Ancient Mayan Cenotes

(c) 2014, Robyn LaRue

(c) 2014, Robyn LaRue

Water is believed to be an elemental conductor in connecting the portal between the living and the dead.  The Mayan civilization worshiped ancient cenotes, a large cave structure that is often filled with water, by prophesying that these Earthen structures are the gateways to the Xibalba, the Mayan version of underworld.  Throughout the Yucatan peninsula, archaeologists have uncovered human and Mayan temple remains in the cenotes.  Specifically within the Las Calaceras cenote, there are more that 125 of human remains found.  To this day, no one is sure whether the people died naturally at the site, the bodies deposited at the site after death, or if the bodies we apart of on-site sacrificial rites.

The afterlife for the Mayans is depicted as a terrifying road where the dead have to pass through rivers of blood, rooms full of sharp knives, and caves full of vicious bats and jaguars.  For the Mayans, the afterlife is a literal “Highway to Hell”.  The cenote cave structure is regarded to be the initial design and concept for the Mayans’ definition of the transition through death.  Therefore, the cenotes were regarded as sacred areas and a direct link to their version of Hell.

For modern day archaeologists and cave explorers, it is easy to understand how the Mayans developed this concept.  The cenotes are deep and dark caves that are connected underneath the Yucatan peninsula.  Some caves are almost completely submerged in water, while other contain an air of something sinister.  Guillermo de Anda, a University of Yucatan archeologist, has been studying the cenote cave structure and history for years.

During his expeditions, he has uncovered cenote rooms that are so packed with stalactites that it is almost impossible to crawl through without being cut.  Other rooms are filled with deep pools, discolored by iron causing the water to look like blood.  Another room is roasting with heat, making explorers sweat, and a following room is frigid cold.  An incredible vast number of bats are known to frequent and inhibit the cave.  Stirring up a swarm that causes the creatures to fly around in a panic is a regular occurrence.  The cave of jaguars has yet to be uncovered, but de Anda has found several caves that contained the remains of jaguars.

It is also interesting to note that several of the larger and most galant Mayan temples are situated on top of some of the more notorious cenotes. As per de Anda:

“There are a number of sites in the lowlands where there are caves right underneath the principal temples, palaces and pyramids, which are thought to represent a religious ‘access mundi,’ where you have the pyramid representing the heavens, and the caves representing the underworld underneath.”

It is a wonder of how a cave system can represent the whole basis of a civilization’s concept of the underworld and afterlife.  It is beautiful as much as it is tragic.  The tragic aspect being in a sense that the caves gave the Mayan the concept of an afterlife, Xibalba, as brutal and hellish.  One has to wonder if the original Mayan who first through up to use these ancient cenotes as an example of Xibalba meant to use this depiction as a sign of power, to oppress the Mayan people with fear.

 

A depiction of Mayans in an ancient cenote.

A depiction of Mayans in an ancient cenote.

A cenote entrance or gateway into the underworld? (c) "Mexico Cenotes" by Ekehnel (Emil Kehnel) - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Common

A cenote entrance or gateway into the underworld? (c) “Mexico Cenotes” by Ekehnel (Emil Kehnel) – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Common

Castle Houska

(c) 2014, Robyn LaRue

(c) 2014, Robyn LaRue

Located on a forested hill at the edge of a limestone cliff in the Czech Republic, Castle Houska has been giving off an evil essence for centuries.  Even before the castle was ever built, the land on which the building stands is said to be cursed.

To start with the land itself, Václav Hájek, whose publication of the Czech Chronicle was first published in 1541, accounts for a story of a large crack that formed at the top of the limestone cliff.  The hole formed was immeasurably deep.  Legends of the hole began to brew of half-anmial and half-human creatures that resided within and would fly out at night to kill livestock or an unlucky human who happened to wander to close to the area.  The local residents of the area deemed the location “the hole to hell” and took care to avoid it.  At one time there was an attempt to fill the hole, but the attempt was in vain.  No matter how much stone was pored into the hole, the hole just swallowed it up – continuing to be a believed gateway to hell.

A Dubá clan duke once tried to uncover the hole’s secrets by lowering a condemned man down into the black vastness, the man was lured with the promise of freedom if he traveled into the darkness.  The prisoner was lowered on the end of the rope.  After some time of distance and silence his heart-stopping screams could be heard from the hole.  When the man was pulled out, it was said that his hair was stark white and he was a raving lunatic.  The prisoner died shortly after.  What he had seen within the hole was never told, and it is said that the duke attempted the experiment several times, all accounts with the same out come.

Castle Houska was built on top of the ‘hole to hell’ between 1270 and 1280.  The hole was covered with thick stone plates and the castle’s chapel was built onto of those plates in an attempt to seal up the gateway.  Faded frescos adorn the chapel’s wall, most scenes depicting a Archangel Michael fighting evil or balancing the souls at the last judgement.  However, the most notable painting is of a creature that has the upper half of a woman and a lower half of  a horse, a centaur, who is holding a bow with her right hand and aiming an arrow with her left toward a human.  It is believed that this painted figure is related to the stories about the half-human creatures that used to reside and fly from the hole located under the chapel’s floor.  This belief is attributed to the fact that the figure is of a centaur, which at the time was pagan mythology, and that the creature is aiming with her left hand.  The left hand (or left-handedness)  during the middle ages, is associated with the devil.

Most present day experiences to the castle can be the onslaught of birds that are continually found dead within the castle’s inner courtyard and strange noises or shadows seen all through out the building and grounds.  However, these peculiar instances could be tied to the reason for the castle’s existence.  Most castles are built to keep the enemy out.  The stone structures are built as fortitudes of protection, harboring those that reside with in.  Yet, the original design of Castle Houska, there are no stairs leading from the upper floors into the courtyard.  It seems as though this castle was built to keep something in…

During the 30 Years’ War, the castle stood abandoned until it was chosen as a head quarters by a Swedish commander of mercenaries, Oronto.  Oronto had the reputation of being a black magician and alchemist, who turned the castle into his own personal laboratory to conduct unholy experiments in the search for the elixir of eternal life.  His experiments and solders terrorized the local villages that one night some of the villagers took it upon themselves to sneak into the castle and assassinate Oronto while he was in the midst of working in his laboratory.

The castle today is known as a hotbed for tourists and meeting place for experts on the paranormal phenomenon.  Those who are brave enough to survive a night within the castles wall come away with haunting stories of terror and the belief that they just survived a night sleeping next to a doorway into hell.

The history of Houska Castle is so extensive that I could not have possibly capture it all within this post.  If you would like to read a full account of the castle, steeped with history that also includes a period where the castle was controlled by the Nazis, I suggest starting at this website  and then branching out to other sites.  There is just too much history on this castle that sits on top of a gateway to hell that it has not all been documented in one location.

The haunted entrance to Houska Castle (c) Mirek256  http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

The haunted entrance to Houska Castle (c) 2005, Mirek256 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

Masaya Volcano

(c) 2014, Robyn LaRue

(c) 2014, Robyn LaRue

The Masaya Volcano, south of Managuna, Nucaragua, is caldera shaped volcano.  The classification of caldera means that the volcano is shaped like a “cooking pot” in the ground.  By today’s standards the Masaya Volcano seems to be just your typical active volcano.  However, in the times of the late 1400’s – 1700’s, this volcano was believed to be the “Mouth of Hell”.  It began when early locals, around the 1500’s, greedily viewed the lava as a source of gold and silver.  Many would fail in their attempts of trying to retrieve the supposed riches, their bodies were thought to be lost to the devil that tempted them.  Aboriginal people would recite tales of the  Gods that resided within the volcano.  In order to appease the Gods, the aboriginal people would give human sacrifices by throwing into the lava-filled crater children and maidens.

At one time, it was thought that an evil sorceress lived in the volcano and worked hand-in-hand with the devil.  In 1592, Mercedarian Fray Francisco de Bobadilla erected a large cross on the volcano in order to exorcise the daemon or evil that dwelled within.

In later years, Carmelite Fray Antonio Vazquez, who visited Nicaragua in the 1600’s, claimed that the eruptions from the volcano were the fires from the bowels of Hell and that the volcano itself was merely a vent for Hell’s fire to escape.

The reason why this specific volcano has been dubbed the “Mouth to Hell” is due to the continual volcanic activity.  Friar Toribio Benavente said “that the fire of the volcano of Nicaragua [Masaya] without fuel… must be the mouth to Hell and its fire must be supernatural and hellish, and the place from which the condemned are thrown by demons.”  Because the fires within the volcano continually burn and erupt, then Masaya Volcano must be a direct gateway into Hell.

As for the supernatural aspect, over the centuries there are stories from sailors and travelers who wandered through the forest that surround the Masaya Volcano.  Many of these wanderers gave accounts of seeing daemons dancing in the moonlight and hearing sounds of condemned voices screaming through the trees.

This may not be the creepiest place in the world to visit, but if you believe Hell to be a physical location within the Earth, the Masaya Volcano is probably the hottest doorway into the underworld.

 

Steam straight from the bowels of Hell.  It has that wonderful sulfury, rotten egg scent.  (c) Brian Jonson and Dane Kantner https://www.flickr.com/photos/danebrian/

Steam straight from the bowels of Hell. It has that wonderful and sulfury rotten egg smell. (c) Brian Johnson and Dane Kantner https://www.flickr.com/photos/danebrian/

A replica of the cross

A replica of the cross erected by Mercedarian Fray Francisco de Bobadilla (c) Brian Johnson and Dane Kantner https://www.flickr.com/photos/danebrian/

The Seven Gates of Hell

(c) 2014, Robyn LaRue

(c) 2014, Robyn LaRue

This week’s “Before I die…” locations has me giddy with terror!  Today’s post is kicking off the “Gateways to Hell” series.

From now until Halloween, each Monday’s “Before I die…” post will focus on a location that is thought to be a physical gateway to Hell.  Around the world there are several locations where local lore identifies a location to be a direct descent into the bowels of the Earth, into a lair filled with the most dreaded horrors.  Enter if you dare…

A physical gateway to Hell is said to be born when an act of terrible injustice or horrendous suffering occurs in one spot upon the Earth.  A colossal tragedy, like a mass death, is said to be the common occurrence that opens the portal to the underworld.  Several religions and mythologies attribute the opening of this portal due to the amount of hate, pain, and anger that is expelled into the spiritual realm from the horrific event.

The Seven Gates of Hell — Hellam Township, PA

Within the realm of Hellam Township, outside of York, Pennsylvania, local legend tells of a physical gateway to hell.

The gateway’s location is said to be located on Trout Run Road.  In the 1800s, a mental institution was erected in this remote location.  It is said that a fire broke out within the institution, and due facility’s distance from civilization, it burnt to the ground — the fire killing most patients who resided inside.  The remoteness of the institute was specially selected as this specific facility housed those patients who were deemed too insane for the regular state mental wards.  It was said that the patients who managed to escape the raging fire did not make it far off the grounds.  The locals who arrived to the burning facility would not allow the patients to escape.  The “deranged and dangerous” patients were soon captured and beaten to death by the townsfolk.

Now, the actual gates’ role in the story of “The Seven Gates of Hell” are in dispute.  One such story is that an eccentric doctor who resided on the institution’s property installed seven gates along a walking path that lead from the facility into the forest.  A second story was that the townsfolk erected the gates to assist in capturing the escaped patients.  In either case, one portion of each story is in agreement:  only one of the gates can be physically seen during the day, the other six can only be visible at night.  No one has ever made it past the fifth gate, but it is said that if all seven gates are passed, the person would transcend directly into hell.

A warning to those who are brave enough to go in search of these hellish gates, though the exact location of the gates remain a mystery legend has it that the gates do reside on private property.  So if you happen across the actual location of the gates, you should probably obtain permission to access — or you may be dealing with an angry devil of the human kind.

Sadly, I was unable to find any pictures of the Seven Gates to Hell that are not copyrighted.  If you would like to see some pictures of the gate (along with some super cool headstone photos), check out Sherrie’s photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/starycat/5604000280/in/photostream/