Experience of the subtle realms: Contents
14. Postscript - refraction between the worlds
of variety, my final chapter offers a different model to that of the Janus-brain
with its inner and outer codes, and its possible ambiguities. So I present
another way of thinking about communication between this world and the subtle
world. I don't know whether the model is correct or not, but it does seem quite
promising. I use the simple phenomenon of refraction in physics as a metaphor
for what may go on when persons in this world communicate with those in the
in physics is about the bending of a ray of light as it passes obliquely from
one medium, such as air, into another medium of different optical density, such
you are submerged in a dense medium such as water, and look up to a source of
light above you in the more rarefied medium of air, then if the light rays
strike the surface of the water at an oblique angle their source will appear to
be higher than it really is. The rays are bent down, more towards the vertical
as they enter the water. So you seem to be looking more steeply up than is
actually the case.
to make the same point in another way, if you are submerged in water and shine a
ray of light from a torch upwards
at an oblique angle to the surface of the water, the ray will incline back
toward the horizontal when it enters the air, so
what the ray illuminates in the air will seem to be higher than it
actually is. Your apparent line of
sight is not the real line of sight.
if you are in the air and look obliquely into water at a source of light below the surface, it will appear
to be higher than it really is.
is an important corollary to this simple law of the refraction of light.
It is to do with the notion of the critical angle.
If a ray of light, shining obliquely upwards through water, has an angle
of more than 48.5 degrees with the vertical, then it won't enter the air, but
will be reflected back into the water as it strikes the surface.
So the critical angle (for water 48.5 degrees) is the limiting angle -
between the vertical and a ray in a dense medium - beyond which the ray won't
pass out of that medium.
if you are in a dense medium and shine a light obliquely upwards to a boundary
with a more rarefied medium, then if your light ray exceeds the critical angle,
it will simply be reflected back into the medium you are in. In optics, this is
referred to as the principle of total reflection.
is one other principle drawn from physics which is also of interest: the
principle of diffusion of light. When
light falls on a rough, irregular surface, it will be scattered or diffused,
that is, reflected in many different directions.
Thus the sun's rays are scattered by dust particles in the atmosphere -
otherwise there would be near total darkness in the shade and dazzling glare in
can be increased by transmitting light through semi-transparent substances such
as frosted glass, semi-transparent paper, glass blocks, and so on. This prevents glare.
I propose that these simple physical phenomena can be developed as metaphors for
what perhaps goes on in communication between the worlds.
us suppose that the other world is a more rarefied medium than this world -
which is the more dense medium. And
let us suppose, too, that communications from persons in the other world,
directed at human beings, are like rays of illumination proceeding from their
subtle world into our dense world. And
this whether the communication is by direct thought transmissionand creative
inspiration, or transmitted through trance mediumship or by materialisation,
or received by some person in this world who claims to be clairaudient or
the law of refraction, metaphorically applied, will suggest that these rays of
illumination coming from the subtle world will be experienced by human beings
receiving them as having a higher source than in fact is the case.
This supposes, of course, that the rays enter the 'surface' between the
worlds 'obliquely'. I will deal in a later section with the metaphorical
implications of this notion of obliquity; and also of the notion of the critical
me now develop the metaphor of a 'higher source than in fact is the case'.
The human recipients of illumination from the beyond will, unless they
make allowance for refraction
between the worlds, falsely elevate the source of that illumination in one or
more interrelated ways.
may believe that it comes from a
higher, more exalted domain in the other world than it really does; or from
beings who have more knowledge, arcane power, moral integrity and spiritual
status than in fact they do.
receivers may ascribe to the content of the illumination such remoteness from
earthly experience that they exempt it from
discriminating analysis, from appropriate canons of credibility,
reliability or validity. They
may inflate its content with more
significance than it actually merits. And
so they may embrace it with such an attitude of psychological conviction and
intuitive certitude, that they are lost in illusions of insight.
there appears to be some evidence of this false elevation by human beings of the
source and content of illumination from the beyond. Many psychics, sensitives
and seers do seem to be too identified, too impressed, too convinced by their
visions, messages and visitations from the other world.
Their followers and believers, who are not overt psychics, show the same
tendencies. Those who believe
anything in this field are inclined to believe too much, to invest it with too
much authority and status, and to abandon critical rigour and discrimination.
may accord too much status and significance to unseen guides, teachers and
healers; and may be over-impressed by an inspirational rhetoric whose actual substance
is very slight, confused or contradictory.
in the other world who understand the refraction effect could readily exploit
human beings who are ignorant of it. They
know humans will falsely elevate both them and their doctrines; and so they can
set about to exploit such credulity for their own purposes - perhaps to build up
zones of influence on the earth and in their own domain.
the following may well have had communications from beings in the other world,
while at the same time falling foul of the refraction effect, and the sort of
exploitation I have just referred to.
(1688 - 1772) and his followers regarded his illumination as proceeding
from the central heaven
presided over by 'the Lord', 'the God-man'. The doctrines he claimed to receive,
and may well have received, from the other world, were a strange mixture of some
interesting and plausible occultism with a very dogmatic, limited and highly
implausible version of esoteric Christianity.
He was surely duped.
Smith (1805 - 1844), the Mormon prophet, and his followers regarded his visionary
guidance and the doctrines he received as imparted by exalted and unimpeachable
angel authority. Imparted they may have been, but only by one or more power-hungry beings in
the other world, who put forward a bizarre version of Christ's ministry in the
Blavatsky (1831 - 1891), the founder of Theosophy, claimed that her elaborate
occult teachings were received by her from 'masters of wisdom' in the other
world - of great attainment and moral stature.
Did she herself elaborate theosophical doctrines from her own extensive
studies and travels? Or were they imparted to her from the beyond? If the
latter is true, then she certainly fell foul of the refraction effect.
So too, I imagine, did Rudolf Steiner, who put forward yet another odd
and improbable account of esoteric Christianity - among other occult
doctrines, some plausible, some less so.
course, the refraction effect between the worlds and the various distortions of
belief that stem from it, will be exacerbated by
emotional pain, anxiety and insecurity at the human level.
So false elevation will not only be a product of the different densities
of the two worlds, but also because people try unconsciously to compensate for
feelings of inadequacy in this
world, by inflated ideas of their association with the other world.
anything like this is correct, then the message is clear. If you want to get in
touch with beings in subtle domains, allow for the refraction effect, and do
some emotional housecleaning to make sure your distress does not make you
collude with those in the beyond who have a vested interest in deluding you.
even if they have no interest at all in duping you, and are genuinely committed
to your welfare, make sure you don't invest them with such superior status that
you abandon all critical discrimination and human autonomy - and thus become
dependent upon them in ways that they do not wish.
false elevation which I have just considered occurs, I have supposed, when illumination
from the other world is received by people in this world.
I now suggest that the opposite effect - false reduction - happens when
human beings try to shine the light of their understanding from their world into
in terms of the refraction metaphor, human understanding passing from the density
of the physical realm into the more rarefied universe beyond will incline back
toward this world. So it will
tend to construe other world realities too much in terms of material phenomena.
states and processes of subtle domains will be understood inappropriately in
terms of patterns of thought belonging to the visible universe and earthly life.
Occult doctrines may include a lot of false reduction - explanation
that inclines back to the material. There
are several possible candidates that may be examples of this refraction effect.
astrology may be a system that takes the valid idea of influences streaming into
the earth from the subtle universe, and materialises it into the idea of
planetary and zodiacal influences construed entirely as simple astronomical
patterns in physical space. It is
not difficult to expose the inconsistencies and geocentric preoccupations of
astrology. But it may be the false
reduction of a deeper truth.
theory of reincarnation may be another example.
Suppose that there are deep links of destiny between beings in the other
world and people in this world, in the sense that those living now resonate to
the history of those living in earlier epochs who are now in the beyond.
Suppose too that those in the other universe undergo a series of transitions
or 'embodiments' in different subtle domains as part of their overall development.
Then reincarnation theory simply reduces all this very comprehensive eschatology
into the materialistic doctrine of the development of the same soul by
successive incarnations in the physical world.
Again it is not difficult to show that reincarnation is a relatively
crude, inefficient and uneconomic concept of soul-learning.
more gross example is the doctrine of eternal recurrence - the idea that every
physical event will be repeated in exactly the same form and an infinite number
of times. This has been advanced in
modern times by the Gurdjieff-Ouspensky school.
It overcame Nietzsche with the force of an obsessive revelation.
And of course it dates back to the doctrine of apokatastasis
of the Stoics in the third century BC. This
too may be the false reduction of the notion of the grand simultaneity of
transcendental time into an eternally repetitive seriality in physical time.
another example may be the doctrine of planetary rounds in theosopy and anthroposophy. And in the field of spiritualism there is the well-known
tendency of believers and followers to seek an unwarranted personal reference in
intimations from the beyond: here the false reduction operates as a delusion
of reference. And so on and so
the refraction metaphor, now consider the case of beings in the other world who
are looking down at a person on earth who is directing the light of his or her
attention up at them. Unless they allow for the refraction effect, they will
construe the human being concerned as more elevated and as less physically
embedded than is appropriate.
they may regard the one on earth as having greater spiritual and psychic
capacity than is the case. Or they
may overestimate the person's motivation, intelligence, commitment. They may
fail to appreciate the peculiar practical, psychological and social problems of
physical existence. And they may
make inadequate allowance for human autonomy, trial and error.
They may overlook, too, the value of the most earthly kinds of human
experience and action. In short,
they may tend to see human beings too much as potential discarnates and so fail to accord physical experience its proper worth.
course this tendency to false elevation of the human condition should be reduced
if the beings beyond were once themselves in earthly life.
Yet it is notorious how parents can forget their own past childhood
status and have unrealistic expectations of the capabilities of their
children. And how those who have risen in social status
occlude their own difficult past, and tend to see the disadvantaged in
unrealistc terms. Something of the same may happen to those who pass from this
world into the next.
is nowadays a very considerable body of writing that claims to have been
'channeled' through some human intermediary from beings in the other world
(Klimo, 1987). There is even a
'Journal of Discarnate Intelligence'. And
very frequently when this writing from the beyond is about earthly life, it
seems to me to show a rather sententious lack
of grasp of the realities of the human condition.
I think this may be due to
the sort of refraction effect I have outlined in this section.
there is also the opposite effect. For when persons in the other world, unaware
of the refraction effect, cast the light of their understanding into this world,
it will bend more steeply down into this world than they realise. In terms of our metaphor, there are two possible results.
they may over-dramatise the restrictions, limitations and materiality of
physical existence. This
complements the false elevation: it
is a negative version of not having a realistic understanding of the human
condition. Secondly, their teachings about their own reality may get unwittingly
distorted into patterns of thought more appropriate to this world than their
own. And this, of course, dovetails
precisely with what happens to human understanding looking upwards - with false
reduction from below.
Christianity, if we regard it as an inspiration from the other world, is a good
example of these two effects. On
the one hand, it tends to exaggerate human limitation in terms of sin theory -
the inherent corruptibility of the human will, forever doomed without divine
sacrifice. And on the other hand, it distorts the notion of the ongoing
regenerative and redemptive influence of presences in the other world, into the
doctrine of the divine incarnation and atonement at one particular point in
physical space and time.
let us consider these four refraction effects interacting together: the false
elevaton from below, the false elevation from above, the false reduction from
below, and the false reduction from above.
The literal, physical eqivalent is that of a being in water
and a being in air looking at each other.
water being will have a line of sight which as it enters the air inclines back
to the water. But it will think its
line of sight is straight, and so will see the air being higher than it really
is. And the air being will have a
line of sight which as it enters the water will dip more steeply into it. It too
will think its line of sight is straight, and will also see the water being
higher than it really is.
metaphorical equivalent is that of a person in this world engaging in some kind
of communication with a being in the other world. If both of them make no kind
of allowance for refraction between the worlds, then we would get the following interacting effects.
would both see each other with an elevated status which neither properly merited.
They would thus unawarely collude in mutual perceptions of grandeur,
which would get in the way of any realistic or practically effective
communication between them.
human being would tend uncritically to attach far too much significance and import
to the transactions between them. And
the discarnate would show a tendency not to have an adequate grasp of the
realities of the human condition. I think this happens a lot in spiritualistic
and mediumistic contact between the worlds.
beings in the other world are fully aware of the refraction effect, but human
beings are not, then attempts by those beyond to make realistic
communication would be subverted by the distorted perceptions and
attitudes of the humans. This is
rather like a good psychotherapist, who has dealt with his own projections onto
his client, but cannot get an authentic relationship going with the client
because of the projections which the client puts on him.
if both parties are unaware of the refraction effect, then the human being will
construe the ideas of the discarnate being, who will reciprocally project them,
too much in earthly terms. They will unawarely collude in giving an account of
occult teachings that are distorted by categories of thought
that belong too much to this world.
And if the discarnate is free of this, what is imparted may still be
subject to materialistic distortion by the unaware receiving human.
the unaware discarnate, while falsely elevating the human communicator will at
the same time give an excessively severe account of the human condition which is
the negative aspect of not having a realistic grasp of it.
The credulous human is thus given a debilitating double message, which,
somewhat caricatured, reads 'You are remarkable, but you are caught up in an
impossible morass'. One
version of this is in terms of reincarnation:
'You are an advanced soul with important and prestigious incarnations
behind you. But you just have
another million lives on earth to go.'
clear distinction must be made between a naive being in the other world who
falls foul of the refraction effect through ignorance; an unscrupulous being who
knowingly uses it to exploit and manipulate humans; and a decent being who knows
about the effect and yet has
difficulty because humans have not been able to grasp it.
various refraction effects bewteen the worlds are illustrated in Figure 14.1.
Figure 14.1 Refraction
effects between the worlds
the literal, physical case, refraction only occurs when a ray of light strikes
the surface between water and air at an oblique angle.
And if the angle between the ray and the vertical is greater than the
critical angle (see section 1 above), then the light won't pass into the other
medium and will simply be reflected back into the medium in which it originates.
notions of obliquity and of the critical angle can be used as fruitful
metaphors. If a person in this
world tries to understand or look into the other world in terms of concepts
that are too earthly, then their vision will just be reflected back into the
physical world - and will not enter the other world at all.
The principle of total visionary reflection is at work. The ray of
insight directed upward is too shallow, it has 'too great an angle with the
a person will have to lift their imagination
out of its preoccupation with physical categories -
and project it more steeply up, well within the 'critical angle'. And even when they do this, and penetrate the other world
with their understanding, they still have to allow for the various refraction
many people in our culture the capacity for upward vision is set at an angle of
incidence well beyond the critical angle.
As they look up mentally, their understanding is reflected back to earth:
they see, feel and hear nothing of a subtle kind.
For others their upward vision is orientated so that it is refracted at the critical angle: it skims, as it were, along the boundary
between the worlds, gleaning intimations of the other world in experiences of
this world - to do with music, art, nature, human encounter, and so on.
there are those whose understanding is well within the critical angle, their
vision cast steeply upwards so that it is refracted into the other world. But it
is not clear to me how many of these people make allowance for the possible refraction
effects I have outlined. There is the ever-present hazard of falling foul of
illusions of insight.
may be some people whose line of upward vision is not oblique at all.
They see and understand the other world without refraction effects and
illusions of insight. They look, as
it were, straight up and get a clear view.
range of individual differences is presumably to do with the interaction of many
factors: some kind of psychic resonance with beings in the other world; relative
density of physical embodiment; early socialisation and education; cultural
influences; the prevailing world-view and belief-systems that dominate
perception; imaginative capacity; and so on.
However, it seems reasonable to suppose that whatever a person's current
visionary angle of incidence, it can be altered by application and practice.
To go back to my original model, all human brains, in my view, are
inherently Janus-brains: the codes of both universes are enfolded in them.
final metaphor is based on the physical principle of diffusion of light. Light
is scattered or diffused - reflected in many different directions - when it
falls on an irregular surface. Illumination
proceeding from the subtle world into this world may likewise be diffused when
it enters the human brain.
may prevent uncomfortable occult glare, yet too much scattering of thought at
the receiving end in this world may lead to all-over-the-place presentation,
with incoherence, confusion and ambiguity - a chaotic profusion of concepts.
prevent this you need a certain degree of conceptual coherence.
But if the conceptual framework is too rigid, the mesh of ideas too
tight, the illumination will be occluded.
The ideal is for some kind of controlled diffusion by means of
appropriate canons of judgment and criteria
of discrimination, and by organic, open mesh conceptual systems.
Experience of the subtle realms: Contents