Before there were temples, religious rites were conducted in caves. "In Sikkim, the gods and earth spirits were established in the Four Great Caves, oriented to the cardinal points. The Hindu Mother of Caverns was one of the oldest emanations of Kali, a matrikadevi (Mother Goddess) named Kurukulla. Her Phrygian descendant Cybele, the Great Mother of the gods who was brought to Rome in the second century BCE, was called 'Cavern-dweller' and was worshiped in natural or artificial caves. Her sacred subterranean chambers were the womb-shrines."
"The Sanskrit word for a temple meant 'womb.' The Sumerian word for the Underworld, the sacred cave, and the womb was matu,
from the universal root word for 'mother.' To the Pygmies of Africa, the same word meant the great cavern that stood for the 'Mother of God.' To Simon Magus, Paradise was defined as 'the Mother's Womb.' "
The cave as the birthplace of wise leaders
Sacred caves were the places of choice for magical incubations. According to Hebrew tradition, Abraham was born in a magical cave but was left motherless. "Legend says Abraham's father was Azsar, the vizier of King Nimrod; but the Bible gives the name of Abraham's father as Terah, a cognate of Terra, 'Mother Earth,' whose womb was usually a cave."
Barbara G. Walker also explains: "Like Abraham, the Persian savior Mithra was born of the earth in the form of a rock, the petra genetrix, in a magic cave. The place of Jesus' birth, too, was originally a cave. In the Middle East, many gods were born in womb-caves surrounded by divine animals that is, the idols of the animal spirits who traditionally guarded the birthplace of gods."
The cave as the keeper of sacred writings
In The Emerald Tablet,
Dennis William Hauck describes how Balinas (born in the year 16 C.E.) discovered the Emerald Tablet in a cave in Cappadocia, Turkey. Balinas entered the cave and, "Before him stood a golden throne and, seated in it, the mummified corpse of Hermes wearing the remains of a fine embroidered coat. Balinas froze in front of the corpse and stared into the leathery, bearded face of Hermes. The sound of the teenager's thumping heart filled the chamber. Resting in Hermes' lap was a green-colored tablet that glowed eerily in the dim light. The dead man's stiff fingers clutched it tightly, and the boy stepped forward and touched the tablet's smooth, protruding letters...."
Balinas went back to the cave many times after that and studied the tablet of Hermes, which is described as a living green gem that glows whenever it comes alive.
In The Cave of the Ancients,
T. Lobsang Rampa describes a cave that contained a fabulous store of knowledge and artifacts from an age when the Earth was very young. It is a time capsule that houses working models of extraordinary machines and a complete pictorial record of culture. He writes that these secret chambers were concealed by ancient people so that artifacts would be found by a later generation, when the time was right.
The Essenes were another group of cave dwellers who lived in eleven caves in the Wadi Qumran, an area on the northwest coast of the Dead Sea in Israel. The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in one of these caves in 1947. The scrolls and scroll fragments have Jewish writings from the third century BCE to 68 CE. There are almost a thousand compositions, and they are written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.
Underground religious dwellings
Holy men and women throughout history have lived in caves. "Shrines developed around caves where the dead were buried, and many monasteries were built into cave structures. There are also a great number of cave churches, like those in Cappadocia in Turkey, the chapel in Agios Niketos, in Crete, the rock-cut church of Dayn Aboo Hannes in Egypt, the chapel at Gethsemane, the Grotto of Bethlehem, the Grotto of the Ascension on Mount Olive, the Cave of the Sepulchre, and the Dome of the Rock, which is above a cave."
There also are caves in France and Spain that have a number of rock-cut churches, as well as in Ethiopia, where there are hundreds of Orthodox Christian shrines and churches. Lalibela, for example, is carved out of the pink tuff mesas in Ethiopia. Petra, in Jordan, can be reached through a deep rock cleft. India and Afghanistan have cave temples, and Sri Lanka has tiered temple caves. Meteora, in central Greece, is a well-known rock monastery.
Historical subterranean life
Cave dwellings have been found all over the world. A few notable caves include Goat's Hole at Paviland, South Wales, the Huapoc Canyon caves in Mexico, Kent's Cavern at Torquay in the south of Britain; Wookey Hole and many others in Britian; Lascaux and other caves painted by Cro-Magnon man in Les Eyzies, France; Altamira in northern Spain; Mount Carmel rock shelters in the Middle East; the Dravidian caves in southern India; Choukoutien in China; Devils Lair and Kennif Cave in Australia; Olduvai Gorge in Africa; and Cyrenaica, in Libya. The United States has Danger, Utah; Ventana, Arizona; and Bat and Sandia Caves in New Mexico.
Paleolithic cave paintings of Europe
The Paleolithic Cave Temple is a testament to a sophisticated philosophical view of the world. Leroi-Gourhan discovered that there were altogether six distinct zones to the prehistoric Cavern Temple: the entrance, ambulatory, central chamber, passages, side chambers, and end chamber, each with their own distinct animal types and sex signs, grouped in a complex system of order and arrangement.
Joseph Robert Jochmans writes that Cro-Magnons may have spent time first in complete darkness, then gazed upon the painted images in the continually flickering flame of a candle or lamp burning animal fat. "Suddenly it would have been as if the animal figures had come alive, looking like they are actually breathing, and their hearts beating. Above in the light of the glowing, pulsing wall glimmerings a whole herd of ancient bison appears to move silently together deeper into the cavern, becoming guides directing the Initiate onwards. It seems clear, what was portrayed here was not the picture of the animals themselves, but the spiritual power of the animals as they are a part of the Spirit of All Things mirroring the One Spirit and the cosmic pattern of nature."
Memories encoded in cave walls
In the 1980s, Lya Dams, a Belgian archaeologist, found that stalactites in French and Spanish Paleolithic painted caves made ringing noises and beautiful crystal-like sounds that resonated throughout the caves. Technical examination showed that these stalactites had been hit in ancient times, so it is probable that these sounds were used in ceremonies.
Another group of people did acoustical studies of the chambers and measured the exact frequencies of these sounds as they echoed throughout the cave. They focused their study in certain places in the cave systems, where they found paintings on the walls. They found that there was a link between the images on the cave walls and the sounds that reverberated near them. Some of the saber-tooth tigers seemed to set off a growling roar that rushed down into the depths and the bowels of the cavern, like a sound track to these images.
Paul Devereux writes: "Sound is so immediate that it does not readily present itself as a suitable tool with which to explore the mysteries of ancient sites. . . . If the new trend towards acoustic research in archaeological contexts continues, the currently mute past might be given a voice. The old stones will speak."
The desert region of southwestern United States known as the Four Corners has remarkable rock dwellings. People lived in open, natural caves that were artificial and were carved into the cliffs. Mesa Verde in Colorado is known for its terraced structures built into the cave. Canyon de Chelly, in Arizona, has artificial caves built into natural caves.
In 1895, the first report of the rock art of Baja California was published, and by the middle of the twentieth century people began to visit the caves there, which held extraordinary murals. These cave paintings, which have been compared to the Paleolithic sites in Europe, were done on overhanging walls, and it is thought that they were created as part of shamanic rituals. One of the most amazing of all the compositions is five hundred feet of walls and ceilings depicting men, women, beasts, birds, and even sea mammals.