Carl Jung practised what he called ‘active imagination’ and reported that in his mind he regular met and consulted an old man called Philemon. Whether one calls this degree of consciousness a psychic, mental or astral plane, it is one where all feelings and thoughts become detectable: just as noticeable as physical objects that are visible to our natural eyes.
You might wonder if Jung was projecting his expectations or hopes onto an imagined guru figure who had no independent existence? Perhaps all so-called experiences of the astral plane consist of mistakenly attributing what is imagined in the mind to an objective reality.
On the other hand, arguably the sensations of the day to day physical world distract us. So that we do not experience the existence of any spiritual reality beyond it.
The Neanderthals 100,000 – 25,000 years ago buried their dead in graves containing food and flint implements that would then be needed. And throughout human history there has been belief in the reality of an afterlife in a non-material plane of existence.
So is the astral plane real or imagined?
Common idea of astral plane
Hindus, Buddhists, Theosophists, and Anthroposophists, amongst others, give accounts of events after death which are basically very similar. They say that after death the soul consists of the astral body. The personal consciousness fully parts from the physical body. The light of truth then reviews one’s past life in depth. One re-experiences desires and emotions, the soul perhaps inflicting its own purgatory on itself. This suffering is said to bring purification after which the astral body too is allowed to dissolve away.
Astral plane and Swedenborg’s ‘World of spirits’
There is a fascinating account of the astral plane actually arising from personal experience lasting many years. Eighteenth century visionary, Emanuel Swedenborg, wrote it. He called this astral plane of life ‘the world of spirits’, a transitional level of the ‘spiritual world’. Our inner world of mind consists of this spiritual world. We usually are only fully consciousness of it after our bodily death.
In his book Window to Eternity, Bruce Henderson has pointed out the reasonable as well as detailed way Swedenborg wrote about the spiritual world. He says this demonstrates that this is not just one man’s fanciful imagination; it is a special vision.
Visual aspects of Astral plane
According to traditional spiritualism, after death the soul eventually wakes up in some land, a realm of consciousness created by the desires of the individual. Likewise Swedenborg reports that the surroundings he experienced in the ‘world of spirits’ reflect the thoughts and feelings of its inhabitants. Whether or not thoughts and feelings are good and rational, or bad and illusory, these inner states of heart and mind are represented by corresponding natural qualities and things. Light or dark: warm or cold: beautiful or ugly.
Afterlife process in Astral plane
Swedenborg wrote that there is nothing that a person has ever sought in him or herself or done in secret that can be concealed after death. All things and each single thing are then laid open as clear as in daylight. However he says others do not suddenly see all the secret things in one’s life. Our inner character only slowly can manifest. But in this way others eventually see our selfish attitudes for what they are. We can choose to turn away from them. In so far as we do not do so we suffer the consequences as a sort of self-inflicted punishment.
Tibetan Buddhism teaches something similar to this. The Bardo is a state between death and rebirth. ‘The Tibetan book of the dead‘ describes the individual being aware of a radiant colour light of pure reality. This is the chance of the self to obtain Nirvana, by abandoning ego existence and becoming one with the light. But most souls don’t want to be reunited with the light of this stage. The self then acquires A karmic body forms itself by the action of past thoughts and deeds. It encounters all the deities that are projected by its own mind. These are both benign and vengeful, loving and judgemental in accordance with its beliefs and conditioning whilst on Earth. Judgement and punishment follow.
“This description of the afterlife process parallels that of other occult traditions where the astral body creates its own reality until the desires and emotions which drive it have been purged.” (Donald Watson)
Ruling love and the astral plane
Many people assume that the astral body gravitates to a level appropriate to its make up on the astral plane. This is probably the reason that some religions insist that right emotions are more important that actions or beliefs. Similarly, Swedenborg would say that the crucial thing is one’s intentions. However, he fastens on the general intention that rules our heart.
According to this idea underlying all the various interests, desires, goals we have is one pervasive and prevailing love. This is the underlying love that rules each of us. It develops through many personal choices made in life. The things that please us most show our main love.
“It is not necessarily what comes into your mind… that reveals your true character, but what you do with those thoughts or would like to do if you could.” (Bruce Henderson)
In Swedenborg’s ‘world of spirits’ your ruling love points you in one direction or its opposite. Let’s consider those souls ruled by good intentions. He claims that right thinking replaces their illusions. However, illusions will replace the insights of those ruled by selfishness. As this process takes place he says the person gravitates to the community of like-minded souls.
In other words, we surround ourselves with thought forms in keeping with our astral states.. Our desires and emotional attachments rule our existence. I would suggest that in this way we form our own heaven or hell.