2 Chapter 2. The Gods Live on the Mountain


Presumably Stage 1 is the most primitive form of mountain consciousness. It is basic. In this chapter we will be discussing the second stage in the development of the projection onto mountains. In Stage 2 the god has become a little bit separate from the mountain. It lives on or in the mountain, or, still more abstractly, sits on it or stands on it or descends onto it occasionally. It is no longer identical with the mountain. This separation, even though it is slight, is very important, because it means that the projection is being withdrawn. In a subtle way the gods are beginning to, as it were, float away from the mountain from where they will eventually “land” in the psyche.

Before discussing Stage 2, I want to remind the reader that there may be flip-flops between the stages within the same culture and even for the same person at different times. There is no definitive way to separate out the view of a particular person or culture. Still there are definite experiences that can be distinguished, more or less formally, into stages.

Also, the stages are artificial conceptual constructs, and the line between them is not always clear. A good example of this is my own experience in the Sierras. I never did see an actual, visual figure that could be called a spirit or a god, and yet I felt very much in a divine world. It is not easy to decide if this is an example of Stage 1 or 2 or 3.

When I drove back into the smog filled Los Angeles basin from the Sierras I was struck by the irony of the Spanish name for this city, La Ciudad de Los Angeles, which means The City of the Angels. The contrast with the mountain world was vivid. It seemed that the Sierras was the real City of the Angels. The words of Jesus in the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas captured my feelings about L.A.: “I am amazed … at how such great wealth has settled into such poverty” (Meyer, 1986, p. 25, Saying 29).

Image 1. Newfane, Vermont, October, 2001. Photo by author.
Image 1. Newfane, Vermont, October, 2001. Photo by author.

Since that time, however, much of my life can be seen as an attempt to bring the mountain experience into L.A., a city in which I have retained my residence. {In 1996, roughly eight years after completing this book, we moved to Vermont, the Green Mountain State.} This is a city that is surrounded by mountains and contains many hills of varying sizes. These hills have come to play an important part in my life, and, as we move along, I will show that, to use the ancient, non-psychological terminology, the gods have not abandoned them in spite of their smog and overpopulation.

My Sierra experience felt enlightening, but my present research shows that beside the “country” of the beautiful, wise, loving gods there is another kingdom on the mountains, the underworld kingdom. In the “evil” country live giants, demons, devils, dragons, and even Death himself. What this may mean psychologically I will return to later. Here I will only say that our negative side (our “Underworld”) as well as our positive side is projected onto the mountain. It is harder to become conscious of the negative projection, because it is less flattering to the ego. It also creates a sobering and overwhelming sense of responsibility.

Image 2. Mount Pilatus, near Lucerne, Switzerland. Photo by Werner Sidler.
Image 2. Mount Pilatus, near Lucerne, Switzerland. Photo by Werner Siedler.

That evil figures are actually experienced on mountains can be seen from a story taken from Sir Gavin de Beer’s book on early travel in the Alps which he says was impeded in part by the belief in “strange spirits” and “fearsome dragons.” De Beer wrote about legends attached to Mount Pilatus, near Lucerne, Switzerland.

According to these, Pontius Pilate’s body was thrown into the Tiber after he had committed suicide. The result was a bout of frightful weather for which Pilate was held responsible. So his body was fished up from the Tiber and taken to Vienne where it was dropped into the Rhone, only to produce the same disastrous result. After a similar experience at Lausanne, it was resolved to get rid of him for good and all by putting him in the lake on Mount Pilatus. There he began by causing the same trouble, but after being exorcised, he agreed to remain quietly in his lake except on one day in the year. On Good Friday he sat on his judge’s throne in the middle of the lake dressed in his scarlet robes and any one who had the misfortune to see him was bound to die within the year. Otherwise, his conduct was unexceptionable unless he was teased by having objects thrown into his lake, whereupon lightening, thunder, and other meteorological catastrophes would immediately ensue. It may be mentioned that Pilate’s wife Procla was accommodated in a neighbouring pond.

To avoid the calamities of Pilate’s wrath, the government of Lucerne expressly forbade any one to approach the lake on the mountain, and so strongly was the legend believed that six clerics who had attempted to climb Pilatus were severely punished in 1387.

This state of affairs prevailed until, in August, 1518, Joachim von Watt, Burgomaster of St. Gall, and Reformer, otherwise known as Vadianus, obtained permission from the Lucerne government to make the ascent. Together with his companions, Oswald Myconius, Johannes Xylotectus, and Conrad Grebel, he successfully reached the lake … The peasant who accompanied them almost made them swear not to do anything unseemly in the presence of the lake, and above all, not to throw anything into it. After ascending one of the peaks of Pilatus, the party returned safely to Lucerne. …

The legend was not finally exploded until 1585, when Johann Müller of Lucerne deliberately taunted Pilate by throwing stones into the lake. (de Beer, 1966, pp. 14-17)

The tongue in cheek tone of the writer does not hide the fact that serious European Christians, not so long ago, lived in bodily fear of a demonic figure projected onto a mountain by their imagination. Other similar examples will appear in different chapters. Though uncomfortable, they too are part of the mountain literature and must be included and understood if we want a full psychological understanding of the mountain experience.

The gods live inside the mountains

The most primitive Stage 2 experience seems to be of a god living inside a mountain or of a mountain being a house or a temple or a sanctuary in which a god lives.

Sri Ramana Maharshi, the Indian mystic (d. 1950) who was visited by such European notables as Somerset Maugham, went to Arunachala Hill when he was eighteen years old and lived in caves. It was said that these caves were “the mansions in his Father’s house, and he was welcome and at home in each.”[1]

Image 3. Mount Kilimanjaro [Tanzania]. Photo by Chris 73. (title edited by author)
Image 3. Mount Kilimanjaro [Tanzania]. Photo by Chris 73. (title edited by author)

Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa is also a “house” inside of which lives a god. The story is that, in the early 15th century, an outcast Wataita took refuge with the Masai. “A friendly Masai warrior, pointing to Mount Kilimanjaro, told a few Taita herdsmen, `That house is the house of God’.” A young Taita wanted to know what kind of god lived in such a “nice house.” In Chapter 5, “The Provider Gods,” we will come back to the answer he was given. (Stuart-Watt, n.d., p. 17)

In Canaanite mythology, the god Baal does not just live inside a cave on the side of a mountain like some Scandinavian gods or in an ice cavern on top of a mountain as the Hopi Indian kachinas live on Nuvatukya’ovi (the Hopi Indian name for the San Francisco Peaks)[2] or even in a “nice house” like Mount Kilimanjaro. Rather his mountain, Zaphon (ṢpnṢapon) is a heavenly temple, made by him without human hands (Freedman, 1981, p. 22).

And there is the much discussed, almost identical description of Mount Sinai in Exodus 15:17 where Moses sings to the Lord.

You will bring [the Israelites] and plant them in Your own mountain,/
The place You made to dwell in, O Lord,/
The sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands established.[3]

MacCulloch’s research shows that all over the world people experience a hero-saviour-deliverer in the mountains. Sometimes he is seen in “fairyland” or “heaven,” but

the cruder and more archaic belief is that he sleeps within the hills.” Sometimes he is seen there by one who has been able to penetrate into the hill. Such tales are told of Arthur, Merlin, Fionn, Bruce, and many another hero, and there are innumerable Celtic, Teutonic, and Slavic instances. The story is also found in Korea.[4] (my bold)

But it is not only gods and heros who are seen living inside the mountains. In a story from the Yaqui Indians of Mexico an evil “maestro of the church” turned into a big snake after he died. He was ordered to go to a place where there were no Christians, and so he burrowed under the ground to the hill of Nohme, where he now lives in the water (the waterhole) that is inside the hill (cf. Mount Pilatus). This snake has a cross on its forehead and is named Ascencio. It usually eats water animals, but sometimes it eats land animals, “even people.”[5]

Image 4. A southwest view of Mount Taylor {Navajo =Tsoodził] as seen from the village of Encinal, New Mexico [USA]. Photo by Charles e xavier.
Image 4. A southwest view of Mount Taylor {Navajo = Tsoodził] as seen from the village of Encinal, New Mexico [USA]. Photo by Charles e xavier.

{Blake (2001, p. 39) summarizes a few different reports about Mount Taylor in New Mexico (Navajo = Tsoodził — one of the four sacred mountains of the Navajo that marked the area of the traditional Navajo land). In the past this mountain was

the home of Yé’iitsoh, the wicked big monster chief of the Enemy Gods, who terrified the Navajo homeland by eating the Diné. [= the Navajo or the People] The Hero Twins, Monster Slayer and Born for Water, killed the monster on the summit, the blood flowing down to coagulate as the lava flows and the decapitated head thrown to the northeast to become Cabezon Peak.}

Death himself seems to live in “huge roomsinside different hills. Lucas Chavez said that a man on the road to a mountain met Death coming towards him. Death promised to make one of his sons a doctor. When the boy was thirteen, Death took him away.

They entered a hill, into a huge room. There were six other rooms, all very big. In each room there were different flowers, and many candles burning. These were the lives of Yaqui men.

In this room Death taught the boy how to be a doctor, and he cured many people. By thirty he was rich and got married. Death took him to another hill.

Inside were candles, some of them just beginning to burn, others half gone, others lying about extinguished on the ground. The boy begged to be shown his own candle. “This is your candle,” said Death. And he blew it out. (Giddings, p. 65)

Please notice in this last story that the knowledge of how to be a doctor comes from Death and that this Instruction takes place inside a mountain.

Some gods live in simple houses on the mountains

Most of the gods who live on the mountains do not live inside it but on it, in some sort of a structure whose architecture ranges from very simple and primitive to the most lavish and luxurious. For a god to be seen in a simple house means, psychologically, that he or she is close to the lives of ordinary people. In a contemporary dream, it is a precursor of the god coming down off the mountain altogether and into human society.

According to Floyd Laughter, Monster Slayer, a Navajo god, was born and raised in a hogan (a typical Navajo house) made of flint.

Flint Hogan [that is, Flint House] … is on the ridge, at the top, that slopes toward the south end of Navajo Mountain. There is a small area formed of black rock in a semi-circle. (Luckert, p. 49)

Ernest Nelson says he was told that someone lived there, in Flint Hogan, but he has a different idea of who it is: It is Blue Cloud Boy, Blue Cloud Girl and Black Cloud Girl (also Thunder himself, but not Lightning). It is a sacred place where

Black Cloud Girl lives. … A small cloud forms on the very top of that Navajo Mountain [in Flint Hogan]. It grows and grows until, before one hour is gone, the Cloud becomes enormous in size. And that is why it (the Cloud) is called Raised-in-one-day. … It is also the home of ThunderThunder himself is of the thunder people. … Lightnings are their missiles. But Lightning itself comes from Black or Above Sky. … And that is the way I have heard it said about these things. (Luckert, pp. 49, 115, 119)

Image 4. Spirit Mountain [Avikwame Mountain] from the west, Newberry Mountains, southern Nevada [USA]. Photo by Stan Shebs.
Image 5. Spirit Mountain [Avikwame Mountain] from the west, Newberry Mountains, southern Nevada [USA]. Photo by Stan Shebs.

A Yuma Indian medicine man gave the anthropologist A.L. Kroeber a first-hand account of how he not only saw his god on a mountain, but how he also looked into his house and saw the god naked, teaching.[6]

When a little boy I took a trip to Avikwame Mountain and slept at its base. … It took me four days and nights to go there. Later I became able to approach even the top of the mountain. At last I reached the willow-roof (shade) in front of the dark-house there. Kumastamho was within. It was so dark that I could hardly see him. He was naked and very large. Only a few great doctors were in there with him, but a crowd of men stood under the shade before the house.[7]

As a last example, though we don’t have first-hand accounts of the Canaanite god El, we are told in a myth that he lived in a tent on Mount Hamon (Clifford, 1972, pp. 47-49).

These tents, “dark-houses,” and hogans are the simplest structures in which the gods have been seen living. In most cases, however, the gods are reported to be living in the most elaborate palaces and cities amidst the greatest riches and luxury.

Palaces and cities

Image 5. Mount Olympus [Greece]. Photo by Alina Zienowicz (Ala z).
Image 6. Mount Olympus [Greece]. Photo by Alina Zienowicz (Ala z).

The most famous palace of the gods on a mountain, at least in Western traditions, is Zeus’ palace on Mount Olympus in Greece. It’s large assembly hall with a golden floor is where the gods meet in council, seated on golden thrones. Each god has his own palace on Mount Olympus as well, and the details of the stables and the private chambers of Zeus and Hera are given in the Iliad. All these structures were made by Hephaestus, the crook-footed god, who has his own bronze mansion on the mountain.[8]

Less well known is the enormous palace of Baal on Zaphon, in Canaanite mythology, built by Koshar wa-Khasis, with El’s permission.

Hurry! Let a palace be raised/
In the midst of … Zaphon!/
Let the house cover a thousand acres,/
Ten thousand hectares, the palace!

Messages are brought to Baal on this mountain, and it

is the scene of frequent banqueting. … In a recently published text, Baal is seated on his holy mountain Zaphon. On the verso, Anat washes her hands, takes a lyre, and sings. … [there is] the appearance of a feast. (Clifford, pp. 60-61 — Zaphon means North as in Hebrew)

The motif of music on the mountains is quite common.

{According to Korpel (1990, pp. 371-372), the Canaanite goddess, ‘Anatu (Anat), had a mansion/palace on Mount Inubu, and the chief god, Ilu (El), Baal’s (Ba’lu’s) father-in-law created and owned a palace on Mount Khurshanu that was large.

It had at least seven chambers (ḥdrm) and eight entrances (‘apm) to lockable rooms (sgrt). According to another text the palace comprised at least one separate building (bt), where Ilu had his private quarters.}

Image 6. The Matterhorn seen from the Domhütze ([canton of] Valais), Switzerland. Photo by chil on Camptocamp.org; Derivative work by Zachary Grossen.
Image 7. The Matterhorn seen from the Domhütze ([canton of] Valais), Switzerland. Photo by chil on Camptocamp.org; Derivative work by Zachary Grossen.

To the reader who has begun to wonder if these palaces on Mount Olympus and Mounts Zaphon (Sapanu), Inbubu, and Khurshanu were really seen (that is, experienced) on these mountains or only imagined later on: First of all I empathize with the question, and, second, I give the following quote from Edward Whymper, the first man to climb the Matterhorn, that indicates that, at least for the Alps, the “superstitious natives” seemed to have had genuine experiences of the “cities” and “castles” of the demons, if not the gods.

The superstitious natives in the surrounding valleys (many of whom firmly believed [the Matterhorn] to be not only the highest mountain in the Alps, but in the world), spoke of a ruined city on its summit wherein the spirits dwelt; and if you laughed, they gravely shook their heads; told you to look yourself to see the castles and the walls, and warned one against rash approach, lest the infuriate demons from their impregnable heights might hurl down vengeance for one’s derision. (Clark, 1976, pp. 57-58)

Image 7. [The Hindu God] Kubera. Northern India, 10th century, Sandstone, San Antonio Museum of Art [Texas, USA]. Photo by Zereshk.
Image 8. [The Hindu god] Kubera. Northern India, 10th century, Sandstone, San Antonio Museum of Art [Texas, USA]. Photo by Zereshk.

In Asia we also find “cities” on mountains, but again, as in Greece, they are the cities of the gods. In the Purāṇas, a canon of Hindu popular texts, it is maintained that

Kubera, the god of wealth, ruled from a fabulous city called Alaköh, which was situated on or near Kailas [Mount Kailash], and that eight lesser peaks nearby were his treasure houses.

Alaköh is described in one text as

full of lovely girls and pictures;/
Deep-toned tabors throb to dance and song,/
Floors gem-inwrought, cloud-kissing roofs …” (quoted by Snelling, 1983, pp. 17-18)

Note again the music motif.

Image 8. View of Western Kunlun Shan [Shan = Mountain] from the Tibet-Xinjiang highway. Photo by Alliance française de Wuhan. (title from Wikipedia article on the Kunlun Mountains at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kunlun_Mountains)
Image 9. View of Western Kunlun Shan [Shan = Mountain] from the Tibet-Xinjiang highway. Photo by Alliance française de Wuhan. (title from Wikipedia article on the Kunlun Mountains at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kunlun_Mountains)

In ancient Chinese Taoist mythology, the souls of the dead who lived good lives went to one of two Chinese heavens, which was in the Kunlun Mountains.

Here the Lady Queen of the West held court in a fabulous nine-story palace of jade, around which were magnificent gardens in which the peaches of immortality took their 3,000 years to ripen. … As on Olympus, the denizens of this Chinese heaven enjoyed a continual round of banqueting and pleasure. (Mulligan & Hotchkiss, 1973, p. 211)

And finally, in England, the fairy king Gwynn Ap Nudd had a palace on the summit of Glastonbury Tor from which he rode out with magic dogs and spectral warriors to collect souls (Roberts, 1978, p. 25).

Other accounts

Image 9. Mount Marcy in the Adirondacks mountain range, New York State, USA. Photo taken from Mount Haystack, looking across Panther Gorge. Photo by Daniel Tripp.
Image 10. Mount Marcy in the Adirondacks mountain range, New York State, USA. Photo taken from Mount Haystack, looking across Panther Gorge. Photo by Daniel Tripp.

There are many other accounts of gods living on the mountains which are too vague to put into any one of our categories, but which are, nonetheless very interesting and vivid. Lord Shiva and his consort have their “abodes” in Himavat (Mount Everest) and Mount Kailash, and Himavat is the “abode” of “all kinds of semi-divine and demoniac beings such as rakshas (demons) and gandharvas (celestial musicians).” Before Shiva lived on Mount Kailash (Snelling, p. 8), the god Rudra had his “abode” there (Allen, 1982, p. 28). The Taoist gods, according to Mullikan & Hotchkiss (p. 53), “dwell” on the Chinese, Hua-shanMount Marcy, the highest peak of the Adirondacks in New York State, was “one of the abodes of the [Iroquois Indian’s] Great Spirit (otherwise known as the Great Mystery)” (Evans-Wentz, pp. 72-73). And a group of spirits called mEmul by the Kaluli of New Guinea

live away from human habitation on the tops of hills and high places, and especially on Mount Bosavi. … Their voices come through as the tremendous boom and crash of tropical thunder that seems to explode from the hilltops. (Schieffelin 1982, p. 159)

What is to me one of the most beautiful of all the descriptions of a mountain god and his dwelling comes from ancient Persia in the Zoroastrian scriptures. In this excerpt the God Ahura Mazda tells Zarathustra his prophet how he had a dwelling built for Mithra, a god closely associated with the sun. Mithra,

the lord of wide pastures, … sleepless, and ever awake … who first of the heavenly gods reaches over the Hara[iti Bareza], before the undying, swift-horsed sun who, foremost in a golden array, takes hold of the beautiful summits, and from thence looks over the abode of the Aryans [i.e., the ancient Persians] with a beneficent eye. … For whom the Maker, Ahura Mazda, has built up a dwelling on the Hara Berezaiti, the bright mountain around which the many (stars) revolve, where come neither night nor darkness, no cold wind and no hot wind, no deathful sickness, no uncleanness made by the Daévas [evil spirits], and the clouds cannot reach up unto the Haraiti Bareza; … A dwelling that all the Amesha-Spentas, in one accord with the sun, made for him in the fullness of faith of a devoted heart, and he surveys the whole of the material world from the Haraiti Bareza. … And when there rushes a wicked worker of evil, swiftly, with a swift step, Mithra, the lord of wide pastures, goes and yokes his horses to his chariot … smites the strength of the malicious. … [Mithra] keeper of all creatures … maintainer of all creatures …. (Darmesteter, 1883, pp. 122-150)

We can imagine the magnificence of the “dwelling” of Mithra, made for him “in one accord with the sun.” If John Muir had been an ancient Persian, he might have described his experiences using just these words.

The gods sit on, stand on, meet on the mountains

Gods sit on mountains

The gods are seen sitting on the mountains[9] and, in the countries with kings, the mountains are thrones. In the legends of the ancient Near East, this image is common. Gilgamesh and Enkido “gazed at the mountain of cedars, the dwelling-place of the gods and the throne of Ishtar.” In an Ugaritic myth Baal “is enthroned, yea, (his) seat is the mountain … Zaphon,” and Yahweh has his throne in a throne room on which he is seated forever. The Egyptian god Osiris was buried on an island that was seen as an holy hill. From here he rose to life and used the hill as his throne: “The hill [is] at once [a] grave and [a] throne.”[10]

Image 10. Mount Jomolhari [= Mount Chomolhari = "the bride of Kanchenjunga”] viewed from just below Neleyla pass (Jangothang side) in Bhutan. Photo by Christopher Fynn.
Image 11. Mount Jomolhari [= Mount Chomolhari = “the bride of Kanchenjunga”] viewed from just below Neleyla pass (Jangothang side) in Bhutan. Photo by Christopher Fynn.

In Greece, all the gods have their thrones on Mount Olympus. In Tibet, Mount Kailash (22,000 feet) is the throne of Shiva and his consort Pārvatī. The Himalayan peak, Mount Chomolhari (= Mount Jomolhari) (23,997 feet), “The Lily-White Mother of Snow,” is a throne of protecting deities” and by all its Tibetan devotees it is so visualized and venerated.” The five peaks of another Himalayan mountain, Mount Kangchnjunga (28,925 feet), are seen as the five thrones of the Shining Ones, and, Mount Everest (29,149 feet), (Chomolungma in Tibetan, The Goddess Mother of the World) is “the supreme throne of this planets’ invisible Guardians.”[11]

Image 12. A low peak in the Santa Monica Mountain Range as seen from inside a car on the 405 Freeway driving north, Los Angeles, California, USA. Photo by Adelle Hersh, January, 13, 2016. Used with permission of Adelle Hersh.
Image 12. A low peak in the Santa Monica Mountain Range as seen from inside a car on the 405 Freeway driving north, Los Angeles, California, USA. Photo by Adelle Hersh, January, 13, 2016. Used with permission of Adelle Hersh.

I know that it is possible to see a mountain as a throne of a god, because I had such an experience. On around May 1, 1988, about seven months into my work on this book, I had the following experience driving north on the San Diego Freeway (the 405 Freeway) {the original draft has the Santa Monica Freeway driving west, but this would not make sense — I think it was a typo} at around 5:00 PM. I was looking at the Santa Monica mountains and the warm glowing light that was filling the sky. I may have also been listening to Bach, as was my custom at that time. Over the mountains, sitting on them or enthroned on them, and filling about half of the sky was the Mother of everything, loving and helpful to us. I felt close to everyone driving in his or her car, since we were all bathed in the same light. It occurs to me that the name Santa Monica was inspired by the suffering mother of St. Augustine, Saint Monica.

Gods stand on mountains

It is also common for gods to be shown standing on mountains. One picture of the Hittite Storm God shows him standing on two mountains while another shows him riding with a bull drawn wagon over three mountains. Clifford says, “Gods are regularly shown in Hittite art standing on mountains.”[12] And Levi reports that the Cretan Magna Mater (Great Mother), “flanked by her two lions,” is pictured on a mountain with her paredros, the youthful god who experienced death and resurrection.

It is the god, however, a male divinity accompanied by a griffin, who appears on the comparable gold ring from the tholos near the palace of Nestor at Pylos. He stands on what seems to me certain, in spite of its later date and decaying art, to represent a mountain. (Levi, 1981, p. 31)

Gods meet on mountains

Finally, some of the gods meet on the mountains even if they do not reside there permanently. In Ugarit, the Mount of El (Ilu) is the meeting place of the council of the gods. Banquets are held on it. Envoys come to petition, and there decisions are made. The Hittites also seem to have seen the gods meeting on the mountains. The early Hittite text describing the ritual to “raise the great sun” says to “bring [nine casks of wine] to the mountain, all gods being assembled on the mountain” (Bittel, 1981, p. 66). Mount Olympus is also a place where the gods meet in council, in the palace of Zeus (though they also live on the mountain).

Mount Kailash, in Tibet, to Buddhists, is “a … divine conclave, of Dhyani Buddhas, who are celestial, or supramundane, Buddhas, realizable only in profound meditation” (Evans-Wentz p. 54). In the Hindu Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata, Mount Kailash is frequently referred to as an “assembly place for all gods and demons … and … the site of a great jujube tree” (Snelling, p. 18). On Mount Emei (= Mount Omei), in China, a 17th century bronze tablet remains that describes the famous bronze temple that is now destroyed. The text says that

this place is one of the cardinal points of the earth … where all the gods must rest in passing, and dwelling here they will manifest their forms. (Hart, 1888, pp. 241-242)

In a somewhat rationalistic, but nonetheless useful summary referring to the ancient Near East, but applicable elsewhere, Frankfort (n.d.) says,

As personifications of natural life they [vegetation deities] were thought to be incapacitated during the Mesopotamian summer, which is a scourge destroying vegetation utterly and exhausting man and beast. The myths express this by saying that the god “dies” or that he is kept captive in the “mountain.” From the mountain he comes forth at the New Year when nature revives. Hence, the mountain is also the land of the dead; and when the sun god is depicted rising daily upon the mountains of the East, the scene is not merely a reminder of the geography of the country. The vivifying rain is also brought from the mountain by the weather god. Thus the mountain is essentially the mysterious sphere of activity of the superhuman powers. (p. 57)

The spheres of power of the sun god, weather god, rain god, and plant god meet on the mountains of Mesopotamia.

Image 12. Alborz[= Alburz = Elburz] Mountain range seen from Tehran. Photo by Hansueli Krapf.
Image 13. Alborz [= Alburz = Elburz] Mountain range seen from Tehran [Iran]. Photo by Hansueli Krapf.

It is useful to remember that it is not only the gods, but also the demons that meet on mountains. For example, “The Arezû ridge [of the Albûrz mountain] is a summit at the gate of hell, where they always hold the concourse of the demons” (West, 1880, p. 36).

  1. Narasimha (1968, p. 67). See also a quote from the Skanda Purana regarding the Hindu god Shiva: "Therein, in the glorious Aruna Hill, He ever dwelleth!" (Evans-Wentz, 1981, p. 60).
  2. Malotki & Lomatuway'ma, 1987, p. 20. Also Ernest Nelson says that Holy People (gods) rest in "cave-like hogans [houses] in the Navajo Mountain area" (Luckert, 1977, p. 115)
  3. Cf. "Why so hostle, O jagged mountains, toward the mountain God desired as His dwelling? The Lord shall abide there forever" (Psalm 68:17).
  4. MacCulloch, 1915, p. 865). He also gives many examples, from all over the world, of ghosts living in and on mountains (p. 866).
  5. Giddings (1959, p. 67), told by Lucas Chavez. Giddings says, "A similar monster is described in the myths of the Papago, the Pueblos ..., and the Cora." A Yaqui Indian named Mariano Tapia told Ruth Giddings that seven headed serpents used to live inside some hills. These serpents are people who married a relative. They come out of the hills every seven years and cause winds and floods (1959, p. 56).
  6. The word temple in Hebrew is literally house of God or God's house, that is, the house in which God lives.
  7. Kroeber (1925/1976, pp. 784-784). According to the Mohave, the house on Avikwame Mountain was built by the god Mastamho [Kumastamho?] for himself. "It is of this house that shamans dream, for here their shadows were as little boys in the face of Mastamho, and received from him their ordained powers, confirmed by tests on the spot." (p. 771)
  8. Luch (1925, p. 99). In Greece there were many mountains that were the homes of the gods.
    Mt. Olympus on the boundary between Macedonia and Thessaly, was considered to be the home of the gods. The same was believed of a number of other "Olympoi." They existed in Mysia, Cilicia, Elis, Arcadia, Laconia, Galatia, and in Cyprus there were actually two. It is not far from the truth to say that there was an Olympus in each Greek state. (Brede, 1960. p. 108)
  9. The woodcutters of ancient Japan "pictured the yama no kami [mountain spirits] as a woman with long hair seated in the hollow of an old tree" (Earhart, 1970, pp. 13-14). The Navajo war "gods" Monster Slayer and Born-For-Water sit on a mountain (Long Salt) (Luckert, p. 39).
  10. Ishtar: Sandars (1979, p. 77); Baal: Clifford (p. 77); Yahweh: Freedman (p. 26). The mountain referred to in Isaiah 14:13, "I shall be enthroned in the mount of the council (of `El) in the distant north (yarkete ṣapon)" may be Mount Amanus; Osiris: Clifford (p. 27).
  11. Mount Kailash: Snelling (pp. 15-16); Mount Chomolhari: Evans-Wentz (p. 57); Mount Kanchenjunga: Evans-Wentz (p. 57) and cf. Evans (1951, p.13 F. W.); Everest: Evans-Wentz (p. 56).
  12. Clifford, p. 32. The first picture of the storm god is on the rock shrine of Yazilikaya, the second on a relief at Imamkulu.


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

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