Mount Shasta: Inner Earth Realms and History of the Lava Beds
There are legends all over the world, found in every culture, which populate caves with spirits and supernatural guardians who dwell in a subterranean realm hidden just beneath surface of our own world. Westerns traditions, going as far back to the early Greeks and Romans, have always viewed caves as eerie entrances into the underworld. Throughout the ages, caves have been used as mysterious settings for spiritual ceremonies, otherworldly portals, initiations and occult rites. Entering the darkness of an underground realm, and emerging out again into the light, is both a literal and symbolic journey which has been duplicated in mythology and religious rites across all cultures.
MYTHIC INNER-EARTH REALM
“Entrance to Hades, a depiction of a subterranean underworld populated by strange creatures, surreal landscapes, and supernatural gods.” Aeneas and the Sibyl in the Underworld (Jan Brueghel, ca. 1600, oil).
The underworld also makes a spooky setting for legendary lost kingdoms, mythic treasures, and wells of mysterious powers. Nearly every culture has its own version of a mythic Inner-Earth realm; its mysteries, its spirits or gods who must be acknowledged, and a bestiary of strange beings and creatures who dwell within, staring back up at us from a great depth.
There are countless caves and underground tunnels to be explored around the Mount Shasta area; much of the mountain’s mystique and its supernatural legends are drawn from the region’s subterranean lore. The caves throughout this region have been used by Native Americans for both practical and spiritual purposes, going back many thousands of years.
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During the gold-rush era (circa 1850’s), after the indigenous people surrounding Mount Shasta were massacred and forced out of their homelands, many of the area’s caves were taken over by secret societies with Masonic power-structures. Members of these societies left their names and initiatory degrees painted on the walls of local caves, identifying them as occult lodges where they conducted their strange initiations and group rituals.
“All over the world caves were believed to be mysterious repositories of occult powers, and used by secret societies for rituals and initiations.” Masonic Cave, Bisbee, Arizona. © A. Miller 1897
“Plutos Cave, located north of Mount Shasta, was occupied and used by Native Americans throughout the prehistoric era. After the gold rush, the cave was used by secret societies initiations and rituals. Today Pluto's Cave is believed by modern spiritualist to be an entrance into the Inner Earth, where aliens live underground in a secret city.” Photograph (C) Dustin Naef 2016.
Even in modern times, the idea of a mysterious underworld of Inner-Earth realms has lost none of its allure.
“Throughout the ages different interpretations of the Underworld remain a popular construct of cultural mythology, but its essential character as a unseen realm populated by mysterious beings remains intact.” Joseph Noel Paton's 1849 painting of Oberon and Titania, fairies from Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. (Public Domain/WikiCommons)
Modern spiritualists believe that the Inner-Earth realms beneath Mount Shasta are populated by inter-dimensional beings, aliens, and Lemurians, who use the extensive cave networks to move about without being detected–it is reported that there are mystical portals and secret doorways hidden in caves around Mount Shasta, which these Inner-Earth beings use to emerge to the surface when they wish to contact one of their operatives living above ground. Local spiritualists also take groups of tourists up on the mountain and lead them on guided, visionary meditations, where visitors are [mentally] conducted down into a subterranean city beneath the mountain to meet up with the Inner-Earth people, and be shown the wonders of a secret paradise hidden beneath us.
“A view of Lava Beds National Monument” NPS Photograph (Public Domain).
LAVA BEDS NATIONAL MONUMENT
For visitors who would like explore caves, tunnels, and ancient civilizations on foot, there are exciting alternatives for exploration. A day trip from the Mount Shasta region will bring you to a surreal desert environment known as Lava Beds National Monument, ancestral homelands of the Modoc people, which is open year-round. Lava Beds is quite possibly one of the longest-known human occupied regions of North America, with a history going back at least 11,000 years. It also contains one of the most extensive concentrations of underground caves and tunnels in the United States.
The Modoc people's traditional territory overlapped both sides of what is now the California-Oregon border. As it did for their ancestors, who first inhabited this area more than 11,000 years ago, this landscape provided them with abundant waterfowl and game, edible and medicinal plants, shelter, powerful sacred sites, and water. They moved about the region freely with the seasons, until the coming of whites in 1826, when their lives and lands were invaded by early settlers.
“Lava Bed's surreal landscape was formed by volcanic eruptions from the Medicine Lake Shield Volcano.” Photograph © Loree Johnson.
The Modoc, a fiercely independent people, clashed with the settlers who laid claim to Modoc territory for cattle and agriculture, and the seeds were sown for one of the most bloody and tragic of the Indian Wars: the Modoc War of 1872-73.
“The Modoc War -- Soldiers Recovering the Bodies of the Slain, a wood engraving published in Harper's Weekly, May 3, 1873.” (Public Domain)
The Modoc War became one of the costliest and longest wars in early American history, with a small band of Modoc warriors who refused to be evicted onto reservations, and who fought back against the U.S. Army's incursion into their sacred lands until they were overwhelmed and outnumbered. It is certain that the Modoc warriors were able to use Lava Beds extensive underground tunnels and caves to their advantage against the soldiers.
“A photograph of Captain Jack, a Modoc warrior who lead the resistance against the U.S. Army's invasion of Lava Beds.” Photograph Credit: Oregon Historical Society.
After the last few Modoc warriors were captured, they were hung in a sickening public spectacle at Fort Klamath, Oregon. Then their heads were chopped off and sent to the U.S. Army's Medical Museum in Washington DC.
“The interior of Skull Cave. Visitors viewing the region from the surface are only getting half of the picture. Many of the most incredible vistas of Lava Beds lie beneath the ground.” (Photograph Into The Abyss © Loree Johnson. http://loree-johnson.pixels.com/featured/into-the-abyss-loree-johnson.html)
There are over 700 known caves and tunnels which have been mapped throughout Lava Beds; and over a dozen semi-developed caves of varying challenge, eeriness, and difficulty, which visitors can explore at their leisure.
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“Petroglyph Point contains thousands of hand carved symbols. This cliff wall used to be the ancient shore of Tule Lake. In prehistoric times the artisans had to row out in canoes to reach this spot where the rock art appears.” Photograph © Dustin Naef 2016.
ROCK ART AND PETROGLYPHS
Another reason to visit Lava Beds is its rich cultural history, this region is believed to contain one of the largest concentrations of rock art imagery in California. Many of these images can be viewed at Petroglyph Point, a towering cliff-wall which stands out as the center of a Modoc creation-origin story, and it is guessed that some of the rock art may have been created as far back as 6,000 years ago. A known creation story involves the first people emerging into this region from the cave world below.
“Symbol Cave: Many of the caves throughout Lava Beds contain pictographs [hand painted images] inside the entrances.” Photograph © Dustin Naef 2016.
Some of the rock art appears inside the entrances of caves located throughout the Monument.
“The abstract petroglyphs carved on the cliff walls are distinctly different from other types of rock art found throughout California. They are said to 'tell a story' but the precise details are not publicly known.” Photograph © Dustin Naef 2016.
Much of the rock art found throughout Lava Beds is dominated by intricate geometrical symbols and mysterious patterns, it is uniquely different in character and more abstract than other examples found elsewhere; the exact meanings of the rock art is not known to outsiders, however most people who view them come away feeling that the imagery speaks of spiritual visions, and reflects all the mysteries of the night skies above, which become a cavernous gateway into the cosmos after the sun goes down.
“Lava Beds is a favorite spot for star watchers and night photographers as the heavens can be seen with exceptional clarity and depth here, there is no haze or light pollution.” (Photograph Credit NPS public domain)
I created a short video exploration of one of my excursions out to Lava Beds, where you can follow me through an eerie underground tunnel called Sentinel Cave, located on Cave Loop road not far from the visitor’s center. If you’re ever visiting the Mount Shasta area, and are not afraid of exploring real caves and tunnels which lay beneath an ancient civilization, Lava Beds National Monument is well worth a visit.
Top Image: “Full moon rising over Mount Shasta, as seen from northern valley.” Credit: Dusin Naef © 2016
By Dustin Naef
Lava Beds National Park: https://www.nps.gov/labe/index.htm
Mount Shasta's Forgotten History & Legends. Dustin Naef (2016).
Photograph Into The Abyss © Loree Johnson. http://loree-johnson.pixels.com/featured/into-the-abyss-loree-johnson.html