6 Chapter 6. The Instructor Gods

Let us go up to the Mount of the Lord,
To the House of the God of Jacob;
That He may instruct us in His ways,
And that we may walk in His paths,
For instruction shall come forth
from Zion, The word of the Lord
from Jerusalem.
(Isaiah 2:3)


If it feels other worldly to experience a mountain spirit, demon, or god, it must feel earthshaking to talk with one. In this chapter, I introduce men who are said to have learned something in such talks and what they are said to have learned.

There are many records of men who left their lives below and lived for a time on mountains, often in caves. In the mountain wilderness, such a man has a different experience than what he had below. There are no houses, nothing of man. There is a stillness, punctuated by animal sounds. The birds and trees, the sun and sky and moon do not, in any obvious way, need us; but it is obvious, with a little thought, that we need them. Below, people tend to forget and think they are very important. Self-importance is diminished in the mountains. The moon shines over the city, but it is rarely noticed: In the mountains it is almost impossible not to notice and experience it. In the mountains one questions the speed and the meaning of one’s past actions. There is time to sit and to examine even one’s simplest movements and shortest fantasies. The psyche is at home in the mountains. It is easy to understand Elijah who went to “the mountain of God,” Horeb, stationed himself in a cave, and reported to the Lord that “the Israelites have forsaken Your covenant …; and I alone am left; and they are out to take my life.” Here he was asked, in a “still, small voice [“Soft murmuring sound” in the JPS translation.] … `Why are you here, Elijah?'” and was told by this voice that his job was to go back down and find two men and anoint them kings and then another man to be a prophet, Elijah’s successor. Elijah was promised that all in Israel will be slain except for seven thousand, “every knee that has not knelt to Baal and every mouth that had not kissed him.” (1Kings 19:8-17)

Image 1. Moses and the Burning Bush wing panel, Dura Europos [Synagogue {ancient synagogue}, Syria]. Photographer not given.
Image 1. Moses and the Burning Bush wing panel, Dura Europos [Synagogue {ancient synagogue}, Syria]. Photographer not given.

In earlier times, so the story goes, Moses was a shepherd on “the mountain of God,” Horeb, when “God called to him out of a bush,” introduced Himself by name, told him that He would use him to lead the Jews out of Egypt, and, in a long dialogue, gave him a “pep talk” so that he could handle the job. (Exodus 3,4)

These are not isolated examples. There are many historically important figures who, we are told, received their authority to rule and lead from a god on a mountain. In Greece, not everyone

would have enjoyed direct contact with the divinity. The actual … “sacred conversation,” would be reserved for the king alone. In addition to being the High Priest, he would have been the “anointed by the Lord,” a kind of living “palladion” of his society and himself a symbol of prosperity. According to Homeric and later tradition, he was required to retire once every nine years to the summit of Zeus’ mountain, where his royal authority was reconfirmed by the god. (Levi, 1981, p. 39)

Image 2. Mt. Zagarás (Ancient "Helikon"), 1526m. [Thespian, Boeotia, Greece]. Photo by GOFAS.
Image 2. Mount Zagarás (Ancient “Helikon“), 1526m. [Thespian, Boeotia, Greece]. Photo by GOFAS.

Still scanning the records of ancient Greece we find the autobiographical account of Hesiod, who says he was a shepherd (like Moses) on “the great god-haunted mountain,” Helikon, when he encountered the muses, the carefree” daughters of Zeus, who “breathed into me divine song … and commanded me to hymn the race of the deathless gods.” Hesiod says that he was scolded by these “daughters of harmonious mind” for being a “country bumpkin”, and he was taught how “to tell many lies that pass for truth” but also, at times, “to tell the truth itself” (Hesiod, 1983, pp. 13-14 — from the Theogony).

That the mountain is a teacher was also known and utilized by the American Indians. The Sioux encouraged their men to go to a “lonely mountaintop” to “lament” [that is, to seek deeply for a vision]. The famous chief and priest called Crazy Horse lamented “many times a year, and even in the winter when it [was] very cold and very difficult.” In the mountains he had visions of “the Rock, the Shadow, the Badger, a prancing horse …, the Day, and … the Spotted Eagle, and from each of these he received much power and holiness.” (Brown, 1971, p. 45 — this story was told to Brown by the Sioux medicine man named Black Elk)

Image 3. Cuchama (Kuchamaa, Kuuchamaa) Mountain = Tecate Peak, view from Tecate, just north of the border between California (United States) and Baja California (Mexico). Photo by Memobiker. (title by author)
Image 3. Cuchama (Kuchamaa, Kuuchamaa) Mountain = Tecate Peak, just north of the California (United States) — Baja California (Mexico) border, view from Tecate (Mexico). Photo by Memobiker. (title by author)

Other tribes used the mountain in a similar way. The elders of the Indian tribes near Cuchama = Kuchamaa = Kuuchamaa = Tecate Peak = “The High Exalted One” (on the border between Upper and Lower California), sent their young men to the top to spend the night, alone, as part of their initiation into adulthood. On the mountain a young man would meet a “Shining Being” (like Moses’ angel) and would see the “various lots in life from which men may choose.” He would choose one and then return below where he would be welcomed as an adult, entitled to marry and to pass on the secrets of the tribe. (Evans-Wentz, 1981, pp. 26-29)

I feel close to these young men, because I underwent a similar process on a mountain, though I did not go there with anything deep in mind. But, like the young Indians, when I came away from the mountain I had a life goal and a life work and found myself ready for adult responsibilities. I was not conscious of any initiatory aspect at the time, however, looking back, it seems that “something” worked through me, unconsciously, like an instinct.

The medicine men (that is the doctor-priests) of the Navajo, Yuma, and Seri were also taught on mountains.[1]

To give one example, I choose a medicine woman of the Crow, Pretty-shield, who relates the only mountain experience of a woman that I have found in all the literature. Here is her story:

I had lost a little girl, a beautiful baby girl. … I had been mourning for more than two moons. I had slept little, sometimes lying down alone in the hills at night, and always on hard places. I ate only enough to keep me alive, hoping for a medicine-dream, a vision, that would help me to live and to help others. One morning, after a night spent on a high cliff, when I was returning to my lodge to pack things for a long move, I saw a woman ahead of me. She was walking fast, as though she hoped to reach my lodge before I could get there. But suddenly she stopped and stood still, looking down at the ground. I thought I knew her, thought that she was a woman who had died four years before. I felt afraid. I stopped, my heart beating fast. “Come here, daughter.” Her words seemed to draw me toward her against my will.

Walking a few steps I saw that she was not a real woman, but that she was a Person, and that she was standing beside an ant hill.

“Come here, daughter.” Again I walked toward her when I did not wish to move. Stopping by her side, I did not try to look into her face. My heart was nearly choking me. “Rake up the edges of this ant hill and ask for the things that you wish, daughter,” the Person said; and then she was gone. Only the ant hill was there; and a wind was blowing. I saw the grass tremble, as I was trembling, when I raked up the edges of the ant hill, as the Person had told me. Then I made my wish, “Give me good luck, and a good life,” I said aloud, looking at the hills.

… And even now the ants help me. I listen to them always. They are my medicine, these busy, powerful little people, the ants. (Linderman, 1932/1972, pp. 165-166)

In this story we have a “lament” in the mountains where a spirit is met. Pretty-shield does not just see the spirit. She also has a compelling conversation where she is told to do something. She obeys and receives a great and life-long blessing. The psyche seems to have helped her, though she would probably never have agreed that this was an experience within the psyche.

Famous and important examples

In these introductory examples, people, alone on mountains, were given their life’s work by a “still small voice” in a cave, by a “daughter of Zeus,” by an “angel” in a bush, by a “Shining Being,” by “the Day, the Shadow, the Rock,” or by a “Person.” Each example is unique, but there is still the similarity that something important was learned on a mountain by direct interaction with a spirit or a god. Sometimes the novice, as in the Yuma example, actually touches the god. In the Seri report, the god enters inside the novice and helps him diagnose illnesses. The connection is very intimate. The list of eminent examples can be extended and is so impressive that it is worth doing.

Image 4. Moses receiving the Tablets of the Ten Commandments from the Lord on Mount Sinai showing the Israelite camp below, Exodus 33. (Woodcut {Folio 20} from the Biblia cum concordantiis ceteris et novi testament, Jacobum Sacon for Anthony Koberger, January 12, 1515). Scan by author.
Image 4. Moses receiving the Tablets of the Ten Commandments from the Lord on Mount Sinai showing the Israelite camp below, Exodus 33. (Woodcut {Folio 20} from the Biblia cum concordantiis ceteris et novi testament, Jacobum Sacon for Anthony Koberger, January 12, 1515). Scan by author.

To start with, who in the West does not know that God called Moses onto Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights and that they entered into an agreement. “When He finished speaking with him” (my bold) he gave him “two tablets of the Pact,” made of stone, “inscribed with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18). “I started down the mountain, a mountain ablaze with fire, the two Tablets of the Covenant in my two hands” (Deuteronomy 9:15). When we look at a copy of the Ten Commandments, we are as if facing something from a mountain.

Image 5. The Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor (Moses shown with horns) (woodcut from the section "Joyful Mysteries" of the Rosary, Rosario della gloriosa verging Maria, Venice 1521). Scan by author.
Image 5. The Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor (Moses shown with horns) (woodcut from the section “Joyful Mysteries” of the Rosary, Rosario della gloriosa verging Maria, Venice 1521). Scan by author.

Also to be understood here as an event within Jewish history is the Transfiguration where, it is said, Jesus took his students onto a mountain “to be alone with them.” His face began to shine and then Moses and Elijah (who were long dead) appeared and talked with him. Then they heard a voice “come out of a cloud,” and it said, “`This is my son whom I love and delight in. Listen to him'” (Matthew 17:1-9). Referring to the same event, Peter says, “We heard that voice speak to Him from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain” (2Peter 1:18) (my bold).

Image 6. The Entrance to the Cave in Mount Hira (Hiraa), Mecca, Arabia. Photo by User Nazli. (title by author).
Image 6. The Entrance to the Cave in Mount Hira (Hiraa), Mecca, Arabia. Photo by User Nazli. (title by author)

If the following story is true, Islam would not exist without a mountain:

There is a cave in the side of Mount Hiraa/
some three miles north of the City of Mecca,/
To which Muhammad used to retire for peaceful contemplation:/
Often alone, but sometimes with Khadija [his wife]./
Days and nights he spent there with his Lord./
Hard were the problems he revolved in his mind,—/
… problems not his own,/
But his people’s, yea, and of human destiny,/
Of the mercy of God, and the age-long conflict/
Of evil and righteousness, sin and abounding Grace.

He was forty years old.

The Chosen One was in the Cave of Hiraa./
For two years and more he had prayed there and adored/
His Creator. …/
…  And now, behold! a dazzling/
Vision of beauty and light overpowered his senses,/
and he heard the word “Iqraa!”
(my bold)

which he finally understood to mean that the words of God must be written down for men to read and study. God was communicating from the mountain to everyone via MohammedThe mountain of Hiraa became known as the Mountain of Light. (The Holy Qur’an, 1977 edition, pp. 8-9, C. 27-31)

Buddhism too, apparently owes its existence to mountains. “The twelve years of Shakyamuni Buddha’s practice of the way were mostly spent in the mountains, and his attainment of the way occurred in the mountains.” (Dōgen, ca. 1235/1985, p. 106 — from “Mountains and Waters Sūtra,” a lecture delivered by Dōgen in 1240 CE. Dōgen was the founder of the Sōtō sect of Zen Buddhism.)

The Zoroastrian religion is all but extinct, but it counts as one of the major religions of the ancient world. It’s founder Zarathustra meditated on a Mount Ushi-darena which enabled him “to attain Illumination and to master Nature’s secrets.” On the summit he was taught by Ahura Mazda in a gripping question and answer session from which I will quote below. (Evans-Wentz, pp. 64-65, from the Sîrôzah Yast) In the Zâmyâd Yast, Mount Ushi-darena is called “the mountain that gives understanding, that preserves understanding” (Darmesteter, 1883, p. 287). Asmō-Khanvant, “one of Zarathustra’s first disciples … dwelt on [Mount Ushi-darena] and there attained spiritual insight” (Evans-Wentz, p. 65).

Zarathustra, we are told, also spent time on Mount Asnavant which is one of the seven places where he “conferred with the Seven Ameshaspands, representing the seven sacred aspects of the supreme.” (Evans-Wentz, p. 65 — from Dastur Framroze A. Bode’s account regarding the Zâmyâd Yast)

Taoist recluses lived in the caves on Mount Emei, and it is even said by a Chinese poet that Lao-tse himself lived in one of them (Hart, 1888, p. 220).

Image 7. Tài Shān (Mount Tài) - misty, Shandong Province, eastern China. Photographer not given, Summer 2004. (title edited by author)
Image 7. Tài Shān (Mount Tài) – misty, Shandong Province, eastern China. Photographer not given, Summer 2004. (title edited by author)

Confucius was born in 551 BCE, forty miles south of Tài Shān. He said “when viewing his native state of Lu how small it appeared from the top … a great lesson in humility” (Mullikin & Hotchkiss, 1973, p. 3).

Image 8. Northern side of Mt Kailash (Tibet Autonomous Region, People's Republic of China). Photo by Ondřej Žváček.
Image 8. Northern side of Mt Kailash (Tibet Autonomous Region, People’s Republic of China). Photo by Ondřej Žváček.

Rishabha, an early figure in the Jain religion of the 6th century BCE, is said to have found “liberation” on Mount Kailash (called Astapada) in Tibet (Snelling, 1983, p. 18).

It is hard to think of a major religion that did not begin on a mountain or receive some major tenet of its faith on a mountain. But there are still other, less famous examples.

Lesser examples

The oldest attested mountain climb I have found is a Chinese tradition that in 2697 BCE, Hsuan Yuan, the Yellow Emperor, traveled to Mount Emei “to enquire concerning the Way” (Evans-Wentz, p. 44 quoting a Chinese guide book to Mount Emei regarding the “Way” of Taoism).

In modern Asia, Starr (in 1924) described a religion called Fujiko whose followers worshipped Fujiyama in Japan. The founder was named Kakugyo (1541-1646). He climbed Fujiyama one hundred twenty times and was “inspired” on many occasions. He was succeeded by a man whose son he had cured. The next major figure in this religion was called Miroku. When he was ready to die he climbed the mountain and had

his followers excavate a narrow cell in the living rock, leaving a stone seat in it, just large enough for him to seat himself; when he was seated, at his bidding, his disciples walled up the cell in front, leaving only his face visible. He began to fast, and during the first day’s fast the spirit of inspiration seized him and he gave forth the divine message of the first day …, and with the 31st [day] came the final message and his life ended. They closed up the cell and left him as he had desired, sealed in the mountain-mother’s body. (Starr, 1924, pp. 111-114)

In 1924, the Fujiko consisted of three sects, totaling 1,300,000 people. The Maruyama sect, with 1,000,000 followers, was founded in 1884 by a man who received messages from the kami [spirits or gods] on the mountain. (Starr, p. 115)

In India, the Skanda Purana (Kumaon version) says that sages lived and got enlightened on Mount Kassaya Parbat. On the mountain there are caves in which Buddhist monks who have attained Nirvana [Enlightenment] are believed to have lived. (Evans-Wentz, pp. 51-52)

Image 9. Mount Arunachala, the Hill of Light (from the Arunachala-Live Photo Gallery). (title by author) With kind permission from Arunachala-live (http://arunachala-live.com). March 12, 20??.
Image 9. Mount Arunachala, the Hill of Light (from the Arunachala-Live Photo Gallery). (title by author) With kind permission from Arunachala-live (http://arunachala-live.com). March 12, 20??.

Arunachala (the Hill of Light), is said to give people easy access to the “true import of the Vedanta” (without the usual “infinite suffering” required) by merely looking at the hill in person or meditating on it from within a radius of 3 yojanas (about 30 miles). All defects will then be consumed.[2]

There is a Jewish story too about a mountain helping a man understand the merits of a book. Kenaz, a judge, brought some books and gems to the top of a mountain to test if they were really holy. Angels came down and erased the books and took the gems to the bottom of an ocean and brought new ones up. (Ginzberg, 1967?-1969, Vol. 4, pp. 23-24) This story could have symbolic truth. The mountain appears again and again as a teacher, in all cultures, at all times.

An interesting group enlightenment is described in the Popol Vuh, an antique Mayan migration epic. We are told that one of three Quiche tribes came to a mountain called Place of Advice. “Their gods spoke there.” But before this they had journeyed to a mountain called Tulan Zuyua, Seven Caves, Seven Canyons. Here “countless people arrived,” and it is here that “their gods were given out. … They were happy: `We have found what we were looking for,’ they said.” After this the three tribes broke apart:

they were all poor. They had nothing of their own. But they were people of genius in their very being when they came away from Tulan Zuyua, Seven Caves, Seven Canyons, so says the Ancient Word. (Tedlock, 1985, pp. 171-178) (my bold)

It may not be an exaggeration to say that every human being on earth has been affected fundamentally, in his or her inner and outer life, by some man who lived for a time on a mountain and who interacted with something he felt gave him a higher perspective than his ordinary one.

The weak and the bad ones on the mountain

I must mention, for the sake of completeness, that not all those who approached a mountain received what they wanted. There is a story that when the cruel Chinese emperor Ch’in Shih-huang-ti (255-207 BCE) “came with his offerings [to Tài Shān], he was subjected to a great buffeting of `storm of wind and rain,’ for he lacked the virtues of the ancient sages and their humanity” (Mullikin & Hotchkis, p. 3).

In the Zâmyad Yast, Ahura Mazda made Mount Ushi-darena which is the seat of holy happiness” and of “kingly Glory [Kavaêm Hvarenô].” This Glory, made by Mazda, “cannot be forcibly seized.” It can only be gotten “with sacrifice, prayer, propitiation, and glorification.” The king Yima had the Glory, “but when he began to find delight in words of falsehood and untruth, the Glory was seen to flee away from him in the shape of a bird.”

The same for another man:

The Turanian ruffian Frangrasyan tried … to seize that Glory that belongs to the Aryan nations, born and unborn, and to the holy Zarathustra. But the Glory escaped, the Glory fled away, the Glory changed its seat. (Darmesteter, pp. 286-300)

By the 9th century CE in Japan, the man En no Ozunu came to be considered the “ideal mountain ascetic.” But when he was first mentioned, in 699 CE, it was because he was banished, charged with misusing his “magical powers to control the people.” (Earhart, 1970, pp. 16-17)

{The reader will remember the first dream given in this book of the 87 year old woman trying to figure out how to get up a mountain and failing. We hypothesized that she did not have the proper attitude required, and now we have evidence: It seems reaching a summit can only be done “with sacrifice, prayer, propitiation, and glorification,” and not just with an effort of will. Of course we are speaking psychologically, symbolically, about an inner elevation of understanding and perspective.}

The Temptation on the mountain

It is not surprising that bad men should be attracted to the mountains, to hide their stolen goods and to glory in their pride. Even Nietzsche who lived in the mountains was tempted to brag that he was “six thousand feet above good and evil.” His Zarathustra lived in the mountains for thirty years and found it impossible to adjust to the “market place” when he returned to civilization below. If we accept that many “secrets” and “powers” can be learned on mountains and that they are morally neutral in themselves, then everything depends on the morality of the man who learns these “secrets” and “powers” whether he will try to use them to gain power and glory for himself or whether he will behave himself.

It is not strange, therefore, that the mountain is the scene of tremendous moral battles, where a man either succumbs to temptation or finds moral strength and understanding. What inner struggle went on in Moses during the forty days and forty nights we are not told, but there are two detailed examples from other times and places that reveal the process.

Image 10. The Temptation of Christ — (this image was by the Jesuit, Jerome Nadal, meant to be studied on the first Sunday of Lent, {Matthew 4, Mark 4, Luke 1}, year 30 of Jesus' life. (Copper-plate engraving [detail of Plate 12{25}] from the 1647 edition by Joannes Galle of Evangelicae historiae imagines : ex ordine euangeliorum, quae toto anno in missae sacrificio recitantur, in ordinem temporis vitae Christi digestae from the original plates of the Jerome Nadal 1593 edition). Scan by author.
Image 10. The Temptation of Christ — (this image was by the Jesuit, Jerome Nadal, meant to be studied on the first Sunday of Lent, {Matthew 4, Mark 4, Luke 1}, year 30 of Jesus’ life. (Copper-plate engraving [detail of Plate 12{25}] from the 1647 edition by Joannes Galle of Evangelicae historiae imagines: ex ordine euangeliorum, quae toto anno in missae sacrificio recitantur, in ordinem temporis vitae Christi digestae from the original plates of the Jerome Nadal 1593 edition). Scan by author.

The first needs no introduction and no commentary for those who know the Christian scriptures.

Then the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms in the world and their glory. “All this I’ll give You,” the devil told Him, “if You’ll bow down and worship me.” Then Jesus answered him, “go away, devil![3] It is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.” Then the devil left Him, and angels came and served Him. (Matthew 4:8-11)[4]

The second example is not as familiar but is identical in structure. Though long and involved it is very beautiful and gives many psychologically valid details of the inner struggle, and so I give it almost in full from Darmesteter (1880, pp. 204-217). In Zoroastrian scripture, Zarathustra was on a mountain when he was attacked by the Drug, Angra Mainyu, “the deadly … the guileful one … the evil-doer” (this is essentially the same scene as Jesus versus the Devil).  Angra Mainyu tried to destroy him.

Zarathustra chanted aloud: “The will of the Lord is the law of holiness; … riches … shall be given to him who works in this world for Mazda, and wields according to the will of Ahura the power he gave to him to relieve the poor. … Profess the law of the worshippers of Mazda!”

Zarathustra, like Jesus, invoked the name of his god, but in this case the devil is more persistent. The Drug rushed away temporarily, but then said to Zarathustra,

At what on this wide, round earth, whose ends lie afar, at what dost thou swing (those stones), thou who standest by the river Darega, upon the mountains. … Renounce the good law of the worshippers of Mazda, and thou shalt gain [a great boon].

In the story, Zarathustra answered, “`No! never will I renounce the good law of the worshippers of Mazda, though my body, my life, my soul should burst!'” His weapons are the words taught by Mazda.

We are then told that Zarathustra asks how to get rid of this devil, not just temporarily and for himself, but forever and for everyone. Zarathustra

was sitting by the Darega, on the mountain, praying to Ahura Mazda, … “How shall I make the world free from that Drug, from the evil-doer Angra Mainyu? How shall I drive away … defilement? How shall I cleanse the faithful man? How shall I cleanse the faithful woman?

And Ahura Mazda, the god, answers,

Invoke, O Zarathustra! the good law of Mazda. Invoke … Heaven, the boundless Time, the powerful Wind. … [Invoke] the greatest, the best, the fairest of all beings, the most solid, the most intelligent, the best shapen, the highest in holiness, and whose soul is the holy Word!

Invoke, O Zarathustra! this creation of mine, who am Ahura Mazda.

Zarathustra tries doing just what he was told: “`I invoke the good law of Mazda, the fiend-destroying law of Zarathustra.'”

Then Zarathustra says to Mazda (perhaps somewhat enviously), “Thou art never asleep, never intoxicated” and asks what to sacrifice in order to cleanse oneself from defilement (I skip the details of the answer). Then Mazda tells him to advise the wicked to give up their wealth.

Zarathustra asks,

Where are the rewards given? Where does the rewarding take place? Where is the rewarding fulfilled? Whereto do men come to take the reward that, in their life in the material world, they have won for their souls?

Ahura Mazda answers,

When the man is dead, when his time is over, then the hellish, evil-doing Daêvas assail him; and when the third night is gone …, and the sun is rising:

… then the fiend, named Vîzaresha, carries off in bonds the souls of the wicked Daêva-worshippers who live in sin. The soul enters the way made by Time, and open both to the wicked and to the righteous. At the head of the Kinvad bridge, the holy bridge made by Mazda, they ask for their spirits and souls the reward for the worldly goods which they gave away here below.

Then comes the well-shapen, strong and tall-formed maid, with the dogs at her sides, one who can distinguish, who is graceful, who does what she wants, and is of high understanding.

She makes the soul of the righteous one go up above the Hara-berezaiti {Author’s note: The heavenly mountain, whence the sun rises, and upon which the abode of the gods rests.}; above the Kinvad bridge she places it in the presence of the heavenly gods themselves.

The soul rises up from the decaying to the undecaying, “`to the golden seat of Ahura Mazda [to the] house of songs,” to the house of all the holy beings. The Daêvas tremble “`at the perfume of his soul after death, as a sheep does on which a wolf is falling.'” The souls of the righteous gather together.

Zarathustra is then told to offer sacrifice so that the holy Sraosha may smite down the fiend Kunda, who is drunken without drinking,'” and he learns how to scatter the Daêvas.

This example of Zarathustra’s fight with temptation is so powerful that it is anti-climactic to follow it with another example. Let it suffice to say that there are other examples. It may, however, be relevant here to remember that the gods themselves were often tormented on their mountains by their rivals: Baal by Mot; the Canaanite El by Yamm; and Shiva and his mate Pārvatī by the demon Ravana. (For the Ravana example, Snelling, p. 16) The mountain, as I have emphasized, is a place of battle.

The instructor punishes and teaches

Though the god of the mountain can be very angry and severe, even over what appears to be a slight offense (see Numbers 20:22-8; 27:12,13; Deuteronomy 3:27; 32:22,49,50; 34:5), he is still the supreme teacher, giver of the law, teacher of a self knowledge and self control that can end the pain of the ordinary human struggle (if only temporarily). {Psychologically, the sensitivity to detail of our strictest teachers can make us aware of the importance of detail, and it is by paying strict attention to the smallest parts, the smallest units, of something that we come into a position where we can, eventually, deal with the whole.}

Image 11. Mount Arunachala, the Hill of Light (from the Arunachala-Live Photo Gallery). (title by author) With kind permission from Arunachala-live (http://arunachala-live.com). August 26, 20??.
Image 11. Mount Arunachala, the Hill of Light (from the Arunachala-Live Photo Gallery). (title by author) With kind permission from Arunachala-live (http://arunachala-live.com). August 26, 20??.

I repeat again from Sri Ramana Maharshi.

Shine Thou as my Guru, making me free from faults and worthy of Thy grace, O Arunachala! …

Vouchsafe me knowledge of Eternal Life, that I may attain the glorious Primal Wisdom, and transcend the illusoriness of the world, O Arunachala!

He says that Mount Arunachala taught him to look in to find the Self. He said that when he first saw it he failed to grasp its significance. It is more than an inanimate Hill. “When Arunachala drew me towards itself, stilling my mind, and I came close to it, I realized that it signifies Stillness Absolute.” (Evans-Wentz, pp. 61-63)

The Prophet Complex

Psychologically the man who is instructed by the gods (or feels he is) is in great danger of succumbing to a supernatural self-righteousness and grandiosity. Upon returning to the ordinary world the one who has gone up the mountain can feel an overwhelming desire to teach. Sometimes this leads to a righteous anger. For example, after coming down from Mount Sinai Moses said to the Israelites,

I saw how you had sinned against the Lord your God: you had made yourselves a molten calf; you had been quick to stray from the path that the Lord had enjoined upon you. Thereupon I gripped the two tablets and flung them away with both my hands, smashing them before your eyes. (Deuteronomy 9:16-17)

There followed an attempt to intercede with his God on behalf of his faithless people (Deuteronomy 9:18-20). But then,

as for that sinful thing you had made, the calf, I took it and put it to the fire; I broke it to bits and ground it thoroughly until it was fine as dust, and I threw its dust into the brook that comes down from the mountain. (Deuteronomy 9:21)

This acting out of destructive rage against personal property (the calf) would constitute, in legal terminology, a crime. I make a point of this behavior, because, in effect, Moses’ is a religious war waged against those who do not behave according to the vision received on the mountain. From the point of view of the inner world of the psyche, it represents an anger and a war of the prophet against the parts of himself that do not fall in line behind the program that was seen so clearly in the moment of grand truth in God’s country. Again we come to the problem of conflict between Heaven on the mountain and Society. Again we see that it is possible that the solution of the past, the dominance of the Mountain perspective over the lower views of Society and the Underworld, did not really work. Since the lower seems as necessary as the higher, the attempt to destroy the lower can only lead to frustration or to self-delusion and repression. The problem for modern people becomes not how to get rid of the lower ways, but how to allow all the ways to coexist. Perhaps the problem was different for people two thousand years ago.

{I have found a reported vision by the 13th century Spanish Jewish mystic, Abraham Abulafia (born 1240 – died ca. 1291). Abulafia developed a method (on which we will touch in Chapter 13) for creating a mystical experience in oneself by mental manipulation of the letters of the name of the Lord. Abulafia considered himself a prophet and seems to have thought that anyone who followed his method and had the mystical experience would also become a prophet. This contradicted orthodox Jewish thinking of the time which held that genuine prophecy ended in Biblical times. The idea that he was a prophet was not simply a theoretical idea for Abulafia. He had the prophetic inspiration that he could unite the three warring religions: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. In 1280 he travelled to Rome to convert Pope Nicholas III. He barely escaped being burned at the stake and eventually took up residence on a small island near Malta where, apparently, he spent the rest of his life. There, among other things, he wrote a visionary book containing a spiritual autobiography, Sefer Ha-Ot. At the end of this book he presents a long vision in which he meets a man on a mountain. Whether he really had this vision or whether it was a cynical attempt to gain followers by imitating the Biblical Prophets Daniel and Ezekiel and the writer of the Book of Enoch, we will probably never be known, but he writes that he received from this man on a mountain validation for writing and disseminating his spiritual prophecies. Abulafia even hints that this visionary figure proclaimed him (Abulafia) the Messiah(Abulafia, ca. 1285/2007, pp. 37-41). Because he presented himself as a Prophet and, apparently, offended a lot of people, an authoritative rabbi in Barcelona (the Rashba) placed him under a ban, that is, he was excommunicated from Judaism.[5]

None of this is to say that Abraham Abulafia wasn’t a great and courageous mystic who was a pioneer in the exploration of the inner world. We can even grant that he had a true vision about the seriousness of the conflict between Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, a prophetic intuition that is as true now as it was eight hundred years ago. But it is to say that, apparently, his approach to his vision was not down to earth or practical. It almost got him killed, led to his exile, and prevented his ideas from being heard, until recently, even within his own community (as his writings were under a ban). He alienated and did not unite. In these psychological times we may wonder if prophets, people who must have been extreme introverts — it would have been just this introversion that allowed them to gain a new perspective on the society of which they did not feel a part — lacked the social skills to unite people to work together in reasonable and important projects. In modern times, it seems more useful to think, not so much that prophecy is dead, but that there are many prophets all over the world who each see different aspects of some of the problems facing us all. Any genuine insights they might have should not be used by them to validate themselves socially and to compensate for their own inferiority feelings. Instead, people with the goal of helping others, for the sake of their own mental health if nothing else, should be aware that they are not unique or alone and that it is not enough to have a picture of what is wrong and of what might be done to set things right. We can become dangers to ourselves and others even if we act out of a truth we have seen and of which we are certain. And even if a person has a piece of the truth, no one has the whole truth.}

A dream

Unfortunately for me this problem is not only outside my own psyche, since I have had a mountain experience. In the following long fragment from an even longer dream, the problem is set out clearly. The reader will recall that my experience took place in the Sierras of Northern California and that I felt a horror with the pollution and the greed, the golden calf, as it were, of Southern California.

I start driving home but I’m on the wrong street. … I realize I can go all the way to the top of a mountain and then snake back down on the road which would now be [the right one].

But when I get to the top of the canyon and look out and down, it is wilderness — beautiful wilderness like the top of the Sierras — with dead stripped pine trees and patches of snow and a river and a cluster of dynamic, reddish trees.

I look down and there is a small but alive river.

… I see that the road [goes] down. … There is one spot that seems to be blocked by a big black boulder or rock, and I don’t know if I can get by but I go down to see. [The road is being cleared.]

I ask if this property is for sale. “No but they’re thinking of selling docking places on the river.” I realize it is only for rich people, and I could never afford it. Also it would be crowded.

I look up and the whole area is swarming with people — rich people who are “Oohing” and “Aahing” at the sites. I am standing on a bridge over the river or near it, and an elegant, sixty year old, aristocratic looking woman is standing next to me and says enthusiastically, “Isn’t it wonderful!” And I say, “Not for long. Pretty soon you rich people will carve it up into little sections, and it will be like every place else around here.” She is taken aback but sees that what I say is true.

She asks, “What can be done?” I answer. “Nothing until you and your kind become aware that this is the last spot like it in the whole area and that there is nothing like it ’til you get to Northern California.” She says, “Maybe we should make it into a National Park.” I like the idea.

I look at the red trees. They are somehow alive and magic in their formation, almost dancing. I look at the spots of snow, the sparse pines. I am overawed and in a kind of numinous magic world.

I look down at the river, and it is crowded with visitors, like a French beach. I go down and one boat stands out as the biggest, the richest, the most resistant to change. I go down and lose control of myself and pick up the oar which is made of lead or iron and I start smashing the boat. First I hit the sides with their dark brown stained, beautifully polished wood. I smash into the fine workmanship. After a few out of control smashes I stop — not because anyone stopped me or even tried — though they were all beginning to gather around getting ready to stop me, but because I see an old man who looks like Rockefeller (J. D.) who owns the boat. He is on deck (or part under and part on), and he is sitting in a high chair eating a Napoleon [pastry], and the whipped cream is all over his mouth. He is totally involved in his Napoleon. He looks like a rat … with a stubby beard.  I still have the iron rod in my hand but do not smash him. Instead, I drop it and run over and take his Napoleon and, slowly smash it all over his face.

The body guard who loves him says I could have just talked, but the old man even now continues to eat, even what is on his face, and it is clear that he will never learn. (March, 13, 1987)

This dream contains a variety of mountain motifs including a river, a bridge, trees, a winding mountain road, a series of rich and famous people (gods? or tempting devils), a struggle between two ways of life or points of view — the wilderness view versus the life of leisure — the zealot who smashes the “calf” and prophecies the end of the (wilderness) world, a boulder that blocks the path, a magic world, and more. It would be very easy for me, and perhaps inevitable, to project many of these facets of my own psyche onto outside people, places, and events, but it seems characteristic of our psychological age that these terrible conflicts will be returned to where they belong, in the psyche of the one who had the experience. The pain of recognizing oneself in a series of offensive images is offset by the greater consciousness and the greater ability to adjust to reality that this brings. {To be clearer and blunt, the psychological point of view I subscribe to sees, in the dream, my envy of the rich, my own conflict about the desire to become rich and powerful, my own desire to carve up and and take possession of and own God’s Country, and my own attraction to meaningless and unhealthy sensual pleasures. It is a Chaoskampf within between my higher and lower goals and desires. This is a conflict that goes on in me (and others) today, twenty eight years after the dream.}

It will be remembered that, of all the Israelites, only Moses and Aaron were not allowed into the so-called Promised Land.

  1. The "god" Kumastamtamho spoke with a Yuma trainee (the one who saw the god in the wood house) and gave him instructions on how to cure consumption. He even told him to practice on him which the boy did, "placing [his] hands on his ribs and [sucking] his sickness out" (Kroeber, (1925/1976, pp. 783-784). For the Seri,
    A "doctor" or shaman ... becomes such by going to a "cave" in the mountains. This is solid rock, but he paints a sign or mark on it, it opens, and he enters. The "santo" or spirit inside ... "going about in the brush," may or may not help him; if so, he strikes the man and enters his body. Through this the shaman can cure; because of the spirit in him, he can see the cause of the disease in a patient's body, "as if he had spectacles on." The spirit is not visible to others. (Kroeber, 1931, p. 13).
  2. Evans-Wentz, p. 60. This is what Nandi, Shiva's disciple, says in the Skanda Purana, and somewhere I read that it was backed up by Ramana Maharshi when he was questioned about it.
  3. Consider the following dream of a patient of mine who is an alcoholic, a drug addict, and possibly also a schizophrenic.
    My brother took me up onto the mountain where Jesus Christ told Satan he didn't want his riches and left me there. And I had to find my way back home. I made it.
    Later he added that he had "looked down over the city on all the lights. It was at night. ... It seemed like I was going to a different land." He said that the dream meant that "one day I will see the kingdom of heaven if I read his word and will be beneficial to myself as well." I asked, "What did you do up there?" He answered, "I mostly looked over the sides. It was all dark. A dark kingdom. People were sitting around having a good time. ... I just stood there and watched the darkness of the temple." He said his brother is
    married and has a family ... He's a pretty nice guy. He has a nice personality. He gets along with people. ... He comes around and sees me sometimes. ... He helps me too. ... He never did anything bad. ... He was a straight "A" student. He was in the Navy.
    He said that his brother "wanted to show me the realness of the Lord. ... He wanted me to look down over the city of paradise. I saw the lights." — This is a difficult dream to interpret. It is even possible to see the worldly brother as representing Satan himself and the dreamer as unconsciously (in the dark) giving into the temptation.
  4. Those who have the inclination, not only to succumb to the Devil but even to seek him out, do so, at least at times, on the top of a mountain, apparently "inspired" by this biblical story. Consider the following prescription for becoming a witch gathered from people in North Carolina:
    To become a witch, the candidate goes with the Devil to the top of the highest hill at sunrise nine successive days and curses God. The Devil then places one hand on the candidate's head and one on his feet, and receives the promise that all between his hands shall be devoted to his services. (Hand, 1964, pp. 110-111
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Abulafia, retrieved November 27, 2015


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

Share This Book


Comments are closed.