Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Realms Below: Where Fact Meets Fiction

The Realms Below: Where Fact Meets Fiction
By Scott Corrales

The ancients were fascinated by the nature of things taking place in the world beneath their feet. The forges of Vulcan lay beneath Mt. Etna, salt was manufactured by Poseidon under the sea bottom, and the underworlds of countless cultures lay somewhere beneath the deepest caves or mine shafts: the earth could part at anytime for Hades and his three-headed hound to emerge from his domain, as occurred during the abduction of the hapless Persephone.

This subterranean world, whether as a place of torment, dwelling of not-men or simply an inner kingdom hidden from the prying eyes of mortals, continues to exert a powerful influence over contemporary humans, taking on new guises in the modern folklore of underground alien bases in the desert, reactivated German submarine pens below the deepest Norwegian fjords, or the persistent belief in a hollow earth accessible at the planet's poles. Psychologists have identified these beliefs as external representations of the human unconscious; others think "the underworld" offers an unreachable abode in which these beliefs can exist safely unchallenged.

Are all stories of underground realms untrue? Not at all. The Catacombs of Rome are an example of how a community could gather in a place to bury its dead and hold worship without ever attracting the attention of a repressive government. Beneath the palaces of the Caesars were vast caves, tunnels and shafts, and fires of peat, lignite and igneous earth, lit by no man, burned in these air accessible depths, contributing to Christian concept of a fiery Hell. Old dead cities lay beneath the Eternal one.

Medieval hermits in Asia Minor hollowed out entire cave systems in the mountains of Cappadocia, some of which are still in use today. Recent archaeological discoveries have located a network of nearly three dozen subterranean cities in the Anatolian valley of Goreme, which apparently housed over 20,000 people at a depth of twenty stories, linked to each other by tunnels nine miles long. It has been conjectured that these Stygian communities housed the remnants of the Hittite culture, perhaps following the destruction of Carchemish, protetcting them from invading cultures. Successive conquerors occupied the subterranean cities, such as Derinkuyu (discovered in 1963) until finally deserted during the Ottoman period.

Who built these vast networks of subsurface habitations remains unknown.Yet existence of subterranean societies is not exclusive to antiquity. Much has been written of the elaborate Chinese civil defense bomb shelters constructed in the 1970's beneath Beijing, capable of housing a sizeable share of the city's population in the event of a nuclear bombing, and Fidel Castro's elaborate bunkers on the island of Cuba, from which a guerrilla war could be fought against invaders for years. During the Vietnam War, U.S. patrols in Laos were stunned to discover "underground hospitals of mammoth size...tunnels big enough for trucks to go through underground" along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which had eluded the best visual reconnaisance from the air, in spite of the fact that visible traces of human habitation--roads leading to caves on mountain tops, large tree houses--were on the surface.

While these locations may be out of the way, they are there to challenge the skeptics. If it is possible for these vast underground installations to exist, what is to keep entire societies unknown to us from doing the same, as has been argued elsewhere? Without lapsing into Hollow Earth arguments or Shaver's "deros", a strong
case can be made for the existence of civilizations--perhaps even non-human ones--existing or having once existed in the ground beneath our feet.

The belief in secret subterranean "kingdoms" can be found in almost every culture on the globe. South American anthropologists have searched for decades for sthe underground cities of Ysidris and Erks in Argentina; Central Asia is rife with tales of subterranean Agartha, the hidden realm presided over by the King of the World, whose reach can be felt as far away as the Americas thanks to a network of tunnels that link to his domain; Caves in the Pyrenees and in the sierras of northern Spain have been traditionally considered as the entrance to malefic non-human abodes.

Jacques Bergier was of the opinion that the theory of said subterranean realms was not absurd a priori , but there was no evidence to substantiate such claims, and that "surprises may be in store in this area." The archaeologist's shovel and fortuitous discoveries by laymen have added to the knowledge accumulated over the decades in this field.

When the Spanish chronicler De Cieza described the wealth and might of the Inca Empire, he suggested that much of the royal treasure--and population--had been taken to an underground fastness in the Andes. Treasure hunters have sought the entrances to this purported Inca stronghold over the centuries, occasionally giving rise to stories of "passages lined with gold leaf" and forgotten castles in the Peruvian Amazon. Erich Von Daniken wrote about such passages in The Gold of the Gods, but subsequently disclaimed having seen them in person. In March 1972, Serge Debru, posthumously decorated with France's prestigious Order of Merit, set out to find these subterranean Inca dwellings, never to return. He stated on a taped message: "I know where I'm going and I also know that no one has gone there yet. I
shall reveal the secrets of my journey upon my return." After a seventeen day search, rescue parties were unable to find any trace of Debru's expedition.

American explorer John Perkins may have found the entrance to the underground realm that Debru sought: he followed the course of a river that plunged below the surface into colossal caverns lit by greenish light issuing from strange, unclassified vegetation.

The truth of the matter is that South America, and indeed, most continents, appear to be riddled with tunnels leading far and deep toward somewhere. Most investigators have turned back when they have encountered either unsurmountable obstructions or tunnels filled with seawater. There is no doubt about the artificial nature of this phenomena, or that their creation in the hardest bedrock would have involved either explosives, lasers or chemical means of eroding stone unknown to 20th century science.

The Americas do not have the monopoly on such structures: archaeologists have discovered a maze of subterranean galleries--their origin and purpose unknown--beneath the French town of Provins. Vast, high-ceilinged rooms with columns form part of the mysterious underground layout. Evidence exists that some of these rooms were utilized as storerooms during medieval times, but some of the galleries were not discovered until the 20th century.

The Provins complex also includes a series of ample caves that do not seem to connect with one another. The cave walls are covered with the same Neolithic symbols--labyrinth-signs and concentric circles--which can be found in the Canary Islands, Sardinia, Malta and even as far away as Brazil. Mexican author Rodolfo Benavides pointed out the (unconfirmed) existence of a network of underground passages and even a temple beneath the Egyptian Sphynx in his book Dramáticas Profecías de la Gran Pirámide. Whether these tunnels link up to other similar passages remains to be discovered, although a number of recent finds in the Gizeh complex--the possibility of an undiscovered chamber in the Cheops pyramid and the unearthing of a funeral barge--do not rule out the possibility.

The "moonshafts" of Eastern Europe must also be added to the category of subsurface galleries. Dr. Antonin Horvak and a few fellow partisans sought refuge in one such "moonshaft" near the Slovak villages of Plavince and Lubocna while fighting against Nazi occupation forces in World War II. Dr. Horvak noted in his journal that the structure had walls six feet thick amd that its shape "served no purpose he could imagine." Dr. Horvak also stated that he felt "in the grip of an exceedingly strange and grim power" during his sojourn within the smooth, black structure.

What are the origins of these clearly prehistoric subterranean features? Speculation has ranged from the sober (places of worship for the followers of "mystery cults" throughout the ages) to the fanciful (dwelling places, active or abandoned, of nonhuman entities). A synthesis of these two concepts is embodied by the Spanish cave of Ojo Guareña--well over twenty miles of chambers, passageways, underground lakes and unusual entrances--a place where initiates into ancient mystery religions came into contact with the subterranean "deities" that dwelt out of sight of man. Spanish author Juan G. Atienza has pointed out that the cave still exerts a powerful grip on the neighboring farming communities, and that some of its many entrances are shunned as being outright evil.

Some of the cave system's unusual features include a crude diagram representing the helicoidal structure of DNA--a fact utterly unknown before the 20th century. In a cavern room known as Caite 2, archaeologists discovered human representations on the walls, one of them of a figure wearing what could be interpreted as a space helmet. Footprints leading into the cave system point to individuals who entered and never came out, and very strange individuals, at that. The author speculates that they were either 8 to 10 year old children or adults with a foot size of 4 or 5, if they were human at all. Another curious feature of the vast underground structure is the existence of an old man, a self-described warlock, who explored the caves as a child in spite of his grandfather's warnings that he would one day "encounter the divinities" that lived underground. The old warlock made a display of his uncanny psychic abilities before José Luis Uríbarri, the archaeologist whose life's work has been the exploration of Ojo Guareña.

The archaeologist stated that the warlock wished to transmit "his hidden knowledge" of Ojo Guareña to someone before dying. Whether his revelations lead to even more disturbing discoveries remains to be seen.

Have these elusive subterranean "divinities" ever been sighted? During the religious apparitions in the vicinity of Garabandal (1961-70), some children had seen dwarves "that filled them with terror" within a cave on a mountainside. The town's foremost shepherd disappeared under mysterious circumstances close to the cave as well. We are reminded of the ancient footprints of people or beings entering Ojo Guareña on what was ostensibly a one-way trip.

Many explorers, even seasoned speleologists, have lost their lives in caves, but complete and utter disappearances can lead one to believe that other forces may be at work. In April 1956, PFC Gerrard Dunnington of the US Army disappeared while exploring the underground galleries at Tavannes, a 17th century underground fortification built by French military engineers. When Dunnington had not returned by nightfall from the maze of undeground passages, the French police and the US Army were notified, setting off a five hundred-man rescue effort. Obstructed ventilation shafts were cleared, centuries-old rubble was removed from passageways, and all the galleries were explored, but Dunnington was never found.

In 1928, work stopped for an entire week in Northumberland's Bedlington Colliery while miners tried to make sense of a perplexing disappearance. A miner on his way to relieve a fellow worker disappeared at some point after having reached the bottom of the shaft and began walking the half mile of road that separated him from the work group. The road was boarded by heavy wooden palisades and locked doors, separating the current mine from ancient galleries, abandoned mine workings, and water-filled pits.

There were no signs that the missing miner had attempted a climb of the palisades to reach these abandoned works, which were thoroughly combed by rescue crews for good measure. The miner remains a missing person. Believers in Robert Shaver's underground "deros" would quickly lay the blame upon these degenerate remnants of a forgotten elder race.

The folklore of a number of cultures has given us the names and habits of a number of nonhuman subsurface-dwelling beings, such as the German kobolds, an apellation from which the mineral "cobalt" was derived. Some of them were either friendly or neutral toward humans, but others, like the kobolds, were outright hostile. The djogaos of Native American tradition also belonged to this order of elusive subsurface dwellers. Margaret Mead suggested that contact with these beings persisted well into modern times and that witchcraft was their ancient religion.

In 1914, Col. P.H. Fawcett, the indefatigable explorer of the Brazilian interior whose disappearance would catapult him into legendary status, wrote in his diary of the existence of a number of diminutive semi-human "ape-people" who lived in holes in the ground, were covered with black hair and who received the Portuguese apellation of morcegos ("bats") and tatus ("armadilloes"). Ivan T. Sanderson suggested, in the case of these small beings, that they could well be descended from Australopithecines or Pithecantropines--very early hominids.

In any case, none of these "little people" appear to be the architects of the underground passageways, having taken up residence in them much as medieval peasants settled among the colossal ruins of Diocletian' abandoned palace at Split, on the Dalmatian coast.

Accounts that point toward the "identity" of the engineers of the "underworld" do not come from a distant location, but from the American West itself. In 1904, J.C. Brown, a gold prospector, claimed to have discovered a tunnel in the Cascade Mountains of California which led him to a subterranean room filled with human skeletons, gold shields, and hieroglyphs that the prospector was unable to identify. Thirty years later, Brown outfitted an expedition to recover the lost treasure, but disappeared mysteriously before the expedition set out.

Another story which has been retold many times is the discovery of a massive city beneath the Amargosa Mountains of Death Valley by the grandfather of an Indian guide named Tom Wilson. The account states that the elder Wilson wandered underground for many miles before encountering "a strange underground country where the inhabitants...spoke a queer language, ate queer food, and wore clothes made of leather." A contemporary anecdote chronicles the experiences of a prospector named White, who fell through a crevasse in a Death Valley mine floor only to find himself in a tunnel leading to a chamber filled with leather-clad mummies. Gold and precious jewels were there for the taking. White and a friend, Fred Thomason, made several visits to the underground city, which featured treasure vaults, a royal palace, and council chambers. The two prospectors were unable to find their way into the tunnels when the time came to lead a team of researchers to the hidden city, causing some to deride their claims as hoaxes.

If any credence can be lent to these testimonies, a race that could well be that of the builders of the underground tunnels that honeycomb the world might have still existed as to the beginning of the 20th century. Whether they still exist is the purest speculation. The extensive subterranean nuclear tests undertaken by the U.S. military in neighboring Frenchman Flat must surely have caused havoc to any underground population.

Nowhere can the suggestion of an underground civilization be felt more strongly than in Asia, cradle of the legends of Agartha and Shamballah. Ferdinand Ossendowski, author of Beasts, Gods and Men, observed that Mongolian dignataries believed in certain amazing things, such as the broad powers of these subterranean elders, who could dry up oceans, transform continents into seas and cause mountains to sprout amid the desert. His fellow Russian, the mystic Nicholas Roerich, traveled extensively throughout Central Asia, where his porters identified what we would term UFOs as "the sign of Shamballah". Roerich's illustrations of stark mountains and the odd structures upon them were a source of inspiration to H.P. Lovecraft, who mentioned them repeatedly in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath and At the Mountains of Madness.

German playwright Theodore Illion, author of the fascinating Darkness Over Tibet, visited a secret underground city and was informed that the "King of the World", who ruled Agartha, had agents throughout the surface world, constantly apprising him of the state of affairs among surface dwellers. Could a pair of these agents have turned up in Miami, Florida?

In 1967 or 68, two men turned up at a Miami hotel, where they befriended a chambermaid, telling her that they were from "the north of the contintent", taking great care in specifying that they did not mean the lands north of the United States, i.e. Canada. In a letter written to investigator Salvador Freixedo, the chambermaid
and her husband detailed their experiences: one of the men was tall, blond and amazingly knowledgeable, with a command of many languages and a mind-reader, to boot. His companion was short, Asian-looking and wearing an orange uniform; his general demeanor was that of a bodyguard to the tall blond. According to the chambermaid, the blond produced what appeared to be a ball and stuck it to the wall in defiance of gravity. He then asked the woman to address it, which she did, noticing swirling waves of light within the device, which would follow her in the air every time she made a move. The chambermaid and her husband were able to see the tall blond and his companion on the beach during stormy weather, pointing what appeared to be cameras and other devices at the rough seas. While cleaning their rooms (the pair refused to leave their rooms while she cleaned), the chambermaid was able to see a suitcase filled with "billiard balls" pulsating with light, as if filled with electricity. The two strangers disappeared as suddenly as they had come. Freixedo points out a similar case in the city of Puebla, Mexico, where exactly the same circumstances were repeated but with a destructive outcome: a house was almost entirely demolished as if by a battle so fierce that even the power conduits were torn out of the walls.
What did the strangers mean by "the north of the continent"? Due to the curvature of the Earth, is it reasonable to assume that they might have meant the lands to the north of the Americas--the polar icepack and Asia? Freixedo supports the view that references to the "Hollow Earth" and subterranean kingdoms to mean other-dimensional planes of existence accessible through certain underground mat-demat points.

Subterranean cities built by "Atlanteans", "Lemurians" and other "lost" races belong squarely in the realm of the metaphysical, as their existence has been suggested by esoterics. This view is espoused by Argentine occultist and author Guillermo Terrera, who recounts the hidden lore surrounding the city of Erks, beneath the Andes, in his book El Valle de los Espiritus. We are given the entire history of this magical metropolis which boasts ownership of "the three sacred mirrors", through which the high priests and ascended masters of Erks can contact other subterranean cities and saucer-riding aliens from space. Terrera even provides us the names of the leaders of the High Council of Erks and those of the masters of the "Primordial School." Despite the Blavatskyesque implications, many scholars believe in Erks and have placed its location somewhere at the root of Mt. Uritorco in Argentina's Mendoza province.

Terrera goes on to say that the mechanical noises that can be heard at night in the vicinity of Mts. Uritorco and Pajarito, and which appear to emanate from under ground, are the sounds being picked up by the "sacred mirrors", which act as radiotelescope dishes. These sounds have allegedly been captured on audio tape: one is similar to an air hammer, another closely resembles that of a large set of gears being moved, and still another has been compared to the droning of a piece of factory equipment. Erks obtains light and free energy from "nuclear explosions produced by the liquid mass or magma at the earth's core." All knowledge concerning Erks has allegedly been gleaned through clairvoyants, psychometrists and parasensitives.

While metaphysical subterranean kingdoms can be dismissed as products of a strong urge to believe in exotic locales accessible only to the "chosen", or to those who believe themselves to be made from a loftier mold than their fellow humans, the tunnels, galleries and cities found in all continents are real archaeological mysteries.

These could have been the dwelling places of the "Heliolithic" civilization that erected the megaliths of Carnac and Galicia, the massive stoneworks of Chile's El Enladrillado, and a large number of locales. It has also been suggested that they could have been built on account of the Ice Age, when living underground presented a viable alternative to the brutal conditions above.

The existence of verifiable and inexplicable underground structures has certainly provided the kindling for the occult beliefs, providing a tangible springboard for humanity's restless imagination.

(This article originally appeared in STRANGE MAGAZINE, Issue 14)