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God On The Mountains






Category: STORIED WATERS, CLIFFS AND MOUNTAINS

Source: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

From the oldest time men have associated the mountains with visitations
of God. Their height, their vastness, their majesty made them seem worthy
to be stairs by which the Deity might descend to earth, and they stand in
religious and poetic literature to this day as symbols of the largest
mental conceptions. Scriptural history is intimately associated with
them, and the giving of the law on Sinai, amid thunder and darkness, is
one of the most tremendous pictures that imagination can paint. Ararat,
Hermon, Horeb, Pisgah, Calvary, Adam's Peak, Parnassus, Olympus! How full
of suggestion are these names! And poetic figures in sacred writings are
full of allusion to the beauty, nobility, and endurance of the hills.

It is little known that many of our own mountains are associated with
aboriginal legends of the Great Spirit. According to the Indians of
California, Mount Shasta was the first part of the earth to be made. The
Great Spirit broke a hole through the floor of heaven with a rock, and on
the spot where this rock had stopped he flung down more rocks, with earth
and snow and ice, until the mass had gained such a height that he could
step from the sky to its summit. Running his hands over its sides he
caused forests to spring up. The leaves that he plucked he breathed upon,
tossed into the air, and, lo! they were birds. Out of his own staff he
made beasts and fishes, to live on the hills and in the streams, that
began to appear as the work of worldbuilding went on. The earth became so
joyous and so fair that he resolved at last to live on it, and he
hollowed Shasta into a wigwam, where he dwelt for centuries, the smoke of
his lodge-fire (Shasta is a volcano) being often seen pouring from the
cone before the white man came.

According to the Oregon Indians the first man was created at the base of
the Cascade Range, near Wood River, by Kmukamtchiksh, the old man of the
ancients, who had already made the world. The Klamaths believe
Kmukamtchiksh a treacherous spirit, a typical beast god, yet that he
punishes the wicked by turning them into rocks on the mountain-sides or
by putting them into volcanic fires.

Sinsinawa Mound, Wisconsin, was the home of strange beings who occupied
caverns that few dared to enter. Enchanted rivers flowed through these
caves to heaven. The Catskills and Adirondacks were abodes of powerful
beings, and the Highlands of the Hudson were a wall within which Manitou
confined a host of rebellious spirits. When the river burst through this
bulwark and poured into the sea, fifty miles below, these spirits took
flight, and many succeeded in escaping. But others still haunt the
ravines and bristling woods, and when Manitou careers through the Hudson
canon on his car of cloud, crying with thunder voice, and hurling his
lightnings to right and left as he passes, the demons scream and howl in
rage and fear lest they be recaptured and shut up forever beneath the
earth.

The White Mountains were held in awe by Indians, to whom they were homes
of great and blessed spirits. Mount Washington was their Olympus and
Ararat in one, for there dwelt God, and there, when the earth was covered
with a flood, lived the chief and his wife, whom God had saved, sending
forth a hare, after the waters had subsided, to learn if it were safe to
descend. From them the whole country was peopled with red men. Yet woe
betide the intruder on this high and holy ground, for an angered deity
condemned him to wander for ages over the desolate peaks and through the
shadowy chasms rifted down their sides. The despairing cries of these
condemned ones, in winter storms, even frightened the early white
settlers in this region, and in 1784 the women of Conway petitioned three
clergymen to lay the spirits.

Other ark and deluge legends relate to the Superstition Mountains, in
Arizona, Caddoes village, on Red River, Cerro Naztarny, on the Rio
Grande, the peak of Old Zuni, in Mexico, Colhuacan, on the Pacific coast,
Mount Apaola, in upper Mixteca, and Mount Neba, in Guaymi. The
Northwestern Indians tell of a flood in which all perished save one man,
who fled to Mount Tacoma. To prevent him from being swept away a spirit
turned him into stone. When the flood had fallen the deity took one of
his ribs and made a woman of it. Then he touched the stone man back to
life.

There were descendants of Manitou on the mountains, too, of North
Carolina, but the Cherokees believe that those heights are bare because
the devil strode over them on his way to the Devil's Court House
(Transylvania County, North Carolina), where he sat in judgment and
claimed his own. Monsters were found in the White Mountains. Devil's Den,
on the face of Mount Willard, was the lair of one of them--a strange,
winged creature that strewed the floor of its cave with brute and human
skeletons, after preying on their flesh.

The ideas of supernatural occurrences in these New Hampshire hills
obtained until a recent date, and Sunday Mountain is a monument to the
dire effects of Sabbath-breaking that was pointed out to several
generations of New Hampshire youth for their moral betterment. The story
goes that a man of the adjacent town of Oxford took a walk one Sunday,
when he should have taken himself to church; and, straying into the woods
here, he was delivered into the claws and maws of an assemblage of bears
that made an immediate and exemplary conclusion of him.

The grand portrait in rock in Profile Notch was regarded with reverence
by the few red men who ventured into that lonely defile. When white men
saw it they said it resembled Washington, and a Yankee orator is quoted
as saying, Men put out signs representing their different trades.
Jewellers hang out a monster watch, shoemakers a huge boot, and, up in
Franconia, God Almighty has hung out a sign that in New England He makes
men.

To Echo Lake, close by, the deity was wont to repair that he might
contemplate the beauties of nature, and the clear, repeated echoes were
his voice, speaking in gentleness or anger. Moosilauke--meaning a bald
place, and wrongly called Moose Hillock--was declared by Waternomee,
chief of the Pemigewassets, to be the home of the Great Spirit, and the
first time that red men tried to gain the summit they returned in fear,
crying that Gitche Manitou was riding home in anger on a storm--which
presently, indeed, burst over the whole country. Few Indians dared to
climb the mountain after that, and the first fruits of the harvest and
first victims of the chase were offered in propitiation to the deity. At
Seven Cascades, on its eastern slope, one of Rogers's Rangers, retreating
after the Canadian foray, fell to the ground, too tired for further
motion, when a distant music of harps mingled with the cascade's plash,
and directly the waters were peopled with forms glowing with silver-white,
like the moonstone, that rose and circled, hand in hand, singing gayly as
they did so. The air then seemed to be flooded with rosy light and
thousands of sylvan genii ascended altars of rock, by steps of rainbow,
to offer incense and greet the sun with song. A dark cloud passed,
daylight faded, and a vision arose of the massacre at St. Francis, a
retreat through untried wilderness, a feast on human heads, torture, and
death; then his senses left the worn and starving man. But a trapper who
had seen his trail soon reached him and led him to a friendly settlement,
where he was told that only to those who were about to take their leave
of earth was it given to know those spirits of fountain and forest that
offered their voices, on behalf of nature, in praise of the Great Spirit.
To those of grosser sense, on whom the weight of worldliness still
rested, this halcyon was never revealed.

It was to Mount Washington that the Great Spirit summoned Passaconaway,
when his work was done, and there was his apotheosis.

The Indians account in this manner for the birth of the White Mountains:
A red hunter who had wandered for days through the forest without finding
game dropped exhausted on the snow, one night, and awaited death. But he
fell asleep and dreamed. In his vision he saw a beautiful mountain
country where birds and beasts and fruits were plenty, and, awaking from
his sleep, he found that day had come. Looking about the frozen
wilderness in despair, he cried, Great Master of Life, where is this
country that I have seen? And even as he spoke the Master appeared and
gave to him a spear and a coal. The hunter dropped the coal on the
ground, when a fire spread from it, the rocks burning with dense smoke,
out of which came the Master's voice, in thunder tones, bidding the
mountains rise. The earth heaved and through the reek the terrified man
saw hills and crags lifting--lifting--until their tops reached above the
clouds, and from the far summits sounded the promise, Here shall the
Great Spirit live and watch over his children. Water now burst from the
rocks and came laughing down the hollows in a thousand brooks and rills,
the valleys unfolded in leaf and bloom, birds sang in the branches,
butterflies-like winged flowers flitted to and fro, the faint and
cheerful noise of insect life came from the herbage, the smoke rolled
away, a genial sun blazed out, and, as the hunter looked in rapture on
the mighty peaks of the Agiochooks, God stood upon their crest.






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