The invisible etheric body of human beings. It is also called Linga-Sarira, DOPPELGANGER, and pranamaya-kosa. In the works of Helena P. BLAVATSKY and early theosophical writers, it is called the “astral body,” which should not be confused with the later usage of the term by Annie Besant and Charles W. Leadbeater that meant kama-rupa or the emotional body (see ASTRAL BODY). The term etheric has also been used by H. P. Blavatsky in her writings to refer to the matter of the linga-sarira (e.g., CW XIII:60; CW VI:125). This mixture of languages have been unfortunate.
The etheric double is formed of a certain kind of matter which, while still physical in nature, is more subtle than that which is normally perceived by our five senses. It is an exact counterpart (double) of the physical body to which it belongs. The double is separable from the physical, but is unable to move very far away from it. Any separation of the etheric from the physical usually results in a considerable decrease in energy.
It is important to understand that the term “etheric” was adapted to this purpose because the English language does not have a suitable word, but there is no connection between the “etheric” of the etheric double and the so-called “ether” that scientists posited during the nineteenth century to account for the wave propagation of light. Much theosophical literature refers to “etheric matter” and here again the choice of such a term was made because there was no really suitable English word. During the late nineteenth century a number of words were pressed into service in connection with the subtle vehicles which were quite misleading; these included “electricity,” “atom,” and “sub-atomic.”
The etheric double has been described as a pale violet-grey or blue-grey, somewhat luminous, aura. To the “seeing” eye it will appear finely or coarsely granular according to the condition of the physical quality of the associated body. In form the etheric double follows fairly closely the physical body, extending a very short distance, about a quarter of an inch (6mm) beyond it. The extension beyond the physical is sometimes called the “health-aura.” It has been suggested that every biological cell of the human body is surrounded by an envelope of this subtle energy, the whole making up the etheric double.
A primary function of the etheric double is as an absorber and distributor of prana, or “vital energy (see PRANA). It also acts as a connecting or interfacing medium between the astral and physical bodies. Thus external sensory input to the system is sensed by the astral and perhaps higher levels and communicated via the etheric to the physical brain.
Although the etheric double has been called an energy system (and it does act as a storage system for vital energy), it is capable of stability of location and does form within itself certain enduring “centers” called in Sanskrit chakras which translates as “wheels.” These chakras are located on the surface of the body and are said to appear (to the eye of a clairvoyant person) as whirling vortices. These etheric chakras have a dual function. One is to absorb and distribute prana to the etheric double from where it passes to the physical body thus keeping it alive; and second, to bring down into physical consciousness what may be occurring in the corresponding astral cakras. It has been said that many people are fully conscious on the astral plane when asleep on the physical and the ability to recall, when awake, events on the astral depends on the level of development of the etheric chakras. (See CHAKRA.)
Birth. It has been suggested by certain clairvoyants that at the time of conception a prototype of the fetus is formed out of etheric “matter” as a kind of “mold” around which the physical forms. This mold is formed, it is said, by an elemental, and some clairvoyants, seeing this miniature form, have mistaken it for the incoming soul of the baby. The elemental soon leaves and all future growth of the etheric double is controlled by the individual Ego. In gathering etheric matter for the initial form, it is the karma of the incarnating entity that is the deciding factor. As the form grows, etheric matter is taken from the mother and this highlights the importance of a pure lifestyle on the part of the mother.
Death. At the time of death, the etheric double withdraws from the physical and is seen as a violet misty figure connected to the expiring physical by a glowing cord. The cord breaks and the physical begins to decompose. When the etheric double has left the body it usually floats over it as a virtually unconscious and speechless figure; it is from this stage that many of the tales of ghosts originate.
Healing. It has been noted that the etheric double is a vehicle of prana and a process of helping to heal a sick person is the transfer of prana from a robustly healthy person to the ailing one. This involves the joint effort of will to direct the prana and the motion of the healing hands along the recipient’s body. (See THERAPEUTIC TOUCH; HYPNOSIS.)
Shells and shields. The most effective protection of an individual against all external inimical influences is a pure heart and a totally benevolent disposition. However, not everyone is in such a desirable state and in such a case other means of protection have been suggested by some. An effort of imaging is needed. Imagine the etheric as a violet misty shield surrounding the physical body; imagine it becoming denser and denser and brighter and brighter. Properly done this is said to be an effective barrier to undesirable external influences, but it must be kept in mind that the barrier is a block both ways — in and out. When the need has passed it is important, by an effort of imagination and will, to restore the etheric double to its former state.
Mediumship. According to clairvoyants who have observed the process, spiritualist mediums have the unusual ability to dislodge their etheric double from the physical body. In such a condition, the medium is able to cause certain physical phenomena to occur such as table rapping and the movement of objects. The effort to produce this result is very exhausting indeed. William Crookes has written, “After witnessing the painful state of nervous and bodily prostration in which some of these experiments have left Mr. Home — after seeing him lying in an almost fainting condition on the floor, pale and speechless — I could scarcely doubt that the evolution of psychic force is accompanied by a corresponding drain on vital force” (Researches, p. 41).
Effect of noise and other influences. Excessive noise at a very high volume level is said to be damaging to the etheric double. Because the etheric is very close in nature to the physical, it can respond to vibration and if this is severe then undesirable consequences can take place. It is fortunate that the etheric has excellent recuperative qualities and usually recovers when the disturbing influence ceases. A general anaesthetic causes some disturbance to the alignment of the etheric double and the physical body and this takes some time to recover due to the persistence of the chemicals in the body. The excessive consumption of narcotics and alcohol is also disruptive and some writers have suggested that this might be the cause of the mental disorder called delirium tremens.
It has to be emphasized that the etheric double does not embody consciousness as we know it, nor can it act, independently, as a vehicle of consciousness. It has been suggested however that it does have a kind of “diffused consciousness” arising out of its parts (Geoffrey Hodson, Lecture Notes, p. 52).
Circumstances under which the etheric double may be separated from the physical body include severe trauma, anaesthetics and possibly deep hypnotic trance, but there always remains a connecting link and this link is only severed at the time of death.
Individuals who have had a limb amputated sometimes complain that they still feel pain or discomfort in the missing part. This is due to the fact that the removal of the physical part does not remove the corresponding etheric element which can remain in place for a considerable time.
There exists between the astral and the etheric in the human what is termed the “Atomic Web.” It is said that this web is made up of a single layer of physical ultimate atoms which is permeated with a special sort of prana. The prana that normally passes from the astral to the physical passes easily through the web, but the web is a complete barrier to all other forces and thus the web acts as a shield between the normal world of the individual and the astral plane (op. cit., p. 53).