Monday, March 21, 2011

Plane Talk About Ethereal Matters

In coming up with my own take on the classic planes--one that uses both AD&D cosmology and real world occult/esoteric beliefs as touchstones--I thought I’d start small with the microcosm of the individual. Coming as it does from relatively modern beliefs, the explanations in this model might not fit all campaigns, but the basic principles can probably be applied.

The body of an individual occupies multiple states of existence (or planes). The physical body, made of simple, everyday matter, is just the densest level of being. The subtle body of an individual, though not normally visible and made of “lighter” material, is no less integral. When the subtle body is separated from the physical for whatever reason, it’s tethered to its densest component by an umbilicus called a silver cord.

There are two parts of the subtle body. In order of decreasing density they are the etheric body, a being’s “shadow” in the substructure of the material planes; and the astral body, a being’s manifestation in the higher, noumenal worlds.

The Ether
The etheric body is generally invisible to the physical world, existing at a different vibrational frequency. It’s formed by the accretion of ether--the substance that is substrantum or medium supporting the material universe--or perhaps, as some theorist’s suggest, it would be more accurate to say it’s the area where the existence of a being deforms the geometry of the etheric plane.

It’s believed to be the etheric body that gives the spark of life to base chemical processes, and acts as the interface between mundane matter and higher states of being. To those able to see it, the etheric body appears as cloud-like aura vaguely in the shape of the being to whom it belongs; with sapient beings have thicker etheric bodies than nonsapient ones. The etheric body is just as mortal as the physical one. When a being dies it gradually disperses (usually over a matter of hours) until it is lost in the surrounding ether.

The etheric (or sometimes ethereal) plane is really the “canvas” on which the material world is painted--the matrix in which it crystallizes. The elemental forces are carried through the ether--or perhaps they excite it in certain frequencies. Some theorize that the etheric body is “vitalized” by the action of a positive energy. Undead might therefore be animated by negative energy. In this view, these forces cause flows or vortices in the ether in opposite directions.

The etheric body can be separated from their physical one via magical items or psionic discipline. Some spells or magical items allow the transformation of the physical body into an etheric form. Since the etheric is just part of a material world (only a different phase) there isn’t any such thing as the “deep ethereal”—at all points it is coexistence with the physical. However, sometimes this term can be appiled to the relatively less populated etheric regions coinciding with the vacuum of space.

Otherwise, this view of the etheric plane mostly conforms to the usual D&D traits and strictures. The plane appears as an all but featureless place of roiling grey and white mists (sorta like the Phantom Zone).  Entities inhabiting it are likewise ghostly and indistinct--though they sometimes possess translucent colors, particularly the bizarre etheric fauna which often resemble oversized microscope creatures or deep sea denizens.  The material plane can be observed from an etheric vantage, but it's as if its behind a veil of mist, or in soft focus.  Etheric beings can pass through nonmagical inanimate objects in the material plane, but living material beings are barriers.  While there is "up" and "down" in the ether, there is no gravity, and movement can be in any direction.  Physical beings fully converted to etherealness can move faster than their normal movement, but to do so causes vibrations in the ether that attract the attention.

When next I take up this subject, I’ll delve into the Astral.


Tim Shorts said...

Very good Trey. This is one area I have always been inconsistent with in my thinking. Your approach seems to be simple and effective.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

Question: How do dreams, especially those you are aware of as they occur and/or have some control over fit into this?

Trey said...

Thanks, Tim. It arose from a somewhat complicated review--Gygax's article in Dragon #8, Lakofka's in #42(IIRC), AD&D PHB, Manual of Planes, and the 3e Manual of Planes, plus several Theosophic and Rosicurian cosmologies...and this was all I came up with. ;)

@C'norr - Good question. Dreams, in this view, are related to the Astral (linked as it is with emotion, intuition, and the unconscious).

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

Makes sense. Still, one has to wonder just how closely the unconscious plays a part if you have control of it. In any case, I look forward to the next post.

Meowlissa said...

fascinating as always :) I was just talking with my friends about astral and all that it entails. Then someone went into this long rant about OBEs and so the convo took a turn. hehe. Anyway good to read you again. Happy Monday to you.

NetherWerks said...

Dude--I was sure that you'd riff off of Levi's Upper and Lower Astral Light. Maybe next time. Eliphas Levi has a lot to offer gamers...despite the inaccuracies and botched translations, etc.

The article on Chakras is one that's in our backlog--I'm doing special images for each chakra that will be made public domain as part of it.

G.R.S. Mead's book on the Subtle Body is useful in this regard. So is Carrington, Muldoon's and Powell's stuff. Hmmm...might have to do a bibliography of this sort of stuff...

Where do you see/feel ectoplasm fits into the system that you're developing here?

Trey said...

@Meowlissa - Thanks. Always good to have you stop by. :)

@Netherwerks - I agree completely about Levi, though my knowledge of his work isn't as great as yours. My goal was keeping Gygax's ethereal and astral, and I jumped pretty quick at (some) Theosophy theorizing giving me the chance to do that. I'm still formalizing my thoughts on the astral, though.

I think a bibliography like your suggesting would be appreciated by myself and others.

My thoughts on ectoplasm is evolving but I think I see it as the most condensed form of etheric matter--a sort of protoplasm sometimes semi-soldified by the movement of the subtle body (primarily the astral). Or maybe not. :)

NetherWerks said...

I'm getting back up to speed after the surgery. I just posted a bunch of entries over at DM Muse to get the gears going. I will get back to the Chakras article(s) and assemble that bibliography for you. The whole ethereal/astral thing has a lot of cool options to it that I'll map out a bit as it figures prominently in Zalchis and some of the adventures that we're building for Labyrinth Lord/Mutant Future (Mutant Lord?).

Levi is a hoot, as long as you don't take him too seriously. The part about Ob and Od is a wonderfully condensed sub-system of magic well worth looking at for a game. His upper/lower astral light is intriguing, especially if you then look at the Theosophical levels/layers that they sub-divide it all into. Schueler's Encohian Magic series from Llewellyn really taps into this Theosophical aspect of things far more than it does real Enochian stuff, but it is also a good (often cheap second-hand) resource for some of that sort of thing. Dee's system is wildly convoluted, mostly because it encompasses at least seven distinct systems all at once...yeah...there are a few posts in there alright. I'll get cracking as soon as I can. Might need a nap first though. Still low energy, but improving daily.

Trey said...

Informative as always.

Yeah, the fatigue in those early days post-cholesctectomy is brutal. I remember it well.