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October 31, 2002

Learning from Las Vegas


Wandering around Las Vegas last weekend I ended up spending quite a while walking through various casinos on my way somewhere else. As you may have guessed, I’m not a gambler and I generally don’t “get” the whole gambling scene. My wife asked me at one point if I wanted to bet on the World Series, and laughed at me when I explained that I had neither inside information on the two teams nor any control over their behavior, so, no, I didn’t want to bet.

But during my visit, the dimly lit, entirely enclosed, weatherless spaces of the casinos--filled with the glow of slot machines--kept reminding me of something. Finally, it dawned on me what it was: I was remembering a photograph I had seen of the deep interior of the Egyptian temple Abu Simbel.

Innermost Shrine Lit by Glowing Gods (Egypt) and Glowing Slot Machines (Vegas)

The picture had been on the web site “Sacred Places” by Christopher L.C.E. Witcombe of Sweet Briar College, which I had looked at while writing a previous posting. When I got home, I went back online and reread his description of Abu Simbel.

The actual interior of the temple is inside the cliff in the form of a man-made cave cut out of the living rock (cf. The Sacred Cave). It consists of a series of halls and rooms extending back a total of 185 feet from the entrance..[where one finds] the innermost shrine with seated statues of the gods Ptah, Amun-Ra, the deified Ramses II, and Re-Horakhte. The most remarkable feature of the site is that the temple is precisely oriented so that twice every year, on 22 February and 22 October, the first rays of the morning sun shine down the entire length of the temple-cave to illuminate the back wall of the innermost shrine and the statues of the four gods seated there…

Following his link to the “sacred cave” I came across this:

Caves are ambiguous spaces, offering both protection and shelter but can also trap and imprison. Because of its location within the earth, which many cultures have identified as female, the cave has been identified as the womb of Mother Earth, and associated with birth and regeneration…

That sounded a lot like a Vegas casino, all right—womb and tomb all in one dimly lit location.

Besides naturally occurring caves, artificial caves were dug into mountains…Often the mountain itself was also artificial. The pyramids in Egypt were man-made sacred mountains inside of which were created artificial caves…

"Man-made sacred mountains" reminded me of Las Vegas’ Luxor casino, which is shaped like a pyramid, and which I had been walking past every day.

Abu Simbel (Egypt) and Luxor Casino (Vegas)

So let’s see if I can read the riddle of a Vegas casino: we’re talking about a sacred cave [the casino] in the middle of the desert, buried beneath an artificial sacred mountain [hotel], in which un-foreseeable units of good and bad fortune, of death and regeneration, are handed out on the mysterious authority of a card deck. Gee, do you think this Las Vegas gambling thing is yet another religious experience disguised as…a game? Maybe it’s not so hard to understand gambling after all.



posted by Friedrich at October 31, 2002


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