The etheric body is a name given to a supposed vital body propounded in esoteric philosophies as the first or lowest layer in the human energy field or aura. It is said to be in immediate contact with the physical body, to sustain it and connect it with higher bodies.
The term etheric in this context seems to derive from the Theosophical writings of Madame Blavatsky, but its use was formalised by C.W. Leadbeater and Annie Besant due to the elimination of Hindu terminology from the system of seven planes and bodies.
The term gained some general popularity after the 1914-18 war, Dr. Walter John Kilner having adopted it for a layer of the human atmosphere which, as he claimed in a popular book, could be rendered visible to the naked eye by means of certain exercises.
The classical element Aether of Platonic and Aristotlean physics continued in VIctorian scientific proposals of a Luminiferous ether as well as the cognate chemical substance ether. According to Theosophists and Alice Bailey the etheric body inhabits an etheric plane which corresponds to the four higher subplanes of the physical plane. The intended reference is therefore to some extremely rarefied matter, analogous in usage to the word spirit. In selecting it as the term for a clearly defined concept in an Indian derived metaphysical system, the Theosophists aligned it with ideas such as the prana maya kosha (sheath made of prana, subtle breath or life force) of Vedantic thought.
In popular use it is often confounded with the related concept of the astral body as for example in the term astral projection. The early Theosophists had called it the astral double. Others prefer to speak of the lower and higher astral.
Linga sarira is a Sanskrit term for the invisible double of the human body, the etheric body or etheric double, or astral body in some Theosophical concepts. It is one of the seven principles of the human being, according to Theosophical philosophy.
Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy, often referred to the etheric body in association with the etheric formative forces and the evolution of man and the cosmos. According to him, it can be perceived by a person gifted with clairvoyance as being of peach blossom color.
Steiner considered the etheric reality or life principle as quite distinct from the physical material reality, being intermediate between the physical world and the astral or soul world. The etheric body can be characterised as the life force also present in the plant kingdom. It maintains the physical body’s form until death. At that time, it separates from the physical body and the physical reverts to natural disintegration.
According to Max Heindel’s Rosicrucian writings, the etheric body, composed of four ethers, is called the Vital Body since the ether is the way of ingress for vital force from the Sun and the field of agencies in nature which promote such vital activities as assimilation, growth, and propagation. It is an exact counterpart of our physical body, molecule for molecule, and organ for organ, but it is of the opposite polarity. It is slightly larger, extending about one and a half inches beyond the periphery of the physical body.
Samael Aun Weor teaches that the vital body is the five dimensional part of the physical body and the foundation of organic life. He states that in the second Initiation of Fire, which is reached through working with sexual magic with a spouse, the Kundalini rises in the vital body. Then the initiate learns how to separate the two superior ethers from the others in order for them to serve as a vehicle to travel out of the physical body.
Some clairvoyants and occultists have produced drawings and paintings that record their perceptions of the etheric body, such as Leadbeater’s Man Visible and Invisible for one example. The images produced by Kirlian photography bear obvious resemblances to these graphics, showing a spiky looking energy field extending a few inches around the human body, as well as other biological specimens, like leaves, and objects like coins. The fact that Kirlian photography can capture the acupuncture points of the body links the technology with concepts of prana, qi, bioplasma, and related ideas and theories. For some believers in the etheric body, Kirlian photography provides important supporting evidence, though skeptics are generally not swayed.
Modern theosophists sometimes claim that the ideas are related to a contemporary area of fringe science, modern Aether theories. However, there are alternative explanations that some Theosophists may regard as plausible, which includes the conception of the dynamic aether, possessing a fluid crystal structure, subdivided in different levels of density, with density proportional to the density of any physical substance occupying the area of space concerned, increasing around large bodies such as stars and planets, acting as a refracting medium, affecting the speed of propagation of light and conveying electromagnetic forces.
This confirms all the experimental data and astronomical observations currently cited in support of the special and general theories of relativity, including the phenomena known as vacuum energy and other unsolved problems in physics that baffles the current standard theories. Also taken into account are the internal inconsistencies and unwarranted assumptions of standard relativity theory have been pointed out by dozens of scientists. It must be reiterated, though, that these ideas should in no way be construed as being indicative of generally accepted scientific opinion on the subject.