The Tantric Gnosis of Duran Duran
The Heraclitean hymn, Her Name is Rio, by the ‘New Wave’ Gnostic troubadours, Duran Duran, was composed in the 1,983rd year of the malefic Archonic rulership masquerading as the ‘Year of our Lord’ (Anno Domini). As most historians of twentieth century Gnosticism have long suspected, the figure of Rio is a thinly disguised reference to the Greek goddess Rhea. However, few realise that this connection is in fact a critical key to the hidden philosophical Hintergrund of Duran Duran’s liberating Gnosis.
Everything Flows: The Universal Solvent
Rhea is the divine mother and great queen of heaven. The very name Rhea itself comes from the Greek word rheō, ‘to flow’, which is preserved in modern Gnostic dialects as ‘Rio’. She was traditionally the wife of Kronos, and thus the mother of the gods who would depose the rule of time (Chronos). The god Kronos embodies the bitter and pressing force of necessity that enslaves us in temporal existence (samsara). He endures in the malefic Archonic rulership that those imprisoned in the sublunary world call ‘God’. Rhea, by contrast, represents the effortless flow of eternity liberated from all temporal becoming. Her name is Rio, therefore, represents the call to liberation from time and the cycles of samsaric existence.
The Greek Alchemical Corpus covertly refers to Rhea as the ‘all-dissolving flux’ or universal solvent: here she is both the ‘volatile spirit of all fluids’ and ‘the untouched virgin water’.
Even more significantly, the very word for ‘universal flux’ in this text is panto-rheustos, which distinctly echoes the famous aphorism of Heraclitus, panta rhei: ‘everything is flux’, ‘everything flows’, ‘everything is fluid’. With this phrase, Heraclitus gnomically encapsulates the fundamentally unfixed nature of reality. Embracing the impermanent nature of existence, he famously likens reality to a ‘river’ that we ‘cannot step into twice’: ‘Just like that river twisting through a dusty land’. All appearances of continuity are illusory, for Heraclitus, and the only constant is change.
Everything Crumbles: Dancing in the Sand
The reality represented by Rhea may be usefully stated in the words of the Russian mystic, George Ivanovich Gurdjieff: ‘Everything crumbles’. This is of course a restatement of the reality of impermanence (one of the ‘four thoughts that turns the mind toward Dharma’ in Buddhist mind-training). If Kronos-Saturnus represents the solid, enduring principle in reality, Rhea represents the opposite: the effortless reduction of rock-hard solidity into sand—mocking the very “flow” of time through death's hourglass. Everything we hold as stable is illusory. Everything seemingly permanent is dissolved in the ever-flowing river of eternity. Softness, as the Daoists say, is greater than hardness. For just as “steady drops hollow the stone”, so too does the pliant, amorphous, feminine principle prevail over rigid, masculine inflexibility. Rhea dances on the sand because the only reality that is truly “stable” is the reduction of all things to their fundamental fluidity or impermanence.
The Union of the Snake
If Her Name is Rio praises the dance of liberating flux, other works in Duran Duran’s initiatory oeuvre focus on the ascent to this mystical state. From our sublunary condition (This is Planet Earth) we must climb through the seven layers of the cosmos to reach the immortal realm of fixed stars—the eighth realm or Ogdoad. Recapitulated on the level of subtle physiology, the seven layers of the cosmos are internalised as the seven centres of the subtle body. The Union of the Snake clearly refers to this internal ascent—the tantric practice of raising the Kundalini energy through the axis of our being:
The Union of the snake is on the rise
Its gonna break through the borderline
Traditionally experienced as a feminine serpent-power lurking at the base of the spine, the goddess Kundalini, in her sleeping state, subsists coiled around the inner axis or “phallus”, draining away the body’s life energy. In her awakened state, however, she rises like an erect serpent, carrying the vitalising kundalini-energy through the seven chakras—from the base of the spine (planet earth) to the zenith of the cranial vault (the heavenly dome). Here the initiatory penetration of the cosmic axis is consummated with the release of immortalising nectar (the flow of Rhea). The Kundalini goddess, awakened and liberated, unites like Shakti with her divine consort, Shiva. The union of the snake is ultimately the tantric union of god and goddess.
Riding the Ragged Tiger
Raising the feminine serpent energy beyond all cosmic limitations enables the Gnostic adept to ‘break through the borderline’, i.e. the fixed boundaries imposed by Kronos/Saturnus both within the bodily microcosm and in the cosmos at large. This consummate initiatory act par excellence not only releases us from conditioned existence, it completes a universal circuit symbolised by the ouroboric serpent—the dragon that bites its tail. Through this act, the adept attains liberation in life (jivanmukti), i.e. transcendence of the conditioned universe while still engaged in embodied existence.
This was considered an especially dangerous process. The Italian esotericist, Julius Evola, likened it to ‘riding the tiger’. The only way to ensure that we will not be “eaten” by the destructive forces of the Kali Yuga or Iron Age (Philip K. Dick’s ‘Black Iron Prison’) is by making the tiger a vehicle. Only by becoming “Wild Boys”—Tantric virahas (virile heroes)—will we survive. It is no coincidence, therefore, that Duran Duran’s album, Seven and the Ragged Tiger makes secret allusions to the sevenfold character of embodiment and the ferocious character of liberation that engages the dangers of dissolution. Once again Rhea is the key, for this act is ultimately a recapitulation of the iconography of Rhea herself, who was depicted riding a rampant lion (a symbolically equivalent animal). The symbolism here anticipates the eighth Major Arcana of the Tarot—Strength—in which the lion succumbs to the gentle ministrations of the Lady, who guides the lion’s roar. Once again, it is the feminine principle that is the source of true power.
Aaron Cheak, PhD, is a scholar of comparative religion, philosophy, and esotericism. He is the author of Alchemical Traditions: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde (2013) and The Leaf of Immortality (2017). He currently translates neglected Hermetic classics for Rubedo Press.