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Seven Principles of Man

By Annie Besant

Principle Two - The Etheric Double

THE Linga Sharira, the astral body, the ethereal body, the fluidic body, the double, the wraith, the döppelganger, the astral man — such are a few of the many names which have been given to the second principle in man’s constitution. The best name is the Etheric Double, because this term designates the second principle only, suggesting its constitution and appearance: whereas the other names have been used somewhat generally to describe bodies formed of some more subtle matter than that which affects our physical senses, without regard to the question whether other principles were or were not involved in their construction. I shall therefore use this name throughout.

The etheric double is formed of matter rarer or more subtle than that which is perceptible to our five senses, but still matter belonging to the physical plane, to which its functioning is confined. It is the state of physical matter which is just beyond our “solid, liquid and gas,” which form the dense portions of the physical plane.

This etheric double is the exact double or counterpart of the dense physical body to which it belongs, and is separable from it, although unable to go very far away therefrom. In normal healthy human beings, the separation is a matter of difficulty, but in persons known as physical or materializing mediums, the ethereal double slips out without any great effort. When separated from the dense body it is visible to the clairvoyant as an exact replica thereof, united to it by a slender thread. So close is the physical union between the two that an injury inflicted on the etheric double appears as a lesion on the dense body, a fact known under the name of repercussion. A. d’Assier, in his well-known work — translated by Colonel Olcott, the President-Founder of the Theosophical Society, under the title of Posthumous Humanity — gives a number of cases in which this repercussion took place.

Separation of the etheric double from the dense body is generally accompanied by a considerable decrease in vitality in the latter, the double becoming more vitalized as the energy in the dense body diminishes. Colonel Olcott says:

When the double is projected by a trained expert, even the body seems torpid, and the mind in a ‘brown study’ or dazed state; the eyes are lifeless in expression, the heart and lung actions feeble, and often the temperature much lowered. It is very dangerous to make any sudden noise or burst into the room, under such circumstances; for the double, being by instantaneous reaction drawn back into the body, the heart convulsively contracts, and death may even be caused.

In the case of Emilie Sagée the girl was noticed to look pale and exhausted when the double was visible: 

the more distinct the double and more material in appearance, the really material person was effectively wearied, suffering and languid; when on the contrary, the appearance of the double weakened, the patient was seen to recover strength.

This phenomenon is perfectly intelligible to the Theosophical student, who knows that the etheric double is the vehicle of the life-principle, or vitality, in the physical body, and that its partial withdrawal must therefore diminish the energy, with which this principle plays on the denser molecules. Clairvoyants, such as the Seeress of Prevorst, state that they can see the ethereal arm or leg attached to a body from which the dense limb has been amputated, and d’Assier remarks on this: 

Whilst I was absorbed in physiological studies, I was often arrested by a singular fact. It sometimes happens that a person who has lost an arm or leg experiences certain sensations at the extremities of the fingers and toes. Physiologists explain this anomaly by postulating in the patient an inversion of sensitiveness or of recollection, which makes him locate in the hand or the foot the sensation with which the nerve of the stump is alone affected … I confess that these explanations seemed to me labored and have never satisfied me. When I studied the problem of the duplication of man, the question of amputations recurred to my mind, and I asked myself if it was not more simple and logical to attribute the anomaly of which I have spoken to the doubling of the human body, which by its fluid nature can escape amputation.

The etheric double plays a great part in spiritualistic phenomena. Here again the clairvoyant can help us. A clairvoyant can see the etheric double oozing out of the left side of the medium, and it is this which often appears as the “materialized spirit,” easily molded into various shapes by the thought-currents of the sitters and gaining strength and vitality as the medium sinks into a deep trance. The Countess Wachtmeister, who is clairvoyant, says she has seen the same “spirit” recognized as that of a near relative or friend by different sitters, each of whom saw it according to his expectations, while to her own eyes it was the mere double of the medium. So again, H.P. Blavatsky told me that when she was at the Eddy homestead, watching the remarkable series of phenomena there produced, she deliberately molded the “spirit” that appeared into the likenesses of persons known to herself and to no one else present, and the other sitters saw the types which she produced by her own will-power, molding the plastic matter of the medium’s etheric double. 

Many of the movements of objects that occur at such séances, and at other times, without visible contact, are due to the action of the etheric double, and the student can learn how to produce such phenomena at will. They are trivial enough: the mere putting out of the etheric hand is no more important than the putting out of the dense counterpart, and neither more or less miraculous. Some persons produce such phenomena unconsciously, mere aimless overturnings of objects, making of noises, and so on: they have no control over their etheric double, and it just blunders about in their near neighborhood, like a baby trying to walk. For the etheric double, like the dense body, has only a diffused consciousness belonging to its parts, and has no mentality. Nor does it readily serve as a medium of mentality, when disjoined from the dense counterpart.

This leads to an interesting point. The centers of sensation are located in the fourth principle, which may be said to form a bridge between the physical organs and the mental perceptions; impressions from the physical universe impinge on the material molecules of the dense physical body, setting in vibration the constituent cells of the organs of sensations, or our “senses.” These vibrations, in their turn, set in motion the finer material molecules of the etheric double, in the corresponding sense organs of its finer matter. From these vibrations pass to the astral body, or fourth principle, presently to be considered, wherein are the corresponding centers of sensation. 

From these vibrations are again propagated into the yet rarer matter of the lower mental plane, whence they are reflected back until, reaching the material molecules of the cerebral hemispheres, they become our “brain consciousness.” This correlated and unconscious succession is necessary for the normal action of consciousness as we know it. In sleep and in trance, natural or induced, the first two and the last stages are generally omitted, and the impressions start from and return to the astral plane, and thus make no trace on the brain memory; but the natural or trained psychic, the clairvoyant who does not need trance for the exercise of his powers, is able to transfer his consciousness from the physical to the astral plane without losing grip thereof, and can impress the brain-memory with knowledge gained on the astral plane, so retaining it for use.

Death means for the etheric double just what it means for the dense physical body, the breaking up of its constituent parts, the dissipation of its molecules. The vehicle of the vitality that animates the bodily organism as a whole, it oozes forth from the body when the death hour comes and is seen by the clairvoyant as a violet light, or violet form, hovering over the dying person, still attached to the physical body by the slender thread before spoken of. When the thread snaps, the last breath has quivered outwards, and the bystanders whisper “He is dead.”

The etheric double, being of physical matter, remains in the neighborhood of the corpse, and is the “wraith,” or “apparition,” or “phantom” sometimes seen at the moment of death and afterwards by persons near the place where the death has occurred. It disintegrates slowly pari passuwith its dense counterpart, and its remnants are seen by sensitives in cemeteries and church yards as violet lights hovering over graves. Here is one of the reasons which render cremation preferable to burial as a mode of disposing of the physical enveloped of man; the fire dissipates in a few hours the molecules which would otherwise be set free only in the slow course of gradual putrefaction, and thus quickly restores to their own plane the dense and etheric materials, ready for use once more in the building up of new forms.



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