Inner kingdoms - in caverns and empty lavachambers...?

extract from Mysteries of the Inner Earth of David Pratt - May 2001


As with the idea of a paradisiacal cradleland of humanity at the north pole, references to networks of caverns and tunnels and/or an inner world within the earth are commonplace in the world's religions, myths, legends, and folklore. The attributes assigned to the underworld range from heavenly to hellish, and its inhabitants likewise range from superhuman to subhuman. Myths and legends generally embody multiple levels of meaning, and the underworld can also refer to nonphysical planes of reality.

    During his travels in Asia, Nicholas Roerich spent a lot of time studying local folklore, which included tales of lost tribes or subterranean dwellers.


In many places of Central Asia, they speak of the Agharti ['concealed', 'secret'], the subterranean people. In numerous beautiful legends they outline the same story of how the best people abandoned the treacherous earth and sought salvation in hidden countries where they acquired new forces and conquered powerful energies. [1]


While crossing the Karakorum pass, his Ladakhi guide said to him: 'Do you know that in the subterranean caves here many treasures are hidden and that in them lives a wonderful tribe which abhors the sins of the earth?'


    And again when we approached Khotan the hoofs of our horses sounded hollow as though we rode above caves or hollows. Our caravan people called our attention to this, saying, 'Do you hear what hollow subterranean passages we are crossing? Through these passages, people who are familiar with them can reach far-off countries.' When we saw entrances of caves, our caravaneers told us, 'Long ago people lived there; now they have gone inside; they have found a subterranean passage to the subterranean kingdom. Only rarely do some of them appear again on earth. . . .'
    Great is the belief in the Kingdom of the subterranean people. Through all Asia, through the space of all deserts, from the Pacific to the Urals, you can hear the same wondrous tale of the vanished holy people. And even far beyond the Ural Mountains, the echo of the same tale will reach you. [2]

    There is rumoured to be a vast underground network of caves and tunnels under the whole of Central Asia, with many passages radiating out from the spiritual hub of Shambhala [3]. According to popular belief, there are numerous secret subterranean passages beneath India, whose entrances are guarded by elementals which assume the shape of rocks or other natural features. For instance, Varanasi (Benares), whose ancient name is Kashi, is said to be connected by a tunnel to Gupta Kashi ('gupta' = secret, hidden), an underground city in the Himalayas, about 50 miles from Badrinath [4].

    Mesoamerica and South America have long been rumoured to be honeycombed with long, mysterious tunnels, some of them running for hundreds of miles, from Columbia in the north through Peru and Bolivia to Chile in the south, and to the Amazon jungle in the east. Only a few sections of these tunnels have so far been discovered [5]. H.P. Blavatsky mentions an immense tunnel running from Cuzco to Lima in Peru, and then extending south into Bolivia [6]. In Egypt, a vast subterranean world is traditionally believed to extend from the catacombs of Alexandria to Thebes' Valley of the Kings. The subterranean crypts of Thebes were known as the serpent's catacombs, the serpent being a symbol of wisdom and immortality [7].

    Many Native American peoples believe that their ancestors originated in a joyous subterranean realm, or took refuge in caverns to escape past cataclysms. The Cherokee Indians speak of a subterranean world much like our own, with mountains, rivers, trees, and people [8]. The Aztecs said their ancestors came from a land called Aztlan, and that after escaping its destruction they ended up in a cavern called Chicomoztoc, or the Seven Cavern Cities of Gold, where they lived before emerging to the surface world [9]. The Mexican demi-god Votan describes a subterranean passage, a 'snake's hole', which runs underground and terminates at the root of the heavens; he himself was allowed to enter it because he was a 'son of the snakes' [10].

    The Hopi Indians hold their rituals in an underground chamber known as the kiva.


In the center of the kiva, on the altar level and directly below the roof opening, is the sunken fire pit in which a fire is lighted in the New Fire Ceremony . . . , for life began with fire. Next to it is the small hole in the floor called the sipapuni. Etymologically derived from the two words for 'navel' and 'path from,' the sipapuni thus denotes the umbilical cord leading from Mother Earth and symbolizes the path of man's Emergence from the previous underworld. . . . The ladder represents the reed up which man climbed during his Emergence . . . [11]

The Hopis believe there has been a succession of four worlds. The first world was destroyed by fire, the second by a poleshift, and the third by flooding. Some chosen people were saved from the disasters that destroyed the first two worlds by taking refuge underground, and some survived the destruction of the third world by being sealed inside hollow reeds. The Pima Indians speak of the emergence into our world being effected through a spiral hole that was bored up to the earth's surface [12].

    Legends of ancestral origins in subterranean lands are also found in Africa and Australia. Australian aborigines believe their ancestors came up out of the ground, travelled about the country and created new tribes, then 'ultimately journeyed away beyond the confines of their territory, or went down into the ground again'. According to the native traditions of the Caroline Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Malaysia, a subterranean race of giants went underground in ancient times. Once inhabitants of the lost continent of Chamat, they will one day 'emerge and remake the world'. Natives of the Trobiand Islands believe that their ancestors emerged from a subterranean existence through a special hole. Tribes in Bengal and Burma also believe their ancestors emerged from a subterranean world [13].


[1] Nicholas Roerich, Shambhala: In search of the new era, Rochester, VE: Inner Traditions, 1990, p. 213.

[2] Ibid., p. 215.

[3] Victoria LePage, Shambhala: The fascinating truth behind the myth of Shangri-La, Wheaton, IL: Quest, 1996, pp. 14, 41, 48-9.

[4] The Theosophist, September 1888, pp. 757-8; H.P. Blavatsky collected writings, Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1950-91, 2:120; H.P. Blavatsky, From the caves and jungles of Hindostan, Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1983, pp. 20fn, 77, 253-6, 342, 381-2, 392; H.P. Blavatsky, The secret doctrine (1888), Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press, 1977, 2: 220-1.

[5] David Hatcher Childress, Lost cities & ancient mysteries of South America, Stelle, IL: Adventures Unlimited Press, 1986, pp. 63-7, 72, 172-5; David Hatcher Childress, Lost cities of North & Central America, Stelle, IL: Adventures Unlimited Press, 1992, pp. 83-4, 200-1, 213-4, 256-7, 302-3, 316-20, 390-1.

[6] H.P. Blavatsky, Isis unveiled (1877), Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press, 1972, 1:547, 595-8; Blavatsky collected writings, 2:339-43, and diagram facing p. 336.

[7] Blavatsky collected writings, 11:5-7; Isis unveiled, 1:553.

[8] Bruce A. Walton, A guide to the inner earth, Mokelumne Hill, CA: Health Research, 1985, pp. 15, 41, 43, 48, 53, 67, 69, 80.

[9] Wm. Michael Mott, Caverns, cauldrons, and concealed creatures: A study of subterranean mysteries in history, folklore, and myth, 2000, p. 6,

[10] Isis unveiled, 1:553.

[11] Frank Waters, Book of the Hopi, New York: Penguin, 1977, p. 129.

[12] Ibid., p. 24.

[13] A guide to the inner earth, pp. 15, 34, 42, 76.

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 Shambhala - a real place or only myths?