One of the well-known and salient features of yogic philosophy is its doctrine of the seven chakras, or spinal energy centers. The chakras are also the focus of many forms of holistic healing practiced today. But did the ancient Greeks have any notions of the chakras or any chakra system? The answer is yes. Classical Greek ideas about the chakras are contained in the writings of Plato, and alluded to in the teachings of Pythagoras and in the Hermetic traditions of Western esotericism.
Plato and the Chakras
The clearest Greek ideas on the chakras come from Plato, who writes about them in his dialogue Timaeus. Basically, Plato considered the chakras to be subtle organs that the soul, or psyche uses to relate to the gross physical body.
According to Plato’s philosophy, the soul has three basic parts, or levels of expression:
Nous or Logos – This is the highest part or level of soul expression, which Plato called the psyche, or immortal soul. Its attributes are reason, wisdom and spiritual insight. It finds expression through the Crown and Brow centers.
Thymos – This is the middle level of soul expression, or what Plato called the mortal soul. Its basic attributes are passion, fight and drive. It finds expression through the middle three chakras: the Throat, Heart and Gastric centers.
Epithymia – This is the level of desire and instinct, and is the lowest level of soul expression. It is also concerned with basic survival needs and appetites, and finds expression through the two lowest chakras: the Generative and Root centers.
Obvious parallels can be drawn between Plato’s three levels of soul expression and the three Gunas of yogic philosophy, as well as the ego, id and superego of Freudian psychology. The correspondences are:
Nous, Logos – the Sattva Guna and the superego.
Thymos – the Rajas Guna and the ego.
Epithymia – the Tamas Guna and the id.
The Greco-Roman Chakras
Classical Greek and Roman ideas about the chakras can be summed up as follows:
The Crown Center
Greek: Koruphe Latin: Vertex
Plato said that humans stand upright because the divine consciousness incarnate in their brains is naturally attracted to the heavens, and to God. The crown center has also been depicted as a nimbus or halo around the heads of saints and spiritual adepts in Greece as far back as the 3rd century BCE. Hindus call it Sahasrara, or the Thousand Petaled Lotus.
The Brow Center
Greek: Enkephalos Latin: Cerebrum
This center Plato considered to be the seat of the psyche, or immortal soul, which the Romans called the genios or anima. In Homeric times, the heart was considered to be the seat of the soul or consciousness in man, but by Plato’s and Hippocrates’ day, the head or brain was seen as the seat of the soul and rational mind. The physical substance seen to embody the essence of the soul was the marrow or cerebrospinal fluid. The Brow Center and all the chakras are rich in this sap or marrow, from which emanates their spiritual energy. As the seat of the rational mind, the Brow Center was seen to exert a controlling or restraining action on all the lower chakras. The Sanskrit name for this chakra, Ajna, means, “Command Center”.
The Throat Center
Greek: Trachelos Latin: Collum
Plato called this chakra the isthmus or boundary between the psyche, or immortal soul, and the mortal soul, or thymos. It allows for communication between the two, between the reason of the mind and the passions of the body, but forms a kind of filter or purifier to only allow refined spiritual energy to ascend to the head. The Throat Center is the psychosomatic link between mind and body. The Sanskrit name for this chakra, Vishuddha, means, “With Purity”, which is an apt description.
The Heart Center
Greek: Phrenes Latin: Cor
This chakra contains the thymos, which Plato identified as the higher part of the mortal soul. This thymos is also the essence of the Vital Faculty, the heart and lungs, which concerns pneuma, the Breath or Spirit. In Homer’s time, it was considered to be the seat of all thought, feeling and consciousness. By Plato’s time the Heart Center had become the seat of the passions, emotions and feeling mind, whereas the Brow Center was the seat of the rational mind and soul. In Plato’s system, a Midriff Partition, which manifests physically as the diaphragm, exists between the Heart Center and the three lower centers, which are concerned primarily with the body and its needs. Being the first of the chakras that are truly concerned with spirit and the higher life of man beyond the needs of the body, a kind of spiritual rebirth takes place in the Heart Center. The Sanskrit name for this chakra, Anahata, means, “unstruck”, referring to the spiritual sounds and music heard here.
The Gastric Center, or Solar Plexus
Greek: Gaster Latin: Abdomen
Located in the solar plexus, between the diaphragm and the navel, the Gastric Center is the seat of the lower part of the mortal soul, or what Plato called the Appetitive Soul. The Appetitive Soul is the source of our appetites and desires, and says, “Feed me!” It is the seat of the Fire element, which consumes and digests food in the process of pepsis. It’s also the seat of personal power, ambition and drive, which seeks to conquer all and assimilate it into oneself. The Sanskrit name for this chakra, Manipura, means, “Jewel City”, since it sparkles with the fire of a million jewels.
The Generative Center
Greek: Gonades Latin: Genitalia
This is the center of the Generative Faculty and procreative function. Plato says that in this center is made “the bonds of life which unite the Soul with the Body.” This is the desire of life for Life, which draws a new soul into physical embodiment. Powerful forces and drives, transcending the boundaries of personal consciousness, motivate this center. The ancient Greeks considered semen to be a kind of cerebrospinal sap or spiritual essence that was passed down the spine and into the womb to produce a new life. The Sanskrit name for this chakra, Swaddhisthana, or, “One’s Own Dwelling”, aptly describes it, since many, preoccupied by their sexual feelings, spend a lot of time dwelling here.
The Root Center
Greek: Hieron Osteon Latin: Os Sacrum
The Greek and Latin names for this center mean, “sacred bone”, since it was believed that the sacral bone was the center of the whole skeleton, and that the whole body could be regenerated from this bone. The Root Center is located at the base of the spinal column, which the ancient Greeks called Hiera Syrinx, or the “Holy Reed”, or tube; this corresponds to the Sanskrit Sushumna channel. This center is the seat of consciousness in its most primitive form, which is our basic survival instincts, or a clinging on to life. The Sanskrit name for this center, Muladhara, means, “Root Support”, since, energetically, this chakra supports all the others.
Besides these seven spinal energy centers, the ancient Greeks recognized several peripheral, lesser energy centers in the hands, thighs, and knees. These parts were believed to contain a high concentration of sap or marrow, or the Radical Moisture, and hence spiritual energy as well.
Modern physiology recognizes the presence of various endocrine glands which secrete potent vital essences called hormones, located at or near the spinal energy centers. No doubt the ancient Greeks and Hindus sensed this intuitively.
I am greatly indebted to John Osopaus for his excellent article on this subject on the website: http://www.newsfinder.org , entitled, “A Greek System of Chakras” for the information presented here.