Mindspace: The Astral Plane
In this episode I’m continuing to explore the themes I’ve covered in my previous three or four streams.
First I want to clarify for myself what occultists mean when they speak of ‘The Astral Plane’ then I’ll go on to discuss the denizens of this weird and occasionally terrifying place.
I’ll be using ideas put forth in the books Psychedelic Shamanism by Jim DeKorne and my current favourite, Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires by Aaron Leitch, with some Robert Anton Wilson and Crowley thrown in.
I first came across the idea of a mysterious realm where mythic beasts and figures roam in a book called Magic: An Occult Primer by David Conway. I found it in my school library in first year (age 12) and was immediately fascinated by its description of the astral plane.
As a child I’d fantasised about finding a secret door to a cartoonish parallel universe, my own Narnia or Oz, and here was an intelligent adult telling me that such a door existed.
Two or three years later I would find myself in that landscape by accident. A group of friends and I had gathered magic mushrooms on the school football pitches on a wet autumn afternoon. I don’t know who gave us the idea or what we expected them to do. I remember the earthy taste and slimy texture of the raw mushrooms as we consumed them without finesse. I must have eaten just 30-40 whole psilocybin mushrooms.
My group of five or six adventurous pals wandered down to our favourite hang out, a large park in our neighborhood called The Duthie Park. To keep this short, after an hour or so I felt increasingly strange. In the September twilight, colours began to intensify and the grass, trees and bushes all around me began to glow and radiate presence from within.
I wandered away from my giggling schoolmates and sat facing one of the largest trees in the park. I sensed the energy emanating from it. I even imagined it was communicating with me in slow vegetable language. Everything around me shimmered and vibrated with life. My thoughts became profound and my normal internal dialogue became, for the child I was, mystical. I felt like I’d temporarily become elect, a prophet or a genius.
I told myself I’d found the Garden of Eden and things would never be the same again…
So, moving to the present day and my attempt to intellectually understand the occult world of higher dimensions and ‘spirits’, be they Gods, Goddesses, Angels, Demons, Daimons, Elementals, Extraterrestrials etc. I want to know, not only what they are, but how I can work with them to satisfy my curiosity and enrich my life in a magickal way.
Let’s start with where and what the place I called the Garden of Eden was? It was the Duthie Park, my physical location hadn’t changed. I wasn’t lifted bodily into heaven, (although that’s probably how it would be described in religious literature) so the answer must be that I’d accessed something that was inside me all along. Jim DeKorner would call this ‘Mind Space’, an inner dimension that shamans, magicians and visionaries have visited and described since the beginning of our ability to ‘time-bind’. I’m pretty certain that all religion, mythology and spirituality, indeed anything humans regard as holy or sacred, come from contact with this Mind-Space and its inhabitants. I believe the most infallible method of reaching it is by the use of plants and fungi known as Entheogens, Psychedelics, Hallucinogens, Plant Teachers etc but other methods include prayer, fasting, meditation, gazing, yoga, and of course ritual magick, and, more recently dream machines and flotation tanks; In fact all the techniques of occultism get you there to a greater or lesser degree. It’s my aim on this blog/channel to try and show the unity of purpose behind everything from Stone Age Shamanism, Greek Mystery Schools, Medieval Grimoires, Golden Dawn and Thelema, Chaos Magick, the Human Potential Movement and even some New Age modalities, although I find New Age-ism to be the most confused and muddied pool, perhaps because it’s so new we have no historical perspective on it yet. (There’s a good graph at the start of Liber Null & Psychonaut by Pete Carrol which shows a very similar progression of traditions and it also goes into different methods of achieving ‘Gnosis’ which are exactly the ways to enter the astral plane without the use of drugs)
Shamanism has always proposed the existence of at least three worlds: The Middle World is the everyday human world (circuits 1-4 using the Leary/Wilson model), The Upper World is the Celestial world of God, The Sun, Good Spirits, Angels etc, The Lower World is the Land of the Dead, Demons and Dangerous Spirits known as the Infernal/Chthonic world (both of these latter worlds would be covered in circuits 4-8). For the sake of simplicity I’m not going to draw a sharp line between shamans and other psychic travellers like magicians, mystics, kabbalists and psychonauts because the ideas and terminologies overlap so much. Agrippa, in his Three Books of Occult Philosophy also posits three worlds (Elementary, Celestial and Intellectual) and in the Kabbalah we find four (Assiah, Yezirah, Briah and Aziluth). Divisions are somewhat arbitrary because of a very important point. These worlds are subjective, in that they are not directly perceivable to our ordinary senses.When we travel into our own interior worlds there are no concise boundaries, only gradual changes of terrain. This doesn’t invalidate them but it does make them very difficult to visualize if you haven’t been there. They do not exist out there, somewhere in the physical universe but are contained within our own psyches. We are the Brazen Vessels containing infinite intelligences, heavens and hells!
By definition a higher dimension would be invisible to us in our everyday level of consciousness. We have three dimensions of space (Length, Breadth and Height) and one of Time, which we call the Space/Time Continuum but because we cannot separate our subjective experience of time from our experience of so called objective reality within time,
DeKorner suggests the term Space-Mind and describes it thus
Space Mind describes the experience of our subjective consciousness immersed in a three dimensional world. But this is far from our only reality. The zero dimensional point of consciousness, when focussed inward, perceives another region, which I submit is best described by the term Mind-Space a distorted mirror image of Space-Mind. Space-Mind and Mind-Space are, back to back, the two infinities confronted by consciousness
Scientific Materialism fails to describe the interior, imaginal world because we cannot stand outside our own reality in order to measure it. To again quote the author of Psychedelic Shamanism
It is easy to comprehend a point, line, plane and cube; indeed any child can readily discern spatial dimensions below three, but even mystics get confused when trying to describe four dimensional space.
In the work of C.G. Jung we find the concept of the ‘Collective Unconscious’ and in the work of Austin Osman Spare we encounter the idea of Kia, which suggests we, as individual perceiving subjects are able to tap into a larger group mind where powerful psychic forces meet racial or cultural Archetypes. I suggest if we go deeper into this realm we encounter independent beings who are not simply parts of our subconscious minds but exist as Higher Dimensional Entities who can work with or against us.
DeKorner calls the inner, occulted world Mind-Space because we are always at the centre of our own perceptual universes. We filter everything through our own sense organs and nervous systems. Robert Anton Wilson would call this our Reality Tunnel and the Wilson/Leary 8 Circuit Model is something I’ll be returning to again and again as I explore maps of consciousness and alternate realities. How can spirits be inside and outside of us simultaneously?
I’ve often noticed how paradoxes seem to suddenly resolve themselves while under the influence of psychedelics and believe this is because they temporarily give us a Superposition outside of time and space!
Like the invisible forces of gravity and radiation the spirit world presumably exists when we’re not observing it. In fact it may well be that it is observing us from that extra-spatial dimension. This would explain how a god could appear to be omniscient and omnipotent from our perspective.
DeKorner asks us to visualize being a two dimensional entity living on one of the faces of a six sided cube and states
Although it isn’t immediately obvious to you, your world is actually tangential to five invisible two-dimensional universes similar to your own, each with its unique population of beings. Imagine that turned inside out, in three dimensions, and you get an intuitive grasp of how we can grasp other realms from within.
The author clearly places the astral realms in ‘Hyperspace’ and also notes that our three dimensional language/concepts struggle to describe the events and qualities of that other place.
Is this why writings on mystical states of consciousness can be notoriously difficult to understand? Crowley often describes this problem “Nothing is clearer to my mind than the great difficulty habitually experienced by the normal mind in the assimilation of metaphysics is due to the actual lack of experience in the mind of the reader of the phenomena discussed”
I’ve often remarked myself that when on large doses of psilocybin human language seems utterly inadequate. Ideas are understood in something non-verbal; language needs to unfold in linear time to make sense. The closest we get to describing shamanic journeys are metaphors which are often synaesthetic; “It was like tasting fire or hearing pure colour”!
The reason I’ve struggled with conceptualizing the idea of ‘real’ beings in an imaginal space should be self evident. Where do I stop and they begin? This has been a really important question for me. In my search for answers to that first psilocybin trip I’ve continually dismissed evidence of other realities and spiritual creatures because they failed to live up to my ideas of objectivity. I wanted them to be ‘real’, measurable and able to give me proof of their existence. (This reminds me of Alex Eth’s question to Stephen Skinner about the possibility of capturing an evoked spirit on film. “It just doesn’t work like that was Skinner’s reply”).
That first vision when I was pulled out of my body while receiving reiki and shown planet Earth from space by ecologically minded Pliedians was rejected because it seemed just too strange, too fantastic.
In the summer of 2018 however I did a series of psilocybin trips and combined them with fasting, purification and consecration rituals and observances. I visited a friend who has a large house with a room solely dedicated as a temple. I framed the whole experience with banishings and invocations and had an undeniably magickal experience where the absolute reality of the shamanic extra-dimension impressed itself upon me. For weeks afterwards I felt what I’ve heard described as a kundalini awakening. I had boundless energy, found a new sense of purpose, started a YouTube channel and restarted my Golden Dawn grade work.
These experiences tie in nicely with the Leary/Wilson 8 Circuit Model where four ‘antique’ circuits which all adult human beings have are gradually opening into the next four ‘future’ circuits which become more transcendental, the 8th and final circuit being the ‘Non-Local Quantum’ circuit.
I again stand in a similar place with my sudden realisation that those weren’t simply hallucinations or phantasms from an overactive imagination but were part of an ongoing initiation, a journey or indeed a quest to the astral world!
A huge problem for me as a practising occultist is my abounding skepticism. I see testimony from occultists and spiritual types which seem entirely implausible. I would hate to fall into the category of deluded spiritual narcissists who clutter up Facebook groups and YouTube channels with wishful thinking and downright lies about magickal abilities and encounters with beings from other worlds. When I started getting serious about ritual magick and unexpectedly seemed to make contact with beings from my inner planes I walked away because I wanted proof that I wasn’t just imagining these encounters. I wanted the entities to give me proof that they had some knowledge beyond that which I already possessed.
I wanted an equation or piece of amazing information, something that could be kabbalistically checked like Crowley’s Book of the Law. The being Thosis told me that it could only communicate with the imagery and vocabulary I already had. This to me was final proof that I was playing some bizarre game with myself, but I recently read Aaron Leitch saying that because spirits have no physical bodies and no voice boxes with which to speak they do indeed rely on our stock of images and words to converse!
I believe I’ve been too dismissive of important clues to the reality of the spirit world and will go forward with much more openness to the ‘Spirit Model’.
Because the astral world for me began with a psilocybin experience and continued with a willed or self created (discovered?) world it’s been difficult for me to judge what was just imagination and what was coming from a pre-existing spiritual sphere. This can’t be true just for me but my perceived lack of any special psychic talents and a tendency toward laziness have made me feel I’m very far behind some of my magickal peers.
I have had some extraordinary experiences while experimenting with ritual magick and perhaps it’s only in looking back I see that my occult phenomena were more valid than I realised at the time. What I have to figure out right now is how I’m going to proceed. As I’ve said before, blind faith in a process is not something I’m interested in. I can’t devote myself to a system or lengthy working without knowing exactly what I’m trying to do and where it fits into the bigger picture. I refuse to be swept along by faddish ideas of being matey with Demons to become a living god. Delusion is strong in the occult community although there’s an equally strong faction whom I admire, who clearly aren’t making it up and who are entirely sane!
It seems by viewing magick as a psychological process I’ve missed out on some really interesting leads in the puzzle of human consciousness, which is what I’m really interested in.
Angels, Demons and Psychedelics
Working with spiritual creatures just to gain a better job or some other mundane thing seems trivial. This is one of the reasons that, until recently, I’d never given much credence to the grimoires with their mind bogglingly complex instructions for summoning Angels and Demons. Apart from the overt religiosity and strange unobtainable ingredients the roles assigned to these extra-dimensional intelligences seemed banal and materialistic. Contacting beings who are presumably to us as we are to animals and asking them to make us invisible or find us buried treasure seems a real waste of an opportunity to learn from these beings.
Perhaps they are not to be taken too literally in respect to the powers the Celestial and Infernal intelligences possess. They were written a long time ago when our understanding of science and technology were riven with superstition and ignorance.
As much as I respect ‘Traditional Magick’ I feel that having to turn back to material written hundreds of years ago shows how Scientism has impoverished our ideas on how to interact with non-physical realities.
By using occult technologies and entheogens we could repair our broken relationship with Mother Earth and the Elementals who must be in despair!
But perhaps I’m looking at things back to front and the old ways are the best ways? Aaron Leitch describes the religious worldview of the Solomonic texts “glossed over by Christian hyperbole”. He sees the grimoires being the direct descendents of the Western Shamanic Tradition. In this view ‘God’ is the Sky Father of all Pagan religions who is called to oversee the operations of magick, or perhaps give them his blessing, but it’s rarely, if ever the Heavenly Father who has to act. The work is carried out by intermediaries, Angels, Demons and Spirits, be they Elemental or even spirits of the dead.
It’s true that many techniques in Solomonic and other classical magick texts come from pre-Christian Egypt and Greece. Is the reason that magickal culture has definitely shifted to much older concepts of an objectively real spirit world because the psychological model proposed by Late 19th and 20th Century occultists just can’t account for the obviously very real experiences and results that magicians have when they work with The Lemegeton, the Trithemius method or the Heptameron?
At a time when the internet and dedicated, rigorous scholarship has allowed those of us interested in Esotericism in all its forms to obtain an overview of the entire history of time bound spiritual, religious and magickal texts, we are surely better placed intellectually to discern the truth of the astral plane and its inhabitants than ever before.
The printing press was one of the contributing factors to the European Renaissance. Are we witnessing the flowering of a true occult Rebirth? It’s an interesting side note that the Black Death preceded the historical Renaissance as Covid 19 may be preceding ours!
One would think that to learn more about spirits and the astral plane we could go directly to source and ask the spirits themselves. Unfortunately to quote Skinner again “It just doesn’t work like that”. Because of the notorious difficulty in contacting them in the first place, (something I’ve never definitively achieved without entheogens) and the apparent fact of spirits never giving a straight answer or indeed being downright deceitful, this is not an option. Perhap this is to be expected of beings from ‘higher’, intra or extra-spatial dimensions; a cross-species dialogue where our language is unable to capture the profound insights or information the entities give us. John Dee’s Angelic conversations are a good example of communications from the astral world. There, occasional truths commingled with teasing lies, failed predictions and confusion. How can we account for this?
DeKorne discusses the capricious nature of ‘mushroom spirits’ in Psychedelic Shamanism and gives us one reason why they can be deceptive.
Empirical evidence shows that each dimension within the imaginal realm is inhabited by monads of sentient energy. Like all living organisms, these entities seek to nourish and promote themselves. The closer the perception of the entity matches our own, the more appealing will be its arguments to our awareness, and the more likely we will feed it with our belief.
The idea of spiritual creatures “feeding on our belief” calls to mind the jealous gods of our spiritual past. What the Gnostics would call Archons. Those demanding worship and sacrifice and terrorizing their subjects for more and more energy in the form of burnt offerings. I’m also reminded of the bloodthirsty Aztec deities who required huge numbers of human sacrifices. The idea that there is a spiritual food chain should not be surprising. We exist by devouring the life energy of the ‘lower’ kingdoms, animal and vegetable Why wouldn’t those of higher kingdoms predate on us?
The magickal practice of making deals and pacts with demonic entities is long established.
In my own experiences with high dose psilocybin I’ve been approached by entities who seem willing to take advantage of my confusion when first entering the Lower World to offer me deals which might have been to my detriment. When correctly brewed and taken on an empty stomach psilocybin tea can come on incredibly quickly. In my 2018 experiences I’d be fully tripping within 10-15 minutes of consuming the liquid. The transition from normal consciousness to being fully in that other realm can be compared to suddenly being dropped into a deep and murky sea.
I always seem to enter on the lowest level and have to gradually rise through the inner planes and the first part of my trip is often strange and scary. More than once I’ve felt myself to be surrounded by skeletal bird creatures who seem to be, if not outright predatory then akin to scavengers who flock around a food source they think might be in trouble.
I once described them as being like astral beggars from an Interzone marketplace. “You look lost meester, come with me, I keep you safe, take you to the good place yesssss?”
I believe that the vast array of creatures, good, bad and indifferent encountered in the psychedelic journey are of the same types as magicians and shamans have been working with for millenia. In The Excellent Booke of the Arte of Magicke by Phil legard and Al Cummins from crystal scrying experiments in 1567 the magician, soldier and courtesan Humphrey Gilbert and his skryer John Davis describe imagery which is extremely psychedelic. Visions include a tree made of blood, one of crystal, hairy books, headless birds and a host of characters including biblical saints, dead magicians even King Solomon and Adam!
The fact that the shades of real historical personages like Agrippa and Roger Bacon mix freely in the astral realm with Saint Luke and Old Testament figures indicates how our subjective imaginations can never be truly separate from magickal and entheogenic experiences. The line between ‘me’ and ‘not me’ is fluid and dynamic.