“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” – H.P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature.
I’m sure many people who read horror or science fiction, know who H.P. Lovecraft was and that he is considered the most important American writer of the macabre second only to Edgar Allen Poe. Lovecraft knew that fear is a strong emotion and he tapped into that, as well as others, through his stories. The quote above also emphasizes that the strongest fear we have is fear of the unknown. That feeling you get, in the “lizard” part of your brain, that something is just not right. This is where your “fight or flight” response will kick in and that is what’s great about either reading horror or watching a horror movie. You can get that adrenaline rush of fear from such forms of entertainment without actually being in a horrible or scary situation. However, for this article I want to share an instance where that deep seated feeling of fear was manifested in my life. It occurred when I was in graduate school back in the early 1990’s.
I attended graduate school at the University of California, at the U.C. Davis campus. My Masters is in Environmental Studies while my Ph.D. is in Limnology, which is the study of freshwater ecology (I disappoint a lot of people when I explain that limnology is not the study of limbs or limes). Most of my research was conducted at Castle Lake, in northern CA, a beautiful sub-alpine lake in the Siskiyou Mountains in the shadow of Mt. Shasta. It’s a beautiful lake and area and I enjoyed living there for five month out of year for five years.
The closest town to Castle Lake is Mt. Shasta City; Mt. Shasta itself is considered to be one of the new age “power points” on the planet. Thus, you hear a lot of stories about the continents of Mu and Atlantis, a race of beings called the Lemurian who have all kinds of psychic powers such as ESP, teleportation, telekinesis and others. I have also heard other stories on Bigfoot, lake monsters, fairies, and aliens. I always tell visitors or new students to the research station that if you start to hear someone in one of the bars or coffee shops, or on one of the hiking trails through the mountains, talking about this type of stuff don’t make fun of them. Whether you believe in any of this stuff or not, I personally have heard some great stories and tales about Mt. Shasta and the region in general just by keeping my mouth shut and listening.
Now to be honest, I don’t believe in any of the stories that I’ve heard. In evaluating something unknown I find my training as a scientist, in addition to using many of the ideas and concepts applied by Carl Sagan in his book The Demon-Haunted World, to be extremely effective. So while I enjoyed these stories of ancient Lemurian aliens living deep in Mt. Shasta, buzzing the top of the mountain with their “light ships” in the pre-dawn hours of the day, I don’t believe in any of it what so ever.
One of the tourist attractions of the Mt. Shasta area is Pluto Caves, which are located on the north side of the mountain. The caves are essentially lava tubes, which were formed long ago when lava flowed out of the mountain; the lava being hotter than the surrounding rock that created the tubes. Mt. Shasta is a dormant, not an extinct, volcano. People like to go into these tubes to check them out. Many of the locals have some interesting stories about the tubes but many of the New Agers say the tubes eventually lead down to great Lemurian kingdom (or what’s left of it since most of it fell into the sea with the continent of Mu) deep in the mountain. Apparently, the Lemurians want to live in seclusion and do not want to be bothered with modern man, so many of the locals told us not to go down too far into the caves. Another graduate student, Chris, and I could not pass up such an interesting experience so one day in the summer of 1990 we decided to explore the tubes.
We took a couple of flashlights and found Pluto Caves, sort of tucked away under some large manzanita bushes. Going into the tubes we laughed at all of the colorful graffiti on the walls. It seemed very unlikely that the entrance to the great Lemurian kingdom would include phrases such as, “I love Linda”, “Kilroy was here”, and “the pope smokes dope.” However, as we moved further into the tubes the amount of graffiti declined and tubes got smaller. At one point Chris and I had to climb through a small opening to get into the next chamber, which opened up and was considerably larger than any of the previous areas.
Unlike other caves, you get very few stalactites or stalagmites in lava tubes. Instead, we saw a few small lave pillars rising from the ground. There was no graffiti in this large antechamber. We guessed that the small opening probably scared most partiers and teenagers away. The lave pillars and walls had a strange brown-green color that shimmered in the light. It was dead silent. The only thing you could hear was our footsteps and breathing. I walked over to the left side of the cave to inspect a lava pillar while Chris moved to the right to check out some markings on the wall. After a few moments Chris said, “hey, let’s turn the flashlights off and see how really dark it gets in here.” Not to be accused of being a “wuss,” and actually interested in this as well, I agreed and the flashlight went out.
I know that everyone sometime in their life has experienced complete and utter blackness. That type of blackness that refuses to allow your eyes to adjust to the dark so that you may see shapes or shadows. It’s that blackness that stays black; no matter how long you wait you never see your hand in front of your face. That blackness, coupled with the complete and utter silence of the tubes, made it almost unbearable. After about two long minutes of this I was about to turn my flashlight on and suggest we go back to town to have a few beers at the local bar when suddenly I felt a cool breeze swirl around me. In addition, I heard whispering in the breeze that swept pass me. I froze in place and could not believe what I heard. From the other side of the cavern Chris said, “Do you hear that?” I hissed back to him that I did.
Both the breeze and whispering started to increase and out of sheer panic I bolted for the exit while Chris turned on his flashlight. It’s a good thing he did; I almost ran straight into the wall of the chamber adjacent to small opening. What was strange was that as soon as Chris turned the flashlight on, the breeze stopped, but I swear we could both still hear the whispering.
“Let’s get the hell out of here, “ I said. It took us about half an hour go get into that antechamber and about fifteen minutes to get out. A couple of hours later at the local bar with some burgers and a few beers in our bellies we were laughing about how we ended up creeping each other out in Pluto Caves. I worked with Chris for another year at the Castle Lake research station and while we joked about our incident in the Caves and our “brush” with the Lemurian Empire, neither one of us ever suggested going for another visit. What was that strange breeze and whispering and why did the breeze stop and whispering continue when the flashlights were turned back on? Why did the graffiti stop just before the antechamber? What were the markings on the wall Chris was examining? One thing is for sure, we will not be going back to investigate.
Do I believe the lava tubes lead to the great Lemurian kingdom underneath Mt. Shasta? No, I do not. While I cannot explain what we experienced, I do not think it was some sort of paranormal or extra-terrestrial event or encounter. There must be some logical and rational, real world explanation that was just unknown to us at the time. However, as Lovecraft said, fear of the unknown is indeed the strongest and oldest of fears.
Fred S. Lubnow, Ph.D. – Biographic Summary
Fred Lubnow is the Director of the Aquatic Programs at Princeton Hydro, LLC. He received his Bachelors of Science in Biology from Susquehanna University, PA (1988), his Masters degree in Environmental Sciences (1992) and his Ph.D. in Limnology (1994) from the University of California Davis, CA. During his day job he is an environmental consultant, specializing in managing lakes and ponds. However, late into the evening, he enjoys reading and writing horror fiction, particularly Lovecraftian fiction. He gave a talk at this year’s Necronomicon conference in Providence R.I. on the Biology and Evolution of the Old Ones. In addition, he hosts a blog site on Lovecraft and science located at www.lovecraftianscience.wordpress.com.
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