The electrical significance of Zeus, the lord of the thunderbolt, is well known; that of caves is almost equally important, if less appreciated and less dramatic. We have in the cave stories an attempt to explain the fact that electrical phenomena appear to arise not only from the sky but also from the earth, or from under the earth. Lightning at night was believed by the Romans to be caused by Summanus, a god who may be Pluto, god of the underworld. The name Summanus suggests the Manes or Di Manes, the Good Ones, spirits of the departed. The name would be suitable not only for a form of Zeus, but also for Poseidon, Velchanos, or Dionysus, all of whom were associated with lightning, and with subterranean thunder. There will be more later about Dionysus and his close relationship with Zeus.
There are various accounts of the birth and upbringing of Zeus. According to one version he was brought up on the island of Naxos, where he had the name of Zeus Melosios. Another is that he was actually born in Crete.
According to Antoninus Liberalis, Rhea gave birth to Zeus in a Cretan cave, and every year the blood from his birth was seen as a fiery glow coming from the cave. Bees were present, and four men in bronze armour took some of the honey. When they saw Zeus's swaddling clothes, their armour cracked, and Zeus aimed a thunderbolt at them. Fate and Themis intervened and restrained Zeus. The four men became birds.
The presence of the bees calls to mind the Egyptian habit of associating phenomena with those living creatures that seem to possess the relevant characteristics, in this case the hissing and buzzing caused by electricity, such as the sounds heard by mountaineers before an electrical storm high up on a peak, especially on a rock ridge. There may also be a connection between honey and the stories from the north and from Palestine and Persia of the descent of a sweet substance from the sky, manna or honey rain.
The Cretans worshipped Zeus under the name of Velchanos. This name resembles the name of the Roman god of fire, Vulcan. But when one thinks of the importance of the cave in the stories of the infant Zeus, there is a temptation to see in the name Velchanos the root pel, rock or cave. Grimm's law helps one to see here the German Felsen, crag. It is probable also that the name Velchanos has the Egyptian ka as a component. The name Velchanos would be most appropriate for the electrical deity of caves in rock peaks.
The Cretans were unusual in worshipping a Zeus who not only was born in Crete, as opposed to being reared in Crete, but who also died there, at Iuktas. That the chief of the gods, who, according to Homer, live for ever, should have died, calls for comment.
The association with rocks and caves indicates that the Cretans were aware of the piezoelectric effects in split rocks and caves, and lightning strikes on rocky peaks, at times of violent storms and earthquakes, together with earthquake light. The latter, which is the subject of recent research by Japanese and American scientists, would be detected by a hoopoe, or by a quail, whose Greek name, ortux, means 'the one who finds the light'. Ortygia was a name of the island of Delos, the birthplace of a god closely associated with light, Apollo. Its name implies 'where the light happens' or 'quail land'. Piezoelectric effects would gradually fade away through electrical leakage as things settled down after periods of major disturbance such as affected the ancient world generally. The Zeus who lived in the sky continued to brandish the lightning bolt, either in the forked form that we see close to earth, or in the almond shape of the plasmoid for long range interplanetary exchanges [Greek amygdale, almond, is the 'sceptre of the god above']. The Zeus Velchanos, the Zeus of the caves and split rocks, gradually faded away. Perhaps the ritual uprooting of the sacred tree in a dance symbolises the failure of the poros, the column of holy fire from sky to earth.
Several places in Crete claimed to be the home of the infant Zeus Velchanos. Hesiod suggests Goat's Mountain. This is probably Dikte, where there is a cave, Psychro. The Idaean cave on Psiloriti, the Kamares cave near Phaestos, and Arkalochori, near Lyktos, are among the candidates. The name Psychro suggests a flow of electrical life.
The name Kamares may have ka and ar as components. Arkalochori has several possibilities. The Greek lochos is a hiding place; or is a Semitic word meaning light, or skin, and resembles ar, the electrical fire god.
The cave at Arkalochori contained miniature double axes in gold and silver, and other weapons.
In the Psychro cave a fragment of a jar was found, decorated with a leaping goat. Goats were thought to be more than usually sensitive to electrical fields, or rather to the presence of a deity. They were responsible, through their strange movements and sounds, for the discovery by the goatherd Koretas of the conditions at Delphi [Pytho] that were favourable for the 'inspiration' of a Sibyl or 'unveiler'. The Latin caper, goat, may be 'ka container'; compare the German Kaefer, beetle, and the Egyptian scarab.
Ornamental shields have been found in the Idaean cave, with decoration pointing to Oriental influence. They reflect the presence of Curetes, youths who clashed their spears on their shields to drown the cries of the infant Zeus.
Consideration of the cult of the Zeus worshipped in hill-top
shrines, and of the Zeus Velchanos of the rocks and caves, leads
one to the god Dionysus. He closely resembles Zeus, being
associated with subterranean thunder, fire on peaks,
earthquakes, caves and lightning, as readers of the Bacchae of
Euripides will remember. This will also bring us back to
Ariadne, who was, amongst other things, a Cretan goddess
closely associated with the earth, the vine and animals. She will
be considered in greater detail later.