(c) 2011 Philip T. Nicholson
When the Aborigine "Men of High Degree" want to enter the spirit world of the Dreamtime to acquire power, they do so by performing a "sacred waterhole ritual" (Ibantera). Using puffs of white down gathered from birds, they decorate their bodies and also use the white puffs to construct a set of concentric rings on the ground [see photos in Mountford,Nomads of the Australia Desert, 1976]. There are usually 3 to 6 rings in a set. This is the Aborigine symbol for a "sacred waterhole," a type of "energy center" that is used by humans and spirits who want to move back and forth between the earth and the Dreamtime. The "waterhole" symbol depicts the vision of 3 to 6 light-rings that the Wise Men know, based on their previous visionary experiences, will appear in the mind's eye once they begin the meditation that takes them into the Dreamtime.
This important ancestral spirit of the Aborigine tribes can reveal itself in 2 different ways: it can appear in the sky after a rain (as a "Day-Crawler") or it can appear in the Otherworld called the Dreamtime (as an "Eye-Thing"). The red, orange, and yellow colors that appear in a natural rainbow are said to be a fire burning the back of the "Day-Crawler" as punishment for violating a tribal taboo. But when the Rainbow Serpent dives back into the Dreamtime, passing through one of the "sacred waterholes," this fire gets extinguished. When the Aborigine "Men of High Degree" enter the Dreamtime, they see the Rainbow Serpent as an "Eye-Thing" which manifests as visions of green, blue, and purple light [McKnight, People, Countries, and the Rainbow Serpent, 1999].
During the burial of a dead king, the Egyptian priests would paint a green symbol on the forehead of the king's mummy. This symbol combined an eye-like oval (representing the southern kingdom) with a curled serpent's tail (representing the northern kingdom), and it was known as "The Eye of Horus," a reference to the eye of Horus, the falcon god, who'd lost one eye in a fight with another god. After painting the green "Eye" symbol, the priests would then begin to chant, imploring the disembodied "Eye of Horus," whom they also addressed as "The Green One," to come retrieve the soul of the dead king and carry it away to the Place of Judgment in the Underworld. Where did this idea come from? It is known that some priests claimed to put on "garments of light" and enter the Underworld themselves, a claim that suggests they practiced meditation and saw visions of green light-rings that "flew away" into the dark void, visions that inspired their concept of the "Eye of Horus."
In the hymns of the Rig Veda, Indo-Aryan priests describe the auspicious vision of a chariot consisting of 3 "radiant wheels" where the "rims of the wheels are bent by the minds of the priests [RV 7.34.1, Gonda, The Visions of the Vedic Poets, 1963]." The radiant wheels "fly away from the viewer, . . . with no horses attached [4.36.1-2; Vala 10.3; 8.22.4; 10.85.16]." One verse says the wheels are "verdant" in color [3.44.1-2].
Zoroaster was a priest (zaotar) of the Indo-Iranian Avestan religion. He describes himself as a manthran ("inspired eulogist)" and "as 'one who knows' the truth of divine wisdom [Boyce, 1984, p. 19]." The hymns of the Indo-Iranian Avesta and the Indo-Aryan Rig Veda are close cousins, having originated in the rituals of nomadic tribes that eventually split into two groups, some tribes migrating into Persia (Iran), some into India. Both traditions celebrated a ritual in honor of the god named Soma or Haoma, but it is not known to what extent the visionary experiences in these rituals were similar in the two cultures. In the Rig Veda, as noted above, the Indo-Aryan priests "used their minds to bend the rims of radiant wheels" that were then seen to "fly away," creating a "chariot without horses." This was the first of many visions that eventually culminated in a vision of lightning-bolts, a vision that is depicted in Video 4. Zoroaster also reported seeing visions of bright white lights, visions that are also addressed in Video 4. So if both visionaries performed similar rituals and ended up with similar visions, it is reasonable to infer that Zoroaster, like his Indo-Aryan cousins, must have seen also some wheel-like visions while he was performing the haoma ceremony. There is no direct evidence for this, but an ancient Zoroastrian text, the Yasna, there is a chant that links the drug, haoma, the color green, and a prayer to send Light: "Reverence to Haoma! . . . O Green One, I call down your intoxication, your strength, victory, health, healing, furtherance, power for the whole body, ecstasy of all kinds. . . . This first boon I ask of you, O invincible Haoma! The Paradise of the Just, Light, encompassing all happiness [9: 3.2.1, Ibid., p. 55]."
While Gotama the Buddha meditated all night beneath a Banyan tree, he saw "limited light-manifestations" until suddenly, just before dawn, the "Divine Eye opened" (caksus uppada), flooding his mind with a "boundless light-manifestation" and with feelings of joy and insight into the true nature of reality [Samyuda Nikaya, 12.1.10, in Gonda, The Visions of the Vedic Poets, 1963, p. 306]." Gotama does not describe the "limited-lights," but religious artwork created by his followers in the temples of the Silk Road and China almost always show the "Enlightened Ones" floating amid celestial mists of green or wearing robes with prominent flares of green.
Ezekiel, a Hebrew priest in exile, saw a vision of 4 wheels, "beryl" in color (i.e., aquamarine or emerald), "their construction being something like a wheel within a wheel." The wheels moved in a straight line "without veering" when he turned his head. Ezekiel also said he saw a vision of "splendor all around" that shone with the colors of a rainbow.
The Daoist "Celestial Master" Zhang Ling's The Scripture of Great Peace advises seekers to "Guard the Light of the One" (Shou-i) by sitting quietly with eyes closed until "a brilliant light" arises: "The splendor of Yang starts to shine and spreads it light . . . Its chi [energy] turns and circles like the wheels of a chariot [Robinet, 1993, p. 110]."
K'awil, the Mayan god of life-force and transitional states, would send the spirits of dead kings and other notables up to the Milky Way to be immortalized as stars, and he could also send their spirits back down to earth if he received the appropriate supplications from his people, the Mayas. The conduit that K'awil used to transport spirits was the gullet (digestive track) of the "Vision Serpent" known as K'ukumatz, who was K'awil's spirit companion (uay). The "Vision Serpents," unlike real serpents, are depicted as having fans of feathers. The feathers had specific colors: the iridescent green and blue colors of the quetzal bird that lives in the rainforests of Central America. The Mayan kings harvested quetzal feathers for their royal cloaks, and for that reason they made it a capital crime to kill a quetzal. When the Aztecs from Mexico conquered most of Central America, they adopted the Mayan myth of the "Plumed Serpent" which they named Quetzalcoatl. Putting all these observations together, it is reasonable to infer that Mayan and Aztec priests sometimes practiced a form of meditation with the aim of conjuring the spirits of the dead, and that, in this altered state of consciousness, they saw otherworldly lights with quetzal-green-and-blue colors.
Jurakán, Mayan god of thunderstorms and lightning, manifests in 3 guises: as lightning-bolts, as flashes of sheet lightning, and as Räxa-lightning. Räxa can mean "green" or "blue" or "precious" lightning, but the best interpretation is that this word actually integrates all 3 meanings. Here's why: statues of a god or of a vision serpent or of a Mayan king in the process of being transformed into a god are all emblazoned with a symbol that is associated with Jurakán. This symbol is a flint axehead—the Mayans thought that lightning strikes generated flint—and it is implanted in the forehead of the subject. This axehead emits smoke, implying that there must be a fire burning inside the head, or, rather, given that the burning axe is the symbol of Jurakán, the implication is that there must be lightning flashes appearing in the mind's eye. These lightning flashes would be considered "precious" because they represented emanations of the god, and the colors of these inner lights, by contrast with the whitish colors of natural lightning that appears during a rainstorm, are Räxa, which is to say, green and blue in color—hence the translation, "precious-blue-green-lightning."
The Book of Great Profundity (Ta-tung iing), an important text for "Highest Purity" Daoists, says the first spirits to appear in the meditator's "Yellow Court of the Heart" are yellowish-green lights, a mix of green "energy" (chi) from the "Original Father" in the head and yellow "energy" from the "Original Mother" at the base of the trunk [Robinet, 1993, p. 102].
In The Upper Scripture of Purple Texts, another important meditation treatise for the Shangqing "Highest Purity" school of Daoism, the author, Daoist Master Yang Xi, advised those who aspired to become "Perfected Beings" to use the technique of "visualization" (cunjian): using this method, meditators imagine colored lights circulating through their bodies, hoping that the gods will be moved to send down celestial lights that flow spontaneously, the lights Yang Xi calls "Cloudsouls of the Sun." Among the celestial lights a meditator can expect to see are "Orbed Phosphors" and "Green (Rainbow) Glare," descriptions that are consistent with seeing visions of green light-rings [Bokenkamp, 1997, p. 314].
In another treatise of "Highest Purity" Daoism, meditators are told to "visualize the energy of the Jade Girdle descending from the Nine Heavens and encircling the body." Jade is often green in color, and the sensation of seeing meditation-induced light-rings sweep into view is consistent with an "encircling" motion. This vision is said to be the "Yang-essence of the Nine Heavens [Little, Taoism and the Arts of China, 2000, p. 205]."
Buddhaghosa sets out the foundations of Theravadin Buddhism in his influential treatise, Visshuddhimagga, "Path of Purification." There he says meditators who see light visions ("illuminations") have only attained a "beginner's samadhi," and they must be careful not to be seduced by the superficial beauty of the light visions into thinking that they've already achieved the most advanced spiritual state. While seeing light visions is a testament to the concentration skills of the meditator, the experience is dangerous because it diverts seekers from continuing on the True Path of Insight. Light visions are just another form of apparitional experience, Buddhaghosa writes, but as he emphasizes the illusory nature of light visions, he also provides some very good descriptions of what they look like: "formations appear to him [i.e., the meditator] as perpetually renewed;" "they are also short-lived like dew-drops at sunrise . . . like a bubble on water;" "And they appear without core, like a conjuring trick . . . like a mirage . . . like the circle of a whirling firebrand [20: 104, Nanamoli, The Path of Purification, 1991, pp. 655-656]."
"My eyes sleep but my heart is awake," the Prophet Muhammed said when asked how he prayed. While he was praying in this manner he saw "the Signs of my Lord" [Quran 53: 1-12] that appeared far away against a clear horizon. When these "Signs" reappeared a second time, they moved to "within the shot of a bow" which positioned them "near the Lotus Tree that marks the boundary of the Garden of the Abode." Beyond the "Limit" of the Lotus Tree and the Garden, Allah dwells unseen by humans. What does a lotus tree actually look like? In nature, a mature lotus tree has a bower of leaves that form a symmetrical green disk. This suggests that Muhammed saw something like that. He also said that his vision of the Lotus Tree was "enshrouded in what it was enshrouded," and later he said what he meant was "It was covered in colours, I do not know what they are . . . . [Hadith, al-Bukhaari]."
The Prophet Muhammed also saw visions of the "green rafraf of the believers living in Paradise [Quran 55: 76]." The Arabic word, rafraf, means "litters" or "cushions." Many Sufi mystics say they see this vision mentioned in the Quran.
On another occasion, when the Prophet Muhammed saw a vision of a giant Tuba Tree in Paradise, he told followers that the dwellers in Paradise used the outer shells and casings of the nuts to make their clothes. The shells and casings of ordinary tuba tree nuts are symmetrical green spheres that look like big grapes.
The Hindu guru, Abhinavagupta, author of the Tantraloka ("Light of Tantra"), says the first vision seen by skilled meditators will be the green light emanating from the "heart chakra." This word, chakra, refers to a hierarchy of "subtle energy centers" aligned with the human body and also to the type of light emitted by each center. When a "subtle" spiritual energy called kundalini rises up through the chakras, it releases a specific color of light.
In the book, Hymns of Divine Love, Symeon the New Theologian, a Christian monk who lived in Byzantine Greece, describes his first vision: "Suddenly a flood of divine radiance descended like a bright cloud of mist" that "seemed to surround my head entirely," and then the mist moved "into the center of my heart" where it "appeared like a sun, round as a circle."
In his influential anthology entitled The Epitome of the Six Yogas, a Tantric Buddhist teacher named Naropa summarized the most effective meditation practices for attaining Enlightenment in a single lifetime, called "Highest Yoga Tantra" (maha-anuttara-yoga.) In one chapter, "The Yoga of Psychic Heat," Naropa advised meditators to remember an old saying: "Meditate on 4 wheels, each like an umbrella ["Yoga of the Psychic Heat, 1: 66, Evans-Wentz, Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines," p. 190]." Light-wheels are like umbrellas in that the rims of light-wheels shrink in diameter like the rims of umbrellas collapsed by their owners. Naropa also says the first signs of spiritual progress are "phenomena appearing like smoke, mirage, and fireflies," and a sensation of inner heat (phumo) [1: 98-99, Ibid., p. 195]."
Marpa Lotsawa, a Buddhist monk from Tibet, studied with Naropa and translated the Six Yogas into the Tibetan language. When Marpa returned to his native land as a Buddhist missionary, he brought that book back with him and established it as one of the canonical texts of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, the "Vehicle of the Lightning-Bolt." In Elucidation of the Summary of the Five Stages, Marpa the Translator told meditators that the first light visions they will see are a series of rings: "First one experiences the hallucination-like sign that arises with the halo of five lights."
Jetsun Milarepa, a disciple of Marpa the Translator, lived for years as a solitary hermit practicing severe austerities—not wearing clothes during cold Tibetan winters, not eating for days, or eating nettles. Milarepa told his followers that he saw his true self in his mind's eye as a "rainbow vajra-body." The word, "vajra," means "lightning," so here Milarepa is saying that his true body appeared as lights that had the kinds of colors seen in a natural rainbow. It is likely that he was referring specifically to the green and blue hues one sees in a rainbow, because he also told followers that his "real form" was a "green light," not his physical body [Evans-Wentz, 1969, Tibet's Great Yogi, Milarepa, 2nd ed., pp. 208-212]."
The Christian nun and abbess, Hildegard of Bingen, saw visions of a white light that appeared spontaneously, but she also saw a different type of vision that appeared while she was deep in prayer. She made paintings to illustrate what she saw in her visions, and these paintings frequently focus on images of concentric rings. In her book, Scivias, these images of concentric rings are always painted with blue and gray colors, not green, but the shapes are so similar to the shapes of the green light-rings that appear first in a meditation-induced sequence that it is reasonable to infer that she exercised artistic license in combining ring shapes with the blue colors of the cloud-like visions that appear second in a meditation-induced sequence. Concentric rings of blue appear in these paintings: "The Trinity," "The Cosmic Wheel," "On Human Nature," "The Cosmic Tree," "Cultivating the Cosmic Tree," "The One Sitting Upon the Throne," "The Creator's Glory," "The Redeemer," "The Choirs of Angels," and "New Heaven, New Earth."
In "New Heaven, New Earth," a painting by Hildegard of Bingen, the outer rim is painted with a green color, the same distinctive green of the light-ring visions. Within this green frame, there is a rectangular box with 3 rings inside which she meant to represent all Creation: the uppermost ring is green, representing the light of the Holy Spirit, and it encloses the figure of God holding a lamb that represents Jesus [Scivias, Book II, Vision 1, Chapter 8, in Bowie & Davies, 1992, p. 32]. This use of green symbolizes Hildegard's concept of viriditas, or "greening power," which she saw as infusing and animating all life. Greening power is brought to earth by "the greenness of the Holy Spirit [Scivias, Book III, Vision 6, Chapter 33]." She states that in humans, "The soul is the green life-force [The Book of Divine Works, Vision 4, Chapter 21, in Fox, 1987, p. 97]," and since she also states that the human soul is "flooded with light itself in the same way as the light of day illumines the world [Ibid., Vision 4, Chapter 105, p. 135]," it follows that the light of the soul must be green. Putting this together with Hildegard's frequent depiction of concentric rings, it is reasonable to assume that she knew how to use meditation to induce visions of green light-rings.
In The Red Intellect, Yahya Suhrawardi, founder of the Sufi Order of Illuminationists, placed special emphasis on seeing visions of colored light. He advised meditators to trust Khidr, "The Green One," known to Sufis as the "Teacher of Prophets," to guide them forward. He also told them to watch for the vision of "The Pearl-that-glows-by-night-on-Mount Qaf." This "Pearl" is a vision of green light that is reflected off the green bowers of the Tuba Tree Muhammed saw in Paradise. The vision begins in blackness, but then the meditator sees a green "Pearl" that is moving away, accumulating more light as it moves, and then, when it reaches it farthest extent, it captures the full image of the Tuba Tree, becoming a sphere of green light [Thackson, The Mystical and Visionary Treatises of Suhrawardi, 1982, p. 38-42]."
In Visio Smaragdina, Najmoddin Kubra, a Sufi master in the Illuminationist order, advised meditators that they will have a vision of that makes them feel as if they are falling backward down a deep, dark well: "It may happen that you visualize yourself as lying at the bottom of a well and the well seemingly in lively downward movement [VS ¶12, Corbin, The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, 1994]." What meditators actually see during this experience is "a supernatural green light" ringing the mouth of the "dark well," which is to say, they see a green ring of light moving away from them. This green light is the place "to which descend the Angels and the divine Compassion [¶17]," Kubra writes, so the meditator who sees this vision is not actually moving downward; "In reality you are moving upward [¶12]." The seeker must ascend through 7 wells to reach "the Heaven of the sovereign condition (robubiya)," where the soul is rewarded: "Its atmosphere is a green light . . . through which flow waves eternally in movement towards one another [¶18]."
The Sepher Bahir ("Book of Illumination") was first published in Provence in 1176 by an anonymous author who attributed it to one Rabbi Nehunia ben HaKana who lived in 1st century Palestine. The book describes Sefirot energies that emanate from God, the Unknowable Ein Sof. Some of the lower-ranking Sefirot can be seen by meditators: "The first realm is light, and the living light of water. The second realm is the holy beasts and the wheels of the chariot [Bahir, 126]." Another translation of this last line is more dramatic: one sees "the flaming eyes of the Chayot, . . . and the wheel-shaped Ofanim, the "winged eyes that glitter with . . . God's presence [Epstein, 1978]."
Jewish Rabbi Eleazar ben Judah of Worms, "The Baal Shem Tov," was a founder of the Hasidim Ashkenazi. He advised mystics who wanted to practice kabbalah to induce a state of "Constricted Consciousness." He told them to lie down as if asleep, to concentrate on the Divine Presence by focusing on a single thought: "When will I be worthy to receive the divine Light?" Do this, he said, and "Soon the light of your soul blazes forth, and you ascend to the upper universes [Kaplan, Meditation and Kabbalah, 1982, pp. 274-281]." A vision that Eleazar considered to be especially important, although it was not his own discovery, was "The Circle of the Special Cherub." This vision is said to look like an eye with its colored iris and a dark pupil within: "in the pupil of an eye is the countenance of the cherub [Wolfson, Through a Speculum that Shines, 1994, p. 228 fn 166]." Wolfson, a scholar of Jewish mysticism, explains that "The Cherub is the lower glory that is identified as the visible pole of the revelatory experience for both prophet and mystic. Moreover, this lower glory, or Cherub, is a throne for the upper glory that rides or sits upon it [Ibid., p. 233-234]." It is unclear if this is a reference to seeing light-rings, which are the first images to appear in a meditation-induced series, or to seeing the vision that comes next in line, the more amorphous, cloud-like visions with bright central nodes.
When Ibn al-'Arabi could not find an earthly guide to teach him the practice of dhikr ("invocation"), he was rescued by Khidr, "The Green One," celebrated by Sufis as the "Teacher of Prophets." Al-'Arabi described his first vision as "a light which was almost more visible than what was in front of me, except that I had lost all sense of behind. I no longer had a back or the nape of a neck. While the vision lasted, I had no sense of direction, as if I had become completely spherical [The Meccan Illuminations II: 486, in Hirtenstein, 1999, pp. 114-116]." Al-'Arabi also said he, like Muhammed, had seen the green "cushions of the Litters of the Knowers mentioned in the Quran [55: 76], and I was enveloped by lights until I became wholly light. . . . [Ibid., III: 350, p. 122]." When asked how he learned to experience these mystical "treasures," he said seeing the colored lights gave him "knowledge of 'entering and circularity,' . . . . [and] this circularity is not a matter of not doing, it is actually what is happening [Ibid., III: 352, pp. 122]."
In The Book of Life, Beatrice of Nazareth, a Cisterian nun, wrote that her prayers brought visions and ecstasies so strong that she was often temporarily paralyzed and out of touch with the world around her. During her transports, she saw visions: "As soon as she was raised aloft in ecstasy, she saw beneath her feet the whole world as if it were a wheel. She saw herself placed above it, her eyes of contemplation magnetized toward the incomprehensible [II.236, Hughes, Women Mystics in Medieval Europe, 1989, p. 89]."
In Somer Mizwah, Rabbi Abraham Abulafia writes that the "bright inner light which shines is a thing without a body, and . . . it is hidden away for the righteous [Idel, The Mystical Experience of Abraham Abulafia, 1987, p. 106]." To see lights, meditators should focus their attention on the 4 letters of the divine name, YHWH, until those letters ". . . appear as if pure living angels are moving them about and teaching them to man, who turns them about in the form of wheels in the air, flying with their wings, and they are spirit within spirit. . . . And at times the person sees them as if they are resting in the hills and flying away from him [Ibid., p. 101]."
In Sefer ba Zohar ("The Book of Radiance"), Moses de Leon describes the lower Sefirot that can be seen by meditators. Skilled Kabbalists can reach the 3rd Sefirot, called Binah ("The Return" or "The Womb"), where they see visions of the "Offspring" Sefirot of Tir'eret ("Beauty and Compassion"), which manifest as visions of green and purple lights [Zohar: The Book of Enlightenment, Matt, transl., 1983]. The lowest Sefirot in the spiritual hierarchy, the Shekhinah ("Divine Presence"), shines as a blue and black light. In the Zohar, de Leon advises meditators that "One who enters must enter through this gate [1:7b, Ibid.]."
Karma Lingpa, the Tibetan Buddhist lama who is credited with first publishing The Tibetan Book of the Dead, wrote a treatise on meditation, The Natural Liberation of Seeing, in which he told meditators that the first vision they will see is "the mark of absolute space" which manifests as a "halo" of light. He also wrote that "Between your eyebrows there is the 'lamp of the pristine absolute space" which looks like "the colors of the rainbow or like the eye of a peacock feather [Chagmé, 2000]."
Muhammed Nurbashkh, the Sufi master who founded the Kubrawiya Order to honor his spiritual master, Najmoddin Kubra, taught his disciples to induce a consciousness that is halfway between waking and sleep, then to focus their minds on Allah, waiting expectantly to "witness an unveiling" in which "brilliant images" emanate from "higher spheres." The first unveiling, Nurbashkh writes, will be "an epiphany in green" [Bashir, Messianic Hopes and Mystical Visions, 2003, pp. 143-149].
A Spanish knight named Ignatius Loyola resolved to become a Christian monk while convalescing from severe wounds. Not knowing how to begin, he moved to a small village, began working as a volunteer in a hospital, and spent most nights in long prayer vigils. He then began to see visions: "Many times in clear daylight he saw something in the air near him, which gave him much consolation, because it was extremely beautiful. He did not understand the type of thing it was, but in some ways it appeared to him to have the form of a snake, and it had many things that shone like eyes, although they were not eyes [The Autobiography of St. Ignatius, ¶ 3: 19]." What did Ignatius mean when he said the image had the "form of a snake"? A snake curling around to touch its tail forms a ring, and this might be what Ignatius associated with a vision of green light-rings; this same association occurred to a scientist named Kukele who said that, while dozing in his chair, he discovered the form of the benzene molecule when he saw a vision that looked like a snake biting its tail.
In Dark Night of the Soul, John of the Cross explains that when the soul begins its ascent on the "secret ladder" that leads to God, it must first put on certain "garments" or "disguises." Since John was writing during the time when the Spanish Inquisition was at its height, he had to be careful what he said about seeing visions, so he took the precaution of stating that the first disguise that the soul must wear is the white of purity—he knew no one could object to that. The second disguise that the soul puts on is a "green almilla," an archaic Spanish word that refers to a type of protective shoulder pad shaped like a donut that knights wore beneath their armor. Here John is clearly alluding to visions of green light-rings which he has to "disguise" from the authorities who might persecute him. The vision of the green almilla is the "emblem of the virtue of Hope," he writes, and then, to make sure that sympathetic readers do not mistake his intent, John suggests another metaphor for the initial vision of the soul ascending up to Heaven: Hope can also be described as a helmet, he writes: "Now a helmet is armor which protects and covers the whole head, and has no opening except in one place, where the eyes may look through. Hope is such a helmet, for it covers all the senses of the head of the soul in such a way that they cannot be lost in worldly things, and leaves no part of them exposed to the world. It has one loophole only through which the eyes may look upwards only . . . . [II.21.8]."
Ahmad al-'Alawi, a Sufi mystic in the Sunni branch of Islam, meditated during "the last third of the night," imagining the letters of the Divine Name spreading out until they filled the mind: "The dhikr would then continue in this form until the letters became like light. . . . the disciple would then find himself able to distinguish between the Absolute and the relative, and he would see the universe as a ball or a lamp suspended in a beginningless, endless void. . . . [Lings, 1993, pp. 54-55]." Referring to the Prophet's vision of the Lote Tree, al-'Alawi says that Muhammed saw it with his physical eye but Sufi mystics can only see it with an "inward eye" and accept that they can go no farther: "Even here is the Garden of Ultimate Refuge, meaning that the Lote Tree marketh a finality of Gnosis, and that he who attaineth unto this point is enshrouded by the Lights of the Divine Presence . . . . This is explained in the words, 'When there enshrouded the Lote Tree That which enshrouded . . . [Lings, 1993, p. 173].'"
Before he became a famous Hindu guru and founder of the Pondicherry ashram, Aurobindo Ghose was teaching French at Baroda College. There he began to study the traditions of the Hindu religion and also to experiment with meditation: ". . . my psychic sight was not yet developed," he would later recall, "I was trying to develop it by dwelling upon the after-image and also by attending to it in the interval between wakefulness and sleep. Then I saw a circle of light and when I began pranayama, it became very much more intensified [Purani, Evening Talks, 2nd Series, 1961, p. 217]."
When a Danish explorer visited the Iglulik Eskimos of Alaska in the 1930's, they told him the prerequisite for being accepted as an authentic shaman was an ability to see visions of an inner light (angákoq), "a mysterious light which the shaman suddenly feels in his body, inside his head, within the brain, an inexplicable searchlight, a luminous fire, which enables him to see in the dark, both literally and metaphorically speaking, . . . [Rasmussen, 1930, p. 111]." Another explorer reported that the shaman often "gets his visions sitting or lying in deep concentration at the back of the sleeping platform, behind a curtain or covered with a skin. The drum is not used in this connection [Holtved, 1967, p. 47]." Shamans often adorn their ritual costumes with images depicting their spirit visions: an Eskimo shaman in Siberia carved a face mask with one central peep-hole surrounded by concentric rings [Nelson, 1899, in Benson and Sehgal, 1987, p. 8], and the ceremonial clothing of another Siberian shaman had concentric circles on the front of the shirt and on the leggings [Vastckas, 1977, see Ibid., p. 6].
In a series of books relating the observations gleaned in his anthropological field studies of the Tukano Indians of the Columbian jungles, Reichel-Dolmatoff explains that the Tukanos believe in the existence of a second, hidden sun that is the source of the life-giving energies that animate the world. These energies, called "boga," can sometimes become visible, as, for example, when a tribesman sees a rainbow, a fleck of dust floating in a shaft of light, a shooting star, or a lightning flash. Visions of light that appear in the mind's eye during trance states are also said to be boga energies [Reichel-Dolmatoff, The Forest Within, 1996, pp. 32-33]. Tukano shamans draw images of concentric rings in the sand that illustrate what they've seen while in their altered states of consciousness. These "closed forms are contemplative devices" designed to guide tribal members in their spiritual quests of tribal members without the shamans having to explain what happens, something they strictly avoid doing [Reichel-Dolmatoff, "Brain and Mind in Desana Shamanism," Journal of Latin American Lore, 7(1): 73-98, 1981, pp. 170-171]." The image of boga energies manifesting as concentric rings is painted all along the upper walls of ceremonial longhouses. Based on these observations, it is reasonable to infer that the Tukanos see visions of light-rings and that they regard them as having a special spiritual significance.
Reichel-Dolmatoff experimented with the hallucinogenic drug, ayahuasca (or yajé), used by the Tukanos in their tribal rituals, and he recorded his experiences on audiotapes. Early in the first tape he reports that "I'm seeing something . . . well, like . . . it's dark, but I see something like the tail of a peacock…but at the same time it's like…everything in movement…like fireworks, no? [Reichel-Dolmatoff, The Shaman and the Jaguar. 1975, p. 164]."
Near the end of the Tukano ayahuasca ceremony, when the chaotic, hallucinogenic images have disappeared, a third stage of the ritual begins. Tranquility is restored, and now the Tukano celebrants begin to see visions that they describe as "yellowish-green light like young coca leaves, the light of paradise [Reichel-Dolmatoff, 1975, p. 172]."
While attending a conference on shamanism in Changchun, the author visited a reconstructed Manchu village and watched shamans performing traditional dances. The headdresses of the shamans were quite interesting: the upper rim was lined with the tips of peacock feathers that clearly displayed the typical eye-like image with its iridescent green ring surrounding a dark blue disk. In addition, many strings of beads hung down from the lower rim of the headdress so as to cover the dancers' eyes. These two observations, taken together, suggest that the headdress symbolizes the shaman's ability to draw his attention away from the environment and to focus inward to see spirits that manifest as green and blue lights that look like the eyes of peacock feathers.