In the Pagan mysteries of antiquity the initiations were often performed in caverns, of which a few, like the cave of Elephanta in India, still remain to indicate by their form and extent the character of the rites that were then performed.
The Cavern of Elephanta, which was the most gorgeous temple in the world, is one hundred and thirty feet square, and eighteen feet high. It is supported by four massive pillars, and its walls are covered with statues and carved symbolic decorations.
The sacellum, or sacred place, which contained the phallic symbol, was in the western extremity, and accessible only to the initiated.
The caves of Salsette greatly exceeded in magnitude that of Elephanta, being three hundred in number, all adorned with symbolic figures, among which the phallic emblems were predominant, which were placed in the most secret recesses, accessible only by private entrances.
In every cave was a basin to contain the consecrated water of ablution, on the surface of which floated the sacred lotus flower.
All these caves were places of initiation into the Hindu mysteries, and every arrangement was made for the performance of the most impressive ceremonies.
Faber (Dissertatian an the Mysteries af the Cabiri, ii, 257) says that "wherever the Cabiric Mysteries were practiced, they were always in some manner or other connected with caverns," and he mentions, among other instances, the cave of Zirinthus, within whose dark recesses the most mysterious Rites of the Samothracian Cabiri were performed.
Maurice (Indian Antiquities, iii, 536), speaking of the subterranean passages of the Temple of Isis, in the island of Phile in the river Nile, says "it was in these gloomy caverns that the grand and mystic arcana of the goddess were unfolded to the adoring aspirant, while the solemn hymns of initiation resounded through the long extent of these stony recesses."
Many of the ancient orates, as, for instance, that of Trophonius in Boeotia, were delivered in caves.
Hence, the cave - subterranean, dark, and silent - was mingled in the ancient mind with the idea of mystery.
In the ceremonies of Freemasonry, we find the cavern or vault in what is called the Cryptic Freemasonry of the American Rite, and also in the advanced Degrees of the French and Scottish Rites, in which it is a symbol of the darkness of ignorance and crime impenetrable to the light of truth. In reference to the practical purposes of the cavern, as recorded in the legend of these Degrees, it may be mentioned that caves, which abounded in Palestine in consequence of the geological structure of the country, are spoken of by Josephus as places of refuge for banditti; and Phillott says, in Smith's Bible Dictionary, that it was the caves which lie beneath and around so many of the Jewish cities that formed the last hiding-places of the Jewish leaders in the war with the Romans.
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