It is said that Christ was born in an underground stable and, at his crucifixion, was interred within a cave. The Holy Land is filled with caves, including the praying places of David and Solomon and one at Mount Carmel in which Pythagoras resided before he returned westwards.
When he was still in his early twenties, Leonardo Da Vinci disappeared for two years between 1476 and 1478. In one of his very few written personal diaries, he tells of finding a vast and mysterious cave that he was drawn to enter and spend some time inside. It is speculated that he had an encounter with someone, or something, in there that enlightened him.
Porphyry (234-305AD) called the cave "a symbol of the universe". Indeed, it is often identified with the world-centre, the heart of all and the meeting-place of gods and men. Plato (428-348 BC) refers to the cave in his allegory as the world in its obscurity and illusion.
Such caves were arenas where the gods came, like the North American Mayum, who was the manifested messenger of the Great Spirit amongst the Cheyenne. He showed himself in a sacred cave hidden in the Black Hills to which representatives of all the tribes came for instruction.
Some of the sacred caves in India are chaityas, basically like a cathedral or assembly wherein divine ritual was held and the stupa or dagoba is housed. Others are viharas or monasteries possessing small cells and general halls for devotions. At Rajgir is the Pippala Cave in which the Buddha sat to meditate after his noonday meal.
In my magazine articles over the years I have written about the Way of the Iatromantis – a path of enlightenment from Ancient Greece whereby the initiate underwent a ritual called Incubation in a cave or tomb-like setting. It is time to re-visit this teaching and I will write more about it soon in an upcoming article.