Also known as specters, phantoms, or ghosts. These appearances may be categorized as those of the dead or of the living. Of these there are those seen by one person only and those seen by more than one at the same moment. Probably no subject has such a voluminous reporting in the literature of psychic phenomena as that of the apparition. It is difficult to differentiate between a subjective hallucination and an objective apparition. It is natural to think of apparitions only as human forms, but such is not the case; phantom animals, ships, buildings — even large scale gardens have allegedly been seen. There are cases on record of more than one person claiming to have seen something which had no real existence, past or present. Such experiences can be in astonishing detail such as seeing a large house, gravel drive, girl walking a dog, all at once by two persons, (Journal for the Society for Psychical Research, December 1961). For a fuller presentation of reported phenomena, see G. N. M. Tyrrell, Apparitions (1953).
In the annals of the Theosophical Society (TS) there are numerous instances of apparitions of the MAHATMAS being seen and these are, of course, phantoms of the living. Helena P. BLAVATSKY is quite positive in her opinion that apparitions of the dead can only be seen for a very short time after death and often fulfil the last wish or desire of the deceased (The Theosophist, May 1884, p. 189). Once some time has elapsed the spirit of a dead person cannot manifest itself. She writes, “We Theosophists, and especially occultists, must never lose sight of the profound axiom of the Esoteric Doctrine which teaches us that it is we, the living, who are drawn toward the spirits — but that the latter can never, even though they would, descend to us, or rather into our sphere” (CW I:36).
If Blavatsky is correct in her view, then what is seen at séances? There is testimony to the effect that THOUGHT FORMS can persist for considerable periods and be seen by other than the person who projects the form. If this is so then some apparitions may be thought forms. A classic example of a thought form created by intent which was seen by others is recounted in Alexandra David-Neel’s book With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet (republished as Magic and Mystery in Tibet [1929, 1932, 1971]). She was instructed by her Lama to create a thought form that others could see and she, after a long period of effort, succeeded in producing the form of a monk which others saw. Problems arose when the phantom monk developed a will of his own and refused to be uncreated. It took David-Neel many hours of concentrated effort to destroy the thought form.
Another theory holds that the “astral shell” of a deceased person can persist for very long periods and be utilized by ELEMENTALS. However, these suggestions do not account for hauntings where sounds occur as well as sightings. While many cases of the sighting of apparitions can be explained by current theosophical theory, there does remain a large body of occurrences that are difficult to explain in this fashion. Typical of this is a recorded case where, on repeated occasions, several persons (including a very young child) heard and saw an apparition of a woman. The sounds heard were of sobbing and the noise of a needle being pushed through thick material (J. of the S.P.R. June 1964).
To summarize Blavatsky’s pronouncements on the subject we can state that:
- A short time apparition in the vicinity of a corpse will be either the ETHERIC BODY or the astral shell. Either will disintegrate as the corpse decays.
- An apparition may be the “Thought Body” or “Dream Body” known to theosophists as the MAYAVI-RUPA. The latter is described as an artificial vehicle or sheath formed of mental and astral elements by an exercise of will by an ADEPT for the purpose of functioning in these two worlds.
- After death the higher MANAS unites with the MONAD and enters into DEVACHAN, but the “dregs” of the lower manas may on some occasions be temporarily energized by a spiritualist medium or an ELEMENTAL.
- A doppelgänger is formed by a dying person’s last thoughts which, if powerful enough, and focused on a certain person, may appear to that person. There is no reliable record of such an appearance speaking or making any sound.
The question of long-term hauntings presents difficulty. It can only be surmised that at moments of great travail there can be a release of very strong emotion and sharply focused thought which can persist in the environment for a long period. This may appear to psychic persons as an apparition which moves about without any reaction to the observer. Where such apparitions may seem to react to the observer, particularly with hostility, it is possible that the form has been taken over by an elemental.
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