14 Chapter 14. The Psychological Approach Applied to Mountain Dreams

Inner and outer mountains

{Throughout this book I have used the words inner and outer freely, however this does not mean the concepts expressed by these words are clear. It is not just that it is easy to forget that we are using the words metaphorically. It is also that when we start thinking about inner things and outer things we can easily fall into philosophical quicksand. I have discussed this problem elsewhere, and this is no place to go into detail, but it is probably important to give a hint of how quickly we can wind up in an intellectual morass when we begin to think about such things.

It may seem that there is a clear separation between what is inside our minds and what is out in the physical world. Let’s stick with mountains. A man dreams of a mountain, and what could be clearer than that the mountain is inside his dream (or mind or intellect or imagination). But what if he dreamed of Mount Everest? Mount Everest is not in his dreams, and yet, in a sense, it is. Perhaps this is a problem that comes from a verbal play on words, but this does not make it less confusing to the psyche. Say a man has a very vivid dream that his best friend has just died. He wakes up upset and says to himself, “Nothing to be upset about! It’s just a dream! He died but only in my imagination!” But it is, in all likelihood, tempting for him to call up his friend to see if he is okay. This is in spite of any reasoning process he goes through with the conclusion that he is acting irrationally. — The moral: In real life, we can have a difficult time separating imagination from reality, inner from outer.

From the other angle, what if we are standing in front of an impressive mountain and looking at it with our eyes wide open and in an alert state of mind? Isn’t it clear that what we are seeing in front of us is a real, physical, outer mountain? Certainly, the answer is, “Yes!” But it is equally certain that the experience we are having of the mountain is inner. What is inner is our emotions, our thoughts, our fantasies, our sensations, and so on. Feelings of respect and awe, for example, are inner and not part of the outer mountain, though it is almost impossible to remember this while in the presence of the mountain. Our experience lingers after we close our eyes, and this includes visual sensations. Just what of that mountain was and is real and outside us, and what was and is inside us and dependent on us? This is not a question that can be answered simply by reflecting on the subject, even if our thinking is rational and clear. We also have to consider the work of physicists and psychologists and geologists and the like. And, even then, there is no easy answer, at least none that I have been able to find.

I am not bringing up these complications to discourage us from employing the words inner and outer — only to encourage the reader to be aware that concepts that have been so central to this book are not as straightforward as they may seem. Central to this book has been the concept of projection which we have understood as the projection of something inside onto something outside. We have said that those who see gods on mountains are projecting something inside themselves out onto the mountains. But what this means is a riddle whose roots are buried in the deepest depths of existence.}

The nature of dreams

The dream is the purest form of imagination, (from a discussion with the Jungian analyst James Kirsch, M.D.), and the dream world can be thought of as a place of inner refuge and recreation. When we come to the dream mountain we have come to the end of our study which is, after all, a study of the psyche or inner life. But it seems unfair to dreams to cast them only in this light. There is something of a new beginning in dreams as well as a retreat and resting place. The dream points in two ways: It is not only the deepest chamber to which we return from our days works and loves, but it is also the staging area or womb for tomorrow’s actions and for our future. From this angle the dream is a return to the source of our inner life, to an ever-renewing personal and inner religion, and a new vague perception of the future. It is like an arrow shot in the dark at a target; though it may miss by one hundred eighty degrees still, if the shot is a sincere attempt, it is a movement in the right direction compared with someone who does not even know there is a target or who knows there is one but doesn’t shoot.

By necessity a dream is hard to understand by others who did not have the dream and who are involved in their own worlds with their own problems and by we ourselves when we are awake. Even if a person senses that something important happened in a dream, it is difficult to bring it into focus or into direct consciousness. The dream gropes for something that we cannot, or cannot yet, put into words. If we could, we wouldn’t need to dream. The dream therefore connects us to the future as well as the past.

In this chapter I have two goals: first, to scan specific mountain dreams for the mountain motifs discussed in previous chapters; this will put the dreams in a broad context. And, second, to demonstrate a modern, psychological approach to mountain dreams, an approach inspired by my understanding of the approach of Carl Jung’s. There are other psychological approaches to dreams, for example the Freudian. And it is probably correct to say that most contemporary psychologists think that dreams have no meaning at all. Even for those of us who have found it useful to discuss dreams in the psychotherapy office, it seems wise to adopt a pragmatic attitude as opposed to a dogmatic one.

The reader will understand that all dreams are dreamed by individual people and are dreamed in the context of the dreamers’ waking life. Knowing the details of the inner and outer aspects of the waking life is necessary for a full understanding of a dream. Even though dreams contain universal, archetypal motifs, these motifs appear in the dreams of an individual filtered through that person’s individual experience. Since it is not possible, from the point of view of protecting private information, to give significant details of the lives of the dreamers whose dreams we are about to analyze, the following analyses will have to remain skeletons of full-bodied analyses.

The depersonalized nature of our analyses will be even truer for the historical dreams presented in the next section. These dreams appear in literary works, and we have no way of knowing if they were real dreams of real people or dreams made up by the author. If they were real dreams, we have no way of knowing anything about the lives of the dreamers. For the purpose of discussion, we will ignore this problem and proceed as best we can.

Historical mountain dreams

The following dream is from The Gilgamesh Epic and is one of the earliest recorded dreams. It, along with two others in the epic, comes as a result of an incubation on a mountain in which the dreamer leaves a gift (in this case, some grain or flour) and goes to sleep asking the mountain for a favorable dream about an upcoming confrontation with the giant, Humbaba. This dream not only occurs on a mountain but contains a mountain in it.

We [Gilgamesh and Enkidu] stood in a deep gorge of the mountain, and beside it we two were like the smallest of swamp flies; and suddenly the mountain fell, it struck me and caught my feet from under me. Then came an intolerable light blazing out, and in it was one whose grace and whose beauty were greater than the beauty of this world. He pulled me out from under the mountain, he gave me water to drink and my heart was comforted, and he set my feet on the ground. (Sandars, 1979, p. 78)[1]

This image of a falling mountain is more common than we might think. Not only does it occur in the Bible where it seems to emphasize the relative strength of God, but it also can be found in modern dreams including my own.[2] In this case we might say that the collapsing of the mountain indicates the falling of the old perspective or world view, the old religion, since a mountain is a god that makes its presence felt in a time of personal and/or societal confusion. For the individual humans involved, this would be tantamount to a complete disorientation, a disruption of meaning, with a possible concomitant depression.

But this particular dream also points to the spontaneous generation of a new orientation. I say this, because light is a stimulant. It is a stimulus for a weak or lazy eye and an orienting principle even for plants (the tropism). Light draws the attention of the eye (it hypnotizes). As soon as the eye is opened it is drawn to light, even if this orienting reflex can be suppressed.

A light in a dream also captures the attention. In Gilgamesh’s dream the “intolerable light blazing out” demands attention and signifies a new organizing principle that can orient the dreamer (or in the author of this part of the Gilgamesh story) and get him going again. It is new a motivation which is to say that it stimulates new growth and passive, instinctual action. And remember the Mountain Light discussed in the Introduction that can create feelings of peace and beauty in the viewer (or dreamer) and lead to clarity of thought and, possibly, to a flash of insight.

The fact that this “light” is also the source of comforting water is a sign that the new orientation, though at first “intolerable” (like the hot sun that can also kill), will be just what is needed by the dreamer, not only to stimulate movement, but also to help him “bloom” and flourish. Help comes from out of what feels intolerable in the form of one whose grace and whose beauty were greater than the beauty of this world.[3] {We must not overlook the possibility that there was a real draught in Mesopotamia at the time and that the dream pointed to an end to the draught.}

Since the dream has been preserved for around four thousand years, I assume it marked an important moment in human history as well as a reorientation for the individual who dreamed the dream (or made it up), though, of course, the reader is entitled to arrive at his or her own interpretation and conclusions.

Another historical dream, more familiar to the contemporary Jewish or Christian reader, is that of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar as recorded in the biblical story of Daniel. In the story, Daniel is not only asked to interpret the dream, but he first must guess what it is. Daniel correctly tells the dream as follows:

O king, as you looked on, there appeared a great statue. This statue, which was huge and its brightness surpassing, stood before you, and its appearance was awesome. The head of that statue was of fine gold; its breast and arms were of silver; its belly and thighs, of bronze; its legs were of iron, and its feet part iron and part clay. As you looked on, a stone was hew out [from the mountain], not by hands, and struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and crushed them. All at once, the iron, clay, bronze, silver, and gold were crushed, and became like chaff of the threshing floors of summer; a wind carried them off until no trace of them was left. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. (Daniel 2:31-5) (my bold)

This dream does not contain the collapse of the mountain (god) but the destruction of a lowland, secular idol by the god of the mountain above. Here, in other words, the religious point of view is strong and destroys the weaker secular perspective.

As I have said, besides water and light, rock is the third element universally associated with mountains. If light and water are stimuli, rock would be just the opposite. A rock does not draw us to itself; it is like a cold fist. It is a depressant that calms and slows and humbles. It creates solidity and permanence and safety. It is the aspect of the mountain that would make us think of Keeping Still. Therefore, this is a conservative dream that preserves and reestablishes what was already infinite and destroys the captivating (“its brightness surpassing”) statue which is only a man-made and impermanent vanity of our ordinary lives on the plains. It is the old story of the God of Mount Sinai punishing the golden calf of the people below, transposed into Babylon. It says that the Yahweh on the mountain is alive and, like a rock, will eventually crush and humble all the temporal powers, no matter how big. It is a compensation that, as it were, brings a person down to “earth” who has risen too high in his own estimation and has become an idol to himself and others.

{We might imagine the King Nebuchadnezzar consulting the I Ching and receiving Hexagram 52 (Keeping Still) with a Nine in the third line. Master Huang (1998, p. 414) translates the third line as

Third Nine/
Keeping still at his waist./
Strains his spinal muscles./
Heats up the heart.

And Master Huang’s comment on this line (p. 416):

… It represents a person who is too self-willed and intransigent. He keeps still in the extreme. … he cannot deal harmoniously. The situation gives him trouble, as if he has injured his spinal muscles, and this brings anger to his heart. How can he have peace?

This comment is a fair description of the biblical Nebuchadnezzar. Even though a king, he must have been tormented and worried about the possibility of his fall.

The R. Ritsema & S. Karcher (1994) edition has Bound instead of Keeping Still for Hexagram 52. Their translation of the third line has: “Bound: one’s limit./ Exposure smothers the heart indeed” (p. 564). And to explain the meaning of the Chinese word for expose, they have: “exposed to danger, precipitous, unsteady; too high, not upright, uneasy. … overhanging rock, person and limit, exposure in an extreme position” (p. 565). — This is a psychological way of describing a person who has gone too far, who has the wrong attitude, and who is in danger of being crushed. It is a person, like Nebuchadnezzar, whose heart, “as center of being; seat of mind’s images and affections; moral nature; source of desires, intentions, will” (p. 564) has lost its balance and is bound to be smothered or crushed by the mountain (or the stone hewed from the mountain) that is blocking him. He reached his limit, his boundary, but continued to push on.}

A woman’s mountain dreams

We turn to the dreams of a patient some of whose dreams I have already discussed in earlier chapters. This woman came to consult me for the first time shortly after I began this book. She had overwhelming life problems that had her so down that suicide was not out of the question in her mind. In the first session she told me the following dream.


A boy — it is me — is kidnapped or missing. We are on a mountain. My mother is there we look up on the bookshelf to find the answer [instruction]. It is very important we find him. I get what I need and find him. An old lady cuddles him, and I cry because I’m so glad I found him.

I commented that the boy could represent her lost inner self (a boy being the opposite of her conscious identity) which, in the dream, she found on a mountain, and then I told her I was writing a book about mountain dreams. She told me that she had been dreaming about mountains for years to the point where she had been advised to go to the mountains to see if there was really anything important there for her. She told me that she remembered some of these past dreams.


In one there was a mountain with a river at the bottom and a lake and a blinding light [as with Gilgamesh]. Then a shadowy man on a dark horse rides into the sky [an unusual and therefore somewhat ominous image — usually such figures come down to the mountain].


In another dream she had seen a vision of a crucifix.

I was walking for miles and miles into the mountains, and there was a mound of earth that opened in front of me, and I looked down and saw a crucifix come up [there is a painful and profound conflict and transformation going on in her body and mind and soul, perhaps a religious one — motif of battle on the mountain], and it was very real.


Another dream had recurred six or seven times. In it there were

two paths, a longer one to the left through a plain and a shorter one through rough mountains.  I choose the mountain path, and, as soon as I do, animals appear. I’ve never seen a monster so I can’t call them monsters, but they are weird, horrible animals. One has a sword and a pointed head and one eye [She is meeting demonic figures from the unconscious, or, in the old terminology, the evil spirits of the mountains like the Scorpions on Mount Mashu].


And in yet another recurring dream she is running up steps to get somewhere.

Strictly speaking this is not a mountain dream, but step, ladder, stair, and even tree-climbing dreams can be assimilated to mountain dreams.

I will now give the other dreams that she reported having during the four months of our work at the end of which she was, by all accounts, significantly improved. Unfortunately, I cannot give relevant and important details for fear of violating her confidentiality, and, as with her other dreams, this is not the place to analyze every detail. I will give the dreams in order (with notes in brackets) and then make a few remarks at the end. I did not make many comments when she told them to me (not even as many as I will make now in brackets), and I believe the dreams speak clearly in their own language.


I am on a mountain. A woman … attacks me verbally, and I don’t understand why, and I demand an explanation. [Another] … woman comes and has us make friends. We all embrace. [At first the figures attack but then there is a reconciliation, i.e. she is becoming more comfortable with her unconscious, with her body.]


I am going with … men across a border [into God’s country] where there is a civil war [conflict] going on. I warn the man not to go off to the right. They shoot him and there is blood everywhere [a sacrifice]. I go straight through to a rock [mountain] where I know I am safe [rock as protection, since it calms and keeps one from getting flighty].


I’m in the mountains, and it’s foggy [not rain but thick enough to keep her from seeing — understanding]. There is a man, but he’s not really a man [the spirit of truth]. He is ugly [to her ego]. He’s small with a big head [her thinking function] that leans to the side. I’m standing against a rock [to ward him off and to stabilize and orient herself and to avoid new insight]. … I am talking to him [she is learning]. Men in uniform [rigid forces in herself] are trying to kill him. I said, “Why, he’s not hurting anyone?” He is very ugly, but he is tender in his eyes [remember Asmodeus who seemed cruel, only because he saw and acted on the truth that others miss]. I’m feeling more relaxed [because she is tolerating an important part of herself that is teaching her gentle truths].


There’s a house on a hill (more cabin style) that is very big and with a lot of windows [Stage 3]. A guy comes over. … It’s dark [no light, no knowledge]. … He’s ugly [again the ugly man who will this time bring her (unwanted) self-knowledge]. I say, “Why do you look at me so mean?” [Her ego is offended or scared] “I don’t like you.” “Why?” “Because you’re bad” [the call to penance on the mountain]. “What do you know?” “We have a lot of calls about you. You’re like a [unflattering attribution].” “That’s one thing you can’t call me. …” [she refuses to enter Purgatorio].

I go into a new part of the house I have never seen [new country, an area of herself that has been unconscious], and [a relative] is in there with a scale [more moral judgment]. … She asks her relative why there are drapes (rags) over the windows, and she says, “So nobody can see in.” [The relative represents the regressive, secretive aspect of the woman that we saw above. It is now confronting her, and she must make her choice. Her family may never have liked to look at who she really is and does not want others outside the family to see it either — by extension, she is not allowed to see it.] I say, “If there is nothing to hide you don’t need drapes” [in the new part of the inner self, the inner “temple,” the inner house of the Lord, she no longer wants to hide anything — she wants to let the “light” in]. …

I pull off the rags and say, “The covering is for nothing”. [The relative says,] “Don’t do that, because they’ll see you.”

… [When] I pull off the white rag I can see dirt all piled up and a big tree on the dirt [this is an artificial mound with a sacred tree on it as in Southeast Asia where it is a sign of prosperity and the safety of the village]. The tree is big and very beautiful [when honesty is chosen, the tree of life appears, cf. the healing tree in Revelation and the tree in Black Elk that will end the darkness], and the dirt is by the tree as if someone is working there [the work of self-knowledge, the alchemic work going inside the magical mountain], and it is getting big, and I thought maybe it is the worker who she didn’t want to see. She was hiding in there. … I went outside [this is a brave move onto the mountain from the protection of the house-temple]. There is a pile of dirt and a fence, and men are jumping over and talking in a foreign language, and I can understand them but I can’t talk. They say they have been sent all over the world to spread the message. [Hermes, the mountain god, was the messenger of the gods. At the beginning of Christianity, the Greek peasants thought St. Paul was Hermes come down to earth as a man. Instruction is being sent from the mountain, but she does not get the message though she understands the language. She is getting ready to hear a religious revelation.] I ask, “What message?” One man … said he will tell when he gets back [this is hopeful]. They are all carrying books and baskets [knowledge and provision] and they are in a hurry. I wonder how they can talk to people with a strange language. It is very different. They’re running from this side to that. Groups are going in all ways [the strange figures and forces of the unconscious are activated, and there is much energy that was revealed by opening the shades. Still, she is not part of this activity that could possibly cure her.]


It is in the 1800’s in a train station with an old coffee shop [a place of pilgrimage as on Mount Emei] where the trains [from Society] stop. There is a very big mountain. [Apparently she has come down from the mountains of her previous dreams into society, albeit a past society. Possibly this extroverted returning to civilization comes from having faced the ugly man and thrown open the drapes.] There are trees [a life-growth motif] behind me. There are beautiful old benches. The people look old-fashioned like in the movies. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful and peaceful, and everyone was nice [Even in a dream this is healing. She is beginning to trust the foreigners in herself and her memories, which means she will probably begin to get on better in Society]. I was dressed similarly. …

I am looking at jewelry here and thinking, “Isn’t it different?” [She finds something different and valuable near or on the mountain.]. … I want to see something different [she wants a new perspective, and she has come to the right place]. There is a box of earrings with a diamond ring. I’ve never seen anything like it [she is in new country!]. The ring is shaped like a mountain with steps and plateaus [a miniature, artificial mountain. This is unusual! It means she will be traveling back to Society and wants to take the mountain gods with her — Stage 4. It is the combination of two symbols of the whole self, one social and the other natural.] The top was rough and beautiful and shiny [she is stimulated]. I talk about this, and [the shopkeeper] says, “Yes. This is what they are supposed to be. They are supposed to be rocks [here are her rocks again and their assimilation into a social context] and the like.” I ask if they are diamonds. She says, “No.” It is very beautiful. It looks like a mountain.

The lady [shopkeeper] is … nice [she is an intermediary between Mountain and Society, people and gods]. The earrings were mountains too, like the ring. There is a way to walk or crawl to a place on the mountain [as on the pyramids, a type of pilgrimage]. They look alike and are supposed to be a set. [She winds up buying another, remarkable necklace whose symbol and construction she wishes she could understand.] I … put the necklace on and sit at the coffee shop and wait for a train and look at the mountains. [She seems to have gotten something she can take back with her to ordinary life, “to wear.”] The train comes, and I wake up.

It was very peaceful there in the middle of nowhere. [It is only nowhere from the point of view of Society. Really she found a place of peace on (or within the sight of) the inner mountain which the Society in her still demeans.]


I was just kind of thinking all by myself. I was sitting by a bunch of rocks [her safe rocks, her grounding, her body] by a river with clear water [non-turbulent emotions], and behind me [in her past] was a mountain, not a huge one but medium size. There are a bunch of rocks, and I started playing [far from her past suicidal thoughts], throwing them into the river. I picked one up, and all kinds of coins come out from the dirt underneath. They are gold coins, “Here from the middle of nowhere.” They keep coming in different sizes like quarters and nickels. They must have been real old, but they are shiny [again]. Somehow I thought it was good luck and that I will take them with me wherever I go [!]. They are going to be for good luck. They were beautiful too. They had some kind of weird design [again some instruction, un-deciphered and probably demeaned by consciousness, like the reviled philosopher’s stone of the alchemists that, through the work in the mountain, becomes gold and the healing elixir], but they were beautiful. I never saw one of those before [she has a lot of interesting things left to learn].


I was in the mountains with [my family] and some men, and we were all in a cabin [Stage 3], and there was a bunch of trees, and I can see big mountains from a glass wall window in the dining room. There were no other houses, and I was standing there, and the men were telling me something to do with numbers [Instruction involving the most abstract of all concepts]. They say, “Why don’t you play it?”, and I say, “I already have a lot of numbers, and I’m already betting.” My brother asks why I said that, and I tell him that I was bluffing. Again I tell the men that I have numbers and that I am sure I will win. They ask, “Are you sure?”, and I say, “Yes”, and I think that even if I am bluffing, maybe it’s real. The next day I decided to buy a Lotto card. [Her ability to look towards and begin to intuit the future has returned or is beginning. She is trusting herself, her intuition, perhaps too much. However she is lying to the men — again she is hiding the truth.]

The card she bought (in reality) had five out of six correct numbers, but one had been accidentally changed in the process of buying the card. She told me that if she had kept her original choice she would have won $6,000,000.


I was driving in the mountain. It was so green [so full of life]. It was very beautiful. I stop in this place that has no sign but that I know is a big restaurant [as on Mount Emei, a resting place for pilgrims]. The inside has a lot of plants and a lot of water [a stream]. There was no cement floor, and the tables were wood. There was no paint on the wood walls. There were trees inside the restaurant, and the tables were far apart [almost like being outside and inside at the same time]. You can see the water, and it is very pretty with rocks in it.

I’m the only one in the place, and a guy comes in, and he’s very tall [i.e., god-like], and he got a menu and gave it to me, and there is only one thing on the menu — fish. I ask why he bothered to give me the menu at all; he could have just told me. I say, “Is this all you have?” He says, “Yes.” I say, “OK. I’ll have that.” [After arguing, which is natural for her, she allows herself to accept nourishment from the Provider God. Fish are from water. One symbol of Christ is a fish. She is finding an inner satisfaction.]

I finish, and start looking around. I climb the stairs (a circular staircase) [circumambulation] to the top and go through a door onto the street though it is not really a street. This “road” goes up and down, and there is another mountain. I’m on one mountain looking at this other [still greater] mountain. There is water falling down the other mountain [a gradient but no ocean so no complete relaxation] and coming all the way [to where I am]. It is a river, and it is so beautiful and clear, and I think I’d like to live here forever [this is a wonderful inner place, an inner feeling she has found]. I wash my face, and it’s so clear and fresh and free and so peaceful! The trees were so green. I’d never seen trees in real life so green and clean and peaceful and not a piece of paper anywhere around [she’s going back to the Garden of Eden, to the creation which takes place on a mountain, to a seminal place in herself]. And the water was so clear and crystal that I could see the fish in it, and it was so beautiful that I sat and kept looking, and I couldn’t stop looking, because it was so beautiful. The water was so different from any water I have ever seen in my life. And it was light when I washed with it.

When I woke I wished I could find a place like that. It was so real anyway. It was like I was really there. I woke up when I was leaning against my car to drive away, and I didn’t want to go. Water was coming from the mountain. I liked the feeling. It was real clear. There was nothing to ruin it. I have never seen any water like that, not even Sparkletts water [a bottled water sold in the city as spring-fresh water]. I was putting it all over me, on my face and neck and was saying, “It feels so good.” [Though the lady was not Jewish, this is the psychological equivalent of a mikvah.]

When she woke up she went out and performed an important ceremony (which, for reasons of confidentiality, I can not describe) that she had been postponing for twenty years. “I wanted to celebrate. It was such a positive thing, and I’m usually so negative. I have good feelings for some reason.” She was healed on the inner mountain.

A few comments on this dream series

Even if these dreams are are an escape from reality, they are medicinal retreats. The dreamer learned something about herself (and maybe about the lottery called “life”) on the inner mountains; she found some good luck charms; and she took a ritual, healing bath in water of a kind she had never seen or felt before. She came away with shiny old gold coins that had been hidden in the dirt by a river. Anyone who would be tempted to call this “merely” her imagination should remember that these inner experiences on the mountain helped her adapt better to her everyday environment. Anyone tempted to call this “mere” religious faith should remember that she did not get any of these images directly from a book or from other people’s ideas but that they came to her fresh, from the depth of her own psyche. This woman does not have the temperament, but, if she did, she could easily try to become a religious prophet or start her own religion.

The situation is not without dangers. For her the desire to be alone is good, but the allure of the peaceful mountains can pull people away forever. In some cases, this may even be desirable, but it can also be dangerous, especially if it is a case of projection of the inner mountain on to a physical one. Another danger is that the Edenic inner state of the last dreams can contrast so greatly with ordinary waking consciousness that feelings of despair and hopelessness and alienation and depression and anger and bitterness can develop. We may predict that a conflict will ensue over the next number of years between the part that wants to live an ordinary social life and the part that will remember the mountain experience and return to it.

Perhaps the lady would be helped to handle these inevitable conflicts if she could decipher the secret “messages” that appear in a few of the dreams.

The author’s mountain dreams

People climb dream mountains for some of the same reasons they climb physical ones — to get help and instruction. In many mountain dreams the specific reason for going is quite clear. An examination of the one hundred fifteen mountain dreams of mine that I have recorded to this point, since 1975 {that is, for 13 years}, reveal that problems of city life often preceded the climbs: relationship problems, frustration of ambition, lack of recognition, and the like. In one dream there was violence at the bottom of the mountain, and the trail up offered an escape to a more peaceful land. Some of the dream mountains resembled a Fantasyland (example Mount Sinai with a giant television screen on top — emphasizing a kind of cheap, programmed fantasy life in an area of the psyche that could have created a deeper ethical understanding). I was not always the figure involved in the problems pictured, but, since the dreams are mine, the troubled figures in the dreams can be taken as representing certain unconscious split off aspects of myself. In the most extreme example of the escape motif, a woman in a dream kills herself, because her capable husband will not work.

To encourage a slightly more objective approach to this self-analysis, I will refer to myself in the third person.

Mountain motifs in the dreams

In most cases, however, the dreams seems to be climbing not just to escape the problems but to be healed and/or to learn how to solve them. These are the reasons why people made and still make pilgrimages to real mountains. The dreamer, for a number of years, has been making pilgrimages to inner mountains. (The dreamer does not consider that the Sierras were an escape for him but a finding of something real for which he could feel a genuine responsibility — nature. It involved a re-valuation of his values (to use Nietzsche’s phrase) that shaped his daily life.)

These climbs were often steep, difficult, and frightening. In three dreams there was a definite circumambulation (example, “I was climbing a mountain winding round and round”). Sometimes the dreamer climbed with others in a group as in a pilgrimage. In seven dreams there were guides. Six were women (as in Dante and the Zoroastrian scriptures). One was a portly Icelandic fairy creature who seemed to know something and another was an Israeli woman whose presence did not ameliorate his fear:

I see an Israeli woman on the top of a mountain. I am on a stepped path just below her. She is reaching out for me to come up. I have come a long way up, but I am terrified to go the last ten or so steps. [perhaps a fear of letting go of the male work ethic]

In many of the dreams the goal was to find water. In one the dreamer found a healing mineral bath like one he had visited in the Sierras (Stage 5). In another a man who ran a bath on a mountain demanded money (an offering), and the dreamer got angry [wrong attitude to the inner helpers].

There was a lot of mountain vegetation, sometimes wild (like a green Hawaiian mountain), sometimes cultivated. The presence of plants points backward to the presence of water and forward to life and health and prosperity and show economic concerns. In one dream there was nine feet of decomposing hay on a big hill in downtown Los Angeles that went to feeding horses living on the hill, which was a good sign of finding inner and outer nourishment in a difficult and cold environment (it also shows how the unconscious brings the mountain archetype even into a center of civilization like Los Angeles, California). In another rice was being planted. In another trees were “dancing” in the wind.

In all, water appears in sixteen dreams, twenty three if oceans (next to mountains) are included: There is the river where fish are spawning; a river with an otter floating on an old book; a river on a hill on Pico Boulevard (Pico, I just found out, means peak in Spanish) in Los Angeles; a stream; two waterfalls; snow; the shower; and the “beautiful, amazing lake … the most beautiful and perfect spot in Northern California;” and the rain moistened rounded mountain peak.

In some of these dreams there is a feeling of beauty, and in all there is a fresh, natural feeling that is an elixir for the tensions of city life.

Though the waters feel good, they do not give a complete cure, because the conflicts remain below. Understanding is required. Understanding on a mountain is often associated with light. The dreamer finds unusual lights in six dreams: a “beautiful” light in an antique glass on Boot Hill (Death’s light); beings from outer-space [alien gods] who came in lightening flashes and who will teach the secret of creation; a cave containing “glowing, radiant” gold; a watch with the sun reflecting off it; a man-bird that changes into the sun; and “the Light,” that is, the mountain light.

The dreamer spent time on the inner mountains with all his important real-life teachers. He also gets initiated by Indians into a secret. In one dream a woman finds self-knowledge on a mountain, and in another he meets Jung.

… I am nervous and awkward. … He sees through me. He talks and is very very impressive. It is like being with a new major figure, a Christ. … I keep wanting to talk to him and get advice. … A train is winding around on the side of a mountain [circumambulation or prayerful approach to a mountain deity projected onto Jung, the human being, symbol of self-knowledge]. Finally, I get to talk to him. I ask [a personal question which he answers]. … He … absolves me from loneliness. He was a kind man. The experience felt suddenly wonderful and numinous.

Not only is the dreamer helped on the mountains but he also helps. In fifteen dreams he helps others by giving water, by curing patients, by guiding a woman (though not the one who committed suicide), and by planting vegetable gardens for people (in one case against his will). I would guess that these dreams are characteristic of a psychotherapists. {It also reflects the theme of Indian medicine men going to mountains to get earth and herbs for their medicine bundles.}

On mountains the dreamer also sees or visits different “mansions,” “estates,” “palaces,” and “houses,” usually owned by the very rich who, in the dreams are a mixed lot, sometimes suffering from the pride of power. These seem to parallel the lower mountain gods who the dreamer projected on to the rich and who represent some of his own aspirations.

The motif of descent appears quite often which is, perhaps, unusual. Twenty three of the dreams were about descent. In the dreamer’s case, as opposed to what we have found in mountain mythology, close to one quarter of all the dreams focused fully or in large part on the coming down. The theme is so prevalent that it suggests that the dreamer’s problem in life, as it were, has been, not to go up to mountains, but to come down. His tendency seems to be towards introversion and dwelling and searching within. It is as if he were born on a mountain. And it does seem to him that the last forty five years of his life have been spent, more and more, coming into society and functioning within it and accepting the self that wants to and is able to function in this way.

These dreams can be ordered in time almost perfectly by the ease in which the dreamer made his descents. In the earlier dreams he was afraid of falling. In a middle dream he was inspired by a woman who ran down the hill as easy as a mountain goat. In the next it was easy to come down, because there were different levels.

It’s not one sheer slope, but there are many little levels, and I can slide down to the one just below very safely. It is very easy. … Again I feel stuck, but again I slide to the next one and on and on.

Balance, though a somewhat unsettling and dangerous balance of the alteration between the up and down perspective is caught in the following:

There is some sort of race that goes down-hill to the center of a circular area and then back up to the start. We all go down the hill, slow down, reach the center and stop, and then turn and come back up the hill. Another man however toboggans down veering right and, at full speed, veers left through the center and on a path that arcs down to the left and then around to the right and up in a figure 8 and then up again on the right, and there is apparently enough momentum to bring him up the hill again and through the center (of the eight) which is the center of the circle and back up to the start. … [attempts at the balance of right and left, up and down, center and periphery, speed and slowness, taking place on a mountain]

In a dream five months later “a woman helps me run down a hill at full speed. It’s a wonderful feeling.” In short, the dreamer feels more and more comfortable with the descent even if the coming down may itself be difficult and even dangerous at times. The theme is of how to go up when needed without getting stuck in the mountain point of view, and how to go back down safely, as needed, without “crashing.”

The essence of climbing a mountain is exerting an effort to reach a goal over a period of time. During this time all the muscles are used, and the breath is rapid and shallow. At the top of the climb there is an exaltation which, paradoxically, is also identical with the beginning of the fall back down (like water rushing down a mountain), since it is a relaxation and a peaceful feeling. On the way down there is slower and deeper breathing and a disorientation, a loss of the bigger perspective. Finally, we may imagine sitting quietly at the ocean, hardly taking any in breath at all. Looking at the sunlight (a stimulant) on the waves, and this moment is identical with the seed of the next effort to climb back up from the lethargy, like the mist rising to form the rain clouds. This process of rising and falling is an endless one and can be seen and experienced as a battle.

{Looked at from this perspective, we go up and down mountains all day and all night long, every minute of every day of our lives: Every effort is a climbing, and every relaxation is a coming down. This applies to getting along with other: Social skills are skills that each of us has, more or less, and the exercise of which, especially for introverts, requires effort and work; therefore, social climbing is a meaningful metaphor.}

It seems that in ancient times this fight was very important. It must have been very difficult for early man to exert concentrated efforts for long periods of time. It might even be said that it is unnatural. For example, somewhere I read a quote from an American Indian who said that before the white men came there was no work. They hunted and fished and found berries but they never worked. They were happy with what they were given. It was the European who introduced the concept of work and with it, boredom, tedium, and misery. (Even if this is a romanticized view, it still may contain some truth in it). In ancient days, in the days of early civilization, it was very important for the mountain god to win over the god of the ocean which meant that concentrated work would win over a continuum of effortlessness. But times have changed, and the conflict between mountain and ocean (who were both gods of nature) is no longer the big issue. Between the mountain and the ocean are the plains on which society stands. The real conflict now is between the mountain and ocean gods on the one hand and the Society in between. “Down the mountain” now means primarily “down into society” and not to a lazy life near the ocean.

In the dreams of this dreamer, he comes down from the mountain, not to the ocean, but to the tensions and fears of everyday life in the city: to a barroom fist fight; to an overweight banker who is under investigation for theft; to political-religious fanaticism; to all sorts of relationship problems. These are all split-off aspects of himself that have to be faced after coming down from the mountain.

In one dream the dreamer makes a dangerous descent for money. A mountain figure in the dream (a figure in himself) calls it “foolhardy.” There is a return to the very conflicts and tensions about has desire for money that were part of his reason for withdrawing to the mountains in the first place. Coming down the mountain can be summed up as the return to the Golden Calf, and both the Golden Calf and the mountain god are in himself and, presumably, in everybody. {We are subject to every whim and sin and temptation stimulated by that which is around us. The resulting complications are endless. On the mountain, we withdraw from these and see them from a higher perspective, but this perspective does not last forever. Returning back down to our ordinary lives, we are right in the middle of it all again. Is it a continual going back and forth or is there some sort of unified perspective that includes both the high and the low in us that can last permanently?}

Many of the tensions of society seem artificial from the point of view of the mountain and ocean (now seen as allies). If a man buys an expensive home for reasons of prestige and then finds himself in a very tense situation trying to figure out how to make the payments, this dilemma is artificial, because it could easily be avoided. The man could survive just as well, if not better, in a cabin on a mountain. He does not need the house or the tension. So reasons the mountain man inside.

Nothing could be more obvious to this inner man than that life in society is full of these bizarre, “crazy” tensions, but the inner social being longs to submit to just this series of artificial strivings and pains and humiliations. It becomes clear that the artificial is natural in each of us.

There are two points of view: Mountain-Ocean on the one hand and Society on the other. Health in one “country” is sickness in the other, and both countries are inside. The rich insurance man with fifty people working for him looks impressive to the inner social climber and weak, sickly, and whimpy to the natural man within. What seems insane from one angle looks healthy from the other. The inner mountain man cannot conceive of a motive for the social act of sunbathing for a tan when every natural animal knows to avoid the hot rays of the summer sun. He cannot begin to understand why the businessman would work all day in a dark room, straining his eyes in artificial light, allowing his body to become soft and weak, and then go to lift iron weights in a gym when he could run free in the hills. “How silly to feel proud of his `great’ house,” thinks the inner mountain man, “when my walls are the forest and my roof is the sky and my lights are the sun and moon.” “Who is richer?” he asks. “Isn’t it insane to create pollution? No animal chokes on his own waste unless it is sick or mad.” So thinks the inner man who longs for the simple life on the mountains.

It seems ironical that to become a so-called “man of the world,” with “Jaguar,” “Mustang,” or “Mazda,” one must leave the bigger world of real jaguars and real mustangs and the mountain kingdom of the god Mazda and voluntarily accept a myopic view.

But from the point of view of society, which is also present within the self, the mountain man represents the wild, destructive, criminal, insane, weak side of the personality. He seems to fear society and at the same time feel himself above it. The inner social man sees the other side of him as gauche. It is the part that makes him laughable at social gatherings. He dreads being like the American Indian Ishii who had to come out of his native forest and live the rest of his life in a museum, supported by benefactors. The inner social man hates the wild, untamed side that wants to disrupt all his long-term plans and obligations. As nature man, all jobs, even the best, are like city clothes, artificial and confining. He hates responsibility and gives it a bad name like “middle class virtue” or “herd mentality” (from the mountain man, Nietzsche). If he has to live in a city, he is at home wandering in the streets or gardens. He resisted temptation in the hills but only because there was no temptation. In the city he is a sucker and a bumpkin.

It is interesting that this conflict is presented in The Gilgamesh Epic, and it is through temptation that the animal-man, Enkidu who was reared by the “wild hills” is tamed and brought into society to be a friend of Gilgamesh, the arrogant king of Uruk who “lords it over men.” It was a prostitute, “a wanton from the temple of love,” who was sent to overpower Enkidu the wild man who “ate grass in the hills with the gazelle and lurked with wild beasts at the water-holes.” It was a harlot who was sent to “let her woman’s power overpower this man” by stripping naked before him at the well. (Sandars, p. 63) When he went to embrace her, the animals abandoned him.

As he lay on her murmuring love she taught him the woman’s art. For six days and seven nights they lay together, for Enkidu had forgotten his home in the hills; but when he was satisfied he went back to the wild beasts. Then, when the gazelle saw him, they bolted away; when the wild creatures saw him they fled. Enkidu would have followed, but his body was bound as though with a cord, his knees gave way when he started to run, his swiftness was gone. … Enkidu was grown weak, for wisdom was in him, and the thoughts of a man were in his heart. (pp. 64-65)

The harlot then says to Enkidu, “You are wise, Enkidu, and now you have become like a god [my bold]. Why do you want to run wild with the beasts in the hills?” And she convinces him to come to the city where “every day is holiday” and where he will meet Gilgamesh, “a man of many moods.” Enkidu “longed for a comrade, for one who would understand his heart,” and he comes down from the mountains and into the city to meet the strongest of city men Gilgamesh. They meet and struggle like bulls. Gilgamesh wins and the two become so close that after Enkidu dies Gilgamesh, as described in a previous chapter, follows him to the land of the dead for love of his friend Enkidu. (pp. 65-66)

We may guess that this story represents a conflict in its author. The death of Enkidu (the collapse of the mountain?) which represents the victory of society where “every day is holiday” leads to a mourning to the death, a deepening, an awareness of death, and an attempt to return to the old perspective (Enkidu in the Edenic land of the dead) by going over mountains (Mashu) and oceans. All this is to no avail, because the old perspective is lost forever. What is gained is wisdom and a knowledge of mysteries and “secret things.” (p. 117) We are, by nature, social creatures, and to run from society is to run from ourselves.

In spite of the victory of the city man over the man of the hills in this very modern story, in ancient days the feeling seemed to be that even the city man, represented by Gilgamesh, is small when compared to gods like Enlil of the mountains, the father of the gods. Man may by a something in comparison to other men, but, in the end, he must admit that he is like a “swamp fly” (Gilgamesh) beside the mountain. God (at least the Jewish god) can always take a stone hewn out from a mountain, “not by hands,” and crush even the grandest statue man can make. In Daniel man is tiny though he has to be reminded of his stature from time to time. The mountain (god) takes care of upstart individuals and societies, and, as we are reminded over and over in the Hebrew Bible, if he wants, God can even destroy the mountains themselves.

But now it is quite different. Now the Great Society can match the gods and even flatten some of the mountains with its bombs. Because of modern science, we are becoming equal to the mountains. We can fill in lakes and dirty the oceans. We have in sight the complete mastery of even the highest peaks. There will be no more remote mountain on which Prometheus can be chained or on which Sisyphus can be tormented forever. Prometheus will be able to heal himself with medicine from the local ski village drug store and Sisyphus will rent a snow plow to help him push the boulder up the mountain.(It seems like an instinct to civilize the mountains. Even the deer with their trails are civilizing influences. And isn’t God asking for it when he tells people to come up, leave offerings, and build structures? Would an adult human even think about inviting a gang member into his house if he knew, as God must know, in advance that the adolescent would vandalize his home?)

Returning to the dreams of descent, what this means is that when the dreamer dreams of coming down a mountain, he is no longer coming into a society (a part of himself) that is easily humbled and respects and caters to the gods on the mountains. In climbing upward socially (in his imagination) he reaches a place where he, or at least the society in which he is a member, can create an explosion as bright as the sun. His can create life and destroy peoples and mountains. He, as a member of society, has become a mountain god (even though the Lord can end the life of any individual at will). Who has responsibility for this great and terrible power?

It is no longer like the old times when the prophet had to come down from the mountain and warn us of the danger of getting out of line. There is really no more conflict between the two views, the view from the mountains and the view from the plains. There is much less separation between the moral and the practical. In the problems of pollution, overpopulation, and nuclear warfare, the moral and the practical points of view are becoming identical. The social, city self is becoming a prophet. The prophet in the hills is involuntarily a member of the Great Society which has stretched itself to the top of Navajo Mountain and into the furthest forests into which a person may run to escape. “Making it” now means “making it in society.” There are no more hermits. The hermit is just a street person on an out of the way highway. But equally, society is no longer as free as it was in ancient times. Even the Great Society, and it is becoming greater, cannot run wild like a child who knows it is being watched by a benevolent parent who will call out when it goes too far. There are things it just can’t do any more, period, ever again, even in dreams. This is not a moral question. It is pure pragmatics.

The man in the dreamer who loves the hills needs no longer hate the one in him who feels comfortable in society, because their goal is the same. Hurting one hurts the other. The society in him need not fear the mountain in him any more than he needs fear a doctor requiring him to diet. These abstractions however do not prevent the necessity of growing up, of becoming more mature.

As the dreamer looks deep within himself for an answer and finds only conflicting forces, he may again find myself looking for the answer in some inner mountain god. But the gods on the mountains seem to have abandoned their strongholds and come down below. Not only do the dreams show him struggling to come down into society, but they also show the gods doing the same thing. The reader will remember the “vision” of a mother goddess over the Santa Monica mountains. But in many of the dreams, hills “appeared” within the city itself in places where they don’t exist in reality. For example, there was the dream of the “goddess” on the hill who was creating new plants and who offered the dreamer a shower. Her house on the hill in this dream was a house he had looked at in reality and had thought about buying.

These dreams seem to indicate a lessening of the conflict between the mountain and city points of view. In the city there are hills, and the gods have come into the city and onto these hills. The idea that these gods can come even further into society is also presented in the dreams. In two dreams they come off their mountains altogether.

…  Someone tells me that … the Greeks really were religious. Once a year the gods came down from Olympus and intermingled with the people. [The way they did this] was to enact [the event by] wearing masks, … [The] gods looked more like space-men. … [They were] in pairs [and there was] a glow around them. … They had no eyes nor noses.

It seems that the essence of this dream is the descent of a glowing light from a mountain within and its merging with figures down below. In the dream the dreamer distances himself from the event by placing it far away in space and time, in part to see it more objectively. The light-gods, which ostensibly are from an ancient Greek mountain, are really from outer space which is our modern Mount Olympus, foreign, unexplored, frightening, taboo, possible — pregnant with projections. Some sort of integration seems to be going on.

I gave this next dream in an earlier chapter, but I will repeat the relevant part here.

[Woody Allen, the commedian] and I walk into the open desert off the end of [a] path. It’s night. We look up at the mountains and see lightning flashing between the peaks. It keeps up. There are more and more, and then one flashes out towards us. And then one goes up into the sky and spins more and more into a circle of lightening that speaks and says it’s from outer space, and it has a message for us here on earth. It is especially for Woody Allen. He is impressed and me too. I have never seen anything like it. It is going to tell how God made everything [the secret behind creation]. But to do this it has to come down to earth and they have to take human form which they do. They stream down and become ordinary people in a big mobile home where they are learning our customs and preparing for their show. I am helping them. They are trying on their clothes. I hear a place on the floor where it creaks. I get nervous it will blow the whole thing. But they say it is O.K., because they have to be human.

This dream occurred ten years after the Mount Olympus dream. Here the light from space comes right up to the dreams and shatters all doubts even in Woody Allen (the neurotic rationalist in the dreamer). It coming right up to him like this cannot leave him unaffected (the word used is impressed). His ego comes away changed, impressed with something, which is another way of saying that this light has come into an ordinary person. It promises to instruct on the secret of creation, but only when it can speak as an ordinary person. It came from space and then flashed from a mountain over to him. He is become more and more human, more and more integrated with high and low.

In this dream, as in the last, the god comes down from a mountain and wants to be a person in human society. The gods in the dreams seem to want to come down into Los Angeles (into his ordinary life) not only onto hills but down off the hills so that they might function in the most ordinary way as ordinary people. This would include working for and spending money. It is relevant to mention that in just two days from today the escrow closes on a house that the dreamer bought that was found by his wife and appreciated by him as well. Needless to say the house is on a hill in Los Angeles. Whether there will be enough proceeds from this book to help finance the house is, of course, not clear at this point, though the thought has flashed through his mind on more than one occasion. {It turned out the book never was published, cost me money to assemble and print, and never made one penny.}

If and how the two points of view can come together without sacrificing either is perhaps the hardest inner problem the dreamer ever faced. It is easy to pop back and forth between the two poles. It seems impossible to hold them up together at the same time let alone experience their merging into one.

{It needs to be added that, now, roughly thirty years after the writing of this book, the conflict in me is not resolved, in spite of the optimism shown in the last number of paragraphs. Three days ago (on February 14, 2016), while finishing up the editing of this book, I had the following dream:

I am on a mountain, but on its very bottom. On my left there are people who are having a good time, reveling and making a lot of noise. I look up, past them and to their right and I see a whole flight of very wide, hand-hewn stone steps that go right to the top of the mountain. Looking up there isn’t much of the mountain to the right and left of these steps. They are glowing. The glow is beautiful and looks brighter and brighter as my eyes go up. Around the summit the glow is like a halo. I am tempted to walk up these steps into the light [light as symbol of instruction but also of death is on mountains]. It is a good sized mountain, but the steps would make it easier to climb. But then I remember that my wife is somewhere near the base of the mountain (but not on the mountain) and that she has a busy life filled with all her responsibilities and is neither free to go up the mountain nor interested in doing so, at least at this time. I hesitate and think. Then I decide to turn away from the light and go down [the descent theme again] and off the mountain to my wife to help her with her chores.

When I woke I felt I had made a decision that eased the conflict in me and that it was the right decision. The many moods that develop in me (and that I have noticed in many men) when asked to do little practical tasks, left me and I felt peace of mind in facing the chores of the day which, for the moment, felt almost divine. Three days later, that is, three days after the dream, there are cracks in the peace of mind making me realize that the dream represented only one more phase of the back and forth I have been going through for decades and probably for my whole life.

Three paintings of mountains

On another point, about four or five months ago, while looking for photos to illustrate this book, I remembered that I myself am an amateur artist. I started to review my works to see if I had done any paintings of mountains. It turns out that there were three in the past year or so. Two of them I was working on very recently, in the period while editing this book. (It may strike the reader as strange that I could be working on a book about mountains and be painting mountains at the same time and never make a connection. It strikes me as strange. This feeling of strangeness is just the feeling we have when we realize that something we have been doing has been shrouded in the shadows of unconsciousness.)

Image 1. Sun setting behind mountains. Oil pastels on paper. April, 2013. Painting and photo by author, uploaded October 25, 2015.
Image 1. Sun setting behind mountains. Oil pastels on paper. April, 2013. Painting and photo by author, uploaded October 25, 2015.

The painting in Image 1 was painted a few years before I started editing this book. It corresponds to a time of my life when I was, in Jungian terms, facing the unconscious. The sun setting behind mountains is an appropriate image for becoming, gradually, more and more unconscious. During this period of exploration, however, I did not feel I was becoming more and more unconscious. Rather I felt I was becoming just the opposite, more and more conscious; I felt had entered a state of increased and enhanced consciousness and awareness. It is characteristic of the tension described throughout this book that what seems good and exalted to a person on the mountain (inner or outer) often seems bad or wild or unconscious to others. That there is no ocean or land in the painting other than mountains, that there is no plain, also fits.

Image 2. Our goals (symbolized by an arrow going from an A to a B) are covered over (but not erased) by the events of our ordinary lives (symbolized by the mountains and sun and moon). Natural pigments in an oil base on a canvas board. Begun June 2013 — finished December 2015. Painting and photo by author, uploaded December 1, 2016.
Image 2. Our goals (symbolized by an arrow going from an A to a B) are covered over (but not erased) by the events of our ordinary lives (symbolized by the mountains and river and sun and moon). Natural pigments in an oil base on a canvas board. Begun June 2013 — finished December 2015. Painting and photo by author, uploaded December 1, 2016.

The painting in Image 2 was worked on and completed while editing this book. The caption expresses the idea that led to the painting and that guided the work on it. It impressed me, at the time, that what we want in life, on the deepest level, gets covered over by our immersion in the natural world. We may easily forget our deepest goals even though they remain deep down. (The mounds in the painting are meant to be mountains and not, as some have suggested, breasts. I leave it to anyone in the Freudian school of psychology to interpret this according to his or her understanding.) — It is difficult to tell, but there is a river (painted with lapis lazuli) running from the intersection of the two green (malachite) mountains, down to the right and behind the red (Chinese cinnabar) mountain and in front of the orange (realgar) one.

Image 3. Painting intentionally made to compensate the dark feelings after the death of my father, Michael L. Hersh, on August 1, 2015. Natural pigments in an oil base on a hardwood panel. Unfinished as of today, February 17, 2016. Painting and photo by author, uploaded December 1, 2015.
Image 3. Painting intentionally made to compensate the dark feelings after the death of my father, Michael L. Hersh, on August 1, 2015. Natural pigments in an oil base on a hardwood panel. Unfinished as of today, February 17, 2016. Painting and photo by author, uploaded December 1, 2015.

The painting in Image 3 was also done (and is being done) while working on the editing of this book, though I haven’t worked on it for about three months. The conscious goal in the painting was to use the very brightest colors I had. The painting is unfinished. I tried to make the whitest snow — I used both Titanium White and Lead White — on the mountains, but I covered most of the white over with orange (realgar) for some reason. Here we have the typical motifs of mountain and ocean and large tree. I tried to get flat land in the foreground, but no success yet.}

The three dreams from the Introduction revisited

To conclude this chapter, I want to return to the three dreams presented in the Introduction that were the immediate cause of me beginning research on the mountain archetype. My conscious goal in starting the research was to interpret these three dreams. I would now like to try to fulfill this self-imposed obligation.

So I return for the third time to the recurrent dream of the eighty-three-year-old woman.

I am climbing a mountain. The terrain is rough. I choose to walk up in the river by holding onto rocks. I have to hold my shoes above my head to keep them from getting wet. I never get to the top. I feel like I give up or I’m a coward.

I will add that after our first analytic session, she had the same dream, “but this time I leave my shoes on, and they do not get wet.”

The dreamer says that there was always a feeling of urgency, that she must get up the mountain, “I feel that if I go back I will fall into empty space. I am climbing to avoid falling into the space.” There is a compulsion to her climbing. She seems to be climbing to avoid something.

From the point of view of Society this woman is a genius but also evidences a demonic force as do all “mountain” people. She goes away from Society so learns what is unknown to others. She goes to lands where others project out their best and their worst. In doing so, in withdrawing from Society (in this case, to an inner mountain), she leaves a cold shell of a person behind in her social interactions. “Aloof,” “cold,” “distant,” “rigid,” “remote,” “forbidding,” “superior,” “snobby,” “arrogant (looks down on others)” are words that correctly characterize her social demeanor with both men and women.

From the point of view of the Mountain, the woman is not quite at home here either. She tries to force herself up into God’s country, possibly for a wrong reason, and this makes her somewhat of a trespasser. She is turned back but always rather gently. She does not seem to be a natural for mountains, and it will be remembered that it is rare to find a story of a woman who climbs a mountain for inspiration. It may be that the dream is a sign of changing cultural norms.

Still, this woman’s years of climbing have made her into a prophet of sorts for which she is loved and hated and feared (in her real life). However, though she is surrounded by the healing and protective environment of the mountain, she does not find any solace there. She is troubled by the difficult terrain and is afraid of falling into space (perhaps into the Underworld of her unconscious, into the river of her emotions). She does not stop and relax. It seems that our meeting had some effect on her. Maybe she will come more into Society where “every day is holiday.” She is a bit of a female Enkidu. Alternatively, perhaps, she will find her way up the mountain — if she wants or if she is called.

The second dream is from the ninety-eight-year-old woman who told her favorite nurse the following dream.

You and I are on top of a mountain. I think we are together but then I can’t find you and I think you are lost. I am all alone up there, and I am very frightened.

This dream occurred either just before or just after the woman had a stroke (I cannot determine which). The stroke left this interesting and outgoing woman in the extremely introverted state that we call senility. Up to this time she was full of wonderful, entertaining stories, intelligently told. After the stroke she mumbled vague, paranoid complaints, said that she saw her (deceased) sister, but spent most of her time either sleeping or crying. Apparently she had begun to enter into the land of Death, the land of her ancestors, the Underworld of the demons and the gods. She has begun to cross the bridge. It is on the other side that she must now find her way and no longer with us in Society. Death is a venture we each will take on our own.

After she became senile this woman told me two dream fragments, but I was not able to determine when she had the dreams. My comments are in brackets.

Fragment 1. One of the guests said, “Let’s take a ride,” and I said, “Ask the landlady. She has charge of the bus.” The road gets narrower and narrower and goes up an incline, and the front wheels of the bus go off the road, and I’m so scared, because I have had so many falls [self-explanatory].

Fragment 2. We went up into the mountains. It was pleasant and we had entertainment [another report of music on the mountains — it was pleasant, perhaps even heavenly].

And, last, the third dream from the Introduction. Again, it was the dream of an acquaintance who is in her thirties and who, at the time of the dream, was consciously searching for a job that would exercise her full potential. She felt she was not facing reality. The dream puts it this way.

I’m going up a mountainIt’s like an amusement park, like Disneyland but in an outdoor, mountainous setting. We’re on a hike. The mountain has tunnels cut into it, and there are areas where you walk through the tunnels on the trail. There is a line of people going up this mountain, everybody going up at their own pace, not in a set line. Some pass you by; some are ahead, some behind. It’s like an exodus, going up the mountain.

There comes a point where there is a tunnel, but it goes up, and to get up this area you have to pull yourself by bars that stick out side like pegs. And to get to the next level I have to pull myself up, but I keep slipping back. I feel I don’t have enough strength. Finally, I get through it, and a lot of other people have gotten ahead of me, because I had to struggle through that area.

Then I come out of this tunnel, and I’m at a lodge — there’s a desk almost like a registration desk, and I ask everyone where does the trail go from here, and they point over to this other door with an archway and stairs going up, but they say, “You can stay here for awhile.” I think to myself, “I’ll take a look around. This is kind of nice.” I know that a lot of people have gone up to the summit to see this wonderful, gorgeous, breath-taking view, and that’s why everyone is heading up the mountain.

I walk out of this room on a patio area, and it is very pretty and pleasant, and people are sitting at tables like a patio restaurant area, and I’m looking around and thinking how lovely it is.

I’m thinking to myself I need to get on the trail and get to the top, but I sort of like it there, and I don’t know if I’ll stay there or go up to the top.

(When I came into the resort … I’m like straggling — a lot of people have made it up to the top. I’m the last, because I had trouble in that spot.)

Along the trailway my husband and others are ahead of me, but it’s now a stairway, not a mountain trail. (my bold)

This mountain is rather like the Chinese sacred mountains. Not only are there many pilgrims on the way, but there is a lodge with pleasant surroundings, an archway to the higher regions, and a stairway that replaces the crude trail (as on Tài Shān). There are carved tunnels, and she is able to use pegs or bars to pull herself up in certain places. Even with these aids she finds it all exhausting and discouraging work but is rewarded with “pretty, pleasant … lovely” surroundings. Her motive for climbing is not clear. Is it just to keep up, to compete, or does she have other goals? The spirit of competition and humiliation fills the dream and pervades the climb. The dream ends with her pushing on towards the top.

Unlike the Chinese mountains there is only a hint of a religious atmosphere. It is a place of amusement like an artificial land, Disneyland, but at the same time it is a mountain. There is a line of people but not in a set line. It is a blend of Society and Mountain, of holiday and exodus. Is the lodge a shrine or a ski lodge or both?

In the dream others are passing her by. In other words, some (parts of herself) have adjusted to the project, but she doesn’t want to submit completely. And who would blame her, since this whole mountain is “like Disneyland“: promising a “wonderful, gorgeous, breath-taking view,” but do the gods live there? Is she content with the “pretty and pleasant” atmosphere? Is she there for entertainment, or is she there on the serious business of life?

This is a thoroughly modern dream. It expresses more than the difficulty of a woman finding something fulfilling in her inner (and outer) lives. It also points to what will only become the increasing difficulty of finding any gods at home on the mountains — including the inner mountains. On the mountains we will more and more just find our ordinary selves and our productions. Is the mountain religion dead? Are we leaving the Mountain Age?

If the dreamer could feel that her quest to the top of the mountain had a religious aspect instead of only mountaineering and entertainment/fun/escape aspects, she would feel meaning in her climb. Her work would be experienced from a bigger perspective; it would feel less like a chore and more like a living ritual. But is this possible in our Age?

{We have to ask if there is some meaning in this lack of meaning, this jumbling of perspectives, this mixing of dimensions. Are we living in an in-between Age in which the religious and secular are combining into something new?}

  1. The story continues:
    Then Enkidu the child of the plains said, "Let us go down from the mountain and talk this thing over together." He said to Gilgamesh the young god, "Your dream is good, your dream is excellent, the mountain which you saw is Humbaba [deity as mountain — Stage 1]. Now, surely, we will seize and kill him, and throw his body down as the mountain fell on the plain."
  2. Here is the dream of an uneducated woman who spent fifteen years in Camarillo, a California State mental hospital:
    One of the nurses from Camarillo took us up in the mountains a whole bunch of us, a gang of girls — no boys, just girls. We just go for a walk up there. Rocks are falling down, great big rocks, big as you and me together — rollin off. Sometimes I think this is what I hear at night — the mountains fallin. ... You have to cross the railroad tracks to get up where the snow comes down. No girl's supposed to go up there by yourself — a nurse takes you up there. The rocks fallen, I heard it in my sleep — rollin down the mountain. I saw it. And I guess that's why I hear it. [motifs: falling rocks, taboo (crossing the tracks)] (my bold)
  3. The combination of light and water in this image reminds one of the combination of light with plant life in the image of the menorah. The lampstand was made in the form of a plant. When lit it would be an artificial "burning bush." The image is a symbol of the combination of natural opposites into a unity.


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

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