While Theosophists such as Leadbeater had a great deal to say on the theory and structure of the astral planes, critics of Theosophy pointed out that they produced very little material on how the actual practice of astral projection might be accomplished. The exception to this was the Theosophist Oliver Fox, who identified the close relationship between self-hypnosis, lucid dreaming, and astral projection. The psychic researcher Hereward Carrington praised Fox's book Astral Projection, writing that: "The only detailed, scientific and first-hand account of a series of conscious and voluntarily controlled astral projections which I have ever come across is that by Mr. Oliver Fox."
Fox had begun astral travelling and spontaneously entering hypnotic trances as a child, which enabled him to see into the astral dimensions. His spontaneous hypnotic visions had a decidedly "initiatory" quality, as they directly conveyed information about the functional dynamics of both hypnosis and the practice of astral projection. Unfortunately for the young Oliver Fox, most of these spontaneous astral-trance experiences terrified him during his childhood.
The Dream of the Double
When Fox was still very young he began to have a recurring dream which he referred to as "the dream of the Double." In the dream he observed his mother suddenly fall into a trance and stare at him silently with her "beautiful mesmeric eyes," while the light became dim and a strange radiance permeated the atmopshere. A door would then open and a perfectly real astral double of his mother would enter the room and stare at him, and he could not tell which of them was his real mother. The experience terrified Fox for reasons he couldn't entirely explain. He believed these dreams were different from ordinary nightmares because his body had entered "a deeper state of trance than is usual with normal sleep, and that some degree of separation [of the astral body] had occurred, so that my consciousness became invaded by the terrible unreasoning fear so often associated with this trance condition." Fox also had several of the astral doubles of his wife, and of his own "Twin of Darkness" which he described as looking very old and incredibly evil, although he noted that did not feel afraid of this double despite its "wicked appearance."
Spontaneous Hypnotic Trances
Fox appears to be one of the first to accurately identify hypnotic trance as the key operative technique to initiate astral vision, as well as the projection of the astral body. As a child, Fox would occasionally "fall into a reverie" when playing with his toys, after which a subtle change would come over the room, and he would begin to feel frightened and to experience strange phenomena. At the time he could only describe this by saying that "things went wrong." He later identified the phenomenon with his propensity to inadvertently slide into a fairly strong autohypnotic state in which his astral senses became active.
Fox would sometimes go into a hypnotic trance involuntarily and experience the very same subtle change in the waking hypnotic state as he had during the uncommonly intense "dream of the Double." Interestingly, Fox would sometimes spontaneously become the victim of one of the most common tricks stage hypnotists play on their subjects: Suddenly he would be gripped by the illusion that he could not remove his hands from a table and chair. He also experienced the illusion that they were slowly separating, "...yet at the same time I knew with one part of my mind that they were not really moving."
The bewildered young Fox was not in control of these experiences through self-suggestive processes, although he correctly observed that they "were obviously produced by self-hypnosis." Either his own subconscious or a vexatious spirit influencing him through the same faculty appeared to be playing the role of the hypnotist, which would eventually remove the unspoken hypnotic suggestion. As Fox described: "I would struggle to remove my hands and then, just as suddenly, things would 'come right' again."
Fox's Astral Visions
Fox also had an aptitude to see astral visions and spirits in his mind's eye when he entered a theta trance state close to sleep. Fox wrote that: "Sometimes, just before falling asleep, I would see through my closed eyelids a number of small misty-blue or mauve vibrating circles." He described these as "resembling a mass of frog's eggs, and only just on the border line of visibility." After these astral apparitions appeared, each sphere would soon be filled with "a tiny grinning face, with piercing steel-blue eyes," and Fox would heard "a chorus of mocking voices saying very rapidly, as though in tune with the vibration, 'That is it, you see! That is it, you see!'" These spirits always brought Fox "a particularly nasty nightmare," although fortunately they only appeared every few weeks. Fox commented that in later astral projection experiences he continued to see the
Fox had a breakthrough on a later occasion when the blue circles appeared but became filled by tiny glass ink-pots rather than menacing spirits. Fox found he had a measure of influence (through autosuggestion) over which apparition appeared. He described this as performing "a feat of childish magic," in which, as soon as the empty circles appeared, "I would give the command 'Let is be ink-stands!' for I confused the pot with the stand in those days." He found that the ink-pots would then appear and there would be no nightmare, "But I had to be very quick about it or the grinning faces would get in first, I would hear their nonsensical words, and the nightmare would follow in due course."
Fox would often tune into the astral dimensions by inadvertently going into a hypnotic trance while staring at the flame of a gas burner. The familiar golden glow would suffuse the room and he would begin to hear strange noises, and shafts of blue flame "like miniature lightning." These were often followed by monstrous apparitions. "A man with a grotesquely horrible face, a wolf with eyes of fire, a lion, a huge serpent, a great black bear standing erect so that it reached the ceiling— I saw all these at different times," Fox wrote. Fox would yell continuously while the apparition stood still and stared at him, then vanish as soon as Fox's mother entered the room.
Fox also had one notable astral vision "of a pleasant nature," in which "A funny little fellow dressed in brown— rather like those garden gnomes one gets a little tired of seeing nowadays—clambered up on to my bed and smiled at me reassuringly." The spirit pointed to a screen nearby, then a bright circle of light appeared like a magic-lantern. Within this circle a mist formed, like the astral mist so often seen by a scryer prior to the manifestation of a vision, and a pleasant scene of a farmyard appeared in full animation, with moving animals, ducks swimming on a pond, and a woman in a blue dress waving from the doorway of the farmhouse. As Fox wrote: "Presently the picture faded away, and the gnome vanished with a farewell nod and smile, and I was left apparently awake and greatly wondering."
Interpretation of Fox's Astral Visions
Fox's dreams of the double and of being "extended" and pulled apart seem to have been metaphors for the projection experience and the separation of the astral body. The faces in the bubbles may have been vexatious spirits, as there are many of these creatures that are notorious for disturbing children with high sensitivity to astral perceptions. On the other hand, their message "That is it, you see!" may simply have been identifying the transition into the astral state, which was caused by Fox sliding into a hypnotic trance. The ink-pots clued Fox in to the fact that the trance in which astral vision takes place is an autohypnotic state in which Fox had the power to gain a measure of control over the process by giving suggestions to his own subconscious mind. The vision of the gnome was a more obvious case of a benign attempt to assist him in a sort of astral initiation, by showing him how he could use the trance state to see into astral realms of a more pleasant nature.
Lucid Dreaming and the "Pineal Doorway"
Fox used his insights from these experiences to correctly identify self-hypnosis as the operative technique to enable Mind's Eye visions into the astral planes. However the main technique he used was to activate his conscious awareness during dreams and become a lucid dreamer, converting the dream into an "out of body" type of astral projection. Fox also discovered the simple autohypnotic technique that the Golden Dawn refered to as "rising on the planes," in which he imagined himself propelled straight up into the air at a rapid rate. Later in his career Fox developed the technique of projecting himself out of his body through the what he referred to as "the Pineal Doorway" — which is linked to the primary energy center between the eyebrows, commonly known as the Third Eye. The Pineal Doorway technique enabled Fox to project into the astral realms with more clarity and self-control. He also noted that in many cases if he boldly faced a horrifying apparition it would dissipate, flee, or change into something less distressing. Fox was captivated by the beauty of the astral realms, and later wrote that: "Earth was lovely, but the dream celestial was lovelier still. I was haunted by the memory of a beauty not of this world."
However, while using the Pineal Doorway technique Fox eventually experienced hallucinations of his wife calling to him and warning him that he was in great danger. This is a very common phenomenon in astral projection. I have experienced a similar phenomenon numerous times. It often involves family members suddenly crying out in distress while one is on the verge of making some significant breakthrough in the practice of astral projection. It is difficult to say exactly why this takes place. One speculative possibility is that it is a sort of limiting factor emanating from the subconscious — possibly challenging the experimenter to form a decisive plan of campaign and define their own definite reasons for what they are doing. Another possibility is that it is caused by vexatious spirits who act to discourage human spirits from accelerating their progress in astral projection. The latter may sound outlandish to many with no first-hand experience of exploring the astral dimensions, but once one realizes how strange many spiritual beings actually do reside in the astral dimensions and take an interest in influencing human activities, it is perfectly plausible.
Fox's final experiment with the Pineal Doorway technique ended when he attempted to visit an Indian temple on the astral planes. For some reason the projection ended suddenly, and from that point onward, whenever Fox attempted to use the Pineal Doorway, he would see a vision of a black Egyptian ankh hanging in the air to bar his way. Why this happened to Fox was a mystery, but for many other astral voyagers, projection through the Third Eye energy center remains one of the most useful techniques available.