The had to be maintained inside caves. The

The use of caves in mythology to depict darkness and abandonment has
branded it as a symbol of chaos. From this perception other associations
are made which connect the cave to prejudices, malevolent spirits, burial
sites, sadness, resurrection and intimacy. It is a world to which only
few venture, and yet its mysticism has attracted the interest of
philosophers, religious figures and thinkers throughout history. These
myths are exemplified in Homers “Odyssey,” where the two worlds of
mortals and immortals unite in the eternal cave.

To Plato, the cave represents the confusion between reality and
falsehood. Individuals chained deep within the recesses of the cave
mistake their shadows for physical existence. These false perceptions,
and the escape from bonds held within the cave symbolize transition into
the a world of reality. Comparatively, in the Odyssey, Odysseus must
first break with Kalypso, and set himself free before he can return to
Ithaka, when he will then be prepared to release Penelope from the
bondage of suitors. His experience within the cave is in itself a world
of fantasy, in that Kalypso is a supernatural being, and the only way to
escape her enslavement is to receive assistance from immortals superior
to her.

The philosopher Francis Bacon also theorized about the myth attached to
caves in which he maintained that “idols,” meaning prejudices and
preconceived notions possessed by an individual, were contained in a
persons “cave,” or obscure, compartment, with “intricate and winding
chambers”1 . Beliefs that caves were inhabited by negative thoughts, or
spirits, were also held by the native-American culture, in which these
spirits influenced the outcome of all human strivings, and had to be
maintained inside caves. The souls of the dead were thought to be the
most malevolent of all spirits, and were held within the deepest parts of
the cave. In Greek mythology this also holds true, according the legend
in which Cronus was placed in a cave in the deepest part of the
underworld. This was done by Zeus and his siblings after waging war
against their father for swallowing them at birth for fear that they
might overthrow him. Incidently, Zeus was raised in a cave after Rhea
hid him from Cronus. For his punishment, Cronus was placed in Tartarus to
prevent his return to earth, which would unbalance the system of
authority established by Zeus.
Beyond the shadows of the cave, however, this balanced system of power is
nonexistent. It becomes a system both unstable and lawless, and survival
as a guest in such a cave is only accomplished through the complete
submission to the sovereign. In Odysseus encounter with the Cyclops, it
is his disregard for Polyphemos authority that costs him the lives of
several companions, and ultimately a ten year delay on his return home.
The land of the Cyclops epitomizes darkness, chaos, and abandonment;
where the only law exists past the entrance of the cave. From the
islands shore a “high wall of…boulders”2 can be seen encircling each
cave. Clearly impossible of being accomplished by mortals, massive walls
of similar description found standing after the Persian Wars were also
thought by ancient Greeks to be the work of the Cyclops. Unfamiliar to
this system of power, Odysseus disregards these laws and enters the cave
without an invitation. For this reason, Polyphemos implicates his own
punishment onto the trespassers, and kills six men. In order to escape
the wrath of the Cyclops, Odysseus eventually blinds him, an offense
which falls under the jurisdiction of Poseidon, and for which he
ultimately pays throughout his wanderings.
The uncontrollable winds next direct Odysseus through a narrow strait
outlined by rocks and cliffs through which he must pass to return home.
On these cliffs which stand opposite each other lurk Scylla and
Charybdis, one side “reaching up into…heaven”3 and the other not
quite as high. Scylla, a creature with twelve feet and six necks, resides
in a cave upon this high cliff and devours sailors from fleeting ships.
Across the stream of water dwells Charybdis, a dreadful whirlpool beneath
a fig tree. Three times daily the maelstrom forms, and shipwrecks
passing vessels. In the “Odyssey,” Odysseus and his crew encounter these
two sea monsters, and while avoiding Charybdis, fall prey to Scylla, who
swallows six men. This passage between both cliffs is now believed to be
the Strait of Messina between Italy and Sicily in which the myth of the
two monsters was thought to have been created by sailors seeking an
explanation of the phenomenon.
Surviving this encounter, Odysseus voyage is again interrupted by the
course of the winds, and shipwrecks on the island of Ogygia where he
becomes the subject of Kalypsos instant affection. Her cave symbolizes
abundance and order, exhibited by the “flourishing growth of vine”4 which
encircles her cave. Known as the blood of the earth, the grapes are
symbolic of her destructive character, and the cloud of darkness which
hovers above her cave. The cedar trees are significantly placed around
her cave as well, to drive away the demons which make their homes in
these caves, as the legend goes. Odysseus is retained on her island for
seven years, with the promise of eternal youth. Although he never
receives the physical aspect of eternal youth, he is however, spiritually
reborn by a transformation which occurs through immersion in the
unconscious, which is symbolized by the cave. This spiritual reformation
results in his prolonged life. During his stay, Odysseus lives as a
virtual prisoner, and is stripped of all his freedoms under her control.
She is the sovereign of her dominion, and holds the right to govern her
territory, Odysseus included.
The last cave identified in the “Odyssey” is “shaded and pleasant,”5
inhabited by the Nymphs of the Wellsprings. It is were his treasures are
placed upon reaching Ithaka. Although this location never becomes
familiar to Odysseus, the treasure kept inside is symbolic of the caves
In Christianity as well, a legend exists in which Jesus was
tempted by the devil in a cave upon the Mount of Temptation. Jesus was
also eventually buried in a cave after being taken down from the cross.
Ironically a stone was needed to block the light entering the cave after
his burial, in contrast to the widely accepted perception of the darkness
of caves. This practice of burying men in caves was common among various
civilizations, such as the Aegean people of Asia Minor, and the biblical
characters Abraham and Sarah. Before the creation of temples, all
religious ceremonies were held in caves, which were universally
recognized as the womb of Mother Earth. Buddhist temple structures of
India, known as cave-halls, used caves as their place of worship, and
would place a stupa at the far end of each cave. Stupas were structures
representing heaven, rising from bases symbolic of earth. This could be
compared to Mt. Olympus, known in mythology as the home of the gods.
Similar to the stupa, its base was on earth, and its peak reached into
heaven. Although Mt. Olympus was not taken into account when creating
their religious figures, the stupa was symbolic of their own “Mt.
Olympus,” known as Mount Meru. The up-pointing triangle of the mountain
is symbolic of a dominant male figure, while the down-pointing triangle
of a cave is symbolic of a female. Although this assumption cannot be
considered accurate in all instances, it holds true for Kalypso, clearly
a dominant female present throughout Odysseus adventures; and Zeus, who
held the ultimate decision on his return home.
Caves were used frequently in mythological tales, not necessarily
pertaining to the Odyssey. In Roman mythology, Somnus, the god of sleep
resided in a cave were the sun never shone and everything was in silence.
Similarly, the serpent Python, made from the slime of the earth dwelt in
a cave, as did Pan, who inspired fear by his ugliness, haunting caves and
mountain tops. The parallelism between these three legends, is their
association with the myth of the cave: Somnus darkness, Pans isolation
from civilization, and Pythons ability to conceal himself within the
earth. In a Norse legend, Balder, the god of light and joy, was sent to
the underworld after being stabbed by his blind brother. He was later
sent for by his father, but could only be released under the condition
that everything in the world wept for him. Ironically, the only person
who did not weep, was an old woman in a cave, the very symbol of sadness.
Caves have been a source of legend since the origin of man, and myths, a
way to explain these unnatural occurrences. It represents a detachment
from the world, life, and afterlife. When translated into Old Norse,
“cave” becomes hellir, and in Scandinavian mythology, the Black goddess
Hel, Queen of shades, is the derivation of our word, hell. Other
associations made with caves through mythology have been resurrection,
and fertility. Resurrection in the Egyptian underworld, is represented
by two doors, in which the deceased enters through the Western gate, and
leaves through the Eastern gate. The Western entrance symbolizes the
dying sun as it sets, while the East, rebirth and the freedom of the
spirit as it is released from its body. Finally, the intimacy provided
by the warmth and darkness of caves, creates an ideal shelter for
love-making. In the “Odyssey,” Kalypso and Odysseus, “withdrawn in the
hollow recess of the hollowed cavern, enjoy themselves in love.”6
The variety of myths associated with caves, can best be summed as a
mortals cycle of existence, for it begins and ends in the same location.
Life begins in the womb of mother earth as two individuals conceive a
child within the shelter of a cave. Once grown, this adult may inhabit
this cave and use it as a place of residence himself, yet regardless of
the conquests and adventures which take place throughout his life, he is
eventually returned to the soil in the form of a grave, and is released
as a spirit back into the cave.

Category: History

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