Tag Archives: abyss

Thoughts on “Don Quixote” – Part 6: The Symbolism of the Cave

donquixote_cave

On a hero’s journey, the hero often goes through a symbolic exploration of the subconscious mind. This can be represented by the hero going into water, the underworld, or a cave. For this reason, I was not surprised when Don Quixote entered a cave and explored the abyss within, emerging with an expanded consciousness.

Before undertaking a daunting task, heroes will summon strength from an outside source. Before entering the cave, Don Quixote calls upon Dulcinea for protection and guidance upon his journey into the underworld.

“O mistress of my actions and movements, illustrious and peerless Dulcinea del Toboso, if so be the prayers and supplications of this fortunate lover can reach thy ears, by thy incomparable beauty I entreat thee to listen to them, for they but ask thee not to refuse my favour and protection now that I stand in need of them. I am about to precipitate, to sink, to plunge myself into the abyss that is here before me, only to let the world know that while thou dost favour me there is no impossibility I will not attempt and accomplish.”

(p. 716)

After Don Quixote reemerges from the cave, he relates his experience to his companions. The visions he describes are consistent with altered states of consciousness. He actually describes how he slipped into a state of reverie prior to the shift in awareness that brought on the mystical visions.

“… and as I was thus deep in thought and perplexity, suddenly and without provocation a profound sleep fell upon me, and when I least expected it, I know not how, I awoke and found myself in the midst of the most beautiful, delightful meadow that nature could produce or the most lively human imagination conceive. I opened my eyes, I rubbed them, and found I was not asleep but thoroughly awake. Nevertheless, I felt my head and breast to satisfy myself whether it was I myself who was there or some empty delusive phantom; but touch, feeling, the collected thoughts that passed through my mind, all convinced me that I was the same then and there that I am this moment. Next there presented itself to my sight a stately royal palace or castle, with walls that seemed built of clear transparent crystal; and through two great doors that opened wide therein, I saw coming forth and advancing toward me a venerable old man, clad in a long gown of mulberry-coloured serge that trailed upon the ground.”

(pp. 719 – 720)

The old man that Don Quixote encountered was Montesinos, but I could not help but seeing him as a Merlin figure. In fact, Merlin is mentioned later in the chapter as having prophesized the arrival of Don Quixote (p. 723). And the castle being made of crystal corresponds to the crystal cave of the Merlin mythology.

The last thing I want to discuss is the distortion of time associated with altered states of consciousness.

“I cannot understand, Senor Don Quixote,” remarked the cousin here, “how it is that your worship, in such a short space of time as you have been below there, could have seen so many things, and said and answered so much.”

“How long is it since I went down?” asked Don Quixote.

“Little better than an hour,” replied Sancho.

“That cannot be,” returned Don Quixote, “because night overtook me while I was there, and day came, and it was night again and day again three times; so that, by my reckoning, I have been three days in those remote regions beyond our ken.”

“My master must be right,” replied Sancho, “for as everything that has happened to him is by enchantment, maybe what seems to us an hour would seem three days and nights there.”

(p. 725)

In addition to the distortion of time, there is some number mysticism woven in here. We have three days existing within one hour, or three comprising the one. I cannot help but wonder if this is a reference to the trinity forming the godhead (father, son, holy ghost), or the mind/body/spirit trinity within a human being. Additionally, it could be symbolic of the triple goddess (maiden, mother, crone). Regardless, we have a situation where the hero travels to the underworld, encounters a mystical being, experiences time distortion, and is presented with the number three as being connected to the mystical experience.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Literature

“The Book of Legendary Lands” by Umberto Eco

LegendaryLands

Let me start out by saying that I loved this book. Then again, I’m kind of an Umberto Eco fanboy. I think he is one of the most brilliant writers and scholars around today, which is why I didn’t think twice about spending the $50 for a hardcover copy of this book, and it was worth every penny. Not only is the writing superb and the quotes inspiring, but it is richly illustrated with stunning artwork. This is a worthy addition to any bookshelf.

In the book, Eco explores legendary lands which he defines as “lands and places that, now or in the past, have created chimeras, utopias, and illusions because a lot of people thought they existed or had existed somewhere.” (p. 7) Examples of legendary lands include biblical lands, places depicted in Homer’s The Odyssey, El Dorado, Atlantis, the interior of the Earth, and so forth. Eco writes about these places and the legends that grew concerning them. He then includes an array of quotes from primary sources that are lengthy enough to give you a good sense of what the writers thought concerning these realms. He also looks at the historical impact of these legends, as well as the historical facts that helped proliferate the legends, since “legends are always born on the basis of a historical truth.” (p. 44)

I found the chapter on The Odyssey to be very interesting. Eco explores theories regarding the locations of the places in the poem, and there are quite a few. There are also some beautiful maps showing the supposed locations. In the end, though, Eco concludes that there is no way to determine whether the information in the poem is accurate or whether the places truly existed or not, but emphasizes the importance that the legend has had on humanity should not be discounted.

This book is not intended to establish Ulysses’ true periplus. The poet (or poets) later made things up on the basis of legendary information. The Odyssey is a beautiful legend, and all attempts to reconstruct it on a modern map have created just as many legends. One of those we have mentioned is perhaps true or plausible, but what fascinates us is the fact that over the centuries we have been entranced by a journey that never happened. Wherever Calypso lived, a great many men have dreamed of spending a few years in her sweetest of captivities.

(p. 75)

Of course, no discussion of legendary lands would be complete without a look at the legend of Atlantis.

Of all legendary lands, Atlantis is the one that, over the centuries, has most exercised the imagination of philosophers, scientists, and seekers of mysteries (cf. Albini 2012). And naturally what has reinforced the legend more and more is the persuasion that a vanished continent really existed and that it is difficult to rediscover traces of it because it sank into the sea. The notion that there were once lands above water that subsequently vanished is by no means a crazy one. In 1915 Alfred Wegener formulated the theory of continental drift, and today it is believed that 225 million years ago, the Earth consisted of a single continent, Pangaea, which then (about 200 million years ago) began to split up slowly, giving rise to the continents we know today. And so in the course of the process, many Atlantises may have arisen and then disappeared.

(p. 182)

One of the things that really fascinated me regarding Atlantis was the effect it had on Nazi occultists who sought to discover evidence that the white Aryans were actually descendants from the Atlantean race.

Atlantis also seduced many occultists who gravitated to the Nazi party. For this, see the chapter on Thule and Hyperborea, but it is worth remembering that Hans Hörbinger’s theory of eternal ice maintained that the submersion of Atlantis and Lemuria was caused when the Earth captured the moon. In Atlantis die Urheimat der Arier (Atlantis, the Original Homeland of the Aryans, 1922), Karl Georg Zchaetzsch had written, followed by one of the maximum theorists of Nazi racism, Alfred Rosenberg, about a dominant “Nordic-Atlantean” or “Aryan-Nordic” race. It is said that in 1938 Heinrich Himmler had organized a search in Tibet with a view to finding the remains of the white Atlanteans.

(p. 199)

As a kid, I remember watching “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and thinking how cool it was, the idea that below the Earth’s surface could exist another world populated with dinosaurs and fantastic creatures. Eco points out that humans have long been fascinated with realms hidden below the ground and that this fascination has led to an abundance of legends.

The idea of penetrating the heart of the planet, beneath the crust, has always appealed to human beings, and some have seen in this passion for caves, recesses and underground passages a reaching out toward a maternal womb into which to return. No doubt we all remember how, when we were young, before falling asleep, we loved to huddle under the blankets and fantasize about some subterranean journey, isolated from the rest of the world; a cave could be a place where lurked monsters of the abyss, but also a refuge against human enemies or other monsters of the surface. With regard to caverns, people have dreamed of hidden treasures and imagined underground creatures such as gnomes; the Jesus of many traditions was not born in a stable but in a cave.

(pp. 348 – 350)

People who know me have probably heard me criticize Dan Brown, stating his books are little more than watered-down versions of Umberto Eco for the masses. For this reason, I found it ever so amusing when Eco himself criticized Brown in this book, focusing on how Brown propagated legends through books like The Da Vinci Code by claiming “Ninety-nine percent of it is true.” Eco is quick to point out that “If this really were a historical reconstruction, then there is no explanation for the umpteen blunders that Brown gaily sprinkles throughout his narrative.” (p. 420) I literally laughed out loud when I read this.

I have only scratched the surface of this book. There is a lot of great information and artwork here, but you should not be intimidated. It is written in a manner that makes these arcane legends accessible and enjoyable. If you have ever read a book and fantasized about a place being real, then this is definitely a book you will enjoy.

8 Comments

Filed under Literature