Many New Age authors like to talk about auras–a kind of subtle light energy emanating from every human being–as if everyone knows what they are, but in fact, the scientific tradition does not leave a lot of room for such a force or emanation.
The concept of an aura actually comes from a Western esoteric tradition (Theosophy, Neo-Plantonism) that believe an etheric body, or nonmaterial body composed of very subtle energy, is connected to every human physical body.
The etheric body is something akin to a spirit body. In traditions that believe in its existence, the etheric body is thought to be the lowest level in the human energy field, visible only to those whose ‘third eye’ intuitive center has been awakened.
At death, this etheric body detaches from the actual physical body and continues an existence void of physical form, although in some traditions it is believed that an etheric body can ‘reincarnate’, taking on a new human physical form.
An interesting side note in such traditions is that belief in the human aura or etheric body is accompanied by belief in beings that do not have, nor have they ever had, a physical body on the material plane of existence.
Such beings include angels, nature spirits, elementals, fairies, and devas (intelligent teaching beings, most of which started out as incarnate humans).
Although Western traditions that maintain a belief in humans auras and etheric bodies have been pushed into the father reaches of occult philosophy and New Age thought, in many Eastern religious traditions such beliefs are common and mainstream.
The science of acupuncture is based on the belief in a kind of etheric or energy-based body that flows through the human physical body and maintains specific pressure point or centers that relate to various spiritual, emotional, and physical functions.
Kirlian photography, a specific type of photograph made with a high voltage electrical charge, clearly shows acupuncture pressure points–something that wouldn’t seem likely to happen by chance.
Few scientists are impressed by Kirlian images, but the effectiveness of acupuncture has been well-documented by both Western and Eastern medical science.
Rudolph Steiner (born 1861, died 1925), was an Austrian philosopher, social thinker, architect, and esotericist who founded a school of thought known as Anthroposophy that included many of the ideas connected to the concept of the etheric body.
Steiner’s work was also connected to the philosophical discipline of phenomenology, which continues today and stresses experience over pure reason as a legitimate way of knowing the world and ourselves.
Steiner was looking for a kind of spiritual science–a link that would bridge the worlds of cognitive psychology and mysticism. Steiner’s influence can still be seen today in many Western esoteric traditions, in the humanistic field of transpersonal psychology, and in many form of New Age thought.