(Update, June 23: This post was considerably amended to correct some mistakes I made in describing the activity level of the double during earthly life, a problem pointed out by Zerdini in comments.)
My last post concerned the idea of the etheric double, a duplicate body that takes over for us when our earthly body dies. The idea was presented in some channeled material produced by Geraldine Cummins in her book Beyond Human Personality.
Of course, the idea of a double - astral body, soul body, etc. - is hardly new. It dates back at least as far as ancient Egypt. According to the Egyptians, each person was born with a ka, or twin. One Web site says:
It was thought that the creator god Khnum created a person's Ka when he created the person on his potter's wheel. The Ka then followed the person like a shadow or double all through life, but when the person died, the Ka returned to its heavenly abode.
Other sources (like this one) say the ka remained in the tomb, rather than going to heaven. In any event, it was conceived of as a double or twin of the human being, and was represented as an exact duplicate in Egyptian art. (More about the ka here.)
Variants of the idea of the "double" are found in other traditions, such as the kama rupa of Theosophy, the perispirit of Allan Kardec's writings, and the subtle body of many religions.
For Christians, the most famous description of the subtle body is the one given by St. Paul in First Corinthians 15:35-50. Paul calls it the resurrection body:
35But someone may ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?" 36How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body ....
42So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body .... 50I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. [New International Version, via Bible Gateway]
As presented in Cummins' book, the etheric double is a secondary body through which the mind/soul operates. The double serves as an interface between the mind/soul and the physical body. As "Myers" says,
But the soul has to work through the medium of the double and never directly commands matter. Always there is this unifying body which comes between the self and his outward appearance in the material world.
The double is active at all times, but is independently active - i.e., functioning independently of the physical body - only on certain occasions, such as when the physical body is asleep or comatose. The rest of the time, the etheric body is closely entwined with the physical body.
The etheric double is not merely superficially identical to the physical body. It is said to contain all the same organs, vessels, nerves, and so forth, including, of course, an etheric brain. While the mind/soul may have difficulty operating through an aging, damaged, or defective physical brain (even with the etheric double as an interface), no similar difficulties would be encountered in operating through the etheric brain directly, since the etheric form is free from the effects of age, injury, or illness. Thus, the dying person feels himself reborn in a body that is a duplicate of his earthly body, but without earthly weaknesses and flaws - a body that is familiar, yet different; his own, yet new.
A post I published earlier this year contains an "eyewitness account" of the separation of an etheric double from the physical body, as reported by the clairvoyant Andrew Jackson Davis. Here's part of what I wrote back in March:
John DeSalvo's worthwhile albeit regrettably brief book Andrew Jackson Davis: The First American Prophet and Clairvoyant contains some interesting material on the 19th century medium. One chapter recounts Davis's experience in a hospital when he observed two dying men. Davis reported that he saw, clairvoyantly, the entire dying process. His description matches up pretty well with accounts collected by Robert Crookall in his books on death and dying, such as Intimations of Immortality.
Observing one of the unconscious patients, Davis wrote,
There was, at first, a broad, ribbon-shaped current arising from the epigastrium. As it ascended, it separated, and expanded into a sort of fleecy steam-cloud, about three feet above the bosom, in the air where the effulgent elements assumed the form of an inverted pyramid with a turbinate envelope, which was, by a strong psychical cord, attached to the solar ganglia, a sort of linea alba tube.
The inverted pyramidal cloud gradually assumed an oval shape externally, amid, internally, a representation of the perfect ellipse, approximating to a globular form, and with a throbbing sun-bright nucleus, which seemed like the germ-cell from which, in a few moments, the miracle would be wrought of an immediate incubation, rapidly resulting in the production of a full-formed and indescribably perfect angel man!
An illustration commissioned by Davis shows a luminous oval cloud issuing from the supine patient's midsection and head. Though two cords are shown connecting the cloud to the patient, the idea seems to be that there is only one cord (the "broad, ribbon-shaped current"), which begins at the solar plexus and then gradually moves up to the head.
Once the cloud is fully formed, the patient's spirit flows through it "with lightning rapidity and vividness," forming a full-sized replica of the patient's body, starting with the head and working downward. In the illustration this body is shown still inside the now-expanded cloud, hovering vertically over the patient in a standing position.
Before the outline of the immortal head was visible, I observed that the cloud-like appearance of the emulations, as a whole, manifested several remarkable innate movements. There were vertical motions, upward and downward; lateral motions, like an anchored balloon, from side to side; then rotatory or gyrating motions, like a spinning-top immediately before losing its momentum. These various graceful motions completely subsided, and the whole became absolutely still, when the formation had advanced sufficiently to unfold the head and bust.
It was remarkable, the perfect progressiveness manifested in each succeeding stage of development. The two men patients were leaving the earth together, with only a few feet of airy space between; yet they were as absolutely without consciousness of each other's existence as though they were departing with the earth's entire diameter between them. In reality, there was no self consciousness in either during the metamorphosis. One was being born (or, in earthly words, one was dying) about an hour in advance of the other; which interesting difference gave me, as a medical student an opportunity to classify the successive stages of the marvelous process.
Davis goes on to say that the spirit, once separated from the body, enters a bright light and emerges in a heavenly environment surrounded by departed loved ones.
If the "Myers" communication in Beyond Human Personality is accurate, then what Davis saw was not an original formation of the etheric double but its re-formation after separating from the physical body. The etheric double, which previously served mainly as the interface between the mind/soul and the earthly body, becomes the only vehicle through which the person's mind/soul operates, now that his earthly vehicle is defunct.
In comments, both Michael Tymn and Zerdini give additional examples of such "eyewitness accounts." Such accounts are fairly common; here are a few cases collected by William Barrett.
The idea of the etheric double seems to address the issue of how the mind/soul can continue to be individuated and distinctly personal when the physical brain is no more. It has a long pedigree and has won acceptance in many cultures, and is a persistent part of modern spiritualist communications.
Of course, one might argue that the double is some sort of Jungian archetype, and that it crops up so persistently in so many places merely because it is a symbol hardwired into the human psyche. Maybe so.
Or maybe "Myers," Davis, and sages throughout history have known what they were talking about, and there really is a spirit double that continues to receive our consciousness after we pass on.