OUT-OF-BODY EXPERIENCES: "SCIENTIFIC" AND "OCCULT"

L. Eddie

(Investigator Magazine 194, 2020 September)



"The whole issue of the quarrel between the profane and the esoteric sciences depends upon the belief in, and demonstration of, the existence of an astral body within the physical, the former independent of the latter." – (Blavatsky, 1888, volume II, p. 149)



Human brains process information at different levels; while some areas process sensory information to provide a "realistic" awareness of our body and its spatial orientation, other parts deal with more nebulous aspects such as dreams and hallucinations,
 
"… from the Latin verb halucinari, … to wander mentally or to be absent-minded. It has its root in the Greek verb aluein, which means to wander or to be distraught." (Blom, 2010, p. 219)

While hallucinations mainly occur while awake, they have, "… similarities to sleep-related experiences such as hypnagogic* and hypnopompic* hallucinations, dreams and parasomnias," (Waters et al. 2016, p. 1098).
[* NB. From the Greek, Hypnos = sleep + agōgos = "guide" or "leader" which occurs when falling sleep, and, Hypnos + pompe, "sending away" which occur when one is awakening].

With both pathological, and non-pathological origins, Out-of-Body Experiences (OBE), represent a specific type of hallucinatory experience. Although originally introduced by Tyrrell, (1953, p. 149), to describe Near-Death-Experiences, (NDE), as Brugger, Regard and Landis (1997) pointed out, the term OBE has progressively replaced older occult terminology, such as "astral projection," (p. 25), and, is now more commonly used to refer to experiences similar to the following,


" ... of departing from one's physical body and observing both one's self and the world from outside one's body." (Carroll, 2003, p. 270);

"… the self is perceived as being outside the body (disembodiment) with or without the impression of seeing the body from an elevated and distanced visuo-spatial perspective" (De Ridder, et al. 2007, p. 1829).

Blanke, Arzy and Landis, (2008), suggested that OBEs should be classified as a form of autoscopic phenomena,


" … the combined classification of the well-known phenomenon of out-of-body experience with the less known phenomena of autoscopic hallucination and heautoscopy is important since during all three autoscopic phenomena the subject has the impression of seeing a second own body (or double) in extrapersonal space." (p. 430)

In an early attempt to differentiate between different types of OBEs, Fox (1920a), classified them as "Scientific" or "Occult;"

"(а) Scientific:
It is merely a new brain state, the product of self-induced trance, and the seeming external experiences all originate within the mind of the investigator — a third level of consciousness, differing from both waking life and ordinary dream, and far more vivid.

(b) Occult:
The spirit actually leaves the entranced physical vehicle and functions — perfectly aware of so doing — apart from it upon the astral plane, the transition from normal waking life being achieved without any break in consciousness." (Fox, 1920a, p. 190)

While Fox's occult beliefs make these definitions scientifically questionable, hereafter, for the sake of convenience, we shall refer to all OBEs, as being either "Scientific" or "Occult."


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Experiences similar to OBEs have been reported since ancient times. Many of these involved attempts to "communicate" with supernatural beings. Early hominins appear to have attributed the overwhelming powers of nature to the actions of supernatural beings, and, living in constant danger, it seems they, began to seek the help of these spirits to survive. When this began is unknown, however, Coulson, Staurset and Walker, (2011) noted that, at least 70,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers in the Kalahari Desert, were already worshipping a 6.0 x 2.0 metre, python-shaped rock in the Rhino Cave in the Tsodilo Hills; similarly,

"Based on commonalities to shamanic practices of Australian aborigines, who became culturally isolated between 50,000 and 65,000 years ago, shamanism can be traced to the middle Paleolithic period at the onset of the Cognitive Revolution around 70,000 BP." (Flor-Henry, Shapiro, and Sombrun, 2017; p. 6)

Within most primitive groups would have been certain individuals with a natural tendency to fall into trances, especially when exposed to the influences of rhythmic bouts of chanting, drumming or dancing,

"The shaman beats his drum until it reaches the specific rhythm and tone that sends him into a trancelike state of ecstasy. The rhythmic beats affect the central nervous system producing a hypnotic condition." (Vallance, 2005, p. 49)

Sombrun, upon hearing a shamanic drum recording, was suddenly unable to control her movements; "A Dakhad shaman … recognized her as having unique shamanic gifts." (Flor-Henry, Shapiro and Sombrun, 2017, p. 9) Such reactions are actually altered states of consciousness, (ASC), temporary disruptions "… in the usually integrated function of consciousness, memory, identity, or perception of the environment." (American Psychiatric Association; 1994, p. 477)  These can involve,

"… derealization (the feeling of disconnection from the world around you, e.g., feeling like reality is a dream or movie) and depersonalization (the feeling of disconnection from oneself, e.g., feeling as though you are separated from your body)." (Denis, 2018, p. 359)

Since our concept of "reality" depends upon the correct interpretation of external sensory information, ASC can interfere with this process. The duration, and intensity of ASC can vary from a few moments of slight inattention, (e.g. day-dreaming, or Zombie pedestrians, so engrossed with their mobile phone they walk into traffic), through to lengthy, extremely deep levels of meditative trances.

Most cultures appear to have had, "… forms of institutionalized ASC that seemed to emerge from common, basic psychobiological capacities." (Vaitl et al., 2005, p. 99) Lacking an understanding of such behaviour, early humans believed these special individuals were "possessed" acting as "mediums" to deliver messages from the spirits. Known to the Greeks as "enthusiasm," ("enthuseiasmos" — "possessed by a god's essence"), they had an important role in early religious worship, and, in time, evolved into the shamans, seers, augurs, prophets, witch-doctors, medicine men and priests of later cultures.

While often hereditary roles, "… the shaman acquires his profession through inheritance, instruction, or an inner calling" (Dioszegi and Eliade, 2018) their children may not have inherited their parents "special abilities," and had to devise ways to mimic the "… shamanic journey" — the intentional induction of an altered state of consciousness." (Flor-Henry, Shapiro and Sombrun, 2017, p. 6) One method involved the use of hallucinogenic substances; as Sagan (1983) noted,

"Out-of-body experiences are induced by dissociative anaesthetics such as the ketamines (2-[ochlo rophenyl]-2-[methylamino] cyclohexanones.) The illusion of flying is induced by atropine and other belladonna alkaloids, and these molecules, obtained, for example, from mandrake or jimson weed, have been used regularly by European witches and North American curanderos ("healers") to experience, in the midst of religious ecstasy, soaring and glorious flight." (pp. 355-356)

Blackmore (2018) related one such experience when, in 1970, after smoking hash, she became convinced she was on the ceiling. Looking down,

 "I left the room, explored the roofs of Oxford and set off across the world, flying, floating, and changing shape, until I tried to come back. … "The whole experience, despite many bizarre irregularities, seemed so utterly and vividly real that I became convinced that my soul had left my body." (p. 32)

Hallucinogenic psilocybin and psilocin mushrooms were widely used in North, Meso and South America, (Wasson, 1972, p. 162), while in Northern Mexico and the Southwest United States the Peyote cactus, (Lophophora williamsii), from the Mexican Northern Plateau and the Rio Grande Valley, was a common hallucinogen. Of its fifty different alkaloids Mescaline, which produces a psychedelic condition similar to psilocybin and LSD, was its principal ingredient.

In Amazonia many Shamans smoked the local tobacco Mapacho, (Nicotiana rustica.), which had an 18% Nicotine level compared to the 1% content of Nicotiniana tobacum, used in most commercial cigarettes. (Peruvian Institute of Shamanism) Many Indians believed that the rising pipe-smoke carried their prayers to the sky-spirits, while the Hopi believed the rising smoke would also form rain-clouds.

In parts of America, Europe, Asia and the subarctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere, Amanita muscaria, (fly-agaric), a slightly poisonous mushroom containing Muscinol, a sedative and hallucinogenic agent, was widely used as an entheogen, (Blom, 2010, p. 19);

"Among the Ob-Ugrians … The mushroom eater enters the realm of the little people, talks with them, learns from them what he wishes to know – the future, the outlook for a sick person, etc." (Wasson, 1972, p. 160)

Some Siberian Shamans fed these mushrooms to reindeer, allowing their intestines to break down the toxins, leaving, "… the hallucinogenic properties intact in the urine. The Shamans then drink the reindeer pee to 'fly high.'" (Vallance, 2005, p. 49) It was common knowledge in a number of Indian and Asian cultures that,

"… the urine of a person who has consumed fly-agarics has a stronger narcotic and intoxicating power than the fly-agaric itself and that this effect persists for a long time after consumption." (Wasson, 1972, p. 249)

When ingesting such substances, although some of the hallucinogens enter the stomach, most are trapped in the kidneys, to be, "… later discharged with the urine." (Graves, 1970, p. 1908) Scarce in many parts of Siberia, the mushroom was worth the equivalent of three or four reindeer. (Wasson, 1972, p. 259) and many users carried a container to collect their urine for later use, either by themselves or others. (Wasson, 1972, p. 237)

OBEs can also be produced by stress (Blackmore, 1984, p. 201; Wilde and Murray, 2009, p. 3; Ananthaswamy, 2015, p. 200). One "stressful" technique involved Amerindian sweat lodges used "… for purification of mind, body and spirit," (Berger and Rounds, 1998, p. 69). A sometimes fatal practice, (Advertiser, 2007), participants sat in a sealed hut around a fire-pit containing heated rocks. Water poured onto the rocks filled the room with steam, then, overcome by the heat, some participants would fall unconsciousness, often experiencing "visions."

Similarly, the Pythia, the High Priestess of Apollo's Delphic Temple, sat in a fume-filled subterranean chamber where, falling unconscious, she would deliver garbled "messages" from Apollo, which were then translated" by the priestly Osioi, the holy ones. (Farrell, 1907, p. 189)

Another "suffocation" type of OBE was described by Morrell (1924), a particularly obstinate prisoner in San Quentin State Prison during the 1890's. Morrell spent five-years in solitary confinement, and endured, "… a peculiar looking torture machine … known as "the Bloody Strait-jacket" of San Quentin. (p. 308) A canvas strait-jacket, it constricted the entire body, leaving only the head exposed, and, to maximise his suffering, the guard would deliberately tighten as much as possible.

After fifteen minutes of his first session, (of 110 hours), he experienced severe pain and, "…a prickling sensation like that of millions of sharp needles jabbing through the tender flesh." (p. 313) His second session, of 126 hours, was however quite different. Although his initial experience was, "… like being buried alive — compressed in a sand pile." (p. 319), the pain and mental despair were gradually replaced by feelings of physical and mental freedom,

"There was a period of brain enlargement, an expansion of time and space, a receding of the walls of my cell and even of the outer walls of San Quentin, and leaving my old pain racked body laced tightly in the dungeon strait-jacket I bounded away, no longer held to earth but on a quest through space and an eternity of time." (p. 319, N.B. Author Jack London who heard of Morrell's experiences, later wrote a fictional novel, The Star Rover, in which a straitjacketed prisoner escapes the reality of his imprisonment during a series of fantastic out-of-body adventures.)

On another occasion, while bound in two strait-jackets, Morrell found himself, "… out of my jackets, bending down looking at my body." (p. 332) Morrell disclosed that, during his many years in solitary, before ever being placed in the jacket, he had, "… developed an amazing power of visualization" (p. 49), having experimented with, "… self induced hypnosis, daring even to project my mind out and beyond the confines of San Quentin to distant lands and loved ones." (p. 49), and he described his episodes in the jacket as, "… periods of self-induced hypnosis" (p. 332). Later, after a new prison warden took over, he was released from solitary and then, no longer subjected to the jacket, his "ability" to project himself outside the walls of the prison disappeared, (p. 341).

Many of the ancient induction practices were dangerous and, over time, some cultures developed safer means of producing ASC using breathing, relaxation and meditation techniques,

"Most breath manipulations are based primarily on Yoga and Zen practices, and they include passive breath mindfulness and breathing. This requires the trainee to focus attention on breathing and allows slow and shallow respiration to emerge. In meditation techniques, breath manipulation works with mantra chanting, counting, and maintaining a fixed gaze on an external object or cue word." (Vaitl, et al. 2005, p. 104)

While more common in the East, similar techniques were used by some Western Christian ascetics; Emmanuel Swedenborg, (1688-1772), the 18th century philosopher, scientist, and mystic, as a youth, "… learned how to control his breath so that it seemed he was hardly breathing." (Lachman, 2007, p. 40)

Another form of OBE was the 16th – 17th century nocturnal "spirit-journeys" of the Benandanti, (good-walkers) from the Italian village of Friuli. (Ginzburg, 1983) Believing cauls created a "spiritual bridge" between the body and the supernatural realm, the Benandanti, those born with part of their caul clinging to their heads, were believed to possess magical abilities to defeat evil forces.

The Catholic Church celebrated seasonal "Ember Days, (Old English, ymbren, Metford, 1983,p. 92), special Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, for fasting and abstinence to thank God for nature's gifts. On the Thursdays between, the Benandanti, prayed, then retired to bed, where, entering a dream state, they "left" their bodies. The women "attended" a great feast where they "learned" who would die the following year, while the men, in the form of small animals, "flew" on the backs of horses, goats or cats, to the village fields where they used magic Fennel wands, to drive off all witches and evil influences, ensuring bountiful harvests for the coming year.


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"SCIENTIFIC" OBE'S

This segment deals specifically with "autoscopic" hallucinations, those OBEs with a pathological origin. Autoscopic, from the Greek, autos = "self" and skopeo, means, "I am looking at," or, "looking at myself." A related phenomenon, Heautoscopy, (from the Greek, heautoû = "of oneself" + scopos = "I am looking at") literally means, " … 'seeing oneself' or 'seeing [some-thing] of oneself'." (Blom, 2010, p. 234)

"An autoscopic hallucination is the purely visual impression of seeing one's own body or its upper parts as if being reflected in a mirror. Usually, this mirror image of oneself is naturally coloured. It is either motionless or it imitates gestures or facial expressions. Autoscopic hallucinations are often of very short duration (frequently in the range of seconds) and are occasionally preceded by elementary visual hallucinations." (Brugger, Regard and Landis, 1997, p. 20)

Brugger, Regard and Landis (1997) described six types of autoscopic phenomena: -

1.    Autoscopic Hallucinations:
Generally involving brightly coloured visual images of the face or torso, usually in the left visual field (p. 20), or as "… an apparitional figure" (Green, 1968, p.42). Often an "… exact mirror image of oneself" (Brugger, et al., 2006, p. 666), or a, "… duplicate body more or less resembling his physical body," (Green, 1970, p. 2093; and 1968, p. 30);

2.    Heautoscopy Proper:
Involving visual and somesthetic modalities; an "… intermediate form between autoscopic hallucination and OBE" (Blanke and Arzy, 2005, p. 17), where the "double" imitates bodily movements. While the "image" is poorly defined, it is nevertheless generally "perceived" as one's, "… hallucinated doppelganger or double," (Blom, 2010, p. 235). In its polyopic form the body image may appear divided into many parts, (Brugger, et al., 2006, p. 669), or, as multiple figures of other people;

3.    Feelings of a Presence:
The experience of, "… the presence of someone next to you without actually seeing a double," (Ananthaswamy, 2015, p. 198), the "thing" often seeming to be on the threshold of one's visual field;

4.    Out of Body Experience:
Visual and somesthetic modalities, involving feelings of bodily separation, depersonalization, derealization, floating, or flying. Experiences of "separating from" and "returning" to the body are often accompanied by auditory hallucinations. During these experiences, "… people seem to be awake and feel that their "self," or center of awareness, is located outside of the physical body and somewhat elevated. It is from this elevated extrapersonal location that the subjects experience seeing their body and the world." (Blanke, Arzy and Landis, 2008, p. 430);

5.    Negative Heautoscopy:
Involving visual and somesthetic experiences, with feelings of depersonalization, particularly difficulty in awareness of, or recognizing one's bodily parts; "… defined as the failure to see one's own body when looked at either directly or in a mirror." (Blanke, Arzy and Landis, 2008, p. 442);

6.    Inner Heautoscopy:
With visual and somesthetic experiences, especially feelings of depersonalization, the body feels empty, "… the internal organs are usually hallucinated in the extracorporal space." (B. R. & L., 1997, p. 26) Occasionally, many different sized mirror images of one's body can "appear" inside the body. (Blanke, Arzy and Landis, 2008, p. 441)

Occurring, "… in approximately 10% of the healthy population." (Blanke and Arzy, 2005, p. 16), autoscopy is more generally associated with pathological disorders such as epilepsy and migraine, (Blanke and Arzy, 2005; Lopez and Elziere, 2018), neurological disorders, brain lesions, (Devinsky, et al., 1989), brain tumours, (Ananthaswamy, 2015, p. 196)), posttraumatic brain damage, (Blanke and Arzy, 2005, p. 17), brain stem, or spinal cord damage, (Aspell and Blanke, 2009, p. 76), vestibular disorders, (Lopez and Elziere, 2018, p. 193), alcohol or drugs, (Wilde and Murray, 2009, p. 3), stress, painful child-birth, (Ananthaswamy, 2015, p. 200), extreme fear, physical injury, and, "… during hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations." (Aspell and Blanke, 2009, p. 74)

Often producing extremely realistic hallucinations, one can perhaps appreciate how disturbing these would have been in the superstitious, pre-scientific past,

"Most of the early (pre-1880s) views on OBE's emphasized the idea that something — the spirit or the soul — exteriorized from the body and either stayed close to the physical body or visited distant locations or dimensions." (Alvarado, 1989, p. 28)

Although studied for over a century, because they were, "… of short duration, and happen only once or twice in a lifetime" (Aspell and Blanke, 2009, p. 74), the origins of OBEs remained obscure. Their mysterious character generated many bizarre theories, e.g. subtle bodies, doppelgangers, human doubles, bi-location, wandering souls, phantasmoagenetic apparitions, apparitions of living persons, telepathically induced hallucinations, hallucinations of the self, or, "illusions of exteriorization." (Alvarado 2016) It was not until 2002 that a serendipitous discovery by Swiss neurosurgeon Olaf Blanke (2004) first provided important clues as to their actual origins.

While using subdural electrodes to electrically stimulate the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) of an epileptic patient, "out-of-body type experiences" were noted. Low level stimulation produced sensations of, "… sinking into the bed" or, "… falling from a height" while increased amplitude "… led to an OBE," (Blanke, Ortigue, Landis and Seeck, 2002, p; 269). At different levels of amplitude the patient reported feelings, of lightness, limb-shortening, "… floating about two metres above the bed, close to the ceiling." (Blanke et al., 2002, p. 269), or else, being able to see their physical body lying in bed.

Located on both sides of the brain, at the convergence of the temporal and parietal lobes,

"… the TPJ is a key neural locus for self-processing that is involved in multisensory body-related information processing as well as in processing of phenomenological and cognitive aspects of the self." (Blanke and Arzy, 2005, p. 21)

Maintaining an awareness of the position, and movement, of body parts, the TPJ also monitors the vestibular sensory system, and, given their important role in the sensory perception of the body, Blanke and Arzy, (2005), theorized, OBEs may be, "… related to a failure to integrate multisensory information from one's own body at the temporo-parietal junction." (p. 16) While some studies found OBEs originated in the Left Frontal-Temporal, the Left Tempero-Parietal, or the Bilateral Frontal-Temporal areas, 75%, occurred in patients with damage to the right hemisphere (Heydrich, Lopez, Seeck, and Blanke, 2011, p. 583), the hemisphere which deals with our sense of spatial orientation.

Stimulation of the TPJ also produced vestibular sensations (Lopez and Elziere, 2018, p. 202) and evidence suggests many OBEs may take place when problems within the right TPJ combine with disorders of the vestibular sensory system. (VSS)

Involving the cochlea and vestibular labyrinth, (a series of inner ear canals), the VSS contributes to our sense of balance and an awareness of spatial orientation. Normally, incoming sensory information provides awareness of our position, vis-à-vis the external world, however, as Lopez and Elziere (2018) noted, "… erroneous signals from the inner ear regarding body motion and orientation." (p. 202) can produce distorted spatial perception, impressions of floating or flying, or of limbs becoming shortened, or misplaced. (Blanke, Landis, Spinelli and Seeck, 2004, p. 243)

Using the Cambridge Depersonalization Scale, which, amongst other areas, contains 29 questions relating to, (a) Depersonalization, (where thoughts and feelings seem unreal, or impersonal), and, (b) Derealization, (a dissociative condition where the perception of the external world, can appear to be vague and unreal), Lopez and Elziere, (2018), tested 210 subjects with a history of dizziness and vertigo against 210 "… age-and gender-matched controls," (p. 193), with no vestibular disorders. While 14% of unhealthy subjects reported experiencing OBEs, only 5% of controls reported similar experiences. (pp. 193 and 197)

Subjects experiencing OBEs also tended to record higher scores for depression and anxiety, (p. 200), disorders commonly associated with vestibular disorders.(p. 203) Lopez and Elziere, (2018), also identified "… depersonalization-derealization, depression and anxiety as the main predictors of OBE in patients with dizziness," (p. 193).

Dizziness appears to be a common component of OBEs, (Lopez and Elziere, 2018, p. 202), and, while Muldoon and Carrington (1929), also identified dizziness as a symptom of OBEs, they attributed it to "occult sources," claiming it was,

"… a condition of looseness of the astral body. …dizziness indicates that the astral body is not bound tightly to the physical. When dizzy, we stagger because the astral body is loose and half inclined to withdraw from the physical." (pp. 27-28)

Although there is now a greater insight into the actual causes of autoscopic OBEs, precisely how, and why, they occur, still remains unknown. Nevertheless, the fact that they have physiological origins clearly indicates they are not "occult" phenomena; rather, as Lopez and Elziere, (2018), suggest,

 "OBEs result from a multisensory disintegration in personal space (i.e., a failure to integrate visual body-related information and somatosensory information) and a disintegration between personal and extrapersonal space (i.e., a failure to integrate vestibular and visual information)." (p. 202)



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OCCULT OBE's

"It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. … This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call The Twilight Zone."

Occult OBEs are,

(a) non-pathological in origin;
(b) do not normally involve apparitional figures;
(c) can be influenced by a person's beliefs; and,
(d) while, generally involuntarily, can also be produced deliberately.

Essential for Occult OBEs are a belief in the Astral Plane, the Astral Body, and Astral Travel.

ASTRAL PLANE
The "astral plane;" ("astral" = "of the stars"), is claimed to exist beyond all normal physical and spiritual dimensions, and outside time and space, yet its contents, and inhabitants, "… are real in exactly the same way as our bodies, our furniture, our houses or monuments are real." (Leadbeater, 1895, p. 2) Invisible to humans it comprises "… a different order of matter" (Besant, 1912, p. 35), a substance known as Quintessence, ("fifth element"). Also known as "ether," this is the primordial "mother-substance" from which the entire cosmos was created.

Located in the superlunary region, (beyond the Moon), it is twice as distant as the Sun; which, according to the Pañcavimśa Brāhmaa (The Brāhmaņa of Twenty-five Chapters, 25.10, is about the distance one could travel on horseback in 44 days; (some 2,464 km. Kak, 1998. p. 98). Others, like Ptolemy however, placed the Sun at, "… 600 earth diameters distant from the earth" (Kak, 1998, p. 93) a distance of some 15,208,300 km.

ASTRAL BODY
Occultists believe that, in addition to their corporeal body, humans possess a spiritual element, an, "… airy, filmy double of the body." (Addison, 1933, p. 3), an "… exact counterpart of the perfect physical body of the person." (Muldoon and Carrington, 1929, p. 2) A "proven reality," it is, "composed" of, "… the seven sub-states of astral matter." (Besant, 1912, p. 37), and so, "… not subject to most of the physical laws of space and time." (Tart, 1974, p. 368)

Although an integral part of the human body it nevertheless remains completely independent. Variously referred to as, "spirit," (pneuma), "spiritual body," (soma pneumatikon, Mead, 1919, p. 47), "soul," Linga Sharîra, (Hindu, "vital form," Besant, 1912, p. 6), or "etheric double" (because it is, "… made of ether, ''double" because an exact duplicate of the gross body," Besant, 1912, p. 6). In the 19th century Theosophists, Rosicrucians, and others, adopted the term, "astral body" for this ineffable feature.

A Vitalistic concept, the belief that all living creatures "… possess a non-physical inner force or energy that gives them the property of life." (Carroll, 2003, p. 402), and known as Prana, ("pra" = constant + "an" = movement), in Hinduism, this cosmic "life-force," or, "vital principle," was the, "… source of life, breath and vitality," (What is Hinduism, 2007, p. 173). Muldoon and Carrington (1929) claimed this energy, (which entered the body via an "astral cable," p. 75), was "condensed" by the astral body, (pranamaya kosa), (p. 31).

For many ancients the Sun was the source of this vital energy. The Egyptians, who believed stone statues were actually "alive," aligned their temples so the rays of the rising Sun would fall on the statues, enabling this life-force, (ka), to sustain them. (Reidy, 2010, p. 204) Hinduism also claimed Prana came from the sun, and the Theosophists, who regarded Hinduism as a major source of Eastern esoteric wisdom, adopted this belief,

"… (a) the Sun is the store-house of Vital Force, which is the Noumenon of Electricity; and (b) that it is from its mysterious, never-to-be-fathomed depths, that issue those life currents which thrill through Space, as through the organisms of every living thing on Earth." (Blavatsky, 1888, volume I, p. 531)

ASTRAL TRAVEL:
Although the physical body was unable to do so, the astral body could ascend to the astral plane, where it could exist autonomously, with complete "conscious awareness." Also known as, "astral projection," or, "self-projection," (Carrington, 1916, p. 248), this process was iinitiated by, "… the subconscious Will." (M. & C., 1929, p. 18), "… the will which is active in sleep," (Carrington, 1916, p. 250), and was sustained by the power of thought, (M. & C., 1929, pp. 214-216).

The concept of astral travel is extremely important to occultists, since they believe,

"If there is something within the human body which can leave it … while the body is still living, why couldn't this same something leave the body when it dies and continue to live?" (Smith, 1968, p. 11)

While ascending to the astral regions, the astral body always remains "tethered," to the physical body by an, "… elastic-like cable," (M & C, 1929, p. 7). Although some claimed it had, "… numerous points of attachment," (Mead, 1919, p. 82), Mead located its bodily connection, "… between the shoulder-blades," (p. 81). Conversely, Muldoon and Carrington, (1929), claimed it was attached,

 "… to the medulla oblongata region of the astral counterpart, while the other end centred between the eyes of the physical counterpart." (p. 7)

With "… the diameter of a silver dollar" (44.4 mm. 1¾ inches, M. & C., 1929, p. 29) where it emerged from the body, it thinned as it stretched out. At 3.04 m. (10 feet), it was 19 mm. (¾ inch) thick, reaching its minimum, that, "… of an ordinary sewing thread" (M. & C., 1929, p. 30), after 4.5 m. (15 feet). Composed of the same material as the astral body, this cord conducted "vital currents" and, most importantly, "Should this cord be severed, death instantly results." (M. & C., 1929, xvi)

Interestingly, of the OBEs subjects investigated by Green (1968),"The great majority of subjects felt unconnected." (p. 100). Only 3.5% of subjects mentioned any sense of a "physical connection;" As one subject commented, "I seemed to be floating along above myself rather like a balloon on a string, but I could not see how I was attached." (Green, 1968, p. 102)

So, what exactly were these Occult OBEs described by these authors? Were they genuine metaphysical experiences, or, is there a more mundane explanation?

Unfortunately, the authors' descriptions are often vague and ambiguous, making it difficult to identify the exact induction processes they used, or the actual character of their OBEs. In fact, it appears the authors themselves did not fully understand the exact nature of their experiences. In what Fox (1920b) described as their, "… futile attempts to translate the untranslatable," (p. 251), they often circumvented the issue. Muldoon and Carrington, (1929) resorted to creative neologisms, e.g. astral catalepsy, discoincidence, dynamatization of projection, exteriorization of motivity, hyperdynamizing, immotive unconsciousness, while Leadbeater (1895), used obscure Sanskrit terms such as Chela in the Mâyâvirûpa, Kâmarûpa, sushuptic, Kârana Sharîra, Linga Sharîra, Ñin-mâ-pa, and, rûpa divisions of the devachanic plane. Nevertheless, despite the lack of detail, it appears their OBEs were actually ASC, which, as mentioned earlier, involve temporary disruptions in, "… consciousness, memory, identity, or perception of the environment." (American Psychiatric Association; 1994, p. 477)

One area affected by ASC is the perception of time; as Fox (1962) commented, "… time is a most perplexing thing in the Dream World;" (p. 38). Describing his first complex "projection dream," which although it seemed to be quite lengthy, he realized it actually, "… lasted only a few moments." (p. 33).

Muldoon and Carrington (1929) implied some form of dissociation was necessary for astral projection; "It may take place when the subject is in practically any state of unconsciousness." (p. 14). Significantly Wilde and Murray, (2009), also noted, "A significant positive relationship between OBEs and dissociation," (p. 6).

Overall, the various OBEs described by these authors appear to have involved either,

a)    Day-Dreaming;
b)    Sleep, Dreaming, Lucid Dreams, False Awakenings, Hypnagogic and Hypnopompic Experiences (HHE), Sleep Paralysis; or
c)    Self-hypnosis.

(a) DAY-DREAMING:

A, "… stable cognitive characteristic," (McVay, Kane and Kwapil, 2009, p. 862), involving low levels of dissociation, day-dreaming, or "mind-wandering" is an, "… ubiquitous phenomenon" (Stawarczyk, et al, 2012, p. 1). Experienced by some 96% of individuals each day. (Mar, Mason and Livack, 2012, p. 401), it occupies some, "… 30–50% of our daily thinking time." (Stawarczyk, et al, 2012, p. 1)  Despite this, day-dreaming is never specifically mentioned by the various authors as features of their Occult OBEs.


(b) SLEEP, DREAMING, LUCID DREAMS, FALSE AWAKENING, SLEEP PARALYSIS:

The authors frequently refer to sleep, and dreams, as features of their experiences; Carrington (1916), suggested the best time to produce an OBE was, "… between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. … when natural sleep is most likely to supervene." (p. 252). Muldoon's first experience of "conscious astral projection," occurred after he "… dozed off … and slept for several hours." (M. & C, 1929, p. 5) Although aware he was in his bed, he was, "… bewildered as to my exact location." (p. 6), and observed, "… one can be conscious, yet unable to move. This condition I have called "astral catalepsy," (p. 6). Fox (1962), also described how, in his youth, he experienced many dreams where he explored, "… what appeared to be a marvelous celestial world," (p. 29). It was one such dream which generated his initial interests in, "… dream-consciousness, astral travelling, and self-induced trance," (1920a, p. 190), leading to his identification of two specific "dreaming" conditions, "Dreams of Knowledge," and a "Trance condition." (1920a, p. 193)

Lucid Dreams:
Blackmore (1991), suggested a relationship existed between lucid dreaming and OBEs; for many they are, " … practically indistinguishable. If you dream of leaving your body, the experience is much the same." (p. 368)

Individuals can be aware they are actually dreaming during lucid dreams and often experience, "… increased insight, control, access to waking memories, dissociation from one's own body, logical thought, and positive emotion," (Denis, 2018, p. 358), thus Swedenborg, who trained himself to produce Hypnagogic states, could "travel, " … to heaven, hell and other planets." (Lachman, 2002, p. 43), all significant features of his beliefs. Similarly, what Fox (1962) called "Dreams of Knowledge," may have actually been lucid dreams; for he could control their duration, and awaken "… if danger threatened." (1962, p. 34).

False Awakenings:
These are extremely realistic hallucinations where, although fast asleep, one is convinced they are actually wide-awake; essentially one is, "… dreaming they have woken up." (Parker and Blackmore, 2002, p. 57)

Fox also seems to have experienced False Awakenings and Sleep Paralysis; he reported how sometimes, in his "Dreams of Knowledge," or other "unremembered dreams," he would fall into a trance, and, although certain he was awake, he could detect certain inconsistencies which alerted him to the fact he, " …was really dreaming." (Fox, 1962, p. 34)

False Awakenings often occur on "the borders of sleep" (Waters et al., 2016, p. 1098), during hypnagogic or hypnopompic stages. Significantly, both examples of Muldoon's "conscious astral projection" occurred during, "… (1) the hypnagogic* state, emerging from sleep, and (2) the hypnagogic* state when going to sleep." (M. & C.,1929, p. 164; * NB: While the terms Hypnagogic and Hypnopompic are now used, in the past "hypnagogic" referred to the conditions encountered when awakening and going to sleep). Muldoon also claimed, "… most projections will be more successful — consciously — if they begin in the hypnagogic state, when coming out of sleep." (M. & C., 1929, p. 23)

Sleep Paralysis:
Despite Muldoon and Carrington (1929) claiming, "It is catalepsy of the astral body which produces physical catalepsy." (p. 10), sleep paralysis is actually a brief parasomnian condition, involving abnormal movements, behaviors, emotions, perceptions, and, "… vivid, waking dreams, (i.e. hallucinations)." (Sharpless, 2016, p. 1761) Known as Hypnagogic and Hypnopompic Experiences (HHE), these generally occur,

"… immediately prior to falling asleep or upon waking. … individuals are conscious of their surroundings and able to open their eyes, but unable to move. An acute sense of fear and various hypnagogic and hypnopompic experiences often accompany sleep paralysis." (Cheyne, Newby-Clark and Rueffer, 2000, p. 313)

Fox (1920a), commented, "In this condition one is liable to any imaginable hallucination of sight or sound;" (p. 194), such as,

"… visions, voices, weird insights and unusual sensations greet us as we drift out of consciousness. Faces may appear, threatening or comical. A landscape may open up, with distant mountains and wide, expansive vistas. Geometric forms, jewels, diamonds and intricate patterns may dance before our mind's eye, not unlike those seen under the influence of certain psychoactive substances. … We may feel we are floating, or that our body has grown to enormous proportions." (Lachman, 2002, p. 42)

Bizarre, and often disturbing, "… (up to 90%) of sleep paralysis episodes are associated with fear." (Denis, 2018, p. 356) In the past many such "experiences" were frequently "… cited as sources of accounts of supernatural nocturnal assaults..." (Cheyne, Rueffer and Newby-Clark, 1999, p. 319), since they often involved "… nocturnal incubus/succubus assaults, spirit possessions, old hag attacks, ghostly visitations, and alien abductions." (Cheyne, Rueffer and Newby-Clark, 1999, p. 320) Some, referred to as "ghost rapes," were attributed to attempts by, Incubi or Succubae, sexual demons, using erotic temptations to seduce good Christians away from their faith.

Cheyne, Rueffer and Newby-Clark. (1999, p. 319) identified three types of HHE:

1.    Intruder: Auditory and visual hallucinations, involving "feelings" of a "presence" of someone, or something, "malevolent," in one's  room;

2.    Incubus: Generally involving feelings of pressure on the chest, breathing difficulties, chocking, suffocation and pain. Reported since ancient times, they were often attributed to attacks by malicious supernatural creatures, e.g. incubi, succubi, "Old Hag," or, a Mare, which sat astride their victim's chest, restricting their breathing. The term "nightmare" is derived from, "… the Anglo-Saxon neaht or nicht [night] and mara [incubus or succubus]." (Powell, 1997, p. 588);

3.    Unusual Bodily Experiences: These can involve feelings of "… floating, "out-of-body" and flying sensations," (C. R. & NB. 1999, p. 320); although generally associated with feelings of fear, some subjects reported feelings of "bliss." (C. R. & NB. 1999, p. 319).

It is possible some Occult OBEs involved HHE; Muldoon's first, "conscious astral projection," (M. & C., 1929, p. 5), occurred after he dozed off and slept for several hours, then, as he awoke, he was unable to go back to sleep or to fully awaken, " … glued down, stuck fast, in an immovable position … conscious, yet unable to move." (p. 6). Fox (1962), also reported waking from sleep and finding himself in a semi-rigid, almost cataleptic condition;

"I was awake now — yes, but completely paralyzed! I could not open my eyes, I could not speak. I could not move a muscle. I had a slight sense of daylight shining through my eyelids', and I could distinctly hear the clock, ticking and my grandfather moving about in the adjoining room." (Fox, 1962, p. 39)

(c)     SELF-HYPNOSIS:

Many ancient forms of communication with spirits involved self-hypnotic techniques to produce a trancelike condition. It was believed this would transport individuals to "heavenly" realms to meet and communicate with, supernatural beings. In reality, hypnosis is a psychophysiological process, which, enables one to dissociate, to various degrees, from a sensory awareness of the external environment. Since it is a form of "… guided daydreaming … a natural altered state of consciousness …" (Yapko, 1990, p. 9), the individual's "experiences," however bizarre, are entirely the creation of their own imagination.

Hypnosis involves both the Limbic System, (which governs, "… various emotions and feelings" Mosby, 1986, p. 652), and the Ascending Reticular Activating Systems, (ARAS), which is involved with various aspects of sleep, waking, consciousness, alertness, vigilance, the integration of sensory information, and awareness. While maintaining levels of arousal this area can also inhibit, "… appreciation of a considerable degree of reality." (West, 1960, p. 673)

Two significant aspects of self-hypnosis are Absorption, ("… the ability to concentrate without distraction," Wilde and Murray, 2009, p. 5), and Suggestibility, ("… the uncritical acceptance of an idea." Kroger, 1977, p. 7)

Absorption:  By focussing on a particular thought or image one can exclude a great deal of external stimuli which concentrates the primary non-autonomic brain activity within the limbic and ARAS systems. If maintained, this can produce feelings of depersonalization; (" … a key component of trance states.' Kaplan, 2004, p. 4), and, as one becomes increasingly "disconnected" from the physical self, one's sense of reality becomes increasingly more uncertain and surreal, while,

  … the waking brain under conditions of reduced sensory input generates a considerable flow of daydreams, fantasies, imagery, and "pseudosomatic delusions" (Antrobus, Singer and Greenberg, 1966, p. 399).

Suggestibility: Unlike gullibility, suggestibility is the tendency to be influenced by certain verbal, or non-verbal "suggestions," (e.g. echophenomena, the automatic imitation of another's actions; when someone yawns, others tend to yawn involuntarily). While the degree of suggestibility varies between individuals, when given via hypnosis, suggestions are particularly effective, especially during, "… extended periods of sensory isolation," (Yapko, 1990, p. 117). Hypnosis enables suggestions to "bypass" the analytical processing of the conscious mind and go "direct" to the subconscious, increasing the probability that one will accept even the most implausible scenarios as "authentic."

Hypnotic trances share many characteristics of OBEs; indeed, hypnosis was once, "… the original and for long the most popular technique for experimentally inducing an OBE." (Irwin, 1989, p. 2) Significantly, some of the techniques described by Carrington (1916) and Fox (1920a), to produce Occult OBEs are very similar to a number of self-hypnotic techniques, e.g.

"To induce the trance I would lie down, with muscles relaxed, turning my consciousness inward upon the pineal door and excluding all other thoughts; the body was passive, but the mind positive in its concentration upon this inner point. My eyelids were closed; but I believe the eyes were rolled upwards and slightly squinting…." (Fox, 1920a, p. 196)

"One of the simplest is to repeat to oneself many times just before dropping off to sleep, 'I have will — I have energy!'" (Carrington, 1916, p. 250)

Excluding external stimuli, (Irwin 1989, p. 1), repeated suggestions, turning the consciousness inward, positive concentration (Hammond, 1990, pp. 11-12), rolling the eyes upward, (Spiegel, 1972), and muscular relaxation, (Jacobson, 1938), are all effective self-hypnotic techniques. Green (1968) noted the importance of relaxation in "esomatic experiences," (her term for OBEs),

 "More than one subject spontaneously puts forward the hypothesis that muscular relaxation was a necessary condition of his esomatic experience. Some subjects even suggest that relaxation was a cause of their experience… A number of occurrences of the esomatic state have resulted from the practice of relaxation exercises, sometimes in conjunction with meditation practices." (Green, 1968, p. 56)


§

Although many oculists claim that Occult OBEs are authentic transcendental experiences, evidence for the existence of the astral plane, the astral body and astral travel, the theories which underpin the concept of Occult OBEs is somewhat tenuous. Claims for these concepts are primarily anecdotal, uncertain and ambiguous; even Muldoon and Carrington (1929) admitted, "… many stories concerning the astral world are contradictory." (p. 216)

Possibly reflecting the ancient belief that, "The heavens were peopled by malicious powers" (Taylor, 1931, p. 61), we find that some, like Powell (1927), populated the astral realm with elemental essences, vampires, werewolves, astral corpses, and Black Magicians, (p. 168). Contradicting such claims Fox (1920b), reported, "… a total absence of elementals or other terrifying beings." (p. 255) Fox also mentioned the existence of horrible astral slums (1920a, p. 193), and "… electric trams on the astral plane" (1920b, p. 252), objects never mentioned by other authors.

Fox (1920a), admitted the astral plane was a, "Realm of Illusion," (p. 193), and, given the significantly different observations by the various authors, one must ask if it is possible that at least some, or all, of the Occult OBEs imagery, may simply be subjective confabulations?

Personal beliefs can significantly influence one's experiences during ASC and dreams. As Kroger (1977) indicated, during hypnosis, "… it is the subject who initiates the acts in response to an appropriate expectant attitude." (p. 7). Gardiner (1993) mentioned a number of Christian mystics whose visions, like those of Swedenborg, were profoundly influenced by their personal beliefs. Many experienced "penance producing visions," (p. xxv); where, tormented by feelings of guilt, and fear of eternal damnation, they conjured up the most incredible visions of "… heaven, hell and purgatory." (p. xvi), images reflecting their Christian beliefs.

During ASC individuals tend to experience exactly what they expect to see, hear and feel; thus, Shamans "communicated" with totemic sky-spirits, Benandanti attended magical feasts, attacked witches with fennel wands, while occultists "travel" to an alternative astral realm. While such experiences may have the appearance of reality, as Sagan (1983) noted, "… the fact that a sensation is reported does not mean that it occurred as claimed." (p. 56)

Blackmore (2015) noted that, "… many ideas that seemed quite plausible 50 or 100 years ago no longer seem so attractive." (p. 394); and ongoing scientific and technological advances has increasingly revealed that many claims supporting Occult OBE beliefs are nothing more that outmoded religious, superstitious and pseudo-scientific beliefs. Some of these claims are that,

•    Atoms are both male and female, "… electrons are astral atoms. … a chemical atom of hydrogen contains 882 astral atoms." (Powell, 1927, p. 5);

•    Madness is caused by the separation of the "physical and etheric" bodies. (Footnote by Carrington, M. & C. 1929, p. 52);

•    Yogis and mediums could levitate, being lifted up by "spirit hands," (Leadbeater, 1895, p. 96). Leadbeater and Powell, (1927), both claimed that "Atlantis," and ancient India, had airships which flew by reversing the forces of gravity; and, as Powell added, "… it is not improbable that a similar method was employed in constructing the Pyramids and Stonehenge." (p. 161)

Finally, to be classified as "legitimate" metaphysical events, Occult OBEs need to be able to demonstrate characteristics which prove, beyond doubt, they are not simply autoscopic or hallucinatory experiences. Smith (1968), suggested subjects should be able to return from their OBEs, "… with information which you would not have any normal way of knowing." (p. 10) In her study of 251 subjects, Green, (1968, p. 13), found only two examples which might possibly meet these requirements; however, both reports were anecdotal, and lacked the verification required in a proper scientific study.

In conclusion, as Sagan (1983), observed, "To the best of my knowledge, no demonstration of astral projection has ever been reported under such controlled circumstances with skeptics in attendance." (p. 56)

We will now leave it to the reader to decide upon the veracity of Occult OBEs!



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