The Parts of the Soul
A Greek System of Chakras
by John Opsopaus
This essay resulted from an attempt to find a Greek system of "energy
centers" corresponding to the chakras of Eastern philosophy. Such a
correspondence would help illuminate Greek mysticism and reveal some of
the foundations of the Western Magical Tradition. This goal might seem
to be a shallow exercise in analogies, but there are reasons to expect
substantial correspondence. First, the Eastern and Greek systems evolved
out of a common Indo-European culture, so one would expect genetic
correspondences; these connections were likely maintained over the
millennia, since we know the Middle East mediated continual cultural
transfer with both the West and East. Second, there is a certain degree
of objectivity in the system of chakras, as reflected in the physical
body, which would lead to correspondences even in the absence of
cultural contact. The consequence of these two factors is a significant
uniformity in ideas about the Spirit and its connection to the Body
across the Eurasian continent, and even beyond, as documented, for
example, in Onians's _Origins of European Thought_.
How would we know a Greek system of chakras if we saw it? The standard
I have used is that (1) they should be approximately seven energy
centers; (2) they should be approximately located where the chakras are
located; (3) they should have approximately the same "functions" as the
It's worth keeping in mind that the chakra system best known in the
West, with seven chakras, is not the only system; some have more than
fourteen (Eliade, 243-5; Murphy, 156). Therefore, we should not expect
an exact correspondence of number, since certain energy centers might or
might not be counted depending on their strength or the "kind" of energy
they concentrate. Furthermore, different systems differ in their exact
placement of the chakras, so likewise we should not expect an exact
correspondence in a Greek system. Nevertheless, it will be apparent that
the Greek system corresponds closely to the system of seven chakras.
My principal source has been Onians, especially Part I and Part II (chh.
1-7), but the overall structure is described in Plato's account of the
"Parts of the Soul" in the Timaeus (69c-73d), which probably embodies
Pythagorean doctrine. In the following I've numbered the energy centers
from the top down with Roman numerals, since this accords better with
Platonic doctrine; however, the chakras are conventionally numbered from
the bottom up, for which I've (appropriately) used Hindu numbers
(so-called Arabic numbers).
The Crown of the head (Gk. koruphe, Lat. vertex). Plato said the humans
stand upright because of the connection between the Heavens and the Soul
in their brains. People with especially great power in their heads were
represented with a nimbus, a halo of flames, around their head (attested
as early as the 3rd cent. BCE in Greece). This center corresponds to
Chakra 7 (at the crown of the head), called Sahasrara, which means
"thousand (-petaled)," an appropriate description of a nimbus.
The Brain (Gk. enkephalos, Lat. cerebrum), which contains the psuche
(Gk.) or genios (Lat.). (I use the old Latin spelling "genios" to avoid
confusion with the English "genius." The genios is sometimes called the
anima.) In Homeric times the psuche was taken to be the "Vital Spirit"
or Life Principal (the mind or consciousness was placed in IV, the
chest), corresponding to Skt. asu. The later view, which is found in
Plato and corresponds better to the Eastern system (cf. Skt. atman), is
that the brain is the center of rational thought, the Intellectual
center. In both Homer and Plato the psuche is considered the immortal
part of the Soul. The physical substance corresponding to psuche was
marrow (medulla), especially the cerebrospinal fluid of the brain and
spine, but also in other parts of the body (see below). For this reason
departed souls were thought to appear as snakes, which are all brain and
spine. Scalp and facial hair were considered physical emanations of the
psuche, and so the hair, scalp and chin were considered sacred (hence
the dedication of locks and the touching of the chin or beard in
supplication). This center corresponds to Chakra 6 (at the brow),
called Ajna, which means "authority or command," an appropriate name for
the rational faculty, which Plato said "controls and restrains" the
lower faculties; Onians calls it the Executive function.
The Neck (Gk. trachelos, dere; Lat. collum), which Plato called the
"isthmus or boundary" between the Superior, Divine or Immortal Soul and
the Inferior or Mortal Soul. He said that it allows communication
between the two, but prevents the Lower Soul from "polluting" the
Higher. This center corresponds to Chakra 5 (in the throat), called
Visuddha, which means "purgation or purity," that is, "the purging of
the merely animal, physical system" (Campbell, 165).
The Heart and Lungs (Gk. phrenes, Lat. cor), which contain the thumos
(Grk.) or animus (Lat.), which is the Higher part of the Mortal Soul.
In Homeric times the thumos was the Conscious Spirit, the vehicle of
Thought and Feeling (cf. Skt. manas). Later, it was restricted to
feeling, emotion, passion and especially spirit, courage and anger - the
Affective function. This center corresponds to Chakra 4 (at the heart),
called Anahata, which means "not hit" (referring to the mystical sound).
This chakra is associated with prana (Skt.) - vital breath, vital spirit
(Campbell, 164), as are the phrenes with pneuma (Gk.) or spiritus
(Lat.) - breath, spirit. Campbell (164-5) says, "This is the
aspiration, then, of spiritual striving," and "the birth of the
spiritual as opposed to the merely physical life," and likewise the
phrenes are associated with spirit, as opposed to the lower parts, which
are associated with physical needs and desires.
The "little foyer" (the Red Lotus of Eight Petals with the Kalpa Tree)
below the Heart Chakra corresponds to the diaphragm, which Plato called
the "midriff partition" separating the two parts of the Mortal Soul
(associated with Spirit and Desire, respectively).
The Belly (Gk. gaster, Lat. abdomen), between the diaphragm and navel,
is the site of the Lower Part of the Mortal Soul, which is the
Appetitive Soul, which we share with the lower animals and plants; its
function is nutrition and it is the source of Desire (both Nutritional
and, by most accounts, Sexual). This center corresponds to Chakra 3 (at
the navel), called Manipura, which means "city of the shining jewel,"
and its function is "aggressive: to conquer, to consume, to turn
everything into oneself" (Campbell, 159-60), which is a good description
of the Appetitive Soul.
The Gonads (Gk. gonades, Lat. genitalia), representing the Procreative
function. The "marrow," the stuff of which psuche or genios was made,
was the Life Essence; Plato says that in it is made "the bonds of life
which unite the Soul with the Body." This marrow or sap is passed down
the spine, concentrated in the gonads, and is the source of the life of
the offspring. In particular, semen was considered a kind of
cerebrospinal sap. This center corresponds to Chakra 2, called
Svadhisthana, which means "her favorite resort," an apt name for "the
cakra of sexuality" (Campbell, 144).
The Sacrum or Holy Bone (Gk. hieron osteon, Lat. os sacrum), that is,
the base of the spine. Because this was a center of concentration of
the Life Force, Middle Eastern people believed that the entire body
could be regenerated from this bone, and Onians (p. 208) conjectures
that its potency may account for "kiss of shame" (osculum infame) of the
Witches and Templars (and perhaps the Cathars and Waldenses). This
center corresponds to Chakra 1, called Muladhara, which means "root
base," which Campbell (p. 144) associates with "hanging on to life" and
a "reactive psyche," so in both cases we have the grossest form of the
Similarly, the Spine was called the Holy Tube (hiera surinx), which
recalls the Sushumna (Spine), which is likewise considered a channel
(nadi). Likewise the Egyptian Ded Pillar, which represents the spine,
was a symbol of Life. I have not, however, found Greeks correspondents
to the Ida and Pingala nadis.
The above are the "central" energy concentrations of Greek philosophy,
and it is apparent that they correspond closely to the familiar seven
chakras. The Greeks also recognized "peripheral" energy concentrations
in the hands, thighs and knees (which have a large concentration of
"marrow"). This explains the sacrifice of thigh bones, the use of the
hand (especially the right hand) to exercise executive power, and
clasping the knees when beseeching. (The knee - Gk. gonu, Lat. genu -
was especially associated with the Life Force - genios - and with
procreation or "generation"; cf. genital, genetic, gonad, etc.) So far
as I know, corresponding chakras are not recognized in Eastern thought.
As a general rule of thumb, Spirit, of one sort or another, is most
concentrated where the flesh is thinnest (Timaeus 75a), thus, in the
head, chest, sacrum, knees and hands.
No. English Greek Latin Function Chakra No.
I Crown Koruphe Vertex Illumination Sahasrara 7
II Brain Enkephalos Cerebrum Intellection Ajna 6
III Neck Trachelos Collum Purification Visuddha 5
IV Heart/Lungs Phrenes Cor Affection Anahata 4
V Belly Gaster Abdomen Appetition Manipura 3
VI Gonads Gonades Genitalia Procreation Svadhisthana 2
VII Sacrum Hieron Osteon Os Sacrum Basic Life Muladhara 1
Campbell, Joseph. (1990). Transformations of Myth Through Time. New
York: Harper & Row.
Eliade, Mircea. (1969). Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, tr. Willard R.
Trask. Bollingen Series LVI. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Mead, G. R. S. (1967). The Doctrine of the Subtle Body in Western
Tradition. Theosophical Publishing House.
Murphy, Michael. (1992). The Future of the Body: Explorations Into
the Further Evolution of Human Nature. New York: Jeremy
Onians, Richard Broxton. (1951). The Origins of European Thought About
the Body, the Mind, the Soul, the World, Time, and Fate. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Poortman, J. J. (1978). Vehicles of Consciousness: The Concept of
Hylic Pluralism. Vols. 1-4. Theosophical Publishing House.
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