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A non-sensationalist manual
on 23 January 2011
The controversial C.W. Leadbeater (1854-1934) was one of the leaders of the Theosophical Society Adyar, a new religious movement often regarded as the forerunner of current New Age thinking. He seems to have been number two within the society, immediately below the supreme leader Annie Besant. Leadbeater was also a bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church (LCC), essentially a front group for the Theosophists. Otherwise, Leadbeater is mostly known for having discovered Jiddu Krishnamurti. Both the Adyar society and the LCC still exist. (I attended one of the LCC's masses some years ago, and almost collided with the poor priest!)
"The Astral Plane", also known as "Manual No. 5", is Leadbeater's description of the astral world, a spirit-world the Theosophists believe is situated immediately above the material world. However, the astral world is nevertheless lower than the mental world or Heaven. It corresponds most closely to what Christians would call purgatory, and all souls of dead humans must pass through it on their way to the real heavenly world. (The words "above" and "below" are, of course, figurative.)
According to Leadbeater, the astral plane is experienced in many different ways by the souls passing through it. Evil souls are stuck on its lowest rung and experience something similar to Hell. To others, it looks like Heaven. It seems everyone at this plane reaps what he has sown. Sooner or later, all souls leave the astral plane, shed their astral bodies, and move on to the mental, devachanic or heavenly realms. In this sense, Leadbeater was a "universalist". Of course, most souls eventually reincarnate, but the book says little about this. Parts of the book are critical of Spiritualism, claiming that most spirits talking through mediums are impostors.
I was struck by two things while reading this book. One is the non-sensationalist tone of the author, very different from current New Age writings on the subject. "The Astral Plane" could actually be described as boring! Various evil entities such as warewolves and vampires are mentioned, but they (and the hellish realms) nevertheless play a relatively minor role. The other thing I found striking is the complex nature of Leadbeater's descriptions. There seems to be innumerable kinds of souls, spirits, elementals and even artificial thought forms at the astral plane. Frankly, the author has some problems sorting them all out.
Those interested in what (supposedly) awaits us at the other side, should presumably continue with "Manual No. 6", or "The Devachanic Plane or the Heaven World". I haven't read it yet, but please stay tuned for any further developments...