Stairways to Heaven
|by Jay Kinney|
Early on in my inquiries into esoteric and occult
traditions I came upon the baffling and hard to swallow
teachings about the inner planes. Also referred to as
the invisible worlds (Max Heindel), the higher worlds
(Rudolf Steiner), the four worlds (Kabbalah), the Unseen
(in Islam and Sufism), and so on, this doctrine of
subtle dimensions of existence which elude scientific
detection seems to run counter to our everyday
experience in the physical universe.
Even modern followers of religious paths, who willingly grant the reality of God, often draw the line at the idea of other unseen beings and realms, such as angels, demons, or the Seven Heavens. To the modern sensibility such things are anachronistic superstitions bordering on the insane, and one gives credence to them only at the price of one's mental health.
Yet both traditional religion and esoteric teachings confirm the reality of the Unseen. They differ chiefly in that the former has its followers take such matters on faith, while the latter points toward first- person experience. Thus the "inner traditions" that this magazine explores imply that sooner or later the diligent seeker must come to terms with the inner realms.
In doing so, it must be admitted that the very adjective "inner" sometimes adds to the confusion. Where exactly is this inner? Inside of what? If we assume that it is somehow inside of us, it begins to sound suspiciously like a figment of our own imagination, and in fact, Henry Corbin, the distinguished scholar of mysticism, wrote of these realms as "the intermediate world of the Imaginable."(1) However, according to Corbin's readings of the great Sufis, the imagination is not to be merely dismissed as a source of delusions (though it can sometimes be that) but rather should be honored as a human faculty capable of clothing the Unseen in symbols and images. Thus the most universal approach to the inner planes is to simply close one's eyes, quiet the mind, and pay attention. Inner, in this sense, is not so much a location as it is a method, though one requiring great discrimination.
"Planes" is also something of a misnomer, since the term suggests concrete and discrete locations with set interior landscapes, perhaps stacked hierarchically on top of one another. Typical charts of the inner worlds encourage this image, with the physical (or earth) plane at the bottom and increasingly spiritual or abstract realms rising above, in a fashion suggestive of a medieval map of the celestial realms.
This is both true and false. Most esoteric descriptions agree that there is a spectrum of consciousness that ranges from the densest (and most ego-identified) to the most rarefied (and selfless), and that each succeeding locus of awareness is attuned to a different world, not unlike a journey across the radio dial. Yet just as an FM station at 104.5 MHz coexists with one at 89.8 MHz, the unseen worlds are not located "out there" or stacked up like apartments in a highrise, but interpenetrate each other (and our everyday universe) at different "frequencies." Or so it would seem, if we apply twentieth-century metaphors to phenomena that long preceded the modern era. In short, each plane requires a different quality of attention in order for us to become aware of it.
Of late, some New Age circles have used the term "densities" to describe the inner planes, contending in millennial fashion that most of humanity is on the cusp of shifting from the third to the fourth density as a natural stage in our spiritual evolution. (The third density here representing the highest state of human consciousness in physical incarnation, and the fourth density being the less dense, and arguably more advanced, astral plane.) Hence, it is argued the increased prevalence of channeling, UFO phenomena, the angel fad, and so on: we are supposedly drawing ever closer to contact with higher dimensions which are, in a sense, beginning to leak through.
Many fundamentalist and evangelical Christians are appalled, of course, at such a rosy view of intangible matters, and assert apocalyptically that most of this psychic or anomalous activity - while real enough - is actually of demonic origin and indicative of the End Times. Some evangelical publishing houses have even had their own mini-boom in books proving that channeled entities, UFOs, and most media-celebrated angels are actually luciferian counterfeits.(2)
Interestingly enough, Islamic tradition seems to thread a middle path between these two camps and contends that the Unseen is a kind of middle world between the human and divine, populated by its own race of sentient beings: the jinn (from which the popular tales of genies derive). According to this tradition, the jinn, like humans, have the capacity for both good and evil, and sometimes interact with this world, often in mischievous fashion. This idea is mirrored in Celtic traditions of faerie folk and the little people.
All of which - whether angel, jinn, or demon, whether plane, world, or density - sounds like extraordinary poppycock to the modern skeptical mind and understandably so. Science, which has replaced religion in the firmament of the educated, looks askance at beliefs or experiences that are not measurable by physical instruments or duplicable in carefully controlled experiments. And despite some pioneering research attempting to measure the effects of prayer or psychic healing, most spiritual territory resists the probing of the Geiger counter or EKG.
Thus, for instance, the merry band of rationalists clustered around CSICOP, Free Inquiry, and Prometheus Press, led by the redoubtable Paul Kurtz, are just as happy to toss God (or gods and goddesses) out the window as they are to defenestrate a pack of jinns. Being unable to prove the existence of these things, they assume that they are recurring hallucinations.
Which isn't to say that if one has a strong hunch about God's existence, one has to buy into every map of the inner planes as well. Just that in this area, like any other, one should at least entertain an open mind before leaping to conclusions.
The models of the inner planes that have received the widest circulation over the last few decades have been those either directly based on Hindu/tantric teachings or promulgated second- hand by Theosophy, the Alice Bailey books, and related teachings. Even in systems such as that of the Golden Dawn, which claimed its origins in Germany, one comes upon borrowings from the East, such as the use of tattvas (symbolic representations of the elements) for training in concentration and meditation.
Purely home-grown Western maps of the inner realms are a bit harder to come by. The kabbalistic doctrine of the Four Worlds (Assiah, Yetzirah, Briah, and Atziluth) is the most common, although Neoplatonic models of angelic realms and planetary spheres recur in many different teachings as well. More often than not, sympathetic Western interpreters of these maps view them psychologically and consider the realms and beings they refer to as being contained in the human psyche, though there is no ready consensus on what the psyche is itself.
Be that as it may, one of the most intriguing systems for considering the inner planes to appear in recent times comes from a rather unexpected source: the Ra Material, a collected series of transcripts of 100 or so sessions channeled by Carla Rueckert in the early 1980s. Rueckert, a sincere esoteric Christian living in Kentucky, and a few close friends established contact with Ra, a "social memory complex" (that is, an amalgam of individual souls merged at a higher level of spiritual evolution) which claimed to have influenced and worked with the ancient Egyptians. Ra identified itself as a member of the Confederation of Planets in the Service of the Infinite Creator and proceeded to elucidate a surprisingly sophisticated outline of how consciousness evolves and exists at different densities (see diagram).
Admittedly, channeled information from aliens tops most people's list of dubious sources, and I am not touting it as a revealed truth demanding our allegiance. Nevertheless the system is worth at least a few minutes' attention for its sophisticated version of the general doctrine of higher worlds.(3)
Briefly, Ra states that individual units of consciousness (souls), having manifested in matter, progress in the course of many incarnations through a series of densities which are increasingly subtle, rich, and of ever higher vibration. (We will leave aside for the moment the question of what exactly is vibrating.) Beginning as relatively inert "mineral consciousness" (1st density), a unit of consciousness evolves through "vegetable consciousness and animal consciousness" (2nd density) and, in due course, rises to the self- reflective consciousness of human life (3rd density).
So far the Ra topology echoes many other metaphysical descriptions of soul evolution and coexisting planes. However, it establishes its own unique perspective with the claim that the soul's goal and course of action in incarnate human life (3rd density) is to "polarize" its consciousness in one of either two directions. Either towards positive polarization: empathetic identification with others ("service to others" in Ra parlance) leading away from the ego and in the direction of unity, or towards negative polarization: integration around the illusion of the separate self ("service to self").
In natural cyclic fashion, there are periodic "harvests" during which souls who are sufficiently polarized in either a positive or negative orientation are able to escape the constraints of physical incarnation and proceed to the next higher octave (the 4th density). According to Ra, we are in the middle of a transition period with a "harvest" imminent in the next decade or two.
What is particularly intriguing about Ra's account is that it posits the parallel progression of both positive and negative entities through successively "higher" spiritual octaves, in which they provide a kind of friction necessary for each other's evolution. In other words, movement to "higher" densities is not restricted only to those who are more spiritual or selfless but rather depends on the development of the conscious coherence of identity - which can be either positive or negative.
This polarization of both sorts proceeds in similar fashion, through further harvests, until midpoint in the tremendously advanced 6th density when the fiction of positive or negative polarization and separation can no longer be maintained in the face of the intensity of the pull towards the Absolute. At this point all polarized beings merge into their Oversoul or higher self (albeit not without a certain resistance and suffering on the part of negative beings, which could be seen from our limited perspective as divine "punishment"). Further life and consciousness continue toward total reunification with the All, God.
The strength of this map is that it provides an account of a range of consciousness and being that is capable of incorporating both religious and esoteric spiritual concerns (the evolution of the soul; altruism vs. selfishness; inner planes; higher consciousness, etc.) and the confusing potpourri of channeled entities (both human and alien), UFO abductions, psychic phenomena and so on that make up the present New Age scene.
Thus in response to Rueckert and friends' questions about the contradictory nature of various reports of extraterrestrial contactees, Ra identifies the aliens as higher density entities of varyingly positive or negative orientation who interact with us from different motives. Some momentarily step down their vibratory rate and appear to the physical eye, while others communicate through telepathic resonance with receptive individuals. Since higher densities' relation to time and space are substantially different from ours, the apparent obstacle to space travel from other star systems ("it would take centuries, even at the speed of light...!") become irrelevant: in higher densities or dimensions time is not constrained to a linear flow and space is not an issue.
The drawback of the Ra schema is that it is readymade for paranoid or moralistic abuse, inviting the too neat division of people into positive or negative categories, and projecting those polarized values in even starker fashion onto immaterial realms that are, for most of us, vague intuitions at best.
For instance, consider the troubling scenario that Ra provides of the role that the 4th and 5th densities play in our 3rd density lives. While the positive beings in higher planes encourage the growth of 3rd density light and consciousness and are nourished by the psychic energy that this produces, their negative counterparts are busy fostering divisive thought-forms and slurping up the plentiful waves of fear, pain, and conflict that these stimulate. All of which is somewhat reminiscent of G. I. Gurdjieff's contention that most human lives are "food for the moon." Perhaps such things are so, but dwelling on them for longer than five minutes seems like a sure way to trigger anxiety attacks among the psychologically unstable.
There is also the knotty question of polarization itself. If it is essential, then where does that leave the legions of psychologists, Neo-Pagans, and followers of the Tao who emphasize achieving inner balance, self- empowerment, and integrating the Shadow? Seemingly, in Ra's schema, such efforts at spiritual equilibrium would only postpone one's polarization and "harvest."(4)
Indeed these are fascinating realms - even if we dispense with the whole UFO carnival and restrict ourselves to conservative renderings of the Unseen. Unfortunately fascination is a first cousin to hypnosis, and it is all too easy to become entranced with astral fever dreams. Because of this, most esoteric teachings, even as they acknowledge and describe the inner planes, insistently point beyond them to the union with the divine which is the consummation of gnosis. According to certain mystics, too much time spent probing the inner worlds leads to the fate of Narcissus - forever stuck at the water's edge, entranced by our own reflection in the pool.
Ritual magicians and occultists acknowledge this danger, but taking self-discipline firmly in hand, they insist on their right "to know in order to serve," as W.E. Butler put it. And even some mystics agree: an integral part of the traditions of both magical orders (such as the Servants of Light) and mystical orders (such as various Rosicrucian groups) is the emphasis on making contact with inner plane teachers and spiritual guides. In such schools, a master is someone who is capable of soberly moving his or her conscious awareness through each plane to the ultimate fullness of divine realization.
Sound far-fetched? Maybe so. However even if we brush the inner worlds aside and cleave to the strictly material, modern culture may be on the verge of diving wholesale into previously hidden realms. As the horizons of cyberspace and other computer-generated virtual realms rapidly expand into the culture at large, they allow the projections of our imagination to dance before us in the arena of the networked global mind. In cyberspace, the inner planes and unseen beings may unfold before us, strangely transmuted into digitized replicants mimicking our highest visions but lacking a certain crucial spark of life.
All the more reason to be on our toes and at least learn to read the maps that have already been drawn lest we find ourselves unwittingly drawn into imaginal worlds in the course of navigating the future. Perhaps the yogis are right and everything is ultimately maya. But short of that epiphany, there are many gradations of the Real. The material that follows, both inspirational and cautionary, is offered with this in mind.
1. Henry Corbin, Avicenna and the Visionary Recital (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990) p. 161. See also the recently published Imaginal Worlds: Ibn 'Arabi and the Problem of Religious Diversity by William Chittick (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 1994).
2. See UFOs in the New Age: Extraterrestrial Message & the Truth of Scripture by William M. Alnor (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992).
3. The four volumes of the Ra Material, published as The Law of One, Vols. 1-4, are available for $12 each from L/L Research, P.O. Box 5195, Louisville, KY 40255-0195.
An unusually insightful explication of the Ra Material and discussion of UFO-related channeling by Michael Topper was very helpful in composing this article and the chart on page 15. Topper's writing is to be found on pages 488-538A of Val Valerian's Matrix III, available for $55 postpaid from Leading Edge Research, P.O. Box 481-MU58, Yelm, WA 98597.
4. This is presumably not the case, and Ra alleges no such thing. Still the premise of polarization between ego and other can lead to such conclusions.
(c) copyright 1995 by Jay Kinney