Mr Bryant on the 'worship in caverns'
Type of spiritual experience
Hilarious, but quite interesting, I particularly liked the reference to 'cutaneous and scrofulous disorders'
A description of the experience
“ A NEW SYSTEM; OR, AN ANALYSIS OF ANTIENT MYTHOLOGY” - BY JACOB BRYANT, ESQ. THE THIRD EDITION. IN SIX VOLUMES. 1807.
WORSHIP PAID AT CAVERNS; AND OF THE ADORATION OF FIRE IN THE FIRST AGES.
As soon as religion began to lose its purity, it degenerated very fast; and, instead of a reverential awe and pleasing sense of duty, there succeeded a fearful gloom and unnatural horror, which were continually augmented as superstition increased. Men repaired in the first ages either to the lonely summits of mountains, or else to caverns in the rocks, and hollows in the bosom of the earth; which they thought were the residence of their gods. At the entrance of these they raised their altars and performed their vows. Porphyry takes notice how much this mode of worship prevailed among the first nations upon the earth: …….
When in process of time they began to erect temples, they were still determined in their situation by the vicinity of these objects, which they comprehended within the limits of the sacred inclosure. These melancholy recesses were esteemed the places of the highest sanctity: and so greatly did this notion prevail, that, in aftertimes, when this practice had ceased, still the innermost part of the temple was denominated the cavern. Hence the Scholiast upon Lycophron interprets the words παρ' αντρα in the poet,
“The cavern is the innermost place of the temple”.
Pausanias, speaking of a cavern in Phocis, says, that it was particularly sacred to Aphrodite. “In this cavern divine honours were paid to Aphrodite”.
Parnassus was rendered holy for nothing more than for these unpromising circumstances. “The mountain of Parnassus is a place of great reverence; having many caverns, and other detached spots, highly honoured and sanctified”.
At Tænarus was a temple with a fearful aperture, through which it was fabled that Hercules dragged to light the dog of hell. The cave itself seems to have been the temple; for it is said, “Upon the top of the promontory stands a temple, in appearance like a cavern”
The situation of Delphi seems to have been determined on account of a mighty chasm in the hill, and Apollo is said to have chosen it for an oracular shrine, on account of the effluvia which from thence proceeded. Here also was the temple of the Muses, which stood close upon a reeking stream. But, what rendered Delphi more remarkable, and more reverenced, was the Corycian cave, which lay between that hill and Parnassus. It went under ground a great way: and Pausanias, who made it his particular business to visit places of this nature, says,
“that it was the most extraordinary of any which he ever beheld”
There were many caves styled Corycian: one in Cilicia, mentioned by Stephanus Byzantinus from Parthenius, who speaks of a city of the same name:
“ Near which city was the Corycian cavern, sacred to the nymphs, which afforded a sight the most astonishing.
There was a place of this sort at Samacon, in Elis; and, like the above, consecrated to the nymphs. There were likewise medicinal waters, from which people troubled with cutaneous and scrofulous disorders found great benefit. I have mentioned the temple at Hierapolis in Phrygia; and the chasm within its precincts, out of which there issued a pestilential vapour.
There was a city of the same name in Syria, where stood a temple of the highest antiquity; and in this temple was a fissure, through which, according to the tradition of the natives, the waters at the deluge retired. Innumerable instances might be produced to this purpose from Pausanias, Strabo, Pliny, and other writers. It has been observed, that the Greek term κοιλος, hollow, was often substituted for Coëlus, heaven: and, I think, it will appear to have been thus used from the subsequent history.