The first in what would come to be a series of primers on the nature of man and the universe according to the clairvoyant investigations of members of The Theosophical Society, this little book, originally published in 1925, delivers a lot of information in a short space. The author, A. E. Powell, combed through 40 different texts written mostly by the prominent Theosophists Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater, and arranged the information in a concise, orderly way by topic. (While there are three texts by H. P. Blavatsky, Powell confesses that it was beyond his scope to include all of her works in his survey.) The result is a dense but readable introduction to the key findings of the Theosophists, complete with a number of diagrams.
If you’re not familiar with the findings of Theosophy, the Theosophists were and are clairvoyants who used their talents to investigate and document the unseen realms beyond our world of the five senses. If you’re used to navigating only in this world of the five physical senses, this is mind-stretching stuff. For, according to them, we are all composed of much more than the physical body (with attendant mind) that we associate with ourselves. Our physical body is composed of what they call dense or coarse matter; but the organization and vitality of this body depends on other bodies made of finer kinds of matter that are mostly undetectable with our coarse senses. The densest of these other bodies is the so-called etheric body or etheric double: a body made of finer-grade matter than our dense physical body, but otherwise mirroring it closely in form and occupying the same space. It is slightly larger than our dense body, generally having its outer border about a centimeter beyond our skin. It has the function of connecting our dense body to our higher-order bodies, and channeling vital energy or prana into our body, which is what keeps us alive. For it turns out that while food is essential for us to live, prana is even more essential. Its source, for us anyway, is the sun.
The etheric body is organized around the chakras, seven energy centers that receive and redirect prana from the outside world. It enters at the 3rd chakra, the spleen center, which then sends it on to the others via particular channels. Each chakra has its own structure and functions. If we activate and develop our chakras, we acquire new powers, notably the ability to relate consciously with the higher-order parts of ourselves. Many occult and magical phenomena are accounted for by the activities of the etheric and higher bodies.
The author has done a great service to the student of reality in the widest sense. I feel a little like the prisoner of Plato’s cave who has been released from his chains, and is starting to squint at new and unimagined surroundings, moving instinctively toward the light at the cave’s entrance. What lies out there? The world he has truly lived in all along, but without knowing it.