How Large Is the Astral World? … by C.W. Leadbeater

Published on 28 July 2015; revised on 2 December 2018


Dear Ones,

The below is from The Project Gutenberg EBook of “A Textbook of Theosophy,” by C.W. Leadbeater. (1) Subheads, bolding, bulleting, and some paragraphing are mine. –Alice


“Since our evolution is centred at present upon this globe which we call the earth, it is in connection with it only that we shall be speaking of these higher worlds, so in future when I use the term “astral world” I shall mean by it the astral part of our own globe only, and not (as heretofore) the astral part of the whole solar system. This astral part of our own world is also a globe, but of astral matter. It occupies the same place as the globe which we see, but its matter (being so much lighter) extends out into space on all sides of us further than does the atmosphere of the earth—a great deal further. It stretches to a little less than the mean distance of the moon, so that though the two physical globes, the earth and the moon, are nearly 240,000 miles apart, the astral globes of these two bodies touch one another when the moon is in perigee, but not when she is in apogee….” (1)

“The astral world extends nearly to the mean distance of the orbit of the moon; but though the whole of this realm is open to any of its inhabitants who have not permitted the redistribution of their matter, the great majority remain much nearer to the surface of the earth….” (1)


“The matter of the different subdivisions of that world interpenetrates with perfect freedom, but there is on the whole a general tendency for the denser matter to settle towards the centre. The conditions are much like those which obtain in a bucket of water which contains in suspension a number of kinds of matter of different degrees of density. Since the water is kept in perpetual motion, the different kinds of matter are diffused through it; but in spite of that, the densest matter is found in greatest quantity nearest to the bottom. So that though we must not at all think of the various subdivisions of the astral world as lying above one another as do the coats of an onion, it is nevertheless true that the average arrangement of the matter of those subdivisions partakes somewhat of that general character.

“Astral matter interpenetrates physical matter precisely as though it were not there, but each subdivision of physical matter has a strong attraction for astral matter of the corresponding subdivision. Hence it arises that every physical body has its astral counterpart. If I have a glass of water standing upon a table, the glass and the table, being of physical matter in the solid state, are interpenetrated by astral matter of the lowest subdivision. The water in the glass, being liquid, is interpenetrated by what we may call astral liquid—that is, by astral matter of the sixth subdivision; whereas the air surrounding both, being physical matter in the gaseous condition, is entirely interpenetrated by astral gaseous matter—that is, astral matter of the fifth subdivision….” (1)


” … this globe upon which we live is not one world, but seven interpenetrating worlds, all occupying the same space, except that the finer types of matter extend further from the centre than does the denser matter.

“We have given names to these interpenetrating worlds for convenience in speaking of them.

  • No name is needed for the first, as man is not yet in direct connection with it; but when it is necessary to mention it, it may be called the divine world.
  • The second is described as the monadic, because in it exist those Sparks of the divine Life which we call the human Monads; but neither of these can be touched by the highest clairvoyant investigations at present possible for us.
  • The third sphere, whose atoms contain 2,401 bubbles, is called the spiritual world, because in it functions the highest Spirit in man as now constituted.
  • The fourth is the intuitional world, [Previously called, in School of Theosophy literature, the buddhic plane.] because from it come the highest intuitions.
  • The fifth is the mental world, because from its matter is built the mind of man.
  • The sixth is called the emotional or astral world, because the emotions of man cause undulations in its matter. (The name astral was given to it by mediæval alchemists, because its matter is starry or shining as compared to that of the denser world.)
  • The seventh world, composed of the type of matter which we see all around us, is called the physical….” (1)


“The matter of which all these interpenetrating worlds are built is essentially the same matter, but differently arranged and of different degrees of density. Therefore the rates at which these various types of matter normally vibrate differ also. They may be considered as a vast gamut of undulations consisting of many octaves. The physical matter uses a certain number of the lowest of these octaves, the astral matter another group of octaves just above that, the mental matter a still further group, and so on.

“Not only has each of these worlds its own type of matter; it has also its own set of aggregations of that matter—its own substances. In each world we arrange these substances in seven classes according to the rate at which their molecules vibrate. Usually, but not invariably, the slower oscillation involves also a larger molecule—a molecule, that is, built up by a special arrangement of the smaller molecules of the next higher subdivision. The application of heat increases the size of the molecules and also quickens and amplifies their undulation, so that they cover more ground, and the object, as a whole expands, until the point is reached where the aggregation of molecules breaks up, and the latter passes from one condition to that next above it. In the matter of the physical world the seven subdivisions are represented by seven degrees of density of matter, to which, beginning from below upwards, we give the names solid, liquid, gaseous, etheric, superetheric, subatomic and atomic….” (1)


“To a large extent people make their own surroundings. We have already referred to the seven subdivisions of this astral world. Numbering these from the highest and least material downwards, we find that they fall naturally into three classes—

  • divisions one, two and three forming one such class, and
  • four, five and six another;
  • while the seventh and lowest of all stands alone.

“As I have said, although they all interpenetrate, their substance has a general tendency to arrange itself according to its specific gravity, so that most of the matter belonging to the higher subdivisions is found at a greater elevation above the surface of the earth than the bulk of the matter of the lower portions.

“Hence, although any person inhabiting the astral world can move into any part of it, his natural tendency is to float at the level which corresponds with the specific gravity of the heaviest matter in his astral body. The man who has not permitted the rearrangement of the matter of his astral body after death is entirely free of the whole astral world; but the majority, who do permit it, are not equally free—not because there is anything to prevent them from rising to the highest level or sinking to the lowest, but because they are able to sense clearly only a certain part of that world.

“I have described something of the fate of a man who is on the lowest level, shut in by a strong shell of coarse matter. Because of the extreme comparative density of that matter he is conscious of less outside of his own subdivision than a man at any other level. The general specific gravity of his own astral body tends to make him float below the surface of the earth. The physical matter of the earth is absolutely non-existent to his astral senses, and his natural attraction is to that least delicate form of astral matter which is the counterpart of that solid earth. A man who has confined himself to that lowest subdivision will therefore usually find himself floating in darkness and cut off to a great extent from others of the dead, whose lives have been such as to keep them on a higher level.

“Divisions four, five and six of the astral world (to which most people are attracted) have for their background the astral counterpart of the physical world in which we live, and all its familiar accessories. Life in the sixth subdivision is simply like our ordinary life on this earth minus the physical body and its necessities while as it ascends through the fifth and fourth divisions it becomes less and less material and is more and more withdrawn from our lower world and its interests.

“The first, second and third sections, though occupying the same space, yet give the impression of being much further removed from the physical, and correspondingly less material. Men who inhabit these levels lose sight of the earth and its belongings; they are usually deeply self-absorbed, and to a large extent create their own surroundings, though these are sufficiently objective to be perceptible to other men of their level, and also to clairvoyant vision.

“This region is the summerland of which we hear in spiritualistic circles—the world in which, by the exercise of their thought, the dead call into temporary existence their houses and schools and cities. These surroundings, though fanciful from our point of view, are to the dead as real as houses, temples or churches built of stone are to us, and many people live very contentedly there for a number of years in the midst of all these thought-creations.

“Some of the scenery thus produced is very beautiful; it includes lovely lakes, magnificent mountains, pleasant flower gardens, decidedly superior to anything in the physical world; though on the other hand it also contains much which to the trained clairvoyant (who has learned to see things as they are) appears ridiculous—as, for example, the endeavours of the unlearned to make a thought-form of some of the curious symbolic descriptions contained in their various scriptures. An ignorant peasant’s thought-image of a beast full of eyes within, or of a sea of glass mingled with fire, is naturally often grotesque, although to its maker it is perfectly satisfactory. This astral world is full of thought-created figures and landscapes. Men of all religions image here their deities and their respective conceptions of paradise, and enjoy themselves greatly among these dream-forms until they pass into the mental world and come into touch with something nearer to reality….” (1)


“Every one after death—any ordinary person, that is, in whose case the rearrangement of the matter of the astral body has been made—has to pass through all these subdivisions in turn. It does not follow that every one is conscious in all of them. The ordinarily decent person has in his astral body but little of the matter of its lowest portion—by no means enough to construct a heavy shell. The redistribution puts on the outside of the body its densest matter; in the ordinary man this is usually matter of the sixth subdivision, mixed with a little of the seventh, and so he finds himself viewing the counterpart of the physical world.

“The ego is steadily withdrawing into himself, and as he withdraws he leaves behind him level after level of this astral matter. So the length of the man’s detention in any section of the astral world is precisely in proportion to the amount of its matter which is found in his astral body, and that in turn depends upon the life he has lived, the desires he has indulged, and the class of matter which by so doing he has attracted towards him and built into himself. Finding himself then in the sixth section, still hovering about the places and persons with which he was most closely connected while on earth, the average man, as time passes on, finds the earthly surroundings gradually growing dimmer and becoming of less and less importance to him, and he tends more and more to mould his entourage into agreement with the more persistent of his thoughts. By the time that he reaches the third level he finds that this characteristic has entirely superseded the vision of the realities of the astral world.

“The second subdivision is a shade less material than the third, for if the latter is the summerland of the spiritualists, the former is the material heaven of the more ignorantly orthodox; while the first or highest level appears to be the special home of those who during life have devoted themselves to materialistic but intellectual pursuits, following them not for the sake of benefiting their fellow men, but either from motives of selfish ambition or simply for the sake of intellectual exercise. All these people are perfectly happy. Later on they will reach a stage when they can appreciate something much higher, and when that stage comes they will find the higher ready for them….” (1)


(1) from “A Textbook of Theosophy,” by C.W. Leadbeater. (2004). Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 28 July 2015, from [Subheads, bolding, bulleting, and some paragraphing are mine. –Alice]


astral planes, School of Theosophy, C.W. Leadbeater, astral realm, astral world,

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