9 Chapter 9. Offerings to the Mountain Gods

Introduction

As we have just seen, people (including regular men and women) overcame the fear of mountains and went there for every kind of reason. For people in awe of the mountains, it was not enough to go up the mountains and ask for gifts: Something, some gift or payment, had to be left there for the gods.

This can be looked at as a business transaction. In the Siwash myth where the man became the richest of men by finding the strings of hiaqua on Tacoma, he left no thanks-offering to the powers, and so the angry mountain-volcano erupted (Williams, 1910, p. 33). The Navajo, Floyd Laughter, stated explicitly that, on top of Gobernador Knob, his family laid down his offerings “to renew the covenants which [his father] made (with the gods) with his corn pollen” (Luckert, 1977, p. 51).

The matter can be looked at from another point of view, however, from that of the god himself. It seems that the gods have some business with men as well as men needing favors from the gods. It is hard to imagine a god needing the minuscule offerings made by men. Mist rises from the ocean and falls onto the mountains as snow and rain, but human offerings amount to nothing compared to those of the ocean. The ocean’s offerings are a real recycling. If the mountain god “called” men because he wanted to come on to the earth, then his requiring the meager sacrifices makes more sense: Sacrificing requires an attitude of separation and deference. It may be the attitude the god wants more than the two cents. The god requires an attitude of compliance and a sense of distance and humility. Letting go of something you want puts your possessions in a proper perspective: You are not the ultimate provider for yourself; you are dependent.

Finally, there is something in us that is like a mountain, and when we see a mountain it reminds us of this aspect of ourselves. We “fall in love” with a physical mountain and treat it as a god, lavishing gifts on it, pampering it, maybe even trying to spoil it and bribe it. If we are forced to leave the physical mountain, we can pine away, even for centuries, or shift the projection to another mountain or become psychological. The psychological stage is, according to this view, a mature view (mature meaning aged and experienced, not better).

Besides leaving offerings, men also, always and everywhere, built structures on mountains. In fact, it seems easier to think of most of these buildings as one type of offering. One reason for building these structures was simply to be closer to the god on the mountain. This is seen in the poem about the meditation shrine on Mount Emei I quoted above.

When the shrine upon the summit is attained,/
Let every Pilgrim seek the Silence there,/
And then enquire concerning immortality. (Evans-Wentz, 1981, p. 45)

Evans-Wentz points to this poem as an explanation of why he and others were going to build a shrine on Cuchama, and so we have a confession of the motive of a real-life shrine builder.

Image 1. Transfiguration by Feofan Grek [= Theophanies the Greek] from Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral in Pereslavl-Zalessky [Yaroslavi Oblast, Russia] (15th c, Tretyakov gallery). Photographer not given.
Image 1. Transfiguration by Feofan Grek [= Theophanies the Greek] from Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral in Pereslavl-Zalessky [Yaroslavi Oblast, Russia] (15th c, Tretyakov gallery). Photographer not given.

Another reason for building mountain structures can be seen in a part of the story of the Transfiguration.

Jesus took with Him Peter, James, and John, the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain to be alone with them. … And there Moses and Elijah appeared to them and were talking with Him. “Lord,” Peter said to Jesus, “it’s good for us to be here. If You wish, I’ll put up three shelters here, one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (Matthew 17:1-4, also in Luke 9:31-6)

What could be more natural than for a man to offer shelter to respected figures he experiences on the mountain? This sentiment is expressed on the tablet for the Bronze Temple on Mount Emei: “Oh, how wonderful to rely upon the hearts of mortals to perfect the altars of the gods!” (Hart, 1988, p. 243).

And we see this same motivation in biblical King David’s concern for the comfort of his god:

When the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had granted him safety from all the enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan: “Here I am dwelling in a house of cedar, while the Ark of the Lord abides in a tent!” (2Samuel 7:1-2)

Image 2. "Solomon having built the Temple of Jerusalem dedicates it to the Lord" from An Historical, Critical, Geographical, Chronological, and Etymological Dictionary of the Holy Bible in three volumes ... and illustrated ... copper-plates. Representing the Antiquities, Habits, Buildings, Sepulchres, and other Curiosities of the Jews ... Written originally in French, by the Reverend Father Dom Augustin Calmet, a Benedictine Monk, Abbot of Senones. And now translated into English from the author's last edition ..., London : printed for J. J. and P. Knapton, D. Midwinter and A. Ward, A. Bettesworth and C. Hitch, J. Pemberton, J. Osborn and T. Longman, C. Rivington, F. Clay ..., 1732. Scan by author.
Image 2. “Solomon having built the Temple of Jerusalem dedicates it to the Lord” from An Historical, Critical, Geographical, Chronological, and Etymological Dictionary of the Holy Bible in three volumes … and illustrated … copper-plates. Representing the Antiquities, Habits, Buildings, Sepulchres, and other Curiosities of the Jews … Written originally in French, by the Reverend Father Dom Augustin Calmet, a Benedictine Monk, Abbot of Senones. And now translated into English from the author’s last edition …, London: printed for J. J. and P. Knapton, D. Midwinter and A. Ward, A. Bettesworth and C. Hitch, J. Pemberton, J. Osborn and T. Longman, C. Rivington, F. Clay …, 1732. Scan by author, uploaded 12 November 2015.

But it was left for Solomon, son of David, to build the House of the Lord. When the House was complete and consecrated, the Lord appeared to Solomon and said to him,

I consecrate this House which you have built and I set My name there forever. My eyes and My heart shall ever be there. (1Kings 9:3)

Solomon is told, however, that if his descendants break the commandments and serve and worship other gods,

then I will sweep Israel off the land which I gave them; I will dismiss from My presence the House which I have consecrated to My name; and Israel shall become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And as for this House [it] shall become a ruin [from the Targum], everyone passing by it shall be appalled … And when they ask, “Why did the Lord do thus to the land and to this House?” they shall be told, “It is because they forsook the Lord their God … therefore the Lord has brought all this calamity upon them.” (1Kings 9:7-9)

The Solomon story illustrates a third reason for mountain construction. In the story the Lord likes that the house was built for him, and he accepts it as partial payment for the “establishment of [David’s] royal throne forever” (2Samuel 7:13). The construction is part of a contract: Man builds a house for a god on the mountain and agrees to obey his rules; in return, the god agrees to live in the house and bless the people.

Image 3. Paho [= Paaho], Hopi, unknown katcina [= kachina], acquired in 1919. Exhibit from the Native American Collection, Peabody Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. Photography was permitted without restriction; exhibit is old enough so that it is in the public domain. Photo by Daderot.
Image 3. Paho [= Paaho], Hopi, unknown katcina [= kachina], acquired in 1919. Exhibit from the Native American Collection, Peabody Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. Photography was permitted without restriction; exhibit is old enough so that it is in the public domain. Photo by Daderot.

This third pattern is expressed even more directly in the Hopi Indian story I began earlier about the woman who married a kachina. The kachina helped the Hopi, but he was envied by the bad men of the tribe (“the turds”). The “turds” tricked the wife into thinking they were the handsome kachina, and they slept with her. The kachina got so angry that he left her and decided to torment the village, sparing only the girl and her family. He told her father that the family will not prosper but they can be spared.

“If you do not care to forsake me, go and find a place for me where I can live. There you can pray to me.”

Thereupon his wife’s father took his son-in-law to a mesa spur north of Musangnuvi. At that place he erected a shrine for him. “Now, here you will reside,” he told him.

“Very well,” the … kachina replied. “Here I want you to come and pray to me for rain and for all your crops. If you sincerely plead for these things, I’ll grant them. But there is one thing I desire more than anything else: a paaho that has the male and female sticks side by side. At the time of the Soyal ceremony I expect you to make such a neveqvaho as the first thing you do and then bring it here. Use it to pray here to me and I will be merciful toward you.”[1]

Later on in the story, the kachinas come down to the village to put an end to the Hopi’s troubles, the sins having been paid back.

During their progression homeward the kachinas stopped at the mesa promontory west of Musangnuvi where the father of the … wife had erected the shrine. They opened it up and informed the village leader, “Here is our home. We will therefore enter this shrine and return underground. And since this home belongs to us, it shall henceforth be known as `Ka’naskatsinki.'” This is the reason that, west of Musangnuvi at a little promontory, a shrine where paaho are deposited is present today. (p. 101)

Whether we look at it as humans wanting something from the gods or as the gods wanting something from humans, the fact remains that people offered many things, animal, vegetable, and mineral, natural and man-made, including housing to the gods on the mountains.

Stones

On Mount Kailash in Tibet (Snelling, 1983, p. 24), Fujiyama in Japan (Starr, 1924, p. 133), Iztaccihuatl in Mexico (by the Aztecs) (Evans-Wentz, p. 73), and on Navajo Mountain (Luckert, p. 39) stones were left by pilgrims or as part of a religious ceremony. On Iztaccihuatl and Navajo Mountain, precious stones were left (Evans-Wentz, p. 73; Luckert, p. 39, Long Salt).

Image 4. Buddhist prayer stones, Nepal [not from Mount Kailash]. Photo by julesair.
Image 4. Buddhist prayer stones, Nepal [not from Mount Kailash]. Photo by julesair.

To give one example that indicates the importance of even these simple offerings to the gods, a European traveler going up Mount Kailash

passed huge heaps of inscribed “mani stones,” on which “Om mani padme om” had been chiseled. When [he] moved to pick one up Kali [the guide] cried: “No, no, Sahib, don’t touch it; the gods will be angry.” (Spectorsky (1955, p. 452 — from Throne of the Gods, Arnold Heim & August Gansser)

Plants: Pollen, seed, saké, incense

Plant offerings were common but usually took the form of seed or pollen (the sexual parts of the plant) or some plant product like saké or incense.

Cornpollen, the “sperm” of the corn plant, was left on Gobernador Knob to “renew the covenants” (Luckert, p. 51); grain was left on the bamot or high places in biblical times (Haran, 1981, p. 34); and, once a year, the Aztecs offered

seed corn of all their sustenance — white, black, red, and yellow maize; different varieties of beans, chili peppers; chian (sage); and huauhtli and michihuauhtli (varieties of amaranth)

on top of Mount Tlaloc, in a receptacle filled with liquid rubber, on the head of a white stone statue of the rain god Tlaloc, carved to human form. In other words, the seed (fertilized ova of the food plants) were symbolically placed directly on the god’s head. Whether this was a kind of shopping list reminder or a down payment is impossible to assess from the above description extracted by Broda (1987, p. 81) from Juan B. Pomar’s writings.

Image 5. Mount Miwa [= Mount Miwas], photographed from Yashiro observatory in Omiwa [Sakuai, Nara Prefecture, Japan]. Photo by Ans.
Image 5. Mount Miwa [= Mount Miwas], photographed from Yashiro observatory in Omiwa [Sakuai, Nara Prefecture, Japan]. Photo by Ans.

On the Japanese Mount Miwas, between 97 and 30 BCE, Emperor Sujin offered saké, a liquor made from the rice plant, to “the Izumo clan deity, Oo-mono-nushi … and a man was appointed `brewer’ to Oo-mono-nushi.” This offering was part of an apparently successful attempt to ward off a pestilence (Earhart (1970, p. 9). And, for the woodcutter’s offering of saké to the yama no kami, see Earhart (p. 14).

Image 6. Mayan-style incense burner in the form of the rain god, Chahk, Mexico, Eastern Yucatan, Late Postclassic Maya, 1100-1300 AD, earthenware and pigment - De Young Museum - DSC00590 [not noted if used on a mountain or not]. Photo by Dadero.
Image 6. Mayan-style incense burner in the form of the rain god, Chahk, Mexico, Eastern Yucatan, Late Postclassic Maya, 1100-1300 AD, earthenware and pigment – De Young Museum – DSC00590 [not noted if used on a mountain or not]. Photo by Dadero.

Incense was a common offering though just why is hard to say. Diego Durán, in the 16th century, described the Aztecs burning incense on the mountains as do the modern Maya on Patohil today. On Mount Emei incense was offered in the open (1050 CE), in a building, in big incense holders, and by both Chinese and Tibetans;[2] and it will be remembered that “the old Chinese term for pilgrimage was in fact `journeying to a mountain and offering incense’.”

The burning of incense on the mountains and hills is an acknowledged practice in Isaiah 65:7 and Hosea 4:13 but is looked on with disfavor.

Animal sacrifice

Animals were often sacrificed for the gods in the Ancient Near East (and not only on mountains). In Canaan, as quoted in Chapter 1, we have records of cattle and sheep being offered to the mountain Zaphon and also to its god, Baal (Clifford, 1972, pp. 61-62). In the Hebrew Bible, “Jacob … offered sacrifice upon the Height” (Genesis 31:54, presumably of an animal, and see Hosea 4:13); and Solomon offered “a thousand burnt offerings” on the “great high place,” Gibeon (1Kings 3:4-15).

On rocks on mountain tops throughout ancient Crete, “Bonfires were built, where animals were sacrificed” (Levi, 1981, p. 38 — quoting Platon). In China, Emperor Wu, in 110 BCE, offered the fong and shan sacrifices at the summit and foot of a mountain in order to announce to and thank Heaven and Earth for their support in the success of his dynasty (Wales, 1953, p. 41 quoting — Edouard Chavannes). In Ireland, on Tara, animal sacrifices were also made (Macalister, 1931, p. 167).

I already described the Glory, presented in the Zoroastrian literature. This beautiful symbol of earthly well-being as well as of the inner light, as I said before, “cannot be forcibly seized” but must be won by “propitiation, with sacrifice [presumably animal], prayer, propitiation, and glorification.”[3]

In a remarkable though at least partially fanciful book published in the 1850’s, William Pidgeon presents the opinions of the then ninety year old De-coo-dah, “the last prophet of the Elk Nation,” as to the origin and use of the Indian mounds of the midwestern United States. De-coo-dah said that he had gotten his information when he was twelve years old from his aged grandfather. With respect to one particular mound on a hill, Pidgeon reports the words and ideas of his Indian teacher.

“This work,” said he, “is more singular and complicated in its order and form than most others known to tradition, being the last hieroglyphical relic of international sacrifice.” But few locations were to be found strictly adpted to the construction of these works, a law having been universally recognised by the mound-builders, that national sacrifices should only be offered on the highest pinnacle of the adjacent region.” (Pigeon, 1858, p. 64)

Man-made offerings: Money, figures, miscellany

To our modern mentality, perhaps the most transparent offering to the gods is “many pounds of copper cash” or

gold ingots and silver money commit[ed] to the flames/
With the hope that old Buddha much assistance will give. (Cash: Hart {p. 202}; Gold: Hart {p. 267})

A miscellany of other man-made objects include women’s clothing and food to Iztaccihuatl; ritual bowls and “the stone representations of jewels, swords, and mirrors — the three symbols indicating both the royalty of the imperial family and the most sacred objects of the Shinto shrine” in Japan; and plaques, double axes, kernoi, “two elegant long swords,” and the like from Hellenistic Crete. (Mexico: Evans-Wentz {p. 73}; Japan: Earhart {p. 8}; Crete: Levi {p. 41})

Image 7. Summit of Gobernador Knob with ceremonially arranged pottery shards, stones, and forked stick. The summit benchmark is located in the right center of photo. Permission from the author/photographer, Kevin Blake (http://www.k-state.edu/geography/kblake/), September 2000.
Image 7. Summit of Gobernador Knob with ceremonially arranged pottery shards, stones, and forked stick. The summit benchmark is located in the right center of photo, September 2000. Permission from the author/photographer, Kevin Blake (http://www.k-state.edu/geography/kblake/).

{Kevin Blake (2001, p. 53) reports seeing many ritual offerings, ancient and modern, on and around Gobernador Knob in spite of the natural gas facilities.}

Human sacrifice

Now we must turn to the most grizzly of the offerings made to the mountain gods — human beings. Just why this practice arose at all and why in relation to mountains is hard to say. There are different theories.[4] Whatever the reason, however, the fact is that, all over the world, human sacrifice was made on the mountains, to the mountain gods.

Image 7. The near sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham (the Akeda), woodcut from c1570 from a German Luther Bible by H. Lufft, Wittenberg. Scan by author.
Image 8. The near sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham (the Akeda), woodcut from ca. 1570 from a German Luther Bible by H. Lufft, Wittenberg. Scan by author, uploaded 28 October 2015.

In Biblical tradition, the sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham, was to have taken place on a mountain.

And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. (Genesis 22:2 [not the JPS translation])

This demand from the Jewish god, even though it was ultimately voided, had a tremendous effect on the Jewish psyche as can be seen by the fact that there are many stories about Mount Moriah in the Midrash (Goodenough, 1954, p. 186).

Human sacrifice, though this time of captive warriors, can perhaps be recognized, at least as a remnant, in the unusually primitive biblical story where God instructs Ezekiel to tell the wild animals to

gather … for the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you — a great sacrificial feast — upon the mountains of Israel, and eat flesh, and drink blood. You shall eat the flesh of warriors and drink the blood of the princes of the earth … Thus will I manifest My glory among the nations, and all the nations shall see the judgment that I executed and the power that I wielded against them. (Ezekiel 39:17-21)

A slightly different motivation is seen in the Lawa god, Poo-Sa who, as I mentioned, required human sacrifice to allow water to flow down the mountain to the rice fields below.

The Aztecs, however, have, as far as we know, the dubious honor of having practiced human sacrifice on the most massive level. Durán tells how one king initiated sacrifices that lasted four days and “at the end of which the temple and the entire city were covered by streams of blood and the atmosphere was impregnated by an acid and abominable stench” (Broda, p. 66).

Image 8. Aztec ritual human sacrifice as shown in the Codex Magliabechiano, Folio 70. ... Photographer not given.
Image 9. Aztec ritual human sacrifice as shown in the Codex Magliabechiano, Folio 70. ... Photographer not given.

The following is a first hand Spanish report of the sacrifice of some Spanish soldiers (that is, enemy warriors as in Ezekiel) by the Aztecs in 1520.

We all looked toward the lofty Pyramid … and saw that our comrades whom they had captured … were being carried by force up the steps and they were taking them to be sacrificed … and with things like fans in their hands they forced them to dance … and after they had danced they immediately placed them on their backs on some rather narrow stones which had been prepared as places for sacrifice, and with some knives they sawed open their chests and drew out their palpitating hearts and offered them to the idols that were there, and they kicked the bodies down the steps. (quoted by Carrasco (pp. 124-125) from the Spanish chronicler Bernal Díaz del Castillo)

We already looked at the New Fire Ceremony where an Aztec warrior volunteered to be sacrificed on the Hill of the Star. Sacrifices were also made on Iztaccihuatl and Popocatépetl, but, in these cases, the offerings were children. On Iztaccihuatl, two boys and two girls were “sacrificed in a great cave where the image of the goddess was kept.” (Evans-Wentz, p. 73)

The chronicler Sahaguín says that children were only sacrificed to Tlaloc, the rain god. They were selected if they had two cowlicks and were born under favorable signs. They were bought from their mothers. Each was dressed in a different color garment like the different colors of the corn. Each child was taken to the top of a different mountain to be sacrificed and each was named for and identified with a different mountain. This was also done at lakes. Poles were raised with banners spattered with rubber. These were magic poles to encourage sprouting of the crops. “Children … were considered to be tlacateteuhme (singular, tlacateteuitl), `human banners,’ equivalent to the azateteuitl [pieces of ritual paper] and similarly decorated.” (Couch 1985, pp. 49-50) Also, “According to some Pueblo Indian traditions, a pair of sacrificial children was once sent to the Water Serpent to request rain” (Luckert, p. 114n).

It is hard to understand the inner meaning of these stories. It is easy to judge them harshly, and undoubtedly we are correct in doing so. Still, if we could understand them psychologically, we could get a deeper understanding of the meaning of the deeds. Psychological understanding means not only seeing why others behaved as they did, but also understanding the forces in us that could propel us in the same direction in like circumstances and if we were to remain unconscious and project “these barbaric customs” onto others without understanding they exist also in ourselves.

Trying to understand why children were sacrificed is emotionally difficult to many in our contemporary world. Perhaps children were sacrificed in the cave to the goddess, because it was felt that the goddess wanted children and would love them and care for them better than their own parents. It may have been considered an honor for, even a gift to the children themselves. If this guess at motives is accurate, then what is horrible is not the motives but the acting out of the projection, the gross unconsciousness, the total lack of psychological understanding.

Let us look at the sacrifice to the rain gods in a little more detail, though here too I am speculating. Take, for example, the situation that faces us at this very moment in Los Angeles and even throughout the whole world. From what I understand this is the driest and hottest year on record (1988), and records have been kept for over one hundred years. There are many theories regarding why this is happening. One is that it is part of a natural, periodic fluctuation of weather. Another is the theorized greenhouse effect to the effect that a blanket of pollution has surrounded the earth and is holding in the heat. Whatever the reason, there is a threat of a serious water shortage. Already crops are failing throughout the midwestern United States. In the Sierra Nevadas the height of the snow pack has dropped considerably, and, if this continues much longer, the water flow to the California plains and deserts and valleys will lessen. Already we have been asked to voluntarily sacrifice, though the sacrifices may seem somewhat trivial: No automatic servings of water in the restaurants, fewer toilet flushes, more conscious and fewer and shorter lawn waterings, and the like. We can call all these measures water conservation, but they also amount to sacrifices.

This very day, religious broadcasts are proclaiming that the draught is caused by God who is punishing us for our sins. How is this so different from the idea of the Aztecs that the rain god of the mountain, Tlaloc, caused the draughts and that they needed to sacrifice (change) in order to appease him?

Let us imagine the Aztecs in drought situations like ours only far worse. Let us imagine that they too imposed conservation measures on themselves. But let us assume that the draught grew worse and worse and that they had no sophisticated engineering constructions like dams and cement canals to help them in the crisis. It is easy to picture their crops dying and then their animals and, finally, even themselves. We may imagine that the rulers decided that it would be better to take some people and sacrifice them in advance (like we might be asked to sacrifice our lawns) so that the others could survive easier. It as at least possible that they were very good rulers who found themselves in conditions that we in the United States can hardly conceive.

These drought conditions could have dovetailed with what seems to be a human instinct: to sacrifice something very important to oneself. As reducing our water consumption (even through drastic measures) may be required to put ourselves in line with the actual flow of water from the mountains, so too it may be that reducing that in ourselves that we love the most and of which we are most proud is necessary in order for ourselves to stay in line with the flow of water from the mountain within. We have to, mentally, in our Imaginations, get rid of our belongings, our family, and ourselves, humble ourselves and return to ourselves. This psychological process of killing something within so that something bigger could come would be easy to project, and the projection would take place more readily in times of crisis when real sacrifices were required in reality. It is easy to imagine the projection continuing on after the crisis was over, that is, it is easy to imagine that after the water supply returned to normal, the sacrifices would continue as an unconscious satisfaction of a projected psychological need.

Suicide

It seems that the mountain requires the ultimate sacrifice, the sacrifice of one’s own self. All over the world people fell from the mountains, not only by accident. They often threw themselves on purpose and consciously. Suicide was so common that special precautions had to be taken to discourage it.

On Mount Emei “many tens of pilgrims … annually throw themselves over to Buddha.” There is now a “proclamation on one of the temples” that begins, “Those visiting the mount to make offerings to Buddha and the Queen of Heaven (Teu-lao) who sacrifice their bodies are surely exceedingly ignorant.” It ends with,

Choose to make your habitation among the humans … The virtuous only are helped./
…  What goodness! What misery to him who sacrifices his body!” (Hart, pp. 248-249)

On Tài Shān

many a pilgrim has thrown himself over the cliff … in fulfilment of some vow or to commune with the infinity of the Jade Emperor. It was called She-shen Yai …, “Suicide Cliff,” but is now renamed “Joy of Life Cliff,” Ai-sheng Yai, and has a high wall built across to discourage old practices.[5]

On Fujiyama in Japan, there is a “Luminous Maiden [who] lured to the crater an Emperor who was never seen afterward, but is still worshiped at a little shrine erected on the place of his vanishing.”[6]

The call for human sacrifice can come not only about ones enemies but also about oneself. We are asked to sacrifice that which we love the most, our children (Isaac, “whom thou lovest”) and even ourselves.

I had a psychotic patient once who, before I met him, had been fairly normal until one day he heard a voice tell him to go to a certain cliff he knew and throw himself over. He obeyed the voice. Luckily for him, it was a small enough hill that he was not killed when he landed but suffered only broken bones. When he explained to the authorities what had happened he was, of course, sent to a mental institution, and he has remained under the supervision of the mental health system ever since.

There is an Incan story of a young, bumbling man who is visited by a star in the form of a supernaturally beautiful woman. He falls so much in love that, when she returns to the sky, he resolves to follow her. He climbs to the top of the highest mountain and is carried to the heavens by a condor who insists that he be fed on the way up. The man feeds him meat he has carried with him for the occasion, but eventually he runs out and has to give the condor a chunk of flesh from his own calf. The marriage in heaven does not, in the long run, work out, and the condor carries the man back home, where he remains essentially good for nothing. (Bierhorst, n.d., pp. 94-104)

This story illustrates the basic duality and conflict. We have to sacrifice ourselves (or part of ourselves) to fly to heaven (to cross the Kinvad bridge and be guided to the realm of the gods). This sacrifice does not mean physical suicide unless we misread the psychological demand as requiring an external action. Nonetheless it may leave a person good for nothing in Society. And yet without the flight to heaven (the climb up the mountain) how can we find our place on earth and the right attitude for living? Therefore, enigmatically, we must sacrifice ourselves for the sake of ourselves.

{With the data gathered in this book in mind, a psychologist with a suicidal patient might consider the possibility that a fantasy of suicide on a mountain might have a religious significance, a (misguided) acting out of a human sacrifice on a mountain. In these cases, the patient might benefit from understanding that what needs to be sacrificed is not himself or herself, but probably his or her attachment to their thoughts, feelings, desires, and fantasies.}

Man-made structures: Altars, shrines, sanctuaries, churches, temples, monasteries

In the earliest times offerings were brought right up the mountain to where the god was supposed to be, near some unusual boulder, for example, and left out in the open.[7] Rituals were performed there in the open. For example,

on top of the Mountain (Navajo Mountain). … It was at a level spot, where the home of Monster Slayer … was. That is where they sat (Monster Slayer and) Born-for-Water …; they sat there it is said. That is the place where they placed precious stone offerings …, these old men.[8]

Altars

As with all the other categories in this section, I will only give a few examples.

Image 9. The ramp leading up to the altar on Mount Ebal. Title by Photographer Daniel Ventura.
Image 10. The ramp leading up to the altar on Mount Ebal. Title by Photographer Daniel Ventura.

Joshua is said to have built an altar on Mount Ebal with mortar and rock for his “burnt” and “peace” offerings (Joshua 8:30), and in Mexico similar altars were called houses:

At the summit of important mountains such idols are invoked for rain and fertility. They receive offerings at a rudimentary altar made of natural stones which is called “the House of Rain.” (Broda, p. 90)

Image 10. A view of the unfinished Altar of Cybele [= Phrygian Kubile] at Midas ruins in Yazılıkaya village of Han district in Eskişehir, Turkey. Photo by Zeynel Cebeci.
Image 11. A view of the unfinished Altar of Cybele [= Phrygian Kubile] at Midas ruins in Yazılıkaya village of Han district in Eskişehir, Turkey. Photo by Zeynel Cebeci.

More sophisticated though still open-air altars have been found in the Phrygian city of Midas in western Anatolia from the 8th century BCE:

The simplest type of Phrygian religious monument is a stepped altar cut out of the living rock at high locations on hills and citadels. The best examples are known from Midas City. These altars vary in size and elaboration, but all have two or more rock-cut steps leading to an upper ledge or platform, usually with a vertical rock face behind, and all are set in the open air.[9]

Shrines

Image 11. A lifesize doll of San Simón (Maximón), a Mayan god turned Christian saint [not recognized by the Catholic Church], a subject of veneration in Zunil [a hillside town], Guatemala. The shrine moves from one private house to another every year on November 1. People come to pray there and leave various offerings - usually alcohol and tobacco. The local family takes care of the doll and the shrine during the year, while charging a nominal fee (e.g. 5 GTQ) to visitors. Photo by Sapfan (Jan Petula).
Image 12. A lifesize doll of San Simón (Maximón), a Mayan god turned Christian saint [not recognized by the Catholic Church], a subject of veneration in Zunil [a hillside town], Guatemala. The shrine moves from one private house to another every year on November 1. People come to pray there and leave various offerings – usually alcohol and tobacco. The local family takes care of the doll and the shrine during the year, while charging a nominal fee (e.g. 5 GTQ) to visitors. Photo by Sapfan (Jan Petula).

Shrines have been discovered on over 30 peaks in Peru. Popocatépetl … and Iztaccihuatl … are covered with at least ten ancient shrines, all above 12,000 feet altitude. At one of them, Alcalican, a nocturnal ceremony is still held on May 3, attended by people from distant villages. (Evans-Wentz, p. 73)

Image 12. 愛知県小牧市の八所神社にある祠 = Three hokora [= miniature Shinto shrines that are houses for kami] on a country road in the Hachi-sho Shrine Komaki, Aichi Prefecture, Japan. Photo by KKPCW
Image 13. 愛知県小牧市の八所神社にある祠 = Three hokora [that is, miniature Shinto shrines that are houses for kami] on a country road in the Hachi-sho Shrine Komaki, Aichi Prefecture, Japan. Photo by KKPCW.

“On many mountains [in Japan] there are sets of two, three, or more related shrines at various elevations, usually with one rather small shrine at the peak.”[10] At least forty ancient shrines have been found on the mountains of Crete including a prehistoric shrine in the Lassithi chain at Youktas and a hypetral sanctuary built in stages from the presumably prehistoric times down to the Hellenistic period.[11]

Sanctuaries

Image 13. Apollo and the Muses on Mount Helicon (Parnassus) (1680) by Claude Lorrain (1604/1605-1682), oil on canvass, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston [USA]. Photo by Web Gallery of Art.
Image 14. Apollo and the Muses on Mount Helicon (Parnassus) (1680) by Claude Lorrain (1604/1605-1682), oil on canvass, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston [USA]. Photo by Web Gallery of Art.

In ancient Greece there was a sanctuary for the Nemeses on Mount Pagus next to which, Pausanias (ca. 150 CE/1932, V.II, xxxiii 1-2) tells us, Alexander slept and dreamt, and on Ithome there was a Sanctuary of Zeus with a priest and where a music contest was held at an annual festival. Both these sanctuaries were next to streams. There was also a sanctuary to the muses on Helikon, the largest Boeotian mountain, as well as on other mountains in Greece (Hesiod, ca. 700 BCE/1983, p. 39).

Churches

Image 14. [Gortyna, Gortyn] Gortys (Crete, Greece): Agios Titus Basilica [near the Acropolis but, apparently, not on it]. Photo by Marc Ryckaert (MJJR).
Image 15. [Gortyna, Gortyn] Gortys (Crete, Greece): Agios Titus Basilica [near the Acropolis but, apparently, not on it]. Photo by Marc Ryckaert (MJJR).

On the Acropolis of Gortyna there are two Byzantine churches dedicated to Saint John the Baptist superimposed over an ancient cult site (Levi, p. 42). Early chronicles say that the first church in Britain (the Vetusta Ecclesia) was built by Saint Joseph at the foot of the Glastonbury Tor under the guidance of Saint Gabriel and was dedicated by Christ himself to his mother. Some say it was “erected by no human hands.” This primitive church was supposedly the “most sacred shrine in Britain” until it was destroyed by fire in 1184. (Treharne, 1967, p. 6)

Monasteries

Image 15. Agiou [= Saint] Panteleimonos monastery, traditional home of Russian monks ... [Mount Athos, Greece]. Photo by Gabriel from Bucharest, Romania.
Image 16. Agiou [= Saint] Panteleimonos monastery, traditional home of Russian monks … [Mount Athos, Greece]. Photo by Gabriel from Bucharest, Romania.

There is no lack of monasteries on mountains either. There is a monastery on the north side of Mount Kailash, and five others “spaced at intervals around the sacred mountain” (Snelling, pp. 24, 148). On Mount Emei, “there are more than seventy monasteries, in all of which the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra, who made Mount Emei his place of meditation, is worshipped” (Evans-Wentz, pp. 41-42). We must also remember the venerable Christian monasteries on Mount Athos, in Greece, and the others on the mountains of the SinaiThe Russian monastery of Saint Panteleimon on Mount Athos, for example, housed 2,000 monks in 1912.

Temples

Temples are “Houses” in which the gods live and at which they can be attended. They can be very important to a whole people, and it can be psychologically devastating if one is destroyed.

Image 16. The Acropolis of Athens [with Parthenon, the temple to Athena], seen from Philopappou hill . Photo by Christophe Meneboeuf.
Image 17. The Acropolis of Athens [with Parthenon, the temple to Athena], seen from Philopappou hill. Photo by Christophe Meneboeuf.

The temple of Athena Parthenos is on the Athens Acropolis, and “her Lindos temple [is] set dramatically on the heights of the island of Rhodes.” Mon Capitolinus is a hill with a temple of Jupiter “that served Rome as ceremonial center and citadel from the sixth century BCE,” and there is a Roman period temple to Athena on “one of the highest peaks in eastern Galilee.” The Punic temple of Tanit is on the Byrsa of Carthage, and there is a “small lingam temple to Shiva, Patron of Yogins” on the crest of Mount KassayaOsiris is supposedly buried in a hill and also rises to life and is enthroned on it. This “is to be located at the temple of Seti I at Abydos.” At the top of Tài Shān, in China, there is the “temple of Yü Ti …, the Jade Emperor, the supreme Taoist divinity,” and at one time there were more than two hundred fifty Taoist shrines and temples on this mountain.[12]

Image 17. Crossing the Mekong river near Champasak, [Laos] one sees the mountain called "Lingaparvata [almost certainly = Ling-kia-po-p'o]." Wat Phu [a Hindu temple] nestles at the base of this mountain, which has been a sacred site from at least the 5th century A.D., being associated with the early kings of Chela. Photo by Michael Gunther.
Image 18. Crossing the Mekong river near Champasak, [Laos] one sees the mountain called “Lingaparvata [almost certainly = Ling-kia-po-p’o].” Wat Phu [a Hindu temple] nestles at the base of this mountain, which has been a sacred site from at least the 5th century A.D., being associated with the early kings of Chela. Photo by Michael Gunther.

There was a state temple on Gunung Agung, when it was the Balinese sacred mountain, and one on Gunung Panulisan when it was the sacred mountain (Wales, p. 123). Near the capital, at Bassac on the Middle Mekong, in a period before 589 CE,

is a mountain called Ling-kia-po-p’o, at the summit of which is a temple always guarded by a thousand soldiers and consecrated to a spirit named P’o-to-li, to which they sacrifice men. Each year the king himself goes into the temple to make a human sacrifice during the night. (Wales, pp. 167-168 — quoting from the History of the Sui.

Image 17. 出羽神社 三神合祭殿 = Dewa [Province] Mikamigo Shrine [and Sanzan Gosai-den temple, at the summit of Mount Haguro, Yamagata Prefecture, Japan]. Photo by Crown of Lenten rose.
Image 19. 出羽神社 三神合祭殿 = Dewa [Province] Mikamigo Shrine [and Sanzan Gosai-den temple, at the summit of Mount Haguro, Yamagata Prefecture, Japan]. Photo by Crown of Lenten rose.

If the above examples did not give an idea of the popularity of building temples on mountains, it may help to add that on Mount Haguro, alone, there are thirty three main temples (Evans-Wentz, p. 51n quoting Earhart).

To get some feeling of a major temple complex I will give a description from Hart’s account of his stay at a temple on Mount Emei:

We finally climbed the last flight of steps and walked through the lofty portal, which is securely locked at dark. [There is a] statue of [the] Indian patriarch Ta-mo and [the] “mountain king”. … Above the massive gateway is a small temple-shrine where the Taoist god, Yu-hwang, sits as doorkeeper to his majesty, Pu-hsien. … Inside this gate is a large, airy court, surrounded by lofty buildings; upon the left are well-furnished rooms for officials, and now occupied by our party. Before us rose a temple one hundred and forty feet long, and deep and lofty. … [The] Goddess of Mercy [is] life-size, robed in yellow, holding a small child upon her knee, while an infant rests gently within her flowing sleeve. Here barren women come and pour out their griefs. … [There is also a statue of Wei-to who upholds] the majesty of Buddhist law.

There is a dining-hall and sleeping apartments. Across the court is a wooden temple (1703) in which there are many Buddhist statues (sixteen feet high, eight feet at the base) on thronesIn another temple there is a Tibetan or Indian god, the “Holy Ancestor of high Heaven.” There are also large incense holders and many priests and novices. Continuing on, there are temples every two or three miles or more frequently in places. “The temples are hotels as well, and almost any of them can accommodate a hundred or two pilgrims without inconvenience.” (Hart, pp. 204-207, 231)

The iconography is complex, and an analysis of it is beyond the scope of this study. The main point for us is that all these temples, shrines, statues, incense holders, and the like are made in part to help pilgrims meet their gods and maybe also in part to make it easier for the gods to entertain their pilgrims.

{Important for our analysis of dreams in Part IV is that the line between temple and hotel is blurred. Temples can be hotels for pilgrims but also, apparently, for climbers and tourists who have no conscious religious motivations for their climb. So if we have a dream of staying in a hotel on a mountain or eating at a restaurant, is this a spiritual or a secular dream?}

A few more examples

To finish this chapter, I want to give the reader another glimpse of the truly massive proportions of the religious architecture on the mountains. In this section I hope to re-emphasize not only the size and physical magnitude of the structures, but also their importance to the civilizations that constructed them.

Image 19. Honden [main hall] of Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha [= a Shinto shrine built to appease the volcano kami of Fujiyama], in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka, Japan. Photo by わたり鳥.
Image 20. Honden [main hall] of Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha [= a Shinto shrine built to appease the volcano kami of Fujiyama], in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka, Japan. Photo by わたり鳥.

Regarding the shrines on Fujiyama,

The highest in rank, best maintained, and most famous, is at Omiya. [The foundation supposedly was laid in 31 BCE] When there have been violent eruptions of the volcano, these have been attributed to the displeasure of the deity at neglect, and improvement has been made. There was a time when there were forty buildings within its enclosure. (Starr, p. 126)

Image 20. Konpon-chudo [main hall of the temple which is the third largest wooden building in Japan] of Enryakuji ... temple [monastery] (Japan's National Treasure), Otsu, Shiga prefecture, Japan. It was rebuilt in 1642. Photo by 663highland.
Image 21. Konpon-chudo [main hall of the temple which is the third largest wooden building in Japan] of Enryakujitemple [monastery] (Japan’s National Treasure), Otsu, Shiga prefecture, Japan. It was rebuilt in 1642. Photo by 663highland.

For shear size I mention Enryaku-ji on Mount Hiei in Honshu which became the “great monastic center of Japanese learning and culture of the Tendai (or Lotus Sutra) school, one of the two chief Esoteric Schools of Buddhism.” By 1571 there were 3000 temple buildings, 30,000 initiates, and twenty one shrines to the Mountain King named Sanno. In that year a military leader burned all the buildings and killed many of the initiates. (Evans-Wentz, pp. 49-50)

In the following account, Broda paraphrases Durán regarding one of the Aztec mountain rituals.

Tlaloc’s main sanctuary, high up on Mount Tlaloc, … comprised a quadrangle court encircled by a white-washed enclosure, which could be seen from a great distance. On one side of this patio there was a small temple; inside it there stood a statue of the god Tlaloc surrounded by a multitude of small idols that represented all the other mountains of the Valley of Mexico. These idols “all had their names, in accordance to the mountain that they represented. …” During the ceremonies of Huey tozoztli, the rulers of Tenochtitlan, Tetzcoco, and Tlacopan brought new adornments for the statue of Tlaloc and for all the small idols, and in a solemn ceremony they dressed the idols with these new garments. The ruins of this sanctuary, at an altitude of 13,270 feet above sea level, can still be seen today. (Broda, pp. 73-74)

In China, on Mount Emei, as I said before, there was a temple made of bronze that burned down twice and was once struck by lightening. Hart describes its importance.

The place we occupy is to the Chinaman the most exalted in the empire, not only in height, but in religious importance. … Upon the highest point a few years ago stood the wonderful bronze temple, which for centuries had been the pride of Western China, and we might say of the empire. … It was a work like that of Solomon’s temple, — not large, but costly, and showed the best resources of the nation in means and art.

A short excerpt from the tablet by Fu-kwang-tsch says:

… The mountain whirlwind ever blows, but this temple changes not/
It shall endure with Pu-hsien, pure as a lotus-flower. (Hart, pp. 239-245)

The parallel with Solomon’s temple is apt psychologically. This temple too was the pride and the hope of an empire; it was built on a mountain, at great expense, with much religious fervor, and with the (false) expectation that it would last forever, physically.

I conclude this chapter with what perhaps was the most elaborate of all mountain structures and what was certainly the most massive single acting out of a projection on a mountain in western civilization, the temple of Solomon, the House of the Lord. To construct the temple, Solomon is said to have “forced labor on all Israel” using 30,000 men plus 70,000 porters and 80,000 quarriers in the hills, and 3,300 officials who were in charge (1Kings 5:27-30).

Image 22. The lighting of the golden Menorah (= candlestick) in the Holy of Holies of Solomon's Temple as portrayed by the Dutch Mennonite artist, Jan Luyken (1649-1712) with original color (artist used real gold). From "De republyk der Hebreen, of gemeenebest der Joden. (&) Vervolg op de drie boeken (...) uyt de naargelaten schriften van H.W. Goeree." i.e. "The Hebrew Republyk, or the Jewish Commonwealth ..." by P. Cunaeus and published by W. Goeree/R. Blokland between 1683 and 1701 in 4 volumes. Scan by author.
Image 22. The lighting of the golden Menorah (= candlestick) in the Holy of Holies of Solomon’s Temple as portrayed by the Dutch Mennonite artist, Jan Luyken (1649-1712) with original color (artist used real gold). From De republyk der Hebreen, of gemeenebest der Joden. (&) Vervolg op de drie boeken (…) uyt de naargelaten schriften van H.W. Goeree. i.e. The Hebrew Republyk, or the Jewish Commonwealth … by P. Cunaeus and published by W. Goeree/R. Blokland between 1683 and 1701 in 4 volumes. Scan by author, uploaded 13 November 2015.

A description of the temple is furnished in 1Kings 6, including the dimensions of the inside and outside; the silence of the construction (no iron tools were used at the work site); the quality of the entrances and their doorposts; the paneling of the inside with cedar; the overlaying of this paneling and of the floors with cedar planks so that no stone was exposed; the partitioning off of the innermost shrine, the Holy of Holies; and the overlaying of the altar, the Holy of Holies, and the whole inside of the House, including the floors, with gold; and the carving of the cherubim with combined wingspread of twenty cubits (about thirty feet), and the carvings all over the walls. In 1Kings 7:1 we are told it took seven years to build the temple. The ark with the two tablets was then brought in and placed “under the wings of the cherubim, in the Shrine of the house” (8:7).

When the priests came out of the sanctuary — for the cloud had filled the House of the Lord and the priests were not able to remain and perform the service because of the cloud, for the Presence of the Lord filled the House of the Lord — then Solomon declared:

The Lord has chosen/
To abide in a thick cloud:/
I have now built for You/
A stately House,/
A place where You/
May dwell forever.” (1Kings 8:10-13)

In the rest of 1Kings 8, Solomon blessed the people and gave a long prayer to his god in which he pleaded for justice, for forgiveness from sins if the people repent, for enough rain, for freedom from “pestilence, blight, mildew, locusts or caterpillars,” and for other things that fall under the three categories of Protection, Provision, and Instruction. Then, it is said, Solomon sacrificed 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep as dedication and consecration of the House of the Lord (offerings to the god on the mountain).

The palace he built for himself, also on the mountain, took thirteen years to make. Many upper-class families built their personal, secular homes on the cliffs opposite the Temple Mount, across the Tyropoeon Valley. It was a city in the First and Second Temple times. It looked down on Herod’s Temple and was burned by the Romans one month after they burned the Temple. (Avigad, 1981, p. 152) We may guess that Solomon and the rich people chose their homesites, not simply for “the view,” but in order to be exposed to the god living in the Temple and his blessings.


  1. Malotki & Lomatuway'ma (1987, p. 69). A paaho is a prayer stick that "carries with it a person's most intense wishes and prayers." For a fuller description of a paaho see p. 175. See also pp. 171 and 180 for descriptions of a neveqvaho and the Soyal ceremony.
  2. Aztec: Evans-Wentz (p. 74); Maya: Tedlock (1985, p. 179). The burning of copal, as I said above, is part of the divination rite; Mount Emei: Hart (pp. 202, 207, 215, 225, 262, 269).
  3. Darmesteter (1883, p. 287 — from the Zamyâd Yast. There are also references to Zoroastrian mountain sacrifices to Mithra "lord of wide pastures, ... sleepless, and ever awake" (p. 122, Mihir Yast); to Mount Ushi-darena (p. 69, Zamyâd Yast); on Haraiti Bareza to the goddess Vanguhi, "the enlivening, the healing, the beautiful" (p. 277, Ashi Yast); to Mount Saokanta (p. 287, Ashi Yast); by Zarathustra to the holy Sraosha to "smite down the fiend Kunda, who is drunken without drinking" (Darmesteter, 1883, p. 217).
  4. For the theory that with the Aztecs "blood had to be spilled to make the cosmos continue to exist" see Broda (pp. 63-64). For the theory that Aztec human sacrifice was a reenactment of the Huitzilopochtli myth see Carrasco (1987, p. 137)
  5. Mullikin & Hotchkiss (1973, p. 12). In the mountains above Palm Springs, California there is a massive rock which, to this day, is called Suicide Rock.
  6. Spectorsky (p. 39 — from Exotics and Retrospectives by Lafcadio Hearn). This practice of throwing oneself into the crater called Naiin (meaning Sanctuary) is apparently quite common: See Evans-Wentz (p. 48). See also Snelling (p. 8) for a description of the temple Badrinath, in India, "where once devotees hurled themselves bodily from the brink of an adjacent precipice — a reminder of the terrible aspect of the great god [Shiva]."
  7. Earhart (p. 11): "Yanagita's view is that the earliest shrines in Japan were natural formations such as auspicious trees or rocks around which straw ropes were drawn to indicate their sacred character." Also see Levi quoting Platon regarding Crete: "Some rites were performed on the tops of mountains, where offerings ... were ... originally placed directly on the rock or in its clefts" (p. 38) and Iakovidis (1981, p. 58) regarding the lack of any man-made architecture in the Thera mountain ritual fresco.
  8. Luckert, p. 39. Long Salt. Also remember Buster Hastiin Nez saying that they went to the top of the mountain 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'" (Luckert, p. 133).
  9. Mellink, 1981, pp. 96-97): Idols are carved into the altar, for example on "the high hill of Kalehisar." We must not forget that one motive for building altars, shrines, and temples on mountains could have been to keep them out of the way of floods and human vanadalism.
  10. Earhart (p. 10). Also see Starr (p. 123) and Evans-Wentz (p. 48). There is a pre-Buddhist shrine on Mount Hiei in China to the Mountain King, Tendai (Evans-Wentz, p. 49).
  11. Levi (pp. 40-42). On Gâvurkale, a Hittite mountain, there is a subterranean room that may have been a mausoleum for deceased ancestors. There are extensive edifices on many other Hittite rocks and mountains (Bittel, 1981, p. 67).
  12. Athens, Rhodes, Rome: Knipe (1981, p.109): "The construction of shrines and temples on the tops of hills and mountains is of worldwide occurrence;" Athena: Levi (p. 46 from the comment of G. Foerster; Tanit: Knipe (p. 109); Shiva: Evans-Wentz (p. 52); Osiris: Clifford (p. 27); Jade Emperor: Mullikin & Hotchkis (p. 12); Taoist: Knipe (p. 109).

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