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Mystical Cave

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Many primeval cultures, especially earth-worshiping ones, considered caves sacred places. Sometimes this was because a particular cave was impressive or large. Sometimes it was because caves have a certain air of mystery, created by their silence and dark yet sheltering structure. Sometimes it was because of their resemblance to certain feminine parts.

In any case, this tradition has carried over into secular stories. Many fictional shrines and tombs are situated in caves, whether natural or expanded. Expect vast amounts of candles, which may also account for caves' popularity- bare rock isn't much of a fire hazard. Creepier caves generally have Glowing Flora instead, and may be an entrance or exit to The Underworld. Beware of any Portal to the Pasts that may be nearby. A Mystical Cave is often a Cave Behind the Falls, and/or the home of a Hermit Guru.

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Hellgates are their own trope.


Examples:

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    Films — Animation 
  • Aladdin has the Cave of Wonders, a cavern filled with luxuries and magical artifacts. It rises inexplicably out of the desert sands and has an entrance shaped like a tiger's head. It is also sentient and can collapse itself when displeased.
  • In Balto: Wolf Quest, Aleu finds her spirit guide in a watery cave. Illumination is provided by the collection of color-refracting crystals he's arranging, which also create the "Who You Really Are" sequence's nightmarish backdrop. (Hey, no one said vision quests were nice.)

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the Star Wars film The Empire Strikes Back, Luke's studies on Dagobah culminate in a hallucinatory confrontation in a cave with the dark side of the Force.
  • In Palm Springs, the time loop is triggered by characters wandering into a cave, implying the cave has some magical property that isn't further explained.

    Literature 
  • In Clan Ground, the cultists of the Red Tongue (fire, which has a hypnotic effect on the Named) base themselves in a cave where they can be with it all the time. The cave is something of a proto-church, filled with oration and frenzied dancing around the bonfire that they've given themselves up to. But neither the cave nor the Red Tongue are really divine, as Ratha proves when she digs a hole through the cave roof and diverts a river to extinguish its flame. After that subversion of the trope, the Named still respect the Red Tongue as a dangerous tool, but they never mistake it for something higher than them again.
  • In Woof Woof Story, it's not the cave that's mystical, but the ancient giant dragon dwelling within it. It does have rare wyrmnil grass that cures sicknesses, but that's only because wyrmnil grows from dragon pee.
  • In the Jackie French book Oracle, supposed Human Sacrifices are tied up and left in a cave. What the sacrificers don't know is that the cave opens up into a peaceful valley, a land of plenty where unwanted daughters can live free from persecution. Men are not allowed to go through the cave even with a guide, because the valley is consecrated to Demeter; women who leave the valley can never return. This cave foreshadows the Oracle of Delphi that the protagonists later found.
  • Warrior Cats
    • The cave Mothermouth houses a giant crystal below a hole in its roof. At moonhigh, a beam of light illuminates the crystal; if cats touch it during this time, they fall asleep and their souls wake up in StarClan, where they can receive visions and messages from their ancestors. While the Clans still lived in the forest, it was traditional that every apprentice make the (day-long) trek to Mothermouth before they became a full warrior. Of course, humans only see Mothermouth as a derelict old mine.
    • SkyClan, being distant from the forest, has its own sacred place. The Cave Of Whispers, so called because of the faint voices that echo off its walls, serves both as a place where medicine cats can meet StarClan and a source of oddly glowing moss (valuable for bandaging wounds and carrying water to invalids). Only when someone falls asleep in the cave do the voices become loud enough to recognize- they're of SkyClan ancestors.
    • The Tribe of Rushing Water lives in a waterfall cave among mountains. Most of the cave is set aside for mundane purposes (dens, storage, etc), but at the back there's a small hidden room where water forms a still pool. The Tribe's leader sees omens in this pool.
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    Live-Action TV 
  • In Merlin, the Crystal Cave is an underground complex that's located in the Valley of the Fallen Kings and filled with hundreds of sparkling white crystals. It was here that magic itself began, so sorcerers and other beings of the Old Religion deeply revere it. The crystals themselves contain all information of the past, present and future, which a powerful sorcerer can gain if the cave chooses to share its secrets.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Warhammer, the Kislevites believe that caves where the biggest bears have lived are sacred. They often build shrines within them, leaving fish and meat there as offerings to Ursun, the Bear God.

    Video Games 
  • Dragon Quest IX's grotto system randomly generates a dungeon with one of multiple bosses, each of which is an aspect of God, who yields a treasure map leading to a new grotto once defeated.
  • In Dust: An Elysian Tail, all water in the underground village of Mudpot comes from a spring deep in the Cirromon Caverns, where the goddess Lady Tethys lives.
  • In Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future, the lost shard of Compassion fell into a place that would later be named the Caverns of Hope. The first dolphin who found it thought he would keep it all to himself, but its power seeped into him, changing him into someone who wanted to share its joy with other creatures. Now the Caverns of Hope are the base of La Résistance- the only dolphins close to being "whole" in their timeline. As is typical of the trope, the Caverns are protected by strong currents and spike-hurling guards...who stop attacking Ecco once he's swum past their posts, implying they merely want to test his determination.
  • In Echo Secrets Of The Lost Cavern, properly maintained cave paintings move, animated by spirits. Some paintings are just to help humans navigate difficult terrain or provide historical exposition, but all those at Lascaux- the protagonist's destination- exist as a paean to the natural world. Entering Lascaux, much less working on it, is an honor that no character takes lightly.
  • In Escape Lala, the setting's purgatory takes the form of a cave, where people's spirits go after death. To ascend into Lala's Fluffy Cloud Heaven, they must complete a series of tests that can only be passed by pure souls.
  • Horizon Zero Dawn:
    • The Nora tribe built a village around Mother's Cradle, a vast cave that only Matriarchs are allowed to enter. According to legend, it is the place where the Goddess struck down the Metal Devil and restored peace to the world. It is the only temple to Her in existence, and adorned with all the ritual tools and furniture the tribe can afford. It is also an archaeological site of staggering importance, centered around a blast-proof door locked with modern technology. Only The Chosen One has a chance of opening it.
    • In the arctic Cut, aspiring shamans must climb the Shaman's Path to prove themselves worthy of the role. The Path winds through and around the freezing Icerasps mountain range, incorporating many ruins of the Old Ones and marked by Banuk windchimes. It doesn't just require physical strength, either; several parts of the trail are hard to find or seem hidden within dead ends at first, and vicious, invisible Stalker machines consider the cave their territory. At the top is a vein of precious Bluegleam ore, and the personal dwelling of Ourea which is also a terminal for the advanced A.I (or in Banuk terms, spirit) CYAN, who takes up residence there after plot events.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, the Light Spirit Lanayru dwells in a cavern within Lake Hylia.
  • In Logical Journey of the Zoombinis takes place in an entirely underground ruin, underneath the mountain range sheltering Zoombiniville. The puzzles force entrants to file in one-by-one, match themselves to changing projections on crystals, and float across a dark chasm. Why? It's never explained, because the ruin is also the only region with no NPCs of any kind...but the fact that Bubblewonder Abyss demands specifically Zoombini traits indicates that either they used to live there, or that the Abyss is a sentient being that rearranges itself to suit entrants' species.
  • In The Longest Journey, the bantu people have a Sacred Dig, a natural cave where bantu undergo their rite of passage. When a person (bantu or otherwise) sleeps in the Dig, they may be awoken by the spirits- who illuminate their deepest fears, but also their highest hopes and aspirations.
  • In Ōkami, when certain individuals pass through the torii gate to Konohana, they see a glowing portal nestled within the tree. Entering it takes them to a celestial island beside the River of the Heavens. Those who go around the gate see only a shrine to Nagi, carefully fitted between two of Konohana's vast roots.
  • In Pathologic 2, the goddess Mother Boddho's body combines both geological and biological traits, as Artemy discovers when he goes into an cave underneath the town and emerges in a gigantic blood vein that leads to her flesh Heart. Luckily, the well being dug in Vlad Jr's house allows Artemy to get back out again.
  • Pokémon;
    • Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire has the Cave of Origin in Sootopolis City, which people from the city are forbidden from entering. It's important to the version's Legendary Pokemon, who can be seen battling outside it in Emerald. In Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, it's even more important to the version's Legendary, being the one place where they can attain their primal reversions once more.
    • In Pokémon Gold and Silver, the Dragon's Den is a cave within the mountains of Joto. It has immense spiritual significance to the clan of dragon-tamers in Blackthorn City; players are not even allowed to enter it until they've proven their worth by defeating the city's gym leader, Clair. Inside the Den, a Hermit Guru lives on an island shrine in the center of an underground lake. It is one of just two places in the game where Dratini can be found.
  • Six Ages has several examples, most related to the earth goddess Nyalda/Ernalda.
    • In Inilla's heroquest, she can prove her parentage by descending with Nyalda into a cave. This variant of the myth tests the quester's magic stat.
    • The tribe's explorers can physically meet Nyalda if they search a particular cave on the overworld map.
    • In Rider culture, the process of initiating girls into full womanhood involves them being "reborn from the dreaming cave", like some real-world Aborigine tribes. Because Riders constantly migrate, this cave (no plurals are used) is probably metaphorical or situated in the astral plane.
  • Touhou Project:
    • Touhou Chireiden ~ Subterranean Animism: Former Hell is a massive cavern that used to house Gensokyo's Hell. Then the latter was moved because of overpopulation, and Former Hell became a place for youkai considered pariahs even in Gensokyo.
    • Touhou Kouryuudou ~ Unconnected Marketeers: The Rainbow Dragon Cave is a mine for mystical items like Dragon Gems, Izanagi Objects (which can be refined into magatama that read minds and store memories), and the Ability Cards (that copy people's abilities).
  • In Wasteland 3, there is a "Mysterious Cave" in the far northwest corner of the map of Colorado that will only reveal itself if you find the Owl of Minerva and have The Provost in your party. Entering the cave, you will encounter a cult of mysterious worshipers chanting a prayer in Latin to Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom. At the end of the ritual, all of the cultists and The Provost suddenly disappear, leaving many unanswered questions, and all your party members inexplicably gaining a +1 boost to perception.
  • World of Warcraft has Candle Rock, the biggest of many kobold-inhabited caves. Inside it, the "Bluewax" kobold group have built a giant candle bigger than a car and many normal ones to keep a monster made of pure darkness at bay.

    Webcomics 
  • In Digger, the titular wombat encounters several of these caves. Most of them were naturally formed, because her species would never build a cave for non-pragmatic purposes, and the local surface-dwellers aren't too interested in earth-delving.
    • The cave that hyena exile Ed lives in is cosy, complete with a firepit and sandy floor. Over the years, he has covered its walls with paintings depicting hyena culture and memories Ed wants to remember- Digger is noticeably touched when, upon her return, she sees a picture of herself in the cave. Ed explains that he uses his art there as a way of affirming his identity and connecting with future people- to immortalize himself. Digger replies that wombats practice burrowing for the same reason.
    • After the hyena god He-Is fell from grace, he and Sweetgrass-Voice fled to a cave very deep underground, a dark, dank place filled with stalactites and demonic cultists. He-Is died there, in a way, but remained awake for centuries...suffering. He is finally silenced by Ed, a descendant of his who knows how it feels to be alone, has no fondness for abusers, and has made his peace with the sexual dimorphism that seeded doubt in He-Is's mind so long ago. After that the cave becomes a normal one, much to the relief of the monks living above it.

    Web Original 
  • SCP Foundation describes SCP-2935, a cave in Indiana that leads to a parallel universe where every living thing died instantly on April 20th, 2016. Like most SCPs, the cave cannot be explained scientifically.
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    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender has the Cave of Two Lovers, a labyrinthine network of tunnels under Omashu that serves as an alternate route to Serpent's Pass. It was created by a pair of earthbending Star-Crossed Lovers to keep their affair secret, and according to legend can only be traversed if you "let love guide you." When travellers discard their torches and allow themselves to be plunged into darkness, the gemstones embedded in the cavern walls start to glow, marking the path the lovers took through the mountain to find each other. (It also passes through a magnificent gem-studded chamber, which was probably their meeting spot.) Aesop learned.
  • In ThunderCats (1985), the Cave of Time accelerates the aging of whoever's in it. Dangerous, but it's also the antidote and counterpart to another supernatural landmark, the Fountain of Youth.

    Real Life 
  • Many of the caves where Christian saints lived are considered this trope. They vary drastically in appearance: some caves were weather-beaten niches intended for one isolated ascetic, others were vast underground systems that saints built entire monasteries within. Many such caves are now pilgrimage sites and have places of worship inside or near them, the Monasteries of the Kiev Caves and the Pskov Caves being two examples.
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