11 Chapter 11. The Mountain in Visions and Dreams

Introduction to Stage 5

In Stage 1 people, often from a distance, see the mountain as a person or a god. In Stage 2 people see gods living on the mountain. In Stage 3 people overcome the fear of approaching the mountain. They climb it, make offerings to it, and build houses for their gods and for themselves so they can be closer their gods. In Stage 4 the people are forced to migrate, and, when they reach a new land, they build a mound or a pyramid for the gods who traveled with them (assuming the gods don’t just assume a new residence on a mountain in the new land). An artificial mountain can become so miniaturized and portable that it can be simulated with the fingers, and this becomes sufficient to suggest the mountain and to function as one. In Stage 5 even the artificial mountains are gone, and a different kind of mountain arises that replaces what is lost. It is now a visionary mountain to which the people turn when they are in trouble instead of to the original or to an artificial, physical copy. In Stage 5, this mountain is seen as real and as external to the visionary. A later step is when people begin to understand visionary mountains as real but internal, within the minds of the visionaries.

We see a step towards this “internalization” of the mountains expressed by Jesus in a discussion with a non-Israelite Samaritan woman.

“Sir,” the woman said to Him, “I see You’re a prophet! Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say, `The place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.'” “Believe Me, woman,” Jesus told her, “the time is coming when you will not be worshiping the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem.” … “God is a spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:19-21, 24)

To understand this quote it is necessary to remember that Jesus, as a Jew, was well aware of the immanent destruction of the temple by the Romans. In the story, Jesus speaks with assurance (and with almost perfect accuracy) of the not too distant future destruction of the temple.

When Jesus walked out of the temple and was going away, His disciples came to show Him the buildings of the temple. You see all these things?” Jesus asked them. “I tell you the truth: Not a stone will be left on another here but will be torn down.” (Matthew 24:1-2)

The Fourth Book of Ezra

Image 1. "De Uyterste verdelging van de Stad Jerusalem en den Tempel." Translation: The Destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple [by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon's captain]. 2Kings 25. (Plate 33) Passage: "8 Now in the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month, which was the nineteenth year of king Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, came Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, a servant of the king of Babylon, unto Jerusalem. 9 And he burnt the house of the LORD, and the king’s house; and all the houses of Jerusalem, even every great man’s house, burnt he with fire." (33) Artist: the Christian Mennonite, Jan Luyken (1649-1712); Engraver: Jan Luyken; published by Johannes Covens and Cornelis Mortier, French edition, Plate 33, 1732. Scan by author.
Image 1. “De Uyterste verdelging van de Stad Jerusalem en den Tempel.” Translation: The Destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple [by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon’s captain]. 2Kings 25.  Passage: “8 Now in the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month, which was the nineteenth year of king Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, came Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, a servant of the king of Babylon, unto Jerusalem. 9 And he burnt the house of the Lord, and the king’s house; and all the houses of Jerusalem, even every great man’s house, burnt he with fire.” Artist: the Christian Mennonite, Jan Luyken (1649-1712); Engraver: Jan Luyken; published by Johannes Covens and Cornelis Mortier, French edition, Plate 33, 1732. Scan by author.

The destruction of Solomon’s temple (and, later, of Herod’s temple, the one discussed by Jesus) had a tremendous effect on the Jewish psyche. The temple was the House of the Lord on the mountain. Remember how the Lord came to Solomon and the priests in a Cloud during the consecration of his House and how the priests became frightened and ran.

Image 2. Depiction of the Roman ... Sack of Jerusalem [of 70 CE] on the Arch of Titus in Rome (copy from Beth Hatefutsoth). The procession features the Menorah and other vessels taken from the Second Temple. Photo is a derivative work: Steerpike (talk), Arc_de_Triumph_copy.jpg : user: בית השלום.
Image 2. Depiction of the Roman … Sack of Jerusalem [of 70 CE] on the Arch of Titus in Rome (copy from Beth Hatefutsoth). The procession features the Menorah and other vessels taken from the Second Temple. Photo is a derivative work: Steerpike (talk), Arc_de_Triumph_copy.jpg : user: בית השלום.

Charlesworth (1983), in his translation of the Jewish, first century CE, Fourth Book of Ezra, gives us Ezra’s purported fourth vision, in which Ezra is instructed by the angel Uriel to go to a field called Ardat where “he sat among the flowers and ate of the plants of the field” (p. 545). Distraught, he asks for a vision [this is a lament in the American Indian sense] to help him in his despair over the devastation to his religion and to his personal soul. When he looks up, he sees a woman in mourning. She explains that she had been barren for many years, that she finally had a son whom she treasured, but that he had died on his wedding night. Ezra lectures her that she should be ashamed of herself for weeping over the loss of one, while Zion has lost so many, but she refuses to be consoled. Ezra persists in a moving lament over the “sorrow of Jerusalem.”

Be consoled because of the sorrow of Jerusalem. For you see that our sanctuary has been laid waste, our altar thrown down, our temple destroyed; our harp has been laid low, our song has been silenced, and our rejoicing has been ended; the light of our lampstand has been put out, the ark of our covenant has been plundered, our holy things have been polluted, and the name by which we are called has been profaned; our free men have suffered abuse … our priests have been burned to death, … our virgins have been defiled, and our wives have been ravished; our righteous men have been carried off, our little ones have been cast out, our young men have been enslaved and our strong men made powerless. And, what is more than all, the seal of Zion — for she has now lost the seal of her glory, and has been given over into the hands of those that hate us. (p. 546-547)

But suddenly everything changes. In Ezra’s words:

While I was talking to her, behold, her face suddenly shone exceedingly, and her countenance flashed like lightning, so that I was too frightened to approach her. … While I was wondering what this meant, behold, she suddenly uttered a loud and fearful cry, so that the earth shook at the sound. And I looked, and behold, the woman was no longer visible to me, but there was an established city, and a place of huge foundations showed itself. (p. 547)

Ezra calls the angel Uriel back to explain this “bewildering vision” to him. Uriel appears and explains, “This woman whom you saw, whom you now behold as an established city, is Zion.” When Solomon built and consecrated the temple, she bore a son. Before that she was barren. The death of her son was the destruction of Jerusalem.

The Most High … has shown you the brightness of her glory, and the loveliness of her beauty. Therefore I told you to remain in the field where no house had been built, … where there was no foundation of any building, for no work of man’s building could endure in a place where the city of the Most High was to be revealed.

Therefore do not be afraid, … but go in and see the splendor and vastness of the building, as far as it is possible for your eyes to see it. … For you are more blessed than many, and you have been called before the Most High, as but few have been. (p. 548)

The temple died but was reborn in the vision of Ezra (or, rather, more likely, in the vision of the author of Ezra). The aching Jewish soul was again able to stand before the “brightness” of the glory of “the Most High,” but this time before a visionary mountain, a new Mount Zion, I might add, that is more reliable and more resistant to political vicissitudes than the two previous man-made temples in Zion. Mount Zion is not mentioned explicitly, as Zion = the city of Jerusalem, but I think it is implicit.[1]

The Revelation of John of Patmos

It must be remembered that early Christian writing was by Jews who were, like Jesus, reacting to the pain of the times. The visionary Jerusalem in the Christian book of the Revelation of John of Patmos, therefore falls within the category of writings I am now examining. I give this beautiful and familiar example in detail, because it shows to what levels of magnificence the visionary mountain-city experience can attain (even if parts of the vision are manufactured to fit in with historical facts and religious orthodoxy); and also because it illustrates that the main motifs I spoke of in the previous chapters can be found on visionary mountains as well as physical ones. The emphasis of some of these motifs in the following quote is mine.

Image 3. John of Patmos watches the descent of the New Jerusalem from God (Tapestry of the Apocalypse, 14th century). Photo by Kimon Berlin, user:Gribeco.
Image 3. John of Patmos watches the descent of the New Jerusalem from God (Tapestry of the Apocalypse, 14th century). Photo by Kimon Berlin, user:Gribeco.

John says,

He carried me in spirit on a large and high mountain and showed me the holy city of Jerusalem coming down from God in heaven. It has God’s glory and a brilliance like a very precious stone, like jasper that is clear as crystal. It has a large, high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates are written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. There are three gates on the east side, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west. And the wall of the city has twelve foundation stones, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

The angel who was talking to me had a golden measuring rod to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. The city is square — it is as wide as it is long. He measured the city with the rod — it is fifteen hundred miles. Its length, breadth, and height are the same. Then he measured its wall; it is seventy-two yards as people measure — and angels too.

Its wall is made of jasper, but the city is of gold as pure as clear glass. The foundations of the city wall are made beautiful with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation stone is jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates are twelve pearls; each gate is made of one pearl. The street of the city is of gold as pure as clear glass.

But I didn’t see any temple in it, because the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb are its temple. And the city doesn’t need any sun or moon to give it light, because God’s glory is its light, and the Lamb is its lamp. …

Then he showed me a river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb and down the middle of the street of the city. On each side of the river is a tree of life, producing twelve kinds of fruit, for each month its own fruit; and the leaves of the tree are to heal the nations. There will no longer be anything that is cursed.

The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city. His servants will worship Him and see Him and His name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night, and they will not need any light of a lamp or of the sun because the Lord God will shine on them, and they will be kings forever. (Revelation 21-2)

In Revelation the Provider (the “river of the water of life;” the “tree of life” whose leaves “heal the nations”) and the Instructor (the light and the lamp) are explicitly visionary. To seek help and instruction we are to turn away from this world and towards the God and the Lamb who live in their city on the visionary mountain experienced by John. The thrones of God and the Lamb are “in spirit,” and the holy city itself (that is the whole new perspective), which used to be on the crown of a physical mountain, can now be found only on the mountain in the vision.

Black Elk’s vision

Image 4. Black Elk and Elk of the Oglala Lakota as grass dancers touring with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, London, England, 1887 (source: The Sixth Grandfather: Black Elk's Teachings Given to John G. Neihardt, edited by Raymond J. DeMallie, page 259. The men are wearing "sheep and sleigh bells; otter fur waist and neck pieces; pheasant feather bustles at the waist; dentalium shell necklaces; and bone hairpipes with colored glass beads...Photograph collected on Pine Ridge Reservation in 1891 by James Mooney. Courtesy National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution"). Photo by Elliott & Fry - London, England.
Image 4. Black Elk and Elk of the Oglala Lakota as grass dancers touring with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, London, England, 1887 (source: The Sixth Grandfather: Black Elk’s Teachings Given to John G. Neihardt, edited by Raymond J. DeMallie, page 259. The men are wearing “sheep and sleigh bells; otter fur waist and neck pieces; pheasant feather bustles at the waist; dentalium shell necklaces; and bone hairpipes with colored glass beads…Photograph collected on Pine Ridge Reservation in 1891 by James Mooney. Courtesy National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution”). Photo by Elliott & Fry – London, England.

With some variations in content, and with allowances made for differences in vocabulary and phraseology, the vision of Black Elk (given in Neihardt, 1932/1975, Chapters II & III) must be placed in the same category as those of Ezra and John.

Image 5. Picture of Harney Peak [= Hinhan Kaga to the Lakota Sioux] from Palmer Gulch [South Dakota, USA]. Photo by Brock at en.wikipedia.
Image 5. Picture of Harney Peak [= Hinyan Kaga = Inyan Kara to the Lakota Sioux] from Palmer Gulch [South Dakota, USA]. Photo by Brock at en.wikipedia.

The historical context is similar. Black Elk, a Sioux, was born in 1863. In 1866 his father’s leg was broken in a battle with the Wasichus (White Men). Black Elk says that everyone believed that the Wasichus would “rub us out.” He remembers being told by his mother not to play far from the tepee, and she would say, “If you’re not good, the Wasichus will get you.” When he was nine, the Wasichus had made their “iron road” (the Union Pacific Railway) that “cut the bison herd in two.” It was during this summer that he heard a voice call, “It is time; now they are calling you.” The next day he took sick, and, what he called his “Great Vision,” began. Towards the end of the vision a voice said,

“Behold this day, for it is yours to make. Now you shall stand upon the center of the earth to see, for there they are taking you.”

…  I looked ahead and saw the mountains there with rocks and forests on them, and from the mountains flashed all colors upward to the heavens. Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. [note: Black Elk said the mountain he stood upon in his vision was Harney Peak in the Black Hills. “But anywhere is the center of the world,” he added.] And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.

Then as I stood there, two men were coming from the east, head first like arrows flying, and between them rose the daybreak star. They came and gave a herb to me and said: “With this on earth you shall undertake anything and do it.” It was the day-break-star herb, the herb of understanding, and they told me to drop it on the earth. I saw it falling far, and when it struck the earth it rooted and grew and flowered, four blossoms on one stem, a blue, a white, a scarlet, and a yellow; and the rays from these streamed upward to the heavens so that all creatures saw it and in no place was there darkness. (pp. 35-36) (bolding is mine)

Then he was brought down and eventually came out of the vision. Black Elk, himself, always felt that the vision contained within it instructions on how to save his people, and it was because he was not strong enough to act on it that his people had fallen into the squalid state they were in in 1930 when he told his story to John G. Neihardt.

It is ironic that the “herb of understanding” whose four blossoms gave off four rays of different colored light that “streamed upward to the heavens” may still have the promised effect, since the book in which it was introduced has already been absorbed by thousands of young “Wasichus” (cf. the “leaves of the tree [that will] heal the nations” from Revelation). It may still be that “all creatures [will see] it and in no place [will there be] darkness.”

It is probably unnecessary to remind the reader that this mountain on which instruction is received and protection promised is not a physical mountain. Black Elk was taken from this world, from the Harney Peak of this world, to another Harney Peak, one that was in his vision, a “heavenly” Harney Peak, as it were.

A Japanese shaman’s vision

Image . Onisaburo Deguchi. Photographer not given.
Image 6. Onisaburo Deguchi. Photographer not given.

Visionary mountains also appear in the journey’s of shamans. In the case of Onisaburo Deguchi, whose experience “gave rise to the Ōmoto religious movement in Japan,” I do not have the cultural context. We are told that he himself was in a comatose state when he had his vision, but there is no mention of the situation in Japan at the time. I include the account because it contains, in condensed form, most of the real mountain motifs and shows clearly (assuming it was an experience and not a made up story) that it is possible to have a powerful mountain experience in relation to visionary mountains and not just on physical ones (though, if we are to believe the account, Deguchi’s experience came while in a cave on Mount Takakuma).

Image. Takakuma Mountains - Ontake (Kanoya City, Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan). Photo ja:User:Sanjo.
Image 7. Takakuma Mountains – Ontake (Kanoya City, Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan). Photo ja:User:Sanjo.

A piece of the story is this:

Deguchi appears to have been a sickly youth, haunted by visions of ghosts. He also affected the low company of gamblers and drunkards, who in the spring of 1898 beat him up so severely that he was nearly killed. … [and] he sank for several days into a comatose sleep. When eventually he recovered consciousness, he declared that he had gone to a cave on Mt Takakuma in order to undergo a period of ascetic fasting [that is, a kind of lament or vision quest]. … [Soon he was] granted supernatural powers, including clairvoyance and clairaudience. He had seen back into the past as far as the creation of the world. …

[He said that while undergoing the austerities] there … appeared a messenger who summoned his soul from his body and carried it off hundreds of leagues through the air. … They descended at last to see before them a huge river, which the messenger told him was the barrier of the other world. They waded across. … Soon Deguchi and his guide came to a courthouse, where they were taken into the presence of the king of the underworld. … Henceforth, the king told him, he was to become the messiah between the two worlds. He must therefore see for himself what the other world was like. … [There follows many encounters with hellish creatures.] Time and again he is killed, split in half with a sharp blade like a pear, dashed to pieces on rocks, frozen, burnt, engulfed in avalanches of snow. …

…  At length he found himself at the centre of the world, at the summit of the huge axial mountain Sumeru. Here he was vouchsafed a sight of the creation of the world. … [Then] he came to a great river, beyond which was paradise. Over it hung a great arched bridge made of gold. … Deguchi … reached the other side safely. There he saw before him, standing on a vast lotus, a marvelous palace made of gold and agate and the seven jewels. On to the lotus he climbed and saw all round him ranges of blue mountains, and a great lake rippling with golden waves. …

…  We have followed him through only a few scenes of his first volume. His adventures continue through eleven more. … Deguchi returned from his journey an altered person, gifted with powers and aspirations he had not possessed before. (Blacker, 1986, pp. 202ff)

It is important to remind oneself again that these motifs occur, not in relation to the original Mount Takakuma, but on a visionary one, Mount Meru: The “regions of Heaven and Hell,” the “king of the underworld,” the “ordeal,” the “vision of the creation of the world,” the river, paradise, the “marvellous palace,” and the lake, existed within the visionary experience of the man named Onisaburo Deguchi.

It may be useful to remember also that each individual mountain experience is different and unique in spite of all of them being examples of the same archetype.

The dreams of the Yuma shaman

The visionary mountain seems possible to attain even when there is no trauma to the individual or the culture. The Yuma shaman went to Avikwame when he was young and eventually found courage to climb it and even touch the god, Kumastamho, in his house. As he got older, however, he developed the ability to “go to the mountain” without physically going there. He told Kroeber, “I now have power to go to Kumastamho any time. I lie down and try, and soon I am up there again with the crowd.”

In one of these visits Kumastamho taught him how to cure consumption. The shaman went on to say that

it takes four days to tell about Kwikumat [the Creator] and Kumastamho (the origin myth). I was present (i.e., at the happenings told in this myth) from the very beginning, and saw and heard all. I dreamed a little of it at a time. I would then tell it to my friends. The old men would say: “That is right!  I was there and heard it myself.” Or they would say: “You have dreamed badly. That is not right.” And they would tell me right. So at last I learned the whole of it right. (Kroeber, 1976, p. 784)

Once again it is important to remind ourselves that this man said he learned his curing skill on a mountain to which he did not have to go physically and that it was on this “visionary” mountain that he was “present from the very beginning … and saw and heard all.” This dream mountain is not a mere after-image of Avikwame; it has its own life and reality. Its objectivity is verified by the old men who had travelled there themselves. In psychological terms, it is an archetypal mountain, objective if not physical.

A contemporary example

{Roughly 20 years after writing this book (that is, about 5 years ago, in 2011), when it had long since slipped from my mind, I had an experience that is relevant in this chapter. For the sake of intellectual honesty I feel obligated to present it even though I would rather not.

After years of hard work in the world of my ordinary responsibilities, I began to move towards retirement. With more free time on my hand to do as I pleased, I decided to try to contact the deeper layers of my unconscious, the archetypal level, as many Jungians consider doing. I began to write and to watch my dreams which are typical “methods” used by Jungians to move to the deeper levels in themselves. In fact, I began to have success.

To sum up what happened — and this is more of a confession than a report — I began to have experiences that culminated in a feeling that I was seeing things as if I were on Mount Sinai. I did not feel I was actually on a physical Mount Sinai, nor did I feel I was speaking with a god, but I did feel I was seeing from a higher perspective as if on Mount Sinai. When I tried to express this to friends and family, you can imagine how they felt and reacted. I felt frustrated and misunderstood, and, by my own standards, I did not handle myself well. I felt I could understand why Moses smashed the golden calf and what kind of reaction he must have received. I wound up discussing the situation with two friends/colleagues until I came to a way of integrating the experience into my everyday life. 

It seems to me this is a good practical example, in our contemporary world, of how the mountain archetype acts on us in a dual way: It gives the feeling of increased awareness; at the exact same time, it creates social alienation and internal conflicts. It seems to me, from my current perspective, that both poles are real, they are in each of us, and there is a danger if we ignore either of them. On the other hand, recognizing the poles and paying each its proper due, is an ongoing work that involves suffering. I am grateful I had stable, loving friends and family who were firm and yet patient and who are good people.

To put this all still one more way: To see what is going on in oneself at a deeper level is not always the most relaxing pastime. One must come down from the mountain to live but must ascend to see. It is important to be able to move freely back and forth, and there is the danger of getting stuck in one perspective, getting stuck on one one horn of, what can feel like a paradox.

My guess is that when a person is at a crisis point in life, that is when the mountain archetype is activated, and the person visits physical mountains, reads about them, has dreams about them, etc. Such critical moments are retirement (with awareness of death on the horizon), loss of parent or spouse or child, loss of possessions, loss of health, etc.

If true this puts the mountain archetype in perspective for the life of most of us ordinary people. It is a refuge or retreat from which we can re-orient to our ordinary lives. For most of us, if we were to stay on the mountain (inner or outer), it would be a neurotic escape or worse.

I theorize that there are others who really are born to live alone on some sort of a mountain (physical or visionary). They are not meant to be in society but to view it from the outside and to report and comment on what they see. It would be psychologically incorrect for them to try to enter society. It would be unnatural. 

In any case, for most people, there is a conflict between the mountain aspect, the ordinary social and personal self, and the oceanic depths and chaos of the unconscious. It is a balancing act to get them to co-exist, let alone to work together towards a common goal.}


  1. The transportation to a visionary mountain is also described in a Qumran text of the Testament of Levi (in Aramaic) from about 100 CE, restored and translated by Milik as,
    I saw the heavens opened and I saw below me a high mountain which touched the heavens and I was upon it. And the gates of heaven were opened to me and an angel said to me ... (Clifford, 1972, p. 88 — from Milik)

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