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Carl Jung on the Symbolism of the Underground Cave.
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Modern Psychology: C. G. Jung’s Lectures at the ETH Zürich, 1933-1941

We were speaking in the last lecture of the underground cave and I gave you several parallels from antiquity.

The underground motif is a very frequent one, it occurs everywhere and at all times in the history of the world.

I will give you some more instances.

In the legend of St. Sylvester the dragon appears as an awful and alarming monster with sparkling and jeweled eyes.

The snake here has the same eyes.

We often meet with this motif in the descent myths, the Greek Katabasis, and in the Nekyia, the journeys to the land of the dead.

Homer in his “Odyssey”, Pythagoras, Orpheus, and later Goethe in his “Faust” all speak of journeys to the underworld.

Then again in Nietzsche, Zarathustra goes through the flames of a volcano to the underworld.

In such journeys snakes and dragon-like monsters are encountered and sometimes they are contained in a large tank.

The goddess in Hades had snakes’ feet and was called the Heart, or Meat-eater; the goddess, or Sarcophaga was the flesh eater.

Hecate was the goddess of the earth and the primitives represent her as an old woman with a large mouth devouring corpses.

It is usual to find a spring or river in the underworld, often it is the spring of forgetfulness, and can also be that of remembrance.

You find these ideas in the Orphic cults; representations of them, on gold leaves, have been dug up in Rome.

It is usually the hero who goes down and generally to fetch someone: Orpheus, for instance, went down in order to fetch Eurydice, his lost love.

Hercules descended to fetch two friends whom he found sitting on a stone bench into which they had grown.

They had also gone down to fetch someone and, tired with their long descent, sat down on a bench to rest, and later were surprised to find that they had grown into the bench.

These are the things which happen in the underworld.

Hercules with his great strength tried to free them; with a great effort the first was wrenched free, but the second, being a greater hero, was more firmly fixed, and Hercules shook the earth with his efforts so terribly that the gods forbade him to continue for fear that their temples should be shaken down.

This all points to something which in antiquity was projected but which really belongs to the human psyche.

These things do not exist in the concrete world but if a man in antiquity had had such a dream probably he would have gone on a quest to find an actual holy place where he could carry out his dream in actuality.

Antique ritual and cults are full of such secret teaching.

Modern rationalism has tried to suppress this, but we still have among us many secret cults which celebrate these mysteries.

Most of our cathedrals have underground crypts, the idea of the crypt is the hidden, underground passage to Hades.

In the Mithras cult the real worship took place below, the faithful remained above ground and could only look down through the shafts which existed.

The cult is no longer hidden with us, but in the Roman Catholic Church, for instance, the service is performed in the choir and the congregation are spectators in the nave.

People often only know by one symbol that something has happened.

All these examples are projections of a process which takes place within us. ~Carl Jung, Modern Psychology, Pages 187-188.