Spiritual Anatomy

Many cultural traditions contain an esoteric thread describing what might be referred to as the anatomy of the human soul. There are the ka and ba of Egyptian mythology, the meridians of acupuncture, the chakras and nadis of yoga, the sephirot of Hebrew cabbalistic tradition, and the etheric and astral bodies of western esoteric lore. 

It is natural that this should be so since, as master mythologist Joseph Campbell pointed out during a Thinking Allowed interview, the mythologies of all cultures are borne of our bodily experiences:

Joseph Campbell

Fantasy and imagination is a product of the body. The energies that bring forth the fantasies derive from the organs of the body. The organs of the body are the source of our life, and of our intentions for life.

They conflict with each other. Among these organs, of course, is the brain. And then you must think of the various impulses that dominate our life system -- the erotic impulse; the impulse to conquer, conquest and all that; self preservation; and then certain thoughts that have to do with ideals and things that are held up before us as aims worth living for and giving life its value. All of these different forces come into conflict within us. And the function of mythological imagery is to harmonize and coordinate the energies of our body, so that we will live a harmonious and fruitful life in accord with our society, and with the new mystery that emerges with every new human being -- namely, what are the possibilities of this particular human life? 

The deeper truth embedded within cultures that emphasize mythological systems of spiritual anatomy is that the divine is within us. Cultures that do not emphasize the anatomy of the soul tend to be those which view the diety as external and apart from the human being. 

One might say that our spiritual bodies are made of thought itself. Of course, from the perspective of psychic folklore, thought is tangible -- almost solid -- and certainly very potent. As we journey through the lore of spiritual anatomy, it is appropriate that we begin by examining the role of thought itself. The concept of thoughtforms provides an excellent vehicle for the journey-- for in many systems and teachings thought, itself, is very spiritual in nature. 


Descriptions of thoughtforms and the mental body come from Theosophists Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater who were both very influential in the shaping of modern psychic folklore:

Annie Besant -- Fabian Socialist (and George Bernard Shaw's lover)
who later became head of the Theosophical Society.

"The mental body is an object of great beauty, the delicacy and rapid motion of its particles giving it an aspect of living iridescent light, and this beauty becomes an extraordinarily radiant and entrancing loveliness and the intellect becomes more highly evolved and is employed chiefly on pure and sublime topics. Every thought gives rise to a set of correlated vibrations in the matter of this body, accompanied with a marvelous display of color, like that in the spray of a waterfall as the sunlight strikes it, raised to the nth degree of color and vivid delicacy. The body under this impulse throws off a vibrating portion of itself, shaped by the nature of the vibration -- as figures are made by sand on a disk vibrating to a musical note -- and this gathers from the surrounding atmosphere matter like itself in fineness from the elemental essence of the mental world. We have then a thought-form pure and simple, and it is a living entity of intense activity animated by the one idea that generated it. If made of finer kinds of matter, it will be of great power and energy, and may be used as a most potent agent when directed by a strong and steady will....
Each definite thought produces a double effect-a radiating vibration and a floating form. The thought itself appears first to clairvoyant sight as a vibration in the mental body, and this may be either simple or complex....

If a man's thought or feeling is directly connected with someone else, the resultant thought-form moves toward that person and discharges itself upon his astral and mental bodies. If the man's thought is about himself, or is based upon a personal feeling, as the vast majority of thoughts are, it hovers round its creator and is always ready to react upon him whenever he is for a moment in a passive condition....

Each man travels through space enclosed within a case of his own building, surrounded by a mass of the forms created by his habitual thought. Through this medium he looks out upon the world, and naturally he sees everything tinged with its predominant colors, and all rates of vibration which reach him from without are more or less modified by its rate. Thus until the man learns complete control of thought and feeling, he sees nothing as it really is, since all his observations must be made through his medium, which distorts and colors everything like badly-made glass.

If the thought-form be neither definitely personal nor specially aimed at someone else, it simply floats detached in the atmosphere, all the time radiating vibrations similar to those originally sent forth by its creator. If it does not come into contact with any other mental body, this radiation gradually exhausts its store of energy, and in that case, the form falls to pieces; but if it succeeds in awakening sympathetic vibration in any mental body near at hand, an attraction is set up, and the thought-form is usually absorbed by that mental body.

To this picture of the mental body, Yogi Ramacharaka adds a further description of the mental world as such:
Places and localities are often permeated by the thought of persons who formerly lived there, who have moved away or died many years ago. The occultist knows that this thought-atmosphere of a village, town, city, or nation is the composite thought of those dwelling in it or whom have previously dwelt there. Strangers coming into the community feel the changed atmosphere about it, and, unless they find it in harmony with their own mental character, they feel uncomfortable and desire to leave the place. If one, not understanding the laws operating in the thought world, remains long in a place, he is most likely to be influenced by the prevailing thought-atmosphere, and in spite of himself a change begins to be manifest in him and he sinks or rises to the level of the prevailing thought....

In the same way dwellings, business-places, buildings, etc., take on the predominant thought of those inhabiting them or who have dwelt in them.

Eileen Garrett
Founder of the Parapsychology Foundation

An example of the perception of thoughtforms is provided by the famous medium Eileen Garrett:

One sees lines and colors and symbols. These move, and one is wholly concentrated on them and their movement. I say "symbols" here for want of a better word. I frequently see curving lines of light and color that flow forward in strata, and in these strips or ribbons of movement there will appear other sharply angled lines that form and change and fade like arrow heads aimed and passing in various directions. And in this flow of energy that is full of form and color, these arrow heads will presently indicate the letter H. Each line of the H will be an independent curve, and their combination will not remain identifiable for very long. But I shall have caught it; and holding it suspended in awareness, I continue to watch the process develop and unfold. Soon a rapidly drifting A appears in the field of concentration, and then, let us suppose, an R; and presently I have gathered the word HARRY out of the void, either as a proper name or as a verb temporarily without either subject or object. Whether it is actually a noun or a verb will depend upon the context of the perception as a whole.

This process is infinitely rapid. But I have achieved an alertness of attention, of awareness, of being, which is equal to this rapid flow of immaterial line and color and symbol, and out of this alertness, poised above the flowing stream of differentiated energy, I gather a message with a meaning -- a message which has come to my consciousness out of the objective world as factually as the reflected light from the distant Moon may reach my consciousness by way of my sense of sight.

The existence of the mental world implies a view of nature incorporating meaning as well as mechanism. We are no longer dealing with blind forces bouncing aimlessly throughout the universe. The substance of the mental world is imbued with purpose. Minds, or monads, are constantly emitting radiation of an intelligent nature. Every thought may be thought of as an active spiritual force. Iconoclastic researcher Andrija Puharich, M.D., has coined the term inergy, meaning "intelligent energy" to refer to this realm of spirit or thought.

The Aura

Theosophical, psychic and mystical lore has it that the emotions and thoughts of an individual distinguish themselves by their form and color. This is thought of as the aura or astral body which is visualized as an egg shaped envelope around the human being. Is the aura Qimply composed of our thoughts (or our thoughts about someone else's thoughts) or does it have an independent physical existence? The answer, of course, depends on what we mean by aura -- which is hardly an operationally defined scientific term. There are many different meanings for the term. (For example, in medicine, an aura refers to sensations which develop prior to the onset of an epileptic seizure.)

C. W. Leadbeater, one of the Theosophists who was responsible for popularizing the term "astral" plane, claims that it was inherited from the medieval alchemists. The term means starry and was applied to the plane above the physical because of its luminous appearance. Furthermore, the emotional currents were thought to be influenced by the planetary positions. The meaning of the different colors that appear in the astral body is recorded by Yogi Ramacharaka whose writings mimic those of Madame Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society, on this topic:

Auric Colors and Their Meanings

Black represents hatred, malice, revenge, and similar feelings. Gray, of a bright shade, represents selfishness.

Gray, of a peculiar shade (almost that of a corpse), represents fear and terror.

Gray, of a dark shade, represents depression and melancholy.

Green, of a dirty shade, represents jealousy. If much anger is mingled with the jealousy, it will appear as red flashes on the green background.

Green, of almost a slate-color shade, represents low deceit.

Green, of a peculiar bright shade, represents tolerance to the opinions and beliefs of others, easy adjustment to changing conditions, adaptability, tact, politeness, worldly wisdom, etc., and qualities which some might possible consider "refined deceit."

Red, of a shade resembling the dull flame when it bursts out of a burning building, mingled with the smoke, represents sensuality and the animal passions.

Red, seen in the shape of bright-red flashes resembling the lightning flash in shape, indicated anger. These are usually shown on a black background in the case of anger arising from hatred or malice, but in cases of anger arising from jealousy they appear on a greenish background. Anger arising from indignation or defense of a supposed "right," lacks these backgrounds, and usually shows as red flashes independent of a background.

Crimson represents love, varying in shade according to the character of the passion. A gross sensual love will be dull and heavy crimson, while one mixed with higher feelings will appear in lighter and more pleasing shades. A very high form of love shows a color almost approaching a beautiful rose color.

Brown, of a reddish tinge, represents avarice and greed.

Orange, of a bright shade, represents pride and ambition.

Yellow, in its various shades, represents intellectual power. If the intellect contents itself with things of a low order, the shade is a dark, dull yellow; and as the field of the intellect rises to higher levels, the color grows brighter and clearer, a beautiful golden yellow betokening great intellectual attainment, broad and brilliant reasoning, etc.

Blue, of a dark shade, represents religious thought, emotion, and feeling. This color, however, varies in clearness according to the degree of unselfishness manifest in the religious conception. The shades and degrees of clarity vary from a dull indigo to a beautiful rich violet, the latter representing the highest religious feeling.

Light Blue, of a peculiarly clear and luminous shade, represents spirituality. Some of the higher degrees of spirituality observed in ordinary mankind show themselves in this shade of blue filled with luminous bright points, sparkling and twinkling like stars on a clear winter night.

The student will remember that these colors form endless combinations and blendings, and show themselves in greatly varying degrees of brightness and size, all of which have meanings to the developed occultist.

In addition to the colors mentioned above, there are several others for which we have no names, as they are outside of the colors visible in the spectrum, and consequently science, not being able to perceive them, has not thought it necessary to bestow definite names upon them, although they exist theoretically. Science tells us that there are also what are known as "ultraviolet" rays and "ultra-red" rays, neither of which can be followed by the human eyes, even with the aid of mechanical appliances, the vibrations being beyond our senses. These two "ultra" colors (and several others unknown to science) are known to occultists and may be seen by the person with certain psychic powers. The significance of this statement may be more fully grasped when we state that when seen in the Human Aura either of these "ultra" colors indicates psychic development, the degree of intensity depending upon the degree of development. Another remarkable fact, to those who have not thought of the matter, is that the "ultraviolet" color in the Aura indicates psychic development when used on a high and unselfish plane, while "the ultra-red" color, when seen in the Human Aura, indicates that the person has psychic development, but is using the same for selfish and unworthy purposes--black magic," in fact. The ultraviolet rays lie just outside of an extreme of the visible spectrum known to science, while the "ultra-red" rays lie just beyond the other extreme. The vibrations of the first are too high for the ordinary human eye to sense, while the second comprises vibrations as excessively low as the first is excessively high. And the real difference between the two forms of psychic power is as great as is indicated by the respective positions of these two "ultra" colors. In addition to the two "ultra" colors just alluded to, there is another which is invisible to the ordinary sight -- the true primary yellow, which indicates of the Spiritual Illumination and which is faintly seen around the heads of the spiritually great. The color which we are taught characterizes the seventh principle, Spirit, is said to be of pure white light, of a peculiar brilliancy, the like of which has never been seen by human eye -- in fact, the very existence of absolute "white light" is denied by Western science.

The Aura emanating from the Instinctive Mind principally comprises heavier and duller shades. In sleep, when the mind is quiet, there appears chiefly a certain dull red, which indicates that the Instinctive Mind is merely performing the body's animal functions. This shade, of course, is always apparent, but during the waking hours it is often obscured by the brighter shades of the passing thoughts, emotions or feelings.

Right here it would be well to state that even while the mind emotions or feelings remains calm there hover in the Aura shades which indicate a man's predominant tendencies, so that his stage of advancement and development as well as his "tastes" and other features of his personality may be easily distinguished. When the mind is swept by a strong passion, feeling, or emotion, the entire Aura seems to be colored by the particular shade or shades representing it. For instance, a violent fit of anger causes the whole Aura to show bright red flashes upon a black background, almost eclipsing the other colors. This state lasts for a longer or shorter time, according to the strength of the passion. If people could but have a glimpse of the Human Aura when so colored, they would become so horrified at the dreadful sight that they would be far more hesitant about flying into rage -- it resembles the flames and smoke of the devil's "pit" and, in fact, the human mind in such a condition becomes a veritable hell temporarily. A strong wave of love sweeping over the mind will cause the entire Aura to show crimson; the shade will depend upon the character of the passion. Likewise, a burst of religious feeling will bestow upon the entire Aura a blue tinge, as explained in the table of colors. In short, a strong emotion, feeling, or passion causes the entire Aura to take on its color while the feeling lasts. You will see from what we have said that there are two aspects to the color feature of the Aura; the first depending upon the predominant thoughts habitually manifesting in the mind of the person; the second depending upon the particular feeling, emotion, or passion (if any) is dominating him, at that particular time.

The student will realize readily that as the man develops and unfolds he becomes less and less prey to passing passions, emotions, or feelings emanating from the Instinctive Mind, and that Intellect, and then Spiritual Mind, manifest themselves instead of lying dormant in a latent condition. Remembering this, he will readily see how great a difference there must be between the Aura of an undeveloped man and that of the developed man. The one is a mass of dull, heavy, gross colors, the entire mass being frequently flooded by the color of some passing emotion, feeling, or passion. The other shows the higher colors and is very much clearer, being but little disturbed by feelings, emotion, and passions, all of which have been brought largely under the control of the will.

The man who has Intellect well developed shows an Aura flooded with the beautiful golden yellow betokening intellectuality. This color in such cases is particularly apparent in the upper part of the Aura, surrounding the head and shoulders of the man, the more animal colors sinking to the lower part of the Aura. Read the remarks under the head of "Yellow in the color table in this lesson. When the man's Intellect has absorbed the idea of spirituality and devotes itself to the acquirement of spiritual power, development, and unfoldment, this yellow will show around its edges a light blue of a peculiarly clear and luminous shade. This peculiar light blue is indicative of what is generally called "spirituality," but which is simply "intellectual-spirituality," if you will pardon the use of the somewhat paradoxical term -- it is not the same thing as Spiritual Mind, but is merely Intellect impregnated by Spiritual Mind, to use another troublesome term. In some cases when this intellect is in a highly developed state, the luminous light blue shows as a broad fringe or border often being larger than the center itself, and in addition, in special cases, the light blue is filled with brilliant luminous points, sparkling and twinkling like stars on a clear winter night. These bright points indicate that the color of the Aura of the Spiritual Mind is asserting itself, and shows that Spiritual Consciousness has either become momentarily evident to the man or is about to become so in the near future. This is a point upon which much confusion has arisen in the minds of students and even teachers of occultism. The next paragraph will also shed further light upon the matter.

The Aura emanating from the Spiritual Mind, or sixth principle, bears the color of the true primary yellow, which is invisible to ordinary sight and which cannot be reproduced artificially by man. It centers around the head of the spiritually illumined, and at times produces a peculiar glow which can even be seen by undeveloped people. This is particularly true when the spiritually developed person is engaged in earnest discourse or teaching, at these times his countenance seems fairly to glow and to possess a luminosity of a peculiar kind. The nimbus shown in pictures of mankind's great spiritual leaders results from a tradition based on a fact actually experienced by the early followers of such leaders. The "halo" or glory shown on pictures arises from the same fact.

Because most of Ramacharaka's descriptions accord with the teachings of Blavatsky, Leadbeater and other Theosophists, it would be a mistake to assume that he is writing on the basis of either careful measurements or personal experience. From the perspective of a biocomputer model of mental functioning, one might view the perception of auric colors as a particular way some individuals program their minds to function, i.e., as the result of cultural conditioning or autoconditioning enhanced by the altered state of consciousness induced through meditation and yogic practices. 

If we view the mind/brain system as a biocomputer, we could say that there are various sensory inputs (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin) and various internal perceptual display systems (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch). It is entirely possible that the input from one sensory mode could be displayed internally using a modality normally reserved for a different sensory mode. Thus, under the influence of hypnotic suggestion or psychedelic drugs, individuals often report "seeing music." This well-known phenomena is referred to as synesthesia.

A very reasonable explanation of the human aura as reported by psychics is that this is also a form of synesthesia -- a special way we can program ourselves to display information in the sensorium of our minds. The inputs for this display pattern could conceivably arrive from any sensory (or extrasensory) modality, could be derived from intuitive or logical processing, or could be generated from the biocomputer programming (i.e., cultural condition and autoconditioning) itself. 

An amusing anecdote relating to the perception of the human aura on the "astral level" comes from the Texas psychic Ray Stanford. Ray, who seems to be very proficient at seeing auras, visited his twin brother Rex, a parapsychologist then at the University of Virginia; he gave a demonstration of his talents before a small group of researchers assembled by his brother. One of the guests was Dr. Robert Van de Castle, the director of the sleep and dream laboratory. Ray noticed a number of pink spots in the aura around Van de Castle's abdomen. This perception puzzled him since it is one he normally associated with pregnant women; and he remarked to Dr. Van de Castle, "If I didn't know better, I'd say you were pregnant." This drew some laughter from the audience. However, Van de Castle then reflected that he had been analyzing the dreams of pregnant women all morning and had even remarked earlier that day that he was beginning to feel like a pregnant woman himself.

Experimental Tests of the Aura

You might think it would be relatively simple for scientists to test the objectivity of the aura, by comparing the independent observations of a number of psychics. In fact, the problem is difficult and there has been very little systematic research. For one thing, if the observations are being made at different moments of time, it is possible the aura could change appearance. Also, a truly objective study would want to rule out any other sensory cues that could be confused with the aura. Charles Tart has suggested that the target person for such a study be hidden behind an opaque screen shaped so only the aura should be visible beyond its perimeter and not the physical body at all. To my knowledge, eighteen years after Tart's proposal, there have still been no satisfactory experiments of this type.

In a study conducted by Dr. A. R. G. Owen of Toronto, fourteen different psychics made independent observations of the aura of a single subject. The reported descriptions show wide variation that, according to Owen, "seems to go beyond that degree of variability in the aura, that according to percipients of auras, is to be expected as a result of temporal variations in the physical, emotional or mental state of the possessor of the aura." However the study took place over a one year period. Going over the data, I myself was struck by the similarity of reports made by different observers on the same day. Owen maintained there was no cogent evidence the subject was in different physical or emotional states during the different days of experimentation. It does not appear he was looking for subtle emotional changes. The fact that lighting conditions were different on the different days of experimentation further confuses the data. Furthermore, some subjects saw the aura with their eyes open, while at least one subject viewed the aura with his eyes closed. 

The Vital Body

In addition to the astral body, which seems to correlate with thoughts and emotions, some occultists refer to the vital body or sometimes etheric body -- more associated with life energy and health and more suggestive than the astral body of having a measurable physical basis. It is interesting to note that the term etheric body developed at a time in history prior to the Michelson-Morley experiments which disconfirmed the physical theory of the ether as a medium permeating the known universe. It is probably that the term etheric body (like astral body) developed from what was once legitimate scientific speculation. Today such terms belong clearly in the realm of occult folklore. Max Heindel, founder of the Rosicrucian Fellowship, describes the etheric or vital body:

According to Rosicrucian Max Heindel, one's level of 
clairvoyant functioning is reflected in the aura as diagrammed above.

The vital body of plant, animal, and man, extends beyond the periphery of the dense body as the Etheric Region, which is the vital body of a planet, extends beyond its dense part, showing again the truth of the Hermetic axiom "As above, so below." The distance of this extension of the vital body of man is about an inch and a half. The part which is outside the dense body is very luminous and about the color of a new-blown peach-blossom. It is often seen by persons having very slight involuntary clairvoyance. The writer has found, when speaking with such persons, that they frequently are not aware they see anything unusual and do not know what they see.

The dense body is built into the matrix of this vital body during ante-natal life, and with one exception, it is an exact copy, molecule for molecule, of the vital body. As the lines of force in freezing water are the avenues of formation for ice crystals, so the lines of force in the vital body determine the shape of the dense body. All through life the vital body is the builder and restorer of the dense form. Were it not for the etheric heart the dense heart would break quickly under the constant strain we put upon it. All the abuses to which we subject the dense body are counteracted, so far as lies in its power, by the vital body, which is continually fighting against the death of the dense body.

The exception mentioned above is that the vital body of a man is female or negative, while that of a woman is male or positive. In that fact we have the key to numerous puzzling problems of life. That woman gives way to her emotions is due to the polarity noted, for her positive, vital body generates an excess of blood and causes her to labor under an enormous internal pressure that would break the physical casement were not a safety-valve provided in the periodical flow, and another in the tears which relieve the pressure on special occasions -- for tears are "white bleeding."

Man may have and has as strong emotions as a woman, but he is usually able to suppress them without tears, because his negative vital body does not generate more blood than he can comfortably control.

Unlike the higher vehicles of humanity, the vital body (except under certain circumstances, to be explained when the subject of "Initiation" is dealt with) does not ordinarily leave the dense body until the death of the latter. Then the chemical forces of the dense body are no longer held in check by the evolving life. They proceed to restore the matter to its primordial condition by disintegration so that it may be available for the formation of other forms in the economy of nature. Disintegration is thus due to the activity of the planetary forces in the chemical ether.

There are certain cases where the vital body partly leaves the dense body, such as when a hand "goes to sleep." Then the etheric hand of the vital body may be seen hanging below the dense arm like a glove and the points cause the peculiar pricking sensation felt when the etheric hand re-enters the dense hand. Sometimes in hypnosis the head of the vital body divides and hangs outside the dense head, one half over each shoulder, or lies around the neck like the collar of a sweater. The absence of prickly sensation at awakening in cases like this is because during the hypnosis part of the hypnotist's vital body had been substituted for that of the victim.

When anesthetics are used the vital body is partially driven out, along with the higher vehicles, and if the application is too strong and the life ether is driven out, death ensues. This same phenomenon may also be observed in the case of materializing medium and an ordinary man or woman is just this: In the ordinary man or woman the vital body and the dense body are, at the present stage of evolution, quite firmly interlocked, while in the medium they are loosely connected. It has not always been so, and the time will again come when the vital body may normally leave the dense vehicle, but that is not normally accomplished at present. When a medium allows his or her vital body to be used by entities from the Desire World who wish to materialize, the vital body generally oozes from the left side -- through the spleen, which is its particular "gate." Then the vital forces cannot flow into the body as they do normally, the medium becomes greatly exhausted, and some of them resort to stimulants to counteract the effects, in time becoming incurable drunkards.

The vital force from the sun, which surrounds us as a colorless fluid, is absorbed by the vital body through the etheric counterpart of the spleen, wherein it undergoes a curious transformation of color. It becomes pale rose-hued and spreads along the nerves all over the dense body. It is to the nervous system what the force of electricity is to a telegraph system. Though there be wires, instruments, and telegraph operators all in order, if the electricity is lacking no message can be sent. The Ego, the brain, and the nervous system may be in seemingly perfect order, but if the vital force be lacking to carry the message of the Ego through the nerves to the muscles, the dense body will remain inert. This is exactly what happens when part of the dense body becomes paralyzed. The vital body has become diseased and the vital force can no longer flow. In such cases, as in most sickness, the trouble is with the finer invisible vehicles. In conscious or unconscious recognition of this fact, the most successful physicians use suggestion -which works upon the higher vehicles-as an aid to medicine. The more a physician can imbue his patient with faith and hope, the speedier disease will vanish and give place to perfect health.

During health the vital body specializes a superabundance of vital force, which alter passing through a dense body, radiates in straight lines in every direction from the periphery thereof, as the radii of a circle do from the center; but during ill-health, when the vital body becomes attenuated, it is not able to draw to itself the same amount of force and in addition the dense body is feeding upon it. Then the lines of the vital fluid which pass out from the body are crumpled and bent, showing the lack of force behind them. In health the great force of these radiations carries with it germs and microbes which are inimical to the health of the dense body, but in sickness, when the vital force is weak, these emanations do not so readily eliminate disease germs. Therefore the danger of contracting disease is much greater when the vital forces are low than when one is in robust health.

In cases where parts of the dense body are amputated, only the planetary ether accompanies the separated part. The separate vital body and the dense body disintegrate synchronously after death. So with the etheric counterpart of the amputated limb. It will gradually disintegrate as the dense member decays, but in the meantime the fact that the man still possesses the etheric limb accounts for his assertion that he can feel his fingers or suffers pain in them. There is also a connection with a buried member, irrespective of distance. A case is on record where a man felt a severe pain, as if a nail had been driven into the flesh of an amputated limb, and he persisted until the limb was exhumed, when it was found that a nail had been driven into it at the time it was boxed for burial. The nail was removed and the pain instantly stopped. It is also in accordance with these facts that people complain of pain in a limb for perhaps two or three years after the amputation. The pain will then cease. This is because the disease remains in the still undetached etheric limb, but as the amputated part disintegrates, the etheric limb follows suit and thus the pain ceases.

Heindel's description is typical of the type of writing found in the occult and mystical literature from many cultures and periods of time.

A word of caution here. There are a few effects of an optical or physiological nature that might easily be taken for an aura by a careless, or uninformed, observer. In a clever series of experiments, Canadian researcher A. R. G. Owen determined that many people will see such "rim" auras, glowing about an inch or two from the edge of inanimate objects even more distinctly than around living plants, animals, and humans. Many people were unable to distinguish between the aura that appeared around a piece of cardboard shaped as a hand and that observed around a real human hand. 

A. R. G. Owen

Other observers, particularly those who saw a much larger and more vivid aura, were quite able to make the distinction. In any case, almost all of the subjects were able to see some aura-like visual phenomena. These perceptions are attributed to the active role the retina and the visual cortex take in organizing and interpreting visual contours while the eye itself is constantly making tiny movements, scanning whatever is observed.


You can easily experience this yourself simply by focusing on the contours of the word written above.  See what you notice. The power of suggestions also is active here. This effect is highlighted by the sharp black and white contrast.

On the other hand, Dr. Owen was able to repeatedly demonstrate a most unusual and vivid aura-like appearance on the end of a rod while it was the focus of concentration from two gifted psychics. A number of observers were able to independently verify this perception, which was not normally seen around the rod. However the exact conditions for replication of this effect are not known.

The Chakras

The word chakra in Sanskrit means wheel; and according to the Theosophical tradition, the chakras are "a series of wheel-like vortices existing in the surface of the "etheric body." The etheric body is part of the human aura closest in proximity to the skin. It is sometimes referred to as the health aura, and I think can be equated to the electromagnetic field of the body or the bioplasma without doing injustice to the Theosophical system. The chakras actually extend out beyond the etheric body to the more subtle parts of the aura-such as the astral body. While normally invisible, some individuals perceive the etheric body as a faintly luminous mist extending slightly beyond the body.

In 1927, the Reverend Charles Leadbeater wrote a book on the chakras based largely on his own psychic perceptions:

When quite undeveloped they appear as small circles about two inches in diameter, glowing dully in the ordinary man; but when awakened and vivified they are seen as blazing, coruscat@ng whirlpools, much increased in size, and resembling miniature suns....If we imagine ourselves to be looking straight down into the bell of a flower of the convolvulus type, we shall get some idea of the general appearance of a chakra. The stalk of the flower in each springs from a point in the spine.

All these wheels are perpetually rotating, and into the hub or open mouth of each a force from the higher world is always flowing.... Without this inrush of energy the physical body could not exist.

Leadbeater also has uncovered descriptions of such vortices, similar to his own, in the works of the seventeenth century German mystic Johann Georg Gichtel, a pupil of Jacob Boehme. Gichtel assigned an astrological planetary influence to each of the seven centers in his system.

It is uncertain to me whether he was influenced by the Sanskrit tradition. However, on the title page of his book, Theosophia Practica he claims to be presenting... 

A short exposition of the three principles of the three worlds in humanity, represented in clear pictures, showing how and where they have their respective Centres in the inner person; according to what the author has found in himself in divine contemplation, and what he has felt, tasted and perceived. 
In Los Angeles at the Higher Sense Perception Research Foundation, Dr. Shafica Karagula, a neuropsychiatrist, has for many years made clinical observations of individuals gifted with extraordinary perception.

One of her subjects, whom she calls "Diane," reported the ability to visualize vortices of energy, like spiral cones, which seemed to be in remarkable agreement with Leadbeater's descriptions. She described the etheric body as a sparkling web of light beams in constant movement "like the lines of a television screen when the picture is not in focus." There were eight major vortices of force and many smaller vortices. Seven of the vortices seemed to be directly related to the different glands of the body. Diane was able to successfully diagnose various diseases by noticing disturbances in the vortices. Karagula tested this ability by taking Diane to an endocrine clinic of a large New York hospital and having her read the auras of patients selected at random in the waiting room. Then Diane's observations were checked against the medical case records.

Karagula claims she was amazed at the accuracy of Diane's diagnoses over a large number of cases. However she provides no exact figures in her book or in her published reports and we are not informed if independent judges and experimental controls were used., It is difficult to ascertain the extent to which Dr. Karagula or her subjects may have had their perceptions colored by the Theosophical tradition. Many other psychic individuals I have been acquainted with report an ability to visualize chakras. However, I know of no tested psychics who have indicated the ability to perceive chakras prior to any occult training.

When it comes to making any physiological sense out of the chakras, the whole matter is filled with confusion. One widely quoted approach equates the first chakra with the reproductive system. Others associate the second chakra with sexuality and reproduction. Sometimes the sixth chakra or third eye is associated with the pineal gland, sometimes with the pituitary. The third chakra is sometimes associated with the solar plexus, sometimes with the spleen, and sometimes with the digestive system. Sometimes the second chakra is associated with the spleen. Sometimes all of the chakras are associated with nerve plexus, sometimes they are all associated with the endocrine glands. In the Tibetan system, the sixth and seventh chakra -- the third eye and the "thousand petalled lotus" are thought of as one. The Cabalistic system divides the body into ten centers. Ironically, all these systems will go into great detail in specifying the circuitry -- often called nadis -- connecting the chakras together. I find it easiest to confront all of these paradoxical interpretations with a certain curiosity and humility (although I tend to think some writers masked their lack of understanding with dogmatic assertion). Paradoxes of a comparable sort are not uncommon in the physical and natural sciences, and generally exist on the frontiers of knowledge. Most researchers tend to ignore these uncomfortable, and poorly substantiated, reports.

One ingenious hypothesis was developed by Dr. William Tiller at Stanford University. Tiller was impressed with the apparent relationship of location and function between the chakras and the endocrine glands. He wondered how these so called "etheric" organs might interact with the glands. Drawing from concepts used by electrical engineers, he suggested this interaction could be analogous to a process of transduction. Imagine great energy streams flowing through space and passing through our bodies, unabsorbed and unnoticed. Tiller suggests that perhaps the chakras can be tuned in to couple with this power source and transduce some of its energy from the astral or etheric levels into the glands. One can think of the chakras and glands as electrical transformer loads that will deliver maximum power if they are balanced with respect to each other.

Transduction of etheric force through the chakra into the bodily force 
within an endocrine gland (courtesy William Tiller)

One might say ideas are speculative in the extreme. While such ideas have little or no scientific merit, they serve the function of providing a modern metaphor for ancient teachings. 

Dr. Lee Sannella
(courtesy Thinking Allowed Productions)

An interesting approach to the chakras has been taken by Lee Sannella, MD.  He noticed that the classic literature of yoga refers to a process of psychic awakening known as the rising of kundalini. This is pictured metaphorically as the rising of a coiled snake-like energy from the base of the spine to the top of the head. As the kundalini rises, it energizes or awakens each of the chakra centers.

Sanella encountered many cases of individuals who reported symptoms similar to the classic descriptions of kundalini rising. These include many strange bodily sensations of vibration and heat, combined with visionary experiences and apparent psychic awareness. He suggests that the classic yoga descriptions may be more appropriate than the medical tendency to label such experiences as "psychotic."

Do chakras have some objective existence, or are they are the creations of minds who claim to observe them? The same problem is actually encountered in all fields of human knowledge. Do atoms exist? Are quarks real? Where is humor? Such concepts serve as maps to guide us through our experience; or, to use another metaphor, they are menus. We would be foolish to confuse the map for the territory or the menu for the meal or the metaphor for that which is denoted by it. Sometimes, however, by a subtle consensus of agreement, this is exactly what we do. 

Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama of Tokyo is a student of raja yoga who has attempted to give a literal interpretation to the chakra metaphor. In addition to wearing the hats of medical researcher and psychiatrist, Motoyama is also a Shinto priest. Using his intuitions, and those of several observers, Dr. Motoyama divided a yoga class of 100 members into three groups: (A) the yogi group in which the chakras had been clearly awakened; (B) those in whom the chakras had been slightly awakened; and (C) those in whom the chakras had not yet been awakened. The chakras are often visualized as lotus blossoms that when fully awakened appear in full bloom. In this case, no controls seem to have distinguished between "awakened chakras" and skill in practicing yoga. A number of investigations were then made to determine if there were physiological differences between these three groups.

Examining the "disease tendency" of the different internal organs corresponding to chakras, such as the heart, the digestive system, the genitourinary system, and the nervous system, Motoyama found significantly greater instability of these systems in class A and B subjects. Acupuncture points associated with these organs were stimulated and measurement of skin current values were made on the palms of the hands before and after stimulation. Again the highest level of response was found in the A group. Motoyama also measured differences in the current of the fingertips and toes on right and left sides. This time greater imbalances were found in the A group of "yogis" with awakened chakras.  From these studies, he concluded that the nervous system and the autonomic functioning of individuals with awakened chakras shows a much wider range and flexibility of response than with ordinary individuals.

Certainly the study as reported could be criticized. One might easily suggest that Motoyama was drawing inferences from random data in order to fulfill his own expectations. Perhaps the findings seem cogent and consistent with other studies in which yoga and zen masters are able to dramatically vary heartbeat and brainwave measurements. A safer interpretation is simply to suggest that quasi-scientific work of this sort, while it contributes almost nothing to our scientific understanding, serves to perpetuate psychic folklore and polish it with the gleam of seeming scientific approval.

According to yogic tradition, the chakras themselves are not to be confused with any actual physical organs of the body. Dr. Rammurti S. Mishra -- endocrinologist, Sanskrit scholar, and yogi -- in his translation of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali states that the seven chakras are purely psychological classifications adopted as focuses of concentration in yoga. He also added that through the chakras mindstuff is able to operate upon the anatomical parts and physiological activities. You might say chakras are important parts of the software programmed into our biocomputers. As one becomes deeply involved in yogic meditation, one is taught practices associating particular sounds or mantras, images, and mythological patterns to each chakra. Thus, to an extent the chakras are brought into awareness by a creative thought process, acting upon the unformed substance we can loosely call the human aura, bioplasm, consciousness, or imagination. 

Lama Govinda

Lama Anagarika Govinda, an Indian National of European descent belonging to a Tibetan Buddhist Order, describes this process quite succinctly:

"Thinking is making," this is the fundamental principle of all magic, especially of all mantric science. By the rhythmic repetition of a creative thought or idea, of a concept, a perception or a mental image, its effect is augmentized and fixed (like the action of a steadily falling drop) until it seizes upon all organs of activity and becomes a mental and material reality: a deed in the fullest sense of the word.

Chinese Acupuncture

Another theory dealing with subtle physiological systems of the human body is the Chinese healing art of acupuncture which unites ancient cosmology and astrology with a concept of life-energy, or Qi, flowing through channels in the body. One of the best ways to experience acupuncture is through a massage technique which focuses on the acupuncture points and meridians. This only requires a very gentle touch and is not difficult to learn or apply. Instructions can be found in several good books., It has been my experience that such a massage, in addition to being healthful and sensual, provides an excellent way a person can actually feel the flow of something (call it Qi, or Chi, if you like) inside and around the body. For about twenty-four continuous hours after I have had acupuncture massage, I have clearly felt the awareness of my body flow extend about a foot out from my skin. This is something you really should try. The experience is extraordinary, but not scientifically evidential.

There has been a lot of testimony regarding the successful use of acupuncture as a cure for all diseases and as an anesthetic. However many western doctors and researchers, unable to accept the "mystical" Chinese system, tend to ascribe these "miracles" to the power of suggestion.

Drs. Theodore Xenophone Barber and John Chaves of Medfield State Hospital in Massachusetts exemplify this view in an article published in Psychoenergetic Systems. They maintain acupuncture can only be used successfully as an anesthetic when the patient is not fearful and has a strong belief in its efficacy. Furthermore, they add that additional sedatives, narcotics, and local anesthetics are generally used in combination with acupuncture. They also point out that the acupuncture needles can act as a counter-irritant, distracting the mind from the pain surgery occasions.

This view is, in fact, consistent with the "gate control" theory of pain. You have probably had the experience yourself, when you were in pain, of being able to alleviate your suffering by softly stroking or scratching some other part of your body. The suggested explanation for this phenomena is the "spinal gate" in the substantia gelatinosa through which pain signals must pass to be received in the brain. Fewer pain signals can get through this gate if there are other non-painful stimuli activating the nerves which must pass through. This theory is still problematic, but remains generally accepted among western scientists.

Essentially, explanations of the sort Barber and Chaves have proposed are based on the assumption there is simply no validity to the concepts of chi energy or acupuncture meridians. Dr. Felix Mann, a western researcher who at one time accepted the traditional theory, now argues differently:

The Chinese have so many connections in their acupuncture theory that one can explain everything just as politicians do....in reality I don't believe the meridians exist. I think that the meridians of acupuncture are not very much more real than the meridians of geography.

Mann points out the meridians for the large and small intestines are never used by the Chinese in treating intestinal problems. The only reason the twelve meridians are there, he claims, is in order for acupuncture theory to be consistent with Chinese astrology. This argument is questionable as the S.I. meridians are used for treating a number of other problems. Nevertheless, experienced healers pragmatically avoid using any unnecessary points. Mann proposes that the effectiveness of acupuncture is actually due to stimulation of neural pathways mediated by spinal and ganglionic reflexes. In spite of his rejection of the Chinese theory, Mann still follows the traditional methods in his therapeutic practice.

Wilhelm Reich and Orgone Energy

A concept parallel to chi energy and prana is the notion of orgone energy developed by Wilhelm Reich, a Freudian psychiatrist noted for his analysis of character based on muscle tensions. The term orgone comes from "organism" and "orgasm" and refers to the orgasm reflex of repeated expansions and contractions as the basic formula of all living functioning. Reich made the bold assumption he had discovered a new form of energy -- underlying the pulsations of life -- neither heat, nor electricity, magnetism, kinetic energy, chemical energy, nor an amalgam of any or all of these. Most historians agree that in his early years Reich was an influential theorist. He is credited as a father of psychotherapeutic systems, such as bioenergetics, which work primarily with the human body. However, many claim that Reich himself went insane in his later years. He was accused of medical quackery and died in a federal prison in 1955. Reich's story may be viewed as a sad example of the social, political and psychological dangers inherent in forcing a premature marriage of science and mysticism.

Researches in the late 1930s in Norway led Reich to assume that he had discovered bions, which he regarded as the basic units of orgone. Using high quality optical microscopes with magnification from 2000x to 4000x, Reich observed sterile solutions of organic compounds in water. He would, for example, take coal dust and heat it to incandescence in a gas flame and then, while aglow, put it into a sterile nutritive solution. Under the microscope, tiny vesicles were seen pulsating rhythmically in a soft, organic manner. Reich claimed to clearly distinguish this motion from the random, angular Brownian movements also observed at that magnification. Eventually these vesicles, or bions, seemed to take on a blue glimmer, unlike the black carbon from which they seemed to originate. In fact, at a certain stage in their development, according to Reich, they took on a positive blue stain reaction to a biological Gram stain, unlike the carbon particles. The bions were about one micron in diameter (or one millionth of a meter). 

In the same series of experiments Reich also claimed to discover smaller elongated, red bodies, approximately 0.2 microns in length. He called these bodies T-bacilli and felt, through a series of experiments beyond the scope of the present book, that they were the cause of cancer. The essential point for now is that Reich felt he had observed the creation of life within his test tubes., 

Later experiments led Reich to postulate that orgone energy permeated the entire universe and that it could be concentrated in a special device he called the orgone accumulator. Inside the accumulator he observed, in addition to the small blue ion dots, a diffuse bluish-grey light and rapid straight yellowish rays-all manifestations of orgone. Reich began to observe these forms in dark rooms, and outdoors throughout nature. 

The accumulators themselves were simply boxes with walls made from alternating layers of an organic material, like wood, and an inorganic material, like iron. Sometimes as many as twenty layers have been used. The idea is something like a greenhouse effect such that orgone energy enters into the accumulator but cannot leave it. Most significant, from the standpoint of possible experimental proof, was Reich's claim that the temperature inside the orgone box and also outside the walls was generally slightly higher than the temperature in the room or outside air about it.

Basic design of orgone accumulator. To = temperature above accumulator; Ti = temperature within accumulator; T = control (temperature of air in room). El = electroscope. Arrows indicate direction of ostensible radiation.

The difference averaged about one degree centigrade. Furthermore, this temperature difference was greater on dry days than in humid weather. This experiment, if verified, provides concrete evidence of some new and unknown form of energy generating heat.

Reich took his findings directly to the most famous scientist of his day, Dr. Albert Einstein. After some correspondence, Reich visited Einstein in Princeton on January 13, 1941. For nearly five hours that day, Reich discussed his theories with Einstein. He actually demonstrated the visible radiation within the accumulator and explained the temperature difference effect. Einstein, realizing the importance of this work, offered to test the orgone accumulator himself for the temperature difference effect. He did so and arrived at the results predicted by Reich. However, in a letter to Reich, he added his assistant had come up with an alternative explanation -- the temperature difference was due to air convection currents in the cellar of Einstein's home where the experiment took place. Reich retested the phenomena in the open air and with sufficient controls to rule out the possibility of air currents. His results were again positive; however Einstein refused to answer any of his further correspondence. Reich's letters at this time show reasonable arguments and thorough research. Nevertheless, Einstein's rejection led him to turn away from all establishment science.

Eventually Reich's work with cancer and his rental of orgone accumulators brought him into conflict with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In 1954, Reich was brought to trial but refused to testify, claiming his researches were a matter for scientific, and not legal, jurisdiction. He was sentenced to prison for two years for contempt of court. His books were actually burned by the government and withheld from the market. Nine months after sentencing he died in a federal prison. Careful examination of his writings shows that while they often lacked a scientific precision, they showed a scientific willingness to be led by the facts. For all his faults, Reich was a genius and by no means a cancer quack. His imprisonment and death were a great setback to those who were interested in pursuing his researches.

While I am personally aware of several scientists (such as Dr. Bernard Grad at McGill University in Montreal) who claim to have observed the formation of bions under the microscope, there are -- to my knowledge -- no published replications of this crucial finding from independent laboratories. Neither are there any published refutations. In The Cancer Biopathy, Reich does include a letter from Dr. Louis Lapique of the University of Paris who had observed the pulsating bions and was prepared to offer a physical-chemical interpretation of this effect. Reich also states that his findings had been experimentally confirmed in 1937 by Professor Roger DuTeil in Nice. However there is no independent report. The temperature difference experiment has been replicated and the results published in the orthodox Reichian Journal of Orgonomy (Nov. 1971). 

Reichian research continues only as a fringe study outside of the boundaries of the scientific community. It is unlikely that Reich's orgone theories will ever be taken seriously by most mainstream scientists. Eventually, science may progress to the point where it will be able to integrate the Reichian anomolies (if such there truly be). At the present time, there is only dwindling interest in this area.

Some studies have pointed towards the unusual properties of orgone accumulators. For example, at UCLA in the early 1970s, experiments were conducted with an orgone accumulator and an identical-looking control box (built by an undergraduate student, Roger MacDonald) made out of wood. Into each of these boxes was placed a tray containing ten leaves all plucked from the same plants. High-voltage photographs were then taken of the leaves every day for one week by an experimenter who did not know which leaves were in the orgone box and which were in the control. After seven days, eight of the ten experimental leaves were easily photographable and produced bright images, while only three of the control leaves produced pictures. Even after fifteen days, eight of the leaves placed in the orgone box were still producing high-voltage images, while all but two of the leaves in the control box were wilted and dying to the point they were not photographable.  This finding, like other research in high-voltage photography, has largely been dismissed by the scientific community because of inadequate experimental controls against possible extraneous influences..

Another series of experiments with orgone accumulators was conducted by Dr. Bernard Grad of McGill University. Using careful experimental controls, Dr. Grad tested the effects of treatment in an orgone accumulator upon cancerous rats. The results of Grad's studies are complex. While the orgone treatment alleviated the symptoms of cancer, it did not really prolong the animal's lifespan.

Yet Reichian ideas are a fertile source of folklore. Orgone blankets are still sought as a cancer treatment. And there are those who claim that cloudbusters developed by Reich are capable of controlling weather patterns.

The Russian Concept of Biological Plasma

The Russian concept of biological plasma is the latest version of what is essentially Mesmer's old notion of animal magnetism. The term plasma in physics refers to a gaseous collection of positive and negative ion -- sometimes regarded as a fourth state of matter as it is not quite the same as a molecular solid, liquid or gas. The atmospheres of stars, which extend out to interstellar space, are composed of such plasma. The idea that a coherent plasma body might surround and interact with biological organisms was first proposed in 1944 by V. S. Grischenko, a physicist and engineer. Dr. Victor Inyushin, a biophysicist at Kirov State University in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, has been the leading theoretical spokesman for the biological plasma body.

In contrast to inorganic plasma, biological plasma is said to be a coherent, organized system. The entropic, chaotic motion of particles is reduced to a minimum. Like the visible human body, the bioplasmic body thought to be relatively stable in varying environmental conditions --although it is particularly susceptible to electrical and magnetic perturbations.

All kinds of oscillations of bioplasma put together create the biological field of the organism. In the complex organism and its cerebral structures a complicated wave structure -- a biologogram -- is being created, characterized by its great stability as far as the maintenance of the wave characteristics is concerned.

The euphonious term, biologogram, appears to be an application of the hologram idea -- a three dimensional image formed by wave interference patterns. The entire image can be reconstructed from any portion of the hologram. This model is very popular among consciousness researchers. Holographic analogies explain why brain functioning is not severely impaired when portions of that organ are removed. The theory of the bioplasmic body has been useful in a communist country where the official dogma is materialist -- and researchers have had to be careful to avoid heretical doctrines. However, the Soviets acknowledge that the biological plasma theory was originally conceived in the absence of any experimental proof. The concept is now used as an umbrella explanation of all sorts of phenomena ranging from hypnosis to astrology, telepathy, psychokinesis, and high-voltage photography. The explanations I have seen in the translated literature seem like rather awkward efforts to fill in the gap in our knowledge left unfilled because of insufficient experimentation. Bioplasma is still, as far as I can tell, an entirely speculative concept. That plasmic phenomena occur in connection with biological organisms is not doubted, but if such fields are organized into coherent and stable patterns a deeper explanation will be required. 

The research finding that lends support to the concept of bioplasma is the preliminary report that changes in the corona discharge of humans and certain animals can be shown to vary with the emotional state of the organism, or state of consciousness, in a way independent of other physiological variables that might effect the discharge. If true, this finding is most unusual since we generally associate a number of physiological parameters with changes in emotional intensity. None of the reported experiments have been described in sufficient detail to be taken at face value.

High-voltage Photography

The Soviets have also reported that high-voltage (as developed by Semyon and Valentine Kirlian) photographs are sensitive to changes in the emotions, thoughts and states of consciousness of human subjects. Additional apparent support for this theory came from data gathered by Dr. Thelma Moss and her colleagues at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute.

Thelma Moss

Studies with subjects in relaxed states produced by meditation, hypnosis, alcohol and drugs generally showed a wider and more brilliant corona discharge on the fingertips. 

High-voltage photograph showing electrical corona around fingertip 
of individual before alcohol consumption

Same fingertip after consuming 9 oz. of bourbon

High-voltage photo of fingertip after consuming 15 oz. of bourbon 
(courtesy Thelma Moss)

In states of arousal, tension, or emotional excitement, the researchers observed the appearance of blotches on the color film. Preliminary research seemed to indicate that these photographic indicators were independent of such physiological measurements as galvanic skin response, skin temperature, sweat, or constriction and dilation of the blood vessels. This is a difficult finding to accept, and not thoroughly documented in published reports. Other studies showed a brighter and wider corona in subjects who were in the presence of a close friend or someone of the opposite sex.

In 1970, Lynn Schroeder and Sheila Ostrander published in Psychic Discovereis Behind the Iron Curtain a rumor regarding research with the Soviet healer Colonel Alexei Krivorotov:

At the moment when he seemed to be causing a sensation of intense heat in a patient, the general overall brightness in Krivorotov's hands decreased and in one small area of his hands a narrow focused channel of intense brilliance developed. It was almost as if the energy pouring from his hands could focus like a laser beam.
These reports aroused the interest of western researchers who were determined to investigate this phenomena for themselves. E. Douglas Dean of the Newark College of Engineering in New Jersey, using Czechoslovakian designed equipment, had the opportunity to conduct similar experiments with a psychic healer by the name of Ethel E. De Loach. Dean took several sets of her fingers when she was at rest and when she was thinking of healing. In every case, Dean reported that the flares and emanations were much larger in the pictures when she was thinking of healing. Some of the effects with Mrs. De Loach were very striking:
One time Ethel was doing a healing and she knew I was so happy about getting this big orange flare on the photograph. She asked me if I would like a green one. Well I said, "My goodness, yes! You mean you can make a green one to order?" She said, "yes." So we set up the equipment and we got a green flare, a small one.
Further research along these lines were conducted by Dr. Thelma Moss and her associates working at the UCLA Center for the Health Sciences. Using high-voltage photography, they have observed an apparent energy transfer from healer to patient. After the healer has finished a treatment, the corona around his fingertip is diminished. On the other hand, an increase in the brilliance and width of the corona of the patient is observed after treatment. Volunteers with no experience in healing were unable to replicate the same effect.

In another series of experiments, the UCLA group explored the healing interactions between people and plants. In this study, the "healers" were people who claimed to have a "green thumb," in other words, people who had the ability to make plants flourish under their care. In each experiment there was both an experimental leaf and a control leaf. Both leaves were photographed after being freshly plucked from the same plant. Then each leaf was mutilated and photographed again. Typically this caused the leaf to become dimmer on film. Then the "healer" would hold his hand about an inch above the experimental leaf for as long as he felt was necessary, and the experimental leaf would be photographed again. Most of the twenty "green thumb" volunteers were able to cause an increased brightness in the leaves after treatment. These leaves also remained brighter for many weeks longer than the control leaves.

Moss and her coworkers found a number of subjects who claimed to have a "brown thumb" with plants -- plants always seemed to get sick and die under their care. When these subjects attempted the leaf experiment, they were able to cause the corona around the leaf to disappear.

One of America's most well-known ostensible psychic healers, Olga Worrall, exhibited apparent conscious control over the energy interactions being photographed.

Olga Worrall

Oddly enough, the leaf had almost disappeared in the photograph of Mrs. Worrall's first test run. Thelma Moss commented:

This was deeply disturbing to us: how could we tell Dr. Worrall, a lady for whom we had the deepest respect, what she had done to the leaf? But, obviously we had to tell her. She looked at the photographs with quiet dignity, and then asked if she might repeat the experiment. She believed she had given the leaf "too much power," and thought a more gentle treatment might have different results. The experiment was, of course, repeated....the second, mutilated leaf...after a more gentle treatment has become brilliant. This was the first time someone had been able, deliberately, to reverse the direction of the bioenergy. Since then, we have had another subject who was able to predict the direction of the energy flow.,
A report by skeptical researchers Arleen J. Watkins and William S. bickel at the University of Arizona has identified six different physical factors that affect Kirlian photographs: photographic paper, pressure, voltage discharge, explosure time, moisture in the sample, and photographic developing time. Undoubtedly there are other factors as well. It is not clear that any of the published studies purporting that this method produces interesting results of a psychic or psychological nature, has sufficiently controlled for all of these factors.

High-voltage Photography Anecdotes

Several related findings have been reported from the UCLA radiation field photography laboratory. One study attempted to observe the fingertips of pairs of individuals, holding their fingers close together, but not touching, as they stared into each other's eyes. Frequently they found, for no apparent explanation, that one of the fingertips in each pair would practically disappear. One of the subjects was a professional hypnotist, and it was repeatedly discovered that he could blank out the fingertips of any one of a number of partners. In a rather striking experiment, one subject was asked to visualize sticking a needle into her partner, who was known to be afraid of needles. The high-voltage photograph of their fingertips shows a sharp red line darting out of the aggressor's finger toward her imagined victim whose emanations appear to be retreating. On the other hand, the photographed corona of two individuals taken while they have meditated together, according to Moss, has typically has shown a merging and uniting of the two individual coronas.

Sometimes when two persons were able to generate feelings of hostility towards each other, the corona between their fingers would abruptly cut off, leaving a gap so sharp and clear it became known as the "haircut effect." In some instances a bright bar, like a barrier, would appear between the two photographed fingerpads. Further studies with family groups engaged in family therapy were conducted. Group photographs were taken with the fingerpads of each member of the family. Typically one member of the group, generally the son, would not photograph at all. Other photographs in this study suggested to the researchers that high-voltage photography could provide insights into the emotional reactions between people., 

The Phantom Leaf Effect

The most startling finding of high-voltage photography research was called the "phantom leaf" effect. Ostrander and Schroeder in Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain first reported that the Soviets were often able, after removing a portion of a plant leaf, to photograph a corona pattern around the leaf as if the whole leaf were still there. This suggested to researchers that radiation of energy around the leaf formed a holographic pattern acting as an organizing force field for physical matter. The Soviets dubbed this hypothesized organizing field the biological plasma body. 

For several years American experimenters tried unsuccessfully to duplicate this effect. While the relevant procedural variables were still unknown, scientists such as William Tiller maintained that this single observation was "of such vast importance to both physics and medical science that no stone should be left unturned in seeking the answer!"

In 1973, Kendall Johnson, after bore than 500 trials, succeeded in producing a "phantom leaf" with clear internal details. Immediately researchers suggested the results were due to an artifact -- possibly from an electrostatic charge left on electrode's surface before the leaf was cut.

John Hubacher, a graduate student working in Thelma Moss' laboratory then produced about a dozen phantom leaves that show an internal structure -- presumably belonging to the cut-off section of the leaf. Experimenting in the spring months (which was suggested as a relevant variable)

Hubacher came to expect clear phantom images in about 5% of his attempts and partial images in another 20%. He was unable to ascertain the variables that resulted in a perfect image. He claims that he was careful to cut the leaf before it was placed on the electrode in order to avoid the possibility of an electrostatic artifact. In fact, he went further and attempted to deliberately create a pseudo-phantom effect by pressing the leaf against the film emulsion before cutting a section off. The results of these efforts did not create any good looking phantoms.

Perhaps the most encouraging efforts in this direction were the motion pictures taken of the fading phantom leaf through a special transparent electrode. The speed of the camera was slowed to about six frames a second. This work was in Dr. Moss' laboratory with the help of Clark Dugger, a graduate student in UCLA's noted cinema department. Both black and white and color high-voltage photographs showed the "phantom" sparkling brilliantly and pulsing for several seconds before it disappeared. In these experiments, the leaf was reportedly always cut before it was placed on the electrode; and the phantom leaves were obtained only during spring months.,

Working in Moss' laboratory, and also at the Washington Research Center in San Francisco, I was able to reproduce partial phantom effects with little difficulty. However, I am unable to make any claims for the phenomena as it would have taken many months, perhaps years, of intensive research to control all of the possible sources of artifact. The leaf being photographed, for instance, must be grounded with an electrode; and the placement of this electrode, a possible source of additional corona discharge, seems crucial. Sometimes unaccountable images appeared on high-voltage photographs of normal leaves, fingertips, and also inanimate objects. William Joines and his colleagues of the electrical engineering department at Duke University have been able to produce a "phantom leaf" effect, for example as a result of film buckling.

 William Joines (courtesy Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man)

The phantom leaf effect, if true, carries such significance for science it is essential the experiments be replicated under tightly controlled conditions that can provide a secure foundation for theoretical models. While only further well-controlled studies can resolve these tenuous problems, the scientific community has turned away from Kirlian high-voltage photography as a productive research tool.

Kurt Lewin's Field Theory

In order to explain these uncanny photographic events, some researchers have drawn upon the efforts of psychologist Kurt Lewin (1890-1947) to apply the concepts of physical fields to the study of human personality. One of the unique characteristics of Lewin's theory was using of diagrammatic representations of internal and external personality interactions. The following diagram is one Lewin used:

The individual is described graphically by the quality of psychological environment (or aura) around him. Person b, for example, is one with a thicker boundary. The outer world has little influence on the life-space and vice-versa. The life-space of person a is more open and expansive.

Lewin has often been criticized for the unjustified application of physical concepts and terminology to the realm of personality where they did not belong. It was claimed that his diagrams were an attempt to appear scientific without using the requisite controls and measurements of science. Furthermore, it was difficult for these critics to see what these diagrams had to do with the "real world." Proponents of Kirlian high-voltage photography suggest Kirlian photographs can be read almost as if they were Lewin diagrams of personality fields. This claim goes far beyond what Lewin himself ever actually suggested. However, in the analytical psychology of Carl Gustav Jung, it has been proposed many times by Jung himself that the archetypal world -- although it exists within the mind -- should be thought of as objective reality. It resembles Plato's realm where ideas themselves exist as visible thought-forms.


. Joseph Campbell, Understanding Mythology (#S075), in The Roots of Consciousness (#Q154), videotapes available from Thinking Allowed Productions, Berkeley, CA.

. Annie Besant & C. W. Leadbeater, Thought Forms. Wheaton, Ill.: Theosophical Publishing House, 1971, 8-17. Originally published in 1901. Besant, a former mistress of George Bernard Shaw, became head of the international theosophical movement after the death of Madame Blavatsky.

. Yogi Ramacharaka, Yogi Philosophy and Oriental Occultism. Chicago: The Yogi Publication Society, 1931, pp. 73-90. Originally published in 1903.

. Eileen Garrett, Awareness. New York: Helix Press, 1943, pp. 99-100. An eloquent, lyrical testimony by the founder of the Parapsychology Foundation.

. Yogi Ramacharaka, Yogi Philosophy, pp. 64-66. 

. Ray Stanford, "On Viewing the Aura," KPFA-FM and the lnterdisciplinary Parapsychology Program of U. C., Berkeley, Parapsychology Symposium, February 1974.

. Charles T. Tart, "Concerning the Scientific Study of the Human Aura," Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 46(751), March 1972.

. A. R. G. Owen, "Generation of an 'Aura': A New Parapsychological Phenomenon," New Horizons, I(1), Summer 1972, 11-13.

. E. N. Santini, Photographie des Effluves Humains. Paris, 1896. 

. Max Heindel, The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception. Oceanside, CA: The Rosicrucian Fellowship, 1969, pp. 59-64. Originally published in 1909.

. A. R. G. Owen & G. A. V. Morgan, "The 'Rim Aura': An Optical Illusion -- A Genuine but Non-psychic Perception," New Horizons I(3), January 1974, 19-31.

. A. R. G. Owen, "Generation of an 'Aura'," 14-23.

. C. W. Leadbeater, The Chakras. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1972, p. l. Originally Published in India in 1927, this book contains a perplexing combination of allegedly first-hand clairvoyant reports and Theosophical dogma. There are a number of illustrations.

. The etheric body is essentially a pseudoscientific term which became popular at a time when many scientists still supposed that an unknown substance called the ether permeated the entire universe and mediated the transmission of electromagnetic waves. Einstein's theory of relativity has subsequently superceded this view in science; however occultists who simply the teachings of earlier generations still sometimes retain this terminology. 

. Ibid., 45.

. Ibid., 19-20. According to Leadbeater, Theosophica Practica was originally issued in 1696. The illustrations to the book were apparently added about 1720. A French translation, used by Leadbeater, was published in 1897 in the Bibliotheque Rosicrucienne (No. 4) by the Bibliotheque Charcornac, Paris.

. Shafica Karagula, Breakthrough to Creativity. Santa Monica, CA: De Vorss, 1967. 

. Shafica Karagula, "Higher Sense Perception and New Dimensions of Creativity," American Psychiatric Association Convention, May 1974.

. William A. Tiller, "Radionics, Radiesthesia and Physics," in The Varieties of Healing Experience, Academy of Parapsychology and Medicine, October 1971, pp. 72-78. 

. Lee Sannella, Kundalini: Psychosis or Transcendence. San Francisco: H. S. Dakin, 1976.

. Motoyama, op. cit.

. Rammurti S. Mishra, Yoga Sutras. New York: Doubleday, 1973, pp. 295-296.

. Lama Anagarika Govinda, Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism. New York: Samuel Weiser, 1969, p. 135. An exposition of the esoteric teachings underlying the mantra, OM MANI PADME HUM.

. John F. Thie & Mary Marks, Touch for Health. Santa Monica, Ca.: DeVorss, 1973.

. Jacques de Langre, The First Book of Do-In. Hollywood: Happiness Press, 1971.

. J. F. Chaves & T. X. Barber, "Acupuncture Analgesia: A Six-Factor Theory," Psychoenergetic Systems, 1, 1974, 11-21.

. Joan Steen Wilentz, The Senses of Man. New York: Thomas Crowell, 1968, pp. 89-109.

. Felix Mann, "The Probable Neurophysiological Mechanism of Acupuncture," Transcript of the Acupuncture Symposium. Los Altos, CA: Academy of Parapsychology and Medicine, 1972, pp. 23-31.

. Ibid.

. Wilhelm Reich, The Discovery of The Orgone, Vol. II: The Cancer Biopathy. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1973, p. 1521. This book, the major volume in which Reich describes his orgone research, contains over 70 microphotographs.

. Today, Reich's claims are considered, by most, comparable to the mysterious "N-rays" that French physicists once thought they had discovered. See Section III for a further discussion of this cognitive error.

. Ibid., pp. 108-142.

. Wilhelm Reich, History of the Discovery of Life Energy--The Einstein Affair. Rangeley, Maine: Orgone Institute Press, 1953. A documentation of the original correspondence between Reich and Einstein.

. W. Edward Mann, Orgone, Reich and Eros. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973. Mann, a retired professor of sociology from York University in Toronto, Ontario, is one of Canada's foremost sociologists. His book is a major document tracing the scientific impact of Reich's work within a sociological framework which includes other research into life energies.

. Wilhelm Reich, The Cancer Biopathy, pp. 23-25.

. Thelma Moss, et al., "Bioenergetics and Radiation Photography," First International Conference on Psychotronics, Prague, 1973.

. Bernard Grad, "Orgone Treatment of Cancerous Rats," Esalen Institute Symposium on Reich and Orgone, San Francisco, August 1974.

. V. M. Inyushin, "Biological Plasma of Human and Animal Organisms," Symposium of Psychotronics, Prague, September 1970. Published by the Paraphysical Laboratory, Downton, Wiltshire, England.

. Ibid.

. Thelma Moss has retired from UCLA, and research in Kirlian photography no longer continues there. The general consensus among researchers is that there were too many uncontrolled extraneous variables in virtually all of the high voltage photography studies to enable any conclusions to be drawn of a psychological nature.

. Thelma Moss, John Hubacher & Francis Saba, "Visual Evidence of Bioenergetic Interactions Between People?" American Psychological Association Convention, New Orleans, May 1974.

. Sheila Ostrander & Lynn Schroeder, Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain. New York: Prentice Hall, 1970, p. 223.

. E. Douglas Dean, "High-voltage Radiation Photography of a Healer's Fingers," in S. Krippner & D. Rubin (eds.), The Kirlian Aura. New York: Doubleday, 1974.

. Jeffrey Mishlove and Douglas Dean, "From Parapsychology to Paraphysics," Mind's Ear radio program, broadcast on KPFA-FM in Berkeley, California, July 5, 1973. 

. Thelma Moss, Kendall Johnson, Jack Grey, John Hubacher, Roger MacDonald and Francis Saba, "Bioenergetics and Radiation Photography," First International Conference on Psychotronics, Prague, 1973.

. Ibid.

. Ibid.

. Ibid.

. Many individuals used the title "Dr." when referring to Olga Worrall as a token of respect, although she lacked formal academic or medical credentials.

. Arleen J. Watkins & William S. Bickel, "The Kirlian Technique: Controlling the Wild Cards," Skeptical Inquirer, 13(2), Winter 1989, pp. 172-184.

. Thelma Moss, John Hubacher & Francis Saba, "Visual Evidence of Bioenergetic Interactions Between People?"

. Thelma Moss, John Hubacher, Francis Saba & Kendall Johnson, "Kirlian Photography: An Electrical Artifact?" American Psychological Association, August 1974.

. Thelma Moss, John Hubacher & Francis Saba, "Anomalies in Kirlian Photography: Interactions Between PeopIe Reveal Curious 'Disappearances' and 'Merging' Phenomena," Second International Psychotronics Conference, Monaco, 1975.

. William A. Tiller, "Energy Fields and the Human Body: Part I," A.R.E. Medical Symposium on Mind Body Relationships in the Disease Process, Phoenix, Arizona, January 1972.

. William A. Tiller, "Some Energy Field Observations of Man and Nature," The Kirlian Aura, p. 122.

. John Hubacher and Thelma Moss, The "Phantom Leaf Effect" As Revealed Through Kirlian Photography. UCLA Center for the Health Sciences, 1974.

. Thelma Moss, Ph.D., The Probability of the Impossible. Los Angeles: J. P. Tarcher, 1974. pp. 54-58. This lively book documents the many research activities of Dr. Moss, a former Broadway actress. It is valuable for her firsthand accounts of her travels in the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia as well as the inside story of her own laboratory activities.

. Clark Dugger, John Hubacher, Thelma Moss & Francis Saba, "'The Phantom Leaf,' Acupuncture, and Altered States of Consciousness," Second International Psychotronics Conference, Monaco, 1975.

. Larry Burton, William Joines & Brad Stevens, "Kirlian Photography and its Relevance to Parapsychological Research," Parapsychological Association Convention, New York, 1974. Also presented before the Symposium of the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers, November 1974.

. C. S. Hall & G. Lindzey, Theories of Personality. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1957. pp. 296-335. This book provides summaries of many psychological theories. Of particular interest is the classification of each theory according to its emphasis along each of eighteen different parameters (p. 548).

. Stanley Krippner & Sally Ann Drucker, "Field Theory and Kirlian Photography: An Old Map for a New Territory," in The Kirlian Aura.

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