most non-occultists think that it is real. But this body isn’t physical at the subatomic level; as Quantum Physics suggests, it is, if anything, nothing more than a probabilistic pattern of particles in a constant state of flux held together by our pre-conditioning and perception. After a time, perception proves to be too weak to keep the body together and it dissipates. The reason for this can be found in the first premise articulated above: the brain & the body are “in” the mind. The mind, therefore, exists outside the physical. It may be, for convenience, linked to perception, which is the mind’s most inconsequential power. But there is not any real link. Accordingly, as the body declines, the powers of perception decline as well, and ultimately, the mind ends up unable (or unwilling) to prevent the dissipation and the body dies.
The second element of the individual human being are the chakras. The chakras are associated with the nerve plexi and the glandular centers of the human being. There are seven of them: the crown of the head (sahasrara-padma); the brow (ajna), throat (visuddha), heart (anahata), solar plexus (manipura), sacrum or navel (svadhishana), and spine (muladhara). It is not accurate to directly attribute the chakras to these physical centers of the body; they are best understood as invisible, unmeasurable, energy- sources, which, in turn, can be channeled at the nerve points. The chakras, thus, are arguably etheric meridians, as some occultists will have it. And yet, the charkas are still indissolvably linked to these physical areas of the body. In fact, they really cannot function without the physical links in place. The chakras cannot even be understood or comprehended separate from the physical links. Thus, as the body ages and grows weaker, and as the hold of the mind on the body weakens as well via the declining powers of perception, the chakras grow weaker and their energies decline. Again, it is worth remembering: the brain & the body are “in” the mind. Therefore, we observe the same situation expressed before with regard to the body & the brain; the mind stands back, inviolate, as the brain and the body slowly dissipate; and the chakras, correspondingly, dissipate as well. And when the body eventually dies, the chakras die along with it, their energies dispersed as readily as the life force of any merely physical thing.
The third element of the individual human being, the astral body, is radically different than the physical body and the chakras. There are those occultists who refer to the astral body as the “second” body, and they like to assert that the astral body is the invisible double of the physical body and that it, likewise, serves as a kind of pattern upon which the physical body is built. These occultists, in short, equate the astral body with the etheric. Many of these occultists, in fact, even go as far as to claim the etheric body is actually a probability distribution that ultimately determines the shape and disposition of the human body. In making such an argument, these occultists are literally imposing a neo-platonic paradigm on Quantum theory, which is, of course, unjustifiable. J. H. Brennan, occultist and author, describes very accurately the difference between the astral body and the etheric and, in the process, highlights the confusion that often ensues when the astral body is mistakenly identified as etheric.
Your etheric body is your invisible double. It interpenetrates your physical body and some schools of thought believe with the physicists it is essentially a pattern of force on which your physical body is built. It is closer to matter than to mind…it seems to function as a link between your physical body and your mind… [But] your astral body is a step beyond the etheric. And this step takes you into the realms of the psychic proper. The astral body is composed of mind-stuff: or more accurately, imagination stuff. [i]
The imagination, as I have suggested previously, is the mind’s primary, creative power. Furthermore, I think that it is safe to assert that the astral body, as a product of the imagination, is the mind’s most essential creation. It is important to note, however, is that the creation, in this case, shares the same quality as the creator; that is, the astral body, like the mind itself, stands apart from the body & the brain. The astral body can be perceived, as can the physical body and the chakras. But when the body & the brain decay, and when perception declines and weakens, neither the mind nor the astral body are affected. For, indeed, the mind and the astral body are not “in” the body or the brain; they are separate. They are inviolate, not subject to dissipation, decay and death.
When it comes to the practice of the magickal arts, particularly the “high” magickal arts, the astral body is of utmost importance. Among occultists, there is a distinction between “high” and “low” magick. Low magick involves the use of magick for physical, psychological, or emotional purposes. A good example of low magick would be cleansing the chakras; this procedure tends to promote the physical well-being of an individual. Another example of a low magickal operation would be casting a spell to attract a lover; the purpose here is twofold: part physical gratification, part emotional satisfaction. Low magickal goals are best handed by a simple generation of magickal force. As described in the terms of chakra mythology, magickal force results when the kundalini at the base of the muladhara chakra is stimulated via the use of magickal techniques; the energy then rises throughout the body, stimulating the other chakras as well as it moves up the body and then ultimately emerges in the physical world. This process does not involve the astral body at all, unless the magickal practitioner sees a need to bring the astral body into the mix. In contrast, the practice of high magick – i.e. evocation, invocation & conjuration- is best accomplished by the astral body. A magickal practitioner performs high magick for two purposes: knowledge and/or power. The rites themselves invariably involve the full use of the elements of magickal practice. The magickal practitioner makes use of symbolic objects- the customary wand, cup, sword, and pentacle. The practitioner, also, starts out her working in a stylized setting, whether real-time, akashic or virtual. Then, at some point, the magickal practitioner finds herself performing the rite in the astral body. Here, the imagination has reached an apotheosis. The experience becomes, in effect, pure mind and pure perception.
[i] Brennan, J. H. Magick for Beginners: The Power to Change Your World. St Paul, MN, Llewellyn Publications, Inc., 1998, 68.
John L. Steadman is the author of H.P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition, a scholar of H. P. Lovecraft and western occultism and has been a magickal practitioner for more than thirty years. He is currently a college English professor at Olivet College in Michigan.