The Power of the Mountain

What draws ancient and contemporary cultures to the mountain?

Indigenous societies have for thousands of years enjoyed a deep connection between the landscape and their beliefs, and the mountain has served as the point where heaven and earth (or various cosmic realms) connect.

To a variety of cultures, the axis-mundi belief is often encountered when considering the mountain. If the vertical axis of the mountain is linked with the world-axis (the heart or hub of the earth), it draws a straight link from the peak to higher realms. Rather than simply reaching space, the energy that connect various realms of being and levels of reality. Two examples a mountains that are believed to have an axis-mundi would be Kunlun for Daoist believers of Mount Meru for Hindu followers.

It is not just natural mountains either. Mirroring what they saw from the peaks of the mountainous regions around them (Sinai for the Egyptians), humans have been building their own over sacred land to connect with cosmic realms. The Pyramids are a perfect example; placed in largely important coordinates full of strong energy fields. Across the ocean, the pre-Columbian tribes build teocallis monuments (often referred to as temple-mountains). It is no coincidence that these cultures, far away, could build temples that matched each other so clearly without having crossed paths.

Native American tribes believed that mountains were sacred places, and homed their deities. Many of their mountains were considered to be placed between ‘two realms’. One such example is the Ninaiistako in Glacier National Park. So important is the tribes’ connection to their mountain, that they perceive human activity to disrupt the lives of their deities. To enter the mountain is sacrilegious.

However, for many cultures, the mountain was a place for humans to complete a pilgrimage. Koreans for example have built various Shamanic shrines and Buddhist temples on their most sacred ranges, leaving offerings for the spirit of the mountain. This guardian is thought to have the power to protect against natural disasters.

The Japanese Mount Fuji is revered by Shintoists, as it is sacred to the goddess Sengen-Sama. Her shrine is located near the summit, inviting visitors to climb and pay their respects. It is believed, much like the Native Americans, that Fuji is the gateway to another world. How is it that both these cultures found a transcendent door to other realms at the top of their mountains?

It is the Chinese who developed a theory of mountain energy most regarded by some of us today. Their belief is that of the nine sacred mountains within the country, currents of energy are circulated and revolve around the earth. It is studied by Shamans (called geomancers) who seek out the yang force. These curious individuals study the way our mountains communicate with the earth itself – and sometimes with the immortals who live among us.

Meanwhile, many other tribes see the mountain as a ‘direction home’. Take the Armenians, who see Mount Ararat as a symbol of their identity (found on their coat of arms, no less) – the manifestation of their culture in Mother Nature, and the resting place of Noah’s Ark. But in a deeper sense, perhaps they are drawn to the mountain for spiritual reasons; a sense of belonging and of place that can not be easily described, but rather felt. The location of the mountain is important. It is placed by Mother Nature as a sanctuary of energy, and understandably, cultures find themselves drawn to its mysteries. The Hawaiians and Maori have the same feeling, which can result in a type of homely-adoration for their mountain ranges. How can we explain any of this without delving into what we feel when climbing up – as many believe – to the heavens.

Despite all of this, the idea of sacred mountains in our modern world is considered unusual. Our material lifestyles mock the energetic nurturing afforded to us by those lonely peaks, who have been sought and beloved by our ancestors. As the world ignores the Shamanic religions that once thrived, we lose our human connection to the mountains. Perhaps it is time we re-considered.