Parables of the Caves

In June and July of 2018 (too late for mention in our last issue), as the entire world watched breathlessly, daring Royal Thai Navy SEAL divers, racing against the clock, successfully rescued a junior boys soccer team trapped deep in the Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai Province of northern Thailand. The 12 boys, aged 11 to 17, and their assistant coach, 25, had fled deep into the cave to escape rising monsoon floods, and become trapped. After their chance discovery by searchers, and in the face of rising waters and diminishing oxygen, a long-shot rescue effort involving 10,000 rescue workers and over 100 divers in a two-week operation, was mounted. In the end, as everyone now knows, the effort was a complete triumph.

To us, the event seemed strangely reminiscent of another subterranean rescue over eight years earlier in Chile—one that we also wrote about in this space. In fact, the comments I made then seem equally applicable to this latest event, except that, instead of 33 miners, we now had 12, young soccer players and a coach. (I will leave it to you to make the appropriate symbolic connections.) Here is part of what we said in the Publisher’s Letter for AR #85, January/February, 2011:

“The operation went off without a hitch and the triumphant result was hailed everywhere as one of the most inspiring stories in memory. In fact, the saga of Chile’s rescued miners seemed virtually miraculous to all, prompting some to speculate that higher powers must have intervened. Indeed, for all but the most cynical, the case for cosmic design was hard to resist. And for those who believe that the universe speaks to us in the language of archetypes, there seemed plenty of room for excitement. Here you had innocent miners, trapped in the darkness of the underworld, heroically redeemed by representatives from the higher realms of light, restored to life—resurrected—after passage through a long dark tunnel something like a birth canal—in a sense, to be re-born.

“Factor in that there were 33 miners, harkening to the masonic notion of initiation preceding and including crucifixion and resurrection… The universal tale of the hero’s journey, writer Joseph Campbell believed, is the story of us all challenging the confinements and entrapments of circumstances in order to establish a better life in a new and higher world, the promised land, if you will. The ‘journey’ is the great adventure of life, filled with trials as well as wonder and discovery; and it leads us toward the light along an ancient, yet narrow and obscure, pathway. The solitary journey is carried out again and again in history’s slow march to the future, and without it there would be no progress and no hope for the larger tribe of humanity. Though the process is understood at a deep—usually unconscious—level by each of us, we need reminders, it seems, or we lose focus and become more deeply entangled in the webs of darkness, which surround us. Fortunately, an occasional public drama helps to remind us what it is exactly that we are supposed to be about.”

The great Greek philosopher Plato related what has been called “The Parable of the Cave.” In his story, prisoners chained in a cave had no knowledge of the world outside. They heard voices, though, and, on the wall before them, they saw shadows cast by guards walking before a fire blazing brightly outside the cave entrance. For the prisoners, it was the shadows that were doing the speaking and—having no other experience to draw upon—they could not comprehend any greater possibility. When one prisoner is freed from his chains and finally sees the dazzling reality head on, he believes, at first, that the ‘reality’ he now beholds is itself an illusion. Eventually, though, his eyes open and he realizes the truth, but when he tries to explain it to his, yet bound, fellow prisoners, his message is rejected. Only those who have, to some extent, seen the light themselves, it appears, can recognize it.

By J. Douglas Kenyon