Symbols, myths, and images of the underworld in the arrangement and operation of show caves

Man has always needed to comprehend his essence and the surrounding natural and social environment, to explain the existing social, natural and cosmic order. When it comes to caves, their geological history, the present and their use by man throughout the historical eras, the system of ideas and beliefs associated with them always come to the forefront.

The aim of this work  is to study the background of human notions that have been concretized in the image of the underworld through the analysis of various symbols, myths and images associated with caves. The persistence of this background is the main reason for the vitality of the ideas about the cave world and the image of the characters associated with it, especially in the Bulgarian cultural tradition.

The report shows the possibility to use the system of images related to the underworld of caves, in the development of show caves and guided programs for them. The mechanism of the connection of one mythology to the cave world with a system of images and action motives (without verbal narration) and another, where the images and motifs come in various narrative combinations, is analyzed. Particularly characteristic is the example of the figure of ancient Orpheus, for whom there are several basic motifs associated with his image. But for most people, the notion of it is related to Orpheus’ descent into the underworld, and this is the core of modern myth of Orpheus.

Another typical example is related to the image of the cave as a refuge and shelter. In addition, the cave symbolizes the womb, associates with the birth, rebirth and center of the universe, as represented by the Great Mother – Goddess. On the other hand, in polytheistic religions, the successor of which is Christianity today, the cave is often associated with an important mythological being from the underworld – the dragon. Like the “cosmic tree”, it connects the three worlds and divides the universe vertically. Living in a cave, the dragon often acts as a cosmic mediator that connects the underworld, terrestrial, and celestial worlds and functionally approaches the “cosmic tree”. Dark interpretations, on the other hand, often connect the cave to the Underworld, to the gates of Hell, and to the subconscious and mysterious in man.

In conclusion, the report shows that knowledge of the components of the underground environment, expressed in symbols, myths and images, is crucial for their rational use in management, practical protection and exploitation of show caves.

Authors: Mina Spasova1, Vasil Markov2, Alexey Stoev3, Todor Todorov4, Penka Stoeva3

1Institute for the Study of Societies and Knowledge, BAS, Sofia,,

2South West University “Neofit Rilski”, Blagoevgrad

3Space Research and Technology Institute, BAS, Stara Zagora Department, P.O.Box 73, 6000 Stara Zagora, Bulgaria,,

4Technical college, Smolyan, Plovdiv University “Paisij Hilendarsky”

Section: 2nd EuroSpeleo Show Cave Symposium

Type: poster presentation


Related Posts