The "Theosophic Glance": Fluid Ontologies, Subtle Bodies and Intuitive Vision

Jay Johnston


Considering the concept of Subtle Bodies necessitates thinking about vision and relation, and their interrelation. It requires examining the 'between' spaces figured in I-other, subject-object, matter-consciousness and spirit-matter relations. This essay seeks to step into this task by providing a general outline of the concept of subtle bodies, and to consider two ontological schemes that support the view of matter-consciousness inherent in its models. It will also consider the modalities of perception that are understood as necessary for the apprehension of subtle subjects and their dynamic relations. In particular, it will examine the ontological model proposed by Henri Bergson, that can be read as providing a foundation (albeit fluid) for subtle subjectivity. Drawn from the Western philosophical tradition, Bergson's ontology will be considered in relation to the modern Theosophical Society's rendering of subtle bodies (influenced by the tenets of the Western Esoteric Tradition). In considering these areas the paper aims to highlight conceptual interrelationships across the disciplines of Western philosophy and Esoteric spirituality and plot some of the divergent conceptual foundations through which the idea of subtle bodies has entered Western culture.

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