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The Symbolic Forms of the Elements 7. THE word Chakra is Sanskrit, and signifies a wheel. The special use of the word chakra with which we are at the moment concerned is its application to a series of wheel-like vortices which exist in the surface of the etheric double of man. As this hook may probably fall into the hands of some who are not familiar with Theosophical terminology it may be well to insert here a few words of preliminary explanation. This is a loose, inaccurate and misleading statement; the exact opposite is the truth.

Man is a soul and owns a body - several bodies in fact; for besides the visible vehicle by means of which he transacts his business with his lower world, he has others which are not visible to ordinary sight, by means of which he deals with the emotional and mental worlds. With those, however, we are not for the moment concerned. In the course of the last century enormous advances have been made in our knowledge of the minute details of the physical body; students of medicine are now familiar with its bewildering complexities, and have at least a general idea of the way in which its amazingly intricate machinery works.

Naturally, however, they have had to confine their attention to that part of the body which is dense enough to be visible to the eye, and most of them are probably unaware of the existence of that type of matter, still physical though invisible, to which in Theosophy we give the name of etheric. It is clearly visible to the clairvoyant as a mass of faintly-luminous violet-grey mist, interpenetrating the denser part of the body, and extending very slightly beyond it.

The life of the physical body is one of perpetual change, and in order that it shall live it needs constantly to be supplied from three distinct sources. It must have food for its digestion, air for its breathing, and vitality in three forms for its absorption. This vitality is essentially a force, but when clothed with matter it appears to us as though it were a highly refined chemical element. I have written on this subject many years ago in various volumes, and Colonel A. Anyone who possesses a slight degree of clairvoyance may easily see them in the etheric double, where they show themselves as saucer-like depressions or vortices in its surface.

If we imagine ourselves to be looking straight down into the bell of a flower of the convolvulus type, we shall get some idea of the general appearance of a chakra.

Understanding The 12 Chakras And What They Mean

The stalk of the flower in each springs from a point in the spine, so another view might show the spine as a central stem see Plate VIII , from which flowers shoot forth at intervals, showing the opening of their bells at the surface of the etheric body. Table I gives their English and Sanskrit names. That force is sevenfold in its nature, and all its forms operate in each of these centres, although one of them in each case usually predominates over the others.

Therefore the centres are in operation in every one, although in the undeveloped person they are usually in comparatively sluggish motion, just forming the necessary vortex for the force, and no more. In a more evolved man they may be glowing and pulsating with living light, so that an enormously greater amount of energy passes through them, with the result that there are additional faculties and possibilities open to the man.

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This divine energy which pours into each centre from without sets up at right angles to itself that is to say, in the surface of the etheric double secondary forces in undulatory circular motion, just as bar-magnet thrust into an induction coil produces a current of electricity which flows round the coil at right angles to the axis or direction of the magnet. The primary force itself, having entered the vortex, radiates from it again at right angles, but in straight lines, as though the centre of the vortex were the hub of a wheel, and the radiations of the primary force its spokes.

By means of these spokes the force seems to bind the astral and etheric bodies together as though with grappling-hooks. The number of these spokes differs in the different force-centres, and determines the number of waves or petals which each of them exhibits. Each of the secondary forces which sweep round the saucer-like depression has its own characteristic wave-length, just as has light of a certain colour; but instead of moving in a straight line as light does, it moves along relatively large undulations of various sizes, each of which is some multiple of the smaller wave-lengths within it.

The number of undulations is determined by the number of spokes in the wheel, and the secondary force weaves itself under and over the radiating currents of the primary force, just as basket-work might be woven round the spokes of a carriage-wheel. The wave-lengths are infinitesimal, and probably thousands of them are included within one of the undulations. As the forces rush round in the vortex, these oscillations of different sizes, crossing one another in this basket-work fashion, produce the flower-like form to which I have referred.

It is, perhaps, still more like the appearance of certain saucers or shallow vases of wavy iridescent glass, such as are made in Venice. All of these undulations or petals have that shimmering pavonine effect, like mother-of-pearl, yet each of them has usually its own predominant colour, as will be seen from our illustrations. This nacreous silvery aspect is likened in Sanskrit works to the gleam of moonlight on water.

Of course our colours are not sufficiently luminous - no earthly colours could be; but at least the drawings will give some idea of the actual appearance of these wheels of light. It will be understood from what has already been said that the centres vary in size and in brightness in different people, and that even in the same person some of them may be much more developed than the rest. They are drawn about life-size, except for the Sahasrara or crown chakra, which we have found it necessary to magnify in order to show its amazing wealth of detail.

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In the case of a man who excels greatly in the qualities which express themselves through a certain centre, that centre will be not only much enlarged but also especially radiant, throwing out brilliant golden rays. Stainton Moses, which is now kept in a cabinet in the archives of the Society at Adyar.

The 12 Chakras

These chakras naturally divide into three groups, the lower, the middle and the higher; they might be called respectively the physiological, the personal and the spiritual. The centres of the middle group, numbered 3, 4 and 5, are engaged with the forces which reach man through his personality - through the lower astral in the case of centre 3, the higher astral in centre 4, and from the lower mind in centre 5.

All these centres seem to feed certain ganglia in the body. Centres 6 and 7 stand apart from the rest, being connected with the pituitary body and the pineal gland respectively, and coming into action only when a certain amount of spiritual development has taken place.

I have heard it suggested that each of the different petals of these force-centres represents a moral quality, and that the development of that quality brings the centre into activity. For example, in The Dhyana-bindu Upanishad the petals of the heart chakra are associated with devotion, laziness, anger, charity and similar qualities. I have not yet met with any facts which definitely confirm this, and it is not easy to see exactly how it can be, because the appearance is produced by certain readily recognizable forces, and the petals in any particular centre are either active or not active according as these forces have or have not been aroused, and their unfoldment seems to have no more direct connection with morality than has the enlargement of the biceps.

I have certainly met with persons in whom some of the centres were in full activity, though the moral advancement was by no means exceptionally high, whereas in other persons of high spirituality and the noblest possible morality the centres were scarcely yet vitalized at all; so that there does not seem to be any necessary connection between the two developments. There are, however, certain facts observable which may be the basis of this rather curious idea.

Although the likeness to petals is caused by the same forces flowing round and round the centre, alternately over and under the various spokes, those spokes differ in character, because the inrushing force is subdivided into its component parts or qualities, and therefore each spoke radiates a specialized influence of its own, even though the variations be slight. The secondary force, in passing each spoke, is to some extent modified by its influence, and therefore changes a little in its hue.

Thus the deepening or weakening of the tint might be taken to betoken the possession of more or less of that attribute. The first centre, the basic Plate I , at the base of the spine, has a primary force which radiates out in four spokes, and therefore arranges its undulations so as to give the effect of its being divided into quadrants, alternately red and orange in hue, with hollows between them. This makes it seem as though marked with the sign of the cross, and for that reason the cross is often used to symbolize this centre, and sometimes a flaming cross is taken to indicate the serpent-fire which resides in it.

When acting with any vigour this chakra is fiery orange-red in colour, corresponding closely with the type of vitality which is sent down to it from the splenic centre. The second centre, the splenic Plate II , at the spleen, is devoted to the specialization, subdivision and dispersion of the vitality which comes to us from the sun. That vitality is poured out again from it in six horizontal streams, the seventh variety being drawn into the hub of the wheel. This centre therefore has six petals or undulations, all of different colours, and is specially radiant, glowing and sunlike.

Each of the six divisions of the wheel shows predominantly the colour of one of the forms of the vital force -red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. The third centre, the umbilical Plate IV , at the navel or solar plexus, receives a primary force with ten radiations, so it vibrates in such a manner as to divide itself into ten undulations or petals. It is very closely associated with feelings and emotions of various kinds. Its predominant colour is a curious blending of several shades of red, though there is also a great deal of green in it. The divisions are alternately chiefly red and chiefly green.

The fourth centre, the cardiac Plate V , at the heart, is of a glowing golden colour, and each of its quadrants is divided into three parts, which gives it twelve undulations, because its primary force makes for it twelve spokes. The fifth centre, the laryngeal Plate VII , at the throat, has sixteen spokes, and therefore sixteen apparent divisions. There is a good deal of blue in it, but its general effect is silvery and gleaming, with a kind of suggestion as of moonlight upon rippling water.

Blue and green predominate alternately in its sections. Perhaps it is for this reason that this centre is mentioned in Indian books as having only two petals, though if we are to count undulations of the same character as those of the previous centres we shall find that each half is subdivided into forty-eight of these, making ninety-six in all, because its primary force has that number of radiations. Before we can say much more than this, hundreds of observations and comparisons must be made - made, repeated and verified over and over again.

But meantime this much is clear - that while the need of the personality can be satisfied by a limited number of types of force, when we come to the higher and more permanent principles of man we encounter a complexity, a multiplicity, which demands for its expression a vastly greater selection of modifications of the energy.

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It seems to contain all sorts of prismatic hues, but is on the whole predominantly violet. It is described in Indian books as thousand-petalled, and really this is not very far from the truth, the number of the radiations of its primary force in the outer circle being nine hundred and sixty. Every line of this will be seen faithfully reproduced in our frontispiece, though it is hardly possible to give the effect of the separate petals. In addition to this it has a feature which is possessed by none of the other chakras - a sort of subsidiary central whirlpool of gleaming white flushed with gold in its heart - a minor activity which has twelve undulations of its own.

This chakra is usually the last to be awakened. Another peculiarity attends its development. In Oriental pictures and statues of the deities or great men this prominence is often shown. In Fig.

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This is the conventional method of representing it, and in this form it is to be found upon the heads of thousands of images of the Lord Buddha all over the Eastern world. In many cases it will be seen that the two tiers of the Sahasrara chakra are copied - the larger dome of petals first, and then the smaller dome of 12 rising out of that in turn. It appears also in the Christian symbology, in the crowns worn by the four-and-twenty elders who are for ever casting them down before the throne of God.

In the highly developed man this coronal chakra pours out splendour and glory which makes for him a veritable crown; and the meaning of that passage of Scripture is that all that he has gained, all the magnificent karma that he makes, all the wondrous spiritual force that he generates - all that he casts perpetually at the feet of the Locos to be used in his work. So, over and over again, can he continue to cast down his golden crown, because it continually re-forms as the force wells up from within him.

These seven force-centres are frequently described in Sanskrit literature, in some of the minor Upanishads, in the Puranas and in Tantric works. They are used today by many Indian yogis. A friend acquainted with the inner life of India assures me that he knows of one school in that country which makes free use of the chakras - a school which numbers as its pupils about sixteen thousand people scattered over a large area.


There is much interesting information available on the subject from Hindu sources, which we will try to summarize with comments in a later chapter. It appears also that certain European mystics were acquainted with the chakras. Evidence of this occurs in a book entitled Theosophia Practica by the well-known German mystic Johann Georg Gichtel, a pupil of Jacob Boehme, who probably belonged to the secret society of the Rosicrucians.

This book was originally issued in the year , though in the edition of it is said that the pictures, of which the volume is mainly a description, were printed only some ten years after the death of the author, which took place in The illustration which we give here has been photographed from the French translation of the Theosophia Practica, published in in the Bibliotheque Rosicrucienne No. Being opposed to the ignorant orthodoxy of his time, he drew down upon himself the hatred of those whom he had attacked, and about he was consequently banished, and his property confiscated.

He finally found refuge in Holland, where he lived for the remaining forty years of his life. He evidently considered the figures printed in his Theosophia Practica as being of a secret nature; apparently they were kept within the small circle of his disciples for quite a number of years. They were, he says, the result of an inner illumination - presumably of what in our modern times we should call clairvoyant faculties. Like most mystics of his day, however, Gichtel lacks the exactitude which should characterize true occultism and mysticism; in his description of the figures he allows himself lengthy, though oftentimes quite interesting digressions on the difficulties and problems of the spiritual life.

As an exposition of his illustrations, however, his book is not a success. Perhaps he did not dare to say too much; or he may have wished to induce his readers to learn to see for themselves that of which he was writing.