Sacred mountains are central to certain religions and are the subjects of many legends. For many, the most symbolic aspect of a mountain is the peak because it is believed that it is closest to heaven or other celestial bodies. Many religions have some sacred mountains - that either are or were considered holy (such as Mount Olympus in Greek mythology) or are related to famous events (like Mount Sinai in Judaism and descendant religions). In some cases, the sacred mountain is purely mythical, like the Hara Berezaiti in Zoroastrianism. Volcanoes, such as Mount Etna in Italy, were also considered sacred. Mount Kailash is believed to be the abode of the Hindu deity Shiva. Mount Etna was believed to have been the home of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire.
Mount Olympus is the highest mountain peak in Greece. It was once regarded as the “home of the Greek Gods/The Twelve Olympians of the Hellenistic World". It was also considered the site of the War of the Titans (Titanomachy) where Zeus and his siblings defeated the Titans.
Mount Othrys is a mountain in Central Greece, which is believed to be the home of the Titans during the ten-year war with the Gods of Mount Olympus. In Greek mythology Mount Othrys was the base of Kronos and the Titans during the ten-year war with the Olympian Gods known as the Titanomachy. It was also the birthplace of the elder gods, Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades and Poseidon. It was assaulted by the Olympians, led by Kronos' son Zeus. Zeus later overthrew his father and gained dominion in all of the heavens and the earth
Mount Ida, also known as Mountain of the Goddess, refers to two specific mountains: one in the Greek island of Crete and the other in Turkey (formerly known as Asia Minor).
Mount Athos, located in Greece, is also referred to as the Holy Mountain. It has great historical connections with religion and classical mythology. In religion it is believed that after the Ascension of the Lord, the Virgin Mary landed on the island and came upon a pagan temple. It was there that the pagan practitioners converted from paganism to Christianity. The Virgin Mary then blessed the land and claimed it her own.
The ancient Inca displayed a connection with death and their mountains. It is well known by scholars that the Inca sensed a deep reservoir of spirituality along the mountain range. Situating their villages in the mountains, they felt these places acted as portal to the gods. Ritual child sacrifices called Capachochas were conducted annually, where the most precious gift that could be given (innocent, blemishless, perfect human life) would be sacrificed to the gods. Tremendous effort would be taken as the sacrificial victims would be paraded alive throughout the cities, with multiple festivals and feasts taking place. The final destination would be the tops of some of the highest mountains near their villages, leaving these sacrifices to freeze in the snow. These would take place during great times of distress, during times of famine, violent periods of war, and even during times of political shift. This connection with the mountain as a sacred space is paramount. There would be no other place that would be sufficient or acceptable enough for the gods to accept these gifts. It is neither a surprise nor a coincidence that their honored dead were placed on the highest peaks of the mountains to express the shared connection between the sacred mountain, the gods, and the dead.
Machapuchare has never been climbed to its summit. The only attempt was in 1957 by a British team led by Jimmy Roberts. Climbers Wilfrid Noyce and A. D. M. Cox climbed to within 150 m (492 ft) of the summit via the north ridge, to an approximate altitude of 22,793 ft (6,947 m). They did not complete the ascent, as they had promised not to set foot on the actual summit. Since then, the mountain has been declared sacred, and is now closed to climbers.
Machapuchare stands guard over the gorge leading into the sanctuary. Machapuchare's delicate summit will sometimes materialize out of the mist at sunset, to appear suspended in a golden haze almost 15,000 feet directly overhead at an altitude of 22,943 feet above sea level. The mountain is so imposing that for the people living near Annapurna, it acts like a magnet, drawing to itself whatever deity they regard as the highest and most powerful. Villagers with whom I spoke referred to it variously as the abode of the Hindu Gods Vishnu and Siva, a local deity named Pujinim Barahar, and Tara, "the Savioress of Tibetan Buddhism," as well as Amitabha, "the Buddha of Boundless Light."
Various cultures around the world maintain the importance of mountain worship and sacredness. One example is theTaranaki peoples of New Zealand. The Taranaki center their whole life around the sacred mountain, the Mount Taranaki. It is no wonder that they shared the same name, as they shared their livelihood from its streams. The rivers that flowed down its steep terrain fed the plants, animals, and gave the tribe all they needed for life. The Taranaki tribe places this mountain into a context of a love story, spelling out the history of their creation in a battle over love, defeat, and a happy ending where this Taranaki Mountain found love with a neighboring volcano. This narrative plays out in the lives of the tribesmen where the mountain is their love, their life force. Life is given from megalith, and when life is taken away, the people are ultimately returned to the mountain. This mountain can be explained as anthropomorphisised, a living organism of its own.
In Korea, people have maintained ancient ways of worshiping mountain spirits. While they are not in fact worshiping the land itself, the gods associated with this worship are united to the land. These spirits are female entities to whom people pay tribute while passing by the mountains, asking for good luck and protection. People also travel to these mountains to ask for fertility. While people generally hold to these female deities for protection or to perpetuate life, one of their most important functions is to protect the dead. The ponhyangsansin is a guardian spirit that is protecting an important clan grave site in the village. Each mountain goddess has an equally interesting story that is tied to their accounts of war against Japan, and the historical legacy of their emperors. Each spirit learned difficult lessons and experienced some sort of hardship. These legacies in the mountains serve as a kind of monument to the history of Korea. While many of the accounts may be true, their details and accuracy are shrouded by time and ritual. While the inaugurations of new ponhyang san sin are not being conducted, fallen important clansmen and leaders are strategically placed in the mountains in order for these strong, heroine-like spirits may fiercely guard their graves. The history of Korea is in turn protecting its own future.
In Japan, Mount Koya-san is the home to one of the holiest Buddhist monastery complexes in the country. It was founded by a saint, Kukai, who is also known as Kobo Dashi and is regarded as a famous wandering mystic; his teachings are infamous throughout Japan and he is credited with being an important figure in shaping early Japanese culture. Buddhists believe that Kobo Dashi is not dead, but will instead awake and assist in bringing enlightenment to all people, alongside the Buddha and other bodhisattvas. It is believed that he was shown the sacred place to build the monastery by a forest god; this site is now the location of a large cemetery that is flanked by 120 esoteric Buddhist temples. Approximately a million pilgrims visit Mount Koya-san a year; these pilgrims have included both royals and commoners who wish to pay their respects to Kobo Dashi. Mount Fuji is another sacred mountain in Japan. Several Shinto temples flank its base, all to pay homage to the mountain. The common belief is that Fujiyama is the incarnation of the earth spirit itself. The Fuki-ko sect maintains that the mountain is a holy being, and the home to the goddess Sengen-sama. Annual fire festivals are held here in her honor. Fujiyama is also the site of pilgrimages; reportedly 40,000 people climb up to its summit every year.
Tibet's Mount Kailash is a sacred place to four religions: Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Bon Po (a native Tibetan religion prior to Buddhism), and Ayyavazhi religions. According to some Hindu tradition, Kailash is the home of the deity Shiva. In Hindu religion, Mount Kailash also plays an important role in Rama's journey in the ancient Sanskrit epic, Ramayana. Buddhists hold that Kailash is the home of Samvara, a guardian deity, and a representation of Buddha. Buddhists believe that Mount Kailash has supernatural powers that are able to clean the sins of a lifetime of any person. Followers of Jainism believe that Kailash is the site where the founder of Jainism reached enlightenment. Bon Po teaches that Kailash is the home of a wind goddess.
Mount Meru is a cosmic mountain which is described to be one of the highest points on Earth and is the center of all creation. In the Hindu religion, it is believed that Meru is home to the god Brahma, who is believed to be the father of the human race and all the demigods produced afterward. Indian cosmology believes that the sun, moon, and stars all revolve around Mount Meru. Folklore suggests the mountain rose up from the ground piercing the heavens giving it the moniker "navel of the universe".
According to the Torah, and consequently the Old Testament of the Bible, Mount Sinai is the location that Moses received the Ten Commandments directly from God. The tablets form the covenant, which is a central cornerstone of Jewish faith. Saint Catherine's Monastery is located at the foot of Sinai. It was founded by empress Helena, who was the mother of the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine. It was completed under the rule of Justinian two centuries later. The monastery was visited by the prophet Muhammed, who blessed it and promised “that it would be cherished by Muslims for all time”. Today, the monastery is home to a group of Greek Orthodox monks, as well as a large collection of Byzantine art, illuminated manuscripts, icons, and books; the collection of icons in particular has been proclaimed one of the oldest in the world.
The Navajo possess a strong belief system in regards to the natural-supernatural world and have a belief that objects have a supernatural quality. For example, the Navajo consider mountains to be sacred. There are four peaks, which are believed to have supernatural aspects. The mountains each represent a borderline of the original Navajo tribal land. The mountain ranges include Mount Taylor, the San Francisco Peaks, Blanca Peak, and Hesperus Peak located in the La Plata Mountains.
History shows that mountains were commonly part of a complex system of mountain and ancestor worship. Having immortalized fallen brethren in the edifice, the people share a common allegiance with all the other people of a community. The meanings that were etched into the mountain and mound terrain connected the villagers. They were all subject to the same landscape and village history, which were bound together by their cultural significance. The history of ancestors could be told by simply pointing at specific mountains and remembering the stories that were passed down throughout the generations. The worship of ancestors and the mountains were largely inseparable. An interconnected web between history, landscape, and culture was thus formed. Examples of this would be the Hindu belief that Mount Kailas is the final resting place for the souls of the dead, as well as the large cemetery placed on Mount Koya-san.
Sacred mountains can also provide an important piece of a culture's identity. For example, Messerli and Ives write, “The Armenian people regard Mount Ararat, a volcano in eastern Turkey believed to be the site of Noah's Ark in the Bible, to be a symbol of their natural and cultural identity”. As a result of the mountain's role as a part of a cultural identity, even people who do not live close to the mountain feel that events occurring to the mountain are relevant to their own personal lives. This results in communities banning certain activities near the mountain, especially if those activities are seen as potentially destructive to the sacred mountain itself.
To date, Kailas has never been climbed, largely due to the fact that the idea of climbing the mountain is seen as a major sacrilege. Instead, the worshipful embark on a pilgrimage known as the kora. The kora consists of a 32-mile path that circles the mountain, which typically takes five days with little food and water. Various icons, prayer flags, and other symbols of the four religions that believe Kailas is sacred mark the way. To Buddhists and Hindus, the pilgrimage is considered a major moment in a person's spiritual life. Olsen writes, “One circuit is believed to erase a lifetime of sin, while 108 circuits is believed to ensure enlightenment”.
As one of the most sacred mountains in the Middle East, mentioned in the Old Testament can be seen on the mountain's summit, such as the area where Moses “sheltered from the total glory of God”.
Sacred Mountains are often seen as a site of revelation and inspiration. Mount Sinai is an example, as this is the site where the covenant is revealed to Moses. Mount Tabor is where it is supposed Jesus was revealed to be the Son of God. Muhammed is said to have received his first revelation on Mount Hira. The mountains' roles as places of revelation and transformation often serve to attract tourists as much as they do religious pilgrims. However, in some cases, the financial revenue is overlooked and sacred mountains are conserved first due to their role in the community.
Members of The Aetherius Society conduct pilgrimages to 19 mountains around the world that they describe as being "holy mountains".
Sacred mountains are often viewed as the source of a power which is to be awed and revered. Typically, this power is seen as dangerous, with the requirement that it be treated carefully and with respect. Often, this means that access to the sacred mountain is restricted. This could result in climbing being banned from a sacred mountain completely (as in the case of Mount Kailas) or for secular society to give the mountain a wide berth. Because of the respect accorded to a mountain's sacred power, many areas have been declared off limit for construction and remain conserved. For example, a large amount of forest has been preserved due to its proximity to Mount Koya-san. Additionally, sacred mountains can be seen as the source of something vital. This could be a blessing, water, life, or healing. Mount Kailas's role as the source for four major rivers is celebrated in India and not simply seen as mundane. Rather, this also adds to its position as a sacred place, especially considering the sacred position of the Ganges river in Indian culture. Mountains that are considered home to deities are also central to prayers for the blessings from the gods reputed to live there. This also creates a sense of purity in the source of the mountain. This prompts people to protect streams from pollution that are from sacred mountains, for example.
Views of preservation and sacredness become problematic when dealing with diverse populations. When one observes the sacred mountain of the Sacramento Valley in the United States, it becomes clear that methods and opinions stretch over a vastly differing body of protesters. Shasta Mountain was first revered by the Native American tribe, the Wintu. Shasta was in effect a standing monument for the individuals of their cultural history. This bounded view of sacred mountains changed drastically during the 1800s. It is commonly assumed that sacred mountains are limited by a single society, trapped in a time capsule with only one definition to explain it: the indigenous tribe. Shasta's glory had expanded to multiple regions of the world, communities of differing religions making their pilgrimage up to the summits of this glorious mountain. The Wintu tribe did not hold a monopoly on the sacredness anymore. There were others contesting to the meanings, adding new rituals and modifying old ones. With the advent of new technology and desires to turn this mountain into a skiing lodge, angry voices from all over the world rose up with variants of demands on why and how we should preserve this beautiful mountain.
Almost every day different religious practices such as nude bathing, camping out with magic crystals, yoga, and many “quasi-Christian” groups such as the I AM march their ways up to the tips of this mountain. With this activity the mountain pathways become clustered, cluttered and littered. Even the pathways’ existence leads to erosion, and further slow degradation of the mountain. The Wintu tribe has voiced concerns and asked for support from the government to regulate the activities practiced on “their” mountain saying that “they are disturbed by the lack of respect” shown for this piece of land. It has become greatly debated if the more vulnerable and “spiritually desirable” places of the mountain should be closed and maintained only by the Wintu tribe, who see this land as a sacred graveyard of their ancestors, or open to all who seek spiritual fulfillment such as the modern-day group of the I AM.
Mountain: A Study in Matthean Theology
“More specifically, we have been able to identify four types of religiously significant mountains in this period—at least two of which (the first and last in the following list) are uniquely Jewish:
1. Covenant Mountain. The sacred mountains of the OT are best viewed as covenant mountains, i.e. sacred sites at which the covenant relationship between Yahweh and his people was established and maintained. The most striking manifestation of this mountain category in the Second-Temple period was the tendency within Judaism (and later within Samaritanism and Jewish Christianity) to read the sacred mountain into the biblical text as the site for every significant event in Heilsgeschichte, even back to the creation of Adam himself.
2. Cosmic Mountain. With Hellenistic influence in Palestine providing a bridge for foreign ideas, there was an influx of cosmic concepts into Jewish thinking about Mount Zion and about mountains in general. Zion was seen as both Omphalos and axis mundi, and Zion along with other mountains became points of entry into the heavenly sphere. In Jewish apocalypticism there was a fusion of cosmic and eschatological elements—elements which in later Rabbinic thought were treated separately.
3. Mountain of Revelation. Particularly in Jewish apocalypticism, mountains often appear as places where revelations are bestowed. Revelational mountains were generally of two kinds: in one—which probably developed under the influence of the Sinai narratives—the revelation is in the form of divinely-given information, often concerning the events leading up to the End; in the other—which is more characteristically cosmic—the mountain provides a point of entry into the heavenly sphere, where the secrets of heaven and earth are revealed.
4. Eschatological Mountain. In this period, with its heightened interest in eschatology generally, there was also a focus on mountains as sites for eschatological events. The roots for such an interest are found in OT Zion eschatology, and there are many passages which focus on Mount Zion as an eschatological site. But other mountains functioned in this way as well: the mountain of the Messiah in 4 Ezra 13; the cosmic mountain of 1 Enoch 24-25; the various mountains associated with the revelation of the temple vessels; Mount Gerizim; the Mount of Olives which was the site of one attempted messianic gathering and was to be the place of the resurrection; Mount Sinai where Moses and Aaron were expected to gather the faithful. In all of these traditions the mountain is treated as a site that carries with it the potential and promise of eschatological
activity. As such, the eschatological mountain is a special form of covenant mountain: it is the mountain where covenant promises are consummated.”
· · Áhkká – regarded by the Sami people as a holy mountain.
· Mount Aqraa (Zaphon)
· Mount Akhun – the sacred mountain of Ubykhia
· Mount Ararat – alleged by some to be the site of Noah's ark and holy to the Armenian Apostolic Church.
· Mount Athos – also known as the Holy Mountain, Greece
· Black Hills
· Burkhan Khaldun – Khentii Province, Mongolia
· Mount Carmel
· Jabal al-Nour
· Emei Shan – China
· Mount Everest
· Mount Fuji
· Mount Gerizim – as claimed taught to be the location of the Holies of Holies by God to the Samaritans.
· Mount Graham - considered by Apache to be sacred. Believed to be Stargate by some. Site of court battle between the Vatican Observatory, and Apache.
· Hua Shan – China
· Huang Shan – China
· Mount Kailash, sacred to Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Bön.
· Mount Kinabalu – Known as "Aki Nabalu" which means "Revered Place of the Dead". This mountain is regarded very sacred especially to the local Kadazan-Dusun people living in Sabah, Malaysia.
· Mauna Loa/Mauna Kea- volcanic eruptions were thought to be a result from the Hawaiian Goddess of fire Pele (deity) when in argument with her siblings
· Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu, and other mountains were sacred to the Inca locals.
· Nanda Devi - also known as Bliss-Giving Goddess, This mountain is considered the home of the goddess Nanda Devi by North Indian and Nepalese Hindus, Republic of India/Greater Nepal
· Mount Makiling, Mount Arayat, and Mount Lantoy, of the Philippines, and their protectors, Maria Makiling being the protector of Mount Makiling.
· Mount Banahaw, Mount San Cristobal- The Holiest place in the Philippines, Termed as the yin and yang mountain.
· Mount of Olives
· Phnom Kulen
· Mount Sahand
· Mount Shasta
· Mount Sinai
· Sulayman Mountain
· Tai Shan – China
· Teide – instead of creating the world for aboriginal guanches, Spain
· Temple Mount
· Jabal Thawr- the mountain cave where the Islamic Prophet Muhammad and his companion Abu Bakr hid from the Quraish during the migration to Medina.
· Uluru – also known as Ayers Rock, Australia
· Mount Vesuvius
· Wudang Shan – China
· Mount Zion
· Mount Ida
· Mount Athos
· Navaos Mountains
· Mount Tabor
· Mount Hermon
· Tirumala Hills
· Wu Tai Shan, China
· Pu Tuo Shan, Puji Si Temple,China
· Mount Olympus
· Mauna Kea
· Ahkka, Lapland
· Black Hills
· Mount Ararat
· Mount Fuji
· Mount Taranaki
· Mount Kinabalu
· Mount Kilimanjaro
· Mount Meru
· Mount Carmel
· Mt. Pisgah/Mt. Nebo
· Mount Moriah (Mt. Gerizim)
· Vellingiri Hills
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