The Powers of Doctor Strange!

Astral Projection

Doc Strange on the move! Art by Steve Ditko
from Strange Tales # 110.

    In the very first appearance of Doctor Strange, we learn that he has the ability to astrally project himself to other places on earth and into other dimensions, such as the dream world of another person. As an occult ability, astral projection has a long history reaching back into the tribal beliefs of pre-scientific cultures. Native Americans, Australian Aborigines, Arctic Inuits,  and  Jivaro headhunters all possess religious traditions in which some form of astral projection plays a role, thus indicating the great antiquity and wide distribution of the belief.  Most of the key ideas associated with our contemporary concept of astral projection derive primarily from the writings of various members of an influential occult organization called The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Since its inception in 1888, this organization (and its many offshoots) have done much to popularize a syncretic blend  of occult traditions from  many different cultural sources.
    Implicit to the concept of astral projection is the belief that humans possess an immaterial spirit, housed within their bodies, which can be sent forth to perform certain kinds of activities. Usually conceived of as a psychic skill which requires a long period of training in order to master, the ability to astrally project at will is typically viewed as the result of learning gained through special initiation into secret, esoteric societies steeped in arcane lore. However, beginning in the 1950's, published examples of allegedly spontaneous and unintentional astral projections on the part of the uninitiated started to appear in occult-oriented magazines like Fate, Search, and Beyond. Those who claimed to have such "out of the body  experiences," as they are commonly called today,  sometimes founded groups to study and master the process. Paul Twitchel's Eckankar movement and the published teachings of Lobsang Rampa both employed the concept of astral projection and became popular during the 1960's.
Another idea that usually goes hand-in-hand with belief in astral projection, and one which forms a central thesis of the Doctor Strange tales, is that reality consists of different dimensions or levels of being which one may visit when astrally projecting. The everyday world of common sense reality revealed to us by the five senses is merely one of numerous planes of existence. The adventures of Doctor Strange as he travels to different locations on the Astral Plane provide popularized versions of this rather sophisticated idea. For Western culture, the multi-dimensional theory of reality derives from numerous sources including Platonism, Neo-Platonism, Gnosticism, and other Hermetic traditions. It played a key role in the work of the Romantic poet William Blake who wrote, "The Pilgrim passes, but the States remain forever," and created his own unique poetic map of the different States of reality. The most significant example of this theory for occultists is the Qabala studied by Jewish mystics, which depicts the cosmos as an interrelated pattern of ten Sefirotic spheres or emanations. Through diligent meditation on the Tree of Life, a symbolic graphic arrangement of the Sefiroth (shown at right), a person allegedly becomes able to leave the body behind and travel upon the special Paths indicated on the Tree. These Paths lead to the different worlds represented by the Sefiroth, and most modern occultists also associate them with the Major Arcana  of the Tarot deck.
    Students of the Qabala inform us that such other worlds are populated by beings of various sorts, both helpful and malevolent, and travelers must exercise great caution when approaching them. Richard Cavendish, in his seminal 1967 work, The Black Arts, writes that "the cabalist explores the strange country he has entered and speaks to any of the figures which approach him, but he must be cautious. The figures may try to deceive and ensnare him..." Dormamu and Nightmare are examples of the kind of evil beings encountered by Doctor Strange on his voyages into other dimensions, and the pages of occult literature are filled with descriptions of very similar entities.

        Stan Lee tapped into all these diverse sources when he endowed Doctor Strange with the ability to enter a trance state and leave his physical body. If you're interested in actually learning how to astrally project, the following websites may prove useful. I make no claims for the validity of the data which they present, but they do provide interesting reading and food for thought:

This site offers online courses in astral projection!

Astral Projection
More online courses!

Astral Projection from Crystalinks


The next time I update, I'll have still more observations on
the other powers of Doctor Strange!

Background image by William Max Miller

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