Aura
An emanation said to surround human beings, chiefly encircling
the head and supposed to proceed from the nervous system.
It is described as a cloud of light suffused with various colors.
This is seen clairvoyantly, being imperceptible to the
physical sight.
Some authorities trace the existence of the aura in such biblical
instances as the bright light shining about Moses, which
the children of Israel were unable to look upon when he descended
from the mountain bearing the stone tablets engraved
with the Ten Commandments (Exod. 3429–30); in the exceedingly
brilliant light that shone about St. Paul’s vision at the time
of his conversion (Acts 93); and in the transfiguration of Jesus
Christ, when his raiment shone so brightly that no one on Earth
could match it (Matt. 171–2). Many of the medieval saints were
said to be surrounded with a cloud of light.
It is told that when St. John of the Cross knelt at the altar
in prayer, a certain brightness darted from his face. St. Philip
Neri was constantly seen enveloped in light, and St. Charles
Borromeo was similarly illuminated. This is said to be due to
the fact that when a person is engaged in lofty thought and
spiritual aspiration, the auric colors become more luminous
and translucent and therefore more easily discernible.
In Christian art, around the heads of saints and the sacred
characters is portrayed the halo, or nimbus, which is supposed
to represent the aura. Medieval saints and mystics distinguished
four different types of aura; the Nimbus, the Halo, the
Aureola, and the Glory. The first two stream from the head, the
aureola from the whole body, the glory is a combination of the
two. Theosophists speak of five divisions the health aura, the
vital aura, the karmic aura, the aura of character, and the aura
of spiritual nature. Clairvoyants often claim the ability to see
the human aura. From its colors they draw inferences as to the
emotional state of character. Brilliant red means anger and
force; dirty red, passion and sensuality; brown, avarice; rose, affection;
yellow, intellectual activity; purple, spirituality; blue,
religious devotion; green, deceit and jealousy; a deeper shade
of green, sympathy. Polish psychic Stephan Ossowiecki occasionally
saw a kind of dark aura that always meant the approach
of unexpected death. It is also thought that the colors of the
body and clothing in medieval paintings and stained glass are
intended to represent the auric colors of the person portrayed.
The crowns and distinctive headdresses worn by the kings
and priests of antiquity are said to be symbolic of the aura. In
many of the sacred books of the East, representations of the
great teachers and holy men are given with the light extending
around the whole body. Instances of this may be found in the
temple caves of India and Ceylon, in the Japanese Buddhistic
books, also in Egypt, Greece, Mexico, and Peru.
In occult literature the tradition of the aura is an old one.
Paracelsus mentioned it in the sixteenth century in the following
terms ‘‘The vital force is not enclosed in man, but radiates
round him like a luminous sphere, and it may be made to act
at a distance. In these semi-natural rays the imagination of man
may produce healthy or morbid effects. It may poison the essence
of life and cause diseases, or it may purify it after it has
been made impure, and restore the health.’’
Paracelsus said further that ‘‘Our thoughts are simply magnetic
emanations, which, in escaping from our brains, penetrate
into kindred heads and carry thither, with a reflection of
our life, the mirage of our secrets.’’
A theosophical description is as follows
‘‘The aura is a highly complicated and entangled manifestation,
consisting of many influences operating within the same
area. Some of the elements composing the aura are projected
from the body, others from the astral principles, and others
again from the more spiritual principles connected with the
‘‘Higher Self,’’ or permanent Ego; and the various auras are
not lying one around the other, but are all blended together
and occupy the same place. Guided by occult training the clairvoyant
faculty may make a complete analysis of the various elements
in the aura and can estimate the delicate tints of which
it is composed—though all blended together—as if each were
seen separately.’’
Classified more exactly, the divisions of the aura are stated
to be (1) the health aura (2) the vital aura, (3) the karmic aura,
that of the animal soul in man (4) the aura of character, and (5)
the aura of the spiritual nature.
The health aura ‘‘is almost colorless, but becomes perceptible
by reason of possessing a curious system of radial striation,
that is to say, it is composed of an enormous number of straight
lines, radiating evenly in all directions from the body.’’ The second,
or vital aura, is said to be to a certain extent under the control
of the will, when it circulates within the ‘‘linga charira’’ or
astral body, of a ‘‘delicate rosy tint, which it loses, becoming
bluish as it radiates outward.’’ The third aura is ‘‘the field of
manifestation, or the mirror in which every feeling, every desire
is reflected.’’ Of this aura the colors constantly change, as
seen by the clairvoyant vision. ‘‘An outburst of anger will charge
the whole aura with deep red flashes on a dark ground, while
sudden terror will, in a moment, change everything to a ghastly
grey.’’ The fourth aura is that of the permanent character, and
is said to contain the record of the past earth life of the personality.
The fifth aura is not often seen even by clairvoyants, but
it is described by those who have seen it, only in the cases where
the spiritual nature is the most powerful factor, as ‘‘outshining
all the rest of the auras with startling brilliancy.’’ The auric colors,
it is declared, cannot be adequately described in terms of
the ordinary colors discernible to the physical vision, being
very much brighter and of more varied hues and shades. The
symbolic meaning of these is roughly of the following order
rose, pure affection; brilliant red, anger and force; dirty red,
passion and sensuality; yellow of the purest lemon color, the
highest type of intellectual activity; orange, intellect used for
selfish ends as well as pride and ambition; brown, avarice.
Green is a color of varied significance; its root meaning is the
placing of one’s self in the position of another. In its lower aspects
it represents deceit and jealousy; higher up in the emotional
gamut, it signifies adaptability, and at its very highest,
when it takes on the color of foliage, it represents sympathy, the
very essence of thinking for other people. In some shades,
green stands for the lower intellectual and critical faculties,
merging into yellow. Blue indicates religious feeling and devotion,
its various shades being said to correspond to different degrees
of devotion, rising from fetishism to the loftiest religious
idealism. Purple represents psychic faculty, spirituality, regality,
spiritual power arising from knowledge, and occult preeminence.
Apart from occult beliefs in the aura, there is also some scientific
basis. The most important experimental investigations
into the subject were conducted by Dr. Walter J. Kilner
(1847–1920) of St. Thomas Hospital in London. In the first edition
of his book, The Human Atmosphere (1911), he describes a
dicyanin screen that rendered the aura visible to normal sight.
The screen was a solution of coal-tar dye between two hermetically
sealed pieces of glass. Looking through it in daylight and
then turning the eye to view a naked man in dim light before
a dark background, three distinct radiations, all lying in the ultraviolet
end of the spectrum, became visible.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Aura
117
The first, dark and colorless, surrounded the body to the
depth of a quarter to half an inch. Kilner called this the etheric
double. The second, the inner aura, extended three inches beyond.
The third, the outer aura, was about a foot in depth.
Kilner tried various experiments. He found that the depth
of the aura is influenced by a magnet and that it is sensitive to
electric currents, completely vanishing under a negative charge
from a Wimshurst machine, then increasing to an additional 50
percent after the charge dissipates. It is also affected by the vapors
of various chemicals and loses brilliance in hypnosis. Illness
affects both its size and color. Impairment of the mental
powers causes a diminution in size and distinctness. Nervous
diseases result in highly observable changes.
From all this Kilner concluded that the higher brain centers
are intimately concerned in the output of auric force. This suggested
an identity with the ‘‘nerve-aura’’ of Dr. Joseph Rhodes
Buchanan, the first explorer of the mysteries of psychometry,
which was postulated as early as 1852, and with the ‘‘nerve atmosphere’’
of Dr. Benjamin Richardson.
As death approaches, the aura gradually shrinks. No trace
of it is discovered around the corpse. Kilner also claimed the
discovery that the aura may be affected by an effort of will, that
it may be projected to a longer distance from the body, and
change its colors. He said that the auras of different people
may show attraction; they may blend and become more intense.
From the influence of the state of health on the aura, Kilner
drew medical conclusions. Dr. Johnson of Brooklyn followed in
his footsteps and based his medical diagnoses on the change in
the auric color.
Important as the researches of Kilner were, he was not the
first in the field. Baron Karl von Reichenbach asserted at an
early age that the aura can be plainly seen issuing from the fingertips.
Dr. Hereward Carrington cited a forgotten book, Ten
Years with Spiritual Mediums published by Francis Gerry Fairfield
in 1874 in America, in which the author anticipated Kilner’s
conclusions. Claiming that all organic structures have a
special form of nerve aura, Fairfield ‘‘constantly observed that
epileptics, pending the incubation of the fit, appear to be enveloped
in a sensitive and highly excited nerve-atmosphere,
which . . . heralds the attack; or . . . eventuates in clairvoyance
and trance. Though subsensible, observation and experiment
seem alike to indicate that the nerve-aura is material—an imponderable
nervous ether, possibly related to the odyle. It is
thus at once a force and a medium, susceptible of control by the
will of the operator, and capable of sensory impression an atmosphere
to take shape of his command, and to dissolve the
moment volition ceases, or, when the habit of the medium’s will
has become fixed in that direction, to come and pass in visible
apparitions, without conscious objective impulse on his part.’’
As the excerpt shows, Fairfield attempted to explain in
terms of ‘‘nerve-aura’’ the supernormal manifestations of mediums.
To be all-inclusive, he endowed it with a self-directive and
self-directing power.
This is essentially the same hypothesis at which Enrico Morselli,
Theodore Flournoy, Gustav Geley, and Carrington later
arrived, relative to the exteriorization of nervous energy in the
case of Eusapia Palladino. Dr. Paul Joire’s experiments in the
exteriorization of sensibility also lend support to the theory of
the aura, and medical observations occasionally bear it out too.
In the Annales des sciences psychiques (July 1905), Dr. Charles
Féré of the Asylum Bicêtre quoted two cases of his own experience
in which he had seen neuropathic halos. The first was the
case of a 28-year-old woman of a neuroarthritic family, subject
to various hysterical symptoms
‘‘It was during an unusually painful attack, accompanied by
a sensation of frontal bruising, and by cold in the cyanosic extremities,
that I was struck, towards four o’clock in the afternoon
(23 February 1883) by the sight of a light possessing a radius
of about 20 cm., which encircled her head; the light, which
was of an orange colour, diminished in intensity near the periphery.
The same phenomenon was manifested around her
hands. The skin, which was usually white and matt, had an orange
tint of a deeper shade than the halos. The colouring of
the skin had preceded, by a few seconds, the lights surrounding
the head and hands which had appeared about two hours before
my observation. The colouring of the skin and the lights
ceased about two hours later at the moment of the habitual
vomiting.’’
The second case was similar to the first, except that, save
monthly headaches, nothing indicated nervous trouble.
Dr. O’Donnell of the Chicago Mercy Hospital controlled
and confirmed Dr. Kilner’s experiments; they were, according
to a note by psychic researcher Harry Price in Psychic Research
(June 1930), also revived by Dr. Drysdale Anderson in West Africa.
He detected a distinct band ‘‘like a wreath of tobacco
smoke.’’ This smoky aura appeared to ‘‘envelope the body and
stream out of the tips of the fingers like white elastic bands.’’
Modern scientific interest in the aura was stimulated briefly
in 1970 by the development of Kirlian photography, which
many believed made the aura visible. Kirlian photography involved
taking a picture of an object placed directly onto an unexposed
photonegative by sending an electric current across
the film. The object would appear with a discharge of energy
coming from it. The corona discharge shown surrounding objects
seemed to fluctuate in interesting ways. However, when
carefully controlled experiments were done, carefully regulating
the pressure between the film and the object photographed,
the interesting effects disappeared.
Sources
Bagnall, Oscar. The Origin and Properties of the Human Aura.
New Hyde Park, N.Y. University Books, 1970.
Berger, Ruth. The Secret Is in the Rainbow Aura Interrelationships.
Clearwater, Fla. Beau Geste, 1979.
Cayce, Edgar. Auras. Virginia Beach, Va. ARE Press, 1970.
Johnson, Kendall L. The Living Aura Radiation Field Photography
and the Kirlian Effect. New York Hawthorn Books, 1975.
Kilner, Walter J. The Human Aura. 1911. Reprint, New Hyde
Park, N.Y. University Books, 1965.
Krippner, Stanley, and Daniel Rubin. The Kirlian Aura Photographing
the Galaxies of Life. Garden City, N.Y. Anchor Books,
1974.
Ouseley, S. G. J. The Science of the Auras. London L. N. Fowler,
1970.
Roberts, Ursula. The Mystery of the Human Aura. London
Spiritualist Association of Great Britain, 1972.

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