Non-life takes an uncountable number of forms, from stars to cliff faces to snow flakes. And life is even more variant. Every environmental niche we know has one or more species – estimates suggest up to 100 million species on this planet alone. And that variety is compounded by the differences between individuals within species.
Why would a God who created such a rich physical world not create an equally rich non-corporeal world? And if there are more dimensions than the few we are conscious of, why should they not be burgeoning with their own life forms?
Of course, such ecosystems may be right alongside us, and totally undetected and undetectable.And about non-sentient non-corporeal beings I have no comment to make apart from noting I see no reason against them.
However, when it comes to sentient non-corporeal beings, the human story, and the Judeo-Christian story, is full of reports of ‘leakage’ from that reality to this; of non-corporeal beings showing themselves in a corporeal seeming – perhaps by directly affecting the mind of the viewer (since often the viewer is in company, and the others see nothing).
What we know about such non-corporeal beings doesn’t necessarily accord with the caricatures of halos and wings (on the one hand) and horns and a tail (on the other). There are stories of bright lights, of multiple eyes, of wheels within wheels, and other manifestations. In my own experience, it has been a matter of sensation rather than vision – a sense of overwhelming comfort; a bottomless dread.
However, if they can affect our minds in such a way that we ‘see’ them, then it seems to follow that most of us would cloth the ‘seeing’ according to our own preconceptions.
CS Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle, among others, have put this concept into fiction, writing about angelic beings we can’t perceive until they change their interface with our physical universe to make themselves detectable. In Perelandra, CS Lewis describes how two energy-beings (the eldils who personify Mars and Venus) present themselves to do honour to Venus’ new king and queen:
The very faint light—the almost imperceptible alteration in the visual field—which betokens an eldil vanished suddenly. The rosy peaks and the calm pool vanished also. A tornado of sheer monstrosities seemed to be pouring over Ransom. Darting pillars filled with eyes, lightning pulsations of flame, talons and beaks and billowy masses of what suggested snow, volleyed through cubes and heptagons into an infinite black void. ‘Stop it… stop it,’ he yelled, and the scene cleared. He gazed round blinking on the field of lilies, and presently gave the eldila to understand that this kind of appearance was not suited to human sensations. ‘Look then on this,’ said the voices again. And he looked with some reluctance, and far off between the peaks on the other side of the little valley there came rolling wheels. There was nothing but that—concentric wheels moving with a rather sickening slowness one inside the other. There was nothing terrible about them if you could get used to their appalling size, but there was also nothing significant. He bade them to try yet a third time. And suddenly two human figures stood before him on the opposite side of the lake.
They were taller than the Sorns, the giants whom he had met on Mars. They were perhaps thirty feet high. They were burning white like white-hot iron. The outline of their bodies when he looked at it steadily against the red landscape seemed to be faintly, swiftly undulating as though the permanence of their shape, like that of waterfalls or flames, co-existed with a rushing movement of the matter it contained. For a fraction of an inch inward from this outline the landscape was just visible through them: beyond that they were opaque.
Whenever he looked straight at them they appeared to be rushing toward him with enormous speed: whenever his eyes took in their surroundings he realized that they were stationary. This may have been due in part to the fact that their long and sparkling hair stood out straight behind them as if in a great wind. But if there were a wind it was not made of air, for no petal of the flowers was shaken. They were not standing quite vertically in relation to the floor of the valley: but to Ransom it appeared… that the eldils were vertical. It was the valley—it was the whole world of Perelandra—which was aslant. He remembered the words of Oyarsa long ago in Mars, ‘I am not here in the same way you are here.’ It was borne in upon him that the creatures were really moving, though not moving in relation to him. This planet which inevitably seemed to him while he was in it an unmoving world—the world, in fact—was to them a thing moving through the heavens. In relation to their own celestial frame of reference they were rushing forward to keep abreast of the mountain valley. Had they stood still, they would have flashed past him too quickly for him to see, doubly dropped behind the planet’s spin on its own axis and by its onward march around the Sun.