The human aura has been reported by psychics for thousands of years. These independent yet similar reports of a visible glow around the human body suggest that the aura does exist, at least in the mind of the beholder. The question is: “What is the human aura?” Is it truly light emanating from the body, or is it some other phenomena perceived only by a few?

When news of Kirlian photography arrived in the U.S. in 1970 with the publication of Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain by Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder, it seemed that these questions were close to being answered. The Kirlian photographs were said to be pictures of the aura. The photographic technique revealed a vast difference between inorganic and organic materials. The inorganic remained constant, whereas living things revealed a constantly changing luminescence.

Kirlian photography is a process whereby an electric field is applied to an object near, or in direct contact with a photographic film. No camera or lens is needed. The process is conducted in total darkness, and if the electric field is of sufficient intensity (about one million volts per meter) a pattern of electromagnetic radiation within the region surrounding the object is displayed on the film.

Although several investigators discovered independently that photographic film could be exposed by means of an electric field, it was the work of Semyon and Valentina Kirlian that launched the association of Kirlian photography with parapsychology. The possibility of electromagnetic radiation from the human body could have important implications relating to extrasensory communications between living organisms, research on the survival of consciousness and the assessment of a person’s mental state or physical health.

The aura concept arises in different centuries and among different peoples without apparent connection. It appears as an integral part of ancient Indian and Tibetan religion. It finds mention in Egyptian and Chaldean magical systems and in the Bible. And the concept can be traced right through to the early Christian and Renaissance painters. More recently it has appeared as a developed system in several of the Western spiritual movements.

The aura appears to sensitive sight as a complex and dynamic atmosphere of “light” surrounding the body. According to ancient tradition every person has an aura particular to his personality and physiology. On the personality level, the aura reflects not only the stable character but also every fleeting emotion and thought. Great stress is laid not only on the color tone but also its quality; this is usually spoken of in terms of clarity and purity versus muddiness and opaqueness. Interpretation is also based on the quantity, stability and positions of the colors.

At the physiological level, the aura seems to be a direct reflection of the energy level and states of every bodily organ, function, and tissue. The health aura seems to indicate that disease is due to energy imbalance and blocks in certain energy channels. Many disorders are said to appear in the aura before any noticeable physiological change takes place.

Some say that the aura is actually a misnomer. They believe the human body is interpenetrated by another body of energy — the force field which holds the atoms of the body in and infuses them with vitality. The luminescence from this second body radiating outward is supposedly seen as the aura. We look, they say, something like an eclipse of the sun by the moon, the luminous second body being completely concealed by the physical body.

The inorganic remained constant, whereas living things revealed a constantly changing luminescence.

Over one hundred years ago, the German chemist, Karl Von Reichenbach, also reported an energy or luminescence radiating from humans, plants and animals. He called it “Odic force,” after the Norse god Odin, to suggest the idea “all-pervasive.”

In the early 1900’s Dr. Walter J. Kilner of St. Thomas’ Hospital in London discovered that by looking through dye-stained glass screens, he could actually see an aura around the human body. According to Kilner, it was a bluish grey cloud of radiation extending 8 to 12 inches and showing distinct traces of other colors. Fatigue, diseases, or moods could alter the size and color of the aura, and it was also affected by magnetism, hypnosis, and electricity. He also developed a system for diagnosing illness from the aura.

Kilner’s work has been extended by Oscar Bagnall, who concurred with Kilner’s findings and also gave a detailed explanation as to the procedure to follow in making the aura visible. Some may observe it merely by gazing at a person in a dimly illuminated room. In studying the aura, according to Bagnall, the eye is first sensitized by gazing at the sky through the same type of filter used by Kilner. The observer then sits with his back to a window, and the subject stands before a neutral screen. Bagnall hypothesized that auric light is ultraviolet and has definite wavelengths that lie beyond the visible spectrum (in the region extending from 0.40 to about 0.31 millionths of a meter). And because blue and violet rays are better seen by the rods of the eye than by the cones, this special filter tends to eliminate the longer red and orange rays of light and to emphasize the violet.

William T. Joines of the Duke University Electrical Engineering Department and Larry Burton, a graduate student at the Department, are attempting to determine the source of the energy field displayed in Kirlian photographs, since it has not been scientifically shown that the source of the radiation is the human body.

There are two other possibilities: the Kirlian field may originate from the air surrounding the object or from the photographic film. Their experiments seem to disprove the latter possibility, but they’re still unsure whether the resultant images are radiation from the thumb (which would support the aura interpretation) or ionization of the air surrounding the object.

There are numerous processes within biological tissue which could account for the radiation. Indeed, the physical or emotional state of the subject may determine whether or not there is radiation from the body. However, their experiments do suggest an explanation of Kirlian photography and the aura which does not depend upon radiation from the body. They’re currently trying to determine whether the body radiates light during psychic healing.

In light of these findings, Kirlian effects appear less mysterious. For example, a Kirlian photograph of a coin has predominantly red colors, while fingers and thumbs normally show mostly blue with some red. If a person becomes frightened or angry, the Kirlian photograph may become totally red. This can be explained because the person’s skin resistance (the electrical potential of the skin) decreases when he is aroused and becomes electrically more like the coin surface, thus inducing the same color of radiation from the air.

The so-called aura may be similar to Kirlian effects with the eye rather than photographic film serving as detector. Joines and Burton measured naturally occurring potentials around fingertips high enough to produce an electric field of about three million volts per meter, enough to evoke radiation from the air. Since the primary constituents of air are nitrogen and oxygen, this radiation would be detected by the human eye either as light blue or red. These colors are very much in agreement with descriptions of the aura.

Even if the emanations in Kirlian photographs are to be called electrical corona, determined by the geometry and electrical parameters of the object and surrounding medium, or whatever, an emanation is an aura and there really should be no problem about that. Another question entirely is whether individuals utilizing so-called extrasensory methods can perceive auras.