4 Chapter 4. The Protector Gods

Introduction

The gods live in their countries (on the mountains) in palaces, houses, and tents; they live inside the mountains; and they are the mountains themselves. But who are these gods, and what are they like?

They can be rather neatly divided into three types: the Protectors, the Providers, and the Instructors (though of course there is overlap). Each type of god tends to be associated with one of the natural elements, the Protectors are connected with earth or rock, the Providers, with water, and the Instructors, with light.[1] For example, we saw that on Mount Sinai Yahweh came to Moses in the light and talked to him and taught or instructed him. This motif is quite common.

Water is obviously necessary for all life, and all rivers originate in the mountains. This makes life dependent on the mountains. Without the water from the Sierras and other mountains, Los Angeles would be a desert. Therefore, water is a natural for the psyche to pick out as a symbol of the Provider, the one who gives and supports life.

In this chapter we will look at the mountain in its earth-rock aspect. The solidity, the massiveness, and the hardness of the rock (combined with the mountain’s height) make it not only a real-life place of refuge for people being pursued and also a natural protective border, but also a symbol of safety and toughness of character and iron will. To give an example from a dream of the patient who I mentioned had been dreaming about mountains for years:

I am going with a … man across a border where there is a civil war going on. I warn him not to go off to the right. They shoot him and there is blood everywhere. I go straight through to a rock [mountain] where I know I am safe.

Here the rock represents her inner strength and a safe spot in the middle of the civil war going on within.

I wish to add that this same hard rock quality of the mountain can work against a person too. In one of my dreams there is a spot on a mountain road that seems to be blocked by a big black boulder or rock. In another I get caught in a boulder slide. The mountain seems to be safe for the pursued, the one going there for safety, but dangerous for the attacker or the one approaching the mountain with the wrong attitude.

A hiding place and shield

Napoleon, in his Memoirs, puts the practical point most succinctly, “In mountain-war, he who attacks is always under a disadvantage” (Spectorsky, 1955, p. 375). Strangely, the same thought is contained in a saying by Jesus from the Nag Hammadi library, “A city founded and fortified upon a high hill can neither fall nor be hidden” (Meyer, 1986, p. 25, Saying 32).

We have numerous examples from Jewish religious writings of men who ran to the mountains to hide. David hid from Saul in a stronghold on the hill of Hachilah (1Samuel 23:14, 19-28), and Saul, in turn, fled from the Philistines to Mount Gilboa where he and his son died along with many other Israelites (1Samuel 31). The mountain did not protect Saul who was unworthy in God’s eyes. In another story, the Israelites, because of defeat at the hands of the Midianites, “provided themselves with refuges in the caves and strongholds of the mountains” (Judges 6:2). In Joshua 2:16 and 22-3, spies sent by Joshua into Jericho were advised by Rahab, the prostitute, to go into the hills to hide: “They went straight to the hills and stayed there three days, until the pursuers turned back.” Genesis 19:17 tells us that Lot was told by the Lord to flee for his life, “flee to the hills, lest you be swept away.” Eventually he “settled in the hill country with his two daughters, for he was afraid to dwell in Zoar; and he and his two daughters lived in a cave [that is, inside a mountain]” (Genesis 19:30) where his daughters made him drunk and slept with him and bore his children (Genesis 19:31-8). In Lamentations 4:19 we read,

Our pursuers were swifter/
Than the eagles in the sky;/
They chased us in the mountains,/
Lay in wait for us in the wilderness.

And in one story, Jeremiah even hid the ark with all its curtains in a cave on Mount Nebo (Gaster, 1899/1971, p. 234).

Image 1. Hua Shan [Shan = Mountain] [the western Guardian] China panorama 2011, [Shaanxi province]. Photo by chensiyuan.
Image 1. Hua Shan [Shan = Mountain] [the western Guardian] China panorama 2011, [Shaanxi Province]. Photo by chensiyuan.

The mountains played strategic roles on other parts of the globe as well. In China, for example, “The safety of each dynasty lay in a firm control of the great military pass at the foot of Hua-shan and winning the favours of its titular gods” (?Mullikin & Hotchkiss, 1973, p. 53).

Image 2. View from the summit of Heng Shan [Shan = Mountain] [the northern Guardian], Shanxi province, China. June 2011. Photo by Terence7.
Image 2. View from the summit of Heng Shan [Shan = Mountain] [the northern Guardian], Shanxi Province, China. June 2011. Photo by Terence7.

According to Dorothy Perkins (1999, p. 161), Mount Heng (Heng Shan) in Shanxi, China was one of the five sacred guardian mountains of Taoism, the northern Guardian (Hua Shan being the western Guardian {Mullikin & Hotchkiss, 1973, p. 53}). Looking at the pictures of these two mountains, it is not surprising that that they were seen in this way. In reality they must have blocked many invaders even though, as we see, they can be climbed and civilized.

Cuchama, in Southern California, was a stronghold in a war between the California Indians against the Tijuana Indians (Evans-Wentz, 1981, p. 24), and as usual, one of the most vivid portrayals of how the mountain can protect comes from a Navajo story:

In 1863 — or, as myth says “in the days when humankind was born” — Monster Slayer [a Navajo war, that is, Protector god] was transferred miraculously, and born and raised at [Navajo Mountain]. Clothed in an armor of flint, he and the Head of Earth placed themselves as shields between the People and Kit Carson’s cavalry. (Luckert, 1977, p. 6)

The psyche reads this historical event as two mountain gods (one dressed in flint and one made of earth) protecting the Navajo from the cavalry (European Society). The motif of a Protector mountain saving its people from a stronger Society is ancient. This motif is common in modern dreams as well where the mountain can stand for protection from unconscious forces that threaten to overtake and overwhelm. It may have been necessary in previous times for the god of the mountain to beat back and kill the god from below {see the Chaoskampf described in the last chapter and the civil war in the dream given at the beginning of this chapter}, but it is characteristic of modern dreams that the attacker must not be avoided. This does not mean that outwardly a people has to put up with invasion but that inward invasions cannot just be stifled and repressed by a strong ego that wants to get on with business and forget the world within.

In the first dream given in the Introduction, the lady is trying to climb a mountain, but it is so rocky that she is unable to do so. This places her logistically in the position of Kit Carson. Her solution is to use the rocks in the river as stepping stones. Though this works better, she is still unable to reach her goal. The dream points to an aggressive or willful attitude toward the mountain gods, and it is this attitude that prevents her from reaching her goal. It is as if she were trying to storm the border of the country of the gods, and they block her way (see Chapter 9, “Offerings to the Mountain Gods”).

I conveyed this interpretation to the lady, and she said that she felt she has to be strong and do everything herself, because no one will help her. She felt that she never reached the top of the mountain in her dreams, because she did not have a strong enough will. She said that the dreams started after the death of her father, when she was a girl, and they have been recurring ever since. She is, in fact, and always was, a very independent person. The woman is turning to the mountain for help (as to a father), but at the same time and paradoxically she is insisting that she must do it all herself without any help.

Image 3: The Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. Panorama taken from Westlands Park in Greenwood Village, Colorado [USA]. Photo by Adam Ginsburg (December 31, 2015).
Image 3: The Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. Panorama taken from Westlands Park in Greenwood Village, Colorado [USA]. Photo by Adam Ginsburg (December 31, 2015).

I told her that I believed her goal was to get a new perspective on life, a “higher” one, but that she could not force herself to the top of the mountain alone. Most people who went up mountains had guides: Dante had Virgil and Beatrice; Moses was following the call of his god; to give only two examples. She wanted to do it all alone. She thought I was right and remembered back to the year 1910 or so when she stood with her father looking up at a peak in the Rockies and said, “I wonder what you can see from on top of the mountain.” He answered, “Oh. It’s nothing really. There’s just another mountain.” Though his answer might have been correct for physical mountains, it seems inadequate for the new view from the inner mountain of her dream. This inner mountain might help her if she would adopt a more trusting and passive attitude toward it. The idea of offerings to the mountain gods is relevant here also.

{The dream may also point to an attempt to escape human conflicts by cultivating a “rock-like” personality — in reality, she loved animals more than people — and to the failure of this attempt: This attitude, even if it made her safer in some way, prevented her from reaching her goal of finding out what she could “see from on top of the mountain.” Unrealistic expectations of people and of what methods to adopt to reach her social goals, idealization of father, fear of Chaos, an unsuccessful resolution of the Chaoskampf, etc.}

Another dream is relevant in this context. One day, while returning books to the library, I met a woman whom I knew from the past. She asked what I was doing at the library, and I told her I was writing a book about mountain dreams. She said that her husband had awakened this very morning and told her a dream that had a mountain in it. I called him on the telephone, and he told me the following, what he called “bizarre fragment” of a dream:

I was climbing up a rocky (granite with shale flaking off) mountain. Someone was chasing me. I got through an opening through two big boulders. I thought I could escape through a crevice, and I would escape on the other side, but I stepped onto a cactus like one thousand feet high. The cactus started disintegrating like one of those free falls. I knew I could get away. On the other side was one thousand feet down to a valley on the other side. I woke up as I was falling.

The dream has the same structure as the Navajo story: pursuit, with refuge being sought in the mountain, but here the ending is different. {The mountain is usually considered a source of plant life, but here it produces a cactus. The dream goes against reality, as cactuses don’t usually grow on mountains. The cactus is an additional protective feature of the mountain, but for the dreamer, it prevents escape. The granite rock also has a shaky quality as it is covered with shale that is “flaking off.” The dream goes out of its way to demote the mountain in the mind of the dreamer. Perhaps it “wants” him to come back down to earth, as we say, and face that which is chasing him. In line with the story in the following footnote, the man may be in the right and the pursuer in the wrong.}[2] Apparently something down below required his presence. The escape from problems down below to the higher point of view was not successful and may even have been dangerous. Escape, even to a high place, is not always appropriate. This seems especially true in contemporary dreams where the lower (non-Christian), more practical point of view is demanding to be heard and integrated.

Navajo Protectionway prayers

Image 4. San Francisco Peaks [= Navajo Mountain = Head of Earth] seen from U.S. Route 89, Arizona, USA. Photo by Bernard Gagnon.
Image 4. San Francisco Peaks seen from U.S. Route 89, Arizona, USA. Photo by Bernard Gagnon.

Karl W. Luckert gives us many examples of Navajo protection prayers and thanksgivings. Remnants of prayers of the survivors of the day when the mountain protected the people from Kit Carson’s attack still exist as “echo[es]” in modern Protectionway prayers.

I am spared! I am spared!/
Enemy has missed me! Enemy has missed me!/
Today it did not happen! Today it did not happen!

Luckert goes on to say that

One hundred and thirteen years after sentiments of this sort were first expressed to this mountain, the ninety-one year old priest, … [Long Salt], still lifts his hand toward Head of Earth in a gesture of greeting. And he prays for protection:

Head of Earth, on the top!/
Head of Earth,/
by your holy power may I also be holy power./
With this power I will be spared./
With this power with which you talk may I talk. (p. 6)

Floyd Laughter spoke of this “power” in the mountain in his {apparently unsuccessful} prayer that I mentioned earlier to the San Francisco Peaks not to allow the developers to build a ski village on the lower end of its western slope: “We have come only to request that you invoke the power which is already within yourself … to accomplish this.” (pp. 117-118, Floyd Laughter)

The Navajo were not pretending; they really believed that the mountain held power and that sincere prayers and offerings would induce it to help them. One last example makes this very clear. Floyd Laughter tells of a mountain, the top of which was used to ask for protection.

Many prayers were given [there] for and on behalf of our Navajo soldiers; and many of their lives were spared. And this is its special function and use. And yes, we did use it in the last war, (the one) we had just a few years ago. Prayers, offerings, and ceremonies were done for them, (for) one and all, but especially for those from the immediate area.  …  And because my younger brother was spared and returned to me unharmed, my belief about this sacred area — as I was taught and saw my father practice these things — has only been strengthened. I also realize now, that if prayers and offerings are made with sincerity, that these prayers will be granted. That is the way I think of these prayers to Earth and also (of prayers) to Sky and Beyond. (pp. 52-53)

Here is a prayer to the flint-rock itself. The rock has a Proper Name, and so, I assume, was experienced as a personality. And Dark Flint was not its only name.

Dark Flint…, by which the body is renewed;/
………………
Hogan of black flint, (of the) Killer of Giants (Monsters);/
………………
Dark Flint, arise to protect me./
………………
The One Alive, who cannot be shot by an arrow,/
The One who inside him has what cannot be harmed,/
Arise to protect me./
The One with dark flint in four directions around your head,/
With it arise to protect me./
The One with dark flint protruding into the four directions,/
With lightning from the top of your head, arise to protect me./
Your dark shield with white at the center,/
Big Dark Snake,/
Dark Flint that pierces in four directions,/
Stack your shields sunwise around me./
Plant them in front of me for my protection./
Beyond this hold back the danger from me./
So then I will overcome danger (it will be smaller than I am)./
Beyond it danger has passed by me./
Behind it I will survive. I have survived here./
I have survived! I have survived!/
All of us have survived! All of us have survived!/
I have survived for you! I have survived for you! (pp. 72-74, Floyd Laughter)

All these prayers may compared to the one in the third Psalm which expresses the same sentiment.

O Lord, my foes are so many!/
Many are those who attack me …/
But You, O Lord, are a shield about me, …/
I cry aloud to the Lord,/
and He answers me from His holy mountain./
I lie down and sleep and wake again,/
for the Lord sustains me./
I have no fear of the myriad forces/
arrayed against me on every side. …,/
Rise, O Lord!/
Deliver me, O my God!/
For You slap all my enemies in the face;/
You break the teeth of the wicked. …

The Navajo hogan (= house or home place)

Image 5. Gobernador Knob [Navajo = Chʼóolʼį́ʼí], viewed from the east across the headwaters of Gobernador Canyon. Sandstone caprice boulders armor the slope as they tumble down after the underlying shale is eroded. No trails lead to the summit, but a scramble is possible up the eastern or northern slope. The dominant vegetation in pinion pine, juniper, mountain mahogany, and manzanita [New Mexico, USA]. Permission from the American Geographical Society (http://americangeo.org) and the author/photographer, Kevin Blake (http://www.k-state.edu/geography/kblake/), September 2000.
Image 5. Gobernador Knob [Navajo = Chʼóolʼį́ʼí], viewed from the east across the headwaters of Gobernador Canyon. Sandstone caprice boulders armor the slope as they tumble down after the underlying shale is eroded. … The dominant vegetation is pinion pine, juniper, mountain mahogany, and manzanita [New Mexico, USA], September 2000. Permission from the American Geographical Society (http://americangeo.org) and the author/photographer, Kevin Blake (http://www.k-state.edu/geography/kblake/).
Image 6. Replica of a male forked-pole hogan at the Navajo National Monument, near Black Mesa, Arizona [USA], June, 1999. The form of this early type of Navajo dwelling is tapered in symbolic association with Gobernador Knob [Navajo = Chʼóolʼį́ʼí] (compare the shape shown in ... [Image 5 above]). Permission from the American Geographical Society (http://americangeo.org) (for the caption) and the author/photographer, Kevin Blake (http://www.k-state.edu/geography/kblake/).
Image 6. Replica of a male forked-pole hogan at the Navajo National Monument, near Black Mesa, Arizona [USA], June, 1999. The form of this early type of Navajo dwelling is tapered in symbolic association with Gobernador Knob [Navajo = Chʼóolʼį́ʼí] (compare the shape shown in … [Image 5 above]). Permission from the American Geographical Society (http://americangeo.org) (for the caption) and the author/photographer, Kevin Blake (http://www.k-state.edu/geography/kblake/).

{The English word hogan is an attempt to render the Navajo word for home or home place. There are different forms of hogans, some of which, apparently, are ancient. The story is that the Navajo first learned how to construct one form of hogan from Talking God on Gobernador Knob (one of the six sacred Navajo mountains, the heart of the Navajo sacred land). The shape of this male forked-pole hogan (which is not used much anymore) is said to be based on the shape of this mountain. It is consistent with our research of world-wide mountain experience that Gobernador Knob is experienced by the Navajo as a hogan of their gods. (Blake, 2001, p. 45)

Image 7. A male fork-pole hogan from Monument Valley [Colorado, USA], June 2007. Permission from, Kevin Blake (http://www.k-state.edu/geography/kblake/).
Image 7. A male fork-pole hogan from Monument Valley, Colorado, USA, June 2007. Permission from photographer, Kevin Blake (http://www.k-state.edu/geography/kblake/). (title constructed by author from correspondence with Professor Blake)

It is also said that the shape of Huerfano (New Mexico, USA — another of the six sacred mountains) inspired the shape of the female hogan which is the hogan most often used now on the Navajo reservation. It is also reported that First Man and First Woman and Changing Woman (some think of Changing Woman, who was married to the sun, as the Navajo Virgin Mary) lived in an hogan on Huerfano. (pp. 43-44)

The ideas expressed in the next paragraph make sense when we realize that “the mountain itself is often called a hogan or house in which many different beings, including animal and plant forms, may also reside” (McPherson, 1992, p. 16) and that “the mountains are said to be forked hogans of the gods, and so the hogan of the Diné [the Navajo people] replicates this pattern” (p. 19).

The meaning of every part of the hogan is spelled out and is profound and sacred (the entry opens to the East, there is a man’s side and a woman’s side, each pole has its meaning, etc.). Nabokov & Eastman (1989, p. 326) say that “hogans are considered ‘alive’ and must be periodically purified and fed” and that there are hundreds of Navajo house-blessing songs. “When blessing a hogan, the person praying sprinkles corn pollen on the four main posts and is said to be ‘dressing the mountain'” (McPherson, p. 19). Therefore, a Navajo family, in its hogan, is inside a sacred mountain, safe in the heart of everything, where Creation started and continues, emerging now themselves from anightmarish time before this world began, themselves now First Man, First Woman, Changing Woman, Talking God, living together in the hogan, safe. A remarkable feeling, but how long can such feelings go on with the encroachment of the secular world?}

The protecter gods

Floyd Laughter spoke of the protector gods of Navajo mountain, the two gods, Monster Slayer and Born-for-Water — who overlook and protect the area in a wondrous-miraculous way. (Luckert, p. 50)

Image 4. Athena of the Hope-Farnese type. Marble, Roman copy from the 1st–2nd centuries AD after a Greek original, probably the late 5th century BC bronze cult-statue of Athena Itonia (near Koroneia) by Agoracritos, described by Pausanias (IX, 34, 1). The antique head, of the Mattei type, does not belong to the statue, in the Louvre Museum, Paris, France. Photo by Jastrow.
Image 8. Athena of the Hope-Farnese type. Marble, Roman copy from the 1st–2nd centuries AD after a Greek original, probably the late 5th century BC bronze cult-statue of Athena Itonia (near Koroneia) by Agoracritos, described by Pausanias (IX, 34, 1). The antique head, of the Mattei type, does not belong to the statue, in the Louvre Museum, Paris, France. Photo by Jastrow.

The Greeks too looked to the mountains for protection. Karageorghis says that the Greek goddess Athena, as protectress, stands on “high places” in the Aegean, on the Acropolis in Athens, on the Vouni Palace hill in Cyprus, and also on the acropolis of Idalion. This Athena is, among other things, “the goddess who protects the palace of the kings.” (Levi, 1981, p. 45 comment of Karageorghis to Levi’s presentation)

Image 5. Mount Jomolhari [= Chomolhari = the bride of Kangchenjuna] viewed from just below Neleyla pass, (Jangothang side) in Bhutan. Photo by Christopher J. Fynn.
Image 9. Mount Jomolhari [= Chomolhari = the bride of Kangchenjuna] viewed from just below Neleyla pass, (Jangothang side) in Bhutan. Photo by Christopher J. Fynn.

The great Himalayan peaks, Chomolhari, Kangchenjunga, and Chomolungma (Mount Everest), as I said in another context, support protector gods who, it is believed, look out for all our well-being. Chomolhari is a “throne of protecting deities;” Kanchenjunga,”‘a god and protector‘;” and Mount Everest, to some, is “the supreme throne of this planets’ invisible Guardians.” (Evans-Wentz, pp. 56-57)


  1. The fourth element, air, is often associated with the demonic beings living on or in the mountains. They seem to cause storms and send pestilence in the winds.
  2. A story is told about the Prophet Isaiah.
    Isaiah and the other prophets, Micah, Joel, and Habakkuk, left Jerusalem and repaired to a mountain in the desert, that they might be spared the sight of the abominations practiced by the king.
    King Manasseh, found out where they hid and condemned Isaiah to death. He was indicted for teachings against the law of Moses. Isaiah
    offered no explanation. He was convinced of the uselessness of defending himself, and he preferred Manasseh should act from ignorance rather than from wickedness. However, he fled for safety. When he heard the royal bailiffs in pursuit of him, he pronounced the Name of God, and a cedar-tree swallowed him up. The king ordered the tree to be sawn in pieces. When the saw was applied to the portion of the bark under which the mouth of Isaiah lay concealed, he died.
    The story goes on to tell that his mouth was vulnerable because of a single comment he had made when he began to prophesy, and it says that Manasseh got punished later (Ginzberg, 1967?-1969, Vol. 4, pp. 278-279). Even if this is a consciously moralistic story ("Be careful of what you say if you think you are a prophet"), still, the unconscious places the scene on a mountain.

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