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Read Robert's article "Wisdom of the ancients" as published in The Sunday Times on 17th February 2002

NETHERWORLD film for British and American television.


A one hour documentary entitled DESCENT INTO HELL has been made based upon Robert Temple's book NETHERWORLD (U.S. title Oracles of the Dead). The production company was Mentorn in London. Robert was the Producer, Writer, and Presenter, and Olivia was the Production Consultant. The director was Alastair Reid, whose television drama series are well known, including TRAFFIK, TALES OF THE CITY, and NOSTROMO. The film has appeared several times on the National Geographic Channel. Filming for the documentary took place in Greece and Italy. Photos of the production in progress are online. Click here to view them.

NETHERWORLD is about foretelling the future, - something which humanity has always wanted to do, and which we still wish we could do. I like to say that the efforts to know in advance what is going to happen are 'the underside of history'. Historians are often embarrassed to mention these things, but I thought it was time the story of divination was dragged out of the closet and given a good airing.

I start by a visit to hell. The ancient Greek 'hell', known as Hades, actually existed as a huge artificial replica deep underground near the earliest Greek colony in western Italy, at Baia. It even had an artificial River Styx hundreds of feet underground across which people were rowed in a small boat, to consult the spirits of the dead. In May 2001 I became the first person living to re-enter this eerie ancient underground site, known as the Oracle of the Dead. Netherworld reproduces many colour photos of this amazing and intact site deep below the surface of the earth. The subterranean corridors run for more than a fifth of a mile, cut out of the solid rock. It is estimated that the Romans devoted 30,000 man-hours carrying soil into the site in an attempt to block up this terrifying Oracle, already hundreds of years old in their time, but now at last it has been possible to explore and report this underground complex which was sealed 2000 years ago. The account of the Oracle of the Dead is an archaeological revelation.

But I carry the study of these phenomena much further. I discuss many oracles, signs and portents, divination techniques, presages, omens, and some of the ancient 'tricks of the trade', including some which have never before been known.

In the latter half of the book I turn to the divination techniques of the ancient Chinese, explaining the fundamental natural phenomena underlying the system of the I Ching (Book of Change) and incorporated also in the 'oracle bones' divination system of the Shang Dynasty circa 1400 BC. I show that the Chinese proto-scientists of these early times had made profound observations about nature, which may actually render prediction possible, since they uncovered some fundamental aspects of natural processes. I demonstrate that if one follows these insights through to their logical conclusions by considering the latest work at the frontiers of science, a new picture of the physical world emerges, where events may even have structure like that of physical matter, so that their outcome in some cases may be foreseen.

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