The Adyton at Claros

A series of generative artworks reminiscent of secluded mystical chambers—such as caves, grottoes or the isolated inner sanctums of temples—where the shamans of antiquity, like the oracles of ancient Greece, would commune with the immortals, through visions, trances, possessions, and glossolalia.

History professor Yulia Ustinova demystifies the surprising rationale behind the seclusion: “The fundamental reason for locating prophetic activities in caves was the need of the gods’ mediums to attain divine inspiration, that is, to alter their state of consciousness.” [Caves and the Ancient Greek Mind: Descending Underground in the Search for Ultimate Truth (Oxford University Press, 2009)]

Ustinova enumerates two ways in which caves can alter a journeyer’s state of consciousness: sensory deprivation—caves being extremely dark, unnaturally silent places—or “euphoriant or psychotropic effect”, through inhaling naturally-occurring noxious or poison gases.

She concludes that an oracle’s divinely-inspired words and actions were almost certainly influenced by these reality-altering effects, if not entirely the product of them, not just in ancient Greece, but in many cultures spread widely across geography, throughout recorded history.

The artworks in this series are reminiscent of a cave aesthetically—rectangular shapes stacked against a grid to suggest depth or distance—while the preponderance of piled-up shapes form an inducement to sensory stimulation, arresting the viewer’s attention.

Claros was a temple to Apollo, one of the more prominent sites of oracular prophesy on the ancient Greek settlement of Ionia. (Today Ionia is the west coast of Turkey. Claros was central, about halfway between Troy to the north and Rhodes to the south, about 130 mi [220km] from each.)

An adyton is the innermost room of a temple, its least physically-accessible space, its holiest chamber. It comes from the Greek which means “not to be entered”. Such a room would have been restricted to only priests, oracles, and their acolytes. Think of it as the above-ground analog of a cave or grotto, with the same possibilities for sensory deprivation. (Hopefully not gaseous intoxication!)

The adyton at Claros was more a grotto than a simple interior room, built lower than the temple proper, comprised of multiple rooms, possibly two rooms connected by a corridor. Some historical commentators likened it to a crypt, while many described it as a “labyrinth”. Ustinova points out that in the darkened silence, even two simple underground rooms with a connecting walkway can seem like a labyrinth to a disoriented visitor.

Perhaps not labyrinthine in scope, these artworks nonetheless present a complexity that stimulates the viewer, maybe even induces a hallucinatory vision!

P. S. See also Ustinova’s full-length book, Caves and the Ancient Greek Mind: Descending Underground in the Search for Ultimate Truth (Oxford_University_Press, 2009)