The Transpersonal Concept of Thought Forms
by Lori Alavani
Thoughts are things and take form.
Edgar Cayce, Reading 1152-4, para. 12
Its all in your mind. How often have we heard someone dismiss
anothers thoughts and feelings with those words? Those who identify reality
with what can be physically perceived and measured are quick to belittle our
idle and not-so-idle thoughts. That which we mentally and emotionally dwell
upon is supposedly less consequential than that which we eat and drink.
To those who believe that reality extends beyond the physical world, thoughts
and feelings are not taken so lightly. Serious occultists, meaning students
of hidden wisdom and the inner nature of things, consider thoughts and feelings
as real as anything you can hold in your hand.
Edgar Cayce (1877 1945) was one of the few voices insisting on the reality
of thoughts long before it was fashionable to do so. The American psychic, known
for giving over 14,000 documented readings while in an entranced state, is widely
remembered for his health readings, which numbered over 9,600. He also gave
more than 1,900 life readings, which discussed his clients past-life incarnations
When giving advice, Cayce placed as much emphasis on the mental, emotional,
and spiritual states as he did on the physical. Thoughts are things,
he said repeatedly. When a widow identified as case number 1152 asked for guidance
for her spiritual development and life's work, the seer included in his advice
to her that thoughts are things and take form as they are dwelt upon
(1152-4, section 12, para. 12).
Lets take a closer look at Cayces statement, beginning with the
first part that says: Thoughts are things. The American Heritage
Dictionary (1994) defines a thing as something that exists
(p. 839). The psychic was plainly saying that thoughts have reality. Now lets
look at the second part of the statement: [Thoughts] take form as they
are dwelt upon. A form is the shape and structure of an
object (American Heritage, 1994, p. 331).
A thought takes shape and becomes a form as (or while) we are mentally or emotionally
dwelling upon it. Cayce perceived thoughts as so important, that in 23 readings
he insisted that mental activity could be miracles or crimes in action.
When thoughts take form, they become thought forms. The concept
of thought forms is very important to those who study the invisible world
around us. Individuals gifted with clairvoyant vision claim to see thought forms.
Those less sensitive may feel the effects of the more intense ones.
Have you ever felt someones anger rush at you, even when the person generating
the anger outwardly appeared calm? Have you ever felt someone wrap you with
a feeling of love, without even touching you? When you feel such sensations,
you are feeling thought forms.
Thought forms emerge from the vibrations which individuals send off, or radiate.
(To radiate is to emit vibrational energy.) In reading 900-22 Edgar Cayce explained
that while in the psychic state, he communicated with the thoughts, and
with the radiation as is given (para. 4).
Well now turn to what Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater had to say about
the subject of thought forms. Besant (1847 1933) was a prominent womens
rights activist, orator, and writer (Simkin, n.d.). Leadbeater (1854
1934) was a clergyman, lecturer, and writer (Hesselink, n.d.).
Both became leading figures in the Theosophical Society. The two developed
clairvoyant abilities and helped others in the society develop theirs as well.
After conducting investigations and experiments, they wrote numerous works about
their psychic observations.
In their book Thought Forms (1901), Besant and Leadbeater write, Every
thought gives rise to a set of correlated vibrations (p. 13). They explain
how thought forms are generated from thoughts and emotions, or to use Theosophical
terms, the mental body and the desire-body.
A thought form arising from the mental body is a living entity of intense
activity animated by the one idea that generated it (p. 13). Those thought-form
creatures produced by the desire-body have for their animating soul[s]
the desire or passion which threw [them] forth (p. 16).
The Bodies Comprising Each Human
A few words should now be given concerning the multiple bodies of each human,
and how they correspond to the various planes. In Leadbeaters work Man
Visible and Invisible, the author indicates there are seven planes of
nature, or planes of existence. The lowest plane is the Physical,
which consists of solids, liquids, gases, and ether, a form of matter
which is even more rarified than gas.
The planes above the Physical are, from lower to higher: the Astral, Mental,
Buddhic, Nirvanic, Paranirvanic, and Mahaparanirvanic. (Para means
beyond, hence Paranirvanic means beyond Nirvanic, or the plane
beyond Nirvana. Maha means great, so Mahaparanirvanic
refers to the greater plane beyond Nirvana) (Leadbeater, 1902).
Each plane has its own form of matter contained in seven sub-planes, which
vibrate at their respective level of frequencies. The higher the plane, the
higher the rate of vibration and the finer the matteralso called elemental
essencethat exists on it (Leadbeater, 1902).
Elemental essence is that strange half-intelligent life which surrounds
us in all directions, vivifying the matter of the mental and astral planes
(Besant & Leadbeater, 1901, p. 24).
Each human has seven bodies, one for each plane. The physical body vibrates
at the lowest frequency and has the heaviest matter. The astral body (also called
the emotional body or desire-body) vibrates faster and has finer matter. The
mental body vibrates even faster then the astral body, and its matter is correspondingly
The Buddhic body, usually referred to as the causal body, vibrates
still faster, and its matter is still finer, than that of the mental body. Leadbeater
admits that little is known of the Nirvanic, Paranirvanic, and Mahaparanirvanic
bodies, so well limit our discussion to the first four bodies.
The aura, or energy field that each human has, is the outer part of the
cloud-like substance of [the] higher [non-physical] bodies (Besant &
Leadbeater, 1901, p.12).
When Edgar Cayce mentioned the human bodies, he most commonly spoke of three:
the physical, mental-emotional, and spiritual bodies. Occasionally he referred
to the emotional body as being separate from the mental body, as in reading
3102-1, in which he said: In giving an analysis of the physical conditions
as we find them
we find that there must also be considered the relationships
that are borne with the spiritual or emotional body (para. 3).
Yet it was more common for him to combine the mental and emotional natures
as qualities of a single body, such as in reading 146-10, in which he said:
It is of the mental-emotional body that these conditions are being met
(para. 8). Whereas in Theosophy the physical, mental, and emotional bodies are
very distinct in function, Cayce indicates that emotions can stem from eitheror
boththe physical and mental-emotional bodies:
There are the emotions of the body. These come under the mental heading, yesbut
there are also those phases where the mental and emotional body is born, or
under the control of the physical and sometimes under the control wholly of
the mental. (3590-2, para. 12)
The seer often discussed the interconnectedness of the physical, mental, and
spiritual bodies, such as in the reading below:
Now, we find, while the body is very good in many respects, there are disturb-ances
that unless corrected must, with the development of the body physical and the
body mental, produce hindrances that will affect the physical in such a manner
as to prevent the better manifestations of the mental and spiritual body. (488-1, para. 1)
The various bodies become significant when one explores how thought forms are
created. The Cayce readings dont elaborate on this process, so well
turn to what the Theosophists have to say. When it comes to manifesting thought
forms, Besant and Leadbeater (1901) indicate that the mental and desire bodies
are the main ones involved.
They describe the mental body as an object of great beauty, the delicacy and
rapid motion of its particles giving it an aspect of living iridescent light
Every thought gives rise to a set of correlated vibrations in the matter of
this body, accompanied with a marvelous play of color, like that in the spray
of a waterfall as the sunlight strikes it, raised to the nth degree of color
and vivid delicacy.
The body under this impulse throws off a vibrating portion of itself, shaped
by the nature of the vibrations
. We have then a thought-form pure and
simple, and it is a living entity of the intense activity animated by the one
idea that generated it. (p. 13)
The Theosophists describe the desire-body as consisting of matter less subtle
than that of the mental body. In a spiritually undeveloped person, the desire-body
composes the most prominent part of his or her aura.
When a man is of a gross type, the desire-body is of the denser matter of the
astral plane, and is dull in hue, browns and dirty greens and reds playing a
great part in it.
. [In a more spiritually developed person, the desire-body
is] composed of the finer qualities of astral matter, with the colors, rippling
over and flashing through it, fine and clear in hue.
While less delicate and less radiant than the mental body, it forms a beautiful
object, and as selfishness is eliminated all the duller and heavier shades disappear.
(Besant & Leadbeater, 1901, p. 14)
As in the case of the mental body, vibrations produced by the desire-body shoot
out and create thought forms. Because of their density, these emotionally created
forms cannot rise above the Astral plane (Besant & Leadbeater, 1901).
Besant and Leadbeater (1901) explain that thought forms attract matter, or
elemental essence, existing within the Mental and Astral planes. This elemental
essence shapes the thought-form bodies. The mental and emotional
energies that originally projected them give them their animating soul.
Thought forms can be fleeting, or they can endure for centuries or longer.
Their lifespan depends on their source of food, or to be more precise, the radiation
from thoughts and emotions feeding them.
Thought Form Creation
The Theosophist authors give considerable detail in describing how each thought
causes a vibrational change in the mental body, and each emotion produces a
vibrational change in the desire-body. To sum up their discussion, those gifted
with clairvoyant vision can see the vibrations in the mental body, which may
be simple or complex.
Through psychic eyes, one can observe colors corresponding to the vibrations
flushing over an individuals aura, momentarily obscuring the auras
original colors. Although the change in hue is brief (generally lasting only
a few seconds), the effects can become more enduring, for each flush of feeling
always adds a little of its hue to the normal coloring of the astral body
(Besant & Leadbeater, 1901, p. 18).
Yielding to a particular emotion becomes easier and easier, for the astral
body grows accustomed to vibrating at the emotionally charged rate. In short,
emotions can be habit forming.
In their book Thought Forms, the authors provide 58 colored illustrations
depicting how they and their clairvoyant associates have perceived thoughts
and emotions vibrating within the mental and desire bodies of those whom they
were observing. The authors state: Quality of thought determines color.
Nature of thought determines form. Definiteness of thought determines clearness
of outline (Besant & Leadbeater, 1901, pp. 33-36). For the sake of
clarification, love could be considered a quality, and protective love could
be a nature. Intense focus would give definiteness.
Thought Forms relates how the simplest thought, devoid of complex
nuances, produces only one rate of vibration. This vibration affects only one
type of mental matter. Most thoughts, however, arent simple, just as most
people arent simple.
Thoughts are usually combined with emotion, producing multiple vibrations and
several colors in both the mental and astral bodies. As Besant and Leadbeater
(1901) point out: Affection
tinged with pride
or with selfishness, with jealousy or with animal passion (p. 19).
Earlier we mentioned how each plane of nature has its own form of matter contained
in seven sub-planes, which vibrate at their respective level of frequencies
(Leadbeater, 1902). Both the Mental plane and Astral plane have seven sub-planes
of matter, although each sub-plane can have many subdivisions, differing in
quality as well as in density (Besant & Leadbeater, p. 18).
Besant and Leadbeater dont provide details on the subdivisions, but one
can deduce that the existence of such subdivisions explains why certain emotions,
such as fear, seem to attract other emotions, such as anger. We often hear of
cases of abused individuals habitually attracting abusive mates.
Although the emotions that the abused and abuser generate seem to be different
and would likely vibrate on different subdivisions, both sets of emotions
could affect the same sub-plane.
For the purpose of this paper, the most important point Besant and Leadbeater
(1901) make is that every thought and emotion clothes itself in a temporary
vehicle of the elemental essence (mental and astral matter) that matches
the vibration of the mental and emotional impulses.
This child of the mental body or desire-body (or both) becomes a kind
of living creature (p. 24). If diluted and ambiguous thoughts and feelings
generate it, it will be short lived. If produced with strong emotionsor,
if mentally based, with clarity and definitenessit can have a very long
Hence as long as we can think and feel, we cant help but create thought
forms. It is for us to determine the nature of those thought forms.
To illustrate how complex thought form creation can be, lets now imagine
the following scenario. Were on the scene of a battlefield. Neil is a
common soldier. Hes fighting alongside his comrades. Theyre all
afraid of dying, for this is their first battle.
Neil watches one comrade after another get shot and killed. His best friend,
Chris, gets shot in the lung, and Neil watches helplessly as the lads
blood oozes out. Chris thoughts turn to hope in an afterlife as he takes
his last breaths.
When he expires, Neil sobs, Why him, God? He believed in you. He trusted
you. Why did you let him die? After a few minutes of grieving, Neils
sorrow and fear turn to anger. He curses the deity with every blasphemy he can
He seeks vengeance and goes berserk. The young solder is now filled with blood
lust. Neil survives the battle, living to fight another day. He becomes an embittered
atheist. He will still know fear, but with each battle, anger will come more
quickly to him.
Back at headquarters, an analyst writes a report of the battle. This emotionally
detached professional notes that friendly losses were less than
expected. The battle was a success.
The general reads the report and is elated. Success! he exclaims.
Were going to win this war!
The press receives a sanitized version of the report. They combine it with
the reports of their war correspondents. It was glorious, it was terrible,
the media declares as they explain what happened.
The survivors of those lost in battle grieve. The family members of the living
soldiers worry. Many citizens, who doubt the veracity of these press reports,
Such a scenario produces a complex field of thought forms, shaped by the many
emotions of everyone touched by the conflict. Some of these thought forms coalesce
into a single, monstrous thought form of war, shaped from the highly charged
This thought form has multiple vibrations, which may affect more than one astral
sub-plane, plus several subdivisions within each sub-plane. Perhaps fear, anger,
vengeance, and blood lust represent the subdivisions within a single astral
sub-plane that help to shape this thought form of War.
Grief, worry, and hopelessness may be subdivisions within the next astral sub-plane
also forming the thought form. Those able to see this animated astral being
would likely perceive a hideous creature in shades of murky reds and browns.
This scenario also produces a thought form for Success, whose vibrations are
higher than those of the other thought form. If the Success thought form becomes
strong enoughthat is, if it is fed with sufficient thoughts and feelings
of successit may become stronger than the first thought form, and the
generals forces may indeed be victorious and win the war. Of course, the
strength of the thought forms of the opposing side must be taken into account.
Types of Thought Forms
Besant and Leadbeater (1901) divide thought forms into three classes: those
that take the image of the thinker, those that take the image of some material
object, and those that take a form entirely of its own.
Image of the thinker. The authors claim that when
an individual pictures himself in another place, he makes a thought form that
appears as his twin. The strength of the thought that produced the thought form,
or the degree of clairvoyance of those on the receiving end, will determine
if others can see it.
In some cases, such a form has been mistaken for the mans ghost
(astral body) or even the man himself (Besant & Leadbeater, 1901).
Kyriacos Markides (1985/1990) echoed this view in his book The Magus of
Strovolos. Markides described an incident he witnessed, in which a spiritual
healer called Iakovos helped a woman deal with her fear of surgery. Iakovos
placed his hands over the womans head, closed his eyes, and breathed deeply.
After approximately five minutes, he removed his hands. He told the woman to
think of him when she was about to have surgery, and hed be there for
her. When Markides was alone with Iakovos, he asked the healer what he did to
the woman. Iakovos explained that he created a therapeutic thought form.
This thought form would be activated when the woman thought of him, acting just
as the real Iakovos would act.
At the same time, contact would be initiated between the healer and patient.
The thought form would absorb etheric energy from Iakovos to function. Iakovos
would sense the loss of energy, perhaps as fatigue or absentmindedness (Markides,
It needs to be mentioned that not everyone agrees that this double
is a thought form. Many insist that its the actual astral body. Perhaps
one view is correct; perhaps they both are, depending on the situation.
In either case, the double would be composed of the same refined matter as
that of the mental or emotional body, or to use Markides words, with
etheric matter of the noetic, psychic, and gross material worlds (Markides,
1985/1990, pp. 35-6). As a personal note, one morning while waking up I saw
a friend of mine.
To this day I dont know if I was seeing a thought form or an astral body.
All I know is that my friend appeared very real to me in my hypnogogic state,
until he disappeared after a blink or two.
Image of a material object. According to Besant and
Leadbeater (1901), when a person is thinking of another person, a miniature
image of the second person may float in front of the first person.
In a like manner, if a person thinks of a creature, place, or thing, the object
of her thoughts may appear in miniature in front of her. This phenomenon applies
even to objects of the imagination. In this way an artist can visualize a picture
and actually paint what he sees.
Similarly, a novelist can see her characters and even hear and watch them perform,
as if watching a scene on a stage. To add to the complexity of the thought-form
concept, sometimes playful nature spirits temporarily ensoul the
thought forms. Other times a discarnate novelist watching on the astral
plane moves the thought forms, in order to offer suggestions to the living
writer (p. 44).
Image that takes its own form. The Theosophists explain
that abstract thoughts and emotions, such as love, hate, peace, or fear, produce
thought forms that take on their own shape, or to put it another way, a form
of their own design.
Based on the illustrations given in Thought Forms, the shapes they
can take include those of clouds, simple or complex geometrical figures, blossoms,
and designs resembling those on seashells or feathers.
These thought forms are in constant motion, swirling, pulsing, or moving in
some other way. A lovely example given was that of a gushing fountain within
a thought form expressing love of all beings (Besant & Leadbeater, 1901).
The Magus describes malicious thoughts as having dark-colored (often
putrid green) snake-like shapes. One of Markides teachers, named Daskalos,
claims that these types of thought forms can reach the size of anacondas, and
when they return to us, we feel our heart tighten (p. 39).
He explains that people create such beings every day and would be terrified
if they could see their creations. He refers to these malevolent thought forms
as the evil eye (Markides, 1985/1990). (The evil eye is a widely believed folkloric
concept of good fortune attracting envy, which results in misfortune.
Individuals can knowingly or unknowingly cast the evil eye. It should be noted
that the Talmud says that the Evil Eye can only affect you if you worry
about it, whereas it leaves you alone if you ignore it [Moss, n.d., paras.
We cant keep from thinking and feeling. But each of us can each learn
to cultivate the nature of our thoughts and emotions, thereby becoming a benevolent,
rather than malevolent influence in our world. How we can do so will be discussed
later in this paper.
Finally, for the purpose of this paper, the terms emotional body, desire-body,
astral body, mental-emotional body, and etheric body will be used interchangeably.
Mental body, however, will only be used to refer to that part of us that vibrates
at a higher level than pure emotion but is below the causal body.
* This is chapter one from Loris Masters Thesis, Thought
Forms: Shaping Our Life, Shaping Our Afterlife. To see the entire thesis,
** To refer to the references in the text, please see the original document