We feel that holding back data is evasive and, in the long run, destructive to the spirit of science. If today’s models prove inadequate, it is because tomorrow’s will be better. Not only the researcher and the writer, but also the reader must here make a special effort to be objective.

-Lee S. Sannella, M.D.

Kundalini-Psychosis or Transcendence? (1976)

The preceding chapter took us beyond standard medical knowledge for body-temperature generation, just as SHC takes us beyond the powers granted to the whole human body by current medical models. I see no point in stopping the study of SHC and anomalous human thermogenesis at tumo and incendium amoris, however. So many more mysteries await. I will not hold back data.

In 1989, Teresa Miskell placed her hands on a friend to channel energy intended to heal an ailment. The power of her touch amazed both persons when, after several minutes, she moved her hands and discovered two perfect outlines of her palms and fingers on her friend’s dress-as though a hot iron in the shape of her hands had scorched the fabric. Both ladies insisted these imprints were not due to discoloration from perspiration, but resulted from actual singeing of the fabric.

In 1963, a napping middle-aged professor awoke to confront the mystery of a three-inch blister spontaneously appearing on his thigh where his hand rested. Seeking the reason behind this self-induced partial SHC that his rational mind must have told him shouldn’t happen, he began to study metaphysics and Zen. During a meditation four years later his body again blazed, with a difference. Dr. Lee S. Sannella told in his book, Kundalini-Psychosis or Transcendence? (1976), how the professor “became engulfed by a bright golden light that lasted several minutes. A few weeks later this occurred again.”

Body aglow, preparatory to body aflame? Ignis lambens, as prelude to ignis incendium?

One day in 1968, a forty-four-year-old librarian rested her hands on a wooden table and entered a hypnagogic state in the library’s relaxing environment. What transpired next could not be referenced in any textbook in her library. Said Dr. Sannella: “She awoke to find charred marks that deeply marred the table and corresponded to her hand prints.” Her hands had become like red-hot pokers searing themselves into the tabletop, yet her flesh revealed not the least injury! We’d be leery about shaking hands with this woman

Inside these three professional people, a paradigm-shattering force was at work. Limited externaised spontaneous human combustion; a body-engulfing halo of golden luminescence, termed ignis lambens by the priesthood; and palm-projected blasts of fabric-scorching and table-charring energy. And each time, the fire is preceded by a state of altered consciousness.

Thus is the range that spontaneous combustion by humans can produce. Indeed, hot human hands have burned into hundreds of items, many on display at the Sacro Cuore del Suffragio museum next to the Vatican.

Questions are raised, each demanding a special effort to be objective.

The most obvious one is How? Normal human thermogenesis surely proves inadequate to answer this question. Psychological and psychosomatic venues to explain away perceived internal heating as illusory fail, too, what with fabrics being scorched and wood charred. A better model is needed. Dr. Sannella believes the “better model” for his examples of limited SHC is Kundalini. I agree.


If you know about Kundalini, then you already probably agree with Dr. Sannella. If Kundalini is a term unfamiliar to you, a brief foray into esoteric traditions that predate Western medicine by thousands of years will help you understand what Kundalini is, why it has been linked to these three cases of SHC, and how it can provide a general solution to the continuing puzzles of SHC.

As I was taught in elementary school science, our bodies are made up of atoms; or, if you’re in the youngest generation currently being schooled, of quarks and leptons. In the end we are, however minutely subdivided, a special pattern of dynamic energy. Esoteric Hindu, Vedic, and Tantric texts say the body’s subtle energy system is composed of prana. Prana is the biological quasielectromagnetic fuel that energizes every tissue and cell. This vital, fundamental energy that is the real “you” has many names: prana, chi, ki, qi, the Holy Spirit, bioplasma . . . and a score more, depending on the culture describing it.

By whatever name, Prana surrounds and permeates the gross tissues of the body, says Gopi Krishna in The Dawn of a New Science. Prana is “a living electricity, acting intelligently and purposefully, controls the activity of every molecule of living matter. It carries the life principle from one place to the other,” he explains, and “energizes, overhauls and purifies the neurons and maintains the life-giving subtle area [soul] of the body much in the same way as the blood plasma maintains the grosser part.” This energy is crucial to the homeostasis of the body. Disease, even death, results if a grossly imbalanced interplay of mind, body, and environment blocks Prana’s natural, unrestricted flow.

Kundalini, a Sanskrit word meaning “curled up,” is one of the mechanisms for concentrating the movement of ultrapotent Prana. Tradition says that Kundalini resides coiled in an area called kanda at the base of the spine. It awakens in one’s life only infrequently, if at all; uncoiling naturally, it usually stirs gently, but might upsurge toward the brain like positive charges in a lightning bolt’s return stroke.

Kundalini is the most powerful mechanism in the body because it is both energy and consciousness, according to personal communication from Gene Kieffer, director of the Kundalini Research Foundation. It involves the entire nervous system and brain. Hence, Kundalini is in every person and can affect every aspect of a person’s being.

Prana and Kundalini are distinct from the tangible anatomy and bioelectricity that practitioners of Western medicine are accustomed to treating. “The average neurophysiologist still thinks in terms of molecules,” says Kieffer, “which is hardly sufficient to develop an understanding of Kundalini. That is why the theoretical physicist is so much better equipped to comprehend the phenomenon. Kundalini is the ‘channel’ that connects the unmanifested universe, i.e., the forces contained within the atom, and the solid world of atoms, molecules, etc.

“People say that we get our energy from the air we breathe and the food we eat, and this is all true. But when Kundalini is awakened, there is a release of energy far in excess of what can be extracted from air and food. From where does this energy come? It must come from the inexhaustible fount within the atom. Science tells us that there is more energy contained in one cubic centimeter than is contained in 3 million pounds of TNT (for example). That cubic centimeter of ’empty space’ exists within the human frame, of course.”

Kieffer’s statement about Kundalini meshes nicely with the concept underlying the subatomic pyrotron theory for Mary Reeser, whose body transformed its “empty space” into a few pounds of ashes.

Once Kundalini uncoils from the kanda it surges up the spine through a central nadi (nerve channel) called the sushumna, one of 720,000,000 nadis in a human body, says Swami Muktananda in Kundalini: The Secret of Life (1979). Two subsidiary channels, the ida and pingala, criss-cross the sushumna and help guide Kundalini to the top of the head and into the brain. The cold channel of ida (yin energy), traveling along the left side of the spinal cord, is called the “lunar nerve” by yogis; the hot channel of pingala (yang energy) is the “solar nerve” that travels along the spinal cord’s right side. The ida and pingala together appear as two serpents ascending entwined around the energized sushumna nerve channel, poised to strike at the brain.

This powerful “fiery serpent” life-current is a vital, energized caduceus-interestingly the symbol Western medicine has adopted to represent itself as healer! (The serpent-caduceus is also a very old symbol: depictions can be found as early as circa 2000 B.C. on the famous libation vase of King Gudea of Lagash.)

Along its journey up the spine, Kundalini flows along specific pathways called meridians to strike the body’s seven major power centers called chakras.1 Generally, the chakras are said to be situated at the base of the spine; the genital area; behind the navel at the base of the ribs; near the heart at the center of the chest; the throat; between and behind the eyebrows at the pineal gland; and near the pituitary in the head.

These chakras-nerve plexuses-radiate colorful energies called auras and have been described by Eastern spiritual leaders for thousands of years and currently by countless clairvoyants. Recently they have been confirmed by quantitative electronic experiments conducted by Valerie V. Hunt, Ed.D., professor emeritus at the University of California (Los Angeles). She told me her research, reported as “Energy Field Studies – Electronic Aura Study” in Project Report: A Study of Structural Integration from Neuromuscular, Energy Field, and Emotional Approaches, concluded that “the relationship between emotional states and auric color should be viewed as facts and not subjective judgments.”

Ideally, Kundalini energizes each chakra into accelerated activity that benefits the person. This “opening” of the chakra allows the next higher chakra to be activated in turn, until the whole body is aglow–sometimes literally, it’s said-with heightened energy.

Two auric chakras and their emotional attributes are of special interest here. Kundalini’s initial rise first encounters the lowest (mūlādhāra) chakra, associated with self-preservation; the drive for personal survival. The third (manipūra) chakra-the solar plexus-is located at the base of the rib cage and is associated with vitality and the drive for power. The solar plexus chakra, also associated with feelings and emotions, is regarded as one of the body’s most powerful energy centers.

Kundalini can also travel beyond the chakras through meridians that connect the body’s organs to acupuncture points on the surface of the body (the skin itself being the body’s largest organ). The chakras are analogous to the central nervous system of the spinal cord; the meridians to the peripheral nervous system which extends (along with the autonomous nerves) beyond the spinal cord. In other words the entire body is wired to channel the Kundalini-accelerated flow of Prana, just as it is wired with nerves to transmit sensory information.

The successful completion of Kundalini’s natural unimpeded cycle of movement through all the body’s chakras is enlightenment–self-realization.

Kundalini’s activation can also be encouraged by specific physical and mental techniques. The Mundaka Upanishad and Mahakala Nidhi, among other Eastern texts, explain how a person can raise and direct this subtle energy through specific channels that pervade one’s body to achieve transcendent consciousness. This manipulation is not an undertaking for the faint-hearted dabbler, though. Kundalini has a downside, the ancient texts warn. A warning based on millennia of experience and wisdom that says “Danger!”

A body and psyche unprepared for the power of awakened Kundalini can exhibit various spontaneous siddhi (supernormal abilities), which might lead to physical or psychological damage, temporary or permanent; minimal or severe. Involuntarily contortions, hot flashes, and a variety of psychic phenomena (including Psychokinesis) are among the side-effects that can plague the body and torment the mind during Kundalini’s rush, says W. Thomas Wolfe, a Kundalini scholar who described his own dramatic experiences of the serpentfire in his book, And the Sun Is Up: Kundalini Rises in the West (1978).

Kieffer warns that if this heightened flow of new bioenergy is impeded, madness and worse is probable. “In the case of insanity and psychosis,” he says in Kundalini for the New Age (1988), “one almost invariably finds the people affected complaining of sensation, burning, terrible light, fire. . .”

Wolfe recounts one outcome: “In some very violent cases, men would be spirited completely out of this world with an accompanying clap of thunder and a wisp of quickly disappearing smoke.”

Hmm. Could we be onto something here?


The power of Kundalini moving through the body can be likened to electrical current in a lightbulb, and water in a hose. If the bulb’s filament is thick and offers great resistance to a weak current, the movement of energy is impeded and the bulb glows dimly at best; if the tungsten is fine, and the current moderate, the lamp blazes with light; if frail, and the current’s amperage too great, the filament melts and the bulb is dead. Water under pressure produces violent whipping of a narrow, frail garden hose yet barely flexes a larger, stronger firehose.

Power that is properly balanced accomplishes constructive results; too much power moving through a channel too constricted, creates havoc. As Dr. Sannella completes the analogy, “so also does the flow of Kundalini through obstructed channels within the body or mind cause motions of those areas until the obstructions have been washed out and the channels widened.”

Until that happens, the power channeled by Kundalini’s twin serpents can produce a variety of physical sensations and phenomena. Most of these are beyond the scope of Ablaze! to explore, fascinating though they are. One Kundalini-related siddhi that isn’t, as you might guess, is the supernormal heating of the body by means seemingly quite independent of the hypothalamus.

“Body temperatures that soar high above normal are generally attributed to fever, but in those cases the temperature rarely exceeds 104° F,” replied Gene Kieffer to my questions about Kundalini and extreme human hyperthermia. “This leaves-in my opinion-only one explanation for temperatures that are far in excess of 104 F, and that explanation is Kundalini. If there is some other explanation offered by science I am not aware of it.” As the director of the Kundalini Research Foundation, Kieffer has knowledge that merits earnest consideration.

Evidence for heating by Kundalini “fire” is richly varied and wide-spread. The !Kung people of the Kalahari Desert strive to arouse in themselves n/um, an energy apparently comparable to Kundalini. R. Katz, who studied this African tribe, wrote in the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology (November 2, 1973) that “N/um makes you tremble; it’s hot.”

Ajit Mookerjee, in his Kundalini-the Arousal of the Inner Energy (1989), calls Kundalini the body’s “most powerful thermal current.” In India, Swami Nargayanananda writes in The Primal Power of Man (1960) of Kundalini’s ascent: “There is a burning up the back and over the whole body.” The Indian saint Ramakrishna had spoken a century earlier about the “Spiritual Current”-his term for Kundalini, as quoted in Campbell’s The Mythic Image (1974)-and the sensation it produces: “The place where it rests feels like fire…”

Oriental philosophy and martial disciplines speak of qi, the primal matrix of life energy. Chinese medical tradition polarizes this vital energy into yang (positive/masculine) and yin (negative/feminine), stating emphatically that it and its eight hundred channels are quite distinct from the body’s electrical nature as identified by Western science. Furthermore, the Chinese say one’s vital energy is affected by weather, solar and lunar phases, and cosmic radiation; plus internal moods, thoughts, physical and mental traumas, and acupuncture needles. They wisely view man holistically; interconnected to all aspects of his inner and outer environment.

“Qi is stored right below the navel, in the solar plexus area,” David Cannon, M.D., told me after his trip to China in 1988 to study the marvels of Oriental medicine. He learned that qi channels a “morphine-like substance” released by the brain in conjunction with acupuncture manipulation of meridians. He said its potency could vary two-hundred-fold depending on external stimuli, and he watched Caesarian deliveries performed on mothers “fully alert and aware of what’s happening,” anesthetized by nothing more than two pinlike needles at each end of the incision!

Qi can also be amplified by a biological process called qi gong. Qi gong mirrors the Hindu attributes of Kundalini, one learns in Paul Dong’s fascinating book The Four Major Mysteries of Mainland China (1984). One of these Mysteries is exceptional human function (EHF). Studies conducted at Beijing’s Institute of High Energy Physics and other academies in China indicate that qi gong induces EHF, producing the same range of anomalous biological phenomena that is associated with Kundalini.

Evidence of thermal EHF includes thermographs taken of the hand of Beijing qi gong master Dr. Zhao Guang, which document his ability to produce “marked increase in heat” in his palm over an eighteen-minute interval using only the willed movement of qi in himself. Additional support for qi’s biological EHF heating comes from the respected scientist Stanley Krippner, Ph.D. Following his own trip to China to study EHF, Krippner stated in an afterword to Dong’s book that qi gong does indeed produce “differences when body heat is measured and when electrical qualities of acupuncture points are measured.”

“The vital element is hot,” writes C. Luk in his study of Chinese Taoist tradition, The Secrets of Chinese Meditation (1972). One’s qi when accelerated by qi gong, he continued, “may even become bright and perceptible to the meditator. In exceptional meditators it causes illumination of a dark room perceptible to others.”

One recalls the glowing ignis lambens that the meditating professor saw around his body during meditation.


Kundalini (or qi gong) is not unknown in the West, though the few cultural references to it are often veiled. Here the preponderance of evidence-what little has been recorded-is not traditional but personal, anecdotal.

In America, for example, Dr. Sannella’s medical practice dealt with several thermal anomaly cases that he ascribed to Kundalini and meditation. In one instance, a healthy forty-year-old writer registered a 101° F temperature, dropped in a few minutes to 99° F, though his hand then quickly became 104° F. And in the case of a forty-one-year-old psychologist who worried that her excessive body heat-which others felt when they touched her-could be injurious to herself, Sannella concluded that her hyperthermia was Kundalini-induced “due to residual blocks and unresolved conflicts which were locked into her body.”

The most instructive description of Kundalini I have found happening to a Westerner is offered by W. Thomas Wolfe. In the context of SHC, it is particularly fascinating.

Imagine living day-to-day oblivious to a quietly ticking timebomb of potent energy lying dormant in your body. That’s how Wolfe lived, until he got the (literal) shock of his life in early 1975. He described his introduction to the serpent-fire in And the Sun Is Up:

And then one day it happens. It is as though the body has accumulated so much energy that it can hold no more without bursting at the seams. And now, while the subject is resting or meditating, the rising of the accumulated energy takes place. In most cases, the surge is so powerful that the subject loses consciousness of his body while maintaining some sort of internal consciousness. During this period he experiences himself as a disembodied being of pure energy. Or perhaps he experiences profound bliss, or sees a magnificent, overwhelming vision of God-it is different for each subject.

Or perhaps, for any number of different reasons, the subject embarks on a one-way siddhi of supernormal thermogenesis that begins with a slight fever, then escalates to transcendental heating as red blotches form on the skin, culminating in the SHC of third-degree burns (or worse).

That did not happen to Wolfe, obviously, even though he said “sensations of heat … had ignited into a full-blown conflagration that traveled slowly but surely over my entire head, producing many unusual effects.” How close he came to having that figurative imagery become literal is not known.

The many “unusual effects” he attributed to Kundalini within himself are particularly noteworthy in connection with SHC. First, his stomach “got very hot” and then his lower spine “got very hot,” he noted in his diary. This suggests that his Kundalini was initially blocked, causing overheating as it moved upward into his solar plexus chakra.

(Noteworthy is that in many classic human fireball episodes, the energy seems to originate in the victim’s lower abdomen–site of the solar plexus chakra and referred to esoterically as the body’s pranic furnace and then radiates outwardly from there.)

After his Kundalini broke through and moved into his upper torso, he wrote: “I noticed a minor stiffening of all torso muscles into a locked position, as though I was being constrained in a force field.” This stiffening of the torso and locking of muscles is said to be rather common in mystics who excite their Kundalini. Earlyne Chaney described in Remembering: The Autobiography of a Mystic how her entire body became immobile as her muscular system rigidly locked during her own Kundalini movement.

This phenomenon can, in context, explain why SHC victims often seem to make no effort to escape the fire enveloping them. If Kundalini rockets upward faster than 300 feet per second (205 MPH), it would exceed the nerves’ ability to transmit pain signals to the brain. The victim would literally never feel the fiery serpent moving up and outward from his or her solar plexus or rushing up toward his or her heart and head. What if one’s Kundalini moved less rapidly? A frequent side-effect of Kundalini is a desensitizing or blocking of the body’s transmission of neurological impulses, thus again offering an explanation for why a victim of SHC doesn’t react to the expected pain of burning. And if intense pain transmission does register as a consequence of intense hyperthermia, the immobiised neuromuscular system precludes any escape. The victim simply can’t move even if he or she tried.

Wolfe’s diary of his Kundalini experiences addresses another of the serpent fire’s unusual side-effects: “Soon I noticed a very strong fragrance within the room, like a flower or a sweet perfume. A brief period of headiness accompanied the aroma. Later, at bed time, I noticed Kundalini tightening. . . “

A subjective perception? A deranged mind’s schizophrenic illusion? Wolfe insisted that his personal, redolent fragrance “was emanating from within, was quite real.”

Absence of the noxious odor characteristic of burned flesh, sometimes supplanted with a “sweet, perfume smell” as Don Gosnell found in Dr. Bentley’s apartment, is a frequent hallmark of classic SHC … and one of its most puzzling. It has perplexed investigators. It has allowed critics of SHC to smirk at this imponderable though often reported phenomenon, thus enabling them to debunk it along with the burned-out bodies they would like never to consider. The critics will have to show why Wolfe’s fragrance born of internal fire is not real, and why Hindu texts full of descriptions of aromatic smells emanating from Kundalini-empowered persons should be likewise discounted.

Another notation from Wolfe’s diary about what he called his “baptism by fire” is doubly pertinent.

One evening about six months after he began to experience Kundalini, Wolfe sat down after dinner in front of his television to rest. His mind was weary, his body exhausted. Soon he sensed the Kundalini rising within him, which he found to be not unusual after dining. His diary entry follows: “I was almost asleep when I was struck-and struck is the right word-by a 1/2 second surge of extremely heavy current on the top of my head in the crown area. It was like someone had hit me with a hammer. The blow was extremely forceful, shocking me into wakefulness. I couldn’t help but think that a fuse had been blown somewhere. I wondered what part of me had been burned away.

First, we find a link between Kundalini’s thermal aspect and relaxation. Is it not significant that most of the SHC episodes so far examined occurred when the victim was relaxed, asleep, or in a drunken stupor? Dr. Sannella reinforces this connection when he concluded that Kundalini’s symptoms (including heat) “usually occur during meditations or times of rest, and cease when the process is completed.”

The author knows a few friends who experience, occasionally, waking up feeling quite comfortable until they move to get off their beds or sofas. With their stirring comes a sudden, instantaneous heat; frightfully hot sometimes, they say, and usually short-lived. But very unnerving.

Does the production of tumo-like super-fevers, isolated blistering of skin and limbs or, rarely, total SHC of the resting individual sometimes attend Kundalini’s completion? Wolfe understandably admitted that his feeling of being “burned away” worried him, though I doubt he reaised that a potential for SHC could have left him unable to continue his diary entries.

Second, we face the issue of Kundalini’s intensity of activation. Wolfe might have been far more worried had he known what the director of the Kundalini Research Foundation told me. “Almost always there is considerable heat associated with Kundalini phenomena,” revealed Gene Kieffer, “especially if the arousal is spontaneous and forceful. This heat can become so intense as to cause death. . . “

Fortunately Wolfe’s encounter with Kundalini, though spontaneous, was neither forced nor intense. It made him think and feel that a part of himself was being burned away, but beyond changing his belief system forever it left no lasting physiological injury. But can it be proven that others may not have been so fortunate when sitting or lying down, relaxing or dozing just prior to a forceful, spontaneously catastrophic baptism by inner fire?


The presence of an invisible, psychic anatomy within the human body was long ago identified by the healing professions in Egypt, China, India, and elsewhere, but has been vigorously rejected by the current allopathic philosophy of Western medicine. Belatedly (but fortunately) some Occidental physicians have begun to heed the teachings of their ancient predecessors, and now give credence to the existence and function of a subtle energy-body within (and indeed larger than) the physical body they are trained to treat.2 Drs. Deepak Chopra, Larry Dossey, Richard Moss, Bernie Siegal, and Carl Simonton, among others, have challenged the tenets of Western medicine with research that confirms the power of thought to restructure one’s ailing, out-of-balance body back into healthy energy.

Pandit Gopi Krishna was not a physician, but he captivated the interest of many men of science when he spoke about healing the body, the mind, and the consciousness of humanity. Born in northern India to a poor family, Gopi Krishna spent most of his life in Srinagar, Kashmir. Despite his humble background, he earned the honorary title pandit (meaning “learned man”) and traveled the world as a-some have said the-leading spokesperson for the evolutionary potential within mankind. His rise from obscurity began when he experienced at an early age, and for many years suffered through, a strange and powerful force rising inside his body. It was, he said, prana made autonomically ultrapotent by Kundalini.


In his book Kundalini: The Evolutionary Energy in Man (1967), Gopi Krishna described his battles with Kundalini that made him feel that he was on the brink of burning up within. It was as though “a tongue or flame … a jet of molten copper… a scorching blast had raced through every pore of my body,” he wrote. He remembered a guru’s admonition that if the awakening occurred on the right side of the spine, then “the unfortunate man is literally burned to death due to excessive internal heat, which cannot be controlled by any external means.”

Gopi Krishna was horrified. “What had happened to me all of a sudden?” he asked himself. “What devilish power of the underworld held me in its relentless grasp? Was I doomed to die in this dreadful way, leaving a corpse with blackened face and limbs to make people wonder what unheard-of-horror had overtaken me as a punishment for crimes committed. in a previous birth?”

His inner torment was noticed by others, too. “Gopi Krishna’s children told me that when the heat was intense, their father’s cheeks ‘glowed like charcoal.’ Now, they were not speaking metaphorically,” Gene Kieffer, a confidant of the Krishna family, wrote to me. “Also, they said that for a period of time, Gopi Krishna was consuming more than 200 lbs. of sugarcane a day; that he was eating as much food in one day as 30 working men would consume in one month. We know that assimilating such prodigious amounts of food requires tremendous heat.”

These visible and metabolic displays of awesome internal heat occurred when the ida and pingala channels regulating the Kundalini up the sushumna of his spinal column became imbalanced, Gopi Krishna reaised. Therein lay his salvation, too. He remembered that cooling ida energy could counterbalance the fire of right-sided pingala. Facing what seemed to be imminent fatal hyperthermia, he focused his consciousness on cooling the area of his neuropranic spinal system where imbalance in the twin serpents had dammed Kundalini’s natural flow at a closed (imbalanced) chakra. “In that extraordinary extended, agonized, and exhausted state of consciousness,” he wrote, “I distinctly felt the location of the [Ida] nerve and strained hard mentally to divert its flow into the central channel. Then, as if waiting for the destined moment, a miracle happened.”

Heat, inner fire, and the possibility of sudden death! Another hint at SHC. The miracle for Gopi Krishna was that, by an act of will, he triumphed over his three-hour-long tempestuous inner trial by fire. He had survived.

I wondered if Kundalini could have defeated him, culminating in classic SHC had he not been able to defuse the hotbox of blocked Kundalini. Gopi Krishna knows! I thought.

In 1979, I had the chance to ask him. He reiterated that the “living electricity” of Kundalini is the fundamental bioenergy of life and re-emphasized the extreme danger it poses-“equivalent to letting a child play with Three Mile Island’s nuclear reactor control panel.” (It was the perfect, poignant metaphor, since the near-meltdown of TMI’s reactor had occurred less than two months earlier near my home.)

I then posed this question: “Could you have become a victim of SHC had you not consciously been able to remove the blockaged Kundalini within you?”

He looked into my eyes as if to probe why someone would ask a question so uncommon. Then he smiled knowingly. “Yes,” he replied simply. “I escaped death perhaps dozens of times, only a hair’s breadth away. Yes, I would very easily have become an example in your study.”

Kundalini and SHC became inexorably linked by the pandit who wrestled for years with the inner fire-heat that attended Kundalini’s movement through his body. Gopi Krishna had triumphed. It would seem not everyone does.


Testimony and evidence attest that both tumo and Kundalini can generate inordinate heat in a person. Are tumo and Kundalini synonymous, then? I think not.

I think tumo’s heat is induced by consciously accelerating the flow of prana (chi) in parts of or throughout one’s body at the cellular level, whereas Kundalini is the discharge along the cerebrospinal column of a bioenergy having much greater potentiality. Tumo and Kundalini can both be activated by the body spontaneously, through specific body postures and breathing techniques, or by the will of heightened consciousness.

Tumo can be a byproduct of Kundalini’s potency. Kundalini, however, is almost certainly not a byproduct of tumo. Kundalini is more specific, more powerful, more visually and spiritually illuminating than tumo. Consequently, for all these reasons, Kundalini can be more hazardous than tumo.

All responsible techniques to induce Kundalini recognize this and carry a warning: to coerce Kundalini is dangerous! Its awakening should only be attempted under the guidance of a knowledgeable teacher. “Deliberate practice of … forcing the Kundalini,” says Dr. Sannella, “may cause premature and imbalanced [sic] release of titanic inner forces.”

Titanic heat can be one result, Dr. Sannella affirms. So much heat, states Gopi Krishna, that a sadhaka (a spiritual aspirant practicing yoga) must be immersed for hours in water to absorb the Kundalini-fueled heat. As you know, Gopi Krishna knows! He had years of experience dealing with the fire that he believed could have caused him to self-ignite.

Unsynchronized activation of Kundalini’s ida and pingala duality is one risk best to avoid. Gopi Krishna spoke about this to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences: “In the case of a morbid awakening the two movements do not start together, or there is imperfect coordination between them …. In such an eventuality the consequences can be terrible …. An impure, toxic current now flows through it [the body] creating a chaotic condition in the whole province of thought. The irritation caused in the brain cells by the contaminated pranic radiation is soon translated in the anarchy in thought and behavior of the afflicted individual.”

An anarchy that unleashes within oneself potential storms of fearsome energy, including aberrant thermogenesis.

Imagine prana as a fuse, sheathed in a casing of ida and pingala, connected through small incendiary charges arrayed up your body to the seventh chakra blockbuster in the brain. Kundalini is the spark that ignites the fuse that detonates a series of chakras en route to the blindingly bright fireworks of a final explosion of blissful consciousness in one’s head-if all goes well. But if the fuse’s sheathing is frayed, the secondary charges faulty or defective or improperly wired, the whole operation might fail in one catastrophic fireball. In SHC.

The forecast for Kundalini rising, then, could read like this: Alert! Human heat wave imminent, followed by possible firestorm.


This forecast for Kundalini may apply to Peter Vesey, a contributing editor for American Astrology in the 1930s.

Vesey’s private life was secretive; his demeanor often strange; his interests as odd as his astrological fiction was popular with the magazine’s readers. Rumor said he was obsessed with the occult, [Joseph Cater (1982), in his effort to synthesize all physical and occult phenomena under one unifying principle, writes of SHC victims: “In most cases, the person was undoubtedly the target of a practitioner of so-called, black magic.” Whether this might apply to Vesey-and to Grace Pert who, researcher Peter Christie (1981) discovered, was said by contemporaries to be targeted by neighbors’ witchcraft prior to her fatally odd burn-up–I see no support for so general an assertion.] the cabalistic rituals, and the lives of medieval magicians. Rumor also said he researched spontaneous human combustion.

When his manuscripts abruptly stopped coming to the magazine, no one apparently wondered why until a letter arrived from a reader who lived in Vesey’s part of the country. Attached newspaper clippings announced that Peter Vesey was dead. Bizarrely dead.

The newsclips stated that, one morning, Vesey had called his wife and son into their living room. He wanted to be alone. He asked his family to go outdoors and not return until one hour elapsed. Mrs. Vesey and her son dutifully walked outside. After the allotted time, they returned indoors.

On the floor of the living room lay the remains of Peter Vesey. Charred remains. A body burned crisp, a blackened cinder amid unscorched furnishings. At the far end of the room a modest fire in the fireplace warmed the room, but nothing between it and Vesey was burned. Authorities could not determine what happened to the widow Vesey’s husband, said the newsclips.

A fictional drama? Or a real-life disaster that reads like fiction? Vesey was not the kind of man who confided his aspirations and inner feelings to anyone. Perhaps a despondent Vesey intended to commit suicide that morning and succeeded. Or perhaps that morning Vesey wanted to practice an obscure rite he had discovered in his studies, one that forecast an expressway into the unknown. And he found it: a secret on-ramp that accidentally (or intentionally) activated Kundalini. Forcibly unleashed, the serpent-fire raced through his body like a gale-driven firestorm. Vesey was unprepared to channel its gigantean power. Its journey was swift; its destructiveness complete. Vesey never knew what hit him from within.

Details needed to confirm this speculation are unavailable. An account of Vesey’s death appeared in the tenth issue of Tiffany Thayer’s Fortean Society Magazine (later named Doubt), and Gaddis attempted to corroborate the strange story (which he got fourth-hand) for his book Mysterious Fires and Lights (1967). He failed. I sought confirmation of it through various American astrological groups. I failed too.

I can therefore but agree with Gaddis’s conclusion about Peter Vesey: “What was it he wanted to do-alone that added his name to the long list of victims of mysterious combustion? I would like to know more-much more-about Peter Vesey.” I would too.

Kundalini is a topic that fires the imagination … and possibly the human body. It offers a key-perhaps the key-to the evolutionary progress (or lack thereof) of mankind’s consciousness, a topic largely beyond the scope of this book3 but interrelated with SHC nonetheless, as I will discuss later.

I have examined the thermal and combustible properties that esoteric tradition has long ascribed to Kundalini, and found substantiation by modem empirical and experiential evidence.

As misdirected Prana courses down the meridian of a resting librarian’s arm and exits through her palms … as overabundance of Holy Spirit envelops a meditating professor in visible light, where once it blistered an acupuncture point on his thigh … as dammed chi crashes through closed chakras to unleash a cascade of sizzling power that incinerates a dozen sleeping women … as an impaired pingala assaults a soldier in a hayloft and spontaneously burns away the dross of his grossly alcohol-saturated tissue but not the straw beneath him …


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