Mountain Sanctuary

Allan J. Stover

I remember a hill in western Oregon, isolated, worn down to a mere thousand feet of height; yet never have I stood upon its summit that I did not feel myself to be on holy ground. I could find no tradition or history regarding it; only an ancient stone wall on the summit, built by someone unknown, and about its base a number of sandy beaches, where a long forgotten sea once lapped. On another occasion I camped beside a little-known lake and mountain meadow in the High Cascades, and all the time I was there I was unable to shake off the feeling of being surrounded by many people, friendly but strange. Twice on the chaparral-covered slopes of Point Loma, California, I came into an area on which a peace beyond the power of words to suggest lay like a benediction.

There is an atmosphere about certain mountains, something which in an older age would be looked upon with reverence; some inner fire which touches one with a sudden twinge of nostalgia, of longing for the spirit. It is like some unwonted fragrance bringing with it a flood of childhood memories. We are separated from the inner worlds by veils, largely of our own weaving, and it is small wonder if in regions unspoiled by man, glimpses are now and then caught of inner truth and beauty.

It is not only a haze of smoke and gases which hovers over our great cities like a pall: there is a much more potent miasma of human emanations, thoughts, fears, hates, and passions which literally poison the inner man, and against which he instinctively hardens himself.

It is reasonable to suppose that many localities affect people for good or for ill, according to the thoughts and acts of the people who have lived there before and whose subtle influence still lingers. But this does not explain all. The earth itself is a living being and has not only currents in the air and in the sea, but also spiritual currents and forces following their own course and bringing to certain focal points conditions favorable for inner growth. Such places of natural peace and quiet may have been chosen in ancient times as locations for shrines and temples and later impressed by the thought and meditation of many generations of wise and holy people.

Only now and then does one find a peak which awakens a feeling of reverence. Size apparently has not much to do with it, nor has mere beauty. Yet where the currents flame forth, there one knows and pays respect. He may sense the prickle of awareness and the feeling that just around the corner he may come upon heaven knows what stately presences, or perhaps if he be one of uneasy conscience, merely the suspicion of being watched. It is this which made the Irish poet "A.E." exclaim,

Earth-breath, what is it you whisper? As I listen, listen, I know it is no whisper but a chant from profoundest deeps, a voice hailing its great companions in the aether spaces, but whose innumerable tones in their infinite modulations speak clear to us also in our littleness. Our lips are stilled with awe; we dare not repeat what here we think. These mountains are sacred in our Celtic traditions. Haunt of the mysteries, here the Tuatha de Danaans once had their homes. — The Mountains

America, like the Celtic lands, has many hills and mountains long reverenced by the native peoples. We once stopped at a service station in Tecate on the California-Mexico border, and as an old Mexican passed I asked the name of a high mountain to the west — Mt. Tecate on the maps. He replied, "It called Coochma, very high." I said, "What does the name mean?" and he answered, "It means high sacred place, place of initiation." And such it was, for no one knows how many centuries. Formerly a grove of very large cypress grew on the cloud-capped summit, but the white settlers soon cut down the grove and sold it for firewood. Fortunately, most of the mountain is now owned by those who fully appreciate its beauty and traditional significance.

In ancient times the student of the mysteries had few books; in many places books were not known at all. He lived close to nature and knew himself to be a part of nature. His traditions were written not on paper but on the mountains and lakes of earth, and in the starry constellations of the heavens. The stories were told over and over again, and it is small wonder if sometimes the meaning was lost, the spirit fled. Where is a race which has not its symbolic Mount Meru, its Olympus, its sacred mountain? Where is the people who have not venerated the sun and the stars, the wind and rain?

(From Sunrise magazine, February/March 2003; copyright © 2003 Theosophical University Press)

We cannot describe the natural history of the soul, but we know that it is divine. I cannot tell if these wonderful qualities which house today in this mortal frame shall ever reassemble in equal activity in a similar frame, or whether they have before had a natural history like that of this body you see before you; but this one thing I know, that these qualities did not now begin to exist, cannot be sick with my sickness, nor buried in any grave; but that they circulate through the universe: before the world was, they were. Nothing can bar them out, or shut them in, but they penetrate the ocean and land, space and time, form an essence, and hold the key to universal nature. I draw from this faith courage and hope. All things are known to the soul. It is not to be surprised by any communication. Nothing can be greater than it. Let those fear and those fawn who will. The soul is in her native realm, and it is wider than space, older than time, wide as hope, rich as love. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

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