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David Lewis-Williams - Caves and spiritual experience



Type of Spiritual Experience



A description of the experience

The Mind in the Cave – David Lewis-Williams

I now argue that entry into Upper Paleolithic caves was probably seen as virtually indistinguishable from entry into the mental vortex that leads to the experiences and hallucinations of deep trance.  The subterranean passages and chambers were the ‘entrails’ of the nether world; entry into them was both physical and psychic entry into the underworld.  Spiritual experiences were thus given topographic materiality.  Entry into a cave was, for Upper Paleolithic people, entry into the spirit world.....

Entering a cave or rock was a metaphor for a shamans altered state; therefore caves and rocks more generally, were considered entrances or portals to the supernatural world… During vision quests, North American shamans sometimes bled from the nose and mouth. The parallels with the southern African accounts of extra corporeal, hallucinatory travel are arresting.  Entry into the rock, movement through a tunnel, encounters with spirits and animals, emergence elsewhere through water, flight and nasal haemorrhaging are experiences common to both continents.

The source of the experience

Shaman unspecified

Concepts, symbols and science items

Activities and commonsteps



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