Glossary entry for

According to esoteric doctrine, there are a number of different planes, or levels of reality. The names usually given to these planes, taking them in order of materiality, rising from the denser to the finer, are the physical, the astral, the mental, the buddhic, and the nirvanic. The substance of each of these planes differs from that of the one below it in the same way as, though to a much greater degree than, vapour differs from solid matter.

The astral region is the second of these great planes of nature - the next above (or within) the physical world. It has often been called the realm of illusion - not that it is itself any more illusory than the physical world, but because of the extreme unreliability of the impressions brought back from it by the untrained seer. This is because of two remarkable characteristics of the astral world: (1) many of its inhabitants can rapidly change their form, and cast glamour over those with whom they choose to sport; (2) objects are seen from all sides at once.

There are three types of inhabitants in the astral world: human, non-human and artificial. The adept and the psychically developed person can gain access to the astral plane at will. Much has been written about astral projection, whereby the adept can leave his/her physical body, and travel great distances in the astral world. When people dream they enter the astral world, but in most cases in an uncontrolled manner. This is why our dreams are so chaotic and unpredictable. The "dead" inhabit the astral plane where they work out their karma, according to the quality of the life they have led. This stage is sometimes called the "summerland". When they are prepared, they leave the astral body and go to the next sub-plane.

Among the non-human entities are the elementals: slyphs (air spirits), salamanders (fire), gnomes (earth) and nymphs or undines (water). There are various nature spirits, such as fairies, pixies, elves, trolls, fauns, imps, and goblins. They have their own forms but can assume any appearance at will. Under ordinary conditions they are not visible to physical sight,but they have the power to materialise at will. Normally they are upset by humans and prefer to avoid them.

Artificial inhabitants are thought forms, created by people either unconsciously or consciously. Human thoughts create living entities on the astral plane. If the thoughts are weak, the entities only survive for a few minutes. Often repeated and strong thoughts will form an entity whose existence may extend to many days. This is the basis of real magic, and the trained adept uses the mind to create on the astral level, sometimes bringing the creation into the physical world.

People from all around the world have in their folklore tales of fairies, ghosts, hauntings, and things that go bump in the night. This is not just superstition, but comes from a time when people were more sensitive to the invisible world. The Irish have a long tradition of contact with the "little people", denizens of the astral world.

Contributed by Alan Pert, Sydney, Australia

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