Popular Science Monthly/Volume 69/July 1906/The Plane of Ether


(Being Further Extracts from the Records of the Astral Camera Club of Alcalde)



AT the December meeting of the Astral Camera Club, through the courtesy of Madame Yda Hhatch, of San Diego, vice-president of the American Chirological Society, the club received a rare treat, direct from the fountains of the Orient.

Madame Hhatch is an adept in the science of palmistry and therefore a person of wealth and culture. She is pleased to exercise her gracious prerogative of patronage to scholars of all lands and of all beliefs. By her kindly interest the club was favored with an address by the Swami Earn Telang, of Bombay, from the Congress of Religions in Chicago, the substance of which, omitting the Hindu words I can not understand, I shall try to transfer to these records.

The Swami Ram Telang is a slender, dark-skinned Brahmin, with a delicate moustache and a complexion of varnished leather. His finely cut mouth bears an impress of sweet patience, while his dark soulful eyes have a deep inward expression, as though earthly matters were but a veil, half hiding the light of the inner vision. He wore a white turban after the manner of his class, and his white and purple robes were very becoming to his gentle but manly figure. Madame Hhatch impressed upon us the importance of refraining from all contact with these robes, for a profane touch would soil his aura, besides impressing the severest pain upon his sensitive Nirvanic nature. For like reason he must be sheltered from the odor of cooked meat, while even the slightest approach to a butcher's shop on the street caused him the nausea and shudders. As he himself confessed, the perfection of being which he had attained was not an unmixed blessing, for the' proofs of sorrow and suffering were ever in his sight. "Why hast thou cast Ram," he said sometimes to his Lords of Karma, "into the time of the ever-blind to proclaim thine oracles with the opened sense?" But he was very kind withal and very patient and accepted with kindness our offerings of adulation.

In this, my report, I can do but scant justice to his spoken words, for though I am not without literary taste and facility (though I say this, who should not) there was something in the lofty ideas and perfect expression in the measured words of this gifted young Brahmin which is beyond any effort of mine.

He began by an account of the five usually accepted planes of existence, the physical, the astral, the devachanic, the shushuptic and the nirvanic. But to limit these planes to five was, he said, 'a great error,' introduced into our philosophy by the too practical British mind which even in esoteric matters is crowding to the wall the finer understanding of the Hindu. The sole perfect number is seven and there must be seven planes and in his own experience as a wayfarer to Devachan and Shushup, he had always and ever found it so. Above the astral plane, already familiar to us at Alcalde lay the etheric plane, as the ether lies beyond the stars, while still beyond is the omnic plane, the Loka of the Perfect Silence.

Of the etheric plane, he chose to speak to us. He first emphasized the fact that all these planes and the things they contained are real, 'as real,' he said, 'as the American Hotel on the main street of Alcalde.' As all dreams came from emanations or excursions into these higher planes, all dreams and their contents are real also. In fact, there is no apparition which is false or illusory. The only illusion is the denial, and denial is the essential characteristic of that western philosophy, which is blighting the earth and changing it from a sphere of dreams and happiness to a world of war and commerce washed by a sea of aimless discontent. This is the natural effect of life on a physical plane. It leads to idle strife and constant struggle, as its greatest exponents have freely admitted, and its only hope of progress is in the killing off of all those who are useless in war and unskillful in making trades.

The scenery, inhabitants and actions in each of these seven planes are in part peculiar, each to its plane. In part they are the doubles or phantoms of the objects found in the plane next lower. For the finer matter of the higher planes permeates and penetrates the coarser objects of the planes below. Hence it transpires that to one in the plane below, the higher object, if he is aware of it, seems like a shadow or a phantom. Because he can pass through it is his argument for its unreality. But in like measure, to the astral or ethereal being the physical man seems quite as unreal, for with equal ease the being can walk through and through him, injuring him or helping him, just as he may elect to choose. By such means an evil-minded shadow may work dire revenge for injury done in another plane.

The higher the plane the more illusory the impressions we derive from it, not because of their unreality, but because of our own lack of training. For on the higher planes, objects change their forms with protean swiftness, casting a dazzling glamour from their aura as they change; again, sight on the higher plane is very unlike physical vision. Even so low as the astral plane the inside of any solid object is as plainly open to the eye from the outside, and all objects near or far are seen alike without perspective. The fourth dimension, the dream of geometry, is plainly visible and in the omnic plane is clearly seen a fifth or sixth dimension. With these chances for error, it is not strange that the Feringhi, or English writers, on the higher planes have made frequent errors, while even the Hindu adept is never quite infallible. As a preparation for such investigation crystal-gazing has been found desirable. Still better is the formation of circles of silence when men and women gather around a white lily or other creation of purity and beauty and, clasping one another by the hand, endeavor to think Ether and Om. After many years of these exercises, gathering around perfect objects under his direction, the Swami said, a few devoted women had even risen to think Devachan and Shushup. No Englishman had, however, come to this and in our Caucasian race not even a woman of English birth had ever been able to think Nirvana. For in Shushup all desire to act is lost, as in Om is all desire of speech. In Nirvana alone is the absolute extinction of all desire—a thing impossible to you Americans.

The scenery of the etheric plane is much as in the physical existence, only more wavering, more delicate, more enchanting. Its objects of fine matter, finer than anything in the atomic or molecular way, freely interpenetrate all merely physical matters. It is therefore not necessary to seek it far from home. In India and Thibet, this scenery is peopled with its multitudes of beings, for these are the oldest lands of man, peopled for ages with him and his creations. California, on the other hand, with the exception of a few areas, as Point Loma and Chinatown, is virgin soil in its astral and ethereal aspects, its sole abundant life being the nature emanations and the essential spirits of animals. One may wander in its verdant etheric shades for weeks and never encounter a human creature. When one meets such a being there on the etheric plane, she is most gracious and friendly, her company a welcome recompense for months of loneliness. The appearance of a friend in these wastes is signalized by the glimmer of his aura which, as a most learned occidental adept has pointed out, appears "as an oval mass of luminous mist of highly complex structure, from its shape sometimes called the Auric Egg." This writer maintains with apparent truth that these auras are not mere emanations but the actual manifestation of the ego on their respective planes. "It is," he says, "the auric egg which is the real man, not the physical body which on this plane crystallizes in the middle of it." This is certainly clear if we keep in mind the difference between this ego-aura and the physical health-aura which is the first purely astral object seen by the untrained and seldom enters the etheric plane. For the sake of clearness we should call the contents of the auric egg the 'etheric double,' which is merely a new name for a very old idea, for it has long been known that the mold on which the physical body is made up is held in perpetuity by the agents of the Lords of Karma. Thus, however complicated and unusual a man's Karma may be, these agents, or Lipika, are able to give a mold in accordance with which a body exactly suiting it can be formed.

The inhabitants of the etheric plane are as varied as those of the astral and physical planes, with this distinction, that certain types and races of men never rise above the last-mentioned level. For example, English is scarcely spoken on the astral plane and never on the etheric, where for most part is heard only some form or derivation of the Sanscrit. Those who aim to make of the bluntly practical English a universal tongue must soon see the futility of such efforts. For a language which barely reaches the astral plane can never be universal, while at the upper limit of Devachan, as is well known, all language disappears. Only the Voice of the Silences, the vibrations of the perfect Om, the one word which closes the lips whenever it is spoken, is heard in the Crystal Vaults Superior.

The learned Swami proceeded to divide the inhabitants of the etheric plane into seven great classes, for the sacred number seven is involved in all these investigations. These are (using our inadequate English words): (1) The embodied, (2) the bodiless, (3) the shells, (4) the incubi, (5) the extra-planetary visitors, (6) the essences, (7) the artificials.

Those of the first class, or embodied entities, have bodies on earth, still engaged in operations on the physical plane. These may be adepts or Chilas, or they may be canny yogis, or Initiates, possessed of second sight, or again ordinary men fast asleep at home, whose etheric doubles are drifting about involuntarily, swayed through esoteric currents, or the so-called 'winds of dreamland' of your western mythology, or finally they may be magicians, white or black, seeking their own ends, some of them unfortunately evil. The investigator may meet also on this plane students of the invisible, quite unconnected with the great master and knowing nothing of the mahatmas. These men, Slavs, Lapps or Malays, are often most earnest and self-renouncing seekers after truth, and the wise wanderer on the etheric plane will greet them with the omnic kiss of esoteric brotherhood.

Of the bodiless class are likewise man} r, some of whom have wandered from afar. Even from Nirvana, perfect souls have descended, creating for themselves a perfect ethereal body for the purpose, since the more refined vesture of Nirvana would be invisible to ethereal sight. These souls never attempt anything in these lower planes, for in Nirvana is the final quenching of desire. Here too, the ego of adepts may await reincarnation, an unusual mode of procedure, it is true, but sometimes to the self-renounced such favor is granted by the great master of reincarnation, Gautama-Buddha himself. But here the greatest care is necessary while the matter is arranged, lest by a touch of the Devachanic plane the waiting ego be swept by irresistible current into the line of normal evolution. In some cases, to avoid this strange accident, incomprehensible to you who have never left the limits of Alcalde, and to escape the trouble of a new birth, with the pains of teething and the other woes of childhood, the adept will enter some adult body, abandoned temporarily or permanently by its former tenant. The advantages of remaining bodiless are, however, considerable, as this avoids the hampering possibility of fatigue while retaining perfect consciousness. The disadvantage is that as nothing can touch the being in question, it can touch nothing for itself. Here, too, gather many of those who have abandoned the physical life, to be returned to it, in reincarnation, not having perfectly achieved higher possibilities. Most of these remain, however, on the astral plane, never falling below the density of shades.

The third class, known as 'shells,' are soulless bundles of qualities fastened together by will or thought and so retaining a human resemblance though all vestige of humanity has departed. Such, when seen by the canny, are recognized as ghosts. In writings of adepts you will find accounts of psychically developed persons, that is, persons possessed of second sight, who have seen about cemeteries 'hundreds of these bluish-white misty forms, hovering over the graves where are laid the physical vestures which they have recently left,' These shells may be galvanized into a very horrible form of temporary life, but this is only done by the loathsome rites of one of the worst forms of the black magic, which you of Alcalde, most of you not even initiates, much less adepts, could never be made to understand.

Still more unpleasant are the incubi, or clusters of wicked qualities, wrenched by violence from their possessors as a stone is torn from an unripe fruit. These take a fiendish delight in exercising the arts of delusion which the higher plane puts in their power to lead others to the excesses which proved fatal to themselves. For such a one to meet a medium with whom it is in affinity is indeed terrible, for by such means its existence may be indefinitely prolonged. Still worse are the vampire and the were-wolf, which we of the Fifth Eoot Race now seldom encounter, but which, to Slavic and Germanic adepts of the earlier centuries were objects of fear and danger in the astral regions and even as high upward as Devachan. All these are human in their origin. Not so the fifth class, the occasional visitors from other planets. Of these wonderful creatures we know nothing, for only the highest of high adepts have the power of moving from planet to planet, and even I do not understand how it is performed. When these visitors appear, they choose a body temporarily created out of unused ethereal matter belonging to the earth. Over this they wear a distinctive badge, a ring indicating Saturn, a series of belts indicating Jupiter or a tiny flaming spear and shield for Mars and a silver mirror in a golden necklace for Venus. In Shushup, it is said, guests for all the signs of the zodiac are received—but of these I have seen but two, a charming young lady from Virgo and a mahatma from Sirius who bore the badge of a great dog or wolf.

The sixth class are elemental essences. These may be either mineral or monadic in their nature, this depending on their origin. Usually they begin as a thought, aspiration or association of ideas, permeated by its appropriate variety of the deva or life principle, hence capable of floating or drifting about through etheric or astral space, until at last crystallized as an ego and embodied as a man. The history of these monadic essences is still obscurely known, as few adepts have the patience to watch them continuously through their centuries of development and incarnation. These often pass through the stage of animal essentials, some of whom are at last incarnated as animals, and the learned author of the 'Secret Doctrine' describes his encounter with a number of these essences 'embodied in anthropoid apes, already individualized and ready to take human incarnation at the next round or even sooner.'

Then in the etheric plane are swarms of nature spirits, the tiny emanations of the sunny banks of moss, the foamy waterfall or the fragrance of the roses. Some of these are dim and gigantic, the products of the mighty cañon, the roar of the sea, or the awesomeness of the forest. These may assume all forms at will, but when at rest they take the shape that is most befitting their natures. Ordinarily they are out of human sight, but they have the power of self-materialization, or they can be formed into visual clearness by the effort of a powerful will. Such essentials are known to us of the east as djinns and sprites and peris, but in the west they have many names, fairies, gnomes, elves and imps, and the Greeks called them fauns and satyrs. Those which live in water are called undines, those which live in air are sylphs and those in fire are salamanders. The wild essential spirits do not like, the presence of man, though they often try to help him or sometimes to play little tricks on him for their own amusement. They have no real dislike for humanity, but the constant rush of astral currents set up by the restless ill-regulated desires of Europeans disturbs and annoys them. In India, they are more at ease and lie about under the palms and the bulbul trees. In Olcott Sahib's beautiful gardens in Madras, Ram has spent many joyous evenings in commune with them. Similar creatures are ever present in California, giving your state the indescribable charm of which you all talk so much and feel so little. In a quiet stroll in the woods near Alcalde with Madame Hhatch, Earn found them in myriads, some of them lurking in the branches of the eucalyptus trees, others had burrowed in the dry ground to form fairy homes. In Ram's visit to Angels he found them thick under Abner Dean's great pines. Around the abandoned mining shafts there were other essentials of an evil disposition with an unpleasant smell of sulphur which suggested human origin. When examined and unrolled by means known to initiates, these sprites were found to be mere bundles of oaths held together by the force of spent passions and evaporate spirits of rye. The highest of these essentials or non-human entities is the deva, a superhuman essence destined to become man, but which has remained fixed for a time in an intermediate or higher stage. Such creatures, according to the common expression in Devachan, 'have yielded to the temptation to become a god.' No blame attaches to this expression. The path to incarnation thus selected is not the shortest one, but it is a very noble one, and for some not yet well tempered for humanity it is the one best suited to their natures. It is of course impossible at this stage of our striving to tell when we shall have earned the right to choose our own future. We should not, at any rate, before we ourselves reach Devachan, be too ready to despise those who have never seen fit to drop below that level. These devas are the winged globes and fiery wheels of our secret doctrine. There must of course be seven classes of these as there are seven of nature spirits and seven of elemental essences. For each class there must be a devarajah or king of devas, seven in all, but outside the circle of initiation, little is known and less must be said of the higher three. The four we know are called, respectively, the north, south, east and west wind, or the kings of earth, air, water and fire, clad, respectively in green, yellow, blue and red. These words and garments are symbols only telling nothing of their names or duties. These are inner mysteries of the White Mahatmas, unknown even to the Black Magicians, or to the seers of djinns and wraiths.

The last, or seventh, class of etheric entities is by far the most important to man. The artificials are man-created and by their return influence they make and unmake man. To this class belong the creations of the poet, undying and tangible in proportion to the poet's creative power. In this class too are all good wishes and all anathemas, all hopes, fears, faiths, creeds, and embodied loves and hates. All these find in time a living shape felt or seen by all canny psychic children in the flesh, a menace or a shield not limited by space or time. Elemental of this shape are often utilized in the 'sendings' of living objects transmitted invisible through space for the delight of a friend or the confusion of a foe. To this class belongs the white bird of the Oxenhams, whose appearance ever since the time of Queen Elizabeth is a sure presage of the death of some member of the family. In the noble family of the Whistlehursts a spectral coach drives up to the castle gate calling 'What, ho!', whenever a similar calamity is impending. Strains of wild music, the policeman's rattle, the blood-curdling shriek of a trampled cat, the clank of chains, all these are familiar to those who have looked into the phenomena of haunted houses. These elemental artificials are embodiments of man's will and thought. Once wrought together by longing, fear or crime, they may last for ages. An elemental, it has been wisely said, is a perfect storage battery from which there is practically no leakage. After a thousand years, a conception carefully worked out and firmly wrought together exhibits unimpaired vitality. In a famous case, such an artificial still warns the direct descendents of Sir Godfrey de Gespensterheim of their approaching doom by repeating in their ears the strange wailing music which was the dirge of his beloved son, Sir Lienhardt, seven hundred years ago in Palestine.

When these artificials are formed consciously and purposely they may be made the engines of tremendous power. Occultists of both the white and the black schools use them frequently and no influence in all the psychical universe can be so potent. But the evil use is not so common as it would be were it not that the highest occult power is granted only to the virtuous, and the black magicians are often torn to pieces by fiends of their own raising. Thus cast back into Devachan, their former power is lost to them and their reincarnation as dogs or monkeys by way of purification is extremely probable. This accounts for the multitudes of these animals in the streets of Benares and Constantinople. It is their nature to haunt the scenes of their physical exploits. To make artificials of extreme virulence and power has been the work of the sect known as the Lords of the Dark Face. Among other things they formed 'wonderful speaking animals who had to be quieted by an offering of blood lest they should awaken their masters and warn them of impending destruction.' From creatures of this type, created for a special purpose and afterwards neglected by an overworked magician, the race of parrots is descended. The devotees of the ghostly goddess Kale once performed rites too horrid to describe, and the results of which were the submergence of the continent of Lemuria with the loss. of sixty-five million, two hundred and eighty-five thousand human lives, besides several myriads of promising anthropoids only lately condensed from Devachan. Even Ram, a mere Swami who has been in Nirvana only as a mahatma's honored guest, could speak a word which could blast your mountains, blight your fruit or growing grain or flood your valley with the waters of the sea. Such mystic words there be and Ram knows them. Ram's finger could point unerringly to the limitless fountains of gold in your hills. But Ram stays his voice and withholds his hand, for his life is a life of meekness and self-renunciation and these things must not be.

It is in the formation of artificials that a man's real character appears, whether" on the physical earth or in Astrum or Devachan. The true adept forswears all that may be harmful to others. He may not use his power for his own advancement, hence his vow of poverty is for the protection of his soul. Having no selfish end in view he is ready to believe and to worship. To the western mind, belief and worship are as yet undreamed of. Instead of the silence of Om and the perfect rest of Nirvana, you hope for more business, more action, more pain, more unrest. The physical plane is the goal of life and the six planes above it are valueless assets of dreamland, unless they can be laid out into city lots. Turn your faces to the East, Europeans, and learn of the patient, restful millions whose dreams, daily and nightly, bring more truth than all your struggles and your science of two thousand years. The religion of the West has long since lost its hold on thoughtful men and soulful women. The only reality in your lives is pain. The light of your old altar-fires is growing dim and when again it is relighted it must be in the name of the master of renunciation whose servant and follower you behold in me. It shall be for the worship of the suffering unconscious to whom pain and pleasure are dreams alike, mere floating shadows which dim for the moment the perfect serenity of perfected being.

After the conclusion of this passage, Madame Hhatch asked the privilege of a final word. She spoke of the learned Swami so far from his home and drew a pathetic picture of his life of renunciation and his vow of poverty. His heart yearns for Bombay and the light of his own altar-fires where the sweet sandalwood burns in its temples of perfection, which are symbolized in the mouth-closing word Om. Yet he is forced to earn his bread on the other side of the earth teaching people who can not understand him and whose every contact raises blisters on his astral skin. It is our duty to open the way to his return to that which is dearer to him than life.

So at the instance of Mr. Abram Gridley, the schoolmaster, we took up a generous collection which the young Brahmin received in patient silence.

As he passed out, Miss Violet Dreeme, of Fidèletown, who is a poetess and suspected of jealousy toward Madame Hhatch, uttered the sole syllable of discord. "I read every word of that," she said, "in one of Mrs. Tingley's little books of Hindu Poetry." This Swami is the very man who was at the Midwinter Fair out at Golden Gate Park. He etches your portraits on cardboard with his fingers while you wait and he cheated me with a bad half-dollar. Why, Madame Silva, who told fortunes in the next booth, says that he got a reporter for the San Francisco Clarion to write this speech, and it was a whole month before he had it learned so that he could go through it straight.

"The fact is, I am told, the Hindu in America has but one article of faith. More precious than rubies is the woman of leisure seeking for a new religion. The real 'Secret Doctrine of the Brahmins' is this: 'So beg that you will seem rather to grant than to receive a favor.'"