Out-of-the-Body Travel
A phenomenon based on the belief that individual consciousness
can leave the physical body during sleep or trance
and travel to distant places or into an ethereal or astral realm.
Different religions in the ancient world taught that men and
women were essentially spiritual beings (souls) incarnated for
a divine purpose, and that they shed the body at death and survived
in an afterlife or a new incarnation.
The ancient Hindus believed in the phenomenon of out-ofthe-body
travel, featured in such Scriptures as the Yoga Vashishta-Maharamayana
of Valmiki. Hindu teachings recognize
three bodies—physical, subtle, and causal. The causal body
builds up the characteristics of one’s next reincarnation by the
desires and fears in its present life, but the subtle body may
sometimes leave the physical body during its lifetime and reenter
it after traveling in the physical world. Ancient Egyptian
teachings also represented the soul as having the ability to
hover outside the physical body in the ka, or subtle body.
In the twentieth century, psychical researchers began to
study and conduct experiments on the possibility of out-of-thebody
travel. Their interest was provoked by its possible contribution
to evidence of the survival of death. Beginning in 1920
Hugh G. Callaway, under the pseudonym Oliver Fox, published
a series of articles in The Occult Review. His articles would
later become the basis of a book, Astral Projection (1939). Meanwhile,
Sylvan J. Muldoon, an American experimenter who professed
an ease with astral projection (another name for out-ofthe-body
travel), began to work with psychical researcher Hereward
Carrington, their work resulting in the first of a series of
books, The Projection of the Astral Body, in 1929.
Both Callaway and Muldoon gave detailed firsthand accounts
of consciously controlled and involuntary journeys outside
the body. Sometimes these involved appearances to other
individuals or the obtaining of information that could not have
been ascertained by other means. Such accounts were thus
highly suggestive.
Certain techniques were also described by both Callaway
and Muldoon for facilitating the release of the astral or ethereal
body from the physical body. These included visualizing such
mental images as flying or being in an elevator traveling upward,
just before going to sleep. Some involuntary releases occurred
as a result of regaining waking consciousness while still
in a dream state (i.e., lucid dreaming). This was often stimulated
by some apparent incongruity in the dream, such as
dreaming of one’s own room but noticing that the wallpaper
has the wrong pattern. Such awareness sometimes resulted in
normal consciousness, but with a feeling of being outside the
physical body and able to look down at it.
Many individuals who claimed to have experienced astral
projection describe themselves as joined to the physical body
by an infinitely extensible connection—rather like a psychic
umbilical cord—that would snatch the astral body back to the
physical body if one were disturbed by fear.
Some cases of astral projection have reportedly occurred as
a result of anesthetization (during operations) or even a sudden
In spite of the significance attributed to out-of-the-body experiences
(OBEs), both as a parapsychological phenomenon
and for their relevance to the question of survival after death,
they did not receive the acknowledged attention of the parapsychological
community until British scientist Robert Crookall
began to publish a number of books in which he cataloged and
analyzed hundreds of cases of astral projection from individuals
in all walks of life. It seems that the phenomenon is much
more widespread than generally supposed, but some people
are sensitive about discussing such experiences. Moreover, the
majority of cases are of involuntary projection; consciously controlled
projection under laboratory conditions is rare.
Crookall distinguished between the physical body of everyday
life, a ‘‘vehicle of vitality,’’ and a ‘‘soul body,’’ connected by
an extensible cord. Movement from one body to another is reported
as often accompanied by strange sounds and sensations—a
‘‘click’’ in the head, a ‘‘blackout,’’ or a ‘‘journey down
a long tunnel.’’ Reportedly, the projector often sees his own
physical body lying on the bed and sometimes the semiphysical
vehicle of vitality is observed by other people. Crookall also
cited instances of the condition of consciousness in which one
sees a double of oneself (see also Vardo/gr).
Again, while much astral travel is supposedly in the world of
everyday life, one sometimes moves into regions of otherworldly
beauty or depression, characterized by Crookall as ‘‘Paradise
condition’’ (the finer area of earth) or ‘‘Hades condition’’ (a
kind of purgatorial area). Here one sometimes encounters
friends and relatives who have died, or even angelic or demonic
beings. Return to the physical body is often accompanied by violent
loud ‘‘repercussion’’ effects. Sometimes the transition to
Ouspensky, P(eter) D(emianovitch) Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
and from the physical body appears to be assisted by ‘‘deliverers’’
or spirit helpers, or even obstructed by ‘‘hinderers.’’
Projection may be preceded by a cataleptic condition of the
body in which there are hypnogogic illusions. Because of the
close association of dreaming and hallucinatory images, many
people have dismissed claimed OBEs as illusory or merely
One controlled experiment in astral projection was undertaken
by the medium Eileen J. Garrett in 1934, when a test
was set up between observers Dr. Mühl in New York and Dr. D.
Svenson in Reykjavik, Iceland. Reportedly, Garrett projected
her astral double from New York to Iceland and acquired test
information afterward verified as correct. The case is described
in her book My Life as a Search for the Meaning of Mediumship
(1939), although at the time the experimenters were not
named, in order to protect their anonymity, and ‘‘Newfoundland’’
was substituted for Reykjavik.
Since World War II, parapsychologists have given special attention
to the phenomenon of OBEs. A number of special
terms were devised by Celia Green, director of the Institute of
Psychophysical Research, Oxford, England, in a scientific study
of approximately four hundred individuals claiming OBEs.
The general term ecsomatic was applied where objects of perception
appeared organized in such a way that the observer
seemed to observe from a point of view not coincident with the
physical body. Parasomatic was defined as an ecsomatic experience
in which the percipient was associated with a seemingly
spatial entity with which he felt himself to be in the same kind
of relationship as, in the normal state, with his physical body.
Asomatic denoted an ecsomatic state in which the subject was
temporarily unaware of being associated with any body or spatial
entity at all.
Other experiments have been conducted at the American
Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) in New York and the
Psychical Research Foundation, Durham, North Carolina. At
the ASPR Dr. Karlis Osis used a special target box designed
to eliminate ordinary ESP. Subjects were invited to ‘‘fly in’’ astrally
and read the target. Over a hundred volunteers participated
in the test. Although Osis reported that the overall results
were not significant, some of the subjects were tested
further under laboratory conditions. Among those who reportedly
performed well in such tests was psychic Ingo Swann.
At the Psychical Research Foundation, brain wave recordings
were taken from OBE subjects, with special attention given
to detection of the subject at the target location. There is a suggestion
that some subjects may have been able to manifest psychokinetic
effects while projecting. PK effects had been reported
earlier in the experiments of Sylvan J. Muldoon in the book
The Projection of the Astral Body (1929).
In 1956 Dr. Hornell Hart made a survey of reported apparitions
of the dead, which he compared with apparitions of living
persons when having OBE experiences. He concluded that
‘‘the projected personality carries full memories and purposes.’’
As with other laboratory experiments in parapsychology,
OBE tests lack the intrinsic interest of involuntary experiences,
and acceptable evidence is correspondingly reduced. Many laboratory
experimenters regard OBEs as a form of traveling
clairvoyance and have criticized the methodology employed in
many experiments because the methodology fails to distinguish
between the two. A person experiencing astral travel may
be having an experience somewhat analogous to ‘‘virtual reality.’’
It remains to be seen whether scientists can devise techniques
that can validate objectively the phenomena of OBEs.
Meanwhile, in the many cases of involuntary projection, it
is belived the experience itself often has a profound effect on
the outlook of the subject, since it seems to give firsthand subjective
evidence for the existence of a soul that survives the
death of the physical body. Such experiences have become the
subject of study by psychologists such as Elizabeth Kübler-Ross
and Raymond Moody, who claimed to have been affected by
the intensity of the accounts and their long-term, life-changing
quality. Critics of such stories have noted that ultimately there
is little independent confirmation of the stories, and while
there is a high degree of similarity between the experiences,
there is enough divergence to call the nature of the experience
into question. Others have also noted that the use of OBEs as
evidence of survival is somewhat limited in that even if the consciousness
could leave a living body and return there is no reason
to jump to the conclusion that the consciousness could survive
the death of its host body.
Some psychologists are confident that OBEs can be fully explained
as hallucinatory mental phenomena. British parapsychologist
Susan J. Blackmore has given special attention to the
phenomenon in attempting to discover a psychological explanation.
Her book Beyond the Body (1981) proposes that the experience
is an altered state of consciousness characterized by
vivid imagery, in which the subject’s cognitive system is disturbed,
losing input control and replacing normal reality with
one drawing upon memory. Blackmore’s experiments and theories
have special interest to parapsychologists because, unlike
so many investigators of claimed out-of-the-body phenomena,
she has had such experiences herself.
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