Gateway to the underworld

What an ancient temple can tell us about how the mind works

Photo courtesy of Micheile Henderson

Photo courtesy of Micheile Henderson

I read an interesting article the other day about a two thousand year old Greco-Roman temple in modern-day Turkey that was said to be the gateway to the underworld.

As described by Greek geographer, Strabo, who lived around 64 BC, “any animal that passes inside meets instant death. At any rate, bulls that are led into it fall and are dragged out dead; and I threw in sparrows and they immediately breathed their last and fell.”

Scientists have recently discovered a deep fissure in the earth’s surface beneath the site that emits high lethal doses of carbon dioxide, thereby accounting for these otherwise ‘supernatural’ deaths.

While Strabo seemed to realize that the deaths could be related to the strange emission of gas, he was still unclear as to why priests who entered remained immune to this phenomenon.

Needless to say, aside from Strabo's astute observation, most people at that time would have attributed the deaths to a cause and effect that could be seen. Since the deaths of the animals occurred upon crossing the entrance to the temple, it made sense then to consider the temple a gateway to the underworld. 

What was not considered, however, since it could not be seen or understood, was the direct causal link between the invisible carbon monoxide seeping through the fissure and the animals' deaths.

When I heard this story, I thought it a perfect metaphor to explain the cause and effect of our various feeling states.

As humans, we tend to  attribute our feeling state to something outside of ourselves; something visible that grabs the attention of one or more of our senses.

The traffic is making me crazy. (the traffic is the cause)

The kids are driving me nuts. (the kids are the cause)

The news is stressing me out. (the news is the cause)

Any other possible cause for our feelings remains invisible to us....just like the carbon dioxide in our story.

The truth, however, in both cases resides in the invisible.

The cause of death for the animals can only be attributed to the invisible emittance of carbon dioxide.

The cause of our feeling states can only be attributed to the invisible form of thought in the moment.

Nothing outside of our mind can ever cause us to feel anything.

Attributing the cause of our feelings to something outside of our thoughts may make for a more dramatic and intriguing story,  but then, that would be just a story and not the truth.

Lana Bastianutti