We find many references in the works of the old authorities to that great series of planes, immediately above those of the material world, which are loosely styled the Astral Plane.
The Astral Plane is composed of numberless planes and sub-planes, and divisions of sub-planes, rising in a gradually ascending scale from those which touch and blend in with the higher material planes, to those which touch and blend into the lower strata (if the term may be so used) of the great spiritual planes. But between these two extremes is to be found the greatest possible variety of phenomena and phases of existence.
On the Lower Planes of the Astral are manifested the psychic activities which men know as clairvoyance, clairaudience, telepathy, psychometry, etc. On other of the lower planes of the Astral are to be found certain forms of the ghosts, spooks, and other apparitions of disembodied souls which occasionally are perceived and sensed by man and some of the lower animals. On certain of these planes, also, the Astral bodies of men still in the flesh travel and manifest activity, either during the sleep of the owner of the body or in certain trance conditions, or else when the owner deliberately leaves the physical body for the time being and projects his Astral Body on the Astral Plane.
The Astral colours are auras, which surround the physical bodies of all human beings, also manifest on certain sub-planes of the Astral. Certain other sub-planes may be called the planes of psychic forces by means of which various forms of psychic phenomena are performed. On similar lower planes are to be found the thought-forms, thought-waves, thought-clouds, etc., emanating from the minds of human beings, which travel about affecting the thoughts and emotions of those who attract them and who are attuned to their own psychic keynote.
Some of these lower Astral sub-planes are filled with Astral forms of disembodied human beings, the higher principles of whom are still attached to the Astral body, and which are held earth-bound by reason of the attraction of the material world. In this region also dwell for a time the very scum of disembodied human life, having every attraction to hold them down to the things of the material world, and nothing to draw them upward.
As the planes ascend in degree we leave this class of entities behind and enter the realms where abide the disembodied souls of those of higher degrees of spirituality. Higher and higher rise the scale of planes and sub-planes, until at last are reached the realms of the blessed—the temporary abiding place of those who have attained a high degree of spiritual development, the heaven worlds which the religions of the race have sought to define according to their creeds and traditions. And, just as in the creeds of the race have been postulated the existence of hells to oppose the idea of heaven, so in the Astral world, as might be expected, are to be found certain lower planes in which dwell the disembodied souls of persons of brutal natures and tendencies, in which the inevitable result of their earth-life is worked out. But these hells of the Astral are not eternal—the disembodied soul in turn may work out into a better environment—may be given another chance. The Catholic conception of purgatory also has its Astral existence, in the form of certain sub-planes in which, as Hamlet's father's ghost has said—the foul crimes done in my days of nature are burned and purged away—but not in the fire of materiality, the fires of memory and imagination sufficing.
In short, on the great Astral plane are to be found conditions corresponding with nearly, if not all, of the conceptions formed by the mind of man in connection with the religions of all times and places. These conceptions have not arisen by mere chance—they are the result of the experience of certain of the race who in some way established psychic connection with some of the many Astral Planes, each of whom, according to his own nature and inclinations, reported his experiences to his fellows, who afterwards incorporated them in the various religions of the world. It will be remembered that every race of human beings has had its traditions of the place of departed souls, the description varying greatly and yet all agreeing in some particulars.
The Astral Plane is neither up nor down, neither north, south, east or west. It lies in no special direction—and yet it lies in all directions. It is, first, last, and always, a state or condition and not a place. It is rather a phase or degree of vibration, rather than a portion of space. Its dimensions are those of Time—not those of Space. When we use the words—region; realm; higher or lower; above or below; we employ them merely figuratively, just as we speak of a high rate of vibration, or a rate or vibration above that, etc.
Life Beyond Death, Yogi Ramacharaka, Yogi Publication Society, Chicago, 1912