Caves and mines lead us into the depths of the earth. They do so quite distinctively. Despite both being holes in the ground, entering one compared to the other brings very unique experiences. Sweden’s mine in Falun makes this obvious. Like Swedenborg’s archives, it too, is accepted by UNESCO as historically relevant. It is over a thousand years old after all.
Growing up in Eastern Pennsylvania, caves are a standard field trip in elementary school. Mines, too, abound, but they are not tourist destinations. In contrast to the local caves, there are no billboards directing anyone to the local mine. In Eastern PA, many mines remain financially viable. As recent as 2014, over 8 million tons of anthracite was mined in PA. Their day will come. Only seventeen active mines remain in Sweden. Falun’s closed in 1992.
A thousand years is a long time to create a mine, but Mother Nature works for ages to create her cave’s subterranean wonders. Entrances are not so much discovered, as revealed. They are invitations.
One enters caves with a sense of anticipation.
It is a privilege to witness the results within a cave’s depths. The mind cannot help but follow. As our form leaves the surface of the earth, our essence rises to the surface of our thoughts. There is a distinctive shift. The deeper our body, the deeper our spirit seems to feel. Endured long enough, the experience becomes otherworldly, even revelatory. Day-to-day short-term concerns fall away as the mood of the cave wraps like a blanket around our shoulders. If the echo of a droplet into still underground water ripples across the air our heart follows. The cave is dark, but we begin to see many things more clearly.
It is no coincidence the first artwork in the world is found in a cave. Nor is it likely by chance they are so unfathomably far within them. Researchers are baffled by so purposeful, and dangerous, a journey to leave their mysterious artwork.
However, it is easier to mouth ancient principles of the mind, say, the Hermetic principle, “As above, so below,” than to internalize them. Could it be restated, “As without, so within?” The artists of 40,000 years ago may not have been exploring the cave so much as drawn into it. The transformed environment of a physical cave may have facilitated a correlating transformation within the self. Does their paleo-art record a shift? Was a new awareness recorded? Was it inspired by a miraculous change in perspective, from an objective-unity with the All to a subjective-unity with all that is? Was it this that led them to reach out, touch the cave’s walls, and preserve the moment, not of an isolated sense of I, but that, of an “I am” of the “I Am?”
Did the exploration of caves then, like now, provide a sense of harmony, a oneness with what it is. Did its metaphorical surroundings provide depths of awareness? Swedenborg explains that the earliest people worshipped on the top of mountains for the sense of elevation is brings. Did caves do something similar?
Do the writings of seers like Swedenborg not demonstrate how much activity there is in our mind? Each moment, forces of unimaginable power flow over, then through, not only the physical earth, but the internal earth of our mind. We are habitually unaware as unconscious forces imperceptibly erode our stubborn rocklike self-centeredness. It seems impenetrable, but that is likely because we begin by believing that is the very sense of self responsible for our regeneration. Not really. It is not so much what we are doing as what is being done to us.
Our true self is buried under a mountain of false attitudes, opinions, and beliefs, the most warped of which is that nothing is happening. In the first half of life we climb these conceptual heights hoping to see beyond their limiting horizon. We have misread the map, however, for upon reaching the summit, we realize the true path was not up, but within. Just as the treasures inside caves are created by the persistent flow of water, so, too, with the treasures of consciousness. The psychological water is not spiritual truth per se, that would simply be another fact on the mountain under which we are already buried. More so, spiritual truth is an awareness, a perspective, a new sense of self, demonstrating that this mountain’s weight is not necessary — that it is crushing our heart. Once made aware, our hard-hearts feel it is impossible to break down what was built up over ages. Then again, did the stone our fingers glide across in caves not think the same?
Mines, on the other hand, host different states of mind. They do not take one deep. There is a sense of battle, a test of wills. Instead of a sense of wonder, they reek of a far cruder purpose. Nature is not sharing, humanity is taking. The goal is to change moments in the future, not be present in the moment. Humanity is forcing its way into a world not its own. Where depths are measured in daily prices per ounce, not millennia and ages. The length of Falun’s corridor brought calculations of human suffering not the timelessness of a cave.
Miners perceive this dynamic. They couch it in various metaphors. Mines have totem animals. Thus, the endless oxen figurines in the gift shop. This is not only ceremonial, but quite practical. The miners put their lives “on the line” of their oxen. The thick ropes carrying buckets down into and up out of its 440 meter depths were made of ox hides. Four hundred per rope provided a bounteous surplus of meat. What to do? What to do? Oh! Yes, let’s make sausage!
The miners did not enter by the endless staircase we descended. Time was of the essence. Eight men descended per bucket. One foot in, the other hovering. The daredevils could not be bothered and slide face first into the abyss.
The Falun mine also has a Lady. As nobility are inclined to do, she provided rules. There are only three, but she tested the miners like a lengthy Sunday service. 1) No cursing, 2) No Spitting, and 3) Knock three times upon entering. With snus a part of Sweden’s national heritage, this was no easy feat. Keep the Lady happy at all costs. Cave-ins are her wrath.
Falun may have been a copper mine in actuality, but figuratively, it was a “gold mine.” Two-thirds of Europe’s copper came from her depths. When the King offered Swedenborg the position as Assessor of Mines the Swedish economy and funding of his endless wars was on the line. It was a turbulent age. National pride was at stake. Falun was not simply a financial venture. It was Sweden’s soul. In a sense Swedenborg was its priest. How strange that a man’s spirit which would soar to such heights began under the earth amongst fires and sulphur. Swedenborg was far more at home in his garden.
For those reading Swedenborg’s revelatory works as guides to enlightenment, his many volumes on mineralogy, geology, and smelting seem mundane and dismissible. So, too, his many inventions worked on with his mentor Christopher Polhem. As Rev. Dr. Jonathan Rose once noted with self-deprecating humor when reflecting on one invention, How quaint to create a system of pulleys whereby as one bucket descended another rose, until it is realized that in this manner the GDP of Sweden was doubled!
It is easy to imagine Swedenborg descending on the bucket singing his favorite Lutheran hymns, not out of nervousness or to entertain, but more likely, to ward off the devil and any variety of troublesome spirits. Despite the Enlightenment, Swedenborg’s culture was still immersed in a Christianity and folklore filled with a variety of mythological figures. The Huldra (forest women) were especially known to entice men into cave systems from which they never find their way out. Was the Lady of the Mine of similar ilk? Was the descent not also like that into hell, the very lair of the devil?
Little did Swedenborg know as he sang his way into and out of Falun’s fiery furnace that decades later he would do the same, but now, not in the physical, but spiritual world, not in the body, but the spirit, and not metaphorically, but for real.