Mountains evoked for many ancient cultures a spiritual home for their divinities. Just as deceased human were thought to be in some dark and dank underworld, so in sharp contrast, the gods dwelled on mountain peaks.

In classical cosmologies this meant closer to the sun, therefore warmer, and filled with light. Mountain climbing as experienced today was unheard of until modern times. People did not climb mountains, which were viewed as obstacles In the way. They knew the journey up was rigorous and filled with many dangers, including strange encounters with strange creatures, uneven terrain, and weather out of control.

At the end of a mountain pilgrimage, often a person will have an experience of “vastation”, a original concept of William James, and picked up by Tolkien. That sense of overseeing the whole, and then being one with the whole, is a prerequisite to human health. It certainly evokes humility, the mother of all the virtues.

Babylonian zirgurrats, Egyptian pyramids, and Greek Mt. Olympus were homes to the divinities while they were here on earth. These places were pilgrimage destinations to visit the gods. When speaking of mountains, the word “ascent” appears, and very little literary evidence of the descent.

The Lord’s mountain is Zion in Jerusalem capped by the ancient temple complex. Yet Isaiah’s mountain references both the real geography of Jerusalem and the mystical mountain in the prophetic imagination.

Alan Hartway

Theological Studies at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago IL; Master of Fine Arts, Poetics, at Naropa University, Boulder CO 1996; Master of Arts, Greek Classics, University of Colorado, Boulder CO 2012; Taught at Naropa University from 1999 through 2015; Chair of Interdisciplinary Studies from 2007-2015; Member of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, Kansas City Province since 1974; Pastor at Guardian Angel Catholic Church, Mead, CO, ministry from 2007-2020 Currently Retired

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