Vol. 2 No. 9       

Cave-room in Cappadocia


The Magic of Living
in the Earth

by Celeste Adams
Most of us probably think of cave dwellers in terms of prehistoric times, with perhaps the exception of Native Americans in the Southwest and the hiding places of the people of modern-day Afghanistan.

But cave dwelling continues to this day. Here, Celeste Adams discusses today's little-known "troglodytes" (a fancy word for cave dwellers), and adds a historical discussion of Living in Caves).

Besides her research and an interview, Celeste visited a writer in Malibu who lives in a cave. And she herself dwelt for a time in a "cave-hotel"!

Click on photos to enlarge.

Modern cave dwellers

A Malibu cave dweller

A few months ago, I attended a party high in the mountains in Malibu, California, given at a cave occupied by the man who threw the party. I asked him why he lived there, and he said that it simplified his life. He wanted to write a book, but he didn't want to waste writing time working at a 9-to-5 job just to pay rent.

He said that he also wanted to reclaim a prehistoric lifestyle, because it made him see the world differently. He felt that it really was not necessary to live with much money at all, for he had discovered that he needed very little to survive.

This man enjoyed the solitude and harmonious feel of cave-dwelling — a lifestyle connected to the rising and setting of the sun.

His cave had a queen-sized bed under a hole in the cave wall that overlooked a valley. He had constructed a wooden door at the entrance to the cave and a patio on the land above it. A neighboring cave was used as a kind of band shell for performers on the night of the party.

Like many modern cave dwellers, his cave did have a few modern conveniences, including a self-contained toilet and shower. (There are a variety to choose from, including waterless toilets that have composting capacities and need no plumbing, electricity, sewer, or septic system. Other portable toilets have flushwater tanks and manual flush [see this month's article on septic systems].)

A return to yourself

Many of my friends have spoken to me about their experiences of living in caves for a week or a month. They always speak of the profound connection it enables them to feel with the Earth and with the Universe.

I myself have always loved spending time in caves, as a way of separating myself from the world and entering a sacred space where I can sink deeply into myself and find my truest thoughts.

As a small child, I would write down my private feelings about life in a diary that I kept locked with a key that I wore around my neck. I especially loved to work on this diary in a cave that I had discovered in the woods in a hill behind my home. After high school, I packed my backpack and bought a plane ticket to Athens. Within a week, I was sailing deck class to Santorini, also known as Thera. I arrived on the island in the misty early morning, and mounted a donkey that took me up a steep cliff where I was met by an old Greek woman. She took me to where I was staying for my trip: a cave dwelling that had been converted into a rental room.

I stayed in that cave for a few weeks, enjoying the magic and mystery of a dwelling made of curvaceous stone walls. And when I sat at the little wooden desk there, writing by candlelight, I would reflect on all the people that might have come before me and stayed in that very same space. It was easy to see myself in another era, sitting in this same cave, working with red, green, and gold pigments, designing ornamental images in an illuminated manuscript — or contemplating the mysteries of life.

Although inside this cave I felt cut off from the rest of the world, I enjoyed the shift in focus, and my thoughts exanded beyond the confines of the stone walls. I could hear my heartbeat, and remembered how Buckminster Fuller once said that a million heartbeats equals thirty years. One-hundred-billion heartbeats equals the time since Jesus walked the Earth. I wondered how many heartbeats it would take to bring me back to the time when the frescos in the buried houses of the Bronze Age city at Akrotiri, near the town of Thera, were painted.

There were no windows to distract me from this internal adventure, but light came through a tiny hole carved out of the rock ceiling. I sat in the center of that shaft of light, hoping that it would illuminate my mind.

I felt a transcendence over time and space in that cave, and when I opened the little wooden door of my cave dwelling, I sometimes imagined that I was going to find myself in an ancient time, before the volcanic eruption happened that caused Sera to split off from the mainland.

Archaeologists like Professor S. Marinatos assert that Santorini was the home of Plato's Atlantis. I feel that answers to these mysteries may perhaps be found by accessing the memories encoded in the cave walls.

cave hotel room, Guadix, SpainLater, I also stayed at caves in Cappadocia and Les Eyzies.

And now, my favorite place to write is a large, windowless closet underneath a staircase. This tiny, womb-like space helps me go deep into myself. It is my own Cave of the Ancients. When I go in there to think and to write, my thoughts immediately transcend the ordinary and take me on a journey to the extraordinary.

Why would one live in a cave?

Yaodang, N. ChinaAlthough in historical times living in a cave was more a matter of necessity than choice, today many people around the world choose to live in caves. It is estimated that twenty-five thousand people live in caves and rock dwellings in France, and there are large numbers of communities built into caves in Spain, Turkey, and Tunisia. Modern cave dwellers include those in the English Midlands, Sri Lanka, Sulawesi and the Philippines, Cappadocia (more about Cappadocia below), and Guadix.

In Northern China, according to a University of Washington report, there are more than 40 million people living in cave and pit dwellings.

Cave dwellings are very much like wombs, because they seem to closely embrace us in a protective shield of stillness, sheltering us from harm, soothing our spirits. Since we all spent the first nine months of our lives in our mother's womb, the womblike enclosure and curvaceous structure of a cave feels natural to us.

When we break out of the mold of a house designed as a box and enter a round space, our body relaxes, and we enter into communion with the Earth Mother.

Cave dwellers of Cappadocia

Cappadocia is a barren and mountainous region in central Turkey. The winters are terribly cold and the summers are very hot. There is very little vegetation, and building materials are limited.

Perhaps it was because of the harshness of the terrain that the people of Cappadocia started to carve out underground cities. It also has been speculated that the underground cities were built for defense by Christian refugees escaping persecution. For whatever reason, it is estimated that there are 300 underground sites, and portions of these are still in use.

Cappadocia cave hotelIn the caves of Cappadocia, networks of passageways link family rooms with communal spaces. Most of these underground cities are no longer in use, and can be visited by tourists. These include Derinkuyu, which is the largest and has eight levels that people can view (though it is thought that there are twelve more levels that have not yet been excavated). It is estimated that there are some six hundred doors to this underground city, hidden in surface dwellings and courtyards. It is also thought that Derinkuyu is linked to Kaymak, another underground city just nine kilometers away.

But the subterranean lifestyle still exists in Cappadocia. Subterranean canals irrigate terraced farmland. And in villages such as Zelve and Soganl, semi-subterranean rooms are still in use. Locally grown potatoes and fruit are stored underground because the temperature remains constant in these underground rooms. There also are more than twenty thousand cones throughout the region made of volcanic rock that has been hollowed out and made into living quarters.

North Africa

In desert villages throughout North Africa, people live in caves dug vertically into the ground. In the desert, the advantage of living in these underground houses is that they are cool even on the hottest summer day, and warm in the winter and the cold desert nights. These structures are carved out of the porous ground and are thought to have been a successful form of Saharan architecture for seven or eight hundred years. Towns like Matmata and Bulla Regia in Tunisia, as well as villages in Morocco and Libya, are known for these underground dwellings.

The principles of natural homebuilders

One reason that people live in caves is that they offer protection against hurricanes, tornadoes, and fires, and they offer relief from extreme heat and extreme cold. They also are easy to move into, and do not require a great deal of effort to make them habitable.

There are five main principles that lie at the core of the natural builder's ethos, writes Bruce Silverberg. These include:

  1. Minimizing "embodied energy" — the amount of energy and fuel used to process, transport, install, and ultimately recycle what goes into buildings and products — by utilizing raw, local materials wherever possible.

  2. Using simple construction techniques, easily learned, that require little skill and few tools.

  3. Avoiding the use of toxic substances, natural and otherwise, that might create health or environmental hazards during manufacture, construction, and habitation.

  4. Minimizing consumption of scarce, nonrenewable resources, and avoiding environmental pollution during habitation by using alternative, renewable energy sources to the greatest possible extent. This is attained through use of appropriate technologies, and by practicing a lifestyle of simplicity and conservation that is in harmony with the building and its environment.

These principles apply to both natural homebuilders and cave dwellers. There is no need for architects or blueprints, or for any building materials — all you have to do is move into a cave.

Underground chambers of defense

During World War I, troops burrowed underground for protection, and later, whole cities descended into bomb shelters to escape aerial attacks. In the 1950s and '60s, people began to build fallout shelters. Today, as the balance of world peace becomes more unstable, political leaders all over the world are building underground chambers for protection against terrorism, nuclear bombs, and bioterrorism. Both the American government and the Taliban fighters are resorting to underground structures for protection and defense.

The United States military effort in Afghanistan scoured a network of fifty caves in the Zawar Kili region of eastern Afghanistan. Many of them were high in the walls of cliffs and accessible only by experienced climbers. The US military also tried to clean out caves in the Tora Bora area to the north of Zawar Kili, and it is thought that Al-Qaida and Taliban fighters may yet be hiding in other Afghan caves.

Jack Shroder, a geologist and professor at the University of Nebraska who has a special interest in eastern Afghanistan, said in an interview that warriors of the ethnic Pashtun group in the region have been digging caves for hundreds — maybe thousands — of years. "Most of the caves in that area are manmade," said Shroder. "Once they got skilled with modern engineering techniques, they started digging through very tough rocks, like granite. . . . . You can virtually dig a hole down through a mountain."

Cuarenta Casas, Huapoc Canyon, Mexico
Living in Caves

Cave temples

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."[1]

"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.' "[2]

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."[3]

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."[4]

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...."[5] 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."[6]

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

Cave paintings, Lascaux, FranceThe 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."[7]

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."[8]

The Americas

Anasazi caves, prehistoric pueblosThe 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.[9]

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