Chakras—Real or Just Another Model?
A bit of personal philosophy finds its way into a good many of the articles in the Mutable Dilemma. Obviously, beliefs are centrally involved in a speculative discussion on the ancient ideas of chakras. The issue is, of course, to what degree are our concepts, constructs, models, theories, paradigms, etc. creations of our own minds and to what degree are they “real” in the sense of objective entities existent in the world? The whole scientific enterprise is an effort to invent or discover better models (theories, paradigms, etc.). But you could say that a major part of the human enterprise is the same. Psychologist George Kelly formulated a personality theory that centered on that idea; that all humans tried to do, often in only partly consciously formulated ways, the same things science tried to do: to make theories about the nature of the world in order to handle it more effectively.
If we accept theories produced through revelation which are not to be questioned, we call our world-view “religion.” If we produce theories primarily through the use of logic, we call our world-view “philosophy.” If we produce and test our theories primarily through empirical, sense experience, with logic as a secondary tool, we call our world-view “science.” Unfortunately, no matter how we use experience and logic, we still have to build our superstructure on premises that go beyond physical sense and logic; premises that are taken on faith. And, no matter how totally our belief stems from a revealed source (guru or sacred book), we still depend on personal experiences to validate our belief. All science rests ultimately on premises, no matter how tentatively held, that are held on faith. All religion is supported by experience; no matter how biased the interpretation of the experience may seem to someone in a different religion. Experience is the foundation of all theories, and choices are made and facts defined as such in the context of theories.
In light of the merry-go-round suggested above, some philosophers have suggested that there is no way we can be sure of anything except pure sensation. We can say “I feel hot or cold,” “wet or dry,” “tired or energetic,” etc. We may guess how someone else feels at the physical level, but even here, and especially beyond, we are speculating. We may be empathic and right, or we may be projecting our own unconscious feelings. But we have to keep trying to make a theory, a model of our part of our world that will let us make choices and take actions with some hope of a pleasant outcome. Or if we prefer some other outcome than pleasure, our preferred outcome. When our choices do not produce the desired outcome, we may give up, or we may revise our model. Or we may, like the Kurtz committee, pretend that we are really right and try to con others into believing us. Missionaries are sometimes people who hope that by persuading others, they can reassure themselves of the accuracy of their own world-view. Kurtz is still plugging. One has to admire his persistence. After being fired by the Humanists, he now has started his own journal promoting his brand of humanism. I got an ad for it in the mail today.
So what has this to do with astrology or with chakras? Astrology is a set of models (theories, constructs, etc.); nearly as many as there are astrologers. Patrick Curry, in his article in Correlation which was discussed in the Virgo 1981 issue, suggests that ancient astrology may have had a rather sophisticated theory and that modern astrology is in dire need of a better one. Personally, I am reasonably happy with mine, until a better one comes along. I think we create our character over many lifetimes, each time returning where we fit the cosmos (heredity, environment, and horoscope) to go on growing. Certainly it is just a model, but it makes sense of the incredible variety of techniques one can use in astrology; of the variety of different details which can be associated with a single factor in astrology; of the fact that people do change their attitudes and actions and consequently change their lives, whether for better or for worse. Whether or not there is any objective validity or reality to my model, I find it useful. It permits me to look at anything in the sky as a possible key to meaning, at any technique as possibly useful, and to feel hope that people can make better lives for themselves, given self-awareness and desire to move toward a better life. In the end we choose our world-view, consciously or unconsciously: one that is compatible with our character. As in all the rest of life, our character creates our destiny. Our potential freedom (and it is at best a fragile potential) lies in our potential to change ourselves.
Finally, to chakras. The tradition that there are energy centers at intervals along the spine is a very ancient one. Theoretically, they start at the base of the spine and end at the top of the head; there are seven primary centers with other less important and peripheral ones. The word “chakra” comes from Hindu traditions, and most of the literature builds on the model developed in India. Many people claim that they can see the energy vortices like spinning wheels (the meaning of the Indian word), that they are colored differently, and are associated with different levels of human emotion. But at this point, we run into trouble. Except in the cases where writers have copied the descriptions of other writers, the individuals who claim to actually see something have assigned different colors and sometimes different locations and meanings to the centers. One begins to wonder whether there is really a precise, objective entity or whether the supposed seer is projecting, or whether there is considerable individual variation so the average chakra is no more valid than the average heart or kidney. Read Roger Williams “You are Individual” if you want to find out how unique people really are, in contrast to the textbook models.
Still, enough people claim to see or more often to feel some kind of energy center at intervals up the spine that I am not willing to throw out the whole concept just because I can’t see or feel anything. I can hardly put down the materialistic scientists for doing that with astrology if I am going to do the same thing with a variety of occult traditions. So, as a working hypothesis, let’s assume there might be seven major energy centers ranging up the spine, starting with one at the base which is highly materialistic and primitive and ending with one that facilitates cosmic consciousness or an experience of mystical oneness with the whole. The ancient tradition says that we activate the centers as we evolve spiritually, working our way up the spine.
I have suggested repeatedly that all of our models may be convenient fictions which help us to handle the world more effectively. There may be many different models that are all useful in dealing with a single complex reality. We can have many different pictures of the same tree at different seasons and times of year, from different positions, with different kinds of film. Each of the pictures may help us to know a little more about the tree. There is no one right picture and the rest wrong. Sometimes different models can be translated into each other’s components, and sometimes there is no exact correspondence. When we have the same number of components, there is always a temptation to suspect that a translation is possible; that there is a correspondence between the models. Ancient astrology had 7 major bodies: Sun, Moon, and five visible planets. Do they fit the model of the chakras?
We have to say “yes and no.” Which model of the chakras? I have talked to one spiritual healer in northern California who feels that the correlations I suggest here do match in large part her experience of the energy centers. But much of the literature conflicts with the correspondences I am suggesting. The base chakra is associated with primitive power, and I suggest that this may correlate with Mars. Next we have a chakra associated with sensuality which I would relate to Venus, our planet of pleasure. There is a chakra in the solar plexus, and if the Moon rules that area in astrology, that would be a logical association. But the solar plexus chakra is traditionally associated with power as well as with intense emotion and psychic involvement. Is the tradition of power exaggerated? Is the power of the mother fighting for her cub or for self-preservation adequate? Or is the association wrong, and the models do not match after all?
The 4th chakra is the pivot one, with 3 above and 3 below, and it is traditionally located at the heart. That would give it to the Sun, the center of our solar system and a pivot between personal needs and our developing capacity to respect the rights of others and live together in harmony. Most of the “experts” I have met claim that the heart chakra is totally loving and altruistic, in contrast to all the lower chakras. But, I know some astrologers who associate the Sun with Spirit, while I think it is Ego; our need to be the center, to pour out creative energy but also to desire a return; to love and to be loved. I don’t think we get to true altruism until we reach letters seven and eight (where it is still rather limited), and I think the transpersonal parts of life, especially letter twelve are the only truly spiritual ones. So I am willing to associate the Sun with the heart chakra, subject to further exploration. The 5th chakra is associated with the throat but with intellect and speech rather that a Venus kind of principle. That should connect it with Mercury, key to conscious mind and speech and breath. It is again associated to some extent with power in the ancient traditions. Is the power of the mind sufficient to keep the model as a working hypothesis?
The 6th chakra is the brow, associated with the pituitary gland. If there is a planetary correspondence, it would have to be Saturn. The pituitary is called the master gland, regulator of many of the other glands in the body. Saturn, in astrology, is of course the key to the Law. And finally we have the last chakra which would have to go to Jupiter, ruler of both Sagittarius and Pisces where we seek the Absolute and may achieve the mystical union. What about the new planets? When we learn to control our primitive self-will, we may have Pluto sharing rulership of the 1st chakra. Uranus may share the rulership of the brow chakra and the pituitary. The latter has two major parts, anterior and posterior, which carry out different functions in the body. Neptune would, of course, share the association with the crown chakra.
The preceding is pure speculation and logic. I’m not sure how one would go about testing the model empirically. But if anyone has any ideas or experience that support or contradict the ideas, send them along. We don’t have to be scientific all the time.