The astral body in the 'theory' I am trying to develop would be the next subtle body after the etheric and higher up the ladder spiritually. There is an enormous variety of different placements of the subtle bodies in the religions and metaphysical philosophies of the world. I am just trying to set my own foundation in a way that makes the ideas of ancient times fit my ideas without having to use a jackhammer and a chisel to make them fit.
The concept of the astral body as it is thought of in western esotericism goes all the way back to the famous Greek philosopher, Plato. In the Myth of Er, Plato told an account of an afterlife that led to reincarnation after travelling through the seven planetary spheres. Plato taught that man was composed of a mortal body, immortal reason and an intermediate spirit. The word 'astral' means 'of the stars'. The late Neoplatonist Proclus (412-485 AD), who was one of the last major Classical philosophers developed an elaborate system of metaphysical thought and is credited with being the first to speak of the subtle planes. By the time theosophy came around the astral body was thought to be a desire body and am emotional body through which it was possible to experience all varieties of desire. George Gurdjieff referred to the astral body as "the vessel of the soul"; it is of the sun and all planets, just as the physical body is of the earth. In Gurdjieff's words while the astral body is not developed a person is a "human being only in quotation marks", who cannot be considered in any meaningful sense to have a soul and will "die like a dog". In depth psychology parallels between the astral and unconscious mind have been drawn. Carl Jung drew on alchemical and classical imagery to explore the dynamics and symbols of memory, dreams and religious initiation. Jung saw the astral journey as a paradigm of "modern man's search for a soul", and imagined a collective unconscious memory, driven by archetypal forces and knowable in the symbolic language of dreams and visions.
The astral plane is also called the Barzakh or inter-world of Islam, the world of Yetzirah in Lurianic kabbalah, the Spirit World in Spiritualism and the Fairy World of Celtic spirituality. As we can see notions of the astral body and astral plane or realm vary widely. In the system I am trying to develop I think of the astral body relating to the etheric body, as the etheric relates to the physical body. While the etheric body channels energies from the subtle realm to the physical body and is also the 'template' the physical body is based on, the astral body envelopes and interpenetrates the etheric body the same way and is also the 'template' the etheric body is based upon. The astral body in 'my' system can be a bit hard to explain, as it already seems we could have an infinite series of subtle bodies and the templates they are based on. However, in the ideas I am working with the astral body differs from the etheric by a large magnitude. Whereas the etheric has all of the qualities that the physical body needs to keep regenerating and also contains 'memories' of lifetimes lived before on a physical level, the astral body retains the emotions, desires, needs and wants of the soul. In my system the astral body would not need to mirror the physical body at all as far as appearance goes.
With the ideas I am forming the astral body has the ability to explore other planes of existence whereas the etheric body does not. The astral body in my view is a lot more important than the etheric and physical bodies when looked at in a certain way. The astral body in my world view would not only envelop the physical and etheric bodies, but would also inhabit a world a lot like the Imaginal World of Sufi mysticism. In esoteric Ishraqi, Sufi and Shaikhi Islamic traditions the Imaginal World or Realm is a region of pure forms (archetypes) intermediate between the region of pure spirits and archetypes totally unconnected to matter and physical reality. It would also be equated with the Egyptian Ba (a human headed bird). The Ba is the 'soul' connected with the Ka which is symbolized by a pair of upraised arms and represents the individual ego, character, and disposition of a soul and is created with or even before the physical being. The Ba dwells in or with the Ka. In many texts the Ba also lives with Ra or Osiris in heaven. The ba also plays a role in cosmogenesis. The soul, ba of Shu was the fire produced by Atum at the moment of the initial creative emission of semen. Likewise the Creator "made metamorphoses startting from this, his ba", the ba thus playing the role of the determining individualizing force, the first active principle, parallel to the first coagulation, the disruption of the inertia in the cosmic ocean."
In my view if we take a look at our psychic beings, but up a level from the plane where the etheric body has its being, this takes us to the astral body and the astral realm, which somewhat corresponds to the plane of occultism and esotericism that investigators of psychic phenomena are so fond of. The astral realm and astral body in my system closely correspond to the Imaginal World of the Sufis. the world of Yetzirah which is one of four planes of existence in Kabbalah and is also known as the 'World of Formation', somwhere between the World Soul and Divine Mind (Nous) of Neoplatonism and between the mental body (manomaya-kosa) and higher intelligence body (vignanamaya-kosa) of Hinduism.
The image is of the Hoysalwswara Temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva in Karnataka State in southwestern India. This was originally going to be one post but I have some more information I can hopefully put up today or by the 31st. I have a lot of things I am working on right now and have worked a lot more on the book I am trying to write and am working on ideas for posts to put in between the work on reincarnation that I am doing, as this will probably go on for some time. I very much appreciate getting all of the thoughtful comments and enjoy reading the blogs I link to and follow. Peace and be well everyone! Here are some links-more will be coming in the next post. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neo-Platonism