— Last updated: February 2022
The geographical characteristics of a mountain —its vastness and the difficulties to get to the top— have turned it home for the unknown and the holy since ancient times. Mount Olympus, Mount Ararat, Mount Kailash, Mount Sinai, Uluru, Mount Wutai, Oldoinyo Lengai, Mount Shasta... there are plenty of examples across all cultures where mountains are sacred places or representations of the divine.
With the passing of time, the physical inaccessibility of the mountain has become more relative; hence, there has been a progression of the imagery from it being synonymous with divinity to a symbol to which we project certain psychological attributes — an archetype. Some examples of an early stage of this non-physical mountain are Mount Meru or lhuícatl-Omeyocán, and we can also find it in novels such as Mount Analogue.
In a similar manner, pyramids, ziggurats, churches, temples, stupas, and other man-made altars and sacred places are built in an attempt to grasp that which lies opposite of the mundane and the earthly. “Temples are replicas of the cosmic mountain”, Mircea Eliade states. On the other hand, some towers (eg. Tower of Babel or The Tower tarot card) seem to exemplify how our endeavour to reach the heavens can be truncated, maybe because our humanness, in the end, is at opposition with the divine.
Mountain of mountains is a quilt wall hanging — an amalgam of fabric monoprints featuring sacred mountains.
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The main symbol that the mountain encapsulates is being the place of reunion of the opposites (heaven and earth, mundane and numinous). And as humans polarised by the Cartesian dualism, the synthesis of our inner oppositions is what we desire the most. Such an important role turns the mountain into the center of the universe, an axis mundi or world navel around which the rest of the world is unfolded. Many myths talk about a primordial hill that originally separated the sky and the earth.
The archetypal mountain is not easily accesible — it can be past a vast and dangerous forest or beyond the ocean (a demarcation between the sacred site and the secular world). It has a visible foot but its top is always concealed.
For a mountain to play the role of Mount Analogue, I concluded, its summit must be inaccessible but its base accessible to human beings as nature has made them. (...) The door to the invisible must be visible.
— quote from Mount Analogue by René Daumal
The symbol of the mountain can be simplified into a vertical axis, and its meaning can be transferred to other imagery such as the Tree of Life, pillars (ie. stambha, djed), stairs (ie. Jacob’s Ladder), totems, menhirs, poles (ie. Maypole), et cetera. Ideas of groundedness and stillness are also attached to the mountain.
Symbol of the mountain encompasses the elements that constitute the archetype of the mountain: the moon on one side + the sun on the other, the cloud hiding the top, its separation by a body of water, the serpentine road that ascends...
The process of making this piece can be seen here.
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Although not all pilgrimage journeys are located in mountains, and not all sacred mountains are meant to be traversed, the idea of the journey is almost inherent to the archetype of the mountain. The physical effort of the ascension route, the search for a rewarding view, the little things that happen in the journey... they all seem a miniature metaphorical version of our ways in life. Pilgrimage is present in many traditions (Hajj, Camino de Santiago, Kumbh Mela...) as a means for transformation through an immersion into the unknown while looking for a higher meaning. In a similar way, this intention appears in the search for the Holy Grail or the Philosopher's Stone, in Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s journey, in Dante’s Divine Comedy...
But is the ultimate goal making it to the mountaintop? Is it a linear, ascending journey to the sacred? If, as stated before, the mountain archetype is an inner expression of our psyche, is the divine already in us? Is the pilgrimage through the mountain a journey deep into ourselves — a journey to the center of the mountain, not to the top? The mountain hides in its insides precious metals that humans desire.
The alchemic motto VITRIOL stands for Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem, meaning “By visiting the centre of the earth and rectifying you will find the hidden stone.”
At the top of the mountain / At the foot of the mountain: an activity book for the pilgrim is a small artist book in concertina format featuring a collection of activities that explore the little mundane joys found in the journey of ascension to better connect with the mountain.
The book is available for purchase here.
Upcoming sections: Snakes, caves and ladders, The sublime, and more artwork!
✽ Mount Analogue by René Daumal
✽ The Mountain Archetype: A Psychological Approach by Thomas Hersh
✽ I Ching hexagram 52 — Keeping still, mountain
✽ Arunachala Live
✽ Ladder to heaven by George Zarkadakis
✽ The Myth of the Eternal Return by Mircea Eliade
✽ La espiral, la serpiente, y la iniciación by Raimon Arola
✽ Jung and Yoga: The Psyche-Body Connection by Judith Harris
✽ Sankei Mandara: Layered Maps to Sacred Places by Talia Andrei
✽ A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful by Edmund Burke
✽ Shikoku Pilgrimage by Chelsea Steinauer-Scudder
✽ The Mythic Image by Joseph Campbell
✽ The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
✽ El sueño de Jacob y el nombre divino ‘Lugar’ by Carlos del Tilo
✽ Shanshui (山水) paintings
✽ Counter Mapping by Adam Loften and Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee
✽ Additional visual material can be found here