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Mircea Eliade - On caves and labyrinths



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Mircea Eliade – Shamanism Archaic techniques of ecstasy

The importance of the cave in the initiation of the Australian medicine man adds weight to this presumption of antiquity.  The role of the cave in paleolithic religions appears to have been decidedly important.  Then too, the cave and the labyrinth continue to have a function of the first importance in the initiation rites of other archaic cultures (as for example, in Malekula); both indeed are concrete symbols of passage into another world, of a descent to the underworld.  According to the earliest accounts of the Araucanian shamans of Chile, they too received their initiation in caves, which were often decorated with animal heads.

Among the Smith Sound Eskimo the aspirant must go at night to a cliff containing caves and walk straight ahead in the darkness.  If he is predestined to become a shaman, he will enter a cave; if not, he will bump into a cliff.  As soon as he has entered the cave, it closes behind him and does not open again until some time later.

The candidate must seize the moment when it reopens and hasten out; otherwise he may remain shut up in the cave forever.  Caves play an important part in the initiation of North American shamans; it is in caves that aspirants have their dreams and meet their helping spirits.

The source of the experience

Mysteries, the

Concepts, symbols and science items




Science Items

Activities and commonsteps