In ancient times, astral projection was a natural, spiritual phenomena. One that was considered a gift and a sacred ability. It went hand-in-hand with shamanic journeying, witchcraft practices, and shapeshifting rituals. Here, we learn how the astral double left the body to warn others of oncoming danger, traverse the spiritual and otherworldly realms, and shift forms into other creatures. And we may be left wondering…do we still have these abilities?
Before we dive deep into the topic of astral doubles, we first have to define the roots of this concept. For that we have to take a brief look at the idea of astral projection. If you’ve heard any of the terms out-of-body experience, astral travel or lucid dreaming, you’re on the right track.
An out-of-body experience is the inexplicable feeling you’ve left your body and can look down at yourself from above. Usually there’s a sense of floating up out of one’s body or detachment of some kind. These are used to explain near-death experiences as well as drug-induced states and also in our dream-time.
What is astral projection or astral travel and how are these things different from an OBE (out-of-body experience)? Astral projection takes the OBE one step further – each of us have an astral body or “soul” that can separate from our physical body and travel. So it’s basically the same thing. These are old, primitive concepts that are still present in modern society in various guises. Many ancient cultures have talked about people having the ability to leave their bodies and travel. Ancient Pagan people from all over Europe have tales of this. Astral projection can be found in Hinduism, Buddhism and even Christianity. You just have to dig a bit to find it.
The idea that we have an “astral” body seems bizarre but was a basic belief across the ancient world. If we look back to ancient forms of shamanism, the shaman had the ability to enter a trance-like state and travel to the other worlds. If we look at some of the oldest legends in pagan history in the Nordic and Germanic texts, there are references to people who have the ability of leaving their bodies. These people were said to fall asleep and travel great distances to deliver messages or perform deeds.
Even in Christianity there is a concept of a person not only having a body and soul but having a body, spirit and soul. As a little girl, I remember my grandmother talking about this concept. She believed the soul was what made us who we are and the spirit was the part of us that was eternal. The part of us that left our bodies after death and traveled to Heaven or Hell (according to Christian beliefs). Looking at this theory now I can see the similarities in many cultures when it comes to seeing the human being as a multi-level, complex creature who may or may not have more than one soul or spirit.
In ancient Egypt, there was the belief the human being was composed of 9 bodies. One physical body and the rest spiritual or energetic in nature. The Ka was the part of the individual that could separate and travel to other places. We would call this the astral double today.
There are also those who believe we have more than one soul. That we can have multiple souls that have the ability to do different things. In Claude Lecouteax’s work Witches, Werewolves and Fairies: Shapeshifters and Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages, he presents striking evidence of this belief in not only ancient pagan people but also in modern day religions. The question is why would we have more than one soul? And if we have more than one soul, what can we do with them?
If the concept is correct, this means everyone has a soul or spirit or piece that separates from one’s body and travel elsewhere. This is often called an “astral double”.
But how does an astral double separate from the body? Some say it’s an ability that everyone has, it’s just that most of us forget how to do so. Or that we do it in our sleep but forget by the time we wake up. Others say only certain people have this ability. Learning how to become lucid in a dream is one method. Meditation, trance-work, and psychotropics have also been used. In my experience, astral projection was during sleep and involuntary. There are certain signs and symptoms that I personally experience when I’ve been out astral traveling. OR when my astral soul is about to separate from my body.
Going back centuries, a person’s astral double left the body while the person was asleep or in a trance-like state to gather information for an upcoming battle, deliver an important message, torment a sleeping enemy, or to warn of impending death. In ancient times, the shaman’s astral double traveled to other realms in search of lost souls (soul-retrieval), to learn how to heal someone, and to learn about the hunt. Today, if you google astral projection, people claim to use this method during dream-time to “have a trippy experience” or have some sort of encounter with otherworldly beings. But this ritual of separating from one’s body has a much deeper reason.
In old times, if a person couldn’t dream (and therefore astral project), they were considered unfortunate. People who were particularly skilled in astral travel and dream-time were frequently elevated to high status in a society: druids, shamans, priests and priestesses, witches, volvas, healers and seers.
A doppelganger is defined as a living person’s double. They have been featured in horror films and fictional novels. Stories say doppelgangers appear right before a person’s death. This dates back to the Middle Ages and crosses religious boundaries – between pagans and Christians. Often the doppelganger will appear to a loved one to warn of his/her impending death, and when the loved one looks into the matter he/she finds the person is in fact dead. Typically they die right around the time the doppelganger appeared with the warning.
Because of the correlation between doppelgangers and death, they are usually considered a bad omen. Some folk tales tell of a person seeing his/her own doppelganger before they are stricken ill or die. What does all of this have to do with astral doubles? Well, we demise that one’s doppelganger is simply one’s astral double separating from the body in order to deliver an important message. The astral double can take the form of an animal (which we will dive into further in the section below), and the “bad omen” of an owl or other bird appearing right before a person’s death might actually be the person’s astral double in animal form.
Doppelgangers have been seen on other occasions, apart from death or illness. There’s a well-documented story of a teacher whose doppelganger was seen by her entire class of students while she was proven to be physically somewhere else. This happened on several occasions and was not in conjunction with her impending death or a bad omen of any kind. This was simply her astral double traveling and appearing to her students.
Not many people realize the connection between werewolves and witches dates back to the witch trials in Medieval times through the Early Modern Period. There were a series of witch trials in Estonia and other northern parts of Europe in which both men and women were accused of witchcraft and the ability of turning into wolves. They were said to attack and kill people in werewolf form. One man named Hans was convicted of witchcraft and lycanthropy, and he admitted to being given this power of shapeshifting by a man in black.
If we look back through time at accounts of “flying witches”, there’s a pattern. This pattern has been identified by scholars – witches used psychotropic plants to induce trance. At that point, they were able to “fly” to their sabbath to meet with other witches and their master. This flying might very well have been the separation of their astral doubles, as theorized by Claude Lecouteux. Emma Wilby, a writer and scholar on Scottish witchcraft, also relates the flying witch to the shaman, and their similar abilities to move in and out of their bodies into the other realms.
What about shapeshifters, werewolves and otherwise? How are they related to astral projection and astral doubles? As previously mentioned, astral doubles project themselves into the form of owls or other birds to warn their families of death. So too did the werewolves and shifters of the past use their astral double to travel to other places away from their bodies, either in sleep or trance, meditation or coma/illness. How were these werewolves able to do physical harm to people and places? We may never know, but there are theories that the astral double manifests in the physical plane with a very real physical mass.
Lecouteux also mentions how an astral double leaves the body as a snake, lizard or mouse through the person’s mouth. And re-enter the body through the mouth. This is why most people claim they can’t astral project if they’re not lying on their backs. Their mouths have to have easy access to let the astral double back inside. We clearly see the relationship between the animals and astral doubles. And how werewolves might have been the astral doubles of shamans, witches or sorcerers.
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