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C W Leadbeater's The Desire Elemental

The extract below comes from an early Theosophical book written by C W Leadbeater. The copy I read was published in London and Benares in 1903 by the Theosophical Publishing Society.

The Book's is "The Other Side of Death", its over 500 pages long and has 34 chapters. Some of the chapter heads are, Apparitions announcing death; Those who need help; Hauntings; How to meet a ghost; Clairvoyance in Spiritualism, The Mediums body; The Heaven World; How Clairvoyance is Developed.

There is a lot in this book. When I was reading "The Other Side of Death" I was again struck by two things about Leadbeater's writings. One, his writings contain his fantasy material and may be wildly inaccurate. And two he has great perception into the lower aspects of the Spiritual Worlds.

At the time he was writing Theosophy was linked to the doings of mediums and what we now classify as the Spiritualist Church. Leadbeater had some involvement in this area. And pause to think, so did Jung. Jung's grandfather was a Pastor who conversed with his dead wife every week. And his second wife needed to stand behind him to keep bad spirits away.

I think Leadbeater met the Double. But he described it in Theosophical and Indian terms. He certainly didn't have the breadth of understanding that Steiner or Aurobindo displayed in their writings. But again, these authors wrote many years later.

Chapters 8 - "The Desire Elemental" is the one from where this extract is taken. (Pages 95 to 102)

The Desire-Elemental

... This introduces into it certain characteristics to which it is not easy for us to accustom ourselves. To us {as spiritual intellectual beings} all progress invariably means rising from the material to the spiritual.

But this essence {ie our Double} is on the downward evolutionary arc, and therefore for it advancement means greater materiality, and its desire is to meet with the strongest and coarsest vibrations which it can find; whereas the man himself needs for his progress exactly the opposite conditions in every respect, to rise away as far as may be from material conditions, and to respond only to the more delicate vibrations of the higher aspirations.

This mass of living essence {ie The Double} then inhabits the chaotic astral body which the soul has drawn round himself. The Double then enters into Physical incarnation and takes possession of the physical body which is being built for him in accordance with the deserts of his last life. By slow degrees as this Physical body grows, the soul {ie the Spiritual part} gains more and more control over the Astral and Mental matter. And begins definitely to build the vehicles through which he has to express himself during this incarnation.

As he grows, the desires begin to develop within him, and he allows himself to feel certain emotions, in order to build this chaotic astral matter into a definite astral body full of colour and vibration. The same process is also taking place with the mental body, but let us for the moment devote ourselves to the consideration of the formation of the astral.

A Temporary Entity.

This living essence which the man has drawn into himself is temporarily separated from the sea of life from which it came, and thus has really for the time an existence as a separate entity in a body ... the man's astral body. Now the characteristics of elemental essence are peculiar. It cannot be said to possess any intelligence, because it is not yet even at the level of a mineral, and we are not in the habit of crediting the mineral with anything that can be called intelligence.

Yet this essence has an extraordinary power of adapting itself to its surroundings, and extracting from them what it needs, which certainly does sometimes look very much like a partial intelligence or very keen instinct. We have said that its evolution is by means of vibration, and vibration in the astral plane is always the result of passion or emotion of some sort. Consequently, when floating in the atmosphere this essence depends for its development upon the surges of passion or emotion which reach it from the various living creatures which are sufficiently developed to have such feelings. This will include not only men, but animals and also nature-spirits and that lowest order of the deva evolution which bears in Sanskrit the name of kama-deva to indicate that it is still subject to the action of desire. It is obvious, considering the vast sea of elemental essence, that it would be only occasionally that any particular particle of it would come within the vibration sent forth from any of these living beings.

But those particles which are drawn into and form part of the astral body of a man are themselves for a time at one of the centres from which such vibration radiates, and so will be experiencing it continually, and they will consequently get very much more of it in any given time than if they had remained in the general sea of essence outside.

The curious half-instinct which the essence possesses seems to be quite sufficient to enable those particles to be somehow conscious of this; they somehow realize that they are in a desirable position and they coalesce into what must be described as kind of temporary entity, inspired by (and sufficiently self conscous to have) the determination to maintain its position of advantage. The particles of the astral body

The particles of the astral perpetually being thrown off and changed, just as is the case with the physical body; but nevertheless the feeling of individuality is communicated to the new particles as they enter, and the essence which is included within each man's astral body undoubtedly feels itself a kind of entity, and acts accordingly for what it considers its interests.

Opposing Interests.

These interests, as will be seen from what has been previously said, are usually diametrically opposed to those of the soul. The soul {the spiritual aspect} desires the highest and purest vibrations, and reaches ever upward away from the material. This desire-elemental, {the Double} on the contrary, craves ever stronger and coarser vibrations, and is reaching ever downwards more and more deeply into matter. Hence there is a perpetual struggle between the two-or, as St. Paul describes it, "the law in the members warring against the law of the mind."

But it goes even further than this. This entity finds involved within itself finer matter of some sort-the matter of the man's mind-body; and it presently discovers by experience that when that matter vibrates synchronously with its own it obtains much more vivid vibration and much more of it. Consequently it learns that if it can contrive to stir up this finer matter into sympathy with it ... that is to say, from our point of view, if it can induce us to believe that we desire that sensation which it desires - it will get a good deal more of it. Consequently it becomes to us a sort of tempter, trying to create in us desires for all sorts of gross sensations.

Nevertheless we must be careful not to fall into the old theological delusion that this is an evil entity, a devil intentionally attempting to, drag us down into the commission of sin. This elemental is not evolving as an entity at all; it has no power of reincarnation as a whole; it is only the essence of which it is composed which is in process of evolution. Nor has even this shadowy being any evil design upon us. Absorbed in itself, it knows nothing whatever about the man of whom for ^ the time it forms a part; it would be entirely impossible that it should in any way comprehend him, or know anything about his type of evolution. If it could in any blind way sense his upward strivings, they could only seem to it in turn as temptations, dragging it backwards from the course of evolution in which it was destined to proceed.

But as a matter of fact it cad know nothing whatever about the man; it realizes only that here is a condition in which it can obtain sensation, and the more vivid it is the better it is pleased. It cannot in the least matter to it whether the sensation is pleasant or painful to the man; it is simply pursuing its own development, and is utterly unconscious that it may be producing serious effects with regard to a higher type of progress which, if it could see it, would necessarily appear to it to be no progress at all, but retrogression. So it is in no way a fiend to be regarded with horror; it is as much a part of the divine life as the man himself, only at a different stage of its unfoldment.

So, from our point of view its action is often a "temptation"; we say that our desires are surging downwards and are causing us much trouble; whereas, if we could only realize it, they are not our desires at all, but those of the elemental. It is very true that this elemental life within us is what we have made it, and is an expression of ourselves. If in a previous life we had controlled and purified our desires, then we should find ourselves in association with a desire-elemental of a much pleasanter type, instead of one with low sensual vibrations which are necessarily objectionable to us now that we are striving to live a purer and higher life. We ourselves have created it, yet that is no reason why we should become slaves to it, but on the contrary we must learn to control it and realize ourselves as apart from it. How can we best deal with it ?

How to cope with it.

First of all, we must clearly realize that we are always to identify ourselves with the higher and not with the lower in any struggle which takes place. We must not say or think to ourselves, "I want this or that lower thing." Each must say to himself, "I want whatever will help my unfoldment as a soul, whatever will help me and will help others to reach a higher level. "I want none of these lower things." When strong vibrations sweep through his astral body, when a wild wave he must not think, "I want to get into a rage," or "I want to do something to injure some one." On the contrary, he must think, "My desire is to keep cool, to keep out of this disturbance. Here is this desire-elemental very anxious to get me into a rage in order to give it the pleasure of anger, or to make me indulge in acts of sensuality in order that it may receive the strong vibrations connected with it. I shall not give it that gratification; I shall attend to my own business as a soul. It is not I who want all these low, horrible things - not I who am grasping after them and endeavouring to obtain them. Why, then, should I so far lower my dignity as to allow myself to be used for its own objects by something which is not yet even a mineral ?"

The important thing is that the man should realize that he is the higher force, always moving towards and battling for good, while this lower force is not he at all, but only an uncontrolled fragment of one of his lower vehicles. He must learn to control it, to dominate it absolutely, and to keep it in order; but he should not therefore think of it as evil, but as an outpouring of the divine power moving on its orderly course, though that course, in this instance happens to be downwards into matter instead of upwards and away from it, as ours is.

Misplaced Tenderness.

Some of our Theosophical students are so tenderhearted, and have developed the theory of unselfishness to -such an extent, that they seem to feel that we ought to consider the feelings of this poor elemental, and give it something of what it desires. The feeling is estimable, but not rational. If we unfortunately have in our astral body essence of the type which desires the coarser sensations, that essence is very distinctly out of place in our vehicle. It would obtain what it desires much more efficaciously if it formed part of the astral body of a dog, or of some still lower animal, and the sooner we cast it out and replace it by essence of a higher type, the better it will be for us.

We have a duty towards the elemental essence, but it is to provide vehicles for that higher variety of it which. could not otherwise develop at all. All the lower conditions may just as well, be evolved in the bodies of savages and of animals; there is an enormous field for such development among our less advanced fellow-men, as well as in the whole animal kingdom; and there is no reason whatever why we should go out of our way to do other people's work and leave our own higher task undone. By refusing to gratify the lower desires, we are gradually changing the essence within us and building a different creature, for all the low particles which are thrown out are replaced by higher and finer ones. If we control our desires and live the Theosophical life, we shall close this incarnation with a very much better type of desire elemental than we brought with us at birth.


When the physical body is dropped at death the whole arrangement of the sheaths which constitute the personality may be said to' be beginning to break up, and the disintegration of the astral body is even already commencing. The desire elemental feels this instinctively, and at once takes fright. It fears that it will lose this habitation which is enabling it to remain apart from the rest of the essence and is thus giving it an unusual opportunity for progress; and so it immediately sets to work to protect itself. Its method is a very ingenious one, for it rearranges the particles of matter in the astral body so that they will resist disintegration as long as possible. When the astral body finally dissipates that will be the end of the elemental as a sepa- rate entity, so it is fighting for its life, as it were.

By this rearrangement of the astral body it has the man to a great extent still in its power, although it know's nothing of all that. It lays the matter of the denser part of the astral body in concentric shells, so that only the densest is on the outside and is exposed to friction. Usually it does not interfere at all with the small amount of matter which lay outside the surface of the physical body and formed the luminous ovoid mist. It knows well that it can afford to neglect that, and proceeds to intrench itself securely in the enormously greater mass of denser astral matter which exists within what was previously the physical shape. But the result of this proceeding is most undesirable for the comfort and the progress of the soul, whose object is now to withdraw into himself as speedily as possible. The prolongation of the astral life is therefore in itself undesirable ...

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original content and selection by Steven Guth,
page uploaded 14 September 2003