Astral Doubles: Doppelgangers, Flying Witches and Werewolves
Out of Body Experiences & Astral Projection
Before we delve into the deep and debatable topic of the astral double, we first have to explore and attempt to define the roots of this concept. For that we have to take a brief look at the idea of astral projection. Some of you may have heard the phrase Out of Body Experience. Some of you may have heard the terms astral projection or astral travel. Some also associate this concept with lucid dreaming. How are these things related, but first what are they exactly?
An out of body experience is when you have a feeling you have left your own body and can look down at yourself from above. Usually there's a sense of floating up out of one's body or detachment of some kind. These are used to explain near-death experiences as well as drug-induced states and sometimes in our sleep or dream-time.
What is astral projection or astral travel and how are these things different from an out of body experience? Astral projection takes out of body experiences one step further and says that each of us have an astral body or "soul" that is able to separate from our physical body and travel outside of it. So astral projection technically goes hand-in-hand with out of body experiences.
These are not new concepts, but have actually been around for thousands of years. Many ancient cultures and religions have talked about people having the ability to leave their bodies and travel around the world. Ancient Pagan people from all over Europe have stories of this. You can also find the concept in Hinduism, Buddhism and even Christianity. You just have to dig a little bit to find it.
The Concept of a Soul or Multiple Souls
The idea that we have an "astral" body seems bizarre but has been discussed throughout the annals of time. If we look back to ancient forms of shamanism, people believed the shaman (or village wise person to put it simply) had the ability to go into a trance-like state and travel into the other worlds (overworld and underworld). If we look at some of the oldest legends and myths in pagan history in both the Nordic and Germanic texts, there are references to people who have the ability of leaving their bodies. These people were said to fall asleep and travel great distances to deliver messages or perform deeds.
Even in Christianity there is a concept of a person not only having a body and soul but having a body, spirit and soul. As a little girl, I remember my grandmother talking about this concept. She believed the soul was what made us who we are and the spirit was the part of us that was eternal. The part of us that left our bodies after death and traveled to Heaven or Hell (according to Christian beliefs). Looking at this theory now I can see the similarities in many religions and cultures when it comes to seeing the human being as a multi-level, complex creature who may or may not have more than one soul or spirit.
There are also those who believe we have more than one soul. That we can have multiple souls that have the ability to do different things. In Claude Lecouteax's work Witches, Werewolves and Fairies: Shapeshifters and Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages, he presents striking evidence of this belief in not only ancient pagan people but in modern day religions as well.
The question is why would we have more than one soul? And if we have more than one soul, what can we do with them?
Astral Doubles - Separation from the Body
If the concept is correct, this means that everyone has a soul or spirit or piece of themselves that can separate from one's body and travel elsewhere. This is often called an "astral double", meaning this is a double of yourself that travels into the astral (spiritual/dream) realm.
But how does one's astral double separate from one's body? Some say for your astral body to separate from your physical body is an ability that everyone has, it's just that most of us forget how. Or that we do it in our sleep but forget by the time we wake up. Others say only certain people have this ability (as documented throughout history). How one can astral project is a question that hasn't been fully answered, but there are theories. Learning how to become lucid in a dream is one method. Meditation, trance-work, and psychotropics have also been used by people throughout time in order to separate their astral self from their physical self.
Why do our astral doubles separate from our bodies? Going back centuries in legend and mythology from the Middle Ages, a person's astral double often left his/her body while the person was asleep or in a trance-like state in order to do one of the following things: gather information for an upcoming battle, give an important message to someone, to torment another person in their sleep, or to warn someone of an impending death. In ancient times, the shaman's astral double would go into the other realms in order to find lost souls (this is called soul-retrieval), to learn how to heal someone, and even to learn about the hunt. Today, if you google astral projection, many people claim to use this method during dream-time in order to "have a trippy experience" or have some sort of encounter with otherworldly beings but this ritual of separating from one's body has a much deeper reason, as we can clearly see. In ancient and Medieval times, if a (pagan) person couldn't dream (and therefore astral project), they were considered unfortunate or unlucky.
Doppelgangers & Bad Omens
If you've ever heard the term doppelganger, perhaps this has been brought to the forefront of your mind when imagining what an astral double might be. A doppelganger is defined as a living person's double. They have been featured in horror films and fictional novels for many years and will continue to be used as such. You will hear stories of doppelgangers appearing right before the person's death. This dates back to the Middle Ages and crosses cultural boundaries - between the "pagans" and "Christians" particularly. Often the doppelganger will appear to a loved one to warn of his/her impending death, and when the loved one looks into the matter he/she finds the person is in fact dead. Typically they die right around the time the doppelganger/apparition appeared to warn them.
Because of the direct correlation between doppelgangers and death, they are usually considered a bad omen. Some stories/folk tales even tell of a person seeing his or her own doppelganger right before they are stricken ill or die.
What does all of this have to do with astral doubles? Well, we can assume and demise that one's doppelganger is simply one's astral double separating from the body in order to deliver an important message. It is also thought one's astral double can take the form of an animal (which we will dive into further in the section below), and the "bad omen" of an owl or other bird appearing right before a person's death might actually be the person's astral double in animal form.
Doppelgangers have been seen on other occasions, separate from one's death or illness. There is a well-documented story of a teacher whose doppelganger was seen by her entire class of students while she was proven to be physically somewhere else. This happened on several occasions and was not in conjunction with her impending death or a bad omen of any kind. Again, we can look at this as simply her astral double traveling and appearing to her loved ones' and/or acquaintances.
Werewolves & Flying Witches
Not many people realize the connection between werewolves and witches dating back to the witch trials in Medieval times through the Early Modern Period. There were a series of witch trials in Estonia and other northern parts of Europe in which both men and women were accused of witchcraft and the ability of turning into wolves to wreak havoc on their villages. They were said to attack and kill people in werewolf form. One man named Hans was accused and convicted of witchcraft and lycanthropy, and he admitted to being given this power of shapeshifting by a man in black (of whom they assumed was the devil).
But how do witchcraft and shapeshifting relate to the astral double concept? If we look back through time at the many accounts of "flying witches", we can see a pattern. This pattern has been identified by scholars on the topic, and it is said that these witches used psychotropic plants in order to induce a trance-like state. At that point, they were able to "fly" to their sabbath to meet with other witches and their master. This flying might very well have been the separation of their astral doubles, as theorized by Claude Lecouteux. Emma Wilby, a writer and scholar on Scottish witchcraft, also relates the flying witch to the shaman, and their similar abilities to move in and out of their bodies into the next realms.
What about shapeshifters, werewolves and otherwise? How are they related to astral projection and using their astral doubles? Many religions and cultural myths show us the power of the astral double, and in more than one story the astral double has the ability to take on different forms. As previously mentioned, astral doubles are thought to project themselves into the form of owls or other birds to warn their families right before their physical bodies' terminations. So too did the werewolves and shapeshifters of the past use their astral double in order to travel to other places away from their bodies, either in their sleep or while their bodies were knocked out in trance, meditation or severe coma/illness. How is it that these werewolves were able to do physical harm to people and places? We may never know, but there are theories that state the astral double can indeed manifest in the physical plane with a very real physical mass.
In Lecouteux's book (posted above), he also mentions how an astral double can leave the body in the form of a lizard or mouse through the person's mouth, and that they are thought to re-enter the body through the mouth. This is why most people claim they can't astral project or go into a lucid dreaming state if they are not lying on their backs. Their mouths have to have easy access / open or able to fall open easily to let the astral double back inside. We can clearly see the relationship now between the animals and astral doubles and how werewolves might indeed have been the astral doubles of shamans, witches or magicians of some kind in the distant past.
What do you think?
Have you had any experience with astral projection? I have had the ability to become lucid within my dreams and astral project since I was a little girl. I do not know why this phenomenon occurs, I just know that it can be intense, exhilarating and enlightening all in the same breath. Have you ever had a lucid dream or an out-of-body-experience?
Do you think a person can have more than one form of soul or spirit and that an astral double is very likely? Perhaps the wise men and woman of the past knew the way in which to harness their astral doubles in order to accomplish things energetically that they couldn't in the physical. Perhaps we all knew how to do this at one point, but we've just forgotten or been made to believe these things don't occur and don't exist.
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© 2016 Nicole Canfield