Shamballa with capital Kalapa


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Kalachakra thangka[1] from Sera Monastery

In Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist traditions Shambhala (Sanskrit: शम्भलः Śambhalaḥ, also spelled Shambala or Shamballa; Tibetan: བདེ་འབྱུངWylie: bde ‘byung; Chinese: 香巴拉; pinyin: xiāngbālā) is a mythical kingdom. The kingdom is said to be laid out in precisely the same form as an eight-petalled lotus blossom surrounded by a chain of snow mountains. At the centre lies the palace of the King of Shambala who governed from the city called Kalapa. Shambhala is also often-called Shangri-la in some texts. [2]

Shambhala is mentioned in various ancient texts, including the Kalacakra Tantra[3] and the ancient Zhangzhung texts of western Tibet. The Bon scriptures speak of a closely related land called Tagzig Olmo Lung Ring.[4]

Hindu texts such as the Vishnu Purana (4.24) mention the village Shambhala as the birthplace of Kalki, the final incarnation of Vishnu, who will usher in a new Golden Age (Satya Yuga).[5]

Whatever its historical basis, Shambhala (spelling derived from Buddhist transliterations) gradually came to be seen as a Buddhist pure land, a fabulous kingdom whose reality is visionary or spiritual as much as physical or geographic. It was in this form that the Shambhala myth reached Western Europe and the Americas, where it influenced non-Buddhist as well as Buddhist spiritual seekers—and, to some extent, popular culture in general.


In the Buddhist Kalachakra teachings

Manjuśrīkīrti, King of Shambhala

Shambhala is ruled over by Maitreya, the future Buddha. The Kalacakra tantra prophesies that when the world declines into war and greed, and all is lost, the 25th Kalki king will emerge from Shambhala with a huge army to vanquish “Dark Forces” and usher in a worldwide Golden Age. Using calculations from the Kalachakra Tantra, Alex Berzin puts this date at 2424.[6]

Manjuśrīkīrti is said to have been born in 159 BC and ruled over a kingdom of 300,510 followers of the Mlechha religion, some of whom worshipped the sun. He is said to have expelled 20,000 people from his domain who clung to ‘Surya Samadhi’ (sun realization) rather than convert to Kalachakra (Wheel of Time) Buddhism.

Portrait of an Alti Himalian Shaman. Detail from “A Sorceress from Tungusy” 1812–1813 by: E. Karnejeff

These expelled Rishis, seers, sages and saints, who had realized truth and eternal knowledge exclaimed, “We want to remain true to our Sun-Chariot. We do not wish to give up our belief system to change to another.” This shows there may have been a fundamental difference between the 2 time-cycle-based doctrines. After realizing these were the wisest and best of his people and how much he was in need of them, he later asked them to return. Some did. Those who did not return were said to have set up another magical city elsewhere, the Shambhallah of mystic legend. Manjuśrīkīrti initiated the preaching of the Kalachakra teachings in order to try to convert those who returned and all still under his rule. In 59 BC he abdicated his throne to his son, Puṇḍārika, and died soon afterward, entering the sambhogakaya of buddhahood was made a posthumous Buddhist saint.[7][8]

Western receptions and interpretations

Some westerners have been fascinated with the idea of Shambhala, often based on fragmentary accounts from the Kalachakra tradition. Tibet and its ancient traditions were largely unknown to westerners until the twentieth century; whatever little information westerners received was haphazard at best.[9]

The first information that reached western civilization about Shambhala came from the Portuguese Catholic missionary Estêvão Cacella, who had heard about Shambhala (which he transcribed as “Xembala”), and thought it was another name for Cathay or China. In 1627 they headed to Tashilhunpo, the seat of the Panchen Lama and, discovering their mistake, returned to India.[10]

In Altai Mountains folklore Mount Belukha is also believed to be a gateway to Shambhala.[11]

The Hungarian scholar Sándor Kőrösi Csoma, writing in 1833, provided the first geographic account of “a fabulous country in the north…situated between 45′ and 50′ north latitude”. Interestingly enough, due north from India to between these latitudes is eastern Kazakhstan, which is characterized by green hills, low mountains, rivers, and lakes. This is in contrast to the landscape of the provinces of Tibet and Xinjiang in western China, which are high mountains and arid.


During the late-19th century, Theosophical Society co-founder Helena Blavatsky alluded to the Shambhala myth, giving it currency for Western occult enthusiasts. Blavatsky, who claimed to be in contact with a Great White Lodge of Himalayan Adepts, mentions Shambhala in several places, but without giving it especially great emphasis.

Later esoteric writers further emphasized and elaborated on the concept of a hidden land inhabited by a hidden mystic brotherhood whose members labor for the good of humanity. Alice A. Bailey claims Shamballa (her spelling) is an extra-dimensional or spiritual reality on the etheric plane, a spiritual centre where the governing deity of Earth, Sanat Kumara, dwells as the highest Avatar of the Planetary Logos of Earth, and is said to be an expression of the Will of God.[12]


Nicholas and Helena Roerich led a 1924–1928 expedition aimed at Shambhala.[13]

Inspired by Theosophical lore and several visiting Mongol lamas, Gleb Bokii, the chief Bolshevik cryptographer and one of the bosses of the Soviet secret police, along with his writer friend Alexander Barchenko, embarked on a quest for Shambhala, in an attempt to merge Kalachakra-tantra and ideas of Communism in the 1920s. Among other things, in a secret laboratory affiliated with the secret police, Bokii and Barchenko experimented with Buddhist spiritual techniques to try to find a key for engineering perfect communist human beings.[14] They contemplated a special expedition to Inner Asia to retrieve the wisdom of Shambhala – the project fell through as a result of intrigues within the Soviet intelligence service, as well as rival efforts of the Soviet Foreign Commissariat that sent its own expedition to Tibet in 1924.

Similarly, Heinrich Himmler and Rudolf Hess sent a German expedition to Tibet in 1930, and then again in 1934-35, and in 1938-39.[15]

Modern times

French Buddhist Alexandra David-Néel associated Shambhala with Balkh in present-day Afghanistan, also offering the Persian Sham-i-Bala, “elevated candle” as an etymology of its name.[16] In a similar vein, the Gurdjieffian J. G. Bennett published speculation that Shambalha was Shams-i-Balkh, a Bactrian sun temple.[17]

Chögyam Trungpa, a Tibetan Buddhist lama, used the “Shambhala” name for certain of his teachings, practices, and organizations (e.g. Shambhala Training, Shambhala International, Shambhala Publications), referring to the root of human goodness and aspiration. In Trungpa’s view, Shambhala has its own independent basis in human wisdom that does not belong to East or West, or to any one culture or religion.[18]

In Western culture

Shambhala may have been the inspiration for Shangri-La, a paradise on Earth hidden in a Tibetan valley, which features in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by British author James Hilton.[19]

See also


  • Crossman, Sylvie and Jean-Pierre Barou, eds. Tibetan Mandala, Art and Practice (The Wheel of Time). New York: Konecky & Konecky, 2004. ISBN 1-56852-473-0. pp.20-26
  • Leepage, V (1996) Shambhala: The Fascinating Truth Behind the Myth of Shangri-la. Theosophical Publishing House, Illinois.pp 23-4
  • The Tantra by Victor M. Fic, Abhinav Publications, 2003, p.49.
  • The Bon Religion of Tibet by Per Kavǣrne, Shambhala, 1996
  • LePage, Victoria (1996). Shambhala: The Fascinating Truth Behind the Myth of Shangri-La. Quest Books. pp. 125–126. ISBN 9780835607506.
  • Berzin, Alexander (1997). “Taking the Kalachakra Initiation”. Retrieved 2016-06-20.
  • Das, Sarat Chandra (1882). Contributions to the Religion and History of Tibet, in Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. LI. Reprint: Manjushri Publishing House, Delhi. 1970, pp. 81–2.
  • Edwin Bernbaum “The Way to Shambhala: A Search for the Mythical Kingdom Beyond the Himalayas” 1980 & Albert Grünwedel “Der Weg nach Shambhala” 1915
  • Lopez, Donald S. Jr. Prisoners of Shangri~La, Tibetan Buddhism and the West, The University of Chicago Press, 1998
  • Bernbaum, Edwin. (1980). The Way to Shambhala, pp. 18-19. Reprint: (1989). Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., Los Angeles. ISBN 0-87477-518-3.
  • aprilholloway. “Mysteries of the Kingdom of Shambhala”.
  • Bailey, Alice A, A Treatise on Cosmic Fire 1932 Lucis Trust. 1925, p 753
  • Archer, Kenneth. Roerich East & West. Parkstone Press 1999, p.94
  • Znamenski (2011)
  • Hale, Christopher. Himmler’s Crusade, John Wiley & Sons., Inc., 2003
  • David-Néel, A. Les Nouvelles littéraires ;1954, p.1
  • Bennett, J.G: “Gurdjieff: Making a New World”. Bennett notes Idries Shah as the source of the suggestion.
  • Trungpa, Chogyam. Shambhala, The Sacred Path of the Warrior. Shambhala, 1988
  1. Wood, Michael (17 February 2011). “BBC – History – Ancient History in depth: Shangri-La”. BBC. Retrieved 28 February 2018.



From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

City of Kalapa

Kalapa, according to Buddhist legend, is the capital city of the Kingdom of Shambhala, where the Kulika King is said to reign on a lion throne. It is said to be an exceedingly beautiful city, with a sandalwood pleasure grove containing a huge three-dimensional Kalachakra mandala made by King Suchandra.

Kalapa Court, the palace of the king, stands on a platform of pearl in the centre. The building is nine stories high. The roof and floor of the king’s chamber comprise of crystal plants that radiate heat for warmth. The city is shaped like a square, and surrounded by walls made of ruby. There are four gates for entry made of precious stones. There are 31 pavilions each of which is surrounded by gardens and streams.[1]

There are two half-moon shaped lakes on two sides of Kalapa.[2]




  1. Lepage Victoria(1996) Shambhala: The fascinating Truth Behind the Myth of Shangri-la.Theosophical Publishing House: Illinois.pp 30

External links

Indian Peacocks / Lillies in Knossos, Crete

The peacock is a bird of INDIAN origin.

Are peacocks found only in India? There are two familiar peacock species. The blue peacock lives in India and Sri Lanka, while the green peacock is found in Java and Myanmar (Burma). A more distinct and little-known species, the Congo peacock, inhabits African rain forests. … A male peafowl is one of the largest flying birds.

From the Minoan palace of Knossos, Crete

The Minoan wall painting of the Prince of Lilies (dated 1600-1500 BC.) features his diadem decorated with lilies and adorned with peacock feathers.

“Prince of lilies” or “Priest-king Relief”, plaster relief at the end of the Corridor of Processions, restored by Gilliéron,

This head dress is similar to Mycenaean sphinxes.

I only have seen 1 culture where peacock feathers in a crown and that is INDIA mainly of Krishna’s or Shiva’s head.

Notice also the Iris (fleur-de-lis / lilly) crown on the Minoan Prince and the Mycenaean pillar with sphinxes topped with fluer-de-lis symbol.

The symbol of the fleur-de-lis, a symbol of divinity and resurrection

Why did a Minoan prince wear peacock feathers like the Indians?


Quote: The Lilies Fresco from Akrotiri on the Aegean island of Thera, modern-day Santorini (also known as the Spring Fresco). From Room 2 of Building Delta, c. 17th century BCE. Lilies or papyrus are depicted growing from colourful volcanic rocks and swallows fly between the flowers. (National Archaeological Museum, Athens) Source:



Hephaestus worked with the help of the chthonic Cyclopes—among them his assistants in the forge, Brontes, Steropes and Pyracmon.[13][14]

Hephaestus built automatons of metal to work for him. This included tripods that walked to and from Mount Olympus. He gave to the blinded Orion his apprentice Cedalion as a guide. In some versions of the myth,[15]

Prometheus stole the fire that he gave to man from Hephaestus’s forge. Hephaestus also created the gift that the gods gave to man, the woman Pandora and her pithos. Being a skilled blacksmith, Hephaestus created all the thrones in the Palace of Olympus.[13]

The Greek myths and the Homeric poems sanctified in stories that Hephaestus had a special power to produce motion.[16]

He made the golden and silver lions and dogs at the entrance of the palace of Alkinoos in such a way that they could bite the invaders.[17]

The Greeks maintained in their civilization an animistic idea that statues are in some sense alive. This kind of art and the animistic belief goes back to the Minoan period, when Daedalus, the builder of the labyrinth, made images which moved of their own accord.[18] A statue of the god was somehow the god himself, and the image on a man’s tomb indicated somehow his presence.[19]


Scheria (/ˈskɛriə/Ancient GreekΣχερίη or Σχερία)—also known as Scherie or Phaeacia—was a region in Greek mythology, first mentioned in Homer‘s Odyssey as the home of the Phaeacians and the last destination of Odysseus in his 10-year journey before returning home to Ithaca.

From Ogygia to Scheria (Odysseus)Edit

Before leaving Ogygia, Odysseus builds a raft and sails eastwards, instructed by Calypso to navigate using the stars as a celestial reference point.[1] On the eighteenth day appear the shadowy mountains of the land of the Phaeacians, that looked like a shield in the misty deep. But Poseidon spots his raft and seeking vengeance for his son Polyphemuswho was blinded by Odysseus, produces a storm that torments Odysseus. After three days of struggle with the waves, he is finally washed up on Scheria.

Pieter LastmanOdysseus and Nausicaa (oil on panel, 1619; Alte PinakothekMunich)

Odysseus meets NausicaaEdit

Meanwhile, the goddess Athena, who sneaks into the palace, disguises herself as a sea-captain’s daughter and instructs princess Nausicaa, the daughter of King Alcinous in her sleep to go to the seashore to wash her clothes. The next morning, Nausicaa and her maids go to the seashore, and, after washing the clothes, they start to play a game on the beach, with laughs, giggles and shouts. Odysseus, who was exhausted from his adventure and was sleeping nearby, is awakened by the shouts. He covers his nakedness with thick leaves and goes to ask for help from the team. Upon seeing the unkempt Odysseus in this state, the maids run away, but, Nausicaa, encouraged by Athena, stands her ground and talks to him. To excuse the maids, she admits that the Phaeacians are “the farthermost of men, and no other mortals are conversant with them”,[2] so they run away since they have never seen a stranger before. Nausicaa, being hospitable, provides clothes, food and drink to Odysseus, and then directs him to the palace of King Alcinous.

The palace of King AlcinousEdit

Following Nausicaa‘s orders, Odysseus sought to enter the palace of King Alcinousand plead for mercy from the queen, Arete, so he could make his way home. On his way to the palace, Odysseus meets Athena disguised as a local girl. In her disguised state, Athena advises him about how to enter the palace. Athena, knowledgeable that the Phaeacians were hostile towards men from the outlands, cloaked Odysseus in a mist that hid him from the Phaeacians’ gaze.[3] Under Athena’s protection, Odysseus passes through all of the protection systems of the palace and enters the chamber of King Alcinous. Odysseus throws his arms around the queen’s legs and supplicates her. Naturally, Alcinous and his court are surprised to see a stranger walking into their secured palace. It was only after Echeneus, a Phaeacian elder, urged King Alcinous to welcome the stranger that they offered Odysseus hospitality

The front doors of the palace are flanked with two dogs made of silver and gold, constructed by Hephaestus. The walls of the palace are made of bronze that “shines like the sun” and is secured with gates made of gold. Within the walls, there is a magnificent garden with apple, pear, and pomegranate trees that grow year-round. The palace is even equipped with a lighting system comprising golden statues of young men bearing torches. After Odysseus tells Alcinous and his court the story of his adventures after the Trojan War, the Phaeacians take him to Ithaca on one of their ships.

Claude LorrainPort Scene with the Departure of Odysseus from the Land of the Phaeacians(oil on canvas, 1646; LouvreParis)

The Phaeacian shipsEdit

The Phaeacians possessed remarkable ships. They were quite different from the penteconters, the ships used during the Trojan War, and they were steered by thought. King Alcinous says that Phaeacians carried Rhadamanthus to Euboea, “which is the furthest of any place” and came back on the same day.[4]He also explains to Odysseus what sort of information the Phaeacian ships require in order to take him home to Ithaca.[5]

Tell me also your country, nation, and city, that our ships may shape their purpose accordingly and take you there. For the Phaeacians have no pilots; their vessels have no rudders as those of other nations have, but the ships themselves understand what it is that we are thinking about and want; they know all the cities and countries in the whole world, and can traverse the sea just as well even when it is covered with mist and cloud, so that there is no danger of being wrecked or coming to any harm.

Homer describes the Phaeacian ships as fast as a falcon and gives a vivid description of the ship’s departure.

The ship bounded forward on her way as a four in hand chariot flies over the course when the horses feel the whip. Her prow curvetted as it were the neck of a stallion, and a great wave of dark blue water seethed in her wake. She held steadily on her course, and even a falcon, swiftest of all birds, could not have kept pace with her.[6]

Geographical location of ScheriaEdit

Pontikonisi, the purported petrified ship of the Phaeaces, close to Corfu

Many ancient and modern interpreters favour identification of Scheria with the island of Corfu, which is within 110 km (68 miles) of Ithaca. Thucydides, in his Peloponnesian War, identifies Scheria as Corfu or, with its ancient name, Corcyra. In I.25.4, he records the Corinthians’ resentment of the Corcyraeans, who “could not repress a pride in the high naval position of an island whose nautical renown dated from the days of its old inhabitants, the Phaeacians.” Locals on Corfu had long claimed this, based on the rock outside Corfu harbour, which is supposedly the ship that carried Odysseus back to Ithaca, but was turned to stone by Poseidon, to punish the Phaeacians for helping his enemy,

[…] with one blow from the flat of his hand turned her [the ship] into stone and rooted her to the sea bottom.[6]

The Phaeacians did not participate in the Trojan War. The Greek name Φαίακες is derived from phaiós (φαιός “gray”).[7] However, the Phaeacians in the Odyssey did not know Odysseus (although they knew of him, as evidenced by the tales of Demodocus), so they called him a “stranger”. Odysseus however was the king of the majority of the Ionian Islands,[8] not only of Ithaca, but also “of CephalleniaNeritumCrocyleaAegilipsSame and Zacynthus[9] so if Scheria was Corfu, it would be surprising that the citizens of one of the Ionian Islands did not know Odysseus. Furthermore, when Odysseus reveals his identity, he says to the nobles: “[…] if I outlive this time of sorrow, I may be counted as your friend, though I live so far away from all of you”[10] indicating that Scheria was far away from Ithaca.

Many characteristics of the Phaeacians, including their seafaring and relaxed lifestyle are suggestive of Minoan Crete. Aside from the seafaring prowess, the palace walls that shone like the Sun are read to be covered not by bronze but orichalcum. The latter similarities make Scheria also suggestive of Plato‘s account of AtlantisHelena Blavatsky proposed in her Secret Doctrine (1888) that it was Homer before Plato who first wrote of Atlantis.[11] From the ancient times, some scholars having examined the work and the geography of Homer have suggested that Scheria was located in the Atlantic Ocean. Among them were Strabo and Plutarch.

Geographical account by StraboEdit

Approximately eight centuries after Homer, the geographer Strabo criticized Polybius on the geography of the Odyssey. Strabo proposed that Scheria and Ogygia were located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

At another instance he [Polybius] suppresses statements. For Homer says also “Now after the ship had left the river-stream of Oceanus”[12]and “In the island of Ogygia, where is the navel of the sea,”[13] where the daughter of Atlas lives; and again, regarding the Phaeacians, “Far apart we live in the wash of the waves, the farthermost of men, and no other mortals are conversant with us.”[2] All these [incidents] clearly suggest that he [Homer] composed them to take place in the Atlantic Ocean.[14]


  1. ^ Homer, Odyssey, 5, 270
  2. a b Homer, Odyssey, 6.204
  3. ^ Lattimore, Richard (1967). Homer’s The Odyssey, Book 6, Line 160. New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. p. 112. ISBN 0-06-093195-7.
  4. ^ Homer, Odyssey, 7.320
  5. ^ Homer, Odyssey, Book VIII 555–563
  6. a b Odyssey, Book XIII 84–88
  7. ^ Entry φαιός in Liddell & Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon.
  8. ^ Map of Ionian Islands
  9. ^ Iliad, II.
  10. ^ Odyssey, IX, 17.
  11. ^ “It was not he [Plato] who invented it [the story of Atlantis], since Homer, who preceded him by many centuries, also speaks of the Atlantes and of their island in his Odyssey.” Secret Doctrine, vol 2, pt. 3, ch. 6.
  12. ^ Odyssey, XII, 1.
  13. ^ Odyssey, I, 50.
  14. ^ Strabo, 1.2.18. The original text of this passage by Strabo is “ταῦτα γὰρ πάντα φανερῶς ἐν τῷ Ἀτλαντικῷ πελάγει πλαττόμενα δηλοῦται.

External linksEdit

Apu , Yanantin and Masintin


The twelve sacred apus of Cusco are: Ausangate, Salkantay, Mama Simona, Pillku Urqu, Manuel Pinta, Wanakawri, Pachatusan, Pikchu, Saksaywaman, Viraqochan, Pukin, and Sinqa.

Other Apus in Bolivia and Peru are: Akamari, Antikuna, Chachani, Kimsa Chata, Illampu, Lady of Illimani, Machu Picchu, Pitusiray, Phutuq K’usi, Qullqipunku, Sinaqara, Tunupa, Willka Wiqi (Wakay Willka), Wamanrasu, Wayna Pikchu and Yanantin

Andean Cosmovision: The Basics


Yanantin and Masintin

The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries.

A brilliant read:

The Cosmic Mysteries of Mithras


The colour blue is thought to represent God in the heavens (sky), whereas scarlet/red represents man (the name for “Adam” in Hebrew can be translated “man” or “red”) and purple (the combination of red and blue) is prophetic of the coming Messiah who would be both God and man. Red and Blue (and white/purple) are symbolic colours also seen in flags and governments alike. Hence during easter, priest wear purple and white, the colour you get when you mix the two.


The following is by David Ulansey
author of The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries
(Oxford University Press, 1991)


The following essay is adapted from my article,
“Solving the Mithraic Mysteries”
Biblical Archaeology Review

(vol. 20, #5 [September/October 1994] pp. 40-53)

This article is a summary of my book on Mithraism,
The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries
(Oxford University Press, revised paperback, 1991)

[To order this book click here.]


The Cosmic Mysteries of Mithras

(Note: complete documentation for the following essay can be found
in my book on Mithraism, The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries,
and in my articles listed at the bottom of this page.)



The ancient Roman religion known as the Mithraic mysteries has captivated the imaginations of scholars for generations. There are two reasons for this fascination. First, like the other ancient “mystery religions,” such as the Eleusinian mysteries and the mysteries of Isis, Mithraism maintained strict secrecy about its teachings and practices, revealing them only to initiates. As a result, reconstructing the beliefs of the Mithraic devotees has posed an enormously intriguing challenge to scholarly ingenuity. Second, Mithraism arose in the Mediterranean world at exactly the same time as did Christianity, and thus the study of the cult holds the promise of shedding vital light on the cultural dynamics that led to the rise of Christianity.

Owing to the cult’s secrecy, we possess almost no literary evidence about the beliefs of Mithraism. The few texts that do refer to the cult come not from Mithraic devotees themselves, but rather from outsiders such as early Church fathers, who mentioned Mithraism in order to attack it, and Platonic philosophers, who attempted to find support in Mithraic symbolism for their own philosophical ideas. However, although our literary sources for Mithraism are extremely sparse, an abundance of material evidence for the cult exists in the many Mithraic temples and artifacts that archaeologists have found scattered throughout the Roman empire, from England in the north and west to Palestine in the south and east. The temples, called mithraea by scholars, were usually built underground in imitation of caves. These subterranean temples were filled with an extremely elaborate iconography: carved reliefs, statues, and paintings, depicting a variety of enigmatic figures and scenes. This iconography is our primary source of knowledge about Mithraic beliefs, but because we do not have any written accounts of its meaning the ideas that it expresses have proven extraordinarily difficult to decipher.

Underground Mithraic temple in Rome

The typical mithraeum was a small rectangular subterranean chamber, on the order of 75 feet by 30 feet with a vaulted ceiling. An aisle usually ran lengthwise down the center of the temple, with a stone bench on either side two or three feet high on which the cult’s members would recline during their meetings. On average a mithraeum could hold perhaps twenty to thirty people at a time. At the back of the mithraeum at the end of the aisle was always found a representation– usually a carved relief but sometimes a statue or painting– of the central icon of Mithraism: the so-called tauroctony or “bull-slaying scene” in which the god of the cult, Mithras, accompanied by a dog, a snake, a raven, and a scorpion, is shown in the act of killing a bull. Other parts of the temple were decorated with various scenes and figures. There were many hundreds– perhaps thousands– of Mithraic temples in the Roman empire. The greatest concentrations have been found in the city of Rome itself, and in those places in the empire (often in the most distant frontiers) where Roman soldiers– who made up a major segment of the cult’s membership– were stationed.

Mithraeum in Capua, Italy

Our earliest evidence for the Mithraic mysteries places their appearance in the middle of the first century B.C.: the historian Plutarch says that in 67 B.C. a large band of pirates based in Cilicia (a province on the southeastern coast of Asia Minor) were practicing “secret rites” of Mithras. The earliest physical remains of the cult date from around the end of the first century A.D., and Mithraism reached its height of popularity in the third century. In addition to soldiers, the cult’s membership included significant numbers of bureaucrats and merchants. Women were excluded. Mithraism declined with the rise to power of Christianity, until the beginning of the fifth century, when Christianity became strong enough to exterminate by force rival religions such as Mithraism.

For most of the twentieth century it has been assumed that Mithraism was imported from Iran, and that Mithraic iconography must therefore represent ideas drawn from ancient Iranian mythology. The reason for this is that the name of the god worshipped in the cult, Mithras, is a Greek and Latin form of the name of an ancient Iranian god, Mithra; in addition, Roman authors themselves expressed a belief that the cult was Iranian in origin. At the end of the nineteenth century Franz Cumont, the great Belgian historian of ancient religion, published a magisterial two- volume work on the Mithraic mysteries based on the assumption of the Iranian origins of the cult. Cumont’s work immediately became accepted as the definitive study of the cult, and remained virtually unchallenged for over seventy years.

There were, however, a number of serious problems with Cumont’s assumption that the Mithraic mysteries derived from ancient Iranian religion. Most significant among these is that there is no parallel in ancient Iran to the iconography which is the primary fact of the Roman Mithraic cult. For example, as already mentioned, by far the most important icon in the Roman cult was the tauroctony. This scene shows Mithras in the act of killing a bull, accompanied by a dog, a snake, a raven, and a scorpion; the scene is depicted as taking place inside a cave like the mithraeum itself. This icon was located in the most important place in every mithraeum, and therefore must have been an expression of the central myth of the Roman cult. Thus, if the god Mithras of the Roman religion was actually the Iranian god Mithra, we should expect to find in Iranian mythology a story in which Mithra kills a bull. However, the fact is that no such Iranian myth exists: in no known Iranian text does Mithra have anything to do with killing a bull.

Mithras killing bull

Franz Cumont had responded to this problem by focusing on an ancient Iranian text in which a bull is indeed killed, but in which the bull-slayer is not Mithra but rather Ahriman, the force of cosmic evil in Iranian religion. Cumont argued that there must have existed a variant of this myth– a variant for which there was, however, no actual evidence– in which the bull-slayer had been transformed from Ahriman to Mithra. It was this purely hypothetical variant on the myth of Ahriman’s killing of a bull that according to Cumont lay behind the tauroctony icon of the Roman cult of Mithras.

In the absence of any convincing alternative, Cumont’s explanation satisfied scholars for more than seventy years. However, in 1971 the First International Congress of Mithraic Studies was held in Manchester England, and in the course of this Congress Cumont’s theories came under concerted attack. Was it not possible, scholars at the Congress asked, that the Roman cult of Mithras was actually a new religion, and had simply borrowed the name of an Iranian god in order to give itself an exotic oriental flavor? If such a scenario seemed plausible, these scholars argued, one could no longer assume without question that the proper way to interpret Mithraism was to find parallels to its elements in ancient Iranian religion. In particular, Franz Cumont’s interpretation of the tauroctony as representing an Iranian myth was now no longer unquestionable. Thus from 1971 on, the meaning of the Mithraic tauroctony suddenly became a mystery: if this bull-slaying icon did not represent an ancient Iranian myth, what did it represent?

Within a few years after the 1971 Congress, a radically different approach to explaining the tauroctony began to be pursued by a number of scholars. It is not an exaggeration to say that this approach has in just the past few years succeeded in completely revolutionizing the study of the Mithraic mysteries. According to the proponents of this interpretation, the tauroctony is not, as Cumont and his followers claimed, a pictorial representation of an Iranian myth, but is rather something utterly different: namely, an astronomical star map!

This remarkable explanation of the tauroctony is based on two facts. First, every figure found in the standard tauroctony has a parallel among a group of constellations located along a continuous band in the sky: the bull is paralleled by Taurus, the dog by Canis Minor, the snake by Hydra, the raven by Corvus, and the scorpion by Scorpio. Second, Mithraic iconography in general is pervaded by explicit astronomical imagery: the zodiac, planets, sun, moon, and stars are often portrayed in Mithraic art (note for example the stars around the head of Mithras in the carving of the tauroctony illustrated above); in addition, numerous ancient authors speak about astronomical subjects in connection with Mithraism. In the writings of the Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry, for example, we find recorded a tradition that the cave which is depicted in the tauroctony and which the underground Mithraic temples were designed to imitate was intended to be “an image of the cosmos.” Given the general presence of astronomical motifs in Mithraic art and ideology, the parallel noted above between the tauroctony-figures and constellations is unlikely to be coincidence.

Tauroctony encircled by zodiac

My own research over the past decade has been devoted to discovering why these particular constellations might have been seen as especially important, and how an icon representing them could have come to form the core of a powerful religious movement in the Roman Empire.

In order to answer these questions, we must first have in mind a few facts about ancient cosmology. Today we know that the earth rotates on its axis once a day, and revolves around the sun once a year. However, Greco-Roman astronomy at the time of the Mithraic mysteries was based on a so-called “geocentric” cosmology, according to which the earth was fixed and immovable at the center of the universe and everything went around it. In this cosmology the universe itself was imagined as being bounded by a great sphere to which the stars, arranged in the various constellations, were attached. So, while we today understand that the earth rotates on its axis once every day, in antiquity it was believed instead that once a day the great sphere of the stars rotated around the earth, spinning on an axis that ran from the sphere’s north pole to its south pole. As it spun, the cosmic sphere was believed to carry the sun along with it, resulting in the apparent movment of the sun around the earth once a day.

This diagram shows the daily rotation of the cosmic sphere around the earth according to the “geocentric” cosmology. As shown here, the sun is carried along by the cosmic sphere around the earth once a day. However, as explained below, in the “geocentric” cosmology the sun was also believed to possess a second movement beyond its daily rotation with the cosmic sphere: namely, its yearly revolution along the circle of the “zodiac.”

In addition to this daily rotation of the cosmic sphere carrying the sun along with it, the ancients also attributed a second, slower motion to the sun. While today we know that the earth revolves around the sun once a year, in antiquity it was believed instead that once a year the sun– which was understood as being closer to the earth than the sphere of the stars– traveled around the earth, tracing a great circle in the sky against the background of the constellations. This circle traced by the sun during the course of the year was known as the “zodiac”– a word meaning “living figures,” which was a reference to the fact that as the sun moved along the circle of the zodiac it passed in front of twelve different constellations which were represented as having various animal and human forms.

Zodiac (circle of 12 figures) with sun in Aries. In the “geocentric” cosmology the sun was believed to move along this circle around the earth once a year. The other cosmic circle shown here, parallel to the earth’s equator, is called the “celestial equator.”

Because the ancients believed in the real existence of the great sphere of the stars, its various parts– such as its axis and poles– played a central role in the cosmology of the time. In particular, one important attribute of the sphere of the stars was much better known in antiquity than it is today: namely, its equator, known as the “celestial equator.” Just as the earth’s equator is defined as a circle around the earth equidistant from the north and south poles, so the celestial equator was understood as a circle around the sphere of the stars equidistant from the sphere’s poles. The circle of the celestial equator was seen as having a particularly special importance because of the two points where it crosses the circle of the zodiac: for these two points are the equinoxes, that is, the places where the sun, in its movement along the zodiac, appears to be on the first day of spring and the first day of autumn. Thus the celestial equator was responsible for defining the seasons, and hence had a very concrete significance in addition to its abstract astronomical meaning.

As a result, the celestial equator was often described in ancient popular literature about the stars. Plato, for example, in his dialogue Timaeus said that when the creator of the universe first formed the cosmos, he shaped its substance in the form of the letter X, representing the intersection of the two celestial circles of the zodiac and the celestial equator. This cross-shaped symbol was often depicted in ancient art to indicate the cosmic sphere. In fact, one of the most famous examples of this motif is a Mithraic stone carving showing the so-called “lion-headed god,” whose image is often found in Mithraic temples, standing on a globe that is marked with the cross representing the two circles of the zodiac and the celestial equator.

Lion-headed god standing on globe with crossed circles

One final fact about the celestial equator is crucial: namely, that it does not remain fixed, but rather possesses a slow movement known as the “precession of the equinoxes.” This movement, we know today, is caused by a wobble in the earth’s rotation on its axis. As a result of this wobble, the celestial equator appears to change its position over the course of thousands of years. This movement is known as the precession of the equinoxes because its most easily observable effect is a change in the positions of the equinoxes, the places where the celestial equator crosses the zodiac. In particular, the precession results in the equinoxes moving slowly backward along the zodiac, passing through one zodiacal constellation every 2,160 years and through the entire zodiac every 25,920 years. Thus, for example, today the spring equinox is in the constellation of Pisces, but in a few hundred years it will be moving into Aquarius (the so-called “dawning of the Age of Aquarius”). More to our point here, in Greco-Roman times the spring equinox was in the constellation Aries, which it had entered around 2,000 B.C.

It is this phenomenon of the precession of the equinoxes that provides the key to unlocking the secret of the astronomical symbolism of the Mithraic tauroctony. For the constellations pictured in the standard tauroctony have one thing in common: namely, they all lay on the celestial equator as it was positioned during the epoch immediately preceeding the Greco-Roman “Age of Aries.” During that earlier age, which we may call the “Age of Taurus,” lasting from around 4,000 to 2,000 B.C., the celestial equator passed through Taurus the Bull (the spring equinox of that epoch), Canis Minor the Dog, Hydra the Snake, Corvus the Raven, and Scorpio the Scorpion (the autumn equinox): that is, precisely the constellations represented in the Mithraic tauroctony.

In the above diagram the celestial equator intersects the zodiac in Aries. This was the situation during the “Age of Aries.” The sun is here pictured (in Aries) as it was located on the day of the spring equinox in that age.

Here the cosmic axis has wobbled, so that the celestial equator intersects the zodiac in Taurus– the situation during the “Age of Taurus.” The sun is here pictured (in Taurus) as it was located on the day of the spring equinox in that age. In this “Age of Taurus” the celestial equator passed through Taurus, Canis Minor, Hydra, Corvus, and Scorpio: precisely the constellations pictured in the Mithraic bull-slaying icon.

In fact, we may even go one step further. For during the Age of Taurus, when the equinoxes were in Taurus and Scorpio, the two solstices– which are also shifted by the precession– were in Leo the Lion and Aquarius the Waterbearer. (In the above diagram of the “Age of Taurus,” Leo and Aquarius are the northernmost and southernmost constellations of the zodiacal circle respectively– these were the positions of the summer and winter solstices in that age.) It is thus of great interest to note that in certain regions of the Roman empire a pair of symbols was sometimes added to the tauroctony: namely, a lion and a cup. These symbols must represent the constellations Leo and Aquarius, the locations of the solstices during the Age of Taurus. Thus all of the figures found in the tauroctony represent constellations that had a special position in the sky during the Age of Taurus.

The Mithraic tauroctony, then, was apparently designed as a symbolic representation of the astronomical situation that obtained during the Age of Taurus. But what religious significance could this have had, so that the tauroctony could have come to form the central icon of a powerful cult? The answer to this question lies in the fact that the phenomenon of the precession of the equinoxes was unknown throughout most of antiquity: it was discovered for the first time around 128 B.C. by the great Greek astronomer Hipparchus. Today we know that the precession is caused by a wobble in the earth’s rotation on its axis. However, for Hipparchus– because he held to the ancient geocentric cosmology in which the earth was believed to be immovable– what we today know to be a movement of the earth could only be understood as a movement of the entire cosmic sphere. In other words, Hipparchus’s discovery amounted to the discovery that the entire universe was moving in a way that no one had ever been aware of before!

At the time Hipparchus made his discovery, Mediterranean intellectual and religious life was pervaded by astrological beliefs. It was widely believed that the stars and planets were living gods, and that their movements controlled all aspects of human existence. In addition, at this time most people believed in what scholars call “astral immortality”: that is, the idea that after death the human soul ascends up through the heavenly spheres to an afterlife in the pure and eternal world of the stars. In time, the celestial ascent of the soul came to be seen as a difficult voyage, requiring secret passwords to be recited at each level of the journey. In such circumstances, Hipparchus’s discovery would have had profound religious implications. A new force had been detected capable of shifting the cosmic sphere: was it not likely that this new force was a sign of the activity of a new god, a god so powerful that he was capable of moving the entire universe?

Hipparchus’s discovery of the precession made it clear that before the Greco-Roman period, in which the spring equinox was in the constellation of Aries the Ram, the spring equinox had last been in Taurus the Bull. Thus, an obvious symbol for the phenomenon of the precession would have been the death of a bull, symbolizing the end of the “Age of Taurus” brought about by the precession. And if the precession was believed to be caused by a new god, then that god would naturally become the agent of the death of the bull: hence, the “bull-slayer.”

This, I propose, is the origin and nature of Mithras the cosmic bull-slayer. His killing of the bull symbolizes his supreme power: namely, the power to move the entire universe, which he had demonstrated by shifting the cosmic sphere in such a way that the spring equinox had moved out of Taurus the Bull.

Given the pervasive influence in the Greco-Roman period of astrology and “astral immortality,” a god possessing such a literally world-shaking power would clearly have been eminently worthy of worship: since he had control over the cosmos, he would automatically have power over the astrological forces determining life on earth, and would also possess the ability to guarantee the soul a safe journey through the celestial spheres after death.

That Mithras was believed to possess precisely such a cosmic power is in fact proven by a number of Mithraic artworks depicting Mithras in various ways as having control over the universe. For example, one scene shows a youthful Mithras holding the cosmic sphere in one hand while with his other hand he rotates the circle of the zodiac.

Mithras holding cosmic sphere and rotating zodiac

Another image shows Mithras in the role of the god Atlas, supporting on his shoulder the great sphere of the universe, as Atlas traditionally does.

Mithras as Atlas

A further example is provided by a number of tauroctonies that symbolize Mithras’s cosmic power by showing him with the starry sky contained beneath his flying cape (see illustration at beginning of article).

If Mithras was in fact believed to be capable of moving the entire universe, then he must have been understood as in some sense residing outside of the cosmos. This idea may help us to understand another very common Mithraic iconographical motif: namely, the so-called “rock-birth” of Mithras. This scene shows Mithras emerging from the top of a roughly spherical or egg-shaped rock, which is usually depicted with a snake entwined around it.

Rock-Birth of Mithras

As I mentioned previously, the tauroctony depicts the bull-slaying as taking place inside a cave, and the Mithraic temples were built in imitation of caves. But caves are precisely hollows within the rocky earth, which suggests that the rock from which Mithras is born is meant to represent the Mithraic cave as seen from the outside. Now as we saw earlier, the ancient author Porphyry records the tradition that the Mithraic cave was intended to be “an image of the cosmos.” Of course, the hollow cave would have to be an image of the cosmos as seen from the inside, looking out at the enclosing, cave-like sphere of the stars. But if the cave symbolizes the cosmos as seen from the inside, it follows that the rock out of which Mithras is born must ultimately be a symbol for the cosmos as seen from the outside. This idea is not as abstract as might first appear, for artistic representations of the cosmos as seen from the outside were in fact very common in antiquity. A famous example is the “Atlas Farnese” statue, showing Atlas bearing on his shoulder the cosmic globe, on which are depicted the constellations as they would appear from an imaginary vantage point outside of the universe.

Atlas Farnese statue, 2nd century A.D.

That the rock from which Mithras is born does indeed represent the cosmos is proven by the snake that entwines it: for this image evokes unmistakeably the famous Orphic myth of the snake-entwined “cosmic egg” out of which the universe was formed when the creator-god Phanes emerged from it at the beginning of time. Indeed, the Mithraists themselves explicitly identified Mithras with Phanes, as we know from an inscription found in Rome and from the iconography of a Mithraic monument located in England.

The birth of Mithras from the rock, therefore, would appear to represent the idea that he is in some sense greater than the cosmos. Capable of moving the entire universe, he cannot be contained within the cosmic sphere, and is therefore depicted in the rock-birth as bursting out of the enclosing cave of the universe, and establishing his presence in the transcendent space beyond the cosmos.

This imaginary “place beyond the universe” had been described vividly by Plato several centuries before the origins of Mithraism. In his dialogue Phaedrus (247B-C) Plato envisions a journey by a soul to the outermost boundary of the cosmos, and then gives us a glimpse of what the soul would see if for a brief moment it were able to “look upon the regions without.” “Of that place beyond the heavens,” says Plato,

none of our earthly poets has yet sung, and none shall sing worthily. But this is the manner of it, for assuredly we must be bold to speak what is true, above all when our discourse is upon truth. It is there that true being dwells, without colour or shape, that cannot be touched; reason alone, the soul’s pilot, can behold it, and all true knowledge is knowledge thereof.

Beyond the heavens

I would suggest that the awe-inspiring quality of Plato’s vision of what is beyond the outermost boundary of the cosmos also lies behind the appeal of Mithras as a divine being whose proper domain is outside of the universe. As the text from Plato shows, the establishment by ancient astronomers of the sphere of the stars as the absolute boundary of the cosmos only encouraged the human imagination to project itself beyond that boundary in an exhilarating leap into an infinite mystery. There beyond the cosmos dwelled the ultimate divine forces, and Mithras’s ability to move the entire universe made him one with those forces.

Here in the end we may sense a profound kinship between Mithraism and Christianity. For early Christianity also contained at its core an ideology of cosmic transcendence. Nowhere is this better expressed than in the opening of the earliest gospel, Mark. There, at the beginning of the foundation story of Christianity, we find Jesus, at the moment of his baptism, having a vision of “the heavens torn open.” Just as Mithras is revealed as a being from beyond the universe capable of altering the cosmic spheres, so here we find Jesus linked with a rupture of the heavens, an opening into the numinous realms beyond the furthest cosmic boundaries. Perhaps, then, the figures of Jesus and Mithras are to some extent both manifestations of a single deep longing in the human spirit for a sense of contact with the ultimate mystery.


Excerpts from reviews of
The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries:
Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World
by David Ulansey
(Oxford University Press, 1989; revised paperback, 1991)

Rainbow colours


The seven rainbow colours

In fact, the rainbow does not contain seven colours, but only six: three fundamental or primary (red, blue, yellow) and three composed or complementary (green, orange, violet) and no more. The three last colours are said to be composed of or complementary to the three first as they result from their two by two associations: green (blue + yellow), orange (red + yellow) and violet (red + blue).

No valid reason allows the addition of an intermediary colour between violet and blue (indigo) because why not add another transition colour between blue and green (cyan), green and yellow (citrine), yellow and orange (yellow orange) and orange and red (red orange) to, finally, obtain eleven colours instead of seven. All colours and their nuances are the result of the combination, in different proportions, of the six primary and composed colours, including indigo. To fix arbitrarily the number of rainbow colours to seven has no sense at all. Then, where does the introduction of this seventh colour come from 1 and what is its meaning ?

Seven colour diagramIf we put the three primary colours on the vertexes of a triangle pointing upwards and the three composed colours on the vertexes of a reverse triangle, so that each fundamental colour stands opposite its complement, we get a Solomon seal. This seal defines seven zones composed of six coloured triangles and a central non coloured hexagon. As the rainbow spectrum can be viewed by refraction of sunlight through a prism, the central zone may only represent the source of the manifestation (of colours), namely the “white” light.

Another way of representing primary and composed colours consists in drawing six radiuses joining the centre of the hexagon to the six vertexes of the seal and to attribute to them the colours of the six triangles. The “white” light stands then at the intersection of the six radiuses and symbolizes the Centre.

The Centre represents the Principle, the “white” light, source of primary and complement colours. In fact, it portrays the seventh ray of the sun, the meaning of which has been lost along the ages and come back under the toned down form of the seventh colour of the rainbow (indigo).

The colour perception corresponds to a way out of the non coloured Principle into the manifested; the resorption of the colours into their Principle sounds like a way back to the Centre. This double movement between the non coloured Principle and its coloured manifestation gives all its meaning to the number seven.

The septenarius symbolism

Seven colours and spatial orientationAnother way of representing the sun radiating the real rainbow colours consists in drawing it within the three dimensional space. Then, the six directions and colours are opposed two by two and extend from their common point or Centre, symbol of their unity.

In this drawing, the vertical axis links Heaven and Earth and refers to the spiritual order whereas the horizontal plane, related to the four compass points, corresponds to the temporal order.

The real meaning of the septenarius lies in the Centre or the unity of the Principle and its senarius manifestation (of the real rainbow colours).

Many examples of the septenarius may be found in various customs and traditions.

1. The above drawing may be connected with the seven virtues of the Christian tradition.

The vertical axis is related to the three theological virtues: “Faith” or Trust (white), “Charity” or Divine love (red), “Hope” (green).

The horizontal plane represents the four cardinal virtues: “Prudence” or Wisdom (yellow), “Temperance” (violet), “Justice” or Harmony (orange) and “Fortitude” or spiritual Force (blue).

The reasons behind these connections will appear more clearly within the colour symbolism section.

2. In the Veda, it is said that the sun comes every morning riding on its golden chariot pulled by seven horses (“ashva”). In Sanskrit, “ashva” means the horse and the ray as well. So, the golden chariot refers to the seven rays of the sun, where the seventh represents the central one, the “white” light, and the six others the rainbow colours.

Seven-branched candelabrumA similar meaning can be found in the seven-branched candelabrum (“Menorah”) of the Jewish tradition. The central branch represents, among other things, the “white” light from which six other branches, symbolizing the six rainbow colours, are radiating.

3. In the Genesis, the creation occurred in six days and ended up with a seventh, a so-called resting day (Sabbath). The last is not really a resting day outside the creation, but rather its final crowning consisting in a return to the Principle (Centre).

Similarly, the week, the days of which get their names from the denomination of the astral objects, ends up or starts a Sunday, the day of the sun, the star around which the planets are revolving.

4. In many traditional forms, the number of degrees of the initiation path comes to seven, the highest corresponding to the unity of the septenarius.

For instance, the Chinese tradition, in its overall exoteric (Confucianism) and esoteric (Taoism) aspects, contains an ascent ladder of seven grades. Six of them have a human character whereas the seventh, as the achievement of the realization, is properly supra-human or spiritual and represents the Centre.

The first two grades (Well-read man, Learned man) concern Confucianism only, the third one (Wise man) refers to both Confucianism and Taoism and the four last ones (Talented man, Path man, True man, Transcendent man) to Taoism exclusively.

5. Similarly, in Hindu tradition, there are seven “chakras” (wheels), situated alongside the spine, in an ascending order. They represent the consciousness levels from the ordinary consciousness linked to fear, greed and sexual instincts to the universal Consciousness, corresponding to the Principle. While each of the six first “chakras” is connected to an organ of the body, a symbolic colour or number etc., the seventh may be associated with the “white” light.

6. This gradual ascent of the initiation degrees from Earth to Heaven are depicted, within the Islamic tradition, by the seven rung ladder in relation to the seven celestial spheres.

7. The Japanese pagoda traditionally has seven stories to mark the different stages of the ascent from Earth to Heaven.

The Babylonian ziggurat, a seven-storied spiralLikewise, according to the Mesopotamian tradition, a spiral slope was winding round the seven-storeyed ziggurat. The last storey, which is empty, symbolizes the return into the non-manifested, the Principle.

8.Philosopher's stone symbol The image of the philosophical stone of the Pythagorean tradition is also an echo to the septenarius (7). Each of its faces is developed according to a triangle and a square. The triangle is composed of a vertex in relation to the Principle (1) and a basis reflecting its polarity (2). The four corners (4) of the square refer naturally to the four compass points and portray the manifestation basis.

Other examples could be given, but they would add nothing more to the septenarius or colour meanings.

The colour symbolism

The human eye may distinguish seven hundred colour nuances and there is no question to mention here all their aspects. Since the same colour may assume different meanings according to its tonality (clearer or darker) or the world it is applied to (manifested or non-manifested, spiritual or temporal etc.). So, only qualities of main colours, in relation to different worlds, will be touched in the remaining text. We will start with white, source of the rainbow colours.

White and Black

White symbolizes the Principle of the manifestation of colours and everything in general. It corresponds to the being who has reintegrated the Centre, who has overcome the human state and accessed a supra human or spiritual state. White is the colour of druids of the Celtic tradition and Brahmins of Hindu tradition. It symbolizes the spiritual or sacerdotal authority, which has authority over the temporal or royal power.

White depicts the presence, the manifestation (of colours); black the absence, the non-manifestation (of colours).The alternating white and black tiles portray the constant game between the visible and the invisible, the world of appearances and the world of depths

White personifies the initiation path as well, going through all spiritual realization degrees and based on trust and surrendering. Reaching the last degree or the Centre means returning to the Principle. Opposed to white, source of the manifestation, of the presence (of colours), black depicts the non-manifested, the absence (of colours). Seen from the outer (exoteric vision), from the manifestation point of view, the Principle or Centre is white. Apprehended from the inner (esoteric vision), it is non-manifested and black. Black constitutes, in a way, the real Centre, source of all rays, including the seventh. Thus, some ladders of initiation degrees of the Islamic tradition may contain seven, even eight, rungs, the last one being black to emphasize the ultimate step of the spiritual accomplishment.

Moreover, in Hindu tradition, black is also the colour of the lower class (distinct from the lower caste). Indeed, there are two ways not to belong to a class (“varna”, which means colour as well):

– To be deprived of class (“avarna”) as the shudras;
– To be beyond the classes (“ativarna”), that means having rejoined the Centre.

It ensues that black symbolizes the beginning of the manifestation cycle or the Principle and the end of the cycle in relation to its full development. Consequently, black represents both the brightest and the darkest light according to the point of view: non-manifested or manifested.

The juxtaposition of white and black symbolizes naturally pairs such as light and darkness, day and night, yang and yin etc. The white of yang and black of yin put the pre-eminence of yang over yin in an obvious place from the manifestation point of view. A pre-eminence accompanied with a deep complement between both principles, which is reflected by the entanglement of white and black zones within the yin yang symbol.

More commonly, the overlapping layout of white and black tiles of cathedral floors has a similar meaning. So does the chessboard, composed of alternating black and white squares. It conveys the constant game between the non-manifested and the manifestation through its indefinite multiplicity of (coloured) moves.


Temporal world

As the colour of putting the enemy place to fire and the sword, red represents courage and, more symbolically, the power and the force in this world. As the “uppermost” colour of the rainbow, it corresponds to the highest rank of the temporal order. A role traditionally devoted to warriors and their chief, the king. It is the colour of the Kshatriyas, second function after the Brahmins within Hindu tradition. The cross of the soldier monks, knights of the Temple order, provides a more familiar example. The cardinals of the Catholic Church have inherited this sovereignty symbol.

Spiritual world

If white symbolizes the sacerdotal authority of the principle knowledge, red represents the temporal power in charge of their application. In that sense, red symbolizes love of the divine Principle.


Temporal world

As the “lowest” fundamental colour within the rainbow, (dark) blue represents the colour of the productive function.

Spiritual world

Blue is the most insubstantial colour, which occurs in nature mostly in its translucency form and essentially in the sky or waters. Therefore, it symbolizes more the essence than the substance, mainly the spiritual force, the Spirit, the inner Peace.
Light blue is the colour of meditation and, as it darkens, it becomes the colour of dreams. The Consciousness yields little by little to the unconscious just as the light of day gradually turns into the colour of night, the midnight blue.


Temporal world

From the temporal point of view, yellow represents, in Hindu tradition, the “middle” colour linked to the vaishyas caste.

Spiritual world

As the warmest colour of the light spectrum, yellow is related to sun and gold, two symbols of the spiritual influence, of Wisdom. The transmutation of lead into gold symbolized the inner alchemy transforming the human being into a spiritual or a supra-human being. That is why yellow is linked to the re-birth of the being and the resurrection of Christ.
Situated halfway within the rainbow spectrum, yellow represents the “Middle Path”. It symbolizes the communication channel between Heaven and Earth, blue and red. In ancient China, it was the imperial colour. The emperor ruled over the “Middle Empire” as sun reigned in the skies. In connection with its highly spiritual characteristics, yellow was often associated with black from which it emerges. In various traditions, it symbolizes the transmission of the divine power to emperors and kings.


Temporal world

As the most common colour spread over the earth, green represents both the life rising from the plant and its decomposition. As such, it is associated with the cycle of death and rebirth.
Moreover, mid-way between the so-called warm colours (red, orange, yellow) and cool colours (blue, violet), green is the colour of neutrality, quietness, calming, all what we are hoping for.

Spiritual world

Combination of blue and yellow, green is the colour of awakening, re-generation and access to spiritual knowledge.
Myths often refer to the complement of red and green. In the Egyptian tradition, Osiris corpse (green) was brought to life again by Isis (red). In the Christian version of the quest of the Holy Grail, the emerald vase contains the blood of God who became human.


Temporal world

If yellow is related to the sun in its apparent fullness, orange is identified to sunrise and sunset, i.e. sun elevation and descent. In other terms, orange characterizes at the same time the flight towards light and the descent towards darkness, synonym of ignorance.

Spiritual world

Mix of yellow and red, orange combines the spiritual gold and the temporal red and symbolizes the equilibrium between celestial and terrestrial worlds, which means justice in a deep sense, i.e. harmony.
This balanced way was sought in ritual orgies regarded as bringing with them the initiatory revelation. This is why Dionysus is represented dressed in orange. To day, the saffron garment of Buddhist monks symbolizes also this search of harmony.


Temporal world

Violet is the colour of temperance as if softens the blaze of red. This is the meaning attached to the bishop’s sacerdotal vestments. He has to watch over his flock and moderate the heat of his passions.

Spiritual world

Composed of equal proportions of blue and red, violet represents also a balance colour between Heaven and Earth. Lying opposite to yellow, a colour of the passage between death to a state of being and re-birth into another, violet depicts, on the contrary, the passage from life to death to a being state before springing up again or resuscitating into another state. That is why choirs and statues of churches are draped in violet on Good Friday. Prior to the Renaissance, many gospel-books, psalters and breviaries were written in golden letters on a violet background so that the reader could constantly remember the mystery of the Lord’s Passion. Later, in Western societies, the colour became that of mourning or half-mourning. As such, violet is related to a rite of passage from a state to another one.


  • René Guénon: “Symbols of Sacred Science”, Sophia Perennis Publisher 2004;

ISBN-13: 978-0900588785
ISBN-10: 0900588780


In Symbols of Sacred Science, Guénon, a master of precise, even ‘mathematical’ metaphysical exposition, reveals himself as a consummate exegete of myth and symbolism as well, superior in many ways to Mircea Eliade, and comparable perhaps only to his respected friend Ananda K. Coomaraswamy. This extraordinary text unveils the cosmological meanings of root symbols organized under such general headings as: The Center of the World, Cyclic Manifestation, Symboic Weapons, Axial Symbolism and the Symbolsim of Passage, The Symbolism of Building, and The Symbolism of the Heart. Far more than a simple catalogue of myths and symbols from many traditions, Symbols of the Sacred Science lays the foundation for a universal esoteric symbology. In this work, Guénon demonstrates the fundamental unity—across all cultures and ages—of the images with which the Absolute clothes itself in its cosmic self-revelation.

  • More specifically, chapters 47 on white and black and 57 devoted to the seven rays of the rainbow.

1 back The white light breakdown into seven colours returns to Newton. For a long time, one has wondered what was the reason for the introduction of indigo ? It would seem that Newton wanted to establish a correspondence between the seven planets known at that time and the colours of the visible light spectrum. As the “universal” attraction followed from the different planet masses, the colour spectrum would result from distinct corpuscle masses.

History of religion

HISTORY OF RELIGION: Once there where Animals/Plants- People started agriculture and needed to measure time – They started using stars to measure time for planting/breeding – Then they started naming constellations to keep easier track of groups of stars – Magi or priest astronomers added constellations and made these into stories of people/gods/demigods to track the rotation of stars into a year (Demeter going into underworld/below horizon) – Naming main god their spring constellation/fertility of the land Osiris/vegetation god/Orion/Hercules the giant – For ego and control learned priest/kings identifying themselves with the constellation/god in sky as reincarnation of god on earth on top of temples fooling unschooled people with these stories as them being men of god. Changing to the single man in the sky, forgetting about what the stories/allegories actual where for (the stories where classified as Myths) – There was a god in the sky and a devil in the underworld, two opposite constellations summer and winter respectively. Also creating stories about Easter bunny (Lepus, the hare at spring , with its eggs as hare and eggs is fertility. The Egyptian PER hare glyph, which was another name for Osiris (orion) and later came Santa Claus with his reindeer (deer lunar mansion Mrigashira with Rohini aldebaran as red nose) which now sits in winter due to precession) having a bible with 12 apostles/12 zodiac/4 main evangelist/corners of the zodiac signs and the sun Jesus and nobody knows what it means any more – The main spring constellation became a single main god (Jesus resurrects at spring) – And a single god – numerous cultures telling same story related to astronomy but nobody knows its true meaning any more – People forgetting about why temples where build with encoded timekeeping in it or cross as tree of life. – Stijn van den Hoven

The roots of Tantra


The Roots of Tantra
The Roots of Tantra
Click on image to enlarge

Katherine Anne Harper – Editor
Robert L. Brown – Editor
SUNY series in Tantric Studies
Price: $71.50 
Hardcover – 280 pages
Release Date: February 2002
ISBN10: 0-7914-5305-7
ISBN13: 978-0-7914-5305-6
Price: $31.95 
Paperback – 280 pages
Release Date: May 2002
ISBN10: 0-7914-5306-5
ISBN13: 978-0-7914-5306-3
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Summary Read First Chapter image missing
An exploration of the sources of Tantra.

Among the many spiritual traditions born and developed in India, Tantra has been the most difficult to define. Almost everything about it—its major characteristics, its sources, its relationships to other religions, even its practices—are debated among scholars. In addition, Tantrism is not confined to any particular religion, but is a set of beliefs and practices that appears in a variety of religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism. This book explores one of the most controversial aspects of Tantra, its sources or roots, specifically in regard to Hinduism. The essays focus on the history and development of Tantra, the art history and archaeology of Tantra, the Vedas and Tantra, and texts and Tantra. Using various disciplinary and methodological approaches, from history to art history and religious studies to textual studies, scholars provide both broad overviews of the beginnings of Tantra and detailed analyses of specific texts, authors, art works, and rituals.

“This is as coherent a picture of the roots of Tantra as we are likely to get. The material presented is so vitally important to the study, not only of Tantrism, but to Hinduism and arguably to the history of religions, that this work will become a handbook for serious scholars and a blueprint for other studies of esoteric religious phenomena.” — Phyllis Herman, California State University, Northridge

“This book will improve the West’s (and the East’s) understanding of Tantra. Scholars and students will benefit from this state-of-the-field anthology.” — Stuart Sovatsky, author of Words from the Soul: Time, East/West Spirituality, and Psychotherapeutic Narrative

Contributors include Douglas Renfrew Brooks, Robert L. Brown, Thomas B. Coburn, Teun Goudriaan, Lina Gupta, Katherine Anne Harper, Dennis Hudson, M. C. Joshi, David N. Lorenzen, Thomas McEvilley, Paul E. Muller-Ortega, André Padoux, and Richard K. Payne.

Katherine Anne Harper is Associate Professor of Art History at Loyola Marymount University and the author of The Iconography of the Saptamatrikas: Seven Hindu Goddesses of Spiritual Transformation. Robert L. Brown is Professor of Art History at the University of California, Los Angeles and the Curator of Southeast Asian Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He is the author of The Dvaravati Wheels of the Law and the Indianization of South East Asia, and editor of Ganesh: Studies of an Asian God, also published by SUNY Press, and Art from Thailand.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Katherine Anne Harper

Robert L. Brown

PART I: Overviews

1. What Do We Mean by Tantrism?
André Padoux

2. Early Evidence for Tantric Religion
David N. Lorenzen

PART II: The History and Development of Tantra

3. Historical and Iconographic Aspects of Sakta Tantrism
M. C. Joshi

4. Auspicious Fragments and Uncertain Wisdom: The Roots of Srividya Sakta Tantrism in South India
Douglas Renfrew Brooks

5. The Structural Interplay of Tantra, Vedanta, and Bhakti: Nondualist Commentary on the Goddess
Thomas B. Coburn

PART III: The Art History and Archaeology of Tantra

6. The Spinal Serpent
Thomas McEvilley

7. The Warring Saktis: A Paradigm for Gupta Conquests
Katherine Anne Harper

8. Early Evidence of the Pancaratra Agama
Dennis Hudson

PART IV: The Vedas and Tantra

9. Imagery of the Self from Veda to Tantra
Teun Goudriaan

10. Tongues of Flame: Homologies in the Tantric Homa
Richard K. Payne

PART V: The Texts and Tantra

11. Becoming Bhairava: Meditative Vision in Abhinavagupta’s Paratrisika-laghuvrtti
Paul E. Muller-Ortega

12. Tantric Incantation in the Devi Purana: The Padamala Mantra Vidya
Lina Gupta

List of Contributors












Tree of life – Bodhi tree.

65 Bodhi Tree, Bharhut Stupa at the Indian Museum, Kolkata
 The fire sticks used in Hindu sacrificial fire like agnihotra also contain dried wood of ashvatha tree.


Typical example of aerial roots

Ficus religiosa (Peepal tree) grow on a bare wall.

Sadhus (Hindu ascetics) still meditate beneath sacred fig trees, and Hindus do pradakshina (circumambulation, or meditative pacing) around the sacred fig tree as a mark of worship.

Usually seven pradakshinas are done around the tree in the morning time  chanting “vriksha rajaya namah“, meaning “salutation to the king of trees.”

It claimed that the 27 stars (constellations) constituting 12 houses (rasis) and 9 planets are specifically represented precisely by 27 trees—one for each star.

This ties in with the chinese bronze tree of 27 fruits and 9 birds


The Bodhi Tree is said to represent Pushya (Western star name γ, δ and θ Cancri in the Cancer constellation).

Plaksa is a possible Sanskrit term for Ficus religiosa. However, according to Macdonell and Keith (1912), it denotes the wavy-leaved fig tree (Ficus infectoria) instead. In Hindu texts, the Plaksa tree is associated with the source of the Sarasvati River. The Skanda Purana states that the Sarasvati originates from the water pot of Brahma flows from Plaksa on the Himalayas. According to Vamana Purana 32.1-4, the Sarasvati was rising from the Plaksa tree (Pipal tree).[9] Plaksa Pra-sravana denotes the place where the Sarasvati appears.[10] In the Rigveda Sutras, Plaksa Pra-sravana refers to the source of the Sarasvati.[11]