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[sacredlandscapelist] The Caduceus and Kundalini in Egypt

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  • 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 scholarship ORIGINS OF
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 26, 2000
      I'm still researching the meaning of snakes in world religion and
      mythology. Here is an excerpt from Jack Lindsay's magnificent work of
      scholarship ORIGINS OF ALCHEMY IN GRAECO-ROMAN EGYPT 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

      ... 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 nddi
      in Sanskrit (from nãda, 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, Pinga/a, and
      Susun.rna. 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 Hermes’ 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.) [Emphasis mine-Dan]

      At the base of the spine, like a snake coiled in its spirals, sleeps
      Kundalini, the “igneous serpentine power”, 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 “the Sun rises.” The original text thus expresses the
      imagery: “The 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.” 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.”77

      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 Dedpillar 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 reborn—the 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 Illumination—a 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.78

      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 Phoibos’ splendour on high and enveloped in
      the pure Air’s 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,
      “and, using the soul as a base, gives out a sound through the mouth as
      through an instrument.” 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
      creature’s 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.80 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 ineffableand 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.82

      Dan W.
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