Astral Projection Explained

In the paranormal world, reality is not restricted to the tangible, material plane but also extends to the spiritual and astral plane. Based on this understanding, believers in the spiritual and paranormal experiences claim that it is possible to travel through different planes in a process known as astral projection.

What is astral projection?

Astral projection refers to the purported experience of a person’s conscious awareness leaving the physical body to observe the world from an independent and objective point of view. Also known as astral travel, this figures as a kind of out-of-body experience or OBE.

Central to the understanding of astral projection are related concepts like astral body and astral plane. The astral body is a subtle body posited by many religious philosophers, intermediate between the intelligent soul and the physical body, composed of a subtle material. The astral plane can be imagined as the world of the planetary spheres, crossed by the soul in its astral body on the way to being born and after death, and generally said to be populated by angels, spirits or other immaterial beings. These concepts have been postulated by many philosophies down the ages including classical particularly neo-Platonic, medieval, oriental and esoteric philosophies and mystery religions. Astral projection thus denotes the astral body leaving the physical body to travel in the astral plane.

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When does astral projection take place?

One of the most common situations where people claim to have undergone astral projection is in a moment of crisis, especially one that is brought about by a medical emergency. A common example involves near-fatal accidents where the subject later reports the sensation of floating above the body near the ceiling in the hospital, watching on as an objective observer, taking in the actions and the conversation of the emergency personnel working ‘below’. Individuals who have survived such medical emergencies have later recounted their feeling of looking at everything from above, of watching the doctors pronounce them dead or calling for specific life-support techniques and in most cases these details have been verified by those present at the emergency situation. This sensation of being outside the body and looking down at everything is a kind of astral projection and in parapsychology, this is known as a near-death experience.

Apart from near-death experiences, astral projections can also take place in the course of meditation, trace, sleep or deep rest. While one of the sensations in astral projection is that of floating over one’s physical body and looking down at it from a height, yet other forms of astral travel can involve traveling far distances such as to other states and even countries where loved ones are located. In such cases, observations made during the course of astral travel by the practitioner are later verified and found true even though he/she could not have acquired that kind of information by normal physical senses. Thus a person’s consciousness may visit a family member located in another country through astral travel and notice what the latter is wearing or doing; later the details may prove correct even though the subject may have had no way of knowing what his/her relative was doing or wearing at that particular time.

Apart from NDEs and deep resting, astral projection may be reported in the form of an apparitional experience, a supposed encounter with a doppelganger, some living person also seen somewhere else at the same time

Examples of astral projection

Emanuel Swedenborg was one of the first practitioners to write extensively about the out-of-body experience, in his Spiritual Diary (1747–65). French philosopher and novelist Honoré de Balzac's fictional work "Louis Lambert" suggests he may have had some astral or out-of-body experience. Hereward Carrington, a psychical researcher and Sylvan Muldoon, who professed ease with astral projection, jointly published The Projection of the Astral Body in 1929. Among the techniques they believed facilitated projection included visualizing flying or ascending in an elevator just before going to sleep and trying to regain waking consciousness while in a dream state by habitually recognizing apparent incongruities in one's dream such as a different pattern of wallpaper in one's home. Such recognition, they said, sometimes resulted in the feeling of being outside the physical body and able to look down on it. One of the most famous names connected with parapsychological phenomena was Edgar Cayce, a  photographer by trade who turned to psychic healing upon discovery of his capacity for ESP. Cayce was widely believed to have conducted medical diagnosis of patients from across the world, all the while physically lying on the couch at his home. According to believers, one of the ways Cayce did this was through astral projection.

Best-selling author Michael Crichton gave lengthy and detailed explanations and experience of astral projection in his non-fiction book Travels. Waldo Vieira, a Brazilian physician and dentist, claimed to have had his first OBE at the age of nine and has since gone on to write numerous articles and over 20 books, including Projectiology.

Modern individuals who have vouched for astral projection include Indian yogis such as Paramahansa Yogananda who witnessed Swami Pranabananda doing a miracle through a possible astral projection and Osho, also known as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who practiced the skill himself. All these practitioners are part of the Indian Yogic tradition, which is an elaborate system of meditation and astral projection; it is believed that most other Chino-Tibetan systems are also derived from this through Buddhist channels. In fact astral projection is one of the Siddhis considered achievable by highly evolved yoga practitioners through self-disciplined practice.

Astral projection and skepticism

The mainstay of criticism to the concept of astral projection is that almost all evidence is purely anecdotal and subjective in nature. According to Bob Bruce of the Queensland Skeptics Association, astral projection is "just imagining", or "a dream state". And even though there is some mathematical support for parallel universes,  the existence of an astral plane and the consequent phenomena of astral travel are contrary to the limits of science. In cases of instances where astral travelers have made claims to describe things and people while being physically located very far away, skeptics say that most of them can be explained by trickery and prior knowledge.