Thursday, March 29, 2007
Recently I watched a PBS special on "The Mystics of Iran." One of the segments presented women sufis, whose existence has been hidden from the world for many centuries. Included in this (or another segment) was a piece about female followers of Zoroaster. Fire is an essential element in this religion, and these women sometimes go into trance and "eat fire." (Actually, they swallow smoke from a burning brand. Subsequently, they breathe out the smoke, as if they were "exhaling fire.")
Then, a few minutes ago, an ad appeared on my computer for "fire dancing." Curious, I checked out the site. Apparently this term applies to a form of contemporary exercise, in which the performer twirls lighted batons above her head as a way to strengthen muscles and lose weight.
I could not help wondering whether or not this contemporary exercise is in some way related to ancient fire worship, only now it is (like so many things) commercialized and somewhat debased in its presentation.
Fire has long been a symbol of the profoundly sacred, used for centuries in ritual and ceremony. It is both desired and feared, for it can be devastating when it gets out of control.
In ancient India, fire (agni) was often the center of sacred ceremonies performed to call the gods into being. In Greek mythology, Prometheus stole fire from the gods so that humankind might be relieved of suffering and ignorance. For this act of defiance, he was chained to a rock "for eternity." Each day, an eagle pecked at his liver, each night the liver grew back.
Thus fire has long been a universal symbol associated with magic, the mysterious, the sacred, the realm of the unknown. It reflects our insistence on exploring hidden realms, and connecting with what is often forbidden to us as mere mortals.
Kundalini also is associated with fire. As many know, it can bring along immense bodily heat, sometimes causing severe physical discomfort. In ancient Tibet, monks who practiced kundalini arousal held contests to see which one could dry the most "sheets" (these much smaller than ours today) through the heat of kundalini. Sometimes attempts are made to raise kundalini by (metaphorically) breathing like a bellows. Kundalini is the fiery serpent, the awakener of knowledge, the bestower of enlightenment and blessings. And indeed, the fire of the inner awakening does bring about a kind of knowing not given to the majority of mortals. It can be both a blessing and (in some cases) a seeming curse, a good servant, a bad master when it gets out of control (as one writer described fire itself.)
Hence the secrets of kundalini have been closely guarded for centuries. Only those prepared by sacrifice and purification were admitted into the inner circles of knowledge. In part, these prohibitions were for the protection of the seeker, for kundalini can be dangerous as well as liberating.
Today, however, many find themselves suddenly awakened with little prior preparation. The esoteric is becoming more and more present in the world of the exoteric (public). There are even practices which claim to arouse the inner energies and transport the follower to enlightenment.
My own feeling is that the secret of kundalini cannot be had for the purchase. Many false versions are available for a price, but they are not the authentic experience of the sacred, the ultimate opening into what is still (to a great extent) secret knowledge. Many may look at the book, but few understand the meaning of the words. Many may drink at the well, but few gain real sustenance thereby.