We have defined this as a mere opening of etheric or astral sight, which enables the possessor to see whatever may be present around him on corresponding levels, but is not usually accompanied by the power of seeing anything at a great distance or of reading either the past or the future. It is hardly possible altogether to exclude these latter faculties, for astral sight necessarily has considerably greater extension than physical, and fragmentary pictures of both past and future are often casually visible even to clairvoyants who do not know how to seek specially for them; but there is nevertheless a very real distinction between such incidental glimpses and the definite power of projection of the sight either in space or time.
We find among sensitive people all degrees of this kind of clairvoyance, from that of the man who gets a vague impression, which hardly deserves the name of sight at all, up to the full possession of etheric and astral vision respectively. Perhaps the simplest method will be for us to begin by describing what would be visible in the case of this fuller development of the power, as the cases of its partial possession will then be seen to fall naturally into their places.
Let us take the etheric vision first. This consists simply, as has already been said, in susceptibility to a far larger series of physical vibrations than ordinary, but nevertheless its possession brings into view a good deal to which the majority of the human race still remains blind. Let us consider what changes its acquisition produces in the aspect of familiar objects, animate and inanimate, and then see to what entirely new factors it introduces us. But it must be remembered that what I am about to describe is the result of the full and perfectly-controlled possession of the faculty only, and that most of the instances met with in real life will be likely to fall far short of it in one direction or another.
The most striking change produced in the appearance of inanimate objects by the acquisition of this faculty is that most of them become almost transparent, owing to the difference in wavelength of some of the vibrations to which the man has now become susceptible. He finds himself capable of performing with the utmost ease the proverbial feat of “seeing through a brick wall,” for to his newly-acquired vision the brick wall seems to have a consistency no greater than that of a light mist. He therefore sees what is going on in an adjoining room almost as though no intervening wall existed; he can describe with accuracy the contents of a locked box, or read a sealed letter; with a little practice he can find a given passage in a closed book. This last feat, though perfectly easy to astral vision, presents considerable difficulty to one using etheric sight, because of the fact that each page has to be looked at through all those which happen to be superimposed upon it.
It is then asked whether under these circumstances a man sees always with this abnormal sight, or only when he wishes o do so. The answer is that if the faculty is perfectly developed it will be entirely under his control, and he can use that or his more ordinary vision at will. He changes from one to the other as readily and naturally as we now change the focus of our eyes when we look up from our book to follow the motions of some object a mile away. It is, as it were, a focusing of consciousness on the one or the other aspect of what is seen: and though the man would have quite clearly in his view the aspect upon which his attention was for the moment fixed, he would always be vaguely conscious of the other aspect too, just as when we focus our sight upon any object held in our hands we yet vaguely see the opposite wall of the room as a background.
Another curious change, which comes from the possession of this sight, is that the solid ground upon which the man walks becomes to a certain extent transparent to him, so that he is able to see down into it to a considerable depth, much as we can now see into fairly clear water. This enables him to watch a creature burrowing underground, to distinguish a vein of coal or of metal if not too far below the surface, and so on.
The limit of etheric sight when looking through solid matter appears to be analogous to that imposed upon us when looking through water or mist. We cannot see beyond a certain distance, because the medium through which we are looking is not perfectly transparent.
The appearance of animate objects is also considerably altered for the man who has increased his visual powers to this extent. The bodies of men and animals are for him in the main transparent, so that he can watch the action of the various internal organs, and to some extent diagnose some of their diseases.
The extend sight also enables him to perceive, more or less clearly, various classes of creatures, elemental and otherwise, whose bodies are not capable of reflecting any of the rays within the limit of the spectrum as ordinarily seen. Among the entities so seen will be some of the lower orders of nature-spirits- those whose bodies are composed of the denser etheric matter. To this class belong nearly all the fairies, gnomes, and brownies, about whom there are still so many stories remaining among Scotch and Irish mountains and in remote country places all over the world.
The vast kingdom of nature-spirits is in the main an astral kingdom, but still there is a large section of it which appertains to the etheric part of the physical plane, and this section, of course, is much more likely to come within the ken of ordinary people than the others. Indeed, in reading the common fairy stories one frequently comes across distinct indications that it is with this class that we are dealing. Any student of fairy love will remember how often mention is made of some mysterious ointment or drug, which when applied to a man’s eyes enables him to see the members of the fairy commonwealth whenever he happens to meet them.
The story of such an application and its results occurs so constantly and comes from so many different parts of the world that there must certainly be some truth behind it, as there always is behind really universal popular tradition. Now no such anointing of the eyes alone could by any possibility open a man’s astral vision, though certain ointment rubbed over the whole body will very greatly assist the astral body to leave the physical in full consciousness—a fact the knowledge of which seems to have survived even to mediaeval times, as will be seen from the evidence given at some of the trials for witchcraft. But the application to the physical eye might very easily so stimulate its sensitiveness as to make it susceptible to some of the etheric vibrations.
The story frequently goes on to relate how when the human being who has used this mystical ointment betrays his extended vision in some way to a fairy, the latter strikes or stabs him in the eye, thus depriving him not only of the etheric sight, but of that of the denser physical plane as well. (See The Science of Fairy Tales by E. S. Hartlane, in the “Contemporary Science” series—or indeed almost any extensive collection of fairy stories.) If the sight acquired had been astral, such a proceeding would have been entirely unavailaing, for no injury to the physical apparatus would affect an astral faculty; but if the vision produced by the ointment were etheric, the destruction of the physical eye would in most cases at once distinguish it, since that is the mechanism by means of which it works.
Anyone possessing this sight of which we are speaking would also be able to perceive the etheric double of man; but since this is so nearly identical in size with the physical, it would hardly be likely to attract his attention unless it were partially protected in trance or under the influence of anaesthetics. After death, when it withdraws entirely from the dense body, it would be clearly visible to him, and he would frequently see it hovering over newly-made graves as he passed through a church yard or cemetery. If he were to attend a spiritualistic seance he would see the etheric matter oozing out from the side of the medium, and could observe the various ways in which the communicating entities make use of it.
Another fact which could hardly fail soon to thrust itself upon his notice would be the extension of his perception of colour. He would find himself able to see several entirely new colours, not in the least resembling any of those included in the spectrum as we at present know it, and therefore of course quite indescribable in any terms at our command. And not only would he see new objects that were wholly of these new colours, but he would also discover that modifications had been introduced into the colour of many objects with which he was quite familiar, according to whether they had or had not some tinge of these new hues intermingled with the old. So that two surfaces of colour which to ordinary eyes appeared to match perfectly would often present distinctly different shades to his keener sight.
We have now touched upon some of the principal changes which would be introduced into a man’s world when he gained etheric sight; and it must always be remembered that in most cases a corresponding change would at the same time be brought about in his other senses also, so that he would be capable of hearing, and perhaps even of feeling, more than most of those around him. Now supposing that in addition to this he obtained the sight of the astral plane, what further changes would be observable?
Well, the changes would be many and great; in fact, a whole new world would open before his eyes. Let us consider its wonders briefly in the same order as before, and see first what difference there would be in the appearance of inanimate objects. On this point I may begin by quoting a recent quaint answer given in The Vahan.
“There is a distinct difference between etheric sight and astral sight, and it is the latter which seems to correspond to the fourth dimension.
“The easiest way to understand he difference is to take an example. If you looked at a man with both the sights in turn, you would see the buttons at the back of his coat in both cases; only if you used etheric sight you would see them through him, and would see the shank-side as nearest to you, but if you looked astrally, you would see it not only like that, but just as if you were standing behind the man as well.
“Or if you were looking etherically at a wooden cube with writing on all its sides, it would be as though the cube were glass, so that you could see through it, and you would see the writing on the opposite side all backwards, while that on the right and left sides would not be clear to you at all unless you moved, because you see it edgewise. But if you looked at it astrally you would see all the sides at once, and all the right way up, as though the whole cube had been flattened out before you, and you would see every particle of the inside as well—not through the others, but all flattened out. You would be looking at it from another direction, at right angles to all the directions that we know.
“If you look at the back of a watch etherically you see all the wheels through it, and the face through them, but backwards; if you look at it astrally, you see the face right way up and all the wheels lying separately, but nothing on the top of anything else.”
Here we have at once the keynote, the principal factor of the change; the man is looking at everything from an absolutely new point of view, entirely outside of anything that he has ever imagined before. He has no longer the slightest difficulty in reading any page in a closed book, because he is not now looking at it through all the other pages before it or behind it, but is looking straight down upon it as though it were the only page to be seen. The depth at which a vein of metal or of coal may lie is no longer a barrier to his sight of it, because he is not now looking through the intervening depth of earth at all. The thickness of a wall, or the number of walls intervening between the observer and the object, would make a great deal of difference to the clearness of the etheric sight; they would make no difference whatever to the astral sight, because on the astral plane they would not intervene between the observer and the object. Of course that sounds paradoxical and impossible, and it is quite inexplicable to a mind not specially trained to grasp the idea; yet it is none the less absolutely true.
This carries us straight into the middle of the much-vexed question of the fourth dimension, a question of the deepest interest, though one that we cannot pretend to discuss in the space at our disposal. Those who wish to study it as it deserves are recommended to begin with Mr. C. H. Hinton’s Scientific Romances or Dr. A. T. Schofield’s Another World, and then follow on with the former author’s larger work, A New Era of Thought. Mr. Hinton not only claims to be able himself to grasp mentally some of the simpler fourth dimensional figures, but also states that anyone who will take the trouble to follow out his directions may with perseverance acquire that mental grasp likewise. I am not certain that the power to do this is within the reach of everyone, as he thinks, for it appears to me to require considerable mathematical ability; but I can at any rate bear witness that the tesseract or fourth-dimensional cube which he describes is a reality, for it is quite a familiar figure upon the astral plane. He has now perfected a new method of representing the several dimensions by colours instead of by arbitrary written symbols. He states that his will very much simplify the study, as the reader will be able to distinguish instantly by sight any part or feature of the tesseract. A full description of this new method, with plates, is said to be ready for the press, and is expected to appear within a year, so that intending students of this fascinating subject might do well to await its publication.
I know that Madame Blavatsky, in alluding to the theory of the fourth dimension, has expressed an opinion that it is only a clumsy way of stating the idea of the entire permeability of matter, and that Mr. W. T. Stead has followed along the same lines, presenting the conception to his readers under the name of throughth. Careful, oft-repeated and detailed investigation does, however, seem to show quite conclusively that this explanation does not cover all the facts. It is a perfect description of etheric vision, but the further and quite different idea of the fourth dimension as expounded by Mr. Hinton is the only one which gives any kind of explanation down here of the constantly-observed facts of astral vision. I would therefore venture deferentially to suggest that, when Madame Blavatsky wrote as she did, she had in mind etheric vision and not astral, and that the extreme applicability of the phrase to this other and higher faculty, of which she was not at the moment thinking, did not occur to her.
The possession of this extraordinary and scarcely expressible power, then, must always be borne in mind through all that follows. It lays every point in the interior of every solid body absolutely open to the gaze of the seer, just as every point in the interior of a circle lies open to the gaze of a man looking down upon it.
But even this is by no means all that it gives to its possessor. He see not only the inside as well as the outside of every object, but also its astral counterpart. Every atom and molecule of physical matter has its corresponding astral atoms and molecules, and the mass, which is built up out of these, is clearly visible to our clairvoyant. Usually the astral part of any object projects somewhat beyond the physical part of it, and thus metals, stones and other things are seen surrounded by an astral aura.
It will be seen at once that even in the study of inorganic matter a man gains immensely by the acquisition of this vision. Not only does he see the astral part of the object at which he looks, which before was wholly hidden from him; not only does he see much more of its physical constitution than he did before, but even what was visible to him before is now seen much more clearly and truly. A moment’s consideration will show that his new vision approximates much more closely to true perception than does physical sight. For example, if he looks astrally at a glass cube, its sides will all appear equal, as we know they really are, whereas on the physical plane he sees the further side in perspective—that is, it appears smaller than the nearer side, which is, of course, a mere illusion due to his physical limitations.
When we come to consider the additional facilities, which it offers in the observation of animate objects, we see still more clearly the advantages of the astral vision. It exhibits to the clairvoyant the aura of plants and animals, and thus in the case of the latter their desires and emotions, and whatever thoughts they may have, are all plainly shown before his eyes.
But is in dealing with human beings that he will most appreciate the value of this faculty, for he will often be able to help them far more effectually when he guides himself by the information which it gives him.
He will be able to see the aura as far up as the astral body, and though that leaves all the higher part of a man still hidden from his gaze, he will nevertheless find it possible by careful observation to learn a good deal about the higher part form what is within his reach. His capacity of examining the etheric double will give him considerable advantage in locating and classifying any defects or diseases of the nervous system, while from the appearance of the astral body he will be at once aware of all the emotions, passions, desires and tendencies of the man before him, and even of very many of his thoughts also.
As he looks at a person he will see him surrounded by the luminous mists of the astral aura, flashing with all sorts of brilliant colours, and constantly changing in hue and brilliancy with every variation of the person’s thoughts and feelings. He will see this aura flooded with the beautiful rose-colour of pure affection, the rich blue of devotional feeling, the hard, dull brown of selfishness, the deep scarlet of angers, the horrible lurid red of sensuality, the livid grey of fear, the black clouds of hatred and malice, or any of the other hundredfold indications so easily to be red in it by a practised eye; and thus it will be impossible for any persons to conceal from him the real state of their feelings on any subject.
These varied indications of the aura are of themselves a study of very deep interest, but I have no space to deal with them in detail here. A much fuller account of them, together with a number of coloured illustrations, will be found in my work on the subject Man Visible and Invisible.
Not only does the astral aura show him the temporary result of the emotion passing through it at the moment, but it also gives him, by the arrangement and proportion of its colours when in a condition of comparative rest, a clue to the general disposition and character of its owner. For the astral body is the expression of as much of the man as can be manifested on that plane, so that from what is seen in it much more which belongs to higher planes may be inferred with considerable certainty.
In this judgment of character our clairvoyant will be much helped by so much of the person’s thought as expresses itself on the astral plane, and consequently comes within his purview. The true home of thought is on the mental plane, and all thought first manifests itself there as a vibration of the mind-body. But if it be in any way a selfish thought, or if it be connected in any way with an emotion or a desire, it immediately descends into the astral plane, and takes to itself a visible form of astral matter.
In the case of the majority of men almost all thought would fall under one or other of these heads, so that practically the whole of their personality would like clearly before friend’s astral vision, since their astral bodies and the thought-forms constantly radiating from them would be to him as an open book in which their characteristics were writ so largely that he who ran might read. Anyone wishing to gain some idea as to how the thought-forms present themselves to clairvoyant vision may satisfy themselves to some extent by examining the illustrations accompanying Mrs. Besant’s valuable article on the subject in Lucifer for September 1896.
We have seen something of the alteration in the appearance of both animate and inanimate objects when viewed by one possessed of full clairvoyant sight as far as the astral plane is concerned; let us now consider what entirely new objects he will see. He will be conscious of a far greater fullness in nature in many directions, but chiefly his attention will be attracted by the living denizens of this new world. No detailed account of them can be attempted within the space at our disposal; for that the reader is referred to No. V of the Theosophical Manuals. Here we can do no more than barely enumerate a few classes only of the vast hosts of astral inhabitants.
He will be impressed by the protean forms of the ceaseless tide of elemental essence, ever swirling around him, menacing often, yet always retiring before a determined effort of the will; he will marvel at the enormous army of entities temporarily called out of this ocean into separate existence by the thoughts and wishes of man, whether good or evil. He will watch the manifold tribes of the nature-spirits at their work or at their play; he will sometimes be able to study with ever-increasing delight the magnificent evolution of some of the lower orders of the glorious kingdom of the devas, which corresponds approximately to the angelic host of Christian terminology.
But perhaps of even keener interests to him than any of these will be the human denizens of the astral world, and he will find them divisible into two great classes, those whom we call the living, and those others, most of them infinitely more alive, whom we so foolishly misname the dead. Among the former he will find here and there one wide awake and fully conscious, perhaps sent to bring him some message, or examining him keenly to see what progress he is making; while the majority of his neighbours, when away from their physical bodies during sleep, will drift idly by, so wrapped up in their own cogitations as to be practically unconscious of what is going on around them.
Among the great host of the recently dead he will find all degrees of consciousness and intelligence, and all shades of character- for death, which seems to our limited vision so absolute a change, in reality alters nothing of the man himself. On the day after his death he is precisely the same man as he was the day before it, with the same disposition, the same qualities, the same virtues and vices, save only that he has cast aside his physical body; but the loss of that no more makes him in any way a different man than would the removal of an overcoat. So among the dead our student will find men intelligent and stupid, kind-hearted and morose, serious and frivolous, spiritually-minded and sensually-minded, just as among the living.
Since he can not only see the dead, but speak with them, he can often be of very great use to them, and give them information and guidance which is of the utmost value to them. Many of them are in a condition of great surprise and perplexity, and sometimes even of acute distress, because they the facts of the next world so unlike the childish legends which are all that popular religion in the West has to offer with reference to this transcendently important subject; and therefore a man who understands this new world and can explain matters is distinctly a friend in need.
In many other ways a man who fully possesses this faculty may be of use to the living as well as to the dead; but this side of the subject I have already written in my little book on Invisible Helpers. In addition to astral entities he will see astral corpses- shades and shells in all stages of decay; but these need only be just mentioned here, as the reader desiring a further account of them will find it in our third (Death—and After?) and fifth (The Astral Plane) manuals.
Another wonderful result, which the full enjoyment of astral clairvoyance brings to a man, is that he has no longer any break in consciousness. When he lies down at night he leaves his physical body to the rest which it requires, while he goes about his business in the far more comfortable astral vehicle. In the morning he returns to and re-enters his physical body, but without any loss of consciousness or memory between the two states, and thus he is able to live, as it were, a double life which yet is one, and to be usefully employed during the whole of it, instead of losing one-third of his existence in blank unconsciousness.
Another strange power of which he may find himself in possession (though its full control belongs rather to the still higher devachanic faculty) is that of magnifying at will the minutest physical or astral particle to any desired size, as though by a microscope- thou no microscope ever made or ever likely to be made possesses eve a thousandth part f this psychic magnifying power. By its means the hypothetical molecule and atom postulated by science becomes visible and living realities to the occult student, and on this closer examination he finds them to be much more complex in their structure than the scientific man has yet realized them to be. It also enables him to follow with the closest attention and the most lively interest all kinds of electrical, magnetic, and other etheric action; and when some of the specialists in these branches of science are able to develop the power to see those things whereof they write so facilely, some very wonderful and beautiful revelations may be expected.
This is one of the siddhis or powers described in Oriental books as accruing to the man who devotes himself to spiritual development, though the name under which it is there mentioned might not be immediately recognizable. It is referred to as “the power of making oneself large or small at will,” and the reason of a description, which appears so oddly to reverse the fact, is that in reality the method by which this feat is performed is precisely that indicate in these ancient books. It is by the use of temporary visual machinery of inconceivable minuteness that the world of the infinitely little is so clearly seen; and in the same way (or rather in the opposite way) it is by temporarily enormously increasing the size of the machinery used that it becomes possible to increase the breadth of one’s view, in the physical sense as well as, let us hope, in the moral, far beyond anything that science has ever dreamt of as possible for man. So that the alteration in size is really in the vehicle of the student’s consciousness, and not in anything outside of himself; and the old Oriental book has, after al, put the case more accurately than we.
Psychometry and second-sight in excelsis would also be among the faculties which our friend would find at his command; but those will be more fitly dealt with under a later heading, since in almost all their manifestations they involve clairvoyance either in space or in time.
I have now indicated, though only in the roughest outlines, what a trained student, possessed of full astral vision, would see in the immensely wider world to which that vision introduced him; but I have said nothing of the stupendous change in his mental attitude which comes from the experiential certainty as to the existence of the soul, its survival after death, the action of the law of karma, and other points of equally paramount importance. The difference between even the profoundest intellectual conviction and the precise knowledge gained by direct personal experience, must be felt in order to be appreciated.