The Five Senses and Beyond: The Encyclopedia of Perception - Jennifer L. Hellier 2017


There are two different experiences both described as auras: the ability to see colors around individuals and those experiences that are typically thought to be precursors to neurological issues such as epilepsy. Auras visible around individuals have recently been linked to synesthesia and are often viewed by individuals who are synesthetes. Auras are also highly associated with a large number of neurological conditions such as migraine, epilepsy, lesions within the brain, and swelling in the brain. These auras are classified based on the experience the patient goes through and change depending on the region of the brain that is affected. Patients with auras describe them as a precursor or a warning.

Historical Views

Metaphysics defines the energy field that emanates from everything, person or object, as the aura. Auras are visualized as an outline of color and represent soul vibrations, the reflections of surrounding energy fields, or chakra emergence. These electromagnetic fields may be viewed by the naked eye. Anthropologist Carlos Castaneda (1925—1998) referred to auras as “luminous cocoons.” Auras vibrate to different sounds, light frequencies, and colors with the color spectrum reflecting one’s emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual state. The ability to see auras has held an important place in mysticism throughout the ages.

Science, on the other hand, holds a completely different view of auras. The existence of electromagnetic fields is a scientifically proven fact, but the ability to see these fields with the naked eye is highly debatable. It is more likely that people who can see auras have the gift of synesthesia. Seeing auras is an example of the historical presence of synesthesia and the use of New Age beliefs and superstitions to explain and understand this condition.

Research completed on a Spanish faith healer has determined that he has mirror-touch synesthesia and face-color synesthesia. This means that he experiences the sensation of being touched when he sees others being touched and experiences color when his brain processes faces. These synesthetic conditions coupled with a high empathy level mean that he has special pain and emotional reading skills. His synesthetic conditions translate into his perceived special abilities as a faith healer.


There are reasons for seeing auras: migraines, a visual system disorder, retinal fatigue and other natural visual processes, a certain form of epilepsy, or a brain disorder. Equipment exists that is capable of measuring extremely minute energy levels, but no one has detected an aura using this equipment. However, bioelectrophotography and quantum physics research might open up new hypotheses regarding auras and the human energy field. A Russian scientist has been examining the impact of human thought on the surrounding environment. He postulates that the human body and consciousness are constantly emitting energy that is captured via bioelectrophotography as light around the body. This energy emission is the aura. At the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) Laboratory, researchers have concluded that there is a very subtle capacity of the mind to influence the output of random event generators (REGs) in a relationship that is not physical in nature. Another type of photography used to explain auras is Kirlian photography, invented in 1939 by Semyon Davidovitch Kirlian (1898—1978), which reveals visible auras around the objects photographed. Kirlian believed that these photographs actually depicted the life force or aura surrounding all things.

Types of Auras

There are two main ways that auras brought on by a neurological condition can be classified: sensory and experiential. Within the category of sensory auras there are many subtypes based on the experience. These include somatosensory (these auras are characterized by abnormal and often uncomfortable sensations about the body such as tingling, pain, numbness, etc.), auditory (involving the auditory system, mostly buzzing, banging, etc., but in severe cases can be voices), visual (involving the visual system), gustatory (involving taste), olfactory (involving the olfactory system), epigastric (characterized by symptoms coming from the upper abdomen such as nausea, discomfort, emptiness, cramping, churning, etc.), and cephalic (auras described as lightheadedness and headache).

Experiential auras are based on illusions or hallucinations that produce an altered and incorrect view of the external and internal environments. These can also be broken down into subcategories: affective auras (based in altered emotions), mnemonic auras (characterized by memory alterations such as déjà vu—a sense that the experience has happened before—and jamais vu—a sense that the experience is highly unfamiliar even though it is recognized), hallucinatory auras (imagined complex sensory experiences), and illusory auras (incorrectly processed sensory experiences). In all cases, these auras can be a precursor to epileptic episodes and can occur in individuals without neurological defects. Each aura arises from overstimulation in different regions of the brain, and typically this overstimulation is associated with the same stimulation causing epilepsy.

Carolyn Johnson Atwater

See also: Brain Anatomy; Mirror-Touch Synesthesia; Seizures; Synesthesia

Further Reading

PsyBlog. (2013). Synesthesia could explain how some people see “auras.” Retrieved from