Books by Arthur E. PowellASTRAL PROJECTION IN THEOSOPHY: AN ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY
I. The Books of Arthur E. PowellThe writing of The Multidimensional Human required five years of intensive research into theosophical material on the subtle bodies (which I call energy bodies) and planes of existence beyond the physical. Indeed, my book was inspired by these writings.
The most important resource for this research was a series of five volumes published by theosophist Arthur E. Powell from 1925-30: The Etheric Double: The Health Aura (1925); The Astral Body and Other Astral Phenomena (1926); The Mental Body (1927); The Causal Body and the Ego [i.e., Higher Self] (1928); and The Solar System (1930). These volumes provided an encyclopedic compilation of theosophical information on the energy bodies and planes.
Each volume draws on dozens of theosophical books published during the previous forty years (approximately 1888-1928). Powell gathered up isolated sentences, paragraphs, pages, and chapters scattered throughout some seventy books, sometimes quoting directly, sometimes summarizing in his own words. He then organized them into a coherent and systematic presentation.
The total number of pages in the set is about 1450. Most of the sources reflect the esoteric investigations of Annie Besant, second president of the Theosophical Society, and her close friend and ally, the highly gifted, though controversial clairvoyant, Charles W. Leadbeater.
The text of Powell’s books is accompanied by numerous attractive, hand-drawn diagrams to facilitate understanding of sometimes abstruse concepts. Each volume includes a detailed, well-organized index.
There’s some overlap of material between the volumes, which allows each one to provide a complete understanding of the subject under consideration when read independently of the others. Also, as the series progresses from discussion of the lower to the higher bodies, the fresh context provided in subsequent volumes allows for new realizations to develop from the repetition of basic concepts.
Within theosophical circles, the material presented in these books is problematic. One branch of theosophists feels strongly that Besant and Leadbeater corrupted the original teachings of Madame H. P. Blavatsky, who founded the Theosophical Society in 1875. They repudiate Besant and Leadbeater’s teachings as Neo-Theosophy.
Besant and Leadbeater themselves claim simply to be extending the reach and understanding of theosophical principles through the active cultivation of clairvoyant abilities. As a member of a select Inner Group of students of Madame Blavatsky, Annie Besant felt she had full sanction to undertake such explorations and pass the results on to the public as theosophical teachings, never doubting that she was elaborating an already existing system rather than replacing it with one of her own and Leadbeater’s invention, as some theosophists claim.
It is not easy to reconcile the differences in terminology between Blavatsky’s and Besant and Leadbeater’s expositions of Theosophy. People tend to be attracted to one or the other and rarely embrace both.
Furthermore, all currently active branches of Theosophy seem to be in the unusual position of providing teachings on the occult (hidden, psychic, or spiritual) abilities of humankind while at the same time discouraging people from developing these abilities. The rationale is that such development may be dangerous to our physical, mental, and spiritual health. At the very least, it may distract us from the true path of spiritual development, which theosophists almost universally define in terms of selfless service of suffering humanity here on the physical plane.
In a 1910 essay entitled “The Attitude of the Enquirer” (Adyar Pamphlets, no. 2: 13-14), Charles W. Leadbeater explains his reasons for promulgating the development of the subtle bodies, which he calls vehicles of consciousness:
we must take up in greater detail the various vehicles of man and their relation to the different planes of nature. We must learn to understand ourselves, in order that we may direct intelligently the complicated machinery of the vehicles. This is an intensely practical consideration for us; we are living upon all these planes now, though most of us do not know it; we are using our mental and astral bodies as bridges to carry to the physical brain the messages from the ego [i.e., higher self], and to carry back to him in return the information which they obtain from external impacts of all sorts. Unless we understand these bodies we cannot use them to the best advantage, we cannot get out of them all that we might. Apart from the fact of that constant use of the vehicles, we all spend about a third of our lives in the astral body–in a state which we commonly call sleep. After physical death we enter upon a long life in these higher vehicles, and it becomes once more obvious that the more we know about them the more efficient and the more comfortable will this life be. These higher bodies have their powers and their capacities as well as the physical body. If we understand them we can utilize all these for our own advancement and for the helping of our fellows, so that their study is eminently practical.I agree with this view. Read rightly, The Besant/Leadbeater material has enormous practical value for astral projectors who want to get beyond the occasional lucid dream or out-of-body experience. Currently available books do not adequately describe the further reaches of development along these lines. The systematic presentation of the subtle bodies and the planes in the Powell books provide a framework for understanding our farther-out experiences–we’re exploring higher bodies and planes. Furthermore, it seems that the more service-oriented we are, the farther out we’re able to go.
It takes patience to dig out the nuggets of wisdom in these books. The language of a hundred-plus years ago may seem old-fashioned and off-putting to us today. But if I were to judge the value of Powell’s books on the basis of how much I’ve marked them up with a highlighting pen, I would say that more than fifty percent of the material is golden. That’s 750 some odd pages–more than I would get from most authors on astral projection, out-of-body experiences, and lucid dreams. For example, Robert Monroe’s three books, Journeys Out of the Body, Far Journeys, and Ultimate Journey, comprise about 875 pages. But only a fraction of these books–a third or less–is devoted to a systematic presentation of his discoveries.
I’ve read Powell’s books with ever-growing astonishment over, and appreciation of, how they confirm decades of my own adventures in consciousness. I’ve also tracked down and read nearly every book Powell cites in his bibliographies, looking for further insights. Some are of equal value, others would be a waste of time for even the most ardent projector.
This series of newsletter articles explores each of the Powell books individually, then progresses to the larger body of theosophical literature from which they were drawn. My purpose is to provide an annotated bibliography of theosophical writings pertaining to the practical (as opposed to the merely theoretical) exploration of the subtle bodies and planes of existence.
When these writings are accessible online, I link to them so you may explore them yourself. If, like me, you prefer handheld paper copies, I also provide links to websites that sell new, used, or reprint copies.
There is much information of value to contemporary astral projectors in these neglected, if not forgotten, writings. I hope you will benefit from exposure to them as much as I have–not only in the understanding, but also in the practice of astral projection.
Next month: The Etheric Double: The Health Aura.