Honoring the Mountain Spirits: Our Memory Keepers

I had not intended to begin my Elemental Powers series with Mountains. They're not technically what we think of as Elements after all, and most of us are far more familiar with the idea of honoring wind, fire, water, and air. Still, they are Powers, and in a culture rife with disrespect, a culture that seems almost fervidly committed to desecrating the land for temporary profit, I think there is no better way to begin this series than with these powerful Beings.

Mountain spirits are our memory keepers. They are our storytellers and contain the memory and history of every being that has passed within their sphere of influence. Anywhere the watershed rests, mountains pour their power and energy into the waters and into the surrounding ecosystem. They are elder Beings, guardians of the land, and their strength and steady wisdom supports the energetic cultures of the earth.

Of all the Elemental Powers today, they also are some of the most desecrated, least respected, and most dishonored. We in our greed think nothing of destroying a mountain to get at the coal or other minerals that might lie beneath its peaks. We cut down its trees for logging never thinking of replacing them, and destroy its ecosystem without giving thought to long-term damage. Now, with fracking, it seems our hubris, stupidity, and desire for plunder knows no bounds. We'll happily pump chemicals into the stone to harvest natural gas heedless of the potential harm we might be doing, heedless of whether the short-term gains outweigh the current devastation, heedless that we are attacking one of the Powers.

We think only of ourselves and the presumed "rights" we have over the land itself. We damage the earth and the nations of vaettir that live upon it and we do so without thought. We do to them exactly what we have done to indigenous cultures the world over for generations. We assault them. Then, of course, we wonder when the Elements rise up and attack us. Mine collapses, cave-ins, sinkholes, tsunamis, massive tornados, earthquakes, volcanoes acting up more ferociously than certainly I can recall in my memory -- all because humanity insists on being a plague to those beings that share its world. It is time, well and truly time, that we wake up.

I live in the Hudson Valley and the year before I moved here I traveled a great deal; I became more and more aware in the course of my travels and my spiritual Work, of the spirits of places, cities, river, and most of all mountains. I am very strongly connected to mountains, to their wisdom and energy, their "medicine." (I so wish that we had an Anglo-Saxon or Norse term for this word, in the way that Native peoples use it. I'm sure we did at one point, but, like so many other treasures of our indigenous spiritualities, it was yet another thing lost to the dominance of monotheism). So when I moved here and found myself sleeping in the belly of the mountain, almost right at its roots, I began to honor it.

Then, a few months ago, I had a conversation with another spiritworker. We had a very long talk about mountain work, mountain spirits, and how we both work hard to stand in proper partnership with them. What I learned and what struck such a resonant cord in me was that at one time, long ago, before our indigenous ways and Native American indigenous ways and hundreds of other indigenous ways had been destroyed by monotheism, there was a network of communication between the mountains. Each mountain had its keeper, someone who tended the mountain, kept its medicine, made offerings to the mountain, spoke for it and facilitated ties to other mountains on its behalf. I have taken that up for my mountain and slowly but surely I have seen others doing the same.

At least monthly, usually weekly, I physically go to the mountain and pray, honor it, make offerings, and converse with the spirit. I also tend to make offerings almost every day via the shrine I maintain in my home. Sometimes it shows me things, teaches me things; other times it points out what it wants done; otherwise, it is content to have me there and that is all. Most of all I spend time with the mountain. Those of us committed to honoring the mountains in this way have the job of trying to restore a connection, a very vital connection between humanity and the mountain spirits, between us and the ancestors, between us and the spirits of place and land and animals -- all of these things that have been sundered and forgotten.

Mountains are meant to be honored, and when they are treated with the respect that is their due, they are more than generous with their treasures. They too are the descendants of our eldest ancestors, that primal being birthed from the conflagration of ice and fire and, like all Elements, they remember.

What is the best way to start honoring the Mountain spirits? If you have a mountain in your area, pour out an offering. Pick up some trash. Donate to an organization that protects the mountains and their habitats. Be respectful. Greet them with gratitude. As with the ancestors, a particularly potent way of engaging in ongoing communication is to set up a mountain shrine. This can be done either onthe mountain, in a place removed from major hiking traffic where it won't be at the risk of vandalism, or in one's own home. If the former, be sure that it is constructed of natural and unobtrusive materials, that any offerings left are biodegradable and will not harm the ecosystem. If the latter, you are free to be as creative as you wish, but you can actually incorporate gifts (respectfully received) from the mountain itself: stones, dirt, water, etc. This is not too different from maintaining an ancestor shrine. This is a place where offerings can be given, relationships tended directly, and communication facilitated. As my colleague A. pointed out to me, mountains are patient, and carry muchwisdom. They can be connected to through this work directly.