Soon I am about to move houses; the house we are moving into has been in our family for over 40 years, and consequently needs a fair amount of clearing out. For me, this meant going underneath the house to find things that had been stored there for eons. By under the house I don't mean a basement or a storage room, I mean a 'space' big enough for me to fit in (just) which is literally the gap between the floor of the house and the ground. Boy, what a fun time I had. I spent what seemed like an hour in there, though time was irrelevant. I was lucky enough to have some plastic to slide on and some foam to rest on, so it wasn't too painful. In the end I emerged, dusty, dirty, covered in cobwebs and with eyes full of crap, but at least I did get out.
Anyway it got me thinking. It was in fact the first time I had been under the house, despite spending much of my childhood holidays in the house, as well as several years living there. In fact, it was really the first time I had even seen under there. It's not that no one ever went under there, it's more that it was really off-limits to me as a child. Which is fair enough- letting kids go in there would be like giving them a pile of sugar-like crystals which are actually dangerous narcotics- not a good idea all round. That cavernous space would be like a wonderland for the young mind, and it would be oh-so-easy for them to get lost or hurt themselves in there. And so rightly I was kept well away from there. As it is with kids' logic, when things were no longer around I concluded they must have gone under the house. Alas that wasn't always true.
That very evening I was sprawled on the couch recovering from a very long day, and on tv was a documentary which, among other things, explored an ancient Mayan cave. The local historian explained, of course, that the Mayans thought these caves were portals to the under world. This of course immediately reminded me of the caves at Cumae, which will should be familiar to those who have read Aeneid Book VI. The Romans of course thought that the entrance to the underworld was in this area, in a large crater. Which is interesting for many reasons- not just that it was ironic that the underworld the Romans had pretty much stolen from Greek mythology just happened to be accessible in their own neck of the woods.
So where's all this getting to? Well, the common theme to all this is small, dark, cavernous spaces. And having spent a lot of time in one, with the aid of a artificial torch, it's easy to see why people with ancient superstitions believed these places had a divine connection. Any cave that is deep enough and big enough will seem endless to all but them most skilled and prepared spelunkers. The natural progression of that thought is that if the cave keeps going back, and down, it will eventually go far enough to reach the underworld. It's one of those arguments so loved by religions- they say it's there, and it's too difficult for you to prove it's not, so you go along with it!
I can see how some people would get a thrill out of caving and all that, while I can also see how it easily scares the bejeesus out of most people! One cannot conceive of too many worse fates than to be trapped or lost in a dark, scary cave, alone and with no hope of survival, waiting to die. Which makes me feel just a little bit easier about crawling a few metres underneath my house. After all- what could go wrong? ...