Sylvan Muldoon

by Susan Blackmore

By the mid 1920s Hereward Carrington had written many books about psychical research and had mentioned more than once the phenomenon of astral projection, but he mainly condensed the work of others and gave little information that would be of interest to someone who had a spontaneous OBE. Then in November 1927 he received a letter from a young American called Sylvan Muldoon, telling him in no uncertain terms what he thought of his book. Muldoon wrote, 'What puzzles me most is that you make the remark that M. Lancelin has told practically all that is known on the subject. Why, Mr Carrington, I have never read Lancelin's work, but if you have given the gist of it in your book, then I can write a book on the things that Lancelin does not know!' Muldoon went on to sketch a wealth of details about the astral world, the silver cord, and the formation and movement of the phantom. Naturally enough, Carrington's curiosity was aroused. He contacted Muldoon, and together they wrote two books. The first was The Projection of the Astral Body and was mainly an account of Muldoon's own experiences. The second The Phenomena of Astral Projection contained a collection of cases.

Muldoon's first conscious projection occurred when he was 12 years old. He awoke in the middle of the night to find himself conscious, but not knowing where he was, and apparently unable to move, a condition he later called astral catalepsy. Gradually the sensation of floating took over, and then a rapid up-and-down vibration and a tremendous pressure in the back of his head. Out of this nightmare of sensations the boy's hearing gradually began to return and then his sight, by which he could see that he was floating in the room above his bed. Some force took hold of him and pulled him from horizontal to vertical. He saw his double lying quietly asleep on the bed, and between the two of them stretched an elastic-like cable which joined the back of the head of his conscious self, to a spot between the eyes of the body in bed, six feet of so away. Swaying and pulling against the cord Muldoon tried to walk to another room to wake someone, but found that he passed right through the door, and through the bodies of other sleepers too, when he tried to shake or clutch them. Frightened, he roamed around the house for what seemed like fifteen minutes, and then slowly the pull of the cord increased and he found himself being pulled back to his body. Everything went in reverse. He tipped back to horizontal, again became cataleptic, felt the same vibrations and then, with a jerk, dropped back into the body. He was awake and alive again.

Muldoon went on to experience hundreds more projections but he was not fully conscious in all of them from beginning to end as he was in the first one. This one is especially interesting because it included so many of the features which were to form a part of his later writings. First, there is the astral catalepsy. At the beginning of a projection the catalepsy lasts until the phantom has assumed a vertical position, whereupon it becomes free to move again. The appearance and effect of the cord, or cable, varies greatly according to Muldoon. When the astral is close to the physical the cord is about the diameter of a silver dollar, although its surrounding aura makes it look larger. When it is thick like this it exerts a powerful 'magnetic pull' and one is then in what Muldoon calls 'cord activity range'. In his experiments in projection he found that this range varies from about 8 feet to 15 feet, and this depends on physical vitality. When the physical body is healthy the cord exerts the most effect and over the greatest range. Indeed, in many cases it makes projection impossible. When the body is weakened in some way the activity of the cord is correspondingly weaker and projection is easier and the cord activity range less. This is why illness or physical weakness, as well as fasting, are conducive to projection, leading up to that final projection -- death. It is therefore significant that both Fox and Muldoon were often ill. When the astral body manages to pull away from the physical and out of cord activity range it becomes free to move at will, and the cord is then stretched to its thinnest, about the thickness of sewing thread.

Once away from the physical the astral is supposed to have three moving speeds. At its slowest it simply walks, or moves as a physical body would. At the intermediate speed the projector feels still and everything passes backwards. Streaks of light thrown off by the astral body trail behind. Finally at supernormal speed the phantom can cover great distances without being aware of them, faster than the mind can imagine. Covering such distances one might think that astral body could get lost, but Muldoon categorically denies this. While the cord is intact it can always pull the projector back.

It is Muldoon's contention that projection, at least partial projection, is commoner than most of us think. When we receive a shock or physical blow the astral may temporarily separate, and under anaesthesia it projects, although we usually do not recall the excursion. He even suggests that if the physical body is stopped suddenly, for example in a car, then the astral may continue for a moment, so leading to feeling of sickness. All kind of odd feeling, fainting, breath-taking sensations, and jerks before falling asleep, are attributed to partial separation of the double. Most important, though, is projection during sleep. In natural sleep, claims Muldoon, the astral separates slightly to be replenished with 'cosmic energy'. Most of us do not realize this and remain unconscious throughout; but in falling, flying, and other special dreams we can experience just part of the astral body's night-time travels.

In his experiments Muldoon discovered many other features. Like Fox he found that emotional involvement in anything would terminate the projection. Sexual desire he found a negative factor, but some kinds of stress could help in inducing projection. When the body is immobilized in sleep, for example, if there is a strong desire for something the astral may try to leave to get it. Similarly the breaking of a long-established habit can lead to projection. Muldoon related this to hauntings in which, he claims, the phantom may continue with accustomed routines.

Some of Muldoon's most interesting experiment are those in which he tries, in his astral body, to affect material objects. This is not easy. The reason, he explains, is that the astral body has a higher rate of vibration when it is far away from the physical, and the higher the rate of vibration, the less it can interact with objects of a low vibration rate. This is necessarily so, he claims, because if the astral body were not at this higher state of vibration it could never pass through material objects, and if it were always at the highest rate then other astral entities would not be able to pass through it on their travels, which clearly they can. This leads to the conclusion that the astral body gains higher vibrations as it moves further from the physical, and consequently it becomes less able to affect material objects.

In addition Muldoon argues that the conscious will cannot move object in the astral, but only the subconscious, or crypto-conscious, mind. On one occasion when he was very ill he tried to call out to his mother but failed to wake her. Getting out of bed he crawled across the floor, but fainted, and only his astral body ascended the stairs. His consciousness then faded; but next he knew, he found his mother and small brother discussing excitedly how the mattress had lifted up and nearly thrown them out of bed. Although other explanations can be suggested, Muldoon attributes the effect to the crypto-conscious will. On another occasion he produced raps which were heard by others when he was dreaming of producing them; but on many occasions he failed to touch or move physical objects when projected.

One of the facts Muldoon stresses is the importance of thought in the astral. Thought holds up the astral body, for when it walks upon an upper floor, it is not the floor which holds it up (it could easily pass through that); it is habits of thought. In fact thought is everything in the astral world. Critics, he realized, would be worried by the clothes of the phantom. Why should the astral body wear earthly suits, pyjamas and dresses, as so many have reported? The answer, he explained, is that 'thought creates in the astral, and one appears to others as he is in mind. In fact, the whole astral world is governed by thought.'

Many readers will find Muldoon's descriptions difficult to understand. He does not give simple descriptive accounts as Fox did. Instead every account is steeped in the theory which he so laboriously developed. Some of his findings, such as the power of thought in the astral world, and the methods of moving, are familiar from other accounts; but his detailed description of the cord and its activity range is quite idiosyncratic, as are his method and position of projecting.

Muldoon constantly adjures reader to try for themselves, perhaps the only way to learn many things about astral projection. But I am sure that most people who try it will find that only some of Muldoon's elaborate details fit their own experience. Above all we are beginning to see just how variable the OBE can be. Perhaps the most important discovery so far is that 'thought creates in the astral'. As one person's thought differs from another's, so we may expect his OBE to differ. In the next chapter we shall learn that three habitual travellers have described experiences that are different again.

  1. Muldoon, Sylvan and Carrington, Hereward. The Projection of the Astral Body (London: Rider & Co., 1929)
  2. --. The Phenomena of Astral Projection (London: Rider & Co., 1951)


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