What Is Astral Projection?

Astral travel is an intentional out-of-body experience. Image credit: needpix.com
Astral travel is an intentional out-of-body experience. Image credit: needpix.com
  • Astral projection has rich cultural roots in a variety of religions and literature
  • The hit movie Doctor Strange contains a scene where astral projection appears to be used.
  • Astral projection has no scientific basis and is generally considered a pseudoscience.

Astral projection is a term that most people are familiar with, though they might not know the exact meaning. It also goes by the name of astral travel and primarily is a term used to describe an intentional out of body experience. Crucial to the concept is the belief in a soul or consciousness called the astral body. The astral body is distinguishable from the physical body and thus is able to travel away from it. Specifically, this spirit body can separate itself from its actual body in order to travel around the world and the universe. It is essentially the ability to be able to send a projection of one's self outside of one's own physical boundaries to view distant lands and to even see one's own body from a third-person perspective.

Cultural History

This concept has a rich history in a variety of cultures, though the common term nowadays was coined and used by the 19th-century Theosophists, a religious group that believed in a brotherhood of spiritual masters with supernatural powers that included astral projection. In western classical literature, the idea has shown up multiple times, with the basic idea centering around the idea that the astral body links the rational soul to the physical body. These works further posit the existence of astral planes where angels, demons, and spirits dwell. In ancient Egyptian, Taoist, and Hindu religions similar concepts of soul travel appear, all based around the idea that there are multiple discrete aspects of the body that can be separated from one another. 

No Scientific Evidence

It is important to note that despite this rich cultural history, there is currently no scientific evidence that astral projection is a phenomenon that exists. There are cases of patients having out of body experiences that are similar to astral projection while under the influence of brain stimulation treatments and psychedelic drugs, but there is no concrete proof that it is possible to consciously leave the body and make outside observations. The main evidence that supports the existence of astral projection is largely anecdotal and comes in the form of testimonials from practitioners. 

One of the first such experts in the field was Emanuel Swedenborg, who wrote extensively about his out of body experiences in a personal diary back in the early 1700s. More recent 20th-century publications on the topic include works by Robert Monroe, Oliver Fox, Sylvan Muldoon, and Hereward Carrington.

Popular Culture

A lack of scientific basis hasn't stopped the concept from permeating popular culture. Look no further than the 2016 Marvel hit Doctor Strange where the main characters seem to use astral projection to separate themselves from their bodies. It is not the only piece of media to use the idea of astral travel. Across TV shows, movies, and novels the concept shows up again and again, with the notion of being able to leave the physical body seeming to grab the imagination of writers and viewers everywhere.


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