The Grotto as the Aleph

For several reasons, I hadn’t taken the path that leads to the waterfall known as «La Virgen,» —The Virgin [Mary]— located beside the road that connects Puerto Aysén with Coyhaique, for months. Like a respite arising in the rainforest—at the limits of it, since another biome begins to take shape a few kilometers further along—there is a small cave carved by time in the heart of the metamorphic rock, violently sculpted by traumatic tectonic anvils of carboniferous ages. This cave, now dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is adorned with various religious elements typical of places like this, which seem ephemeral compared to the immensity of geological time and remote from the moisture and intense biological activity of the forest.

The Marian devotions, that is, the allusions to the attributes of Mary, vary according to time and place, connecting the saint with a distant past, as remote as the dawn of time— that is, the time of humans, in the Holocene. Different reflections of symbols challenge the passing of centuries, struggling to survive the changes of eras.

The archetype of the goddess has been mutating throughout the ages, impregnated with cultural changes and being molded almost incessantly for thousands of years. This metamorphosis is what has allowed us to witness a journey that begins with the Paleolithic Venus and her chthonic belly adorned with cave paintings that had more than «simple» forms of sympathetic magic— that magic where one draws what one wants to attract— in the glacial darkness of Würm, the bird goddesses of ancient Neolithic Europe, the supposed Cretan Mutterrecht, Innana, Ishtar, Isis, Tiamat, Gea, Hera, Artemis, Aphrodite, Demeter, Cybele, Eve, and others, until the revealing of the Virgin Mary, whose importance for religion and culture is more of a folkloric than a biblical theme: while she is barely mentioned in a couple of Gospels in the Bible, for Catholicism (i.e., Europe), she has primary importance and is named as deserving of hyperdulia, that is, «superior veneration»— not entirely divine but not entirely human either; her divinity, as understood by the pagans of the Old World, has been left behind, to be transfigured by Paleochristians, Catholics, and Orthodox.

The sanctuaries consecrated to this archetype achieve a monumentality that defies the divine in places such as, for example, the Notre-Dame de Paris, whose spires point towards the sky in a spectacle that, although imbued with ὕβρις —that excess that drove Prometheus to steal fire from the gods to give it to humans— seeks to reach celestial dimensions while acknowledging human smallness. However, the location of the aforementioned cathedral is not casual and it could even be said to follow certain geomantic patterns. As personification of the earth itself, it is logical that the archetype of the goddess has been revered in certain points of the planet that were considered magical and therefore sacred, and later reinterpreted as votive places for gods of the sky, storm, thunder, and sun. Archaeology versus genealogy.

Among the places that were considered sacred for their ‘magical’ properties —masking the symbol in a halo of mystery, which allowed for a garment of complexity detached from the human being’s own perception and their relationship with the Earth— was the cave, that petreous entrance in the rock. This represents the pathway to return to the dark, humid and warm womb of the Mother, the place where protection from the external world and the chaotic inclemencies of the elements was offered (in Paleolithic times, the cave offered the possibility of survival against wild animals and storms). In the cave, that is, the matrix, heart of hills and mountains, the pneuma is revealed, from which the psyche springs. Animated by chaos and darkness, the process of creation takes place, when the cosmos enters chaos; returning to the womb is a way to escape from the chaotic heterogeneity of the world, from the inclemencies that appear as a result of the release of the elementalwessen.

It is not surprising that throughout the ages, the cave has been associated with the various personifications that the archetype of the goddess adopted in her journey from European prehistory. With the arrival of Old World navigators came a myriad of signs, symbols, and religious figures — among the latter, the Virgin Mary. Temples were erected in places that already had religious significance and in others that did not — again, the act of bringing cosmos to chaos; Creation. And places of worship with a more primordial vocation also emerged. In this way, the caves of the New World were recognized and interpreted as places of veneration, or even more so, of hyperdulia, that ‘higher veneration’ reserved for the Mother. There rests the Goddess, covered in moss and cobwebs, fused with the rhizome and the never-static forest alchemy, residing in the kenotic dwelling for the Adept to inquire into the mystery in tzimtzum: the simultaneous divine presence and absence within the void, where the contemplation of that which connects with a distant past allows us to witness a fraction of the monument that is accessed by looking around.

Truth cannot penetrate a closed mind. If all places in the universe are in the Aleph, then all stars, all lamps, all sources of light are in it, too. — JL Borges