10 Chapter 10. The Artificial Mountain

Introduction to Stage 4

In the last chapter we saw the remarkable gifts lavished onto the mountain gods. For example, what a house Solomon built for Yahweh! The tragedy is that the men who gave the gifts seem to have been more faithful than the mountains. The reason is that projection was the motivating factor. Just as an immature man worships a woman who he expects will cater to his every need only to be let down, so too, the immature, naive society “falls for” a mountain thinking that it will provide endless water, glorious abundance, an impenetrable shield, and all required knowledge. Inevitably it is let down. No matter how many gifts, no matter how elaborate they are, the mountain cannot keep up with the expectations projected onto it. Perhaps in the whole world, the people who have had the highest expectations for mountains and who have been jilted the most often are the Jews, and I believe, though I can not prove, it is because of their disillusionment that they turned within and developed psychology. The mountains of the psyche may not provide real water or real rocks or real light, but they can provide an inner peace and wisdom that is independent of the political vicissitudes that rip people away from their beloved hills.

In this chapter it should begin to become clear just how much of the mountain experience is psychological projection, that is, just how fickle are the mountain gods. The fact is that a mountain can one day have little meaning, and then suddenly it can develop a god-like significance. In the early days, Luckert tells us, Navajo Mountain was thought of “with a measure of disdain.”

But when during the nineteenth century Navajo pioneers gradually approached this mountain from the east, they began to compare it more sympathetically to a loaf of blue cornbread. And finally, when in 1863 Navajo refugees hid [from Kit Carson] behind this mountain, looking at it from the west, it revealed itself as a divine Shield, yea, as the Head of Earth itself. (Luckert, 1977, p. 5.)

Not only do mountains “become” gods, but the mountain gods can travel from mountain to mountain and even to artificial mountains built for them. More dramatically, artificial mountains are made smaller and smaller and more and more symbolic, until they disappear from external reality altogether and reappear as symbols within religious ritual and mythology. This is a main point of this book — that there are stages of the mountain religion that show a progression from outer to inner.

The gods travel

Image 1. A classic yorishiro [= a tree that is a spirit or houses a spirit] ... [with a] Shimenawa [= a rope around a tree that marks it as a spirit] around a giant Sugi [= a tree in the cypress family] at the Yuki shrine in Kyoto. Photo by Chris Gladis (MShades) from Kyoto, Japan.
Image 1. A classic yorishiro [= a tree that is a spirit or houses a spirit] … [with a] Shimenawa [= a rope around a tree that marks it as a spirit] around a giant Sugi [= a tree in the cypress family] at the Yuki shrine in Kyoto. Photo by Chris Gladis (MShades) from Kyoto, Japan.

The gods travel, in somewhat disguised form, as statues. Originally, it seems, men were fascinated by certain unusually shaped spirit-boulders.[1] Later they set up large standing stones (menhirs and dolmens) and saw them as ancestors or gods.[2]

Image 2. The Kerloas Menhir, near Plouarzel in Brittany, France. With a height of 9.5 meters this menhir is the tallest standing menhir in Bretagne. A few centuries ago the top was destroyed in a thunder storm: originally it must have been over 10 meters high. (See: J. Briard: The Megaliths of Brittany). Photo by User:China_Crisis.
Image 2. The Kerloas Menhir, near Plouarzel in Brittany, France. With a height of 9.5 meters this menhir is the tallest standing menhir in Bretagne. A few centuries ago the top was destroyed in a thunder storm: originally it must have been over 10 meters high. (See: J. Briard: The Megaliths of Brittany). Photo by User:China_Crisis.

For menhirs throughout South East Asia see Wales (1953, pp. 96, 99, 124-126). For “lines of single, free-standing menhirs” from 2000 BCE on the slopes surrounding Glastonbury, see Roberts (1978, p. 19). Some of these stones were carved.[3] Eventually, it seems, the menhir became a statue of the king (or god) that was capable of being moved around, even taken down from the mountain and into a village house or temple (Wales, pp. 124-125).

Image 3. Arslankaya, Phrygisches Monument bei Afyon, Türkei [= Arslankaya, a Phrygian Monument from Afyon, Turkey] [with carving of the goddess Kubile inside the carved door — not visible in the photo]. Photo by Klaus-Peter Simon.
Image 3. Arslankaya, Phrygisches Monument bei Afyon, Türkei [= Arslankaya, a Phrygian Monument from Afyon, Turkey] [with carving of the goddess Kubile inside the carved door — not visible in the photo]. Photo by Klaus-Peter Simon.

The Phrygian goddess, Kubile, traveled a lot after her early days as a goddess of the mountains where she was worshipped on the mountain tops in the open-air on rock-cut altars. Here she may have appeared, rendered on the rock [altar] behind the steps. … Kubile abandons the absolute freedom of nature for a man-built dwelling, a temple. …

…  The megaron facade [of the Arslankaya monument in the western Phrygian highlands] … is carved on a giant rock formation. … [The front is] carved as a doorway with opened doors to reveal the relief of a standing goddess, rendered frontally in a long robe and polos, flanked by two giant lions which rear up to her and put their front paws on her shoulders [probably the first half of the 6th century BCE]. (Mellink, 1981, pp. 97-99)

Image 4. Cybèle trônant dans un naïskos. IVe s. av. J.-C. Musée de l'Agora antique d'Athènes. Photographie prise par Μαρσύας (2005) = {Cybele {= the Phrygian mother goddess Kubile} enthroned in a naiskos [= a small shrine]. Fourth century BCE, the Ancient Agora Museum of Athens, Greece.] Photograph taken by Μαρσύας (2005).
Image 4. Cybèle trônant dans un naïskos. IVe s. av. J.-C. Musée de l’Agora antique d’Athènes. Photographie prise par Μαρσύας (2005) = [Cybele {= the Phrygian mother goddess Kubile} enthroned in a naiskos {= a small shrine}. Fourth century BCE, the Ancient Agora Museum of Athens, Greece.] Photograph taken by Μαρσύας (2005).

This Phrygian Kubile is found translated into the East Greek 6th century BCE version where

she is the goddess seated in a naiskos, a small model of a gabled shrine. She wears a polos and is dressed in an old fashioned Anatolian long robe and veil, and may be holding a lion in her lap. (Mellink, p. 98)

Image 5. La deidad Pascual Abaj, situado en su altar en la cima de la colina Turk'aj, a 1200 metros del centro de la localidad de Chichicastenango (Guatemala). A la izquierda se ve una cruz cristiana, y a la derecha hay un crucifijo, que indican la presencia de un fuerte sincretismo religioso. [= Pascual Abaj, a Mayan stone deity , its altar situated on the hilltop Turk'aj , 1200 meters from the center of the town of Chichicastenango (Guatemala). To the left is a Christian cross, and right there is a crucifix , which indicate the presence of a strong religious syncretism.] Photo by Javier P. Santos.
Image 5. La deidad Pascual Abaj, situado en su altar en la cima de la colina Turk’aj, a 1200 metros del centro de la localidad de Chichicastenango (Guatemala). A la izquierda se ve una cruz cristiana, y a la derecha hay un crucifijo, que indican la presencia de un fuerte sincretismo religioso. [= Pascual Abaj, a Mayan stone deity, its altar situated on the hilltop Turk’aj, 1200 meters from the center of the town of Chichicastenango (Guatemala). To the left is a Christian cross, and right there is a crucifix, which indicate the presence of a strong religious syncretism.] Photo by Javier P. Santos.

Another account of a god traveling in the form of a statue was taken by Broda from L. Shultze-Jena who spent time in the highland Quiché town of Chichicastenango, Guatemala, in 1930. He described idols called alxik (little gods of destiny).

They were related to the Tutek’aj, a large stone idol situated on the summit of the ritually most important mountain of the region. The diviner of the community used the small idols as intermediaries in orations and offerings to the Turuk’aj. They were carefully wrapped in a cloth and were kept in the house of the diviner where they received regular offerings. Shultze-Jena suggests that in former times some of these small stone idols were considered aj ixim, “protector of the corn kernels,” aj choch, “protector of the house,” aj su’ts, “beings or lords of the clouds.” {Broda, 1987, p. 90 — from L. Shultz-Jena — recall also Durán’s account of the cult of the earth goddess Cihuacoatl (p. 91)}

These little Protectors of the corn and of the house along with the Lords of the clouds, could be brought right down into a man’s house. They were not so much statues as aids to the imagination. I would guess that the people did not want to take a chance of missing the god on the mountain so they built the Tutek’aj, and then, perhaps, they got too lazy to climb up or were not able to climb up to the Tutek’aj so they made themselves some alxik. Now they could sit in their homes and still be with the mountain gods.

But it is not just as a statue that the gods travel. They move by themselves, directly. We have very clear accounts of these migrations. Some Japanese gods came down the mountains to help with the rice planting and harvesting. One Fujiyama god was said to go off at night to an island in the ocean only to return to his mountain residence in the morning.

Image 6. The erection of the Tabernacle and the Sacred vessels, as in Exodus 40:17-19, "And it came to pass in the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, that the tabernacle was reared up. And Moses reared up the tabernacle, and fastened his sockets, and set up the boards thereof, and put in the bars thereof, and reared up his pillars. And he spread abroad the tent over the tabernacle, and put the covering of the tent above upon it; as the Lord commanded Moses."; illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible; illustrated by Gerard Hoet (1648–1733) and others, and published by P. de Hondt in The Hague; image courtesy Bizzell Bible Collection, University of Oklahoma Libraries. Photographer not given.
Image 6. The erection of the Tabernacle and the Sacred vessels, as in Exodus 40:17-19, “And it came to pass in the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, that the tabernacle was reared up. And Moses reared up the tabernacle, and fastened his sockets, and set up the boards thereof, and put in the bars thereof, and reared up his pillars. And he spread abroad the tent over the tabernacle, and put the covering of the tent above upon it; as the Lord commanded Moses.”; illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible; illustrated by Gerard Hoet (1648–1733) and others, and published by P. de Hondt in The Hague; image courtesy Bizzell Bible Collection, University of Oklahoma Libraries. Photographer not given.

The Jewish god also spent a lot of time on the road. In fact, the Jewish Bible is, in large part, the Lord’s travelogue. When He “came forth from Seir [the mountain]” (Judges 5:4; also see Psalm 68), he left Mount Sinai and never returned. For about eight hundred years “Him of Sinai” (Judges 5:5) travelled around in the tabernacle, fashioned to His own specifications from instructions He gave Moses on Mount Sinai. During this time period He had no “permanent residence.” Other smaller mountains, like Mount Gerizim at Shechem, served Him as “temporary homes.” Freedman (1981, pp. 21-22) It is also said that a Cloud preceded Israel and leveled all the mountains flat except for

Sinai, as the place of the revelation; Nebo, as the burial-place of Moses; and Hor, consisting of a twin mountain, as a burial-place for Aaron. Apart from these three mountains, there were none in the desert, but the cloud would leave little elevations on the place where Israel pitched camp, that the sanctuary might thereupon be set up. (Ginzberg, 1967?-1969, Vol. 2, pp. 316-317)

Image 7. Dutch Title: Afbeelding en Gezight van alle de Gebouwen des Temples, als ook van de daar Rondom Leggende Huizen, aan het Zuider Gedeelte van de Stad. Volgens P. Lamy. Translation: A Representation and view of all the buildings of the temple as also of the houses round about on the south side of the city. according to F. Lamy. Artist: A. D. Putter. This is an 18th century Christian idea of what Solomon's Temple must have looked like. Scanned by author.
Image 7. Dutch Title: Afbeelding en Gezight van alle de Gebouwen des Temples, als ook van de daar Rondom Leggende Huizen, aan het Zuider Gedeelte van de Stad. Volgens P. Lamy. Translation: A Representation and view of all the buildings of the temple as also of the houses round about on the south side of the city. according to F. Lamy. Artist: A. D. Putter. This is an 18th century Christian idea of what Solomon’s Temple must have looked like. Scanned by author, 15 November 2015.

Finally he wound up in Jerusalem in His house built for Him by Solomon, presumably forever:

Thus saith the LordI am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and Jerusalem shall be called The city of truth; and the mountain of the Lord of hosts the holy mountain (Zechariah 8:3).

Close to the time of the destruction of the first temple, Ezekiel saw the Lord leave Zion (and His House) to stand on a neighboring mountain: “The Presence of the Lord ascended from the midst of the city and stood on the hill east of the city” (Ezekiel 11:23).

The second temple was destroyed in 70 CE by the Romans, but an old story said that this happened only after the Shekinah [the female immanence of the Lord] abandoned itPesikta and Ikah say

that for thirteen and a half years the Shekinah, after withdrawing from the Temple, dwelled on the Mount of Olives, from where it proclaimed, three times daily, to the people: “I will go and return to My place, till they acknowledge their guilt and seek My face.”(Ginzberg, Vol. 6, pp. 392-393n — “Others say the Shekinah never left the western wall,” and in some versions she returned to Heaven.)

To emphasize again that this traveling of the gods can be presented as a very real psychological experience and not just a fabricated moral tale, I cite the following story from Iceland of a

second-sighted man, Thorhall, who was seen one morning smiling as he lay in his bed beside the window. When asked why, he said that he had seen the hills opening and the creatures who dwelt in them packing their possessions and getting ready to leave. This was said to have taken place before the arrival of Thangbrand the missionary in Iceland. (Davidson, 1969, p. 134)

Men make artificial mountains: Mounds and pyramids

Yahweh may move from Mount Sinai to Mount Gerizim to Mount Zion to the Mount of Olives, but some gods were not as lucky in finding mountains wherever they went. Sometimes faithful men made these gods artificial mountains. In many cases it is an assumption that the mounds and pyramids were copies of mountains from which the people and their gods migrated. But it was a common practice to build mounds and pyramids that stood for mountains.

Among the Egyptians “the Height” was the name and the symbol of the temple. … Every Egyptian temple, as a matter of fact, is built on an artificial height. (Kristensen, 1960, p. 106)

The artificial mountain could be a simple, if large, mound of earth.

The [Chinese] imperial mound of the great god of the soil in Han times [possibly dated back to the Shang dynasty] was a tumulus fifty feet square situated in the palace, and each of its four faces was painted with the colour appropriate to the particular direction. When a vassal was installed he was presented with a clod of earth from the side of the mound appropriate to the direction in which his fief lay. He had to incorporate it in his local mound, thus making this a manifestation of the imperial god.[4]

Image 7. यह मंदिर ग्राम देवता के नाम से मश्हूर है जो कि बाहुपुरा गाँव के उत्तर दिशा में स्थित है. यहाँ पर एक पीपल का 500 साल पुराना पेड़ है.भुइयार (Bhuiyar) समाज की दो महिलायें पूजा अर्चना करते हुए दिखाई दें रही हैं. (ग्राम - बाहुपुरा जिला बिजनौर उत्तर प्रदेश ) भारत - दया राम सिंह भामड़ा = A temple near the Bahupura village which is located in the north. This is a 500 year old Ficus tree (= Peepal Tree = Ashwattha Tree) being venerated by two women of the ... Bhuiyar caste (= a Hindu caste of North India), Bahupura, Bijnor district of Uttar Pradesh, India .... [This is not the tree of the Naga people discussed below, and it is not clear if it is planted on an artificial mountain, but it is probably similar to the ones that are.] Photo by DRBHAMBRA.
Image 8. यह मंदिर ग्राम देवता के नाम से मश्हूर है जो कि बाहुपुरा गाँव के उत्तर दिशा में स्थित है. यहाँ पर एक पीपल का 500 साल पुराना पेड़ है.भुइयार (Bhuiyar) समाज की दो महिलायें पूजा अर्चना करते हुए दिखाई दें रही हैं. (ग्राम – बाहुपुरा जिला बिजनौर उत्तर प्रदेश ) भारत – दया राम सिंह भामड़ा = A temple near the Bahupura village which is located in the north. This is a 500 year old Ficus tree [= Peepal Tree = Ashwattha Tree] being venerated by two women of the … Bhuiyar caste [= a Hindu caste of North India], Bahupura, Bijnor district of Uttar Pradesh, India …. [This is not the tree of the Naga people discussed below, and it is not clear if it is planted on an artificial mountain, but it is probably similar to the ones that are.] Photo by DRBHAMBRA.

It seems to have been a common practice throughout Southeast Asia for a mound to be constructed in each village, and, on top of the mound, a Ficus tree would be planted and a sacred stone placed under it. For example, with the Lhotas,

a magnificent Ficus crowns a mound situated well in the middle of every village. The fortune of the village is considered to be bound up with this tree. When a new village is founded there must be a suitable tree, and it must be consecrated by a twig taken from the sacred tree of the parent village and placed under the new tree. … Under the sacred tree are placed the oha stones. Hutton says that these [are] the repository of the clan’s prosperity. The Ao Nagas have a similar tree. (Wales, p. 84)

These people bring the mountain along with its tree and rock right into the middle of their villages. This, we may assume, gives them a feeling of security and prosperity.

One step more abstract than the mound is the pyramid. Somewhat surprisingly, the largest and most famous of all pyramids, those in Egypt, are very likely not artificial mountains but an attempt to approximate an ideal trapezoidal shape. The most well-documented pyramids that are almost certainly artificial mountains are from Southeast Asia and Mexico.

Image 9. Phnom Bakheng, the main temple of Yasodharapura, the first city in Angkor, built on a hill of the same name in the late 9th and early 10th century a.d.. Phnom Bakheng (khmer: Phnom meaning hill) is the only elevation (ca. 60 m) in the region of Angkor and a popular place for visitors to watch sunset. [It is possible that this was the linga temple described below.] Photo by Manfred Werner (User:Tsui, Tsui at de.wikipedia.org).
Image 9. Phnom Bakheng, the main temple of Yasodharapura, the first city in Angkor, built on a hill of the same name in the late 9th and early 10th century a.d. Phnom Bakheng (khmer: Phnom meaning hill) is the only elevation (ca. 60 m) in the region of Angkor and a popular place for visitors to watch sunset. [It is possible that this was the linga temple described below.] Photo by Manfred Werner (User:Tsui, Tsui at de.wikipedia.org).

In Cambodia, in the 9th century CE, King Jayavarman II set up

linga on a stepped pyramidthe temple-mountain. That this pyramid was indeed intended to represent a mountain we know from the fact that a bas-relief on the Bantèay Srei temple (A.D. 968) shows a representation of Mount Kailas as a three-stepped pyramid.[5]

Image 10. National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City [Mexico]. Reconstruction of the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan. Photo by Wolfgang Sauber, derivative work: Joyborg (talk)
Image 10. National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City [Mexico]. Reconstruction of the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan. Photo by Wolfgang Sauber, derivative work: Joyborg (talk)

The most impressive and most decisive example for our argument is the Great Temple of Tenochittlan, the great Aztec Pyramid that stood in what is now Mexico City. According to Durán, the spatial order of the whole city, with the placement of the “mountain” in the center, was dictated by the god who founded the city, Huitzilopochtli, whose

cult was taken …, from Coatepec, the Mountain of the Serpent, as it was practiced from times most ancient. (Montezuma, 1987, p. 55)

Carrasco says that Durán’s text says,

the god ordered the priest to “divide the men, each with his relatives, friends and relations in four principal barrios, placing at the center the house you have built for my rest.” (my bold)

Each quadrant had its own name, color, and influences (Carrasco, 1987, p. 141) (cf. the arrangement of the twelve Hebrew tribes, in three groups of four, around the tabernacle in the desert.

Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, the director of the 1978-1982 archaeological excavation of the Great Temple describes the temple as it was. The pyramid was the house of two unrelated gods: Huitzilopochtli the sun god (god of war, born on Coatepec) and Tlaloc the rain god (from Mount Tlaloc). The Temple was a “twin sacred hill.”

Through the seven major stages of construction we find embedded in architecture the idea of duality: there exist two bases built on a common platform with the shrines of the god of water and the god of war on the upper level. Both bases and pyramidal sections represent hills or sacred mountains revered in Mexican tradition. We have ethnographic evidence of this architectural duality. Back in 1898 don Francisco del Paso y Troncoso, who had studied the Codice Borbonicus, told us that Sahagún referred to the temple of Huitzilopochtli as the Koatepetl and that Tlaloc was depicted on top of the hills. Referring to this god, the author says: and that those hills … remind us of the cult which was now rendered not physically on the top of the hills, but rather on the platforms of the pyramids which, in order to preserve the steepness of the sides of the hills, were built with steep stairways.

The hill on the south side, corresponding to Huitzilopochtli, is a specific hill: Coatepec. …

It is significant that in the third construction stage the materia that forms the base of the temple contains projecting stone with no representations on them. This results in a realistic image of a hill. The stones simply are in their natural form and jut out from the walls. (Moctezuma, p. 57)

Moctezuma goes on to state that it seems that the Temple expresses a duality between the war god and the god of sustenance, and, in a broader sense, between life (Tlaloc) and death (Huitzilopochtli) itself “in addition to serving as the entrance to the Omeyocan [heaven] and the Mictlan [the underworld], a symbolism that is implicit in the temple itself.” Moctezuma says that the excavators believe also that the

general platform on which the temple rests represents the earthly level of the cosmos. … [The] stepped sides represent diverse heavens or levels of ascent until one arrives at the upper level (or heaven) where the two shrines in which the gods reside are located. It is there that the duality, the Omeyocan, is situated. (p. 58)

Much of what we said in previous chapters about the beliefs and cults of the actual mountains can, therefore, be said also about the beliefs and cults of this artificial mountain of the Aztecs. There is a Protector god (though here he is assimilated to the Instructor god of light) and a Provider god. The god’s country can be entered at the top, and there is an underworld at the bottom.

The Aztecs, like the Israelites, were a peripatetic people whose mountain gods traveled with them. Unlike the Israelites, however, the Aztecs built a whole mountain for their gods.[6]

The temple-mountain

Image 11. The bamah (high place) of Megiddo [Israel] הבמה במגידו. Photo by Eitan f.
Image 11. The bamah (high place) of Megiddo [Israel]
הבמה במגידו. Photo by Eitan f.

One step more towards abstraction is the temple-mountain. Here the immediate and obvious resemblance to an actual mountain may be missing but the inner connection remains. An early example of this may have been the tabernacle made by Moses to house the presence of Yahweh (Exodus 25-7). It may have been meant as an image of Mount Sinai. Another example may have been the Old Testament bamot or high places which were altars whose form we do not know but whose name implies they were imitation mountains.[7] 1Samuel 9:12-25 indicates the possible dimensions of a bamah, which, in this case, served as a dining area for thirty people. Bamot were built on city streets (Ezekiel 16:24) and also on hills (1Kings 11:7). The tabernacle of the Lord was kept “in the [bamah] that was at Gibeon” (1Chronicles 16:39-40, not JPS): “There was the tabernacle of the congregation of god, which Moses the servant of the Lord had made in the wilderness” (2Chronicles 1:3, not JPS).[8] I surmise that until the temple in Jerusalem was constructed the bamot were the artificial mountains of Israel, like the temple-pyramid of the Aztecs.

Image 12. Borobudur temple view from northwest plateau, Central Java, Indonesia. Photo by Gunawan Kartapranata.
Image 12. Borobudur temple view from northwest plateau, Central Java, Indonesia. Photo by Gunawan Kartapranata.

The Hittites also had artificial structures called NA4hekur which means something like ever-lasting peak (Bittel (1981, p. 66). And the idea that the Summerian temples, the ziggurats, often were assimilated to the “cosmic mountain” has been well-documented, but is worth repeating as a reminder in our context. Here are the words of Eliade, the pioneer researcher into the motif of the cosmic mountain.

temples were called the “mountain house,” the “house of the mountain of all lands,” the “mountain of storms,” the “bond between sky and earth,” and so on. A cylinder dating from the time of King Gudea says that “the [god’s] bedroom which he [the king] built, was like to the cosmic mountain.” Every eastern city stood at the centre of the world. Babylon was a Bab-ilani, a “door of the gods,” for it was there that the gods came down to earth. The Mesopotamian ziqqurat was, properly speaking, a cosmic mountain. … The temple of Borobudur is also an image of the cosmos and is built in the shape of a mountain. When a pilgrim climbs it, he is coming close to the centre of the world, and on its highest terrace he breaks through into another sphere, transcending profane, heterogeneous space, and entering a “pure earth.”[9]

Image 13. Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta [Columbia]. Photo by Taggen.
Image 13. Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta [Columbia]. Photo by Taggen.

The Kogi Indians of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, in Columbia, construct a temple that is a model of their conception of the universe as a nine-layer cosmos with the earth as the central level. The center of the temple represents “the snowpeaks of the Sierra Nevada” which in turn is seen as the “central post” of the world. This center allows the division of the world into four directions. (Upton, 1981, pp. 291-297 — taken partly from Reichel-Domatoff)

Image 14. മക്കയിലെ കഅബ [= Circumambulating] the Kaaba [Ka`bah] in Meca [Makka = Mecca, Saudi Arabia]. Photo by Yousefmadari at ml.wikipedia.
Image 14. മക്കയിലെ കഅബ = [Circumambulating] the Kaaba [Ka`bah] in Meca [= Makkah = Mecca, Saudi Arabia]. Photo by Yousefmadari at ml.wikipedia.

Stories about how the Ka`bah at Makkah (Mecca) was built of sacred mountain rock show that it too is conceived of as an artificial mountain-temple. It is, to believing Moslems, the House of God. In one legend the Black Stone built into the eastern corner of the Ka`bah was

brought forth to Ibrahim [Abraham] by the angel Jibrī (Gabriel) from Jabal Abū Qubays (a mountain near Makkah), where it had reposed since the Flood, having been a part of the original Ka`bahThe stone was originally white but was turned black by being in contact with the sins of man. On Judgment Day the Stone will speak out in witness against mankind. (Long, 1979, pp. 5-6)

Miniature and ritual mountains

The ultimate in reduction of the mountain are the miniatures used in place of the big mountains they represent.

Image 15. 東京都豊島区高松の富士浅間神社境内にある重要有形民俗文化財の「豊島長崎の富士塚」Translation: "Toshima Nagasaki Fujizuka" [= a mound representing Fujiyama] important tangible folk cultural assets in Toshima-ku, Tokyo Takamatsu Fuji Sengen Shrine [Japan]. Photo by Thirteen-fri.
Image 15. 東京都豊島区高松の富士浅間神社境内にある重要有形民俗文化財の「豊島長崎の富士塚」Translation: “Toshima Nagasaki Fujizuka” [= a mound representing Fujiyama] important tangible folk cultural assets in Toshima-ku, Tokyo Takamatsu Fuji Sengen Shrine [Japan]. Photo by Thirteen-fri.

In Japan they are called Fujizuka.

One example of this was in the Great Fire Ceremony on Fujiyama where Japanese boys carried

on a platform … a miniature representation of the mountain itself. It was more elliptical of base than the real mountain. There were four torii, at the four sides of the platform — either really referring to the four trails going up the mountain, or to the four cardinal points. … A second, smaller, representation of the same sort, was carried by boys of twelve or thirteen years of age … [who] deposited [it] at a set place in the village itself. (Starr, 1924, pp. 129-130) (my bold)

Also with respect to Fujiyama we are told that

it would be a mistake to think that the whole tale [of the mountain religion] has been told when we have listed the shrines on the mountain itself. One of the great Sengen shrines, interesting for its history and its art, one of the showplaces of the tourists and the guide-books is the new Sengen shrine at Shizuoka. Not so very new, and of high rank, it is the only Sengen shrine known to most travelers. There are, however, hundreds more. Not counting “minor shrines,” there are in Suruga 95 and in Kai 43 Sengen shrines. They occur even after we leave “the lands” of the sacred mountain. There were many Fuji shrines in Tokyo itself. I remember one in Asakusa, which burned a few years ago. It was a quiet place when we visited it, but the devout might go there to worship when it was impossible to ascend the mountain or to visit a great Sengen shrineThere they left ema, crude pictures of the mountain painted on boards, as prayer — or thank-offering. In the little enclosure we photographed a stone monument [shaped like Fuji] erected by the seven Fujiko of Kanda, Tokyo. Members of Fujiko begged my friend, Ota Setcho, to locate and list the Fuji shrines of Tokyo and to arrange a line of pilgrimage in a convenient circuit. It was my intention, when he should have done this, to make the pilgrimage. He believed that there were about sixteen Fuji shrines within the limits of the city. (Starr, pp. 127-128) (my bold)

Two perfect examples of how these miniature, artificial mountains are used in formal rituals can be found in Snelling:

That venerable authority on Tibetan Buddhism, L. A. Waddell, describes a mandalic ritual employing rice, where a portion of rice is set down in the centre to represent the world mountain, and the officiating lama chants: “In the centre of the iron wall is Hum and Ria-rab (Meru), the king of mountains.” Another writer on Tibetan Buddhist practice, R. B. Ekvall, describes a simple substitute mandala that can be created by interlacing the fingers of both hands with the palms turned upwards and the two third fingers, back to back, “pointing upward to represent Meru.” (Snelling, p. 38)

A contemporary example: Our Lady of Ephesus House of Prayer in Jamaica, Vermont, USA

{About half way through editing this book, a colleague told me about a place not far from where I live in Vermont. On a mountain in Jamaica, Vermont (USA), there is a re-creation of a house, the original of which is on a mountain in Ephesus in Turkey. In the original house which is on Nightingale Mountain in Turkey, it is said that the Mother of Jesus spent her last years. The next day I drove the ten miles or so to visit the re-created house, and it seems to me worthwhile to include its story as an additional example in this chapter.

Image 16. The exterior view of the restored house, now serving as a chapel. Ephesus, Virgin Mary's house [Turkey]. Photo by Rita 1234.
Image 16. The exterior view of the restored house, now serving as a chapel. Ephesus, Virgin Mary’s house [Turkey]. Photo by Rita 1234.

I think a good way to introduce the reader to the original house in Ephesus, Turkey, is to quote from the website of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles.

Our community first began … in 1995, in the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania. We were originally called the Oblates of Mary, Queen of Apostles … In March 2006, we accepted the invitation of Bishop Robert W. Finn to transfer to his diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri. We were established … with the new name, “Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles”. ….

Ephesus: It was at the foot of the cross that the Lord entrusted St. John and Our Lady to each other with the words “Son, behold thy Mother” … “Mother, behold thy Son.” (Jn. 19:26-27) John … was to be spiritually supported by His Mother. Mary was to be materially supported by John, “who took her unto his own.” We know that the Lord left her behind on earth for a reason: to nurture the infant Church by her prayer and example, to be a presence and support for the Apostles amidst their untiring labors.

According to tradition, the Apostles disbanded after the martyrdom of St. James in Jerusalem. St. John … made a home in Ephesus where his new Mother might dwell. …

Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, a mystic of the 19th Century, received detailed visions of Our Lady’s final years and assumption, which were dictated to the German poet, Clemens von Brentano. The writings were taken in hand many years later by skeptical Lazarist Fathers stationed in Turkey at the close of the nineteenth century. Sister of Charity Marie Mandat de Grancy challenged the men to go look for Our Lady’s house on Bubul Dagh as described by the visionary. This they did, and found the ruins of a monastery of women at the foot of a deteriorating little house, tucked in the secluded mountainside [on the top of Nightingale Mountain = Bubul Dagh] exactly as described by Emmerich. The local Turks had long held that this was indeed Our Lady’s house, where she spent her final earthly days. Bishop Roncalli (later Blessed John XXIII) visited, as did Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

This little home is the very inspiration for our own house of prayer, the Priory of Our Lady of Ephesus. Its very obscurity remains an inspiration to us. It is that little house that served as a powerhouse of prayer to the infant Church. Though little is written of it, we do know that St. Paul wrote in the final lines of his first Epistle to the Corinthians that he would “tarry at Ephesus,” which he did for two years. … in all probability, he visited the Mother of God to receive encouragement and strength as he went out again, on fire to spread the Word of God. Most scripture scholars agree that St. Luke, also venerated at Ephesus, must have received the Infancy narratives first-hand from Our Lady. … many other Scripture scholars have projected the Gospel’s authorship as having been undertaken within the ancient city. (Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, 2016)

Image 17. Our Lady of Ephesus House of Prayer, Jamaica, Vermont, USA, 1347 foot elevation. Photo by author.
Image 17. Our Lady of Ephesus House of Prayer, Jamaica, Vermont, USA, 1347 foot elevation. Photo by author.

The above account details the devout belief that there is a house on a mountain in Turkey in which the Mother of Jesus spent her last days. According to the Catholic Travel Guide, the shrine is visited by ten thousand visitors a week (roughly a half million visitors a year). And, as we have just seen, the house on a mountain in Turkey has inspired a religious order in Missouri, USA.

There are others who have been inspired by the house in Turkey. Elizabeth (Moore) Fraser first visited the house on April 3, 1959 with a priest and family friend, Father Bernard F. Deutsch. She had visionary experiences in the house, and here is what happened when she returned home:

“It’s an amazing story, the way it came together,’’ said Mary Tarinelli [a daughter of Elizabeth (Moore) Fraser] … Tarinelli’s parents were both from Vermont. In the 1950s, her dad was stationed in Athens with the Air Force. During this time, a modern road was built to Meryem Ana Evi and her dad went to take a look. “Father said that being up on the mountain reminded him of Vermont,’’ said Tarinelli.

Thus began a connection between the Green Mountain State and western Anatolia, a link set in stone in 1994 when Tarinelli and her husband, Don, donated 82 acres of a 200-acre horse farm to establish Our Lady of Ephesus House of Prayer. Tarinelli hired Gregory Brown, a local mason, to construct the chapel using rocks from the property. But before the project began, she took him to see the original. “We happened to be there when the Turks were excavating a tomb,’’ said Tarinelli. “I said to a soldier, ‘Isn’t that a beautiful view?’ to distract him while Greg scrambled on the roof to take measurements.’’

Building commenced in 2000, and was completed in 2006. The result is remarkable. The footprint matches the Turkish original and the stones are set in identical patterns. There’s an entry foyer that leads to the main chapel where the altar nestles within a curved apse, and a wing to the right that is said — in the original — to have been Mary’s bedroom. The Archbishop Emeritus of Izmir [Turkey], Giuseppe Bernardini, has visited and blessed the newer structure. (A shrine echoes from ancient Turkey …, November 7, 2010)

Image 18. The Interior of the house [of the Virgin Mary, Ephesus, Turkey]. Photo by Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada (https://www.flickr.com/photos/22490717@N02).
Image 18. The Interior of the house [of the Virgin Mary, Ephesus, Turkey]. Photo by Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada (https://www.flickr.com/photos/22490717@N02).

Elizabeth (Moore) Fraser’s traveling companion to Ephesus in 1959, Father Deutsch, wrote a book about the shrine. In it (1965, pp. 127-129) he gives Elizabeth Fraser’s account of her experience, in her own words. Because this is a relatively rare contemporary description of what I am calling “a mountain experience,” I give it in full.

It was a fresh spring day and so quiet and peaceful up there on the mountain [Nightingale Mountain], I stood outside Mary’s house and looked all over to enjoy the same scenery that She must have enjoyed, especially at that time of year, with daisies scattered over the mountainside, a little olive grove beside the house, the view of the blue sea below and the mountain top not far above. There were many clouds in the sky and they kept passing in front of the sun, creating problems for taking pictures.

Before long it was time to enter Mary’s house for Mass. Right away I wanted to be sure I prayed for everyone who couldn’t have the privilege of visiting there. I think I mentioned everyone by name or group, and especially those who suffer. As I stood for the Gospel, I thought, “How beautiful it is here with the sun shining in and Mass being celebrated!”

Now there were thoughts coming to me as though Mary herself was speaking to me: “We love them, dear. Why, the reward for suffering is so great that even if you were told you wouldn’t know. Your minds aren’t meant to know. This life is no more than a short wave of the hand with no more than a veil between.” These and other ideas were like wonderful news to me, although I knew I had always believed them. I felt I could hardly wait to go to my sister and tell her [her sister had four children, two were healthy, one had severe cerebral palsy, and the other had Down’s Syndrome]. How happy she would be to know how truly blessed are children who are handicapped.

Then I thought I should say the rosary-surely a rosary in Mary’s house, of all places. As I recited the Apostles’ Creed, each truth was so real to me, and the following prayers so meaningful! After a few Hail Marys of the first decade, with the realization that Mass was proceeding, I tried to make myself more conscious of the precise part and moment of the Mass. Despite my attempt to do this I could not, because the rays of the sun, shining in on the Gospel side of the altar, were too distracting, The fact that they were not constant, but kept going off and on as though little clouds were quickly passing before the sun, was the main source of distraction.

I looked at the light and mentally answered as in reply to a wish of the Blessed Mother: “All right, Mary! How do you look in your little house?” Then, without knowing why and with a strong impression of “statue” in the back of my mind, I looked to the other side of the altar. At first she wasn’t there-then she was.

There was no surprise in all of this except that the Blessed Mother didn’t look as I had always pictured her. Her hair was black instead of light. And because of this I said to her in my mind: “Of course you look like this; you were Jewish.” Then I looked at her eyes. Because of having heard that Mary’s smile was the most beautiful thing about her appearance, I continued: “They’re wrong. It’s your eyes that are most beautiful! So this is how love and happiness look-it’s all in your eyes!” Then, looking at her cheek: “No, it’s your cheek that is most beautiful!” I looked at her mouth Her lips were parted as if she were about to speak. “No”, I said, “It’s your mouth that is most beautiful.” Mary then smiled broadly. “Oh yes, they are right! It is your smile that is most beautiful.” Mary looked toward the altar, and I said to her: “Oh, you are so pleased that we came to visit and that Mass is being said in your little house.” I was so happy that she was pleased. I wish that more could be said about this moment, but there just aren’t words.

Mary’s hair was loose around her forehead. She wore a sheer veil, pale in color, which seemed to be folded back on her head and to fall longer than her shoulders. And I remember so well thinking of those beautiful amber eyes, so very round and full that all creation could be seen in them. I simply couldn’t take my eyes from her face and, therefore, am unable to describe anything else Mary wore—I really don’t know.

While I was admiring her beauty, there were still thoughts coming from Mary such as these: “Don’t worry so, dear. You aren’t meant to understand. We know! And we know that you don’t know, that is why God is so merciful. Everything is as it should be according to God’s plan. We are with them.”

I was looking at Mary, her cheek especially because I could see all her face that way, when the Sanctus announced the beginning of the Consecration. I looked away from Mary and thought not [sic] more about her until I went up to Communion.

I thought I’d look at the beautiful statue now that I was at the altar, and when I did I was looking at the old statue up in back of the altar. It was black metal; the nose was broken off, and the arms were broken at the wrists. The statue looked so ugly to me after expecting to see such beauty that I couldn’t look away and put it out of my mind fast enough.

It wasn’t until the Last Gospel that I looked back at the same statue above the altar. The sun was shining in once more, and in place of the ugly black statue I saw Mary once again. At the time I wondered how the statue could be so ugly from up close and so beautiful from the kneeling bench.

After Mass I picked up my belongings and walked up to the altar. I was ready to remark how pretty it was with the sun shining in, and at the same instant I looked up to see the window through which the sunshine should have been coming. There was no window-just a blank wall!

I asked the priest, who had just finished Mass, where the light had been shining from, and he answered that the only places where any light could enter were the miniature skylight of the chapel itself or a window of an adjoining room, all of which were too far removed from the spot whence the light should have come. I realized that none of the sources could have possibly produced the direct rays that I saw!

There were many things I wanted to know about Mary’s house, and the priests who lived on the grounds were most informative. Father Joseph was so hospitable! He showed and explained everything he thought would be of interest, and answered my questions about Mary’s sojourn in Ephesus.

The whole day continued to be just wonderful. After the visit at Mary’s house I walked through the ruins of the old city of Ephesus. At one point beyond the edge of the ruins there was a shepherd with his flock standing under a flowering tree on a hillside. He was singing and it carried over Ephesus. I couldn’t help but say aloud: “I am so happy!”

It wasn’t until I knelt to say my night prayers and thought of my day at Ephesus that the full realization of it all came to me-everything that happened, just as I’ve told you. It will always be my wish that everyone might have the opportunity to visit Mary’s house at Ephesus. One cannot help but feel at home there with the gracious welcome which I’m certain Mary extends to everyone who comes to her house. (This quote along with more details of the trip are given on the website of Our Lady of Ephesus House of Prayer.)

Image 19. Altar in Our Lady of Ephesus House of Prayer, Jamaica, Vermont, USA. Photo by author.
Image 19. Altar in Our Lady of Ephesus House of Prayer, Jamaica, Vermont, USA. Photo by author.

Image 19 shows the chapel in Vermont that is a re-creation of the chapel in Turkey in which Elizabeth Foster had her vision on April 3, 1959.

The following points tie the story into the theme and spirit of this book:

  1. There was a ruined house on a mountain in Turkey — venerated, at the time, by Moslems, as the house of the Virgin Mary — that appeared in a vision of a European woman, Anne Catherine Emmerich, in the mid-19th century. She was not on the mountain or on any mountain when she had the vision, so it ties into the subject of the next part of this book, The Mountains Within.
  2. The Virgin Mary is considered a divinity by the Catholic Church, and so we have an example of the belief that a god or goddess lives on — has a house on — a mountain. 
  3. The house on the mountain in Ephesus has been inspirational for many people. We have given the example of the devotional founding of the Priory of our Lady of Ephesus of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles.
  4. There are those who have had visionary experiences at the house of the divinity on the mountain. Elizabeth (Moore) Fraser, for example, saw the goddess and was instructed and encouraged by her. (The 1955 experience of an American businessman and electrical engineer, George B. Quatman (1890-1964), is described on the website of Our Lady of Ephesus House of Prayer.)
  5. The experience of Elizabeth (Moore) Fraser, on a mountain far from her home, was so important to her that she created a place on her mountain property in Vermont where others could have similar experiences, and where, presumably, she could be reminded of her own. It is parallel with a people being exiled from their sacred mountain moving to a new mountain on which their god comes to live in a new house (temple). It is not identical with the other examples given in this chapter, but it is of the same genre.
  6. Like Solomon dedicating his Temple (and inviting the Lord into it), an Archbishop Emeritus blessed the House of Prayer in Vermont. We don’t have the words of the blessing, but it is easy to image that he invited the Virgin Mary to visit her new home. Since the Archbishop Emeritus was from Turkey, even if he said nothing, his presence would have been felt as the importing of the Turkish “presence” of Mary into the USA.
  7. Hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people have visited the Ephesus shrine over the years. Each has had his or her experience. Probably very few have had life-changing experiences (such as the one of Elizabeth Moore Fraser), but this does not mean they weren’t touched. Each experience must have been unique to the individual, and yet everyone who had any sort of inspirational experience can be said, in the words of this book, to have been touched by the mountain archetype. These experiences would have included the feeling of being protected by the mountain goddess, of learning something from her, and of becoming healthy through her.}

The situation of the author

As I said in the Introduction, after I formalized the eight stages, I came to realize that I had been through most of them myself.

After I came down from the Sierra mountains I felt the need to remember what I had seen there and keep it from slipping away under the influence of big city lights, sounds, and temptations. I conceptualized the experience as follows: In the center is the place of god or the experience of god (on the mountain) in its own little circle. For whatever reason, we cannot or will not tolerate this experience for too long, and we are forced outside the central circle into a second concentric circle or middle courtyard. In this “courtyard” we are still close to the “radiance” of the god in the center, but we have already stepped outside his presence. There are gates that could take us back from the courtyard into the inner circle, but it is as if they are guarded, and we cannot or do not go back in. Soon we slip even outside the courtyard to a third, more outer, concentric circle. Even here there are gates that could take us back into the middle courtyard and eventually into the central circle, but we find ourselves turning away from these inner gates towards gates on the outer wall that can take us outside the circles altogether. Eventually we completely forget that there are circles except for a never-ending feeling of discomfort and lack of fulfillment that makes us push on and on, more and more outwardly, looking for a person or a place (a mountain) that will again stimulate the experience.

In order to short-circuit this forgetting I set up a small altar in a corner of a room in the center of which I placed a stone I had brought back from the Sierras. I lit incense (that I conceptualized as the trees of the mountains), and I placed a pine cone in the circle. Each morning I would crawl to the circle (I can only guess why: to simulate the reality of me being small and the mountain being high), and then, with great solemnity, I would enter its outer part as if I were going into another world, the mountain world, and I would meditate on the incense, pine cone, and stones to remember what it was like on the mountain.

In this way I hoped to preserve the mountain experience. Soon, however, the “magic” of the ritual wore off, and I stopped doing it. It is my nature that I am incapable of doing anything by rote if it has ceased to be a living experience.

My little rock altar cannot compare with the house Solomon built for his mountain god, but it is in the same ball park as the pile of rice that represents the mountain in the Tibetan ritual.

It is interesting to remember that the Jewish god is a traveler. From Mount Sinai he went to Mount Gerizim and eventually on to Mount Zion. Is there anything to prevent Him from appearing on a faraway mountain in Northern California or on a hill in L.A., leaving ravaged Mount Zion behind?

This would not mean that all Jews should migrate again and try to enthrone their god on new mountains and repeat past mistakes. Nor must the apparently faithless god be cynically forgotten. It is enough to remember that the problem is not with the gods but with our immature projection of them onto specific mountains. If we can find the god on the mountain within, if we can “enter” the experience again, perhaps we can preserve what is left of the physical mountains without.


  1. As quoted earlier, "Yanagita's view is that the earliest shrines in Japan were natural formations such as auspicious trees or rocks [yorishiro] around which straw ropes [shimenawas] were drawn to indicate their sacred character" (Earhart, 1970).
  2. "Fürer-Haimendorf states that he saw Kolams embracing the newly erected stones like persons" (Wales, 1953, p. 114). Similarly with the Angami Nagas of India: "Hutton records that he was once told at Khonoma that the stone was the deceased" (p. 114). For the Chams, "The stone is ... the deity in concentrated form" (p. 110).
  3. Wales (p. 105) for the Nias Islanders and regarding carved benches that were "believed to be used by the dead as soul seats and are used by the living for assembly meetings and feast-day gatherings."
  4. Wales (p. 45). For a similar practice in Cambodia, see p. 133. In China, "To kill the god a building was erected over its mound" (p. 44).
  5. Wales (p. 145). With the Angamis, the sacred stone, the kithuchie, was "`sometimes a very ordinary looking flattish stone, built in the top of a more or less pyramidal stone mound'" (p. 76). See also p. 114 for mention of the "binh-pong pyramids of Quang-tre, small pyramids of Kacha Nagas, and those with skulls of chiefs at Holi, Nias."
  6. For a discussion of what was apparently an Olmec artificial mountain see Luckert (1976, p. 41ff). This pyramid at La Venta seems to have been an imitation volcano of the type that can be found in the nearby Tuxtla Mountains. Luckert assumes that the original home of the Olmec people was these Tuxtla Mountains.
  7. Haran (1981, pp. 31-37).
    As regards the Bible itself, we do not know what distinguishes this type from regular altars and why it received the name bamah. At the same time, the fact that the "high places," bamot, are included in the category of altars, is beyond any doubt. (p. 33)
    Haran says that only two archeological structures may count as bamot. He argues vehemently for the distinction between temple and bamot though this is contradicted by Yigael Yadin in his comment to Haran's lecture (pp. 36-37).
  8. See also 1Samuel 10:5; 1 Kings 3:4-15; Isaiah 15:2, 16:12; Amos 7:9; Hosea 10:8; and 2Kings 23:8-20 that says that after the temple in Jerusalem was constructed all the high places throughout the country were "wiped out, never to appear again" (not the JPS version).
  9. Eliade (1958, pp. 375-376). Also: "Mountains in general provided the prototype for the classical Hindu temple, Meru provided that for the most splendid type" from Snelling (1983, pp. 38-39 describing the theory of Tucci in his Theory and Practice of the Mandala). And: "In Balinese religion there is a temple that probably represented a sacred mountain" (Wales, pp. 122-123).

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

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