Edited by HENRY REED, Ph.D.
April 10, 2007
The Intuitive-Connections Network

The Transpersonal Concept of Thought Forms

The Transpersonal Concept of Thought Forms

by Lori Alavani

“Thoughts are things and take form.”
Edgar Cayce, Reading 1152-4, para. 12

“It’s all in your mind.” How often have we heard someone dismiss another’s 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 (Leighton, 2002)**.

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).

Let’s take a closer look at Cayce’s 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 let’s 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 someone’s 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).

We’ll 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 women’s rights activist, orator, and writer (Simkin, n.d.). Leadbeater (1854 – 1934) was a clergyman,[1] lecturer, and writer (Hesselink, n.d.).

Both became leading figures in the Theosophical Society.[2] 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 Leadbeater’s 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 matter—also called “elemental essence”—that 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 finer.

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 we’ll 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 either—or both—the physical and mental-emotional bodies:

There are the emotions of the body. These come under the mental heading, yes—but 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 don’t elaborate on this process, so we’ll 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 individual’s aura, momentarily obscuring the aura’s 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, aren’t simple, just as most people aren’t 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 … [is] often … 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 don’t 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 emotions—or, if mentally based, with clarity and definiteness—it can have a very long lifespan.

Hence as long as we can think and feel, we can’t 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, let’s now imagine the following scenario. We’re on the scene of a battlefield. Neil is a common soldier. He’s fighting alongside his comrades. They’re 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 lad’s 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, Neil’s sorrow and fear turn to anger. He curses the deity with every blasphemy he can think of.

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. “We’re 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, feel hopelessness.

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 astral matter.

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 enough—that is, if it is fed with sufficient thoughts and feelings of success—it may become stronger than the first thought form, and the general’s 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 man’s “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 woman’s 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 he’d 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.[3] 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, 1985/1990).

It needs to be mentioned that not everyone agrees that this “double” is a thought form. Many insist that it’s 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 don’t 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. 4-5].)

We can’t 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 Lori’s Master’s Thesis, “Thought Forms: Shaping Our Life, Shaping Our Afterlife.” To see the entire thesis, click here!

** To refer to the references in the text, please see the original document by clicking here!

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