Monday, March 12, 2012

Letters from the Underworld: Fear and Claustrophobia Inside the Pharaoh's Chamber



I would much prefer 100 degrees in the desert any daythan crawling down a dark passageway deep inside the pyramid of Cheops.....



Inside this man-made mountain is a room in which a Pharoah was laid to rest.



How is it possible you could go inside this enormous assemblage of stones? 



A guide waves me over to a door. I ask myself — dare I go in? 



No sooner than I begin crawling along a long, dark passageway it feels like the weight of the world is about to come crashing down on my head. But I'm in Egypt, I keep reminding myself — I have a chance to go inside and explore this ancient pyramid. Am I going to say no? 


No way......

But somewhere, several thousands yards in, the light begins to fade. I press my hands against the walls.....they feel slippery......the very air around me is collapsing, heavy, and....very ancient. How do we know we're going the right direction? I know from studying these monuments in graduate school there are passages off of passages, leading into different directions......yet somewhere, up ahead, if I just keep going, I'll arrive at our destination..


My husband is further down the passage. My kids as well. No one seems to be panicking.....except me. I've been claustrophobic since I was a child. Did I become trapped in an attic once....or maybe accidentally locked myself inside a closet? I can't remember.....all I know is that there are people ahead of me, I'm crawling along this tube of ancient stone in the darkness and there's no turning back. But I'm a modern-day Persephone, right? I'm supposed to be OK with this dark passage to the Underworld stuff.....I can breathe, I keep telling myself, I can breathe....


Then I see a light flickering. Voices murmuring. The ceiling gets lower and lower, I feel like I'm crawling and......suddenly



find myself in a large open space........the King's chamber


In the middle is a stone sarcophagus where the Pharoah was buried over 4000 years ago. The murmuring is coming from a group of people gathered in the corner.....some are seated on the floor, meditating. Over the years I had heard some believe the pyramids have a special power - that the builders lined them up with constellations in the sky, and that if you stand right in the middle of the chamber you will sense something......mysterious. The scientist in me wonders - what kind of powers? With the exception of the stone coffin, the room is empty of any other artifact. I walk around the perimeter, trying to see if I feel anything special, anything different. It's hard to tell at first. Soon the meditating group begins to file out, ducking one by one to fit into the tiny doorway in the corner of the room. I stand with my family, all of us in awe. We don't say much, but special powers or not - this feels like a sacred space. 


As fascinating as this place is, we're not allowed to stay for long - eventually others will be waiting for their turn outside. Taking one last look around this most unique of rooms, my husband and kids take their leave and duck through the tiny doorway to begin the long passage back to the outside world. For a moment I am all alone. I stand in the center of the space, the words, "The power of the pyramid" spinning through my head. I raise my arms into the air, press my palms together, and close my eyes. For a moment, it's just me - standing in the middle of the Giza plateau, in the center of the pyramid of Cheops, and I feel the sacredness of this space. No sounds.....just the echo of my breathing.....and it seems eternity stands still. I open my eyes and realize everyone must be well down the passageway by now. Suddenly, I feel the claustrophobia crashing in. The calmness is fading away.....my childhood memories of becoming trapped are taking over. I pick up my backpack and dash to the corner, duck my head underneath the tiny entrance to the shaft - I'm desperate to catch up to the rest, but they are far down the corridor. It doesn't take long before I am pondering the weight of stone above my head, the sense of being far from the opening, the crouched position I must assume, crawling along the narrow tunnel, touching the clammy walls — where is the exit??? Was I supposed to go right back there? Left? Did I get lost??


It seems like it is taking.............forever




And then I see it. Just up ahead - the Light. The outside. Freedom, once again. 


I may be an archaeologist, and spend a lot of time "underground", but when it comes to feeling like I'm stuck with no sense of an exit, I am a complete wimp. Some Persephone, huh?


So the next time I visit the interior of a pyramid, I'll bring of bag of breadcrumbs.....


and leave myself a trail. 


Photos courtesy of author and Google images

25 comments:

  1. woweee!!! NOW I'm REALLY jealous!!! that is something I have ALWAYS wanted to do - my dad went in when he was a kid in the 19-teens - and it was all candles and torches.
    Sorry you have claustrophobia - that was very brave to go into that tunnel - but what an opportunity!!. Have I told you that I am officially jealous?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I did not decide to go inside a few years ago - I still regret it:)


    Life and travelling
    Cooking

    ReplyDelete
  3. A bag of breadcrumbs ... or a ball of thread, like Ariadne ...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. yes, good point robert. ariadne's ball of twine sounds much more romantic!

      Delete
  4. well you did it!....I wouldn't myself...i know my limitations....and panic attacks are not fun. I have a hard time just being on an airplane!....I carefully plan for it with anti anxiety meds. But, if i was an archeologist....it would be a given that I would have to do that. Still...you were very brave! ....great story and interesting post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. sue, luckily most of my work is not inside structures such as a pyramid - although once i had an opportunity to work in a cave (the cave of the nymphs from homer's odyssey!) and as romantic as that sounded it was not my cup of tea!

      Delete
  5. You are brave! I would not take up this endeavor. It is too too much, just the way you described the effect, and so effectively, I might add. I felt the panic as though this was happening to me.

    ReplyDelete
  6. NOT a wimp! I am so impressed that you made it all the way into the King's Chamber. Amanda, I love this post at so many levels, I am forwarding it to my mother for a number of reasons.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Like Rosaria, I could feel the panic rising in me, and the claustrophobia. No, no way in for me! I was inside the Carlberg Caverns, and some other caves underground, but there were always many people and lights (until, in Carlsbad, they made us all sit and be quiet, and then turned the lights off. Boy was that dark!). And no bats inside the pyramids, either!
    No, it was a great story to read, thank you Amanda, you brave devil, but booh, not my kind of adventure!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Your writing always sweeps me away, dear Amanda, to these wonderful, ancient places. I could feel your rising tension as you moved ever inwards towards the heart of the pyramid. I know that I would have been in the same predicament myself. Curiosity and awe would have compelled me to move forward but tight, dark spaces make me feel uncomfortable and it is a feeling I have to fight against sometimes. I know that I would panic if I were to give in to it. I remember climbing to the top of St Peter's basilica in Rome and, right at the very top, it gets really narrow and you're hemmed in by people in front and behind you. I was about to lose it that day but figured it was not the best place in the world to have a panic attack.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. i'm with you, loree. i also have a fear of heights so your climb to the top of st. peter's sounds terrifying, especially being hemmed in on both sides!

      Delete
  9. I remember having very similar feelings heading down that same passage. And other passages in the same area. And I'm not that claustrophobic.

    Still, it was worth the crawl to be down there. Not as a thief, but as an explorer. A wonderer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. it sounds like you've had an opportunity to explore many sections of the pyramids, r-bear - i would love to hear more about that sometime

      but yes, claustrophobia or not, well worth the effort, for all of us wanderers and especially wonderers..

      Delete
  10. This was a great experience, I ´ve never imagined how was the feeling of getting inside the Pyramid and well, I guess I would stay outside because yes, I would panic because I´m so claustrophobic!! Thank you for describing every step of this amazing tour inside the Pyramid,Amanda! I guess a niece of mine will love to read this post , I´ll tell her right now.
    xoxo

    ReplyDelete
  11. How fantastic! Really a once in a lifetime experience. Glad you didn't let that claustrophobia get the better of you.

    ReplyDelete
  12. holy moly amanda! i'm sitting on my couch and your incredible writing has ME feeling claustrophobic. you are a brave brave woman in my book. i'm not sure i could have done it, this being the top of my phobia list as well.

    but you stood in a sacred space and now that is part of who you are...which i know you know.

    i know you are a scientist, but like dr. einstein, you know more matters that that.

    love
    kj

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. i appreciate all these kind words from you kj, and from everyone - but i don't feel that brave....there are many more tiny passages i've read about in the pyramids where people have gone and there's no way i would do that. the fear of becoming trapped is too much!

      as you say, i am becoming more interested in what is beyond science...luckily for me, archaeology is already an inexact science! ;-)

      Delete
  13. Oh I could never ever go in there. I felt my lungs restricting just reading about it!
    But, I have managed to go in one tomb one time, it was Newgrange in Ireland, and it was worth it. So maybe I could manage the Pharoah's tomb, but I definitely think I would have to do some hand holding and leave that trail of breadcrumbs :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. newgrange is a fascinating site.....would love to experience that place during a solstice.. (and have a pint of guinness afterwards to celebrate, eh? ;-)

      Delete
  14. Thanks for crawling in for us and the tour - that would have given me the creeps too! I laughed at that first photo.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. sarah, that photo was fun to take, but there is a place above the giza plateau where you can take pictures of the site from a distance - people put their hand in the shot and the final result makes them look like they're holding a pyramid in their palm - quite amusing!

      Delete
  15. I felt your edge of panic sister, and think you are so brave to have overcome it.

    I climbed those same ramps during the spring solstice at the turning of the last century (yes I'm THAT old) with a group of wonderfully strange people. We took turns lying in the king's sarcophagus while everyone toned in eerie voices over us. Quite the memory.

    ReplyDelete
  16. My heart was pounding right along with yours! I feel the same way about tight spaces, and I doubt that I could have gone down there for any reason...even to follow my children!

    Thank you for sharing the experience so beautifully for us that I will never feel deprived of the experience, should it ever present itself to me. I'll just smile and say, "No, thank you. I went to see the King's Chamber with Amanda."

    ReplyDelete
  17. Hi, Amanda. I hope you enjoyed your weekend! I just wanted to let you know that I'd tagged you in a blogging game.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I have to say, I'm brave and willing to explore - just like you. But, I will admit that I'd probably feel the same that you did, perhaps because I really did get locked in a closet as a child (playing hide and seek!) and ever since then...I get squeamish in dark places I'm not familiar with. I loved this story.

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for visiting♡