Flavin's Corner

Apocalypse Now!

"And you shouldn't have to pay for your love
with your bones and your flesh..."
from Hell Is For Children, c.1980 by Chrysalis Records and Pat Benetar

     Most of us are taught from childhood that Hell is a bad place, filled with
smoke and fire, somewhere deep underground.  The lesson usually extends to
include various threats and qualifications that children who have been bad, in
life, go there after death.  While many adults regard Hell as a mythic realm, a
heartbreaking number of children are forced into labor (estimated at 250
million worldwide), subjected to physical and emotional abuse, and would
undoubtedly swear that Hell is very real.  We should listen to them.

     A couple of weeks ago Israel deported some crazy Christians who were
planning to start trouble in Jerusalem later this year, so as to hasten and
guarantee THE APOCALYPSE.  Such silliness!  Sure, the Christian
mythology has inspired whacks to check each others scalps for 666, but most
modern commentators on John's Revelations believe the work to be an
allegory concerning the relationship between Rome and late first-century
Christianity, much like Nostrodamus' quatrains concerned political matters in
his own day, rather than years in the future.  Despite such a suggestion from
scholars, some Christians still look forward to an "end of days."  Maybe this
is worth pursuing.

     "For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed," SV Thomas 5:2
(see also Luke 12:2 and Mark 4:22) goes to the core of the term 'apocalypse'.
From the Greek apo (off) and kalyptein (to cover) we may loosely translate
'apocalypse' as 'the uncovering of something that is hidden'.  The 'hidden'
portion has been taken to refer to some vague "kingdom" or "rule of God,"
but actually designates Hell, in other words, an 'apocalypse' is an 'uncovering
of Hell'.  Not a bad idea...

     Our modern word Hell, related to the Norse Goddess of the Underworld
Hel, comes to us from the Old English and Old High German helan (to
conceal), which is derived from the Latin celare and the Greek kalyptein, and
is traceable back to the Indo-European root kel (to cover).  Hell, as such, has
a history which extends back before Christians started to threaten to send
people there.

     Hell has also been referred to as Tartarus or Hades by the Greeks,
infernus (also inferum and inferi) in Latin, the Hebrews used Sheol, and New
Testament writers used Gehenna, thought to suggest ge-bene-hinnom from
IV Kings 23:10 (valley of the sons of Hinnom), a place where "no man might
make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Moloch."  Hell, then,
is nearly always associated with fire and placed underground.  Dismissing
ancient knowledge of magma beneath the earth's surface as too obscure and
improbable, we must look at early mines and mining to approximate 'Hell'.

1911 photograph of coal-mining "breaker boys" by Lewis Hine.  Click  here for more.

     The study of early metallurgy, archaeometallurgy, is an open field, in that
there is much that is currently unknown or not well understood.  That late
Neolithic people cold-shaped copper and gold which they found above
ground, much like one would 'carve' a stone, is well documented from a
variety of sites between 7000 and 5000 BCE.  Shortly afterwards, probably
derived from a chance 'discovery' involving a ceramic kiln, the technology of
separating copper from ore marked the beginning of the Chalcolithic, or
copper and stone age.  Copper mines begin to appear, after this time, from
the Levant, through Asia Minor, and into Europe.  The strength of copper
over stone established an immediate common prestige (as well as utilitarian)
currency among all peoples exposed to the metal.  Our fascination, near
reverence, and desire for metal continues to this day.

     Metal was magical, in that it was believed to "grow" in the earth like a
harvestable plant (this approach survived into medieval alchemy, the Saugus
iron-works of 1648, and only began to yield to a modern understanding of
geology with such works as James Hutton's 1785 paper, Theory of the Earth,
which led to the "uniformitarianism" approach of 19th century science).  On a
practical level, metal required mining ore by hand, with stone tools, and
usually under extremely dangerous conditions.  The horrors of recent mining
are well known, but the suffering endured in ancient times can only be

    The early Bronze Age site of Kestel in the Taurus Mountains region of
Turkey provides a clear example of ancient mining techniques.  Kestel, which
may have begun as a gold mine, was a source of cassiterite, a tin-bearing ore.
Tin, of course, became a necessity once it was learned that the addition of a
small ammount of tin to copper produced the superior-strength 'bronze',
harder and more durable than pure copper.

     More often choosing to enlarge upon existing caves and natural fissures,
as at Kestel, rather than randomly "sink a shaft" into the side of a hill or
mountain, ancient miners selected their sites with a number of factors in mind,
chief of which was a nearby source of plentiful wood.  A forest was essential
for the making of charcoal, used in the smelting process, and tree-sap or pitch
was required as flammable material which served both to illuminate and to
assist in the fires which were set to heat the bare rock (a subterranean rock
face was heated by fire, then suddenly cooled with water, facilitating easier
removal of ore).  Readily noticeable at Kestel, as at many other mining sites
around the world, is the narrowness of a great many of the deepest 'shafts'.
Such places would only have been reachable by children...

     Children have often been (and in some places are still) regarded as
expendable commodities.  Were the ancient mines the basis for the
mythological Hell?  Maybe, it's difficult to assert as anything more than a
possibility.  We will never know the extent of ancient horrors, but we are
capable of encountering the same child abuse today.  Hell still exists for many
children and if some whack Christians want to bring about the apocalypse and
UNCOVER HELL, I'd say ...sure!

     Today in India there are an estimated 17 to 90 million children who work
against their will.  India, the modern nation that it is, recognizes that
approximately 0.24% of child labor is involved with mining and quarrying.
Whether one excepts a low number (put out by the Indian government) or the
high number (offered by UNICEF), we are confronted with between 7 and 35
thousand children currently in Hell.  Smoke.  Fire.  Underground.

     The mythological Hell has been variously placed in Cleveland, the surface
of the Sun, and the center of the Earth.  I'll leave the exact location up to the
mythographers and wish them luck finding it.  The real Hell that exists for
abused children is known.  Doing something about it would seem the next
logical step.  Apocalypse Now!

[For more on the Kestel tin-mine, click here.  For a pic of a real Hell, click
here.  Learn more about child labor here, and see the Indian figures for
yourself here.]

still smoking,

Return to Main