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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Thought Forms

Forms or images that result from the activity of the mind. A discussion about thought-forms needs to take into account two important factors found in the Ancient Wisdom teachings. These are the existence of the MENTAL BODY and the MENTAL PLANE. The mental body is one of the seven components of the human individual. It is composed of subtle material drawn from one of the seven primary planes in nature of which the mental plane is one. This fact accounts for the close affinity, under certain conditions, between individuals; it accounts for telepathy, mob hysteria and so on.

In their book Thought Forms (TPH, Adyar, 1941, pp. 44-45; TPH, Wheaton, Quest rev. ed., 1969, pp. 26-28). Annie Besant and Charles W. Leadbeater define three classes of thought forms.

1. “That which takes the image of the thinker. When a man thinks of himself as in some distant place, or wishes earnestly to be in that place, he makes a thought-form in his own image which appears there.”

2. “That which takes the image of some material object.”

3. “That which takes a form entirely its own, expressing its inherent qualities in the matter which it draws round it.”

According to Leadbeater’s clairvoyant perception, the thought-form is made out of the matter of the thinker’s mental body. The image “floats” in the upper part of that body usually in front of the person’s face at about the level of the eyes. It remains there for as long as the person continues to think about the subject and for a short time afterwards depending on the intensity of the thought. Leadbeater further suggests that if a strong emotion accompanies the thought another phenomenon takes place; an image is formed out of the material of the ASTRAL BODY and the mental body so that there is now an astral/mental form. If the emotion is, for instance, that of affection for an individual, then the so formed astral/mental image leaps away into space and to the object of that affection. When the image arrives at the person concerned it discharges itself into the astral and mental bodies of that person and arouses feelings and thoughts of a similar nature. Thought forms have color and the colors are dependent on the kind of thought or emotion that generates the form (A Textbook of Theosophy, 1946, p. 50).

Helena P. Blavatsky states that “. . . every thought so evolved with energy from the brain, creates nolens volens [i.e., willingly or unwillingly] a shape.” Continuing, she states that such a shape is absolutely “unconscious unless it is the creation of an adept, who has a pre-conceived object in giving it [the thought form] consciousness,” or rather the appearance of consciousness derived from the adept’s will and consciousness. She states that it is through this mechanism that the adept is able to appear in several places at once (CW X:224). There are numerous instances of a person being seen in two places at the same time. A classic case involved a member of the English parliament who was seen by a number of persons outside the chamber when he was actually speaking inside.

Thought Waves. According to the clairvoyant Geoffrey HODSON (Basic Theosophy, pp. 101-5), there are two immediate effects produced by strong or concentrated thought. The first is radiating vibrations or waves of thought force and the second the formation of thought forms. The first effect, that of vibration, occurs in the thinker’s mental body and is transferred to the surrounding mental atmosphere in the same way that the vibration of a bell is transferred to the surrounding air. Hodson suggests that in the case of a mental impulse the radiation is not in one plane only, but in many dimensions, akin to the radiation from a lamp. Whenever thought-waves encounter another mental body they will tend to set up vibrations similar to those of the incident vibrations. It appears that the most important factor in the interaction between mental bodies is not so much the strength but the clarity and definiteness of the original thought.

He also points out that emotional thoughts, affecting the astral body, are usually deflected or overwhelmed by the multitude of other vibrations at the same level and therefore do not often affect others. A notable exception to this dilution of effect is seen in large crowds when such gatherings are astrally stimulated by a shared emotional experience, such as may be found at a sporting event. This shared experience can be benign or disastrous as is evidenced in the contrasting results of a football crowd in England singing the hymn Abide With Me or the same crowd rioting over some perceived unfairness of play.

In other words, the thought power of a group of people is greater than the sum of their individual thought. For this reason ritual that generates positive thought in a group is of great importance in its effect on the surroundings.

During a period of some six years beginning in 1880 a theosophical member named Alfred P. SINNETT received a large number of letters from certain Mahatmas. Among them the power and nature of thought was discussed. Ideas that were largely new to western thought were conveyed. The following extracts are relevant here:

. . . every thought of man upon being evolved passes into the inner world and becomes an active entity by associating itself — coalescing, we might term it — with an elemental; that is to say with one of the semi-intelligent forces of the kingdoms. It survives as an active intelligence, a creature of the mind’s begetting, for a longer or shorter period proportionate with the original intensity of the cerebral action which generated it. Thus, a good thought is perpetuated as an active beneficent power; an evil one as a maleficent demon. And so man is continually peopling his current in space with a world of his own, crowded with the offspring of his fancies, desires, impulses, and passions, a current which reacts upon any sensitive or any nervous organization which comes in contact with it in proportion to its dynamic intensity. The Buddhist calls this his “Skandha,” the Hindu gives it the name of “Karma”; the Adept evolves these shapes consciously, other men throw them off unconsciously (ML, p. 472).
Do those you love communicate with you during their sleep objectively? Your Spirits, in hours of danger, or intense sympathy, vibrating on the same current of thought — which in such cases creates a kind of telegraphic spiritual wire between your two bodies — may meet and mutually impress your memories; but then you are living, not dead bodies” (ML, p. 214).

A remarkable example of the power of thought to create images is recounted by Alexandra DAVID-NEEL, who spent many years in Tibet. She was told by her Lama teacher to meditate to create a thought-form that others, including himself, could see. After many weeks of effort she succeeded in creating the form of a young monk and knew that she had attained her goal when a visitor to her tent bowed to the monkish thought-form. The hazards attended upon such an exercise are highlighted in her account of what subsequently happened. The thought form gradually took on a life of its own and became threatening and malignant. David-Neel had to struggle for six months to demolish her creation (Magic and Mystery in Tibet, 1967, p. 221).

With such an experience in mind, the warning contained in the following passage may be quite relevant.

. . . it should be borne in mind that the thought-form so constructed will either remain in his own aura, or will find its way to a sensed objective. In the first case, it will form part of a dense wall of such thought-forms which entirely surround him or constitute his mental aura, and will grow in strength as he pays it attention until it is so large that it will shut out reality from him, or it will be so dynamic and potent that he will become the victim of that which he built. The thought-form will be more powerful than its creator, so that he becomes obsessed by his own ideas, and driven by his own creation. In the second case, his thought form will find its way into the mental aura of another human being, or into some group. You have here the seeds of evil magical work and the imposition of a powerful mind upon a weaker. If it finds its way into some group, analogous impulsive forms (found within the group aura) will coalesce with it, having the same vibratory rate or measure. Then the same thing will take place in the group aura as has taken place within the individual ring-pass-not, — the group will have around it an inhibiting wall of thought-forms, or it will be obsessed by some idea. Here we have the clue to all sectarianism, to all fanaticism, and to some forms of insanity, both group and individual (Alice Bailey, A Treatise on White Magic, 1934, p. 484).

From a theosophical point of view, since thoughts can produce forms that may persist for some time and have an effect on others it follows that thought is not quite such a private activity as most people think it is. Thought forms can attach themselves to the object of the thoughts and generate results which may be harmful or beneficial. Strongly focused thought can, over a period of time, charge the atmosphere in the environment, or even objects, for good or ill.

The ideas regarding thought-forms suggested in the foregoing paragraph may need amplification. There have been a number of treatises written about thought-forms and there is reasonable consensus along the following lines. A strong thought-form may behave like the reflected radio wave used in radar. There is a significant difference however. A thought-form, not finding absorption possible at the destination or target can be “returned to sender” with greater power or “velocity” and impact on the sender with sufficient force to severely discommode him or her. In the extreme case of the generation of a thought-form charged with hatred, the rebound effect can be little short of disastrous. That said, it needs to be borne in mind that the greater majority of thought-forms do not leave the immediate vicinity of the thinker, even remaining in the aura. Negative thought-forms, if they so remain, can be to the detriment of the thinker, acting as a “poisoning agent.” Conversely, positive thoughts, generating corresponding thought-forms, can result in a positive reinforcement for the thinker. Thought-forms which do “migrate” to the object of the thought process rebound if the recipient’s mental aura is composed of a different level of subtle mental energy. On the other hand, if the nature of the thought-form and the mental aura of the “target” are in harmony, the thought-form may be absorbed with the result that the recipient’s condition is reinforced or improved. This accounts for the effectiveness of such a process as healing at a distance that was allegedly performed by Edgar Cayce and other such healers, and is practiced in theosophical healing groups.

It may be overlooked that the act of speaking also generates thought-forms. This is because speech is preceded by thought. Admittedly, in the vast majority of cases thought-forms so generated are weak and of short duration, but if a particular sequence of words, such as those of an incantation or mantra are repeated many times with one-pointedness, then the resultant thought-form may well be very strong and long-lived, lingering in the vicinity and benefitting those who encounter it. In this connection it is worth mentioning the word “Om” (sometimes written “Aum”). From time immemorial that word has been used to preface and conclude mantras and other mental activities that are designed to build thought-forms and despatch them far and wide. Correctly sounded this word has the power to impart much energy to the accompanying thought. For this reason it is important that the OM is not used for trivial purposes. Presumably the “Amen” used by Christians in ritual and prayer has the same effect.

For an extended discussion of this subject see the book Thought Forms by Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater.


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