A Brief History of Out of Body Experiences

out of body experienceAn increasing amount of people all over the world are having out of body experiences (OBEs), and the literature compiled by research foundations records a rich contemporary case-by-case account of these. OBEs can happen spontaneously, such as in moments of ecstasy or crisis, or deliberately, after meditative practice and applied technique. Our understanding of these mind states is growing exponentially every year, such as what is happening in the brain during them, how to induce them, and how to use them towards psychological and spiritual evolution.

What is fascinating is that there have been millennia-old accounts of OBEs by mystics, prophets, and laypeople alike who have had experiences which, although they might have used different terminology to describe them than we do, are surely the same phenomenon we speak of today. Having this historical perspective is enriching and empowering. It enriches our lives by connecting them to the traditions of the past, and empowers us by seeing that as other people have had these experiences, we are part of a long tradition of people whose minds have allowed them to see beyond the pale of normal, physical reality.

Mohammad’s Night Journey

night journeyIn Islam, there is a very important story about a night when the prophet Mohammad went on a fantastic journey, traveling a great distance over the Earth, and then to Heaven and back. In an experience which many interpret literally and some interpret as a vision, a white animal like a horse was given to him, and he traveled from Mecca to Jerusalem, where at the site of what is now the Dome of the Rock, he prayed and then traveled to heaven on the animal, through all of the seven heavens, eventually returning to Mecca, Earth, the same evening. It was on this journey through the successive heavens that God told him that Muslims should pray five times a day


The Man Mentioned in 2 Corinthians

In the New Testament of the Bible, 2 Corinthians 12:2-5, the writer speaks of a man who had gone up to the “third heaven,” or paradise, and saw and heard “inexpressible things, that no one is permitted to tell.” It states twice that it was not known if the man had done these things while in his body, or apart from it, and that only God could know that. This is a clear case of what many call an OBE.


The Merkabah in Judaic Mysticism

Based primarily on Ezekial’s vision of the Divine Chariot or merkabah, some Jewish mystics used this vision in order to induce a kind of prayerful, meditative inner state whereby they could ascend to the seven heavens, communing with beings and seeing great celestial visions. The merkabah is very similar to other ideas of astral and subtle bodies, as it means a chariot or vehicle. There are incredible accounts of the ‘ascents’ and ‘descents’ of these mystics, many of them Rabbis from the first millennia AD, and of the purification rites, methods, and incantations necessary to navigate these divine realms. This mystical system is a powerful example of people using their minds and meditative states to access seemingly divine or celestial realms, drawing knowledge, wisdom, and secrets from them.


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How We Can Learn From This History

These are only three instances to be found from some of the world’s major religions where a human being had what can best be called an out of body experience, of some sort. There are countless other examples, such as that of the ancient Egyptians, the Tibetan Buddhists, on up to the visions of William Blake and Emanuel Swedenborg. Having this sense of historical perspective tends to ground and contextualize our experiences, and enrich and empower us in our explorations of the mind and the astral.

As we have seen, the concept of out of body experiences or astral travel has been a part of the major world religions throughout the millennia, and the purpose has been to learn, to experience gnosis, to expand vision and awareness, inner and outer. We can do the same today, whenever we decide to begin the journey.



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