Astral Bodies

David Pratt

February 2017



1. Three astral bodies
2. HPB on astral bodies
3. Process of reincarnation
4. Model-body: some issues
5. Maternal impressions
6. Phantom limbs
7. Occult phenomena
8. Astral body, morphic fields and genetics

1. Neotheosophy
2. Kirlian photography


BCW H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, Theosophical Publishing House (TPH), 1950-91
Dialogues    The Dialogues of G. de Purucker, A.L. Conger (ed.), Theosophical University Press (TUP), 1948
Echoes Echoes of the Orient, W.Q. Judge, Point Loma Publications (PLP), 1975-87
EPMB The Esoteric Papers of Madame Blavatsky, Daniel H. Caldwell (comp.), Kessinger, 2004
ET The Esoteric Tradition, G. de Purucker, TUP, 3rd ed., 2011
FEP Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, G. de Purucker, TUP, 2nd ed., 1979
FSO Fountain-Source of Occultism, G. de Purucker, TUP, 1974
IGT The Inner Group Teachings of H.P. Blavatsky, Henk J. Spierenburg (comp.), PLP, 2nd ed., 1995
Isis Isis Unveiled, H.P. Blavatsky, TUP, 1972 (1877)
Key The Key to Theosophy, H.P. Blavatsky, TUP, 1972 (1889)
MiE Man in Evolution, G. de Purucker, TUP, 2nd ed., 1977
The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, A.T. Barker (comp.), TUP, 2nd ed., 1975
MLc The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, TPH, chron. ed., 1993
Ocean The Ocean of Theosophy, W.Q. Judge, TUP, 1973 (1893)

Old Diary Leaves, H.S. Olcott, TPH, 1900-1941

OG Occult Glossary, G. de Purucker, TUP, 2nd ed., 1996
SD The Secret Doctrine, H.P. Blavatsky, TUP, 1977 (1888)
SOP Studies in Occult Philosophy, G. de Purucker, TUP, 1973

1. Three astral bodies

William Quan Judge highlights the imprecision of the term ‘astral body’:

As we use in English very loose terms, some confusion is inevitable. ‘Astral body’ is made to cover too much ... (Echoes 3:397)

The astral body is a term which must some day be given up. But it stands, for the present, for the whole of the ethereal inner person. (Echoes 3:456)

Three main types of astral body are distinguished in theosophical literature. A general description of them is given in the quotations below.

‘Astral’ literally means ‘relating to the stars’. The reason this name was given to the more ethereal level of reality just beyond the physical plane is because the matter of the astral plane (or ‘astral light’) appears self-luminous to sensitives and seers, rather like the luminous nebulae or comets seen in the night sky (Dialogues 3:425-6).


[Astral body] is the popular term for the model-body, the linga-sharira [liṅga-śarīra, ‘model/pattern form’]. It is but slightly less material than is the physical body, and is in fact the model or framework around which the physical body is builded, and from which, in a sense, the physical body flows or develops as growth proceeds. It is the vehicle of prana or life-energy, and is, therefore, the container of all the energies descending from the higher parts of the human constitution by means of the pranic stream. The astral body precedes in time the physical body, and is the pattern around which the physical body is slavishly molded, atom by atom. In one sense the physical body may be called the deposit or dregs or lees of the astral body; the astral body likewise in its turn is but a deposit from the auric egg. (OG 8)

[The auric egg] is the source of the human aura as well as of everything else that the human septenary constitution contains. It is usually of an oviform or egg-shaped appearance ... It ranges from the divine to the astral-physical, and is the seat of all the monadic, spiritual, intellectual, mental, passional, and vital energies and faculties of the human septiform constitution. In its essence it is eternal ... (OG 15)

The astral body is made of matter of very fine texture as compared with the visible body, and has a great tensile strength, so that it changes but little during a lifetime, while the physical alters every moment. And not only has it this immense strength, but at the same time possesses an elasticity permitting its extension to a considerable distance. It is flexible, plastic, extensible, and strong. The matter of which it is composed is electrical and magnetic in its essence, and is just what the whole world was composed of in the dim past when the processes of evolution had not yet arrived at the point of producing the material body for man. ...

The astral body is the guiding model for the physical one, and all the other kingdoms have the same astral model. Vegetables, minerals, and animals, have the ethereal double, and this theory is the only one which will answer the question how it is that the seed produces its own kind and all sentient beings bring forth their like. ...

[T]he model for the growing child in the womb is the astral body already perfect in shape before the child is born. It is on this the molecules arrange themselves until the child is complete, and the presence of the ethereal design-body will explain how the form grows into shape, how the eyes push themselves out from within to the surface of the face, and many other mysterious matters in embryology ...

The astral body has in it the real organs of the outer sense organs. In it are the sight, hearing, power to smell, and the sense of touch. It has a complete system of nerves and arteries of its own for the conveyance of the astral fluid which is to that body as our blood is to the physical. It is the real personal man. There are located the sub-conscious perception and the latent memory, which the hypnotizers of the day are dealing with and being baffled by. (Ocean 44-7)

When the hypnotic process ... is submitted to, a disjunction is made between the soul-man and the astral body, which is then for the time deprived of will, and is the sport of any suggestion coming in unopposed ... (Echoes 1:394-5)

After the maturity of the child before birth this form is fixed, coherent, and lasting, undergoing but small alteration from that day until death. And so also as to its brain; that remains unchanged until the body is given up, and does not, like the outer brain, give up cells to be replaced by others from hour to hour. These inner parts are thus more permanent than the outer correspondents to them. Our material organs, bones, and tissues are undergoing change each instant. ... This is not the case with the inner form. It alters only from life to life, being constructed at the time of reincarnation to last for a whole period of existence. For it is the model fixed by the present evolutionary proportions for the outer body. ... At birth it is potentially of a certain size, and when that limit is reached it stops the further extension of the body ... At the same time the outer body is kept in shape by the inner one until the period of decay. And this decay, followed by death, is not due to bodily disintegration per se, but to the fact that the term of the astral body is reached, when it is no longer able to hold the outer frame intact. Its power to resist the impact and war of the material molecules being exhausted, the sleep of death supervenes.

Now, as in our physical form the brain and spine are the centres for nerves, so in the other there are the nerves which ramify from the inner brain and spine all over the structure. All of these are related to every organ in the outer visible body. They are more in the nature of currents than nerves ... (Echoes 2:33-4)

[O]nce that death has taken place, the linga-sharira hovers around and over the corpse, although linked to it by innumerable tenuous threads of astral pranic substance ... (FSO 545)

Cremation helps the astral body to disintegrate sooner than is the case when the physical body is allowed to decay in the grave, because both the astral body and the cadaver are very intimately conjoined physically and magnetically. In fact they disintegrate almost atom for atom (the only exception being that the skeleton due to its heavy mineral chemical composition may outlast even the astral ‘skeleton’ of the linga-sharira). As long as the body is decaying in its coffin, the linga-sharira hovers around it; and just so long is the kama-rupa to a certain extent psychomagnetically drawn to the neighborhood of the grave. (FSO 547)

The astral model-body is connected with the aura:

Every human being is surrounded by ... a psycho-magneto-electric atmosphere streaming forth from within, an aura or psychovital cloud stamped with that human being’s characteristics of individuality ... [It] is an emanation of the force-substance of the man’s astral body or linga-sharira. (ET 488)

[The aura is an] extremely subtle and therefore invisible essence or fluid that emanates from and surrounds not only human beings and beasts, but as a matter of fact plants and minerals also. It is one of the aspects of the auric egg and therefore the human aura partakes of all the qualities that the human constitution contains. ... Sensitives have frequently described it in more or less vague terms as a light flowing from the eyes or the heart or the tips of the fingers or from other parts of the body. Sometimes this fluid, instead of being colorless light, manifests itself by flashing and scintillating changes of color – the color or colors in each case depending not only upon the varying moods of the human individual, but also possessing a background equivalent to the character or nature of the individual. Animals are extremely sensitive to auras, and some beasts even descry the human being surrounded with the aura as with a cloud or veil. (OG 14-5)


[The kāma-rūpa or ‘desire body’] is that part of man’s inner constitution in which dwell or inhere the various desires, affections, hates, loves – in short, the various mental and psychical energies. After death it becomes the vehicle in the astral worlds of the higher principles of the man that was. But these higher principles are nevertheless scarcely conscious of the fact, because the rupture of the golden cord of life at the moment of the physical death plunges the cognizing personal entity into a merciful stupor of unconsciousness, in which stupor it remains a longer or shorter period depending upon its qualities of spirituality or materiality. The more spiritual the man was the longer the period of merciful unconsciousness lasts, and vice versa.

After death, ... there occurs what is called the second death, which is the separation of the immortal part of the second or intermediate duad from the lower portions of this duad, which lower portions remain as the kama-rupa in the etheric or higher astral spheres which are intermediate between the devachanic and the earthly spheres. In time this kama-rupa gradually fades out in its turn, its life-atoms at such dissolution passing on to their various and unceasing peregrinations.

It is this kama-rupa which legend and story in the various ancient world religions or philosophies speak of as the shade and which it has been customary in the Occident to call the spook or ghost. It is, in short, all the mortal elements of the human soul that was. The kama-rupa is an exact astral duplicate, in appearance and mannerism, of the man who died; it is his eidolon or ‘image.’ (OG 78-9)

The kama-rupa, which becomes the vehicle for the unconscious or quasi-conscious entity in the kama-loka, is actually forming constantly during the life of the individual ... [It] is one of the most fluidic, changeable and plastic parts of our constitution, for it undergoes modification with every passing mood, indeed with every passing thought. ...

However, after the death of the physical body there is no further change or growth of the kama-rupic form, it remaining more or less static, all modifications being of the nature of disintegration or slow decay. It is really that portion of the human constitution which is the kama-manasic-astral seat or focus of the passional, emotional, lower mental and psychic attributes; and these as an aggregate comprise all the lower skandhas [‘bundles’ of attributes] of the human constitution ...

Now it is the human ego which works through the kama-rupa during incarnation, exactly as the kama-rupa works through the linga-sharira, and this last again through the body. In fact, it is correct enough to say that the personal man, which is the reflection and usually distorted radiance of the reincarnating ego or human monad, is this kama-rupa itself; because, being a collection of skandhas, the kama-rupa is the expression of the merely personal qualities of the human ego. (FSO 579, 664)

The second death ... is an astral reproduction of what took place at physical death; for just as at physical death the body is cast off with the linga-sharira and the gross animal pranas, so at the second death the human ego, having snapped its links of psychomagnetic attraction with the kama-rupa, casts it off and enters into the devachanic condition, carrying with it all the spiritual yearnings or sympathies or memories which the personal man during earth life had stored in the web of consciousness. ...

For a certain period of brief duration, which depends in every instance upon the individual, kama-rupas retain a wavering, shadowy kind of quasi-animal consciousness ... Some kama-rupas disintegrate in a few months; those of average humanity may take eight, ten, fifteen, possibly twenty years; while those of extremely materialistic or bad men, but who still had some spiritual good in them, may endure for several scores of years. (FSO 580)

Cases have been known where the kamarupa has lasted for centuries – so long a time, in fact, that it still coheres as a kamarupic entity after the monad of the man has returned to incarnation [on] earth, and thereafter haunts the unfortunate ‘new’ man, attaching itself to his newly evolved kamarupa and in most cases coalescing with it and thus acting as an unceasing fountain of downward suggestions and impulses. This is a case of what is technically called a Dweller of the Threshold ... (ET 416)

When the second death takes place the triune monad, the atman-buddhi-manas, releases itself from all its lower kama-manasic substances and energies. These perishable elements remain in the kama-rupic shell and gradually fade out like the radiance in the sky after sunset; the energies producing this fading radiance gradually vanish ‘upward’ and, being belated life-atoms, become attached like sleeping seeds or tanhic elementals to the auric egg of the human ego which has now entered its devachan. It is these sleeping seeds of lower attributes and qualities, i.e. dormant skandhas which, preceding the next incarnation, will spring into action and take initial parts in forming the astral body-to-be.

At the separation of the triadic monad from the kama-rupa, all the most spiritual and highly intellectual attributes are withdrawn as a still more brilliant radiance into the reincarnating ego; and it is this spiritual aroma, the truly human being, which becomes the devachani sleeping in the bosom of the reincarnating ego, the human monad. Distinguish here the human monad from its ray the human ego.

Thus, after physical death, the seven-principled person has become four-principled, consisting of the two duads, atma-buddhi, and manas with the spiritual parts of kama. Now, when the four-principled man enters at the second death into the devachan, these two duads coalesce into the upper triad of atma-buddhi and the higher part of manas, because of the dropping of the lower kama-manasic attributes. (FSO 582)


The māyāvi-rūpa, ‘illusory body’, or ‘thought-body’, is a higher astral-mental form that enables adepts to project their consciousness to distant locations. It can assume any shape but usually resembles the physical body. An adept can make their mayavi-rupa visible by condensing the ether and physical atoms around it. The mayavi-rupa contains a complete human minus the three lower principles: the physical body is left behind in a trance state, along with the astral-model body and the lower pranas. The highest initiates can project their mayavi-rupa even to other planets and appear there in their ‘spiritual mayavi-rupa’. (OG 105, Dialogues 1:311-4)

The mayavi-rupa can also be projected unconsciously. For instance, the ‘double’ or ‘doppelganger’ that sometimes appears to close relatives at the moment someone is dying at a distant location is the mayavi-rupa, produced by the dying person’s thoughts (BCW 10:220).

2. HPB on astral bodies

In Esoteric Section Instruction no. 5 (BCW 12:691-713; IGT 167-94; EPMB 599-622), issued by Annie Besant and William Quan Judge after H.P. Blavatsky’s death, HPB introduces the idea that ‘the basis for all astral bodies’ – ‘the germ or living essence of the linga-sharira’, the ‘chhāya’ (lit. shade, copy) – is curled up in the spleen. She calls the spleen the vehicle or seat of the linga-sharira.

The spleen is a soft, spongy organ about as big as a person’s fist, located in the upper left part of the abdomen, just under the rib cage. According to modern medicine, the spleen acts as a filter for blood as part of the immune system. Old red blood cells are recycled there, platelets (blood cells that help blood clotting) and white blood cells are stored there, and it helps fight certain kinds of bacteria that cause pneumonia and meningitis. People can live without a spleen, but the body loses some of its ability to produce protective antibodies and to remove unwanted microorganisms from the blood (;

Front view of the spleen.

Blavatsky writes:

The spleen corresponds to the linga-sharira, and serves as its dwelling-place, in which it lies curled up. As the linga-sharira is the reservoir of life for the body, the medium and vehicle of prana, the spleen acts as the centre of prana in the body, from which the life is pumped out and circulated. It is consequently a very delicate organ, though the physical spleen is only the cover for the real spleen. ...

Anatomists ... are in error as to the spleen, when they call it the manufactory of the white corpuscles of the blood, for ... it is really the vehicle of the linga-sharira. But these same white corpuscles – which are the devourers, the scavengers of the human body – are oozed out of the linga-sharira, and are of the same essence as itself. They come from the spleen, not because the spleen manufactures them, but because they are oozed out of the linga-sharira, which, as said, is curled up in the spleen. (BCW12:699-700)

Judge says that the statement that ‘the astral body is curled up in the spleen’ is misleading as the astral body has ‘many strata’:

The astral shape which extends to the very finger-tips and to the ends of the hair, is certainly not in the spleen. But that astral body is not the centre, the ‘archeus,’ the heart, so to say, of all the rest. The saying refers to that phase of the ethereal body which is the knot or center of all, that part through which the connection is made between the gross astral on one side, and the higher chemical and occult parts of nature on the other; the physical case being attached to its mediator, the gross astral. ... The fact that with some mediums it has been observed that the cloudy astral form came out from the spleen side, does not prove the assertion that the ethereal form is curled up in the spleen. For the form has, in other cases, oozed out through the head, or by way of the solar plexus.

All of nature’s operations are carried on with proper agents and in degrees. The ethereal double of the body is not the proper agent or means for connecting with the subtler side save through some other and more subtle form. Itself attaching by one phase to the gross body it has to be reached from the higher side of nature by that which can in its turn reach yet higher or deeper. So, that which lies in the spleen is that which aids in keeping the whole series of lines open. (Echoes 3:474-5)

According to Blavatsky:

[The physical body or sthūla-śarīra] can be regarded as merely a denser aspect of the linga-sharira, for the body and the linga-sharira are both on the same plane, and the linga-sharira is molecular in its constitution, like the body. The earth and its astral light are as closely related as the body and its linga-sharira, the earth being the upadhi* of the astral light. Our plane in its lowest division is the earth; in its highest the astral. The terrestrial astral light should of course not be confounded with the universal astral light. (BCW 12:694)

*‘Upadhi means that through which a force acts. The word “vehicle” is sometimes used to convey the same idea’ (BCW 12:692fn).

The astral bodies are molecular, however etherealized may be their composition, whereas the ego is atomic. ... The linga-sharira, or ethereal double of the body, is molecular in constitution, but of molecules invisible to the physical eyes. It is therefore not homogeneous. (BCW 12:703-4)

‘Atomic’ is being used here in its etymological sense of ‘indivisible’, i.e. monadic and homogeneous (see IGT 44, 66, 111, 182-3). But these are relative terms: strictly speaking, everything composed of any grade of consciousness-substance is composite (see The monad: one and many).

Blavatsky continues:

The linga-sharira ... is the vehicle of prana, and supports life in the body. ... [It] serves as the intermediary between prana and sthula-sarira, drawing life from the ocean of jiva, and pumping it in the physical body as prana. ...

The linga-sharira of one incarnation fades out, as the sthula-sharira to which it belongs rots out; the auric egg furnishes the basis of the new linga-sharira and the tanhic elementals form it within the auric envelope, the continuity being thus preserved; it lies dormant in the foetal state, during the devachan of the entity to whom it belongs, and enters, in due course, a woman’s womb. It is first in the womb, and then comes the germ that fructifies it, from the male parent. It is the subjective image of the man that is to be, the model of the physical body in which the child is to be formed and developed. It is then clothed with matter, as were the lunar pitris, and is therefore often called the chhaya. Up to the age of seven, it forms and moulds the body; after that age, the body forms the linga-sharira. The mind and the linga-sharira mutually act and react on each other, and so is prepared a mould for the next incarnation. It is the perfect picture of the man, good or bad, according to his own nature.* It cannot therefore be said that there is one permanent linga-shariric seed in the incarnations of the ego; it is a perpetual succession of destruction and reformation, the manas by the auric egg affording the permanent seed; ‘it is heaven and earth kissing each other.’ (BCW 12:704-5)

*Blavatsky’s original statement at one of her Inner Group meetings was: ‘The linga-sharira in the spleen is the perfect picture of the man, and is good or bad according to his own nature’ (IGT 84).

In its broadest sense, ‘lunar pitris’ (‘lunar fathers’) refers to all the kingdoms or classes of monads that came from the moon-chain when it reembodied as the earth planetary chain, but more specifically it refers to the lunar monads who became ‘the various human and more-than-human groups now on earth’ (ET 550fn). Sometimes the lunar pitris are said to have formed our lower quaternary (kama, prana, linga-sharira and sthula-sharira), while the solar or agnishvatta pitris (the highest classes of lunar monads) formed our higher intellectual and spiritual nature (SOP 198, 264-5; FSO 213-4). ‘Agnishvatta’ means ‘sweetened by fire’; ‘solar fire’ denotes intellectuality and spirituality (OG 2-5).

In the first root-race of the fourth round the lunar pitris are said to have ‘projected’ their chhayas or astral doubles – a graphic way of saying that those early humans worked through their astral bodies; our present physical bodies are ‘the thickened and concreted chhayas of the lunar pitris’ (FSO 284-6). The awakening of our selfconscious minds during the latter half of third root-race is figuratively referred to as the ‘incarnation’ of the manasaputras, or the solar or agnishvatta pitris. This process began when our astral-physical bodies had become sufficiently well developed for our manasic or higher human monad to manifest through them (Origin of mind).

Blavatsky continues:

During incarnation the germ, or life essence, of the linga-sharira, is, as said, in the spleen; the chhaya lies curled up therein. And now let the student escape from much confusion by distinguishing between the various astral bodies and the true astral. The astral, par excellence, the second principle in man, corresponding to the second principle in cosmos, is the progeny of the chhaya of the lunar pitris and the auric essence that absorbed it. This is the moulder of the infant’s body, the model spoken of above. This has for its physical organ the spleen, and during incarnation has its seat there. It affords the basis for all astral bodies, for the linga-sharira proper, and the mayavi-rupas used as vehicles for different principles. Let us then now call it the chhaya, in view of its origin. When an astral body is to be formed, the chhaya evolves a shadowy, curling or gyrating essence like smoke, which gradually takes form as it emerges. In order that this essence may become visible, the chhaya draws on the surrounding atmosphere, attracting to itself certain minute particles floating therein, and so the linga-sharira, or other astral vehicle is formed outside the physical body. This process has often been observed at spiritualistic séances, at which materialization has occurred. An esotericist has seen the chhaya emerging from Eglinton’s left side, and forming in the way here described.

William Eglinton producing a fully materialized ‘spirit’, Abdullah, while in a trance state in 1878.

This ethereal body, built outside the sthula-sharira, is the linga-sharira, properly so termed; it could not form in vacuo, it is built up temporarily, with the chhaya as its foundation, and disperses when the chhayic foundation is withdrawn into the body. This linga-sharira is united to the physical body by an umbilical cord, a material cord, and cannot therefore travel very far from it. It may be hurt by a sharp instrument, and would not face a sword or bayonet, although it can easily pass through a table or other piece of furniture. When swords are struck at shades, it is the sword itself, not its linga-sharira, or astral that cuts. Sharp instruments alone can penetrate such astrals; thus, under water, a blow with a blunt object would not affect you so much as a cut would.

At spiritualistic séances the linga-sharira of the medium materializes, the resemblance to deceased persons being mostly caused by the imagination, but sometimes by an elemental throwing onto the linga-sharira a reflection of a picture of the defunct in the astral light, thus producing the likeness. The clothing on such phantasms is formed from the living particles of the medium’s body, and is no real clothing, nor has it anything to do with the clothing of the medium. All the material clothing seen at materialization séances has been paid for. Materialized forms are to be for the present divided into two classes: (a) those with a definite form produced by the sub-conscious or other thought of the person to whom the form belongs, or as above stated, and, (b) those the form, or semblance, or appearing of which is due to the combined thought of the person to whom it belongs, and the person who sees it, so that the outer appearance is due to a process of thought or imagination exercised by the one or the other. The imagination and the thought in these cases take place or act at the same time with too small an interval to be noticed. It is these facts about astral bodies that account for the Arabian and Eastern tales about Jinns, bottle imps [imps that live in bottles], etc. Dugpas are able to work on the linga-shariras of other people. When a man visits another in his astral body, it is the linga-sharira that goes, but this cannot happen at any great distance. So also it is the linga-sharira that is seen in the neighborhood of persons as their ‘doubles.’ And it is the linga-sharira that is used to move objects without visible contact. A linga-sharira can be formed by the escaping chhaya without any knowledge of the person emanating it, and can wander about, but it is not then fully endowed with consciousness. Such projection of the astral body should not be attempted.

A more important kind of astral body is the mayavi-rupa, or illusionary body, and this is of different degrees. All have the chhaya as upadhi [basis], but they may be unconscious or conscious. If a man thinks intensely of another at a distance, his mayavi-rupa may appear to that person, without the projector knowing anything about it. This mayavi-rupa is formed by the unconscious use of kriyashakti, when the thought is at work with much intensity and concentration. It is formed without the idea of conscious projection, and it is itself unconscious, a thought body, but not a vehicle of consciousness. But when a man consciously projects a mayavi-rupa and uses it as a vehicle of consciousness, he is an adept. No two persons can be simultaneously conscious of one another’s presence, unless one of the two be an adept.

In the formation of a mayavi-rupa, as already said, the upadhi is furnished by the chhaya, the ‘basis of all forms.’ When an adept projects his mayavi-rupa, the guiding intelligence that informs it comes from the heart, the essence of manas entering it; the attributes and qualities are drawn from the auric envelope. Nothing can hurt the mayavi-rupa – no sharp instrument or weapon – since, as regards this plane, it is purely subjective. It has no material connection with the physical body, no umbilical cord. It is spiritual and ethereal, and passes everywhere without let or hindrance. It thus entirely differs from the linga-sharira, which, if injured, acts by repercussion on the physical body. The mayavi-rupa is a manasic body, and should not be confused with the linga-sharira; its projection is always a manasic act, since it cannot be formed without the activity of kriyashakti. The mayavi-rupa may be so strongly vitalized that it can go on to another plane, and can there unite with the beings of that plane, and so ensoul them. But this can only be done by an adept. Dugpas and sorcerers, the adepts of the left hand path, are able to create and use mayavi-rupas of their own.

As said, the projection of the linga-sharira should not be attempted, but the student should seek to exercise the power of kriyashakti in the conscious projection of the mayavi-rupa. (BCW 12:705-7)

Blavatsky then writes as follows about the kama-rupa:

The kama during life does not form a body which can be separated from the physical body. It is intermolecular, answering molecule for molecule to the physical body, and inseparable from it molecularly. Thus it is a form yet not a form; a form within the physical body, but incapable of being projected outward as a form. This is the inner, or astral man, in whom are located the centres of sensation, the psychic senses, and on whose intermolecular rapport with the physical body, all sensation and purposive action depend. At death, every cell and molecule gives out this essence, and from it, with the dregs of the auric envelope, is formed the separate kama-rupa; but this can never come during life. The blood is a good symbol of kama-rupa, for while within the body, filling every portion but confined in vessels, it takes the shape of the body and has a form, though in itself formless. If the term kama-rupa be used to indicate this intermolecular structure which is the psychic man, then the post mortem separate form must be called the kama-rupa-astral, or astral of the kama-rupa.

During life the lower manas acts through this kama-rupa, and so comes into contact with the sthula-sharira; this is why the lower manas is said to be ‘enthroned in kama-rupa’. After death it ensouls the kama-rupa for a time, until the higher triad, having reabsorbed the lower manas, or such portion of it as it can reabsorb, passes into devachan. The normal period during which any part of the consciousness remains in kama-loka, i.e., is connected with the kama-rupa, is one hundred and fifty years. The kama-rupa eventually breaks up, and leaving in kama-loka the tanhic elementals, its remaining portions go into animals, of which the red-blooded come from man. Cold-blooded animals are from the matter of the past. ...

[I]n the body, kama is specially connected with the blood, liver, stomach, navel, and generative organs, leaving out now its organs in the head, which are connected with its psychic rather than with its animal aspect. ... [K]ama, while having as part of it bad passions and emotions, animal instincts, yet helps you to evolve, by giving also the desire and impulse necessary for rising. ... Hence the student must learn to dominate and purify kama, until only its energy is left as a motor power, and that energy directed wholly by the manasic will. (BCW 12:708-9)

Blavatsky goes on to say that at every incarnation the higher manas, or higher ego, shoots out a ray, the lower manas, that becomes the soul of a child. This ray – the chhaya of the higher mind – clothes itself in the highest degree of astral matter, and is then ready for incarnation (BCW 12:709-10).

3. Process of reincarnation

As the devachanic period of postmortem rest draws to a close, the reembodying ego is attracted back to the planes where it once lived.

[T]he consciousness of the ego begins to sink from dreaming into unconsciousness, and the gestation period preceding rebirth begins. [T]he auric egg, acting automatically and instinctively under the driving urge of the awakening karma, gradually forms within itself the vague outlines of the astral form, which latter slowly drifts to the family or the woman to which the karmic psychomagnetic attraction is strongest. (FSO 621)

In ES Instruction no. 3, HPB writes:

Now, the linga-sharira remains with the physical body, and fades out along with it. An astral entity then has to be created (a new linga-sharira provided) to become the bearer of all the past tanhas and future karma. How is this accomplished? The mediumistic ‘spook,’ the ‘departed angel,’ fades out and vanishes also in its turn as an entity or full image of the personality that was, and leaves in the kamalokic world of effects only the records of its misdeeds and sinful thoughts and acts, known in the phraseology of the occultists as tanhic or human ‘elementals.’ [Tanhā = ‘thirst’ for material life (OG 174).] It is these elementals which – upon entering into the composition of the ‘astral form’ of the new body, into which the ego, on its quitting the devachanic state, is to enter according to karmic decree – form that new astral entity which is born within the auric envelope, and of which it is often said ‘Karma, with its army of skandhas, waits at the threshold of devachan.’ [Key 141] For no sooner is the devachanic state of reward ended, than the ego is indissolubly united with (or rather follows in the track of) the new astral form. Both are karmically propelled towards the family or woman from which is to be born the animal child chosen by karma to become the vehicle of the ego which has just awakened from the devachanic state. Then the new astral form, composed partly of the pure akashic essence of the auric ‘egg,’ and partly of the terrestrial elements of the punishable sins and misdeeds of the last personality, is drawn into the woman. Once there, nature models the foetus of flesh around the astral, out of the growing materials of the male seed in the female soil. Thus grows out of the essence of a decayed seed the fruit or eidolon of the dead seed, the physical fruit producing in its turn within itself another and other seeds for future plants. (BCW 12:609-10)

G. de Purucker expands on this as follows:

The tanhic elementals may be otherwise described as the emotional and mental thought-deposits, as Patañjali did; and these remain after the second death – and before the ego’s entering the devachan – stamped upon the various kinds of life-atoms which had functioned on all the lower planes of man’s constitution. Some of these tanhic elementals or life-atoms peregrinate, and finally are psychomagnetically attracted back to the reincarnating ego during its process of bringing forth a new astral form preceding rebirth. Others belong to the monadic substances of the auric egg, and consequently remain therein in a latent condition, to awaken only when the devachani leaves the devachan. Then these dormant tanhic elementals, in combination with the other life-atoms which had been peregrinating, combine in building up the new astral form that H.P.B. speaks of; and it is largely these two classes of tanhic life-atoms or elementals which compose the skandhas of the man in his coming incarnation. And these skandhas are the various groups of mental, emotional, psychovital and physical characteristics which, when all collected together, make the new personality through which the higher man or egoic individuality works. ...

Now the formation of the astral man takes place within the auric egg of the ex-devachani. From the moment when the ego leaves the devachanic condition, the astral form becomes steadily more complete or definite as the gestating entity approaches entrance into the womb. The ray from the reincarnating ego enters first the aura and later the womb of the mother-to-be by means of the growing astral form, which takes its rise in and from the most appropriate life-center or life-atom latent in the auric egg of the incoming entity.

The term astral form is descriptive not so much of an actual body (as we think of it in our physical world), as it is of an ethereal agglomerate of life-atoms in the auric egg which is at first only vaguely shadowed, yet gradually assumes more or less a definite human outline, and usually one of extremely small size. ...

[T]he more material part of the new astral form is drawn first into the woman’s aura and then into the womb wherein it produces the living ovum and finds its suitable milieu; coincidently the inner and more manasic portion of the astral form, which is the more ethereal part of the tip of the ray from the reincarnating ego, flashes to the male parent and produces in its appropriate physiological seat the positive life-germ. ...

The human egos awaiting incarnation are exceedingly numerous, so that there may be scores of entities which could become children of any one couple, yet there is always one whose attraction is strongest to the mother-to-be at any specific physiological moment, and it is this astral form which becomes the child. ...

The entity thus preceding rebirth is attracted to the family to which its karma draws or impels it; and if the appropriate physiological activities take place at the right moment, then conception occurs and the growth of the embryo proceeds. ...

The reincarnating ego has in a sense very little choice in the matter, if by this we mean a deliberate selecting of one’s future family. Such a choice as we understand it is almost non-existent, because the reincarnating ego has just left the devachan and is sunken into the relative unconsciousness of the gestation period preceding rebirth, and thus is in no condition to choose with self-conscious intent. It is karma, which throughout controls these things ...

When the astral form has definite union with the human ovum, it begins to grow as the foetus. The lower or grosser portions of the astral form become the linga-sharira of the child, in combination with the two general classes of tanhic elementals; whereas its higher portions, the vehicles of the ‘ray’ from the reincarnating ego (as the embryo and later as the child grows), become the intermediate parts of the constitution ...

The vital germ cell, whether of man or of woman, is originally an integral part of the model-body, which is an electromagnetic body of astral substance belonging to the plane just above the physical; and around this astral form the physical body is built cell for cell, bone for bone, and feature for feature. ...

The astral form begins its first growth within the reimbodying auric egg, gestates within it and continues to be ‘fed’ by its essences throughout the prenatal processes, and in time brings about the stages of birth, infancy, childhood and adulthood; for, in fact, the auric egg is really the true manifested man considered as being the vital auric pranas flowing forth from the various foci of the reincarnating monad. (FSO 622-6)

Purucker also discusses this subject in his Dialogues (3:308-10): After a human has died and passed through the kama-loka, it enters its devachanic rest enclosed in the appropriate layers of its own auric egg or akashic envelope, which is extremely small, perhaps no larger than a pinpoint. As soon as the devachani begins its period of rest, the auric egg in which it dwells automatically begins to build a new linga-sharira for its next incarnation. This is done by the tanhic elementals – the elementals of thought, desire and emotion – working automatically on the substances of a portion of the auric envelope. This new linga-sharira remains in a foetal state in the auric egg during the entire devachan (cf BCW 12:704).

As the devachan comes to an end, the reincarnating ego within its auric egg is drawn to a potential mother and father with whom it has karmic links. The new astral form enters the woman’s body as the vital aura of the life-atom containing the reincarnating ego. A higher part of the energy of the reincarnating ego meanwhile enters the father’s body as a life-atom, but on a different plane. The mother’s body receives the linga-sharira, now passing from the foetal state it had in the devachani’s auric egg into a more advanced stage of growth. When a sperm fertilizes the ovum, the two life-atoms conjoin because of the intense psychomagnetic attraction between them.

Thenceforth the foetal linga-sharira, the ‘new astral form,’ begins to grow and to develop into the child which is finally born. The woman receives the lower element or new linga-sharira; but the seed of individuality, the seed of the egoic part of the reincarnating entity, is that ‘life-atom’ which has entered the man’s body. (Dialogues 3:310)

The auric egg shrinks after death because the energies comprising it are reabsorbed by the monad. As the devachan ends, the auric egg begins to swell and continues to do so until adulthood is reached (Dialogues 3:112-3).

In another discussion of this subject (SOP 106-8), Purucker says that when the blissful devachanic dreams of the reembodying ego begin to fade, memories of earthly things slowly reawaken. The tanhic elementals become more active in the ego’s ether-body or auric body, which begins to coarsen or materialize, and is attracted towards the earth sphere – a process that make take centuries or a few score years. This marks the beginning of the growth of the linga-sharira, which has the capacity to develop into the linga-sharira and the physical body of the child to be born. Before this stage is reached, the ray descending from the auric body establishes a magnetic connection with potential parents. In any human there are countless life-atoms which are strictly their own and originate from their own vitality. After death they become distributed among billions of inhabitants on earth. The contact of the ray from the reembodying ego with life-germs in two parents ‘is a contact with life-atoms that that ego used in its former body on earth’.

4. Model-body: some issues

Theosophy teaches ‘the birth of the astral, before the physical body: the former being a model for the latter’ (SD 2:1). The earliest humanities during the present round of evolution were astral-ethereal beings, and the physical body did not develop until the latter half of the third root-race (Evolution in the fourth round). The astral model-body explains how physical entities acquire their form and then maintain it, despite the constant turnover of their physical constituents.

This does not mean that no structure can come into being on any plane unless there is an identical, more ethereal template (model-body) on a higher plane. If that were the case, the astral model-body would require a more ethereal model-body, which would require an even more ethereal model-body, and so on. The kama-rupa is not the model-body for the astral body, though it does acquire a humanlike form in the course of its development; our higher (mental, spiritual, divine) bodies/souls do not have a human shape. A record of everything that has ever happened or existed is somehow imprinted on the substance of nature, and since every evolutionary cycle results from and builds on the events of previous cycles, and each incarnation is karmically connected with past incarnations, there are always blueprints of appropriate forms available for evolutionary purposes.

The following quotations imply that physical atoms and subatomic particles are concretions of astral atoms and particles, and that every object or entity composed of physical atoms has an astral counterpart.

Each atom has seven planes of being or existence ... (SD 1:150)

Every kosmic body or globe, be it sun or planet, nebula or comet, atom or electron, is a composite entity formed of ... seven principles or elements ... (OG 129-30)

Every atom is a sevenfold entity, with its physical body, its vitality, its astral body, its kamic principle, its manasic, its buddhic principle, and its atman. (Dialogues 1:395)

... the atoms of the physical world are the emanations [or] projections [of] the astral monad ... (FEP 407)

On the physical level, in human sexual reproduction, the male sex cell enters the female sex cell, causing it to divide and multiply; the resulting cells begin to differentiate and specialize, and form themselves into a variety of tissues, organs, etc., resulting nine months later in a fully formed baby. This process is a marvel to behold ( If every physical cell has an astral counterpart, the same process must be taking place simultaneously on the astral level. But is the astral body being formed in this way the astral model-body (linga-sharira), or does the latter already exist and provide the template for the final physical form that physical (and astral) embryogenesis is working towards?

The astral model-body begins forming when the reincarnating soul enters the devachanic state (Dialogues 3:308-9). The astral form is initially ‘vaguely shadowed’ and in a ‘foetal state’, but once the devachan has finished, it gradually assumes a more or less definite human outline of extremely small size (FSO 623). After conception the astral body grows until a certain date, but much more quickly than the physical body (Echoes 3:395), and it is ‘already perfect in shape before the child is born’ (Ocean 45). The physical body is built around (and partly from) the astral model-body, atom by atom, cell by cell, feature by feature (OG 8; FSO 624; ET 412).

[T]he growth of the embryo in the mother’s womb, and the growth of the little child when born, follows slavishly, point by point, the growth in formation of the astral body. But this astral body is always ahead of the physical body which comes trailing after, so to speak, in development. (Dialogues 1:393)

This can be interpreted to mean that the counterpart astral body (composed of the astral matter corresponding to each particle of the physical body) is the same as the astral model-body. But as W.Q. Judge says, the astral body that ‘extends to the very finger-tips and to the ends of the hair’ must be distinguished from the ‘chhaya’ that ends up in the spleen. The chhaya is the more ethereal ‘germ’, ‘foundation’ or ‘life-essence’ of the linga-sharira, and probably a miniature version of it (IGT 84), and begins forming long before conception.

After birth, the astral model-body undergoes only small alterations until the physical body dies, which happens when the astral body is no longer able to hold the physical form intact (Echoes 2:33-4). The physical body is constantly changing and its cells are being replaced, whereas the astral model-body ‘changes but little during a lifetime’ (Ocean 44). The astral body forms and moulds the physical body until the age of seven, after which the physical body forms the astral body (BCW 12:705).

Judge stated that contemporary science recognized that ‘the [physical] body undergoes a complete alteration and renovation every seven years’ (Ocean 41). Mahatma KH stated that science had accepted the Buddhist teaching that ‘a man of any given age, while sentiently the same, is yet physically not the same as he was a few years earlier (we say seven years and are prepared to maintain and prove it)’ (ML2 111-2 / MLc 199). According to modern science, different tissues replace cells at different rates and a few tissues never replace cells (; Some examples of estimated turnover rates are: stomach cells – 2-9 days; skin epidermis cells – 10-30 days; red blood cells – 4 months ; fat cells – 8 years; skeleton – 10 years; heart muscle cells – 3-50 years depending on age; cerebral cortex neurons and inner lens cells – lifetime.

Blavatsky says that ‘a man marked with the whip will have his astral body “full of the prints and scars”’ (Isis 1:327). According to Judge, a knife or acid cannot injure the astral body (Ocean 46). Blavatsky says that, although the astral body can easily pass through a table or other piece of furniture, it can be hurt by a sharp physical instrument (not by the astral counterpart of the instrument) (BCW 12:705-6). The astral bodies of living people, such as sorcerers, ‘fear steel, and may be wounded by sword or fire’; their wounds react on and leave marks and scars on the physical body, whereas the astral bodies of even ‘elementary apparitions’ cannot be hurt (BCW 6:348). Thus, if the linga-sharira is injured, it acts by repercussion on the physical body, to which it is linked by a material cord. No sharp instrument or weapon can hurt the mayavi-rupa, which has no material connection with the physical body (BCW 12:707).

The following case from the judicial records of England, reported by 19th-century Catholic writer R.G. des Mousseaux, suggests that repercussion can also take place with the mayavi-rupa. A woman called Jane Brooks was persecuting a child by visiting him in her astral form. On one occasion when the child screamed that the phantom double was present, a witness named Gilson slashed at it with a knife, though unable to see it. He then visited the woman’s home with the child’s father and a constable, and she was found sitting on her stool trying to conceal a hand covered with blood, bearing the wound the child said Gilson had inflicted on the phantom’s hand (ODL 1:389).

When a person dies, they see a panoramic review of their past life. It usually begins when all bodily activities have ceased, sometimes before the last heartbeat, and continues after the heart has stopped, taking some six hours on average.

Such a panorama occurs even when a man dies suddenly as the result of some accident, as for instance when the brain is blown to pieces or the body is burned alive. In these cases, the panorama takes place in the higher parts of the astral brain, which, although it is seriously affected, especially in its more material parts, nevertheless endures as a cohering organ somewhat longer than does the physical brain. (FSO 549-50)

5. Maternal impressions

W.Q. Judge says that the existence of an astral model-body explains

the cases of marking of the child in the womb sometimes denied by physicians but well-known by those who care to watch, to be a fact of frequent occurrence. The growing physical form is subject to the astral model; it is connected with the imagination of the mother by physical and psychical organs; the mother makes a strong picture from horror, fear, or otherwise, and the astral model is then similarly affected. In the case of marking by being born legless, the ideas and strong imagination of the mother act so as to cut off or shrivel up the astral leg, and the result is that the molecules, having no model of leg to work on, make no physical leg whatever; and similarly in all such cases. But where we find a man who still feels the leg which the surgeon has cut off, or perceives the fingers that were amputated, then the astral member has not been interfered with, and hence the man feels as if it were still on his person. For knife or acid will not injure the astral model, but in the first stages of its growth ideas and imagination have the power of acid and sharpened steel. (Ocean 45-6)

Blavatsky discusses this subject at length in Isis Unveiled (1:384-402, ch. 11). It is one aspect of the study of congenital abnormalities – also known as teratology. The marking of an unborn child by the mother’s imagination and emotions usually happens accidentally, after the pregnant mother has had a shocking or frightening experience. Blavatsky says that ‘the soul of the mother, violently affected by her imagination, blindly projects into the astral light an image of the object which impressed it, and, by re-percussion, that is stamped upon the foetus’ (Isis 1:397). She cites various examples:

Cornelius Gemma tells of a child that was born with his forehead wounded and running with blood, the result of his father’s threats toward his mother ‘... with a drawn sword which he directed toward her forehead’; Sennertius records the case of a pregnant woman who, seeing a butcher divide a swine’s head with his cleaver, brought forth her child with his face cloven in the upper jaw, the palate, and upper lip to the very nose. In Van Helmont’s De Injectis Materialibus [in his book Ortus medicinae], some very astonishing cases are reported: The wife of a tailor at Mechlin was standing at her door and saw a soldier’s hand cut off in a quarrel, which so impressed her as to bring on premature labor, and her child was born with only one hand, the other arm bleeding. In 1602, the wife of Marcus Devogeler, a merchant of Antwerp, seeing a soldier who had just lost his arm, was taken in labor and brought forth a daughter with one arm struck off and bleeding as in the first case. Van Helmont gives a third example of another woman who witnessed the beheading of thirteen men by order of the Duc d’Alva. The horror of the spectacle was so overpowering that she ‘suddainly fell into labour and brought forth a perfectly-formed infant, onely the head was wanting, but the neck bloody as their bodies she beheld that had their heads cut off. And that which does still advance the wonder is, that the hand, arme, and head of these infants were none of them to be found.’ (Isis 1:386)

One case was that of a Judge of an Imperial Court at Saratow, Russia, who always wore a bandage to cover a mouse-mark on the left side of his face. It was a perfectly-formed mouse, whose body was represented in high relief upon the cheek, and the tail ran upward across the temple and was lost in his hair. The body seemed glossy, gray, and quite natural. According to his own account, his mother had an unconquerable repugnance to mice, and her labor was prematurely brought on by seeing a mouse jump out from her workbox. (Isis 1:391)

Blavatsky also gives examples involving animals:

Let us consider the assertion of Magendie in the light of recorded instances of the power of imagination in producing monstrous deformities, where the question does not involve pregnant women. He admits that these occur daily in the offspring of the lower animals; how does he account for the hatching of chickens with hawk-heads, except upon the theory that the appearance of the hereditary enemy acted upon the hen’s imagination, which, in its turn, imparted to the matter composing the germ a certain motion which, before expanding itself, produced the monstrous chicks? We know of an analogous case, where a tame dove, belonging to a lady of our acquaintance, was frightened daily by a parrot, and in her next brood of young there were two squabs with parrots’ heads, the resemblance even extending to the color of the feathers. We might also cite Columella, Youatt, and other authorities, together with the experience of all animal breeders, to show that by exciting the imagination of the mother, the external appearance of the offspring can be largely controlled. These instances in no degree affect the question of heredity, for they are simply special variations of type artificially caused. (Isis 1:397-8)

Blavatsky says that the examples she gives ‘suffice to show that there is reason to attribute these aberrations of physiological type to the mutual reaction of the maternal mind and the universal ether upon each other’ (Isis 1:400). The medical authorities of Blavatsky’s day tended to dismiss the possibility of a mother’s mental impressions causing foetal deformities and teratological monsters, and attributed apparent cases of this to ‘coincidence’.

As Ian Stevenson pointed out, the possibility of maternal impressions affecting a baby in the womb ‘is accepted in most parts of the world today’ – but not by orthodox medical authorities.

It was accepted without challenge in the West until the early 18th century. Advances in anatomy and physiology then showed that there is no physical connection between a pregnant woman and her gestating baby through the placenta or otherwise that could mediate the expression in the baby of a mental image in the mother-to-be. The skepticism that these observations stimulated spread slowly. In the 19th century and through the first two decades of [the 20th century], the leading medical journals of the United States, Great Britain, and Europe published numerous reports of maternal impressions. (1997, 24)

In 1890 a paediatrician at the University of Virginia reviewed 90 cases of maternal impressions published between 1853 and 1886, and concluded that in 77% of the cases there was ‘quite a close correspondence’ between the impression on the mother and the baby’s defect. Stevenson himself studied reports of about 300 cases in medical journals, books and other publications from the US and Europe, and selected 50 of them for detailed analysis. One case involved a woman whose brother had to have his penis amputated due to cancer. While she was pregnant, her curiosity impelled her to have a look at the sight of her brother’s amputation; she later gave birth to a male baby without a penis. In the general population, congenital absence of the penis occurs in only 1 in 30 million babies.

Stevenson found that the events associated with the later birth of deformed babies occurred more often than would be expected by chance in the first trimester of pregnancy than in the second and third trimesters. During the first trimester the embryo is also most sensitive to noxious drugs, such as thalidomide, and to infections like rubella.

One case that Stevenson personally investigated involved a male baby (Sampath Priyasantha) born in Sri Lanka without any arms and with severely deformed legs, who died at the age of about 20 months. Before the child’s birth, the father and his brothers had killed a young man in the village by severing his arms and legs with a sword and leaving him to die. The murdered man was considered a bully and had allegedly killed several people. The dead man’s mother cursed the murderer and his family, saying they would be punished for killing her son by having a defective child. The murderers were arrested and imprisoned. The father sometimes came home on leave and his wife had another baby – a normal, healthy girl. But their next child was the severely malformed boy. Some of the villagers believed the boy was the reincarnation of the murdered man, but a maternal impression is another possible explanation (1997, 26-7).

Maternal impressions are only one of the potential causes of congenital deformities. Modern science focuses on genetic causes, lack of nutrients, and exposure to toxins, alcohol and infections as factors in abnormal foetal and embryonic development. Its mistake is to rule out maternal impressions altogether because this does not fit in with their materialistic beliefs.


Ian Stevenson, Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect, London: Praeger, 1997

6. Phantom limbs

As explained in the previous section, a mother’s imagination can directly impact the astral body of a developing embryo, resulting in corresponding deformities in the physical body. After birth, the loss of a physical limb by accident or amputation is unlikely to affect the corresponding limb of the astral model-body. Some clairvoyants have reported seeing the astral limb still present. However, if all the atoms of the physical limb are always accompanied by an astral counterpart, the removed physical limb might still have an astral limb interpenetrating it (perhaps on some grosser level of the astral plane), even though the corresponding limb of the astral model-body remains attached to the astral body (cf appendix 1).

The vast majority of people who lose a limb continue to feel sensations – at least for a time – in the missing limb, as if it is still there. If a deformed limb or body part is removed, the deformity is usually carried over to the phantom. Phantom sensations may also occur after the removal of eyes, teeth, tongue, nose, breasts, penis, testes, bowel and bladder. Many people sense the phantom body part for a few days or weeks after its loss while others sense it for the rest of their lives. Phantoms do not usually disappear forever, and may return decades after they seem to have gone.

Some 70% of amputees suffer phantom pain, ranging from occasional and mild to continuous and severe; the burning, aching or shooting pain usually declines with time. Other sensations include tingling, tickling, cramps, twitching, itching, numbness, cold and warmth. Many people with phantoms can move them at will, even through solid objects like beds and tables. They may find themselves trying to pick things up with a phantom arm. Cats have been seen trying to use an amputated leg.

A phantom arm or leg is usually felt to move in coordination with the rest of the body, just like a physical arm or leg, but sometimes it is felt to be stuck in some unusual position. For instance, a man whose phantom arm was bent behind him, slept only on his abdomen or on his side because the phantom got in the way when he tried to rest on his back. Some people report that their phantoms feel as if they shrink with time, but this does not usually happen if they wear artificial arms or legs; the phantom fits the prosthesis like a hand fits a glove. If a person starts wearing a prosthesis after their phantom has shrunk, the phantom usually grows again to fit it. People who wear artificial limbs usually take them off when they go to bed, and the phantom may then become very painful.

Phantom pain is usually treated with a variety of drugs. Shock therapy, acupuncture, muscle relaxation, meditation, biofeedback, massage and hypnosis sometimes help patients deal with phantom symptoms. If non-invasive treatments fail to work, stimulation of the spinal cord, intrathecal drug delivery and deep brain stimulation may be used. Most treatments do not lead to consistent symptom improvement.

Needless to say, the existence of astral limbs is not taken seriously by orthodox medicine; phantom limbs are assumed to exist only in a person’s head. The main hypothesis for phantom limbs used to be that impulses from the severed nerve ends (neuromas) in the limb-stump travel via the spinal cord to the brain and generate sensations in the sensory regions of the cerebral cortex that are then ‘referred’ to the missing limb. Attempts have been made to tackle phantom pain by cutting the nerves just above the neuromas or where they enter the spinal cord and by removing areas of the thalamus and sensory cortex that would have received impulses from the missing limb, but the phantom remained and any pain relief was at best temporary.

The nerve hypothesis fails to explain how between 10% and 20% of people born without a limb have phantoms even though there is no nerve injury. For instance, a girl born without forearms or hands learned arithmetic by placing her vivid phantom hands on her desk and counting on her outstretched phantom fingers. The phantoms of congenitally absent limbs are rarely painful.

The favoured hypothesis for explaining phantom limbs and pain is now neuroplasticity, i.e. the ability of neurons to modify their connections and behaviour. The brain is thought to rewire itself after loss of a limb, and this may result in sensory input from other parts of the body being falsely attributed to a limb that no longer exists. Rupert Sheldrake comments:

The sprouting of new nervous connections within the brain may shed light on some aspects of phantoms, but it cannot explain their existence in the first place, because they appear immediately after amputation, long before any remapping has had time to occur. (2011, 343)

Patients who have been anaesthetized may experience a phantom arm or leg until the anaesthetic wears off. 90% of patients who are given local anaesthetic before surgery on their arms experience a phantom arm within 20 to 40 minutes of the anaesthetic being injected.

When they close their eyes, they can move their arm around and lift it up, and also flex their hand and move their fingers. The arm feels completely real. Yet when they open their eyes they are usually amazed to see that their actual arm is lying immobile on the bed, while the phantom arm they experience is in a different position. Typically, when they realize the discrepancy, the phantom rapidly moves back into the real limb, fusing with it. (Sheldrake, 2011, 343)

Under anaesthetic, many patients experience phantom legs, which are usually partly flexed, so that when a patient is lying on their back, the phantom leg often rises in the air above the physical leg.

Seven amputees with a vivid phantom arm took part in an experiment in which they used visual imagery to learn to perform a phantom wrist movement that defied normal anatomical constraints, and four of them felt they succeeded in performing the previously impossible movement. ‘Remarkably,’ say the researchers, ‘some previous movements and functional tasks involving the phantom arm became more difficult once the shift in body image had occurred.’ Some lower limb amputees have reported ‘bending back’ their phantom shin to avoid contact with solid objects. Such phenomena are interpreted to mean that amputees can modify the neural representation of their phantom limbs (Moseley & Brugger, 2009).

An interesting case concerns a 57-year-old woman who was born with a deformed right hand consisting of only three fingers and a rudimentary thumb. After a car crash at the age of 18, her deformed hand was amputated, giving rise to feelings of a phantom hand, but one with all five fingers (though some of the digits were foreshortened). 35 years after her accident, her phantom hand became unbearably painful. The treatment involved using false visual feedback from a mirror: the reflection of her healthy left hand was seen as superimposed onto where she felt her phantom right hand to be. After two weeks she was able to move her phantom fingers and was relieved of pain, and all her phantom fingers were now of normal length. This was interpreted to mean that an innate (hard-wired) representation of a fully formed hand had always been present in her brain (McGeoch & Ramachandran, 2012).

Experiments have demonstrated that there is a difference between ‘real’ movements of phantom limbs and imagined movements (Reilly, 2012). When amputees imagine moving the missing limb (which is not associated with the feeling that their limb has changed position), they take less time than when they actually move the phantom limb (which is associated with the feeling that the limb’s position has changed as well as with contractions in stump muscles).

Around 60% of men who have their penis amputated due to cancer experience a phantom penis. Some of the men experience phantom erections and even phantom orgasms. In post-operative male-to-female transsexuals the incidence of phantom penises is only 30%. Interestingly, over 60% of female-to-male transsexuals also report phantom penises; many claim to have experienced this since early childhood. One hypothesis is that the brains of transsexuals are ‘hard-wired’ in a manner opposite to that of their biological sex ‘perhaps due to a dissociation during embryological development’ (Ramachandran & McGeoch, 2008).

To investigate cases of phantom limbs properly, a person with advanced clairvoyant powers would be needed, to describe what is happening at the astral level. The continued presence of an astral limb is likely to be a major factor in phantom limb cases, but the plasticity and adaptability of our minds and brains are also key factors. It would be interesting to know whether, in the case of people born with a missing limb who feel a phantom, the astral limb is in fact present, implying that the person was born without the corresponding physical limb because of physical factors that interfered with normal embryonic development.

A possibly related phenomenon is the ‘phantom effect’ that sometimes shows up in Kirlian photography (high-voltage photography). If a Kirlian photo is taken of a leaf after a portion has been cut off, a ghostly outline of the missing portion is sometimes visible in the image (see appendix 2).

According to many traditions, the body retains some sort of connection with a part that has been separated from it. This is one of the key principles of sympathetic magic. For instance, in some cultures (e.g. in Malaysia) there is a belief that an enemy might use a person’s fingernail clippings to harm them by witchcraft. Similarly, a severed limb is believed to continue to affect the person it was once part of. This possibility is illustrated by the following reports (Sheldrake, 1994, 126-8).

An American man was suffering great pain in an amputated arm so his friends dug it up and, after they had straightened out the fingers, the pain disappeared. Another story concerns a man who had a finger amputated and preserved in a jar, which was kept in his mother’s heated basement. The man was alright for several years but then started complaining of a feeling of extreme cold in the missing finger. It turned out that there was a broken window a few inches from the jar containing the finger. As soon as the finger was warmed up, the pain left.

Another case concerns a 14-year-old boy who suffered severe burning pain in his phantom leg following an amputation. The previous year a schoolteacher had told the story of a man who experienced stinging pain in a phantom limb. When the leg was dug up, ants were found to be burrowing into it; the pain ceased when the ants were removed and the leg was carefully buried again. As a result of hearing this story, the boy believed that the incineration of his amputated leg was the cause of the burning pain in the phantom.

After a car accident, a 16-year-old girl had both her legs amputated. She later suffered severe burning pains in her phantoms. Under hypnosis she remembered telling the surgeon to bury her legs rather than incinerate them, but he ignored her request. A psychiatrist treated her by suggesting, under hypnosis, that her legs were still with her in a spiritual sense. She reported increased feelings of wellbeing and her phantom pain completely disappeared. This is one of the rare cases of a complete cure.


Cheriyedath, S., ‘What is a phantom limb?’, July 2016,

McGeoch, P.D., & Ramachandran, V.S., ‘The appearance of new phantom fingers post-amputation in a phocomelus’, Neurocase, v. 18, no. 2, 2012, pp. 95-7,

Melzack, Ronald, ‘Phantom limbs’, 1 Sep 2006,

Moseley, G.L., & Brugger, P., ‘Interdependence of movement and anatomy persists when amputees learn a physiologically impossible movement of their phantom limb’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, v. 106, no. 44, 2009, pp. 18798-18802,

Ramachandran, V.S., & McGeoch, P.D., ‘Phantom penises in transsexuals’, Journal of Consciousness Studies, v. 15, no. 1, 2008, pp. 5-16,

Karen Reilly, ‘The moving phantom: motor execution or motor imagery?’, July 2012,

Sheldrake, Rupert, Seven Experiments that Could Change the World, London: Fourth Estate, 1994

Sheldrake, Rupert, The Presence of the Past: Morphic resonance and the habits of nature, London: Icon Books, 2nd ed., 2011

Subedi, B., & Grossberg, G.T., ‘Phantom limb pain: mechanisms and treatment approaches’, Pain Research and Treatment, 2011,

7. Occult phenomena

The astral model-body and kama-rupa play a role in numerous paranormal, mediumistic and spiritualistic phenomena. The astral senses are involved in telepathy, clairvoyance, clairaudience and precognition. W.Q. Judge writes:

In clairvoyance the pictures in the astral light pass before the inner vision and are reflected into the physical eye from within. They then appear objectively to the seer. If they are of past events or those to come, the picture only is seen; if of events actually then occurring, the scene is perceived through the astral light by the inner sense. ...

The highest order of clairvoyance – that of spiritual vision – is very rare. The usual clairvoyant deals only with the ordinary aspects and strata of the astral matter. Spiritual sight comes only to those who are pure, devoted, and firm. (Ocean 160-1)

A medium’s astral body can be extended from the physical body and act outside it; it may extrude a hand, arm or leg and thereby move objects, write letters, produce touches on the body, etc. (Ocean 171). An extruded astral hand and arm can grasp objects up to about 10 feet away. Another way of moving objects at a distance is by learning to control the elemental nature-forces (Ocean 158-9). Control over nature’s finer forces is also required for materializing, dematerializing and teleporting objects and for levitation.

During the heyday of spiritualism, ectoplasmic limbs or prolongations – known as ‘pseudopods’ – were sometimes seen emanating from various parts of a medium’s body. Sometimes a seemingly detached ‘phantom hand’ or ‘spirit hand’, extruded from the medium’s astral body, would become visible.

In the presence of certain mediums these seemingly detached members will gradually develop from a luminous nebula, pick up a pencil, write messages, and then dissolve before the eyes of the witnesses. (Isis 2:594)

Mediums – who can unconsciously manipulate astral forces due to dislocation of their inner constitution – are sometimes able to galvanize into life and communicate with the kama-rupas of dead humans, which still possess a degree of instinctive intelligence and memory. These astral corpses are generally mistaken for the ‘spirits of the dead’ (Life beyond death). Mediums also draw information from other people’s minds, especially those present at a seance, and from the vast store of information imprinted on the astral plane.

Judge gives three possible explanations of ‘spirit’ materializations (Ocean 48-9, 168-9; Echoes 1:183-6, 384-8):
1) The medium’s astral body is exuded and becomes visible by drawing particles from the air and the bodies of those present at the seance. It may resemble the medium or assume the appearance of a dead person whose image is present on the astral plane.
2) A deceased person’s kama-rupa (astral shell) may become visible under certain conditions.
3) An unseen mass of matter is collected from the atmosphere, the medium or other people present, and a picture of any desired person, living or dead, is reflected on it from the store of pictures on the astral plane.

H.P. Blavatsky says that the liver corresponds to kama, and is closely connected with the spleen, as is kama with the linga-sharira, and both are involved in generating the blood. ‘The liver is the general, the spleen the aide-de-camp’ (BCW 12:699). G. de Purucker writes:

The liver is the seat of the personal man, the kama-manasic individual; and the spleen, the lieutenant of the former, is the seat of the astral body, the linga-sharira. Even at séances ... it has been shown how the astral body of the medium oozes out, first as a slender thread, and then becomes, when the manifestation is genuine, what is now called ‘ectoplasm,’ really thickened astral stuff; and it is from the spleen that this astral body comes forth. (MiE 199-200)

Front view of the liver. The liver’s main job is to filter the blood coming from the
digestive tract, before passing it to the rest of the body. (

Whatever the source of ectoplasm, it has been observed emerging from various parts of a medium’s body, including mouth, ears, nipples and vagina (Visitors from the twilight zone).

The astral model-body ‘cannot go more than a few feet from the physical one’ (Ocean 46), and the kama-rupa cannot be separated from the physical body during life (BCW 12:708). It is the mayavi-rupa that can be projected – intentionally or involuntarily – to great distances. Projection of the mayavi-rupa requires ‘years of careful training and numerous experiments. And it cannot be consciously done until the inner man has developed and cohered into something more than irresponsible and quivering jelly. This development and coherence are gained by perfecting the power of concentration’ (Echoes 1:68).

Explaining why an astral form that appears to another person is clothed, Judge writes:

Everything in nature has its double or astral on other planes, the fact being that nothing visible in matter or space could be produced without such for basis. The clothes are seen as well as the person because they exist on the astral [plane] as well as he. Besides this, the reason why people are seen in the astral plane with clothes of various cut and color is because of the thought and desire of the person which clothes him thus. Hence a person may be seen in the astral light wearing there a suit of clothes utterly unlike what he has on his body at the time, because his thought and desire were upon another suit, more comfortable, more appropriate, or what not, and which therefore clothes his astral form. This fact I testify to from actual experience and observation. (Echoes 3:401-2)

Blavatsky says that a mayavi-rupa can inflict a mortal wound on the inner body of another person by the force of will. The victim’s astral body is not hurt or killed, but the reaction of the physical body can be fatal (BCW 4:566). She relates a case in which an old woman, eager for revenge on the murderers of a prince, instructed an entranced, mediumistic gypsy girl to seek out the murderers in her mayavi-rupa and kill them. While carrying out the attack, the girl’s physical body slashed at the air around her with a stiletto, while foaming at the mouth. At the same time, the two victims, far away, were seen to scream and stagger around a room, as if trying to ward off the blows of an unseen weapon. Afterwards their corpses showed no external wounds, only numerous dark spots and marks on the skin. An autopsy revealed coagulated blood beneath these discolorations (BCW 1:163-73).

Blavatsky sometimes calls the mayavi-rupa the ‘kama-rupa’, and she uses these two terms in a variety of ways:

- The mayavi-rupa or thought body is ‘the vehicle both of thought and of the animal passions and desires’ during life, and forms the kama-rupa after death (BCW 10:219).

- She cites a case where the figure of a young soldier appeared in hospital dress to the captain of his company and requested that his pay be forwarded to his mother, whose address he then gave; it turned out that the soldier had died the previous day. She comments that ‘the intense thought and anxiety felt by the soldier in his dying moments for his mother’ could easily create a kama-rupa, ‘a form born of and generated by the powerful desire of the still living man’ (BCW 3:282-3).

- What appears as the double is called the mayavi-rupa ‘when acting blindly’ and the kama-rupa ‘when compelled into an objective shape by the conscious will and desire of its possessor’ (BCW 4:53).

- If someone clairvoyantly sees a dying friend at a distance, what they are seeing is the latter’s ‘concentrated thought’, an image produced by their will-energy, whereas if many people see the apparition, the projection of the mayavi-rupa is involved (BCW 6:138).

It would be better to follow Purucker’s usage and to call the astral-mental form that can be projected to distant locations the mayavi-rupa regardless of whether it is produced consciously or unconsciously, and to call the seat of the lower mind the kama-rupa, both before and after death. In some cases, an apparition might be more of a semi-materialized thought-form than a mayavi-rupa.

8. Astral body, morphic fields and genetics


Mainstream science does not have a satisfactory explanation for morphogenesis – i.e. for how a developing organism acquires its specific form. How does an acorn manage to grow into an oak tree, or a fertilized human egg into an adult human being? Genes do not explain this. Genes contain instructions for assembling amino acids into proteins, the building blocks of our bodies. In protein synthesis, one of the two intertwined strands of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is transcribed to give a single-stranded molecule of messenger RNA (ribonucleic acid), from which the sequence of bases is read off three at a time (DNA contains four nitrogen-containing bases: adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine); different triplets of bases (known as codons) specify different amino acids. In this way the genetic code is translated into sequences of amino acids, which link together and then fold up into proteins (Evolution and design).

In addition to structural genes, there are regulatory genes (also known as homeotic, homeobox, or toolbox genes), which code for proteins that turn other genes on or off and control the pattern in which different parts of an embryo or larva develop. Some regulatory genes are remarkably similar in fruit flies, worms, fish and mammals, so these genes alone do not determine form, otherwise fruit flies would look like us.

In other words, neither structural nor regulatory genes contain instructions telling proteins how to combine into cells, tissues, organs, and entire organisms. Orthodox biologists assume this can be explained in terms of self-assembly. If the right proteins are produced in the right order in the right places at the right times, morphogenesis can supposedly take place spontaneously. As Rupert Sheldrake (2009, 57) remarks, ‘This is rather like saying that a house can build itself spontaneously as long as the right building materials are delivered to the building site at the right times.’

Neo-Darwinists hope that epigenetic (i.e. nongenetic) information contained in cell structures other than DNA – such as patterns in the cytoskeleton (the cellular scaffolding in a cell’s cytoplasm) and in the cell membrane – will help explain how organisms acquire their three-dimensional form (Evolution and design). But unless these structures arise magically out of nowhere, they too are likely to be the result of more fundamental causes.

Regulation and regeneration

If part of a developing organism is destroyed or removed at a sufficiently early stage, many organisms continue to develop in such a way that more or less normal structures are produced – this phenomenon is known as embryonic regulation. For instance, if one of the cells of a very young sea-urchin embryo at the two-celled stage is killed, the remaining cell gives rise not to half a sea urchin but to a small but complete sea urchin, and the fusion of two young sea-urchin embryos results in the development of one giant sea urchin. Rupert Sheldrake writes:

Regulation occurs in all developing organisms, in animals and plants. In animals, as development proceeds, this capacity is often lost as the fate of different regions of the embryo becomes determined, as in limbs and livers. But even when determination occurs at an early stage, as in insect embryos, regulation still occurs after damage to the egg.

Results of this type show that developing plants and animals proceed towards a morphological goal. They have some property that specifies this goal and enables them to reach it, even if parts of the system are removed and the normal course of development is disturbed. (Sheldrake, 2009, 34-5)

Experimental tissue-grafting work on frog eggs and developing tadpoles shows that if a limb bud is removed and a tail bud grafted in its place, the tail bud is converted into a limb. And if the tissues in a developing frog egg are transposed by cutting and grafting, material that would have become skin is converted into a spinal cord, and vice versa. In another experiment, a portion of one newt embryo was transplanted into another developing newt embryo, which then produced two bodies, each with a head and tail, but joined together at the belly; the anatomy of the embryo was thus dramatically altered even though its DNA remained unchanged (Evolution and design).

Organisms also have the ability to replace or restore damaged structures – a phenomenon known as regeneration.

All organisms have some regenerative powers, even if only when young or only in certain tissues. For example, we ourselves are continuously regenerating our blood, our intestinal lining, our skin; our wounds heal; broken bones knit themselves together; severed nerves grow out again; and if part of the liver is lost, new liver tissue develops to replace it. (Sheldrake, 2011, 111)

Many plants are capable of total regeneration, i.e. the formation of a whole individual from a single fragment such as a stem, root, leaf, or even a small slip from such an organ (as in grafting). If the trunk, branches and twigs of a willow tree are cut up into hundreds of pieces, they can all grow into new trees. Among animals, the lower the form, the more capable it is of regeneration. Some multicellular organisms (e.g. starfish, hydras, flatworms, newts and salamanders) can regenerate new heads, limbs, internal organs, or other body parts if the originals are lost or injured. If a flatworm is cut up into several pieces, each piece grows into a new worm. If the lens is surgically removed from a newt’s eye, a new lens regenerates from the edge of the iris, whereas in normal embryonic development the lens is formed from the skin.

Regeneration of a lens from the margin of the iris in a newt’s eye after removal of the original lens.

According to theosophy, each living cell possesses an inherent drive towards self-expression, originating in the inner, invisible part of its constitution. The cells thrown off by earlier, astral races of humanity often developed into lower creatures because the dominance of the inner human entity over the cells was far weaker than it now is (Evolution in the fourth round). Today, ‘a free human cell or an amputated human limb or a bit of the human body cut off from the trunk does not grow into another human being or, perhaps, into some inferior entity, as was often the case in the zoological past’ (MiE 145-6). The cells in vertebrate animals have largely lost the power of self-expression. However, invertebrates still possess a faculty of self-repair, allowing them to regenerate a lost limb or tail. Nowadays, the cells in such creatures ‘are impelled to follow the reproductive tendency of the limb only to which they belong’.

This method of the regeneration of lost parts, or of reproduction, prevailed in a past time in the human frame, as much as and as fully as in the cases of the lower creatures ... And it was this general method of reproduction which gave rise to the various animate stocks ... (MiE 146-7)

Abnormal development

Mutations in homeotic genes can lead to abnormal embryological development. Experiments on plants and animals have shown that such mutations can lead to the loss of an entire structure or the replacement of one structure by another. Sometimes such changes can be caused by changes in the environment of the developing organism. Such effects have been studied in detail in the fruit fly Drosophila. Mutant flies may have extra wings, no wings at all, legs instead of antennae, antennae instead of legs, or extra eyes on different parts of their anatomy. However, not all flies with a particular mutation have a mutant form, and sometimes a mutant form may be expressed only partially: for example, mutants sometimes have a normal antenna on one side of their head and a leg instead of an antenna on the other.

Above: A normal specimen of the fruit fly Drosophila (top), and a mutant fly in which the third thoracic segment has been transformed so that it duplicates the second thoracic segment.
On the left, the head of a normal fruit fly; on the right, the head of a mutant fly in which the antennae are transformed into legs.


A mutation in the bithorax gene complex of fruit flies can result in the birth of four-winged flies. Exposing the eggs of normal two-winged fruit flies to fumes of ether three hours after they are laid can also produce four-winged flies. This happens not because ether induces specific mutations in the DNA, but because it disturbs the normal pattern of development, just as exposing human embryos to thalidomide results in abnormal limbs.

Sheldrake suggests that some morphological abnormalities are reversions to patterns of development of more or less remote ancestral species. For instance, the formation of two pairs of wings in bithorax mutants of Drosophila can be seen as a throwback to the four-winged ancestors of flies.

Astral body and morphic fields

Stuart Pivar (2011, 4, 83) notes that during embryogenesis ‘cells seem to run about helter-skelter, organizing themselves into organs as though they knew in advance where to go, all to the utter confusion of embryologists. ... It is difficult, if not impossible, to assign epigenetic, mechanically causative effects to the successive steps of observed embryology. Instead, it is as though the cells give the illusion of filling an invisible mold.’ According to theosophy, this mould or blueprint is the astral model-body.

Since the 1920s many biologists have proposed that biological organization depends on some kind of developmental or morphogenetic field, but without explaining in concrete terms what such a field is. Rupert Sheldrake suggests that morphogenetic fields are a new type of field so far unknown to science and ‘work by imposing patterns on otherwise random or indeterminate patterns of activity’ ( He argues that the shape and structure of a physical body are organized by a hierarchy of morphogenetic fields, one for every atom, molecule, cell, tissue and organ up to the body as a whole. He points out that the electromagnetic fields surrounding organisms, which reflect changes in the current state of the organism, must not be confused with morphogenetic fields. Harold Saxton Burr made this mistake when he claimed that electrodynamic ‘life fields’ act as blueprints for development.

Sheldrake proposes that, besides morphogenetic fields, there are also other types of morphic fields, such as behavioural fields, mental fields, social fields, cultural fields and the morphic field of the entire planet. He proposes that morphic fields contain an inherent memory, transmitted through ‘morphic resonance’ from previous similar fields. The fields themselves are not static, but evolve, and when the entity they organize dies they continue to exist as ‘potential organizing patterns of influence’. He describes morphic fields as ‘probability structures’ and ‘fields of information’, but insists that they are not composed of matter-energy of any kind. However, if that were true, they would be pure nothingness and would have no effect on anything (Sheldrake appraisal). As it stands, Sheldrake’s theory is an extreme form of dualism: a realm of disembodied, energy-less probability patterns somehow interacting with the realm of energy-substance.

Sheldrake argues that, during embryogenesis, groups of relatively unspecialized cells act as ‘morphogenetic germs’ that tune into the morphogenetic fields that guide the development of particular bodily structures. In animal embryos embryologists have identified many organizing centres that play a key role in the development of tissues and organs, and he thinks these may be the germs that morphogenetic fields become associated with. A morphogenetic field contains the virtual final form of the developing system, whether it be part of an organism or the entire organism; the virtual form is actualized as appropriate component parts come within the field’s range of influence and take up their relative positions.

A given type of morphogenesis usually follows a particular developmental pathway, but may also proceed towards the final form from different morphogenetic germs and by different pathways, as in the phenomena of regulation and regeneration. In Sheldrake’s theory, if unusual environmental conditions or genetic alterations change the structure and oscillatory pattern of a morphogenetic germ sufficiently, it will no longer become associated with its usual morphogenetic field. It will either fail to act as a germ at all, in which case an entire structure will fail to appear, or become associated with a different morphogenetic field, in which case a structure not normally found in this part of the organism will develop instead of the usual one. In other words, mutations in homeotic genes affect the tuning of morphogenetic germs to particular morphogenetic fields, just as an alteration to a transistor or condenser in a tuning circuit could cause a television to tune in to a different channel or to lose the ability to tune in to any channel at all.

If genetic mutations or other factors cause extra morphogenetic germs to form within developing organisms, certain structures can be repeated more than usual.

A familiar horticultural example is that of ‘double’ flowers, containing additional petals. Human babies are sometimes born with extra fingers or toes. And many instances of abnormally reduplicated structures can be found in the standard texts on teratology, ranging from double-headed calves to monstrous multiple pears.

As these additional structures develop, regulation occurs in such a way that they are integrated more or less completely with the rest of the organism: for example, extra petals in double flowers have normal vascular connections, and extra fingers and toes have a proper blood supply and innervation. (Sheldrake, 2009, 177)

In Sheldrake’s theory, then, changes in physical genes or ambient conditions can interfere with the normal pattern of physical development by preventing attunement to the relevant morphic fields, and not because they affect the morphic fields themselves.

From a theosophical perspective, there are two possibilities: either the developing astral body is adversely affected by mutations in physical genes or changes in ambient conditions (exposure to toxins, X-rays, heat etc.), or perhaps by the corresponding events on the astral level; or the astral body is unaffected by such changes (in contrast to the damage inflicted by thoughts and emotions in the case of maternal impressions). In the first scenario, the malformed physical body slavishly copies the malformed astral body. In the second scenario, the physical body is malformed but the astral body is not; if ‘morphological germs’ in the developing embryo depart too far from their normal state, they fail to produce an exact physical copy of the corresponding parts of the astral body, or they give rise to extra physical copies of the ‘wrong’ astral structures if a resonance develops with these structures. To say for certain what is happening on the astral level, it would be necessary to possess clairvoyant vision.

In the late 1950s and early 60s, thalidomide was prescribed to treat morning sickness in pregnant women. This led to the birth of over 10,000 children with severely deformed limbs and other defects. At the physical level, thalidomide is believed to lead to the loss or disruption of newly formed blood vessels, thereby interfering with normal development ( The question is whether the drug leads to corresponding deformities in the astral body. The fact that people born without a limb because their mothers took thalidomide sometimes have phantom limbs suggests that the corresponding astral limb may in some cases be present.

Regulation and regeneration poses similar questions. When a flatworm is cut into pieces and each piece develops into a whole worm, it’s possible that the astral body is likewise cut into pieces, and that each of these portion is capable to regenerating itself – but again, this could only be verified using occult methods.

The following instances of regeneration in salamanders raise interesting issues. If, within five to seven days after it first appears, the blastema (the mass of unspecialized cells from which a new limb grows) from the stump of an amputated foreleg is grafted near the hind leg, it grows into a second hind leg, whereas if it is slightly older, it produces a foreleg (Becker & Selden, 1985, 49-50). In other words, the blastema is ‘programmed’ by nearby tissues, and is ‘reprogrammed’ if moved to a different location within a few days, but not if a longer period has elapsed. Such scenarios could not arise in the wild, but are the result of human ‘ingenuity’.

An abnormally developing astral or physical body still does its best to reach the normal final form and ensure that, despite any abnormalities, the final form produced is viable. This is made possible by the instinctive intelligence that pervades nature. Every cell has a consciousness of its own kind and a certain freedom of action (BCW 12:365); it has its own memory, instinct, relative intelligence and discriminative powers (BCW 10:322; 12:134). Animals born with abnormal bodies sometimes manage to survive by modifying their movements and behaviour.

Orthodox science simply assumes that instincts are somehow programmed in genes or the nervous system, and that all forms of mental activity can be reduced to electrochemical activity in the brain. In Sheldrake’s theory, there is a behavioural morphic field for every pattern of instinctive behaviour and a mental field for every thought or idea. He argues that the conscious self is separate from the brain; it either interacts with the brain through mental and behavioural morphic fields, or is a ‘subjective aspect’ of mental and behavioural fields.

Theosophically, humans consist of a series of interpenetrating and interacting vehicles of consciousness composed of different grades of energy-substance: the spiritual-divine self works through the reincarnating soul (higher mind), which works through the kama-rupa (lower mind), which works through the astral model-body, which works through the physical body. Instincts and mental activities are connected with patterns of vibratory activity in our subtle bodies, every particle of which is alive and conscious to some degree.


From the standpoint of orthodox science, we inherit certain bodily characteristics from our parents through our genes. It used to be thought that a simple trait like eye colour was determined by a single gene. But as many as 15 genes have so far been associated with eye colour inheritance. So scientists now believe that our characteristics are the result of multiple genes interacting with each other and with the environment. There is also growing recognition that changes in gene activity and expression can be inherited epigenetically through chemical changes in the chromosomes.

The human genome project revealed that we only have about 20,000 protein-coding genes, far fewer than the 100,000 expected. Sea urchins have around 26,000, rice plants 38,000, and lily cells contain 30 times more DNA than human cells. Moreover, the predictive value of human genomes turns out to be very limited. Tall parents tend to have tall children; in fact, 80 to 90% of the variation in children’s height can be explained in terms of their parents’ height. About 50 genes connected with being tall or short have been identified, but these genes only account for about 5% of the inheritance of height. This is one of many examples of ‘missing heritability’. In another study, 18 genes associated with diabetes were found to explain less than 5% of the inherited liability to diabetes (Sheldrake, 2011, 3, 195-6, 229).

Sheldrake suggests that ‘morphic resonance’ between present and past organisms is another mechanism of heredity. He believes that morphic resonance involves the transfer of information directly from the past, which is supposedly ‘pressed up against the present’, without any transfer of energy of any kind. In theosophical terms, the records impressed on the astral and akashic planes – the memory of nature – and in our own inner constitution can be accessed by vibrational synchrony, these vibrations being transmitted through more ethereal strata of energy-substance.

How closely physical genetic and epigenetic mechanisms resemble the processes operating in the astral body is an open question. As already noted, physical DNA is vastly overrated. It does not explain how our bodies assemble themselves, nor does it determine our basic habits and character traits. Blavatsky says that the ‘germinal plasm’ (now called DNA) of the physical cell is dominated by the ‘spiritual plasm’ of the inner soul of the cell – ‘the fluid that contains the five lower principles of the six-principled dhyan’ (SD 1:219, 223-4). G. de Purucker describes germ plasm as ‘the concreted deposit of the astral fluid of ... the reincarnating ego’ (Dialogues 2:77-9), and spiritual plasm as ‘the monadic essence, the spiritual characteristic which works through the reincarnating ego’ (FSO 400-1).

Theosophy therefore takes a much broader view of heredity:

[Occultism] teaches that – (a) the life-atoms of our (prana) life-principle are never entirely lost when a man dies. That the atoms best impregnated with the life-principle (an independent, eternal, conscious factor) are partially transmitted from father to son by heredity, and partially are drawn once more together and become the animating principle of the new body in every new incarnation of the monads. Because (b), as the individual soul is ever the same, so are the atoms of the lower principles (body, its astral, or life double, etc.), drawn as they are by affinity and karmic law always to the same individuality in a series of various bodies ... (SD 2:671-2)

When [an ego] is ready to reincarnate, it is drawn psychomagnetically, instinctually if you like, to the family, to the womb, most sympathetic to its vibrational rate. ... It is not the parents who give the traits to the child. It is the child, bearing these traits within himself, that is attracted by sympathy of vibrational rates to the parents who will give him a body best fitted to express the character he already possesses in potentia ... (MiE 227)

Every human being has more than a mere physical heredity; he has an astral, a psychical, an intellectual, a spiritual and, indeed, a divine heredity. Being the child of himself, and being at present the parent of what he will be in the future, his heredity is simply the resultant of the chain of causation flowing forth from what he was before on any plane. (FSO 395)

When returning to earth ..., the monad attracts back to itself [the] same life-atoms which it had previously cast off, ... so that one might almost say that the reimbodying ego ‘resurrects’ the old bodies – intellectual, psychical, astral, and physical – which it had had in its last earth life. (FSO 638)

A large part of heredity, of the stream of consequences, is carried on from generation to generation by the life-atoms. The other part of heredity is that which the parents bring into the equation. But no life-atom ever goes into an inappropriate environment. It goes only to that environment towards which it is psychomagnetically attracted: like unto like, life after life. (FSO 396)


Becker, Robert O., & Selden, Gary, The Body Electric: Electromagnetism and the foundation of life, New York: William Morrow, 1985

Pivar, Stuart, et al., The Urform Theory: Evolution without Darwin, Synthetic Life Lab, 2011

Sheldrake, Rupert, A New Science of Life: The hypothesis of formative causation, London: Icon Books, 3rd ed., 2009

Sheldrake, Rupert, The Presence of the Past: Morphic resonance and the habits of nature, London: Icon Books, 2nd ed., 2011

Appendix 1: Neotheosophy

The neotheosophical teachings on man’s bodies presented by C.W. Leadbeater and Annie Besant, based partly on their clairvoyant observations, are outlined below. There are significant differences with the Blavatsky-Judge-Purucker teachings. In neotheosophy the linga-sharira is named the ‘etheric double’ and equated with the etheric layers of the physical body, and the kama-rupa is named the ‘astral body’.

According to neotheosophy, the seven grades of physical matter are: solid, liquid, gas, and four more ethereal grades – etheric, superetheric, subatomic and atomic. (Modern science refers to plasma (i.e. ions and free electrons) as the fourth state of matter.) On the physical plane we have two bodies: the dense physical body (sthula-sharira), composed of solids, liquids and gases; and the etheric double (linga-sharira), composed of the four etheric grades of physical matter.

Since every solid, liquid or gaseous particle is surrounded by an etheric envelope, the etheric double is a perfect duplicate of the dense body. It projects a quarter of an inch beyond the skin, while the etheric aura normally projects seven inches beyond the skin. The double is pale violet-grey or blue-grey and faintly luminous. It absorbs prana and distributes it to the physical body, and acts as a bridge between the dense body and astral body. The double cannot move far from the dense body, but may be separated from it by accident, death, anaesthetics or mesmerism. The double is built after the mould given by the ‘lords of karma’.

Etheric matter is purely physical and can be affected by cold and heat, and also by powerful acids. Besant writes:

Persons who have lost a limb by amputation sometimes complain that they can feel pain at the extremities of the amputated limb, i.e., at the place where the limb used to be. This is due to the fact that the etheric portion of the limb is not removed with the dense physical portion, but can still be seen in its place by clairvoyant sight, and therefore, under suitable stimulus, sensations can be aroused in this etheric limb and transmitted to the consciousness. (Powell, 1979, 6)

Dense physical atoms have not only etheric envelopes, but also astral envelopes; physical matter is embedded in a matrix of astral matter. An ‘ultimate physical atom’ on the highest physical subplane is composed of 49 atoms of the grossest astral matter. According to Leadbeater, an electron is an astral atom, and a hydrogen atom contains 882 electrons (Powell, 1972, 5)!

The astral body or desire body (kama-rupa) consists of the seven grades of matter of the astral plane. It is the seat of animal passions and desires, and acts as a link between the physical brain and the mind. The astral body not only permeates the physical body but also extends around it in every direction like a cloud. The portion of the astral body extending beyond the physical body is called the astral aura. In an undeveloped person, the astral body is gross, dense and loosely organized, extending about 10 or 12 inches beyond the physical body. In an average person, the astral body is composed of finer materials, has a clear outline, and extends about 18 inches beyond the body. In the case of a spiritual person, the astral body is larger still, and composed of the finest particles of each grade of astral matter. In undeveloped persons the astral body is coarse and muddy, becoming more and more luminous as the person develops emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

About 99% of the astral particles are compressed within the periphery of the physical body, with the remaining 1% filling the rest of the ovoid and forming the aura. The central portion of the astral body is very solid and definite and takes the exact form of the physical body. It is termed the astral counterpart of the physical body. Everything physical has a corresponding order of astral matter in constant association with it; this astral counterpart cannot be separated from it except by the exertion of considerable occult force. Since astral particles are constantly moving among one another, there is no permanent association between any one physical particle and the astral matter that at any given moment is acting as its counterpart. The astral portion of an object usually projects somewhat beyond the physical part of it, so that metals, stones, etc. are surrounded by an astral aura.

Leadbeater writes:

If some part of a man’s physical body be removed, e.g., by amputation, the coherence of the living astral matter is stronger than its attraction towards the severed portion of the physical. Consequently the astral counterpart of the limb will not be carried away with the severed physical limb. Since the astral matter has acquired the habit of keeping that particular form, it will continue to retain the original shape, but will soon withdraw within the limits of the maimed form. The same phenomenon takes place in the case of a tree from which a branch has been severed.

In the case of an inanimate body, however, such as a chair or a basin, there is not the same kind of individual life to maintain cohesion. Consequently, when the physical object is broken the astral counterpart would also be divided. (Powell, 1972, 8-9)

On the mental or devachanic plane we have two bodies: the mental body (lower manas), built of the four lower grades of mental matter; and the causal body (higher manas, permanent body of the ego), built of the three higher grades of mental matter. By far the greater part of the matter of the mental body is gathered within the physical frame. To clairvoyant sight, the mental body appears as built of dense mist, having the shape of the physical body, surrounded by an ovoid of much finer mist. The portion of the mental body projecting beyond the physical body forms the mental aura. The colours and striations of a mental body reveal the character and progress of the person concerned. Every thought produces vibrations in the mental body, accompanied by a play of colour.

The causal body, too, is ovoid in outline, and surrounds the lower bodies with a radiant atmosphere, which becomes increasingly beautiful as the higher mental faculties are developed. The spiritual body (anandamayakosha) resides on the fourth plane – the plane of turiya or buddhi.

After death, the physical and astral bodies start to disintegrate. The mind body dwells on the lower levels of devachan for hundreds of years, but it is ultimately shaken off and disintegrates. The individual then dwells in the causal body in the higher devachanic realms. The causal body passes from life to life.

The astral body (kama-rupa) can range the astral plane when freed from the physical body. The mayavi-rupa is a temporary rearrangement of the mind body. A person fashions the mind body into a likeness of themselves and can then range the mental, astral and physical planes without hindrance. Sometimes other temporary bodies are also called ‘mayavi-rupa’. For instance, a person may appear at a distance in a body that is really a thought-form clothed in astral matter.

Whatever classification of subtle bodies is used, our evolutionary task is clear: to purify and refine our inner vehicles of consciousness by living a clean and ethical life, so that our nobler, spiritual self can manifest on earth.


Annie Besant, Man and His Bodies, Adyar, India: Theosophical Publishing House (TPH), 1983 (1896)

Arthur E. Powell, The Etheric Double and Allied Phenomena, TPH, 1979 (1925)

Arthur E. Powell, The Astral Body and Other Astral Phenomena, TPH, 1972 (1927)

Arthur E. Powell, The Mental Body, TPH, 1975 (1927)

Appendix 2: Kirlian photography

Kirlian photography is a form of high-voltage, high-frequency, low-current electrophotography. Electrophotography dates back to 1777, when German physicist George Lichtenberg discovered that a glow appeared around any object placed in a strong electrical field. In the 1890s French experimenter Henri Baraduc and Polish engineer Jakub Narkiewicz-Jodko took electrophotographs of hands, leaves and coins. In 1939 two Czechs, Silvester Prat and Jan Schlemmer, published photographs showing a glow around leaves and metal objects in the US Journal of Biological Photography. Around the same time Soviet electrical engineer Semyon Kirlian and his wife Valentina independently developed their own electrophotographic technique after observing that when electrodes attached to a high-frequency electric generator were brought near a patient’s skin, there was a glow similar to that of a neon discharge tube. ‘Kirlian photography’ is often used as a general term for all forms of electrophotography.

There are many different methods of making Kirlian images and movies. The basic technique involves attaching a conductor to a hand, leaf or other object placed on photographic film on top of a conducting plate. When the conductors are briefly energized by a high-frequency, high-voltage power source, images are produced showing a silhouette of the object surrounded by a halo of light, accompanied by flares, ‘bubbles’ and blotches. The luminous halo is known as a corona discharge. A corona discharge occurs when a current flows from an electrode with a high potential into a neutral fluid (usually air) and ionizes it, creating a region of light-emitting plasma.

Kirlian photograph of a Cannabis sativa leaf. (

Kirlian photograph of a hand. (

Kirlian photograph of a key. (

The precise features shown in Kirlian images are determined by a variety of physical factors, including the voltage and frequency, the type of film, the exposure time, the photographic development time, the pressure of the object in question on the imaging surface, the object’s moisture content, local humidity, how well grounded the object is, and other factors affecting the object’s conductivity. The big controversy concerns whether the corona also reveals something about subtler energy fields around living organisms and other objects.

The Kirlians’ experiments spanned several decades, and at times they received funding from the Soviet government. They described their photography as a method for the conversion of an object’s non-electrical properties into electrical properties that are then captured on film. They found that the corona around metal objects remained constant if all the parameters remained the same, whereas the coronas produced by living matter were variable and non-repeatable, even with the same equipment and settings.

On one occasion, they were given two seemingly identical leaves to photograph. They obtained excellent pictures of the energy flares from one of them, but could only get poor images from the other, despite trying all night. They were then told that one leaf had been plucked from a healthy plant, and the other from a diseased specimen. They concluded that the disease was manifest in the plant’s energy field before becoming visible as a symptom in its physical body (Tompkins & Bird, 1973, 201).

The Kirlian effect or ‘Kirlian aura’ was studied by various other researchers in the Soviet Union, notably biophysicist Victor Adamenko and biologist Victor Inyushin. Inyushin believed that the bioluminescence visible in Kirlian photos was caused by an energy body, which he termed the bioplasmic body. Bioplasma consists of organized ensembles of electrons and protons, but the term can also refer to subtler energies, variously known as animal magnetism (Franz Anton Mesmer), odic force (Karl von Reichenbach), orgone (Wilhelm Reich), prana (Hinduism), lung (Tibetan Buddhism), qi (pronounced: chi) (China), and mana (Hawaii).

Kirlian images of a slightly cooked organic tomato (left) and raw organic tomato (right).

The Kirlians’ work was virtually unknown in the West until 1970, when two Americans, Lynn Schroeder and Sheila Ostrander, published their book Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain. At the University of California in Los Angeles, Thelma Moss and Kendall Johnson pursued extensive investigations with Kirlian photography (Moss & Johnson, 1974; Moss, 1981). They reported that dramatic changes in the corona occurred when human subjects experienced different emotions. States of relaxation induced by hypnosis, meditation and drugs tended to produce a more brilliant, wider corona. Drinking alcohol also produced a more intense corona. Strong emotions like anger and sexual passion tended to produce brilliant crimsons and reds, while more relaxed and gentle emotions like peace, rapport and harmony tended to show in shades of blue. The researchers concluded from their experiments that such changes could not be explained by alterations in skin resistance or temperature or by changes in vascular blood flow.

Corona of tip of index finger. Left: subject normal. Right: same subject after two shots of alcohol.

In studies of four healers, Moss and Johnson found that the corona discharges tended to be much larger and brighter before the healing session than during or after it, while their patients’ coronas increased sharply, suggesting there had been a transfer of energy to them. Another discovery was that when needles were inserted at acupuncture points known to be related to patients’ specific complaints, the brightness and clarity of the corona discharges increased.

The results of Kirlian photography can be extremely inconsistent because of the many factors that determine the corona discharge and because the equipment used by different researchers differs widely. Some researchers in the 1970s concluded that when all factors are carefully controlled, there is no change of the Kirlian photograph with the psychological state of the subject (Milton, 1994, 71-2). However, the fact that one group of researchers may obtain results very different from another’s does not automatically invalidate either group’s results. Moss and Johnson wrote:

In varying the frequency with which we have taken pictures, we have seen an object (such as a leaf or finger pad) appear with brilliant detail at one frequency, change its shape at a higher frequency, disappear entirely at a higher frequency, only to reappear again with brilliant detail at still a higher frequency. It is our belief that some law of harmonics – as yet unknown to us – is responsible for this capricious appearance and disappearance of the object being photographed. (1974, 59)

To make the corona discharge from metal objects produce fluctuations as great as those produced by living tissues, the voltage has to be varied by thousands of volts, whereas the human body only shows changes in the millivolt range. Brian Snellgrove (1996, 90) argues: ‘This lends weight to the idea that the whole living body resonates with auric energy – which Eastern philosophy would call “prana”.’ He believes that Kirlian techniques provide a bridge between the visible and invisible worlds and are the closest we have so far come to recording the aura photographically.

If a leaf is plucked from a plant and Kirlian photographs are taken of it over a period of several days, its corona changes extensively, until finally no glow at all is obtained. Those who do not believe in subtler energy fields attribute this entirely to the gradual dehydration of the leaf (water being a good conductor). However, Henry C. Monteith, an electrical engineer, found that if a dead leaf was bathed in water it produced usually no glow at all, or at best only a uniform glow (Moss & Johnson, 1974, 112). Another researcher found that humidity variations of 40% to 70% or the insertion of a polyethylene sheet – an effective moisture barrier – between the fingers and the film had no effect on a corona (Snellgrove, 1996, 97).

Moss’s team, on the other hand, found that a dead leaf bathed either in water or by the hot, dry Santa Ana winds comes back to Kirlian life while heat alone had no such effect. They also found that gashing and mutilating a leaf caused the Kirlian image to become much dimmer, with gaping holes of black, even in places where the leaf was still moist and intact. Furthermore, dry fingers and wet apples, for example, photographed brilliantly, whereas wet fingers and dried apples didn’t photograph at all (Moss, 1981, 98, 152-3, 204). So clearly the phenomenon cannot be reduced to moisture alone.

The most intriguing – and controversial – Kirlian effect of all is the ‘phantom leaf’ effect. If part of a leaf is cut off, a Kirlian photograph occasionally shows not only an image of the intact part, but also a faint ghostly image of the missing part. This phenomenon has been photographed independently by many researchers, but occurs only on rare occasions, under just the right conditions. Pace & Drumm (1992) write:

Precautions are routinely taken to ensure that an image cannot occur by mistake. For example, it is standard procedure to cut the leaf immediately before it is smoothed onto the emulsion (photographs are by direct contact) to eliminate the possibility that images could result from moisture prints. In the early 1970s, the credibility of the first phantom photographs was jeopardized by the practice of cutting the leaf while on the emulsion, but that practice was abandoned in the mid-1970s.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, it is still commonly claimed that if, after the whole leaf has been photographed, the imaging surface is cleaned of contaminants and residual moisture before the cut leaf is photographed, no image of the missing section ever appears. Romanian researcher Ion Dumitrescu suggested that the phantom leaf effect is caused by microscopic water droplets being squeezed out from the edge of the remaining leaf by a few millimetres (Oldfield & Coghill, 1988, 95-6). However the water droplets would have to be squeezed out 5 to 10 cm and adopt the shape of the specific leaf concerned by random chance. Moreover, if the phantom leaf effect is simply the result of gaseous emissions, moisture or water vapour, why does no phantom appear in the majority of cases?

Short videos showing the phantom leaf effect are available here:;

Phantom leaf effect, University of Los Angeles, 1973. (

Left to right: intact ivy leaf; ivy leaf as it usually appears after a portion is cut off; phantom leaf effect (Robert M. Wagner, 29 April 1975).
The uncut portion of the leaf was covered with a piece of plastic before the third photo was taken. (

Kirlian image of the phantom leaf effect, taken in São Paulo, Brazil, in 1973 by H.G. Andrade,
director of research at the Brazilian Institute of Psychobiophysical Investigation.

Moss’s team tried to produce phantom images after amputating part of the tail of rats and mice, but without success. Jack R. Worsley claimed that Kirlian photography can also show amputated limbs in humans. ‘The more pronounced the “phantom pains” are in an amputee, the more visible is the amputated portion of the body’, he said (Krippner & Rubin, 1974, 165). However, further details do not seem to be available. Stanley Krippner has said that no attempts to detect phantom limbs and fingers by the Kirlian method have been successful (Sheldrake, 1994, 145).

There is controversy as to whether Kirlian photography is a useful diagnostic technique. Experiments by Jessel-Kenyon et al. (1998) showed that a Kirlian device known as the plasma print was not a reliable diagnostic tool. However, many practitioners around the world claim to have used Kirlian photography successfully, sometimes as a backup diagnostic tool to get another perspective on their own discipline (homoeopathy, acupuncture, etc.). The practitioner’s intuition plays an important role in interpreting Kirlian images. But many researchers have verified that, using electrophotographic techniques, malignant tissues display a brighter corona discharge than undamaged cells (Oldfield & Coghill, 1988, 97-8).

In the 1970s Ion Dumitrescu found that, in electrophotos of sick patients, acupuncture points showed up that indicated the location of the illness. After the illness had been treated and cured, the acupuncture points disappeared (Moss, 1981, 214). He examined over 5000 normal healthy humans and 171 suffering from malignant tumours, and confirmed the locality of the tumours by Kirlian methods in 74% of the cases. In three cases of sarcoma the Kirlian image showed the tumour while the X-ray image did not (Oldfield & Coghill, 1988, 98).

US researcher L.W. Konikiewicz demonstrated in double-blind studies that he could accurately identify patients with cystic fibrosis using Kirlian photography. He also reported success in detecting cancer and other abnormal conditions (Korotkin, 2015, 112). A double-blind study of 120 subjects by an Athens psychiatrist in early 1980s found that the corona images of psychotic patients showed highly disruptive patterns while the patterns of the control subjects were well organized and uniform. A double-blind study of 1500 women in India in 1990 showed that Kirlian photography was more effective at screening and diagnosing cancer than a biopsy or histological examination and could detect the disease in a premalignant condition (Snellgrove, 1996, 46-9).

In the 1980s Harry Oldfield began to use a Kirlian-type technique (electroscanning) for diagnostic purposes, and developed electrocrystal therapy – the application of pulsed high-frequency electric currents, amplified by crystals. He treated disorders ranging from migraines to multiple sclerosis, with a good success rate (Oldfield & Coghill, 1988).

German naturopath and acupuncturist Peter Mandel developed a healing system which uses Kirlian photography for diagnostic purposes and treats acupuncture points with coloured light. Based on decades of studies, he published data showing a correlation between particular sectors of fingertip emissions and diseased organs (Mandel, 1986;

Gas Discharge Visualization (GDV) technology – a state-of-the-art Kirlian technique – was developed in Russia by Konstantin Korotkov and his team in the 1990s (Korotkov, 2015;; Rubik, 2009). The GDV camera is a registered medical device in Russia. It measures emissions only from the fingertips. Based on an unpublished algorithm, the accompanying software uses the data to model energy flow in tissues, organs and the whole body (including the chakras) based on insights from acupuncture and su jok, in which the hand is a homunculus of the whole body. Since there is as yet no large database showing how fingertip data correlates with states of health, specific diseases, etc., interpreting the data is highly subjective.

GDV camera and software.

Beverly Rubik (2004) conducted a pilot study using the GDV device to see whether practising qigong led to changes in the biofield. The results indicated that after qigong the subjects’ fingertips emitted a more uniform circle of light and the emissions from the left and right hands were more evenly balanced. However, Rubik acknowledged that the small sample size (five subjects, with no control subjects) ‘was too small to permit a meaningful statistical analysis’ and did not allow ‘strong conclusions’.


Jessel-Kenyon, J., Pfeiffer, L., & Brenton, M., ‘A statistical comparison of repeatability in three commonly used bioelectronic devices: Kirlian photography, the segmental electrogram, and the AMI of Motoyama’, Acupuncture in Medicine, v. 16, no. 1, 1998, pp. 40-2,

Korotkov, Konstantin, ‘Science of measuring energy fields’, in: Paul J. Rosch, Bioelectromagnetic and Subtle Energy Medicine, New York: CRC Press, 2nd ed., 2015, pp. 111-20

Krippner, Stanley, & Rubin, Daniel (eds.), The Kirlian Aura: Photographing the galaxies of life, New York: Anchor, 2nd ed., 1974,

Mandel, P., Energy Emission Analysis: New application of Kirlian photography for holistic medicine, Germany: Synthesis Publishing Co., 1986

Milton, Richard, Forbidden Science: Suppressed research that could change our lives, London: Fourth Estate, 1994

Moss, Thelma, The Body Electric: A personal journey into the mysteries of parapsychology and Kirlian photography, London: Granada, 1981 (1979)

Moss, Thelma, & Johnson, Kendall L., ‘Bioplasma or corona discharge?’, in Krippner & Rubin, 1974, pp. 51-71

Ostrander, Sheila, & Schroeder, Lynn, PSI: Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain, London: Abacus, 1973 (1970)

Oldfield, Harry, & Coghill, Roger, The Dark Side of the Brain: Major discoveries in the use of Kirlian photography and electrocrystal therapy, Dorset, UK: Element, 1988

Pace, J.C., & Drumm, D.L., ‘The phantom leaf effect and its implications for near-death and out-of-body experiences’, Journal of Near-Death Studies, v. 10, no. 4, 1992, pp. 233-9,

Rubik, Beverly, ‘The human biofield and a pilot study of qigong’, 2004,

Rubik, Beverly, ‘Measurement of the human biofield and other energetic instruments’, in Lyn W. Freeman, Mosby’s Complementary & Alternative Medicine: A research-based approach, St Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier, 3rd ed., 2009, ch. 20,

Snellgrove, Brian, The Unseen Self: Kirlian photography explained, Saffron Walden, Essex: Daniel, 1996

Tompkins, Peter, & Bird, Christopher, The Secret Life of Plants, New York: Harper & Row, 1973


Life beyond death

Visitors from the twilight zone

Evolution and design

Sevenfold constitution of nature and man

Our after-death journey