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Kundalini-like notions in ancient Egypt

From: catherine yronwode 
Subject: Please archive
Date: Fri, 28 Jan 2000 12:08:01 -0700

Hi, hon -- this ought to be Esoterically archived, but although it ran
in the sacred landscape, it really deals with kundalini-like notions in
ancient Egypt. Please put it wherever you think would be best. Thanks.
-- your happy cunt-warmth-thing


From: Dan Washburn 

I'm still researching the meaning of snakes in world religion and
mythology.  Here is an excerpt from Jack Lindsay's magnificent work of

Barnes and Noble, 1970, 
pp. 190-3.  

He gives evidence for the existance of an awareness of the Kundalini,
the Serpent Power, in ancient Egypt.  The paragraphing is mine.

Dan Washburn


... it is of interest to note that the notion of up-and-down,
down-and-up, as distinct from that of the lower world merely reflecting
the upper, is to be found in ancient Egyptian thought. The caduceus of
Hermes has prototypes that can be found in early eastern imagery, from
India to Egypt.

The rod or staff can be linked in a general way with the sacred Tree,
Mountain, or Ded-pillar that are prominent in Egyptian mythology and
ritual; and much light is cast on the inner meaning of these symbols by
Indian ideas. There we find the idea of an invisible canal called nadi
in Sanskrit (from n„da, movement). Various translations have been made
of the term: subtle canals (tubes), luminous arteries, psychic canals or
nerves. There were many nadi, but three chief ones: Ida, Pingala, and
Susumna. The last-named, the most important, corresponded to the
vertebral column, Brahma-danda: "the microcosm of the macrocosm." It was
the great road for the movement of the spiritual forces of the body; and
around it were twined, like the two snakes on Hermesí staff, the two
other nadi, Ida on the left, female and passive, and Pingala on the
right, male and active. On the top of Susumna, at a point corresponding
to the top of the skull, shone the Sun. Along the central axis were
located six main centres or cakras (circles, wheels, represented in the
shamanist rituals of Central Asia by the six cuts made in the Tree
before which the shaman falls in his possessed fit of initiation and
which in turn represent the six heavens through which he ascends, with
mimed episodes at each stage.) 

At the base of the spine, like a snake coiled in its spirals, sleeps
Kundalini, the ìigneous serpentine powerî, which awakens during the
initiation and rises up, from base to top, through the various cakras
till it reaches Sahasrara, located at the suture on the crown where the
two parietal bones meet. This aperture, the Brahme (Brahme-randhra), is
the place where ìthe Sun rises.î The original text thus expresses the
imagery: ìThe Bride [Kundalini] entering into the Royal Highway [the
central nadi] and resting at certain spots [the six cakras] meets and
embraces the Supreme Bridegroom and in the embrace makes springs of
nectar gush out.î A Brahmin of Malabar, speaking of the Dravidian
caduceus, said, "The snakes that enlace represent the two currents that
run, in opposite directions, along the spine."

But can we definitely transport these notions into ancient Egypt? It
seems that we can. Take such a representation as that from the tomb of
Ramses VI of a staff on which stands a mummified figure; between him and
the staff-top is a pair of horns, and wriggling across the staff, lower
down, in opposite directions, are two snakes. The dead man, at the last
Hour in the Book of the Underworld, leaves his mortal remains, sloughs
them, and is reborn as the scarab Khepri. A stele sets out the idea:
"Homage to you, Mummy, that are perpetually rejuvenated and reborn." The
horns on top of the staff are called Wpt, "summit of the skull, to open,
divide separate" -- that is, the parietal bones are thought of as
opening to release the reborn dead-man. Wpt also means the Zenith of the
Heaven. A figure in the tomb of Osorkon II at Tanis stands with a snake
in each hand; the snakes criss-cross in their undulant movement, forming
an X across the body. A symbol often cut on scarabs and scaraboids is
that of the Ded pillar with a snake hanging on either side, the heads
going in opposite directions. The word Imakh (Blessed) in its ending and
especially in its determinative is represented by the spinal column with
an indication of the medulla; the ending also denotes the canal or
channel of the spine of the snake through which the Sun passes -- the
Night Sun in the Underworld. So the one symbol brings together the ideas
of Blessedness, Spine, Spinal Canal (of the Sun). The Sun emerging at
the end of the snake staff is both the dead man reborn and the newborn
Sun (Khepri); the dead man emerges from the spinal column at the top of
the skull, and is rebornóthe sun emerges from the spinal night-canal and
is reborn; the dead man and the sun are one.

We may add that Sa, which means the Back, the Spine, and which enters
into the god name Besa, is homonymous with Sa, which means Protection.
The determinate connected with Imakh appears also in Pesedj, which takes
on the meaning of both Spine and Illuminationóa meaning attested from
the time of the Pyramid Texts. The root Ima of Imakh merges again with
the homonymous Tree assimilated to the Ded-pillar and expressing the
luminosity of the sun.

We see, then, in ancient Egyptian thought a system closely analogous to
that of India which we discussed. The individual spine and the
world-pillar are identified; there is a concept of life-forces moving up
and down this axis; the skull top is also the sky-zenith; the new birth
of the life-force is one with the rising of the sun. The
microcosm-macrocosm relationship is very close to what we find in
alchemy, but with the latter the whole system operates on a new and
higher level of philosophic and scientific thinking.

In Greek thought we do not find anything so precise as the systems in
Sanskrit and Egyptian; but with the growth of ideas about the pervasive
pneuma the notion of forces descending into the body and ascending out
of it appears. Porphyrios cites an Oracle of Apollo:

The stream separating from Phoibosí splendour on high and enveloped in
the pure Airís sonorous breath falls enchanted by songs and by ineffable
words about the Head of the blameless recipient:
it fills the soft integument of the tender membranes, ascends through
the Stomach and rises up again and produces a lovely song from the
mortal pipe.

Porphyrios comments that the descending pneuma enters into the body,
ìand, using the soul as a base, gives out a sound through the mouth as
through an instrument.î We are reminded of the ecstatic noises of the
Gnostics which were thought to echo the music of the spheres. The lovely
song from the mortal aulos seems to go straight up to the celestial
source of pneuma in the sun. The down-and-up, up-and-down pattern is

Perhaps a confused version of the ideas we saw associated with Imakh,
Sa, Pesedj, appears in a magical intaglio of terracotta where we see a
serpent twining round a star-topped staff; parallel with the staff rise
an altar surmounted with a staff (starred at either end) on the right
and a schematic human form standing on its head on the left. Here there
seems depicted an up-and-down flow of forces. On a blue-flecked onyx a
monstrous figure (with scarab-body, human legs, head of a maned animal)
stands crowned, holding in each hand a staff round which a snake twines.
One staff has a goat-head, the other a dog-head; and under the
creatureís feet is an Ouroboros enclosing a man, perhaps ithyphallic,
and what seems a thunderbolt. The head of the Ouroboros is down at the
bottom. The crown is made of a disk set on long horns and flanked with
four uraei. There seem here defined two contrary motions: one of the
scarab-sun (upwards to the large crown), and one of the cosmic serpent
(downwards into the underworld of death). Interpretation of such obscure
objects cannot but be doubtful, though there does seem a link with the
complex of ideas and images we have discussed. A passage in
Hippolytos' account of the Peratai [a gnostic sect - Dan] also reveals
this complex in a slightly confused form. He is discussing an
up-and-down movement. The Son, he says, brings down from above the
paternal Signs and again carries aloft those Signs when they have been
"roused from a dormant condition and made into paternal characteristics
-- substantial from unsubstantial being; transferring them hither from
thence". The Son's cerebellum is "in the form of a Serpent", that is, a
serpent-head, "and they allege that this, by an ineffable and
inscrutable process, attracts through the pineal gland the pneumatic and
life-giving substance emanating from the vaulted chamber [? both the
skull and the heavenly vault]. And on receiving this, the cerebellum in
an ineffable way imparts the Idea, just as the Son does, to Matter; or,
in other words, the seeds and genera of things produced according to the
flesh flow along into the spinal marrow." Though the description is
unclear, the idea of an up-and-down, down-and-up flow of pneuma is
certainly present, as also that of an entry of divine force through the
cerebellum into the spinal column. The Peratai thus interpreted the
phrase, "I am the Door," in John.81

We may add that the idea of the staff of Hermes as a resolving or
balancing power between two opposing principles (the snakes) appears in
a tale, given by Hyginus, that Mercury saw two snakes fighting in
Arcadia and put his staff between them, thus arresting the conflict;
hence the caduceus as an emblem of peace.
Jack Lindsay
Barnes and Noble, 1970, 
pp. 190-3.  


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