Psychical research has identified the following types of situations in which out-of-body experiences (OBEs) or astral projections might occur:
In addition to these spontaneous, involuntary experiences, there also seem to be those voluntary and conscious projections during which the subjects deliberately endeavor to free their spirit, their soul, from their physical body. It would appear that certain people have exercised this peculiar function of the transcendent self to the extent that they can project their spiritual essence at will and produce ghosts, apparitions, of the living.
Early psychical researcher Edmund Gurney (1847–1888) told of the incredible experiments of a Mr. S. H. Beard in his Phantasms of the Living, published in 1886. Beard began his experiments with "astral projection" in November of 1881 on a Sunday evening after he had been reading about the great power which the human will is capable of exercising. Exerting the whole force of his being on the thought that he would be present in spirit on the second floor of a particular house, Beard managed to project an apparition of himself that was visible to his fiancee, Miss L. S. Verity.
Three days later, when Beard went to call upon Verity, a very excited young woman told him that she and her 11-year-old sister had nearly been frightened out of their wits by an apparition that had looked just like him. Beard felt quite pleased with the success of his experiment. Verity's sister confirmed his "ghost's" appearance; in fact, the whole matter of a spectral visitation had been brought up without any allusion to the subject on Beard's part.
Verity later told Edmund Gurney that she distinctly saw Beard in her room, about one o'clock. "I was perfectly awake and was much terrified," she said. "I awoke my sister by screaming, and she saw the apparition herself. Neither my sister nor I have ever experienced hallucinations of any sort."
Although Beard did not disclose his intentions to Verity, he was by no means finished with his experiments. The second time he was seen by a married sister of Verity's, whom he had met briefly only once before. Beard walked up to the bed on which the sister lay, took her long hair into his hand, and, a bit later, took her hand into his.
When investigator Gurney learned of Beard's second successful projection, he wrote him a note and urged him to let him know the next time that he planned to experiment. Beard complied, and, in a letter dated March 22, 1884, he told the researcher simply, "This is it."
Gurney next heard from Beard on April 3. A statement from Verity was enclosed: "On Saturday night…I had a distinct impression that Mr. S. H. B. was present in my room, and I distinctly saw him whilst I was widely awake. He came towards me and stroked my hair . . . . The appearance in my room was most vivid and quite unmistakable."
Again, Verity testified that she had voluntarily given Beard the information without any prompting on his part. Beard concluded his experiments after this episode for Verity's nerves "had been much shaken, and she had been obliged to send for a doctor in the morning."
Sylvan J. Muldoon was one of those who claim that astral projection can be learned, developed, and mastered by the serious-minded. In his two books, The Projection of the Astral Body (1929) and The Case for Astral Projection (1936), Muldoon offers a detailed record of many experiments he personally conducted, and provides a systematic method of inducing the conditions necessary for astral projection. According to Muldoon, it is possible to leave the body at will and retain full consciousness in the "astral self." Muldoon was also cognizant of a "silver cord" connecting the phantom body and the physical body. This cord, said Muldoon, is extremely elastic and permits a journey of considerable distance. Muldoon claimed to have been able to move objects while in his astral self and to have gained information that he could not have acquired via any of the normal sensory channels.
In his book Far Journeys (1987), Robert Monroe provides details of his Gateway Program, which claims to be able to teach any serious subject the ability to travel out of the body and to escape the known dimensions of the physical universe. Monroe has spent many years researching various techniques in moving the soul or mind out of the physical body and has established an institute where students can experience his methods and techniques.
The area of "living ghosts" that has received the greatest amount of study in the twenty-first century is that of the near-death-experience (NDE). In December 2001, the prestigious British medical publication The Lancet released the results of an extensive study conducted by Dr. Pim van Lommel and his colleagues at Hospital Rijnstate in Arnhem, Netherlands, which indicates that a number of subjects experienced visions or lucid thoughts while they were clinically dead. Some of those subjects also reported out-of-body experiences, indicating that the mind/soul and the brain are independent of one another and that consciousness can exist when
Frederic W. H. Myers (1843–1901) has written that cases of astral projection present perhaps not the most useful, "but the most extraordinary achievement of the human will. What can lie further outside any known capacity than the power to cause a semblance of oneself to appear at a distance? What can be more a central action—more manifestly the outcome of whatsoever is deepest and most unitary in man's whole being? Of all vital phenomena, I say, this is the most significant; this self-projection is the one definite act which it seems as though a man might perform equally well before and after bodily death."