In 1962 a notable discovery was made at Baia in Southern Italy by a budding rebel archaelogist named Robert Paget. Robert Paget was an American Naval officer who retired in Baia Italy in 1958. He took up archaelogy as a hobby. Paget partnered up with another man by the name of Keith Jones, who took an equally obsessive interest in ancient antiquities, and together the two of them set out on a quest to search for an ancient wonder. They set out to search for the entrance of the underworld, thought by orthodox scholars simply not to exist. Like Troy however which was equally laughed out of orthodox circles at first , the entrance to the underworld was found in 1962. But it never made the press. It's discovery remained a very little known fact for several years afterwards.
According to Homer's literary works, an ancient oracle of the dead existed which was said to have been visited by both Odysseus, the famed Greek Hero of mythology, and also by the hero Aneas of Virgil’s Aeneid, who was said to be guided into the underworld by the Sibyl of Cumae. The Sibyl of Cumae was an oracular Priestess residing in her own temple complex neighboring the Lake Avernus Oracle of the Dead. She was in fact the chief oracle priestess at Cumae which was the equivalent of the "Delphi" of the West.
The entrance to the underworld was said to be situated near Lake Avernus, the most impressive of approximately eighty seven volcanic craters within its five mile range. Together Paget and Jones set out to search for the entrance to the shadowy gates of Hades under the looming presence of Lake Avernus as Odysseus had done in the ancient past. What they found was astounding.
There were four major Oracles of the Dead in Ancient Greece known as "Nekeomanteons". Until 1962, only three of the historic sites had been found. The fourth, at Baia was the largest, oldest and the most incredible engineering feat of the them all. Underneath a series of old Roman bathhouses buried under the rubble, the entrance to the underworld was found at last.
Robert Temple says it best: "To appreciate the magnitude of this find in purely physical terms, imagine yourself standing on a 140 foot cliff looking down at the sea. This is the depth of the tunnel beneath the surface; and the extent of the tunnel, carved out of solid rock, is just short of an eighth of a mile. Although the extent of the penetration of the complex into the rock is about 200 yards, the total length of all the tunnels in this single complex (not counting the separate tunnels where the priests lived) is 880 feet, nearly a sixth of a mile."
He continues to tell us, "The Baian Oracle cult was suppressed by the Roman admiral Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus in the first century BC. " Agrippa was responsible for a monumental attempt at destroying the underground complex because of a deep seated hatred he had for this ancient cult. He and his soldiers backfilled many of the underground passages, making them virtually impassible. Paget and Jones attempt at exploring this underground complex was fraught with a series of complicated physical dangers, including a severe lack of oxygen in some parts of the complex. Determined, they continued on bravely in spite of this.
The most extraordinary discovery under the earth at the temple complex was an underwater river, that had clearly been a man made engineering accomplishment. He says, "This is the so called River Styx, which is at the core of the whole plan. The Styx is an underground stretch of water fed by a pair of hot springs. The Styx maintains a more or less constant level by a means which has not been discovered. Volcanic and subterranean disturbances in the area occasionally raise and lower the water level suddenly by several feet; and of course the water level was artificially raised by the Romans who wished to block the boat passage along it by filling it with sufficient mud to bring the water up to ceiling level in the mid portion of the tunnel. In the ceremonies...the Styx provided a small "river" along which a boat could take a visitor from a descending tunnel to an opposite ascending tunnel. This boat journey was an enactment of the crossing of the mythical River Styx, with the ferryman Charon at the helm. But the question is this: How did the constructors of the tunnel complex know in advance of the existence of this supply of water 140 feet beneath the surface of the earth? The entire complex is constructed around it so clearly they must have intended this. The water temperature is well in excess of 120 degrees F. as it emerges from the springs, and in 1965 two divers...discovered that the water was coming from passages or fissures which could not be probed for more then twenty or thirty feet because of the intense heat. but the water is drinkable, its level is fifteen feet above sea level, and it appears to have no connection either with the sea or with the many sulfurous springs in this generally volcanic area. The entire water system is an engineering mystery."
After the discovery Paget arranged a press release intended to divulge his monumental find to the world. He was foiled in his attempt however because just as the reporters were gathering and preparing for the interviews on this subject they were interrupted by an official who entered the room moments before the proceedings were to start. Everyone was informed that afternoon that President Kennedy has just been shot. The room cleared as everyone scattered leaving the stunned archeologist standing in the room, and everyone went scurrying home to stay glued to their televisions for the horrific national news. The Oracle of the dead had been forgotten in light of such huge national interest. The dead it seemed, keep their own secrets well. The press lost all interest in the matter.
The matter was not taken up again for many years later until Robert Temple released his book in 2002 after visiting the Oracle himself and filming a televised documentary that the BBC aired in the United Kingdom. The book entitled "Oracles of the Dead" is the companion to the film titled "Descent into Hell" Robert Temple says of the Oracle complex that it is the most incredible place on earth he has ever set foot on.
Grass Valley History
What is intriguing about the history of this temple complex is the fact that a race of people were said to live underground at the Oracle of Avernus. They were the Priesthood of this temple conducting very secret and intense ceremonial religious rituals involving a deep communion and experience with the spirits of the other world. They lived entirely underground and it was said they never came out to see the light of the sun. They only emerged at night. Not only did they live on the temple offerings donated by visitors and candidates for initiation underground, but they lived on the mining industry in the area as well. My research has produced an interesting link between this race of mysterious people, known by some sources as the "Cimmerians" and one other source as the "Cereberians", who may have been the genetic ancestors to the Cornish people of the British isles. It was the Cornish miners who were imported here to Grass Valley because they were known for being the foremost leading authorities and experts in mining in all of the world. Their engineering technology and ability to sink deep underground shafts were far superior to much of the rest of the world.
Grass Valley in fact boasts of the deepest mine shaft ever to have been sunk in the entire United States.
Here in Grass Valley our town is perched precariously on top of approximately 300 miles of underground mining shafts and the miners back in the 1800's lived underground for virtually months at a time. For three dollars a local visit to the Empire Mine State Park will teach the tourist a great deal about the life underground, the founders of Grass Valley lived during the days of the gold rush fever. The Cornish, very closely akin to the Welsh no doubt brought with them a very deeply seated belief in the other world or land of fairy which permeated so much of the British Isles mythos. According to Welsh lore the fairy folk were driven into the hollow hills underneath the earth, after a series of warring invasions defeated the Sidhe folk. These historic epics are recounted in a series of writings now known as the "Mabinogian" , a historic text recounting the ancient and mythical history of Wales and Ireland.
This last spring I experienced a real sense of awe and wonder, driving around town as I looked at the many numerous narcissus and daffodils and creeping ivy vines, that cover this city as far as the eyes can see. The Narcissus is the sacred flower of Persephone, as is the ivy, which is a symbol of eternal life. Some of you may notice the significance of the silk ivy vine which I have decorated my massage treatment room with. The decor is symbolically intentional representing eternal youth and eternal life. The narcissus is the flower she plucked from the ground, when the earth opened up to swallow her, Hades dragging her down to the deeps below to be his bride and Queen of the dead.
It occurred to me when I put the dots together, that these ancient underworld rites, in their own mysterious way, have migrated here, with the Cornish settlers, to this small tourist mountain town with the genetic memory of the "Cereberians" embedded in their ancestral unconscious. The Cornish miners, I realized were possibly one family branch the "fairy folk" who lost their lives here underneath this earth and who now inhabit our own "hollow hills" created with their own advanced and "magical" mining technology. Here sits Grass Valley with its own awe inspiring entrance to the underworld in the form of the largest descending mine shaft ever sunk on this continent stretching approximately 3 miles under the earth. The underworld Gods of the deep have lived here unloved and forgotten for many centuries and have been robbed of their religious significance in place of a greed for gold which took place here in the 1800's.
It is part of my vision to honor the dead and the old gods, who wander here in the other world, beneath our fee,t and to be a voice for the ancient goddess and god, as the oracle priestesses of the ancient world were, in accordance with these awe inspiring, initiatory and very mysterious traditions.
In the next issue I will explore the history of the Sybil of Cumae, who was the primary Oracle Priestess of these underworld Gods.
Copyright November 2007