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 a 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 chakras.
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"
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 Life Force.
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
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
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 Tarcher/Putnam.
Onians, Richard Broxton. (1951). The Origins of European Thought About the
Body, the Mind, the Soul, the World, Time, and Fate. Cambridge: Cambridge
Poortman, J. J. (1978). Vehicles of Consciousness: The Concept of Hylic
Pluralism. Vols. 1-4. Theosophical Publishing House.