A Strange Recorded History of Astral Travel

The Traveler’s Guide to the Astral Plane by Steve Richards was first published in 1983, and has now been reissued by Weiser Books. I found it to be a fascinating historical overview of tales of the astral plane, spanning the globe and several centuries. While the reports of what lies beyond this plane were extremely interesting, the book wasn’t quite what I’d expected from the title and the cover blurb.

While I’d heard some of these accounts before, others were new to me, and many of them were quite chilling. Richards lays out the tales in detail, often quoting large blocks of earlier texts. He presents the evidence and allows the reader to draw his or her own conclusions. Richards obviously knows the material inside and out, and I for one would have liked a bit more of his commentary and analysis.

Still, it was interesting to note the differences and similarities in the various accounts, and how they vary by culture, beliefs, and religious context. Richards includes reports from India, Rome, Greece, Scotland, Sweden, the United States, the Middle East, Japan, and beyond. He quotes well-known figures such as Jung, Madame Blavatsky, Poe, and Milton, but has also uncovered tales from lesser-known sources.

I found the chapter on Emmanuel Swedenborg, who Richards calls “undoubtedly the most extraordinary psychic in history,” especially captivating. Because Swedenborg lived during the 18th century, there is no lack of documentation of the things he did, many of them corroborated by multiple sources. Curiously, Richards notes, “Swedenborg himself did not consider his psychic experiences very important,” which seems to lend some additional credence to his feats.

The less modern accounts Richards includes are fascinating in their own right. In the appendices, he shares excerpts of ancient visions and experiences related by Plato and Plutarch. In reading them, I noticed the similarities between some of the descriptions and those I’ve read in other Greek writings of the time. Still, these tales have enough in common with those related by later travelers to be striking.
My favorite chapter came near the end. It is titled “How to Get There.” Richards cautions aspiring planar travelers about the dangers, especially of the suspended animation method, which had been detailed earlier in the book through accounts of several fakirs in India. Richards then goes on to describe a safer technique for experimentation. He explains how succeeding at astral projection can cause panic. “I suspect that one has to be an incorrigible non-conformist to do astral projection successfully,” he theorizes. I appreciated his personal comments in this chapter, and how he leads the reader carefully through the process.

I would have liked more of this type of instruction in this self-proclaimed “guide.” I’d expected that there would be instructions similar to those given in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, or perhaps a comprehensive overview of the astral plane based on the author’s own experiments. Even so, this small tome is well worth a read if you’re at all curious about the worlds that lie beyond the veil. It will provide glimpses and clues that the savvy traveler can put to use in his or her own flights.

~review by Nikki Starcat Shields

Author: Steve Richards
Weiser Books, 2015
pp.147, $14.95

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