Let me begin with a couple statements made by the author of this book, The Astral Plane:
“… the majority of mankind make but very trifling and perfunctory efforts while on earth to rid themselves of the less elevated impulses of their nature, and consequently doom themselves … to a greatly prolonged sojourn in the astral plane …”
“The ordinary man, however, allows himself to be so pitiably enslaved by all sorts of base desires that a certain portion of his lower Manas becomes very closely interwoven with Kama …”
These quotes from the writing of C.W. LEADBEATER are interesting because Mr. Leadbeater was more than once accused of pederasty. At least one man, who was once an 11-year-old boy under his charge, accused Leadbeater of “misusing him.”
Leadbeater himself made no bones about the fact that he encouraged his young male student to masturbate – but his rationale was that this would actually help them stay sexually chaste, and avoid the “bad karma” that could result from sexual escapades. It was Leadbeater’s belief that “release through masturbation” was better than harboring pent up sexual frustrations, and thus would lead to a more disciplined and chaste lifestyle overall.
One should also note that this was the environment of Victorian England, when the bulk of “proper society” considered the "self-touching" of masturbation an abomination. Merely encouraging someone else to masturbate could generate tremendous scandal, and so Leadbeater suffered from this kind of thing to some extent. There is some indication that Leadbeater may have acted on his own “impulses” by touching boys inappropriately, but he was never charged with anything, although in one court case, a judge ruled that Leadbeater bore “immoral ideas.”
But, Leadbeater was a maverick in his field. He was a rabble-rouser and nonconformist. His ideas about sexuality might be compared to the free love era of the hippies of the 1960s, which many also thought "perverted" at the time. He began his career in 1879 after being ordained an Anglican priest. But his interests quickly turned to the occult, and so he effectively left his Anglican roots to spend the rest of his life developing the philosophies and structure of the Theosophical Society along with the famous Madam Blavatsky, Annie Besant and others.
He was a prolific writer, and also claimed a number of paranormal abilities, especially clairvoyance and the ability to leave the body via “astral travel.” Here again I should note that some of his clairvoyant vision later proved terribly off-base, such as his psychic detection of a population of humanoid beings living on Mars.
Anyway, those interested in the topic of astral travel, or out-of-body experiences will find much to ponder in this book, THE ASTRAL PLANE: IT'S SCENERY, INHABITANTS AND PHENOMENON.
It was published in 1895, and so it’s my guess that most readers today will find the style stilted, dense and perhaps even boring – also, since the resurgence of the New Age in the 1960s – many of the ideas presented in The Astral Plane will already be familiar to those who have read widely on the topic.
No doubt, many readers will also find some of the ideas presented here quaint, or smelling of the outrageous superstition of a simpler, less scientific time.
For example, Leadbeater says that real life incidents of “vampire” and even “werewolf” appearances can be explained by attributing these humanoid beasts to a kind of astral energy gone astray -- generated by dead people whose sins and failings somehow became corrupted in astral from, and become able to manifest as actual physical creatures on earth.
On the other hand, if portions of any thesis are false, it doesn’t necessarily follow that everything in that thesis is nonsense. Leadbeater’s ideas on astral travel are obviously heavily influenced by ancient Vedic and Hindu thought (he spent much time in India)– in fact, I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of what emerged as the “New Thought” and the Theosophical movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s was a rediscovery and reinterpretation of those precepts imbedded in those other cultures for millennia.
After all, spiritual adepts – swamis, yogis, Buddhist monks, holy men, holy women, shamans, and medicine men of a dazzling array of traditions have been dealing with the subject of astral travel since the beginning of written language, and in oral tradition before that. And let’s not forget the countless cults of the pagan religions of ancient Egypt, Greece, and the various Middle Eastern lands – and so on. Such is the nature of religion and philosophy in that what is old tends to become new again -- until it recedes into the background again.
So the bottom line: The Astral Plane is mostly a dismal, stilted and pedantic treatment plodding through the painstaking details of what one can expect to confront from an out-of-body experience, and in the astral world. The serious student of astral travel may learn something never before encountered – at the very least, this is an impressive attempt to describe the astral world in exacting detail.
Sure, a lot of it may be nonsense, but sometimes you find scraps of truth in the last and most obscure places you look for it. As the great science fiction writer Philip K. Dick said: "Sometimes the best place to look for the truth is in the trash."
Ken Korczak is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA