Living in a state defined by its Green Mountains--Ver Mont--we Vermonters rub shoulders with the rounded Adirondacks to the west and the jagged White Mountains on the east.
If you travel farther north and east you come upon Maine’s massive granite Mt. Katahdin guarded by what the Penobscots call Pomola, a weather spirit, a creature with the body of a man, the wings of an eagle and the head of a bull moose.
The Abenaki people call Katahdin, with its 5,268 foot pinnacle, “the Greatest Mountain.” (Photo from Baxter State Park Authority)
What makes a mountain great?
Is it its height? Surely, then, Everest at 29,028', Aconcagua in South America at 22,834', McKinley/Denali at 20,320', and Kilamangaro at 19,340' deserve to be called great.
Is it its crater lakes such as this one at Katahdin?
Or is it moonscapes such as the one at the top of Haleakela, House of the Sun,on Maui? You drive up the winding road through five climate zones to reach a crater so large, all of Manhattan could fit inside!
(Photo: National Park Service)
What makes a mountain sacred?
Consider Mt. Tamalpais in California. The Coastal Miwoks called Mt.Tam a resting maiden and according to James Swan in Sacred Places, shamans from all over the world come to visit it and they all agree: It’s a very sacred place. This Marin County mountain may be one of the most visited mountains in the world since, like Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, you can drive to its top. Muir Woods’ redwoods rest against Tam’s western slope and it’s just a Golden Gate Bridge away from San Francisco.
What makes a mountain sacred? Is it the spirit beings who walk or once walked there?
Kachinas of the Hopi people on San Francisco Peak in Arizona
Buddha at Mt. Meru in India.
Abraham and Mohammed at Mt. Moriah and Jesus at the Mt. of Olives in Jerusalem.
Yahweh at Mt. Horeb in the Sinai.
The Mother Goddess of Snows at Chomo Lungma or Everest.
Shinto spirits at Fuji.
Maui at Haleakala in Hawaii.
Spirits from Lemuria at Mt. Shasta in northern California.
Irish ancestors at Tara.
Changing Woman and other Navajo holy people at Huerfano Mesa, the Sacred Mountain of the Center in New Mexico.
(Photo: Sacred Mountains)
South:Turquoise Mountain or Mt. Taylor, NM.
West: Abalone Shell Mountain: San Francisco Peak, AZ.
North: Obsidian Mountain: Mt. Hesperus in La Plata Mountains, CO.
(Aerial Photo: Kirt Kempter, New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources)
(Photo: Sacred Mountains)
(Photo: Todd Lochmoeller.)
These four peaks form the spiritual boundaries of the First People living in the Four Corners region and for those who live there still.
Mountains are spiritual birth places, navels, portals into "other" realms. They are Tapu the Maori. Sacred. In the center of the North Island of New Zealand, two volcanic peaks thrust themselves out of the mist into the sky. Angels and fairies are said to dance around Tongariro and Ngauruhoe. Active craters, they last erupted in 1977. No wonder some Maoris still believe that evil spirits live at the very top, where people ought not to go, spewing death from time to time. A portion of the mountain remains a tribal burial ground. Tongariro is tapu, an emerald lake-studded sacred mountain, indeed.
(Tongariro from the air, Phillp Capper, Creative Commons. Wikipedia)
Mountains, natural or made by humans such as Silbury Hill in Avebury, England,together with pyramids and ziggurats are meeting places between “heaven” and “earth.” They are pinpoints on the map of mystical geography.
We often trek to get there. And once there, we look around and ask ourselves, "Is this place sacred because of who went here before me?"