One of the things I wanted in Hope & Glory was to offer my players a science fiction game. Much as I loved Castle Falkenstein, I did not want to insert fantasy races and magic in my setting.
Hope & Glory was designed to be a hard science fiction setting, but with a twist: this being a Victorian-ish setting, it would stick to 19th century science.
If it was considered science in the 19th century, we would treat it like real science, and go with it.
So yes, basically I cheated.
This is the reason why the world of Hope & Glory features Quaternary Megafaunas – because in the 19th century it sounded plausible that somewhere, somehow, there were still pockets of untouched environment where the great animals of the past still thrived.
Thomas Jefferson did ask Lewis & Clark to check out if there were still mastodons in the West – beasts that were known as the American incognitum at the time.
Based on the same sort of rationale, the Society for Psychic Research is a legit scientific institution, and it actually expands and thrives when it gets in contact with Indian mysticism and yogic practices.
The agents of the Society for Psychic Research and Development have a scientific approach to things spiritic. They have a scale to measure paranormal powers, and the Astral Plane is a thing. Well, an Astral Thing, if you will.
The first point which it is necessary to make clear in describing this astral plane is its absolute reality. Of course in using that word I am not speaking from that metaphysical standpoint from which all but the One Unmanifested is unreal because impermanent; I am using the word in its plain, every-day sense, and I mean by it that the objects and inhabitants of the astral plane are real in exactly the same way as our own bodies, our furniture, our houses or monuments are real—as real as Charing Cross, to quote an expressive remark from one of the earliest Theosophical works. They will no more endure for ever than will objects on the physical plane, but they are nevertheless realities from our point of view while they last—realities which we cannot afford to ignore merely because the majority of mankind is as yet unconscious, or but vaguely conscious, of their existence.
(C.W. Leadbetter, The Astral Plane, 1896)
Which leads us to the esteemed Charles Webster Leadbeater, a member in good standing of the Theosophical Society born in Stockport, Manchester, in 1854.
I do not know if he exists in the Hope & Glory timeline (as it diverges from our own in 1852), but in our own world he was quite active: he was the founder of the English Buddhist Academy in Ceylon (later Ananda College), and he is the author of Theosophical Manual Nº5: The Astral Plane (Its Scenery, Inhabitants and Phenomena), published in 1896, that was my main reference when designing the astral plane, its denizens, and related powers (my friend and colleague Umberto Pignatelli later took my notes and turned them into playable rules).
The booklet makes for a fascinating read, and while it is a highly recommended addition to the Hope & Glory game master library as a source of campaign ideas, it might be of interest also to non-players for its uncanny mix of common sense, mysticism and … OK, science fantasy.
First of all, then, it must be understood that the astral plane has seven subdivisions, each of which has its corresponding degree of materiality and its corresponding condition of matter. Now numbering these from the highest and least material downwards, we find that they naturally fall into three classes, divisions 1, 2 and 3 forming one such class, and 4, 5 and 6 another, while the seventh and lowest of all stands alone. (ibid.)
Leadbetter later published the equally fascinating Clairvoyance and he co-authored a book on Thought-forms with noted medium Annie Besant.
All these books can be found for free on the pages of Project Gutenberg, and when we will finally write The Society for Psychic Research & Development’s Handbook and Guide to the Astral Plane (now that’s a cool-sounding supplement!) for Hope & Glory, I am pretty sure we will have to mention C. W. Leadbetter among our sources, if not as co-author.