Today I’d like to follow up on my review of Ancient Aliens S05E05 "The Einstein Factor" from yesterday. In the program, Giorgio Tsoukalos, Jason Martell, the late Philip Coppens, and others asserted that the ancient peoples of India believed in a parallel dimension called the Akashic Records in which all of the information in the universe is stored and which geniuses can access in order to receive new ideas from this alien world. One part Borges’ “Library of Babel,” one part Lovecraft’s “Through the Gate of the Silver Key,” this realm of infinite knowledge is supposedly the only way new concepts enter our reality, discounting the role of human imagination and creativity.
As I pointed out yesterday, these Akashic Records are a modern creation, not a genuine ancient concept. I thought it was worth looking at this in a bit more detail.
The concept has its murky origins in some actual ancient Indian material, but material very different from the modern interpretation. The concept can be traced back, ultimately, to material from the Mahabharata, where Chitragupta, the son of Brahma, takes on a role similar to that of Jesus and Osiris in judging the dead. In the Anusasana Parva, sec. 130, a fellow named Yams explains what Chitragupta relates about the realm beyond the material world:
Nothing is lost of either piety or sin that is committed by creatures. On days of the full moon and the new moon, those acts are conveyed to the sun where they rest. When a mortal goes into the region of the dead, the deity of the sun bears witness to all his acts. He that is righteous acquires the fruits of his righteousness there.
Here, knowledge is retained in a different realm, but it is knowledge generated on earth about earthly beings. Obviously, this is very different from the idea of humans gaining knowledge from the other realm. In fact, Chitragupta explained to Yams that he was actually referring to acts committed on earth, so that a gift of water yields water in the realm of the dead, a gift of a lamp lights the realm of the dead, etc. Similarly, the sinful are punished for their vileness.
This vague correlation between the spirit realm and the earthly realm was elaborated in the Sāmkhya school of philosophy, from c. 200 CE onward. This philosophical school embraced a particular form of dualism, a separation between consciousness (the self) and matter. The Sāmkhya philosophers read this philosophy backward into older texts, such as the Indra-Vitra myth, which they saw as representing the duality of existence. By understanding the dualism of mind and matter, the soul can be freed to enter a realm of pure consciousness, which can also be read to suggest that it contains absolute knowledge. Occasional references in this school’s texts to the work akasha, meaning “ether,” “air,” or “sky,” suggested to later thinkers a location for this realm of consciousness.
Helena Blavatsky, the fraudulent medium who started the cult of Theosophy, began incorpriating Hindu and Vedic concepts into her system of belief, and she proposed several layers of cosmic consciousness that filtered knowledge downward from other realms to the earth. She did not, however, use the term “akashic records.” She discussed instead Akasha as a substance, like the “Astral Light” of Kabala, which is itself synonymous with all of time, all of space, and all of soul, though even she was not entirely consistent in her use of the word in The Secret Doctrine. She states that it is not ether, but it and ether are of one substance, like God and Jesus. At any rate, she doesn’t talk about Akashic Records as such; they are an extrapolation from Akasha.
Blavatsky also set the stage for Ancient Aliens by proposing that certain occult geniuses received inspiration from the etheric plane, inspirations regulated by higher powers for the good of humanity, though she did not imagine aliens doing the controlling:
Occult Philosophy divulges few of its most important vital mysteries. It drops them like precious pearls, one by one, far and wide apart, and even this only when forced to do so by the evolutionary tidal wave that carries on Humanity slowly, silently, but steadily, toward the dawn of the Sixth Race mankind. For once out of the safe custody of their legitimate heirs and keepers, those mysteries cease to be Occult: they fall into the public domain, and have to run the risk of becoming curses more often than blessings in the hands of the selfish—of the Cains of the human race. Nevertheless, whenever such individuals as the discoverer of Etheric Force are born, men with peculiar psychic and mental capacities, they are generally and more frequently helped, than allowed to go unassisted, groping on their way; if left to their own resources, they very soon fall victims to martyrdom or become the prey of unscrupulous speculators. But they are helped only on the condition that they should not become, whether consciously or unconsciously, an additional peril to their age: a danger to the poor, now offered in daily holocaust by the less wealthy to the very wealthy. (Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 609)
But how did this become the Akashic Records?
At the end of the nineteenth century, the Theosophists, who had moved their center of operations from the United States to India, were increasingly relying on Hindu and Vedic material to generate new elaborations of Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine, which had been about equally divided between Eastern and Western mysticism. Here is where the akashic records originates. Helena Blavatsky had proposed that there was an etheric plane, in which the etheric body existed outside of space and time. According to Theosophists, the etheric plane “vibrated” in tune with the material plane as parallel universes, one of matter and the other of spirit. So if akasha was of the same substance as ether, but more refined than ether, then surely there must be an akashic plane above or beyond the etheric plane (indeed Blavatsky had suggested as much). If on the etheric plane there were “Inter-Etheric Intelligences” (Blavatsky’s name for angels), then the akashic plane must have its own wisdom, too.
Reading about the Hindu belief that Chitragupta kept records of all the sins and virtues, the deeds and actions, of the men of earth, later Theosophists suggested that a godlike being kept records of the past on the akashic plane. On the akashic plane, supposedly the “conscious memory of the Logos of our system” was imprinted, according to Bertram Keightley, a major Theosophical figure. This Logos is a divine being, the “Collective Being,” there being one for each planet.
But contrary to Ancient Aliens and the New Age, at first the Akashic Records were not thought of as bringing information about things that do not yet exist. Keightley explained in 1897 that the Akashic Records merely recorded the events of the past and stored them in the sky (following Chitragupta’s precedent from the Mahabharata), where psychic mediums could access them, since they were but the memories of the collective consciousness of the earth:
The akashic records therefore must not be thought of as a series of pictures or reproductions of events existing continually either on the astral or on the manasic plane, superposed one upon the other or following each other in succession, like a stack of photographs or the ribbon of the cinematograph. But if not of this nature, what then are these "records "? Here one is confronted by the ever-recurring difficulty of in any, even the smallest, degree making intelligible the facts of a higher plane in terms of the experience of a lower. Hence these phrases, "records," "akashic pictures," etc., etc., already applied in our present instance, and the misunderstandings which have arisen through the materialising of these similes. So another attempt must be made, and this time under safe-guard of a most emphatic declaration that whatever may be said can, in the very nature of things, be at best but the very faintest and remotest shadow of the living actuality.
The manasic plane is the plane of pure mind.
By 1919, the Theosophical Swami Bhakta Vishita simply asserted directly that the Akashic Plane merely “contains traces and impressions of all the happenings of the past of this earth.” Rudolph Steiner, a Theosophist who later broke away to found Anthroposophy as a “reformed” Theosophy, used the Akashic Records to “investigate” the true history of Atlantis and Lemuria, which he reported in The Submerged Continents of Atlantis and Lemuria, Their History and Civilization, Being Chapters from the Akashic Record. The English translation was made in 1911, but I’m not sure the exact year of the German edition; it is often reported as 1902 or 1904. Here, while he suggests that the records are related to the “Eternal,” he states that only impressions of past events can be retrieved by the psychic voyager. That neither Atlantis nor Lemuria existed does not speak highly of these records.
But we still aren’t at the modern conception of the Akashic Record as a psychic Library of Babel.
That honor falls to the alleged psychic Edgar Cayce, who in the twentieth century adapted Theosophical concepts in his readings. He claimed to use the Akashic Records to explore Atlantis and other lost worlds. Cayce differed from the Theosophists in attributing to Atlantis the high-technology trappings of science fiction, derived in part from Frederick Oliver’s Dweller on Two Planets (1920). If the Akashic Records were revealing hitherto unremembered ancient technology, then the logical inference was that lost technology could be recovered by psychic probing of the Akashic Records. From here, it is a short step to suggesting that modern people were merely “remembering” the forgotten technology of lost Atlantis and thus “rediscovering” it through psychic connection to the Akashic Records, as New Age writers now do.
Once the connection between high technology and the Akashic Records came about, it was easy enough for later writers to simply suggest that all inventions and ideas came from the divine inspiration of Akasha (some Wiccans believe “spontaneous knowledge” comes from Akasha), even though there was no warrant for attributing future events to a set of records supposedly covering only the past. I would be willing to suggest that science fiction played a role in this development, possibly Borges’ “Library of Babel” (1941), which described a universe that contains every possible book, and Lovecraft’s “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” (1933), which describes a meeting with Yog-Sothoth in which the narrator, Randolph Carter, sees all possible versions of himself, past, present, and future, and sees how Yog-Sothoth stores perfect knowledge of all that was, is, and will be. These are but two of many similar tales of infinite knowledge in another plane. (A potential complication: Written with E. Hoffmann Price, "Gates" is heavily influenced by Price's exploration of Theosophy.)
Today, only some New Age believers follow Ancient Aliens in making the Akashic Records a source of future knowledge; most maintain the Theosophical distinction that these records (as their name implies) preserve past events.
So, in sum, Ancient Aliens and its pundits are simply wrong about every aspect of the allege Akashic Records. They are not ancient, are not Indian, and do not deliver information about things that have yet to be.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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