Theosophy – June 1897

THE SHEATHS OF THE SOUL (1) — William Q. Judge

In my last article, "Mesmerism," I arrived at the point where we discover that the inner mortal man has several sheaths through which he obtains touch with Nature, feeling her motions and exhibiting in return his own powers and functions. It is a doctrine as old as any Esoteric School now alive, and far more ancient than the modern scientific academies; an understanding of it is absolutely heedful if we are to gain an adequate comprehension of real Mesmerism.

Instead of looking at the human being as that which we see, it is to be regarded as a being altogether different, functioning and perceiving in a way quite peculiar to itself, and being compelled to translate every outward impression, as well as those coming from within, from one language into another, that is to say, from pictures into words, signs and acts, or vice versa. This statement is vague, I admit, yet nevertheless true. The vagueness arises from the difficulties of a language that has as yet dealt but slightly with these subjects, and the development of which has gone on in a civilization wholly materialistic. Man is a Soul, and as such stands among material things. This Soul is not only on its way upward for itself, but is compelled at the same time to draw up, refine, purge and perfect the gross matter — so-called — in which it is compelled to live. For though we call the less fine stages of substance by the name "matter," it is, however, made up of lives which have in them the potentiality of becoming Souls in the enormously distant future; and the Soul being itself a life made up of smaller ones, it is under the brotherly necessity of waiting in the bonds of matter long enough to give the latter the right impetus along the path of perfection.

So, during the long ages that have passed since the present evolution began in this solar system, the Soul has constructed for its own use various sheaths, ranging from very fine ones, near to its own essential being, to those that are more remote, ending with the outer physical one, and that one the most illusionary of them all although appearing from the outside to be the truly real. These sheaths are necessary if the Soul is to know or to act. For it cannot by itself understand Nature at all, but transforms instantly all sensations and ideas by means of the different sheaths, until in the process it has directed the body below, or obtained itself experience above. By this I mean that whatever Soul initiates it has to pass along through the several sheaths, each reporting, as it were, to the one next below it; and in like manner they report from below upward in the case of sensations from natural phenomena and impressions on the outside. In the beginnings of evolution, during all its stages, this took appreciable amounts of solar time, but at this point of the system's march along the line of growth it takes such an infinitesimally short space that we are justified in calling it instantaneous in all cases of normal and well-balanced persons. There are, of course, instances where longer time is used in consequence of the slower action of some one of the sheaths.

The number of sharply-defined sheaths of the Soul is seven, but the sub-differentiations of each raises the apparent number very much higher. Roughly speaking, each one divides itself into seven, and every one in each collection of seven partakes of the nature of its own class. There may, therefore, be said to exist forty-nine sheaths possible of classification.

Physical body may be recognized as one sheath, and the subdivisions in it are such as skin, blood, nerves, bones, flesh, mucous membrane and . . . .

Astral body is another, but not so easily recognized by the men of today. It has also its own sub-divisions answering in part to those of the physical body. But being one stage higher than the latter, it includes in one of its own sub-divisions several of those in the body. For instance, the surface sensations of blood, skin, flesh and mucous membrane will be included in a single one of the astral sub-divisions.

And exactly at this point the Esoteric Schools diverge from and appear to contradict modern pathology and physiology. For the modern school admits only the action of nerves along skin and mucous membrane and in flesh, as the receivers and transmitters of sensation. It would appear to be so, but the facts on the inside are different, or rather more numerous, leading to additional conclusions. Likewise too we clash with the nineteenth century in the matter of the blood. We say that the blood cells and the fluid they float in receive and transmit sensation.

Each sub-division among the physical sheaths performs not only the duty of receiving and transmitting sensations, but also has the power of retaining a memory of them, which is registered in the appropriate ganglion of the body, and continually, from there, implanted in the corresponding centre of sensation and action in the astral body. At the same time the physical brain has always the power, as is of course a common fact, of collecting all the physical sensations and impressions.

Having laid all this down — without stopping for argument, which would end in nothing without physical demonstrations being added — the next step is this. The lower man who collects, so to say, for the Soul's use, all the experiences below it, can either at will when trained, or involuntarily when forced by processes or accident or abnormal birth, live in the sensations and impressions of one or many of the various sheaths of the physical or astral body.

If trained, then there will be no delusions, or any temporary delusions will be easily dispersed. If untrained, delusion walks arm in arm with the sensations. If diseased or forced, the outer acts may be correctly performed but the free intelligence is absent, and all the delusions and illusions of hypnotic and mesmeric states show themselves.

If the inner lower man be functioning among the sensations — or planes, if you like — of some astral sense or centre, then clairvoyance or clairaudience comes on, because he is conveying to the brain those impressions derived from similar planes of nature in any direction.

And when to this is added a partial touch of some minor physical sub-divisions of the sheaths, then delusion is made more complete, because the experience of a single set of cells is taken for the whole and reported, by means of the brain, in the language used by a normal being. Indeed so vast are the possible combinations in this department that I have only mentioned a few by the way of illustration.

It is this possibility of the inner lower man's being connected with one or more of the sheaths, and disconnected from all the rest, which has led one of the French schools of hypnotizers to conclude to the effect that every man is a collection of personalities, each complete in itself. The positions laid down above are not destroyed by the fact, as observed at Paris and Nancy, that the subject in hypnotic state No. 2 knows nothing about state No. 1; for each normal person, when acting normally, compounds all the various sets of sensations, experiences and recollections into one whole, the sum total of all, and which is not recognizable as any one of them distinct from the rest.

It must also be remembered that each person has pursued in prior lives this or that course of action, which has trained and developed this or that Soul-sheath. And although at death many of them are dissolved as integral collections, the effect of such development formerly pursued is not lost to the reincarnating being. It is preserved through the mysterious laws that guide the atoms when they assemble for the birth of a new personal house to be occupied by the returning Soul. It is known that the atoms — physical and astral — have gone through every sort of training. When the Soul is reincarnating it attracts to itself those physical and astral atoms which are like unto its old experience as far as possible. It often gets back again some of the identical matter it used in its last life. And if the astral senses have received in the prior existence on earth great attention and development, then there will be born a medium, or a real seer, or sage. Which it will be, depends on the great balancing of forces from the prior life. For instance, one who in another incarnation attended wholly to psychic development without philosophy, or made other errors, will be born, may be, as an irresponsible medium; another, again, of the same class, emerges as a wholly untrustworthy partial clairvoyant, and so on, ad infinitum.

A birth in a family of wise devotees and real sages is declared from old time to be very difficult of attainment. This difficulty may be gradually overcome by philosophical study and unselfish effort for others, together with devotion to the Higher Self pursued through many lives. Any other sort of practice leads only to additional bewilderment.

The Soul is bound to the body by a conversion to the corporeal passions; and is again liberated by becoming impassive to the body.

That which Nature binds, Nature also dissolves; and that which the Soul binds, the Soul likewise dissolves. Nature, indeed, bound the body to the Soul, but the Soul binds herself to the body. Nature, therefore, liberates the body from the Soul, but the Soul liberates herself from the body.

Hence there is a two-fold death; the one, indeed, universally known, in which the body is liberated from the Soul; but the other peculiar to philosophers, in which the Soul is liberated from the body. Nor does the one entirely follow the other.


1. Reprinted from LUCIFER, Vol. X, p.323. (return to text)