The pineal gland, the most enigmatic of endocrine organs, has long been of interest to anatomists. Several millennia ago it was thought to control the flow of memories into consciousness. The 17th-century French philosopher-mathematician René Descartes concluded that the pineal gland was the seat of the soul. A corollary notion was that calcification of the pineal caused psychiatric disease, but modern imaging techniques revealed that the pineal gland becomes more or less calcified in most people.
Anatomy of the Pineal Gland
The pineal gland is an endocrine gland found in vertebrates that is the source of melatonin, a hormone derived from tryptophan that regulates circadian rhythm (sleep cycle). The pineal gland develops from the roof of the diencephalon, a section of the brain. In some lower vertebrates the gland has a well-developed eyelike structure; in others, though not organized as an eye, it functions as a light receptor.
The pineal gland is located behind the third cerebral ventricle in the midline (between the two cerebral hemispheres) of the brain. Its name is derived from its shape, which is like that of a pine cone (Latin pinea). In adult humans it is about 0.8 cm (0.3 inch) long and weighs approximately 0.1 gram (0.004 ounce), and has a reddish-gray tone. The gland is relatively large in children and begins to shrink with the onset of puberty. It has a rich supply of adrenergic nerves that greatly influence its function. Microscopically, the gland is composed of pinealocytes (rather typical endocrine cells except for extensions that mingle with those of adjacent cells) and supporting cells that are similar to the astrocytes of the brain. In adults, small deposits of calcium often make the pineal body visible on X-rays.
Unlike other parts of the brain which come in pairs, the pineal gland is singular. Its location in the center of the brain and presence in other species indicates it is an older part of humanity’s evolutionary brain system.
The pineal gland is present in all lower vertebrae. In other species, like birds, reptiles and frogs, the pineal gland is called the parietal eye or “third-eye” as its functions closely resemble that of an actual eye. In these other species, the pineal gland has components of an actual eye, with a cornea, rod and cone. It is considered to be the vestige of a functional sense organ of early primitive vertebrates.
Directly affected by the light taken in through the eyes, the pineal regulates sleep, menstrual cycles, mating seasons, hibernation, seasonal flight patterns and many other “instinctual” behaviors.
In humans and other animals, the pineal gland produces hormones that have important endocrine functions. For example, in several vertebrate species, pineal hormones influence sexual development, hibernation, and seasonal breeding. The pineal gland contains several neuropeptides and neurotransmitters, such as somatostatin, norepinephrine, and serotonin. The major pineal hormone, however, is melatonin, a derivative of the amino acid tryptophan. Melatonin was first discovered because it lightens amphibian skin, an effect opposite to that of adrenocorticotropic hormone and melanocyte-stimulating hormone of the anterior pituitary gland.
The secretion of melatonin is increased by sympathetic nervous system stimulation. In humans, melatonin secretion increases soon after a person is placed in the dark and decreases soon after exposure to light. However, the function of melatonin is less well understood. Its production is high in infancy and childhood and declines with age, and abnormally high levels of melatonin in children are associated with delayed sexual development.
Melatonin has been used to treat conditions such as depression, insomnia, and jet lag, but its efficacy for these purposes is controversial.
Certain initiatory cults, such as Tantrism, Kundalini and Gnosticism, acknowledged the role of the pineal gland in the spiritual process. The spiritual/instinctual life force was seen as a serpent, due to its physical structure extending from the genitals, through the spine and up into its single all-seeing eye in the pineal gland.
These spiritual systems focussed around the raising of this primordial serpentine energy, based in the genitals and at the core of the pro-creative process. Through certain yogic practices this energy can be reversed and forced to travel up the spine into the brain, where it is reputed to cause “enlightenment“.
In the Kundalini system, which has seven distinct energy centers, the pineal gland has been variously identified with the Ājňā Chakra and alternatively the Sahasrāra Chakra. Both pre-Christian Mithraic and second century Gnostic texts also distinctly refer to the pineal gland in relation to seven distinct energy centers and this serpentine energy.
Another potential reference to this curious little gland may occur at the end of the New Testament book of Revelation, where we find that the elect will know God intimately, “his name will be in their foreheads,” which is where the pineal deeply lies. Noting the gland’s strong connection with light, the rest of the passage is interesting: “There will be no more night; they will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.”
Likewise in the Qabalistic tradition, the primordial archetypical man, Adam Kadmon, shines forth with a light from his forehead that was rich in complex patterns and linguistic symbols. Similar imagery occurs in the Persian tradition of the light-like sacred fluid, the “vivifying and spermatic” xvarnah. “Ahura Mazda is preeminently the possessor of xvarnah, but this ‘flame’ also springs from the forehead of Mithra and like a solar light emanates from the heads of sovereigns.”
This mind-light from the forehead is also identical with the third eye of Shiva, which when opened in the individual burns away the concept of ego-bound consciousness, and when opened collectively has the potential to burn away the ties and fetters of the Old World Order.
We will explain more about this little but very significant gland for human evolution in following articles. We will talk about how to detoxify and activate it, and why its existence and real functions have been covered up by governments and religions for a long time. Stay tuned!
Cover picture by Alex Grey
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