8 Chapter 8. Why they Went and Why We Continue to Go

Introduction

I gave examples of what the great religious figures are said to have experienced on the mountains and why they went up in the first place. Some seemed to be searching for an experience (Buddha, Mohammed). Some, like Moses, were, as it is said, called.[1] I also showed that these major figures were, in the stories, followed to the mountains by their disciples, and, that later, the multitudes flocked to the mountains on pilgrimages. It is now time to examine why these “ordinary” people, filed up the mountain by the thousands, actually, by the millions. What were they looking for? What did they hope to find on the mountains (aside from the feelings of conquest and exhilaration)? If we can answer this question we will have a better idea of why ordinary, contemporary people dream of climbing mountains.

The religious reasons people went to mountains can be divided roughly into three categories corresponding to the types of gods who lived there: Some went to meet the Protector gods (associated with rock or earth), some to the Provider gods (associated with water), and some went to meet the Instructor gods (associated with the light of the sun and of fire).

Asking for protection

As the sun (fire, light) is associated with instruction and water is associated with provision, the rock or hard-earth quality of the mountain is associated with protection.

The most detailed examples come from the Navajo. As I said in Chapter 4, prayers were given to Monster Slayer and Born-for-Water for protection, “for setting aside misfortune.” They were the gods “overlooking and protecting the area in a wondrous-miraculous way.”[2]

These prayers were apparently often given in response to specific and immediate crises by ordinary people. As we might go to a friend or an older brother, the Navajos went to the mountain.

The people were saying “something is bothering our livestock.” Now they say “something comes and makes a sound and we wait (to see what happens).” … And so they decided to go up to the top of Navajo Mountain to make an offering. (Luckert, p. 132, Buster Hasten Nez)

I already mentioned how the Navajo asked the mountains for protection “for and on behalf of our Navajo soldiers; and many of their lives were spared. And this is its special function and use” (Luckert, pp. 52-53).

Asking for provisions

People also went to ask for water and everything indirectly connected with it: agriculture and animal life, wealth, health, and success in all sorts of human affairs.

Image 1. Minoan fresco, seemingly showing a peak sanctuary, Akrotiri, Santorini, Greece. Photographer not given. (title by author)
Image 1. Minoan fresco, seemingly showing a peak sanctuary, Akrotiri, Santorini, Greece. Photographer not given. (title by author)

To start with we can mention the innumerable situations where people went up the mountains to influence the weather. The oldest mountain ritual we have pictured is on a wall painting in a preserved house on the Mediterranean island of Thera from somewhere just before 1500 BCE. Here we have portrayed what, according to Iakovidis, is probably a “ritual scene performed by people wearing the appropriate clothes and making the appropriate gestures and noises on a site suitable to their purpose.”

The author concludes,

The fresco shows clearly that this site is the top of a hill, i.e., a high place of worship or, to employ the term current among Aegean archaeologists, a peak sanctuary. Before setting out on a distant and hazardous expedition, the captains and the crews of the ships pay a visit to such a sanctuary, where they are shown holding a ceremony during which some of them, perhaps those who customarily did so, clap their hands in order to establish the quiet necessary to begin the ceremony, or, more probably, to draw the attention of the local deity who, being in all probability a weather god, would be asked to assist them on their journey by providing favorable weather conditions. (Iakovidis, 1981, pp. 57-58)

We have good records of at least three separate Aztec ceremonies to the rain god on the mountains. Bernardino de Sahagún wrote that during a festival called Tepeilhuitl (mountain feast) for the rain god Tlaloc “they celebrated feasts in honor of the eminent mountains which existed in all those places of New Spain where the clouds engendered; they made an image in human form of each one of them.” These images were made of an amaranth seed dough (Broda, 1987, p. 92). These images had “faces painted with liquid rubber” and wore dresses of rubber-spattered papers with feathers (Couch, 1985, p. 55).

Image 2. Fragments of a brazier depicting Tlaloc from Stage IVB of the Templo Mayor in Mexico City [Mexico]. Photo by Thelmadatter, graphically enhanced by Maunus.
Image 2. Fragments of a brazier depicting Tlaloc from Stage IVB of the Templo Mayor in Mexico City [Mexico]. Photo by Thelmadatter, graphically enhanced by Maunus.

Broda tells of a second ritual for the mountain rain gods. Many idols were placed along the walls inside a dark temple, the Tlilan, near the big pyramid.

Just as in Tlaloc’s sanctuary high up on Mount Tlaloc, these idols were representations of mountains. They were called tectuacuiltin (sculptured images, statues) and were dressed in paper garments and insignia decorated with liquid rubber.

She then quotes Diego Durán.

When they decided to celebrate any particular feast to these small idols, … for it was their day, or because they needed their help, then they fetched them from there [the Tlillan] and carried them in a procession to the mountain or cave which bore their name, and there … they brought them their ordinary sacrifices and offerings, invoking that mountain that it should favor them in [their needs] …, because of lack of water, a plague or famine, or a future warfare. Having finished the ceremony, they immediately took [the idols] back to the temple and placed them where they usually stood. (Broda, p. 92)

And the third ceremony we have on record was Atemoztli (“descent of water“), a dry season festival that corresponded to Tepeilhuitl.

Durán gives the clearest explanation of this feast for Tlaloc in the dry season: “the purpose of this feast was a plea for water in the springtime”. … This feast was analogous to Tepeilhuitl, in that images of mountains were made of dough, but differed in that it was a feast for the upper classes. Multiple images were made, particularly by those who had made vows to do so, and rich offerings were made to them. These offerings were also sacrificed; they were stabbed with weaving sticks and decapitated, after which a feast took place (Sahagún). (Couch, pp. 56-57)

Well documented also is the Navajo method of pleading with the rain gods. “At the very top of Navajo Mountain are some places at which one should give prayers and offerings. … There is especially one place. … This place was used in connection with the Moisture-pleading-way.”

Image 3. Astronaut's satellite photo of Navajo Mountain and environs. Located in southeast Utah (left-south slope in Arizona). San Juan River goosenecks in upper right, Lake Powell at top. In the physiographic Canyon Lands Section [USA]. Photo by ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and the Image Science & Analysis Group, Johnson Space Center.
Image 3. Astronaut’s satellite photo of Navajo Mountain and environs. Located in southeast Utah (left-south slope in Arizona). San Juan River goosenecks in upper right, Lake Powell at top. In the physiographic Canyon Lands Section [USA]. Photo by ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and the Image Science & Analysis Group, Johnson Space Center.

However, this place is no longer used, because it is where the radio tower has been built “at the very top and on the crown of the Head of Earth.” They could no longer place their offerings or say their prayers there, “because the prescribed way is to place cornpollen at the crown of the Head, as well as above and across the crown. And that is where the tower is now.”[3]

That these rituals for rain were sincerely believed, even in current times, can be seen in the following account by Buster Hastiin Nez, who participated in the ritual activity that he was describing. We are told that he and a few others went up and arrived at the top at noon to a place where some water was in a depression.

The place of the water was about the size of a wagon. That is where we made our offering, at the place where offerings had been left for a long time and where (many traces of) … offerings could be found. We placed ours with those offerings, so that we might have things like plants and crops to grow on the Earth and to multiply. We went there to have good things. (my bold)

We had come back not even a mile when clouds formed. We heard thunder, and it rained on us. And it rained all the way down and then all the way home. (Luckert, p. 133)

Another highly symbolic ritual took place at Omiya Sengen, the big temple at the top of Fujiyama. At this ceremony the Imperial House was represented.

On the seventh day of the seventh month, a picturesque festival was the field-planting festival, in which two fields, one known as man-field, one as woman-field, were ceremonially planted. A procession of eight maidens, singing the ancient planting songs, set out the seedlings. Seedlings planted by these girls were eagerly sought and carried to one’s own field, where they caused increased crops. (Starr, 1924, pp. 128-129 — “Today it is believed that horses, as soon as they enter the shrine precincts, are immediately cured of any ailment from which they may be suffering.”)

Image 4. Kangchengyao [Kangchenjunga] mountain range in Northern Sikkim, east of Thanggu. Photo by Carsten.nebel.
Image 4. Kangchengyao [Kangchenjunga] mountain range in Northern Sikkim, east of Thanggu. Photo by Carsten.nebel.

A final example of a massive public appeal to a mountain for good luck with crops and animals is the Kangchenjunga War-Dance, a Mystery-Play “officially presented by the State of Sikkim in worship of Kangchenjunga.” It is executed by Sikkimese Lamas supervised by the Maharaja “for the purpose of appealing to the deities of Kangchenjunga and of the Snowy Range to expel from Sikkim all evil and to bless its people and their herds and crops during the coming year.”[4]

Image 5. Statue of Samantabhadra, Bodhisattva [Chinese Pu-hsein?] on Emei Shan [= Mount Emei], with his six-tusked elephants. Photo by Mike Lowell. (title amended by author)
Image 5. Statue of Samantabhadra, Bodhisattva [Chinese Pu-hsein?] on Emei Shan [= Mount Emei], with his six-tusked elephants. Photo by Mike Lowell. (title amended by author)

It will be remembered that the water from the mountain allows the crops and herds to thrive and for the people to live, be healthy, multiply, and become successful in their many endeavors. This can be summed up with regards to Mount Emei: “From here the merciful light of Pu-hsien shines upon all the world. … It is here that all petitions are answered.”[5]

On the most personal level, each person went to the mountain for his or her own reason. We are told why people came to Mount Emei:

Merchants come to pray for business prosperity,/
Officers civil and military make offerings for continued promotions,/
And pray for increase of riches by water and land./
Here the hard-worked students pray for fame of the scholar;/
With pure hands all place the burning incense in the urns,/
And the gold ingots and silver money commit to the flames,/
With the hope that old Buddha much assistance will give,/
That the whole family may be unsullied and enjoy perfect peace. (Hart, pp. 269-270 — taken from the Buddhist “guidebook”)

Asking for instruction

The sun was a great symbol as well as a physical necessity for life. It fell upon the hands of the kings and high priests to insure that it continued to shine every day. The sun seemed to be connected with the high mountains, and so it was natural for these men to perform their sun rituals on the mountains.

In Ireland there was a hill called Tara on which the pre-Christian kings lived.

The king, as representative of the divinity that kept the fire of the sun alight, was naturally bound to maintain a perpetual fire at Tara, and to cause it to blaze up and to be the source of all common fires. (Macalister, 1931, p. 167)

The reader will notice the connection between the sun and the “common fires.” The sun was nourished by the fire kept by the king on the hill. Then the fire was apparently spread around the land into the hearth of each household.

The hearth fire had religious use as well as being used for cooking. In ancient Greece, the Delphic oracle was the universal hearth. In the Popol Vuh, as I mentioned before, there is a mountain associated with a god who gives advice. To this day people go to the mountain (Place of Advice) to ask their questions. On the top they burn candles and copal, small fires that seem to encourage the mood and the projection. Oracles were also common, even endemic, to the mountains of Japan until recently when roads and tramways and televised rites seem to have ended the practice forever. (For a detailed description of oracles on the hills and mountains of Japan, some of them including fire rituals, see Blacker, 1986, Chapters 13-14.)

Image 6. Stone etched with the symbol of the "new fire" or beginning of the 52 year cycle on the Aztec calendar. It is also inscribed with the dates 1 rabbit and 2 serpent. On display at the Palace of Cortes, Cuernavaca, Mexico. Photo by AlejandroLinaresGarcia.
Image 6. Stone etched with the symbol of the “new fire” or beginning of the 52 year cycle on the Aztec calendar. It is also inscribed with the dates 1 rabbit and 2 serpent. On display at the Palace of Cortes, Cuernavaca, Mexico. Photo by AlejandroLinaresGarcia.

The extent to which a people would go to insure the renewal of the sun can be seen in a notorious ceremony that took place in the middle of the night (“when the night was divided in half”) on the Hill of the Star every 18,980 days (every fifty two years). This was the so-called New Fire Ceremony of the Aztecs. Davíd Carrasco describes this gruesome ceremony with quotes from Book VIII of the Florentine Codex. He says that the ceremony of the “fire priests

ensured the rebirth of the sun and the movement of the cosmos for another fifty-two years. This rebirth was achieved symbolically through the heart sacrifice of a brave warrior specifically chosen by the king. We are told that when the procession arrived “in the deep night” at the Hill of the Star, the populace climbed onto their roofs and “with unwavering attention and necks craned toward the hill became filled with dread that the sun would be destroyed forever.” It was thought that if fire could not be drawn, the demons of darkness would descend to eat men.

[As the Pleides] made a meridian transit, signaling that the movement of the heavens had not ceased, a small fire was started on the outstretched chest of a warrior. The text reads, “When a little fire fell, then speedily the priests slashed open the breast with a flint knife, seized the heart, and thrust it into the fire. In the open chest a new fire was drawn and the people could see it from everywhere.” The populace cut their ears, even the ears of children in cradles, the text tells us, “and spattered their blood in the ritual flicking of fingers in the direction of the fire on the mountain.” Then the new fire was taken down the mountain, carried to the pyramid temple … where it was placed in the fire holder of the statue of the god. Then messengers, runners, and fire priests who had come from everywhere took the fire back to the cities where the commonfolk, after blistering themselves with the fire, placed it in their homes, and “all were quieted in their hearts.” (1987, pp. 138-139)

Again we have the connection between the sun, fire, and the individual fires in individual households, and it is important to remember that the fear of being eaten by the “demons of darkness” has psychological meaning in addition to the simple fear of the dark and need for heat.[6]

Image 7. Detail of room two, showing wall, ceiling and loop holes. Gobernador Knob, the sacred emergence point of the Navajo, can also be seen from the site. This is a Pueblito, a small multi-roomed masonry dwelling found in the Navajo homeland, or Dinetah region of northwest New Mexico. Constructed between 1749 and 1753. — Gould Pass Pueblito, Carrizo Canyon, Dulce, Rio Arriba County, NM, USA). ... From the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) or Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS). These are programs of the National Park Service established for the purpose of documenting historic places. Records consist of measured drawings, archival photographs, and written reports.. (title edited by author)
Image 7. Detail of room two, showing wall, ceiling and loop holes. Gobernador Knob, the sacred emergence point of the Navajo, can also be seen from the site. This is a Pueblito, a small multi-roomed masonry dwelling found in the Navajo homeland, or Dinetah region of northwest New Mexico. Constructed between 1749 and 1753. — Gould Pass Pueblito, Carrizo Canyon, Dulce, Rio Arriba County, NM, USA). … From the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) or Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS). These are programs of the National Park Service established for the purpose of documenting historic places. Records consist of measured drawings, archival photographs, and written reports. (title edited by author)

The sun, close to the mountain peaks, that ignites the fire that is then brought down to the ordinary people is paralleled symbolically by the idea that certain trainees went up the mountain to learn (see the light), and then came down to spread what they had learned. The Navajo, Floyd Laughter, said that he went to the top of Gobernador Knob with his family, because “I used to go there with my father” but mostly

to renew our strength and to renew the covenants which he made (with the gods) with his cornpollen. And I thought that by renewing my own ties with the Holy People I could perform stronger and more efficacious ceremonies for those who ask me to be their singer.[7] (my bold)

Image 8. Kōshō Tateishi [yamabushi] in Kumano [Region, Japan]. Photo by 唐山健志郎.
Image 8. Kōshō Tateishi [yamabushi] in Kumano [Region, Japan]. Photo by 唐山健志郎.

We find a similar situation in 12th century Japan where the yamabushi (“one who lies down or sleeps in the mountains“) went on retreats to the mountains to master “magico-ascetic powers.” At the beginning the yamabushi (who were the mountain ascetics mentioned in the last chapter) were mostly unmarried mendicants. They were the practitioners (as opposed to the believers) with the

sole right to guideprovide lodging … later to distribute … charms or blessings … When they descended the mountain they visited their “parishioners” to administer blessings from the mountain or perform special services of healing and exorcism. … [They were] adept in a variety of purifications, formulas, and charms. [They utilized] religious power for every imaginable human need. … [They were trained] to meet the everyday crises of life, from childbirth to sickness to death. … Perhaps no other Japanese religious movement has become more deeply enmeshed in everyday life. … [They] performed funerals and memorials, purified homes at New Year’s and blessed the planting of rice.” (Earhart {1970, pp. 1-4}, and see Blacker {1986} for a discussion of Japanese mountain ritual)

Penance and self-knowledge of our sins

It is to the mountain that people went to examine their actions, thoughts, and feelings to resolve to lead better, more upright, more conscious lives. They went for self-reflection, repentance, and reformation. They went to see their lives as a whole — past, present, and future. They went to find a goal that would organize all their individual actions into a whole and make their actions shine with the mountain light. I heard of a contemporary Indian who, every once in a while, went to the top of a mountain, stripped naked, and asked the Great Spirit to show him what he has done wrong and the correct way to live. Writing this book seems to be for me, in part, a kind of penance as well as an offering.

The pilgrims who went up the mountains for penance were, for the most part, ordinary people who were participating in socially accepted (sometimes required) ritual climbs. They are to be distinguished from the religious geniuses and heroes who were pioneers and not pilgrims.

Image 9. Himalayas from Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh [India]. Photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/dainismatisons/.
Image 9. Himalayas from Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh [India]. Photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/dainismatisons/.

The very sight of certain mountains can reform us: “As the dew is dried up by the morning sun, so are the sins of the world are[sic] dried up at the sight of Himachal.”[8]

More often, however, people go up the mountains to cleanse themselves or repent. This is one of the most common ideas in the literature of mountain religion. We find it in the Bible when the Israelites

set out toward the crest of the hill country, saying, “We are prepared to go up to the place that the Lord has spoken of, for we were wrong.” (Numbers 14:40, though Moses forbade them to follow through)

Image 10. This is a birds-eye view of Tacoma, Washington looking northeast towards Mount Rainier [Mount Tacoma] in 1906. Photographer not given but has A. H. Barnes on photo.
Image 10. This is a birds-eye view of Tacoma, Washington looking northeast towards Mount Rainier [Mount Tacoma] in 1906. Photographer not given but has A. H. Barnes on photo.

We find it with the American Indians. Tacoma (Mount Ranier) was a safe place and place to do penance (Williams, 1910, p. 30). In China, pilgrims went to Tài Shān to do penance and acquire merit: “Thus we saw a well-dressed man kowtowing every two steps on the long route, that is knocking his head against the stones” (Mulligan & Hotchkiss, 1973, p. 6). Wǔtái Shān is associated with Wen-shu or Maijushri who acts for the “salvation of the Chinese.” In a stupa (a Buddhist religious structure) on the mountain there is a row of prayer-wheels on both of two floors which the pilgrim spins to

cancel [his or her] innumerable sins, in past and present incarnation[s]. … The number of indulgences thus totted up at each revolution may run to aeons of temporal remissions of our sins and yet fall short of Infinity leading to Nirvana, that final dissolution of selfishness prior to entry to the Pure Land of Bliss. (Mullikin & Hotchkis, pp. 82-84.

On Mount Kailash, for the Buddhists, regarding the circumambulation,

each circuit [represents] a single turn of the wheel of Life …, a progress through life to death and thence to rebirth. One circuit would atone for the sins of one life; ten circuits for those of an aeon; 108 circuits would secure Nirvana in this life.” (Snelling, p. 25)

Image 11. The path to the summit [of Mount Haguro, Yamagata Prefecture, Japan]. Photo by Crown of Lenten rose. (title edited by author)
Image 11. The path to the summit [of Mount Haguro, Yamagata Prefecture, Japan]. Photo by Crown of Lenten rose. (title edited by author)

The Mount Haguro sect of Shugendō insisted that enlightenment could come only in the mountains. They spoke of ten stages of enlightenment in the mountain. The moral quality of these stages is apparent if we look at the first six which were considered the most important. In stage one the trainee was to weigh his karma or evil conduct. This “often meant balancing the yamabushi over a precipice, in which position he was supposed to confess all his sins.” They actually did this physically and in reality.

Stages two through four were preparations for stage five which was the stage of repentance. Stage six was a “dance of long life.” The ten stages were seen as ten worlds and corresponded to ten actual spots on Mount Haguro. Psychologically these are ten stages of a psychological or inner process that was acted out on particular spots on a particular mountain.

The Mount Haguro rituals were divided into four Peaks or Seasons. In the Fall Peak the yamabushi went into the mountain (the “holy world”) for training. The whole ritual was highly formalized and involved, at one point, the lighting of a fire. One of the most significant parts of the ceremony occurred at the very end:

The [participants] were told to squat down, and at [the leader’s] signal all rose to a standing position, simultaneously shouting their birth-cry (ubu-goe). This was the decisive act portraying their rebirth, in fact, their birth from the mountain.[9]

This emphasizes the point that what is required on the mountain is not an intellectual exercise or a simple “Ah ha!” experience but a whole new and fresh attitude to life. It is like being born. This cannot be an undertaking for the fun of it. It involves a great effort and a great risk. And it dovetails with the motifs of mountain as place of Creation and as place of Creation of humankind.

Image 12. Wooden bridgewalk over the Crystal Stream, on the western slopes of Emei Shan [Mount Emei, Sichuan Province, China]. Photo by Ishai Bar (Headrock), selfmade, User Headrock on en.wikipedia. (title edited by author.
Image 12. Wooden bridgewalk over the Crystal Stream, on the western slopes of Emei Shan [Mount Emei, Sichuan Province, China]. Photo by Ishai Bar (Headrock), selfmade, User Headrock on en.wikipedia. (title edited by author)

The 19th century Buddhist “guidebook” to Mount Emei is worth quoting at length. In the following extract the moral purification sought by many of the pilgrims is apparent and psychological symbolism associated with various spots on the physical mountain is also laid bare. We are told that “to visit the mount and see Buddha the heart must be true” and that “the road to the top of the Hill of Liberation [Mount Emei] is difficult and dangerous.” However, if one braves it and continues up, he or she comes to a tower in a kind of garden of Eden in which lives the god Weito, “Protector of the Law and ruler of the mountain gate … a most intelligent god.” Moving still higher there is a place where the pilgrim is judged. There is a bridge (cf. the Kinvad bridge) he or she crosses, and a maiden is sent to lead one over (also as on the Kinvad bridge).

At the hill of Inspecting the Heart we took a good look,/
And in front of barred Devil Gate we were terrified,/
For the sentinels stood in ranks by the gate, fiercely chiding./
The judge and his little devils are never at rest;/
The good and evil in men’s hearts is here manifest./
The seven-armored spirit-virgins descended to this place;/
They came to meet the good and pilot them over the bridge,/
And they pass over with joyful steps./
Say-not, Here we will have merciful thoughts,/
For the bravest are disheartened at this place./
Every year unbelievers come to this spiritual mountain,/
Many men and women of insincere hearts;/
Of such, some have been bitten of snakes;/
Others, while on the journey, have been eaten of tigers;/
Some have gone mad and thrown themselves over the precipice/
Some have been taken away into space,/
Without a trace of their bodies to be found./
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
The echoes of fetters and chains are heard in the depths./
The good pass along with great joy,/
But when the wicked come they begin to repent./
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
The good men and believing women hasten on in the upward journey,/
Even to the gate of heaven with hearts sincere,/
For the Peck-measure-mouthed spirit-rulers sit at its gate,/
They separate the good from the evil, permitting the good to proceed./
Having entered this gate we are in a true Buddha land,/
And in a broad way which leads us straight on. (Hart, p. 258-270 — cf. Dante’sPurgatorio” and the Aztec place of purgation on Mount Popocatépetl)

This is clearly a description of a psychological process that can go on, and has in fact gone on, without a physical mountain.

Image 13. Statue of Coatlicue displayed in National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City [Mexico]. Photo by Luidger.
Image 13. Statue of Coatlicue displayed in National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City [Mexico]. Photo by Luidger.

In the mythology of mountains we find even the gods and mythic figures doing penance on the mountains. On the mythical(?) Mount Kassaya Parbat in India, Rama is supposed to have done penance (Evans-Went, p. 70). On the summit of Adam’s Peak is the hollow in the rock that Moslems say was made by Adam “as he stood there on the Peak on one foot, doing penance for one thousand years (Evans-Wentz, p. 70).” In the Siwash myth the greedy and unthankful fellow finally has his heart softened by a stay on Tacoma and becomes a famous medicine man, recognized by all (Williams, p. 30). And, as I mentioned earlier, the Aztec, Coatlicue, the mother of the sun god, Huitzilopochtli

was doing penance [on Coatepec],/
she would sweep, she was in charge of sweeping,/
and so she did her penance,/
on Coatepec, the Mountain of the Serpent. (Moctezuma, 1987, p. 49)

Receiving instruction from the god on the mountain can be like having a light thrown on ones life: We see our actions from a new perspective. Up on the mountain we are in the land of the gods, and we can be taught by the gods. As a person comes down from the mountains, he or she brings the new point of view down. Looked at from a different angle, it is as if the gods are sending the person down to the alien lands below as an emissary to help extend the territory of the gods.

The “Bastard”

How the modern, civilized attitude towards mountains arose is a very involved question that can be approached in many different ways from within many different disciplines. Even within psychology there are many angles from which to view this phenomenon. For example, in reading the autobiography of Sir Edmund Hillary, it is easy to find psychologically revealing “confessions.” For example Hillary says that, when he was young he used to get into a lot of fights, having been short in his early youth. “In the mountains at least I could thrash around and do nobody any harm” (Hillary, 1975, p. 37). It would be easy then to analyze his desire to “conquer” Mount Everest as a compensation for an inferiority complex. This is apparent in the following quote also: “Everest represented the ultimate in achievement; the supreme challenge for flesh and blood, and spirit. Would it ever be possible to overcome the forces of nature and reach this remote summit?” (p. 130)[10] More evidence for this is in the argument that developed regarding him and his Sherpa guide about which one arrived at the summit first. It is not irrelevant in this analysis that Hillary became an international hero, awarded with medals, a knighthood, and even an ambassadorship (p. 166).

When we examine the fearlessness, even the recklessness, with which modern mountaineers climbed to the top of the highest peaks, we may feel that the religious feelings that permeated the mountain is gone forever and that all that is left is the power complex. It is as if at the same time the gods were calling men up, teaching them, and sending them back down to conquer the world below in their names, secular men were climbing up the mountains to dominate the mountain and to capture the territory of the gods to put up motels and spas and ski lodges. These developers were really colonizers. They colonized God’s country at the same time that God and his men were letting their views be known in the homeland of the developers.

But from a different point of view it is interesting to recall Hillary’s first comment to his comrades as he returned to the base-camp below from his conquest: “Well we knocked the bastard off!” (p. 162) As a psychologist I hope to be allowed to take the wording of this brag as important. If we look closely, the word bastard implies a personification, the mountain is being called a bastard. Surely this is unconscious, and, if challenged, Hillary would certainly deny that he had wanted to imply that the mountain was a living being. Unless we say that Hillary was simply using a figure of speech (and this is unlikely because of the passion involved), then we are forced to say that, at least unconsciously, he saw the mountain just as primitively and with just as much projection as any so-called “primitive.” The difference is that Hillary personifies the mountain with a term used pejoratively. The implication is that the mountain is an outcast, a social outcast, the result of an immoral sexual union. To put this in Christian terms, the mountain is a result of sin and is in some way connected with the devil.

Image 14. First successful ascent [of Mount Everest] by Tenzing [Norgay] and [Edmund] Hillary [in 1953]. Photo by Jamling Tenzing Norgay.
Image 14. First successful ascent [of Mount Everest] by Tenzing [Norgay] and [Edmund] Hillary [in 1953]. Photo by Jamling Tenzing Norgay.

With this in mind it is easy to see Hillary’s conquering Everest as in the spirit of St. George conquering the dragon. Hillary is a modern knight, but only if we understand Christianity as withdrawing half but not all of the projection onto mountain. The ancients and the primitives projected both the good and the bad gods onto the mountains; they respected, feared, hated, and loved the mountains and their gods — all at once. The Christian god, however, did not live on the mountains, nor did he live anywhere in nature. The Christian god was worshipped in spirit and not in nature. But the Christian god was considered to be all good. What then happened to the bad side, the bad gods? The answer seems to be that they were banished from the spirit to the desolate places of nature (as well as onto everything foreign). It will be remembered that it was believed that Pontius Pilate lived on a mountain in Switzerland. We may also remember the monks throwing rocks at the lake and taunting Pilate to strike back. Here we have the mountain as Taboo.[11] Hillary was in the spiritual lineage of these monks. The reason he was able to overcome the taboo against mountains was not because he did not experience the age-old mountain taboos, but rather because he felt himself to be on a Christian or Christian-like mission to conquer the devil (the projection of our evil sides), although this mission would have been unconscious.

When Dompjulian de Beaupré fulfilled the kings charge “to cause an attempt to be made to see whether it was possible to climb the mountain which was said to be inaccessible” his men planted three crosses on the top (Spectorsky, 1955, p. 5 — from The Ascent of Eguille-Fort, 1492). Hillary did much the same, burying a cross at the top of Mount Everest.

With his conquering of Mount Everest in 1951 we seem to have entered a new stage, a stage where psychological understanding requires us to withdraw our negative projections onto mountains as well as the godly ones. It is instructive that later on Hillary found some charm in the conquered “bastard.” For example, on one of his returns to the Himalayas he said that he was “elated to find the valley just as beautiful as [he] remembered it.” (Hillary, p. 174)

Secular/personal reasons for going

{It seems to me that there have always been secular reasons for going to mountains. People wanted water, protection, healing, guidance in rough times, and so on as documented above and as can be seen in the following comment by the Navajo George Blue Eyes:

These mountains and the land between them are the only things that keep us strong. From them, and because of them, we prosper …. We carry soil from the sacred mountains in a prayer bundle that we call dah ńidiilyééh. Because of this bundle, we gain possessions and things of value, turquoise, necklaces and bracelets. With this we speak, with this we pray. This is where the prayers begin. (McPherson, 1992, p. 16) (my bold)

The difference between now and then, civilized and native, is not so much the motives, but the attitude. In the past, it seems that people felt respect and awe in front of mountains and approached them accordingly. Here is a statement by a Navajo (whose name is not given)

the white people all look to the government like we look to the sacred mountains. You…hold out your hands to the government. In accord with that, the government, you live. But we look to our sacred mountains…. According to them we live — they are our Washington (government). (p. 19)

Now there is a tendency towards disrespect towards mountains and, in fact, towards all of nature. The goal used to be to humble oneself before the gods or to try to influence them in various ways (see the next chapter); now it is to beat the gods at their own game. More and more we feel we can challenge the gods and master them and take what we need from them instead of begging from them (again, see the next chapter). Here I just want to review how we are now “using” mountains and how there tends to be little self-moderation and how the use is beginning to affect the environment and us. Nowadays, reverent feelings, if they remain at all, have receded into the unconscious.

Image 15. Natural-gas well-production facilities located 0.8 kilometer east-northeast of Gobernador Knob. The view of the knob from the east was obscured by trees prior to the grading of this well pad in 2000, but now this is the best place to park before hiking to the knob and to contemplate the juxtaposition of land uses based on widely divergent environmental ethics [New Mexico, USA]. Photograph by Kevin S. Blake, September 2000. Permission from the American Geographical Society (http://americangeo.org) and the author/photographer, Kevin Blake (http://www.k-state.edu/geography/kblake/).
Image 15. Natural-gas well-production facilities located 0.8 kilometer east-northeast of Gobernador Knob. The view of the knob from the east was obscured by trees prior to the grading of this well pad in 2000, but now this is the best place to park before hiking to the knob and to contemplate the juxtaposition of land uses based on widely divergent environmental ethics [New Mexico, USA]. Photograph by Kevin S. Blake, September 2000. Permission from the American Geographical Society (http://americangeo.org) and the author/photographer, Kevin Blake (http://www.k-state.edu/geography/kblake/).

We have already discussed how some sacred mountains are now used for recreation purposes (example, the Arizona Skibowl Resort on the San Francisco Peaks) and have mentioned how pumice was mined from another side on these same peaks. Image 15 shows how natural-gas production facilities have been placed, over protest, close to Gobernador Knob, one of the most sacred Navajo mountains, the place of the emergence of human beings, and I think it is accurate to add: without respect for the mountain, let alone for it’s holiness. I should really say without much respect for the mountain, as the U.S. government has, for whatever it’s worth, included 360 acres in its Noise Sensitive Area Program (Blake, October 2001, p. 723).

Image 16. Hills in the Santa Monica Range dotted with houses looking north from the window of a high rise building in Beverly Hills, California, USA. Photo by author, 4 January 2016.
Image 16. Hills in the Santa Monica Range dotted with houses (looking north from the window of a high rise building in Beverly Hills, California, USA). Photo by author, 4 January 2016.

Hills and mountains are also choice residential property as can be seen with respect to the Santa Monica Mountains from nearly any viewing angle in the Los Angeles Basin.

Image 17. View of Los Angeles from a housing development in the Santa Monica Mountains where homes begin at roughly $2,000,000 (in January, 2016), Brentwood, Los Angeles, USA. Photo by author, 26 January 2016.
Image 17. View of Los Angeles from a housing development in the Santa Monica Mountains where homes begin at roughly $2,000,000 (in January, 2016), Brentwood, Los Angeles, USA. Photo by author, 26 January 2016.

People like the views, and lots are chosen and homes built to emphasize them. “The view” is held in such high esteem — the view even of smoggy Los Angeles — that it is tempting to guess that there are unconscious religious feelings underlying this esteem. In the following quote, the current Dalai Lama (1992) may be touching on a universal experience:

Only hermits, wild animals, and, in the summer, nomads and their herds actually live high amongst them, but in the simplicity and quiet of our mountains, there is more peace of mind than in most cities of the world. Since the practice of Buddhism involves seeing phenomena as empty of inherent existence, it is helpful for a mediator to be able to look into the vast, empty space seen from a mountain-top.

(The hills and mountains receiving these visitors are often, if not usually, ordinary mountains and not sacred ones. Why some hills and mountains are sacred and some are not is an important topic that is not discussed in this book.)

Image 18. Santa Monica Mountains, view from the corner of Sunset and Gardner, Hollywood, California, USA. Photo by Jonathan P. Hersh. Permission granted. (title by author).
Image 18. Santa Monica Mountains, view from the corner of Sunset and Gardner, Hollywood, California, USA. Photo by Jonathan P. Hersh. Permission granted. (title by author).

Just to be at the foot of a hill or near it seems to have the greatest charm. Part of the charm of Hollywood, California may be that it is at the base of one portion of the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains as can be seen in Image 18.

There are many other secular uses of mountains. Young people go to them to escape the rules and conventions of their parents, of their schools, of their churches, and of their governments. In the mountains, many feel free to drive off road vehicles, drink, shoot, yell, etc. Blake (2001, p. 53) writes of a visit he made to Huerfano Mountain: “On one summer evening visit to the mesa [a high point from which there is a ‘superb 360-degree view’] I found a raucous gathering of non-Indians at the highpoint gleefully throwing their empty beer cans off the summit.”

Mountains are ideal places for the placement of radio transmitters. The goal of erecting these transmitters is not so different from the goals of Indians who used mountains as look-outs and as places to transmit long distance messages, but, again, our modern use, even if the motives are similar to Indian motives, shows little or no respect for the mountains. With respect to Huerfano Mountain: “In recent decades … and without Navajo consultation, at least twelve major transmission towers have been erected in dense clusters on the south extension of the mesa” (p. 51).

A plan of the Bureau of Land Management to develop the east end of the mesa with campground and picnic facilities led to protests and, eventually, to pieces of sacred land being ceded back to the Navajo (pp. 52-53).

Since mountains are the source of rivers, they can be “mined” for water. Flagstaff (Arizona, USA) takes over four hundred million(!) gallons of water each year from the San Francisco Peaks “with a complex system of deep wells and pipelines” (p. 47).

The struggle between the native Indian peoples and the United States is running parallel to the struggle between the native Tibetans and the Chinese who have annexed Tibet. Apparently the Chinese are using a plateau in Tibet as a dumping ground for nuclear waste from a nuclear weapons facility they have built in Tibet. According to statements of the Dalai Lama (1990, A Clean Environment …), not only did the Chinese dump their own waste, but they, at the time of the Dalai Lama’s speech in 1990, wished to contract with other countries to dump their nuclear waste. This parallels a 1991 proposal to create an asbestos dump between Huerfano Mountain and Gobernador Knob that wound up being abandoned due to Indian protest (Blake, p. 53).

The above list of secular uses (that is, personal and non-religious uses) of mountains is only partial and will, almost certainly, grow larger in the years to come.

Reactions to the secular uses

Image 19. Santa Monica (the city), the Santa Monica Mountains (background), and the Pacific Ocean (from a parking structure in Santa Monica, California, USA). Photo by Adelle Hersh, 21 January 2016. Used with permission.
Image 19. Santa Monica (the city), the Santa Monica Mountains (background), and the Pacific Ocean (from a parking structure in Santa Monica, California, USA). Photo by Adelle Hersh, 21 January 2016. Used with permission.

There is an ongoing battle between the secular and the religious uses of land which battle includes mountains. Psychologically it amounts to a conflict within all of us (or most of us) between our personal needs (or what we think they are) and a more universal, selfless feeling and understanding. What follows is a list of nine ways the human mind has handled and understood this conflict (or might).

  1. When in a religious mood, we can not fathom how anyone could even think of using land for secular purposes, and we spontaneously feel compelled to fight this use. Hence the political wars the Navajo medicine men are waging against the United States government and the fight of the current Dalai Lama and others against the Chinese. However, when we are carried away by a secular spirit, everything looks different. From this angle, the Indians and the Tibetans look primitive, weak, superstitious, idealistic, naive, and romantic, and we become impatient with and annoyed at their attempts to “stand in the way of progress.” The same scene — for example the buildings in Santa Monica in Image 19 — will look ugly to our eyes when we are in a reverent, religious mood and exciting and stimulating if we are bent on finding a beach front apartment in which to live. Arguments from the religious point of view such as, “To harm sacred land is a violation causing the loss of healing power and the ability of a mountain to restore harmony to Navajo lives” (Blake, 2001, p. 32, quoting Michelson) will, to developers, seem sentimental and childish and obstructionistic. The idea that mountains can “restore harmony” will, to the secular view, seem like a childish fairytale fantasy that should be replaced with a rational, scientific attitude.
  2. Another completely different approach to the conflict between the secular and religious within us is to argue that, even if the religious “fairytales” aren’t true, they are necessary for our emotional well-being. If we violate the land, violate the mountains, we will suffer emotionally — it is built into our natures. Ours has been called the Age of Anxiety. From the point of view of this argument, no wonder. An old California Indian once told me, after I told him I was a gardener, “The way of the earth is a bent-over path. The earth, our Mother, is suffering.” On the other hand, it is possible to accept the above point but disagree with the conclusion. It can be argued that though projection onto aspects of the earth (including mountains) is a built-in part of our psyches, still the psyche is more resilient than we think. The Jewish people were devastated when their Temple on Mount Zion was destroyed by the Romans in 79 CE, but, over time, the Jewish psyche has found a way to adjust. The mind finds new places on which to project its content. The content of the projection remains in tact even if people are pulled away from the object of their projection. From this point of view, the Tibetans and the Navajo are newcomers to the experience of being forced from their land. They are feeling what the Jews felt two thousand years ago. It is the painful end of the naive and primitive attachment to and identification with a patch of physical land, but the pain will fade and will be replaced by a more realistic understanding of self and land.
  3. When facing the conflict we are discussing, another natural tendency is to try to figure out and arrange some sort of compromise between the two poles. Even if the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service in the United States doesn’t always side with the view of religious Indians, sometimes it does. And maybe it doesn’t have to be an either/or with one side winning. Blake (p. 57), for example, wonders if the two remote Navajo sacred mountains, Gobernador Knob and Huerfano Mountain, shouldn’t be preserved, because there is little interest in them outside the Navajo tribe and “one less gas well and an official buffer around Gobernador Knob, and the relocation of the communication towers at Huerfano Mountain, seem insignificant costs compared to the power of sacred mountains.” It will be noted that not all Navajo Indians have the same values as the medicine men who wouldn’t want one rock or plant disturbed anywhere on the sacred Navajo land. Apparently, for example, some truck drivers want to be allowed to drive near sacred mountains (Blake, p. 57).
  4. One argument for reigning in development is based on practicality and not religion. The current Dalai Lama (1990, Universal responsibility) expresses this argument quite clearly:

    … our planet is our house, and we must keep it in order and take care of it if we are genuinely concerned about happiness for ourselves, our children, our friends, and other sentient beings who share this great house with us. If we think of the planet as our house or as “our mother – Mother Earth – we automatically feel concern for our environment. Today we understand that the future of humanity very much depends on our planet, and that the future of the planet very much depends on humanity. But this has not always been so clear to us. Until now, you see, Mother Earth has somehow tolerated sloppy house habits. But now human use, population, and technology have reached that certain stage where Mother Earth no longer accepts our presence with silence. In many ways she is now telling us, “My children are behaving badly,” she is warning us that there are limits to our actions. … From these simple facts we deduce a special relationship, because without the container, the contents cannot be contained. Without the contents, the container contains nothing, it’s meaningless.

  5. The same argument, put less metaphorically, is that the interactions between the parts of nature are more complex than we normally think. The current Dalai Lama (September 28, 1996) expresses this argument with feeling but without resorting to religious sentiment:

    The large-scale deforestation in Tibet is a matter of great sadness. It is not only sad for the local area, which has lost its beauty, but for the local people, who now find it hard to collect even enough fuel wood. Relatively, these are small problems looking from a wider perspective, deforestation has other extensive negative consequences. Firstly, many parts of Tibet are high and dry. This means that it takes longer for the land to recover compared to lower regions with humid climate, and the negative effects therefore last much longer. Secondly, many of the rivers which flow through large areas of Asia, through Pakistan, India, China, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, rivers such as the Yellow river, Brahmaputra, Yangtse, Salween and Mekong, all originate in Tibet. It is at the places of origin of these rivers that large-scale deforestation and mining are taking place. The pollution of these rivers has a drastic effect on the down-stream countries. According to Chinese statistics there are 126 different minerals in Tibet. When these resources were discovered by the Chinese, they were extensively mined without proper environmental safeguards, resulting in devastation of the environment. As a result, deforestation and mining are causing more floods in the lowlands of Tibet. The deforestation of the Tibetan plateau, according to experts, will change the amount of reflection from snow into space (forested areas absorb more solar radiation) and this affects the monsoon of the next year, not only in Tibet, but in all surrounding areas. Therefore, it becomes even more important to conserve Tibet’s environment.

  6. If the conflict we have been discussing stems from a battle within, between parts of our selves, there is the chance of an inner resolution. First we have to recognize and admit to ourselves that we do not have a full answer and that the problem is troubling and serious. The unconscious seems to enjoy just this kind of inner quandary to come up with a resolution presented in a dream or vision or sudden deep insight. It does not happen as the result of conscious manipulation. If the problem is one felt all over the world, the answer may come, unexpected, to a person in China or Greece or Malawi, to a president or to a peasant in a rice filed or to a stock broker or to many people at once. It may come today or next year or in a hundred years or never. The unconscious appears on its own terms and does not obey our laws. If an answer comes, it is usually in the form of a startlingly new perspective.
  7. It is possible that, even with our violation of the divine mountain that the god does not abandon the mountain and still can be found there.
  8. It is also possible that, in spite of any deep reverence we have for sacred mountains, that it has come time for gods, as a group to move away from mountains and to take up residence somewhere else. To speak from the imagination, perhaps they wanted to move away from where they have lived and have engineered the human invasion of their homes in order to have a reason to abandon them. Maybe the moment the climber, at the summit of a sacred mountain, pumps his fists in victory at having conquered it, is just the moment the god of that mountain has left leaving the climber with only the illusion of victory. It is the point of this book that maybe, all along, the gods lived on inner mountains and only seemed to be on the outer ones.
  9. As mentioned in a previous section, and as discussed from another angle in the point above, the Christian devaluation of nature, at least in the official dogma, may have cleared the mental state of Christians to climb mountains others considered sacred. It is not that the Christian attitude did not respect mountains, only that they did not revere and worship them.

Another look at the Mountaineers

As discussed in earlier chapters, mountaineering is a relatively new phenomenon, and it began in Europe, in the West. I pointed out that there have been men in other cultures and in earlier times who pushed through the fear of mountains and went up, and even lived on, mountains. We have referred to the stories of such men as Moses and  have also noticed that native shamans have climbed mountains (not always to the top) to receive visions and to collect healing material for the medicine bundles. The stories have these men usually going alone and without equipment.

We compare these spiritual climbers with the contemporary mountaineers who, at least on the surface, seem to have other motives. We do not doubt there is a love for and respect for and fear of mountains as we have seen in all time and places. But we also notice “the challenge” aspect. There is a desire to overcome ones own fears and weaknesses and to go where no man has ever gone. For a mountaineer, being the first to scale a peak or the first to take a new and difficult route, often seems of primary importance. If a mountain has been climbed there is no longer the same thrill of climbing it.

Besides the challenge and the desire to be “Number One” and the possibility of gaining the respect of other climbers and of we who do not climb, there can be the promise of personal financial gain. Mountaineers may film their journeys and make them into movies for general audiences. They can write books. They can give their name to companies to use in advertising. They can lead tours. And so on. 

Mountaineering, as far as I understand it, is now a sport. And it is a team sport. Mountaineers, for the most part, do not climb alone. And they use equipment, often the latest equipment. Climbing the major mountains of the world would be impossible without at least some of this equipment. — From a certain angle, all this seems to be cheating. What about one to one combat with a mountain? Who would win?

Perhaps most important, the climbers seem to be doing it for themselves and not for others. Moses, in the story, received instruction for his people. The medicine men went to find the powers to cure the sick of their tribes. The closest to an “inner” or “spiritual” quest I see in the mountaineers I read about is their desire to learn about inner obstacles and to overcome them. In this respect, a mountaineer is a person who is trying to master himself (or herself) in order to reach some sort of transcendence of their ordinary personality. They want to become immortal, as it were, to climb into some new space where they are alone with the gods. They want to become gods, or, at least, they want to have a moment of god-like power. I say a moment, because, as with every other super-human endeavor, once the energy has been exerted and victory has been achieved and the moment of floating into a new space has been experienced, one returns to oneself and, eventually, to the society around them. We are not gods.

So it is my view here, at least at the time of this writing, that mountaineers have a desire to escape from the ordinary world we live in and to find something eternal and super-human. The fact that they are often single, migratory, and poor supports this point. They are identical, in this respect, with others who have the exact same goal even if they are not drawn to mountains. Any man or woman who has pushed beyond their limits and sacrificed, at least at times, attachment to family and friends and society, is “climbing a mountain,” so to speak. It may be an inner mountain, but it is a mountain nonetheless. If and when the psyche experiences victory, the positive feeling is followed by a sense of emptiness. There is a loss of goal and a loss of the feeling of power. There is a feeling of coming back down to earth. In watching films about mountaineers it is possible to identify with their struggles with themselves and recognize ones own failures and successes within ones own life.

Most people’s victories are often, maybe usually, outcomes of personal battles that are invisible to everyone else. These lonely “climbs” up unknown and unnamed “mountains” bring no reward or recognition. Each step in each struggle may be more difficult than the steps of the greatest rock climbers which makes them poignant. From this angle, the mountain represents both goals and obstacles we all have in life, and we all have the task of finding the proper way of looking at them and dealing with them. How much should we try to get what we want? How hard should we try? How much should we think of others? What is good? What is selfish? Is it good to be selfish? What do we have if we succeed? Was it worth it? For who? What are we doing? What is a Great Work?} 

Summary

Ordinary people went to the country of the gods to get almost every conceivable gift. They went to ask for help in battle, for water, for crops, for herds, for wealth and health, for peace of mind, for knowledge of the future and of themselves and of their place in the world and of the meaning of their lives. {On a more psychological level, they were often looking to return to a time and place where all their needs were met, when they were in a kind of happy, child-like, naive, and secure place, an earthly paradise, a place that exists in the Imagination and, possibly, in the Memory, even if nowhere else.}

Image 15. Inyan Kara is a sacred mountain to the Lakota [Sioux Indians], [the Black Hills, Crook County, Wyoming, USA]. Photo by Runner1928. (title by author)
Image 20. Inyan Kara [= Hinyan Kaga = Harney Peak] is a sacred mountain to the Lakota [Sioux Indians], [the Black Hills, Crook County, Wyoming, USA]. Photo by Runner1928. (title by author)

The following quote from Black Elk explaining why the Sioux went to the mountains for the lament (vision seeking) is a good summary.

Some young men receive a vision when they are very young and when they do not expect it, and then they go to “lament” that they might understand it better. Then we `lament‘ if we wish to make ourselves brave for a great ordeal such as the Sun Dance or to prepare for going on the warpath. Some people “lament” in order to ask some favor of the Great Spirit, such as curing a sick relative; and then we also “lament” as an act of thanksgiving for some great gift which the Great Spirit may have given to us.

But perhaps the most important reason for “lamenting” is that it helps us to realize our oneness with all things, to know that all things are our relatives; and then in behalf of all things we pray to Wakan-Tanka that He may give to us knowledge of Him who is the source of all things, yet greater than all things.

Our women also “lament“, after first purifying themselves in the Inipi; they are helped by other women, but they do not go up on a very high and lonely mountain. They go up on a hill in a valley, for they are women and need protection. (Brown, 1953/1971, pp. 45-46)

In our times it is necessary to include two other reasons men go to mountains: to conquer and to develop the mountain as a piece of real estate.


  1. "The Lord called Moses to the top of the mount" (Exodus 19:20); "The Lord said to Aaron, `Go to meet Moses in the wilderness.' He went and met him at the mountain of God" (Exodus 4:27); to Moses: "Ascend these heights of Abarim to Mount Nebo" (Deuteronomy 32:49); and to Abraham: "And then you shall set out for me the sacrifice which I have commanded you, in the place which I will show you on a high mountain [Horeb]" (Charlesworth (1983, p. 693, "Apocalypse of Abraham").
  2. Luckert (1977, p. 50). Also from Long Salt: "Six mountains were prayed to and pleaded with. ... They also pleaded with Earth and Sky. They pleaded with head of Earth. They pleaded for their land" (p. 39) and pp. 71-74 regarding the Protectionway prayer.
  3. Luckert, p. 49. An example of a prayer for rain is given in the same book. This prayer was used on Navajo Mountain but also on Long Mountain:
    We say Blue-turned-around, White-turned-around, Yellow-turned-around, and Radiant-turned-around. This (prayer sequence) is followed by (mentioning) Yucca-soap: Blue Yucca-soap, White Yucca-soap, Yellow Yucca-soap, and Radiant Yucca-soap. And that is followed by and concluded with Blue Cornpollen, White Cornpollen, Yellow Cornpollen, and Radiant Cornpollen. And this is the manner in which rain is prayed for and an offering is given to Water. (p. 48)
  4. Evans-Wentz (1981, pp. 56-57). The five peaks are called the five thrones of the Shining Ones. These are seen as salt, gold and turquoise, holy books and wealth, weapons, and crops and medicines (from Evans, 1951).
  5. Hart (1888, p. 258). Pu-hsien in Chinese "literally interpreted means the `Universal Sage.' The first character in his name is made up of the radical for ‘sun' or `day' and the phonetic equal. There may be the meaning of `equal in brightness to the sun,' or `illumination as from the sun,' or `light personified.'" (p. 218)
  6. It is worth remembering that the ancient Hittites also tried to affect the sun: "When the king goes to the mountain to raise the great sun, he performs various charms and incantations" Another example of the bringing down of the fire is from Japan:
    A spectacular and famous ceremony is the great fire festival at Yoshida. Great faggots are prepared. They are from ten to fifteen feet long, made of fat pine sticks, which are laid close together and bound around and around by rings or spirals which make an almost complete casing. ... Young men bring down the mikoshi from the shrine, in the usual noisy fashion. (Starr, p. 129)
  7. Luckert, p. 51. From the same book and also within the Navajo tradition consider, "And Ernest Nelson learned from Red Whiskers, on top of Black Mesa," p. 52; and "Those who wanted to become medicine men would go to all the sacred Mountains and obtain their prayers there. The Beautyway ceremony started over here" (from Paul Goodman?) (p. 142).
  8. Snelling (1983, p. 18) — quoted from the Ramayana as quoted by C. A. Sherring in Western Tibet and the British Borderland. Similarly, "Let the mountains produce well-being for the people,/ the hills, the reward of justice" (Psalms 72:3).
  9. Earhart (pp. 30, 50, 87-145). The ceremony described was witnessed by the author in post-war days and does not necessarily portray the original training of the 12th century yamabushi. Also see Blacker, p. 218 ff.
  10. Or remember that the men of Cortez climbed to the top of Mount Popocatépetl "that they might not be accounted cowards."
  11. And we must not forget Ascencio, the teacher, who was banished to the mountain after he died, because he had been evil. The Christian psyche banishes evil to the mountains, that is, projects it outside the self and into nature. So too for the seven-headed snake (men who marry relatives) and the dangerous (as opposed to benevolent Asian) dragons and Death himself. It seems intolerable for the Christian psyche to see evil within itself.

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The Mountain Archetype Copyright © 1988 by Thomas R. Hersh. All Rights Reserved.

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