Astral Body is a term used to refer to one or more of the subtle bodies of human beings. In early Theosophical literature it was usually applied to the Liṅga-śarīra, the ethereal counterpart of the physical body. However, the term was also used for other subtle bodies, such as the Māyāvi-Rūpa.
Later, Dr. Besant, within the tradition followed by the Theosophical Society (Adyar), redefined the terms to apply them in an unambiguous way. She used the term "Etheric Double" for the Liṅga-śarīra and "Astral Body" for what she called the Emotional Body.
In early Theosophical literature
Astral Body, or Astral “Double”. The ethereal counterpart or shadow of man or animal. The Linga Sharira, the “Doppelgäinger”. The reader must not confuse it with the ASTRAL SOUL, another name for the lower Manas, or Kama-Manas so-called, the reflection of the HIGHER EGO.
However, in some occasions Mme. Blavatsky also applied this term in a more general way, saying that "there are various Astral Bodies". For example, she wrote: "A more important kind of Astral Body is the Māyāvi-Rūpa, or illusionary Body, and this is of different degrees." She also talked of the astral body as being constituted by "the lower manas and volition, kama".
In our sleep the astral body is free and can, by the elasticity of its nature, either hover round in proximity with its sleeping vehicle, or soar higher to hold converse with its starry parents, or even communicate with its brothers at great distances.
She also talked about the conscious projection of this subtle body, using the phrase "astral form" for it:
One phase of magical skill is the voluntary and conscious withdrawal of the inner man (astral form) from the outer man (physical body). In the cases of some mediums withdrawal occurs, but it is unconscious and involuntary. With the latter the body is more or less cataleptic at such times; but with the adept the absence of the astral form would not be noticed, for the physical senses are alert, and the individual appears only as though in a fit of abstraction — “a brown study,” as some call it.
According to Annie Besant
Annie Besant felt the nomenclature for the subtle bodies needed some adjustment, and sought to use terms in unequivocal ways. She decided to call H. P. Blavatsky's linga sharira "etheric double" and use the name "astral body" only to refer to the kamic or emotional body:
On looking at a man's lower bodies with astral vision, the etheric double (Linga Sharīra) and the astral body (kâmic body) are seen interpenetrating each other, as both interpenetrate the dense physical, and hence some confusion has arisen in the past and the names Linga Sharīra and astral body have been used interchangeably, while the latter name has also been used for the kâmic or desire-body. This loose terminology has caused much trouble, as the functions of the kâmic body, termed the astral body, have often been understood as the functions of the etheric double, also termed the astral body, and the student, unable to see for himself, has been hopelessly entangled in apparent contradictions. Careful observations on the formation of these two bodies now enable us to say definitely that the etheric double is composed of the physical ethers only, and cannot, if extruded leave the physical plane or go far away from its denser counterpart; further, that it is built after the mould given by the Lords of Karma, and is not brought with him by the Ego, but awaits him with the physical body formed upon it. The astral or kâmic body, the desire-body, on the other hand, is composed of astral matter only, is able to range the astral plane when freed from the physical body, and is the proper vehicle of the Ego on that plane; it is brought with him by the Ego when he comes to re-incarnate. Under these circumstances it is better to call the first the etheric double, and the second the astral body, and so avoid confusion.
The late Neoplatonist Proclus, who is credited the first to speak of subtle "planes", posited two subtle bodies or "carriers" (okhema) intermediate between the rational soul and the physical body. These were; 1) the astral vehicle which was the immortal vehicle of the Soul and 2) the spiritual (pneuma) vehicle, aligned with the vital breath, which he considered mortal.
- Astral Body at Theosophy World
- The Astral Body - Historical Studies at Wisdom World
- The Astral Body - and Other Astral Phenomena by Arthur. E. Powell
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Theosophical Glossary (Krotona, CA: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973), 37.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings, vol. 12 (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), 705.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings, vol. 12 (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), 706.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. V (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1950), fn. 81.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1972), 170.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1972), 588.
- Annie Besant, Man and His Bodies (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1912), 26.
- E. R. Dodds, Proclus: The Elements of Theology, (1963), Appendix.