When European witches practiced astral projection it was denounced as either a demonic power or a delusion caused by the Devil. However, when members of the clergy or Christian saints did the same thing, it was often regarded as a miracle or in some cases constituted proof of sainthood. The astral voyages of clergymen or nuns were sometimes attributed to being carried through the air by angels— whereas witches or other non-ecclesiastics were said to be carried by demons or even the Devil himself.
Those who experienced of astral projection or astral visions were often referred to in ancient texts as "ecstatics,"a term derived from Greek ekstasis meaning to stand outside one's self, as in the projection of consciousness outside the body. Recorded accounts usually involve ecclesiastics, saints, or those of devout religious faith. Descriptions of non-religious "ecstasies" are less common, since those lacking the endorsement of the church would probably have been dismissed as lunatics or accused of being in collusion with diabolical forces, as in the case of the witches.
Bilocation of Christian Saints
Bilocation was the term that was used to describe the appearance of a visible astral body in another place, in which it was observed by other people and could even interact with them. This was believed at the time to be a supernatural ability for persons of magickal power to physically appear in two places at once, but it is much more likely that it was a method of astral projection in which the astral body is of such densely concentrated energy that it can become visible to observers.
Many Christian saints were described as having made such visible bilocations. Saint Alphonsus Liguori performed an astral projection over the course of many days, in which he went into a deep trance in a prison cell. When he emerged he claimed he was at the bedside of the dying Pope Clement XIV, and this was reportedly confirmed by other observers present at the Pope's side. Saint Anthony was said to have projected himself on several occasions: once to point out the identity of a murderer when his father had been wrongfully accused in court, and on another occasion when he had forgotten until the last moment that he was scheduled to deliver a sermon at a monastery on the other side of town. In order to keep his appointment, he projected his astral body into the monastery in order to perform the reading.
Many more accounts of astral visions from the medieval christian era involve those stricken with illness or engaging in ascetic practices such as self-flagellation, fasting, and mortification of the flesh. Such extreme methods are also common in shamanism, since they induce an altered state of consciousness, enabling astral voyages to spirit worlds. Saint Clare, for example, was said to have been stricken with a fever despite her strong desire to attend a religious ceremony at the church of Saint Francis. Fortunately for her, she found herself carried out of her body by a spirit which she identified as Jesus Christ. She was then able to attend the ceremony and even experience taking communion, despite the fact that she was invisible to the other nuns attending the ceremony.
While she was not formally recognized as a saint, the young and devoutly religious Columba of Rieti also engaged in heavily shamanistic or "ecstatic" behavior in which she scourged herself on a nightly basis and prayed constantly throughout the night. The altered states of consciousness induced by these practices caused her to have dramatic astral visions and deep-level projections out of the body. Once she projected from her body and was discovered completely limp and insensate, so that she was believed to be dead by both her grief-stricken mother and several neighbors, none of whom could wake her. However, she eventually awakened spontaneously on her own, having returned from an astral voyage.
The experience of Columba of Rieti indicates an unusually deep trance similar to that of a witch described by Johan Weyer. After the witch had taken her flying ointment she dropped to the ground in front of the surprised observers, who could not rouse the woman even with heavy physical blows until she had finished her astral voyage. As Weyer described, after emerging from trance she "began a long raving story of crossing seas and mountains, and she brought forth false responses." Yet the experience of an astral voyage in which consciousness is disassociated from the physical body to a profound a degree is completely real in every sensory faculty to the person experiencing it, even though the person is actually in a deep hypnotic trance and the sensory reality of the experience is generated by the subconscious mind.
The Astral Projecting Bishop
The pagan traditions were generally slower to die out in the North, and in some cases the Christianized accounts were barely distinguishable from those in earlier pagan times. One such case is found in the Bishop Sagas (which take place during the ongoing attempts to convert pagans), in which Father Gudmund Arason projects his astral body during sleep to answer a cry for help from a man named Snorri, who was suffering from spirit obsession by a giantess (an evil spirit called a "woman troll" in the saga). The woman troll attacked Snorri while he was travelling in the wilderness on his way to church, and began squeezing him and pushing him toward a mountain. (Accounts of being "squeezed" by malignant spirits are very common throughout old Germanic literature and folklore involving "mares" or "night hags," — these are sometimes vexatious or evil spirits that act indepdently, whereas other times they are sent forth by human witches or sorcerors.) Snorri prayed for Gudmund to help him "if he was in God's counsel as much as he believed himself to be," whereupon Snorri immediately perceived a bright light followed by Gudmund's astral body wearing a Church cloak. Gudmund sprinkled the evil spirit with an aspergillum, and then "the woman troll disappeared as if she were melting into the ground."
Biblical Astral Visions and Spirit Communication
There are many accounts of astral projection and communication with spirits in astral visions in the Christian Bible itself. The experience of Moses atop Mount Sinai had much in common with a shamanic astral voyage, since he remained on the mountain for a great length of time (as in a shamanic vision quest) until he achieved the altered trance state necessary to open the gateways of the subconscious mind and receive an astral vision.
In the case of the various Biblical prophets the visions were more often spontaneously received, since the prophets generally had very shamanistic lifestyles. As has been all too common throughout history, spontaneous astral visions, astral voyages, or hearing the voices of disembodied spirits were frequently interpreted as communication directly from "God." In many cases the recipients were convinced by the spirits (or by themselves) that they were on a holy mission to do whatever the spirits told them to do (or whatever they interpreted the spirits' meaning to be).
One of the most remarkable astral travel experiences was that of Ezekiel. Ezekiel's comment that "the spirit lifted me up between the earth and the heaven, and brought me in the visions of God..." indicates that he was aware that he was having a visionary astral experience rather than that he had been physically carried through the air by God or his angels. During his visionary experience Ezekiel encountered six-winged "angels" with the faces of men, lions, oxen and eagles. Such spirits would most likely have been identified as chimeras or some other beast of classical mythology, and in later Christian times would presumably have been denounced as demons of Satan— were it not for the assumption in this case that the vision was being produced by God. The spirit that Ezekiel identified as God himself presented Ezekiel with a scroll and instructed him to eat it. As Ezekiel related: "So I opened my mouth, and he caused me to eat that roll" (Ezekiel 3:2). This would have been a problematic task if Ezekiel had been present in his physical body, but one very easily accomplished while travelling in the astral realms.