(Investigator 153, 2013 November)


Throughout history, light has been connected with good and with creative powers. Thus in the daytime we are active and the light of the sun brings the world to life.

Consistent with the concept of the "goodness" associated with illumination and radiation, the terms are frequently used to connote revelation. Seeing the light, the light at the end of the tunnel, a visionary experience or, in the case of the Apostles who received "the gift of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost", or a "captive light" within man, appears early in religious systems and has had a profound influence both in religious and occult teachings.

This inner etheric light has been represented pictorially by most ancient religions when glorifying important figures. In the case of Moslems in the form of a flame and in early Christian art by a gloria, a luminosity surrounding the head or whole body. More frequently the practice has been confined to a halo around the head only, known as a nimbus.

In 1858, Baron Karl von Reichenbach, a well-known industrial chemist, demonstrated that radiations coming from magnets, crystals, plants and animals could be seen and felt by certain sensitive subjects. These radiations were given the name Odic Force. Although often claimed to have been seen by clairvoyants, it was not until 1911 that W. R. Kilner devised ways of showing the aura. By looking through a dilute solution of dye called dicyanin, or by looking at a very bright light through a strong alcoholic solution, then viewing the subject against a dark background, he could observe the aura. Kilner believed that illnesses caused changes in the colours of the aura and hoped to use this information to aid in the diagnosis of disease.

In the 1970s, an interesting development caused a resurgence of interest in auras when a Russian engineer, Semyon Kirlian, developed high frequency photography which, it was claimed, showed the aura as a fuzzy glow around the boundary of the image.


The invention of Kirlian photography and its suggested relevance to the state or condition of the object being photographed, prompted claims that the auras of human parts — fingers, toes and so on, and those of plants, leaves and insects, contained information about the physiological, psychological and psychic states of those objects. This being so, the "life-force", "life-energy" or "bio-plasma'" of the object could become an important probe for obtaining information otherwise inaccessible by other techniques. This is also a belief of Theosophists, and is taught by organisations such as the Inner Peace Movement, who claim that the aura is also an indication of the level of purity attained by an individual.


Clairvoyants who have been trained to interpret the colours of the aura associate red and orange with energy, yellow with the intellect, green with the healing arts and so on.

They claim that quartz and many other minerals possess curative powers capable of curing such things as malaria, venomous snake bites, venereal disease, cancer and multiple sclerosis. Auras can also be cleansed simply by performing a stroking motion above and parallel to the body ending with a vigorous flick. This, it is claimed, disposes of the aura's pollutants.


In Occult Medicine Can Save Your Life (1985), C. Norman Shealy, M.D., Ph.D., wrote.
"Most (psychics) agree that the aura is three-layered: tight against the skin is a sort of dark layer (some see it as blue or transparent like empty space) a quarter inch or an eighth of an inch thick; next is a more complicated layer, two to four inches thick and of a blue-gray colour which shimmers like heat on a summer highway; and finally there is the fuzzy layer, perhaps light blue, which can be up to several feet thick. Healthy people have bright coloured auras. Disease darkens the aura."

Sceptics argue that the aura is an electromagnetic anomaly and dispute the claims made by aura readers because it is not possible to see certain wavelengths with the human eye. The method devised by W. R. Kilner for perceiving an aura was probably the result of a phenomenon known as image retention. If you stare at bright light or a vividly illuminated object, then look at a blank wall, the image will still be seen.
Under these conditions if you are expecting to see an aura you will probably imagine that you have, although it won't be a natural emanation from the person or object under observation. Brindley (1970) explains:
"The effect is caused by the light/ dark adaption of the light sensitive cells in the retina. The brightness...causes a high rate of breakdown of pigments in the cells in the outer area of the retina, while the pigment in the cells of the central area (focused on the object) were increasing their pigment and hence the sensitivity. Movement of the eye to look elsewhere exposes all the cells of the retina to a lighter background. The cells which were focused on the object were more sensitive and fired at a greater rate, causing a glare effect which is seen as an image of the object."

The momentary retention of a picture on a TV screen after the set has been switched off is a good example.

Kirlian photography, while supposedly proving the existence of an aura in the metaphysical sense of a "life-force" radiating from a human body, does exactly the opposite — inanimate objects one would assume not to possess a "life-force" such as plastic, stones and metal objects, also reveal auras. However, it has nothing to do with proving the existence of a supposed life force but rather evidences an electromagnetic anomaly produced by a reaction between the photographic paper and an object placed upon it, a phenomenon well known to physicists as a corona discharge in air.

Like so many claims made by psychics, their theories are rarely subjected to controlled testing. When they are, a totally different picture emerges.

One such practical test of aura reading was demonstrated on a TV special "Exploring Psychic Powers Live" (ATN Channel 9, 1989) An aura reader was faced with a wall of six feet high door-like panels numbered "1" to "10". Behind them an unknown number of people were randomly placed. The aura reader had previously seen clear auras around all these people. In the test she saw auras emanating above all ten panels, but in reality, people stood behind only three.

The cleansing claim pre-supposes that the aura extends well beyond the body, and that clothing is no barrier. In fact, a two to three millimetre radiation is the maximum. A consideration of an extended and tactile aura in everyday situations shows how ludicrous is the concept.


ATN Channel 9, Exploring Psychics Live. July, 1989.

Brindley, C.S. 1970. Physiology of the Retina and Visual Pathway. Edward Arnold.

Copen, B. Magic of the Aura. Academic Publications. UK.

Edwards, Harry. 1992. 'Heigh Ho, Come to the Fair.' the Skeptic. 12(1):41-42

____________  1992. "All About Auras." the Skeptic. 12(2):41-42. Australian Skeptics Inc.

Plimer, Professor Ian. 1990. Crystal Healing: A Danger to Logic and Health. the Skeptic, VoL. 10, No.1. p17. Australian Skeptics.

Watkins, A. J. and Bickel, William S. 1986. "A Study of the Kirlian Effect." Skeptical Inquirer 10 (3):244-257

From: Edwards, H. 1999 Alternative, Complementary, Holistic & Spiritual Healing, Australian Skeptics Inc.