Astronauts and cosmonauts have often mentioned how their understandings of life on the earth were changed from the views of the space ships circling the earth. Flying on a clear summer day along the North American coast of the states of Washington, Oregon and California, on an Aeroflot flight from Moscow to San Francisco, allowed clear sight of the extinct volcanoes of Northern California – especially Mt. Shasta. As we flew nearby, I thought of all of the people living around this mountain and of all the very different ideas they hold of this volcano, dormant yet “beautiful”. (Western culture tends, in recent centuries, to “see” mountains and nature as “beautiful” – though there were times in earlier Western history when mountains were viewed with fear as signs of danger, ugliness and disorder – the “fall” of nature).
If Russians have not yet heard of the “spiritual center” Mt. Shasta, so much the better for Russia. Yet it is probably only a question of time until the ideas of the “spiritual” mountain are heard somewhat more broadly in post-Soviet Russia as well – and some such believers dream of a long journey to the “power spot” of Mt. Shasta, California. But let us first consider some of the earthly, physical facts:
A peak (14,162 feet [4,317 m]) of the Cascade Mountain Range in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest of northern California, U.S., 77 miles (124 km) north of the city of Redding. An impressive double-peaked extinct volcano, it dominates the landscape (a vast panorama of tumbled mountains and valleys) for a hundred miles. It has steam vents and several glaciers on its slopes, which are popular with skiers and climbers. The first white man to see the mountain was Peter Skene Ogden, who named it in 1827 for the local Shastan Indians. E.D. Pearce made the first ascent in 1854. – Encyclopedia Britannica
John Sutter’s discovery of gold in California’s central Sierra Nevada Mountains, on January 24, 1848, brought people from all over the world to the “California Gold Rush”. In the 1930’s, a man by the name of Guy Ballard made a very different type of “discovery” on the slopes of Mt. Shasta, which would over time strongly affect all of the subsequent history of the mountain (and also Californian culture) in people’s minds. Of some theosophical predilection and spiritualistic inclination, Ballard reported having met some sort of “being of light” (the “Master Jesus”, “St. Germain”, or another), and gradually this extinct volcano began its rise in the consciousness of some Americans to being much more than just a “beautiful” mountain. It came to be viewed not only as a center of the “Great White Brotherhood” (apparently bored with their more commonly-attributed Himalayan home, and presumably preferring to live in northern California, at least on vacations) – but eventually as a place of many “spiritual” realities other than the mere extinct volcano, or “beautiful” nature scene.
The mountain is, indeed, visually impressive. On a clear day (which are less and less often these days in America’s most populous state – with its automotive, industrial and urban air pollutions) it can be seen for hundreds of miles. Certainly for the native Americans, Spanish missionaries, gold-seeking “Forty-Niners”, Russian and American explorers, traders, and eventually farmers, it was a real landmark. Yet however beautifully its snow-covered peak previously stood out on a clear day against the blue sky in California, the physical mountain itself became increasingly beclouded, over recent decades, by the spiritual imaginations, longings, hopes and fantasies of many “spiritual seekers” in America. Today one can easily meet people (who often can say little to nothing of the mountain’s physical geology) who simply assume that this mountain is very many things beyond being a mere extinct, “beautiful”, snow-capped volcano. Now it is:
– a “spiritual vortex” (or “power spot") of spiritual, physical and trans-physical energies;
– a “sacred holy place” of the Native Californian “Indians”;
– a remnant of the fabled lost continent of Mu (or Atlantis – it seems to make little difference which!), with secret jeweled-chambers and/or spiritual archives of “the lost wisdom of the ages” preserved inside by its powerful, great, white magicians (who, it is casually said, can only be contacted or seen by those “seekers” who are “spiritual” and “evolved” enough);
– a honing beam, landing pad, and storage hanger for extraordinary, extra-terrestrial space crafts from other galaxies who regularly visit earth at Mt. Shasta, and other special locations. (The Solar System’s planets have become too close, after recent decades of space exploration, to be the believable location of these imagined, extra-terrestrial guides and observers of humanity from distant, more highly-developed, spiritually-evolved, peaceful, advanced civilizations.) They are clever and capable enough to hide their sometimes enormous space ships just inside of the unusual, but not uncommon cloud formations that often take “beautiful” and amazing forms around the mountain’s peak. (Here, with the extraordinary cloud-formations of Mt. Shasta being mere “cloaks” for the hidden, hovering, or landing extra-terrestrial space crafts, we have another step beyond the earlier seeing of nature as “fallen” and dangerous, or the somewhat more recent popular, semi-articulated romantization of nature (also very wide-spread in California and America today) in which clouds were and are thought of, along with the rest of nature, to be a sort of deus, a god, or some pure manifestation of God, as in, for example, the sometimes enthusiastic John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club in 1892, who also explored California);
– a place of higher vibrations, a “holy mountain”, where the sincere seeker can variously: see angels, learn secret mysteries, have epiphanies, experience enlightenment, power-up their crystals, clean their auras, etc., etc., etc.;
– a center of the “Great White Brotherhood” (already mentioned);
– a place for climbing, hunting, snow-skiing, photography, etc. – mostly for the merely earthly, more prosaic, less “spiritually-evolved” people who live in the small towns and area around the mountain.
For many of the “new agers” and “spiritual seekers and teachers” who live or pilgrimage to Mt. Shasta in the late twentieth century, it is rather harsh, uninspiring, and sometimes even offensive, to call it a mere snow-covered, extinct volcano with lenticular cloud formations. It is certainly unpopular to critically challenge the “spiritual myths” of the mountain. Which is also to say that the bases of these beliefs, these recent “myths”, are more in hopes and dreams, than in knowledge and experience. They are simply believed.
Mt. Shasta is indeed a special, beautiful place to visit and view. But if one is not so fortunate as to feel the vibes, see the space crafts inside of the clouds, meet “great white brothers”, or etc., etc., there are plenty of other “spiritual activities” surrounding the mountain. One can occupy oneself in the small town of Mt. Shasta City (population ca. 5000 – the “spiritual community” has called it “the City of Light") by going, for example, to hear the latest, “channeled” (cosmic, human and personal) weekly news from Jesus, the Mother Mary, St. Germain, or other assorted “ascended masters” old and new, of East and West, known and unknown. One could – as the regular, public notice in the local “natural foods store” there stated – go and hear counsel at the home of one of the local “channelers” directly from the “Ascended Master” Jesus, on Thursdays at 6:00 in the evening.
Normally such a visit at this time (6:00 p.m.) would preclude watching the Thursday evening (earthly) television news (in this small mountain community). But now that there are round-the-clock satellite TV news broadcasts, those who have satellite dishes could theoretically get the “spiritual news”, and then return home for the later TV’s evening, earthly news. The “channeling” – of whichever “ascended master” is presumably available, or requested, or on duty that evening – via one of the town’s many immigrated, spiritual “channelers”, is usually “free-of-charge” – though it is, of course, clearly karmically-correct to leave some small “love donation” (as they call it) of money in the basket, by the candle, on the table near the door. (The word “channeling” – deriving from canal, and here meaning “medium of transmission or communication, means, agency” – is determined to have been used for the first time, in this sense, in sermons by Bishop Latimer in 1537. But it is absolutely safe to assume that 99.9% of Mt. Shasta’s, California’s and America’s “channelers” are completely unaware of this.)
There are also “hot springs” nearby where one can go for baths, massages and meditations, and “spiritual” book stores, cafes, and a variety of periodic conferences and communities of various religions, spiritual groups, gurus and teachers from various parts of the world. When I was last there, some new Tibetan master was the latest event in the “spiritual community” – but discrimination is not a popular characteristic in a place which tends to believe almost anything “spiritual” (or at least someone there will believe most any idea or notion).
Now, of course, in contrast to religious wars and persecution, this is a good and healthy situation: liberal, democratic spirituality – cosmological liberalism, or democratic cosmology. But in regards to having a serious, coherent and communicating community, it is amazing how little concern and worry many people give to the enormous diversity of beliefs there – many of which are vague and general enough not to conflict even in ideas, but some of which contradict each other completely. What one does not find is deeply-learned, broadly-educated people readily holding such beliefs. A “new age” reading list I once picked up in California had a about 100 titles of essential and fundamental books to read. Only three of the books listed were older than 1960, one being from the nineteenth century. The titles, books and authors were all recent – from Californian and American “spirituality”, ideas, ideals, authors, etc. As if history began with the hippies in the sixties, this recommended reading list showed the ahistoria and ignorance at the foundation of much “new age” beliefs. To be well-read in “new age” wisdom and spirituality, it was imagined more important to be well-read in middle-class American spiritual teachers, than in – to pick just a few examples: Plato, Origen, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Hus, Goethe, Emerson, Dostoyevsky, Solovyov, et al. Indeed, this symptomatic reading list was indicative of its relationship to the substance and depth of the intellectual and spiritual history of Western Man by all that it lacked. But, of course, in such ignorance and naiveté, it is much easier to proclaim a “new age” of mankind. (This author has been able to trace the expression “new age” (novum anum) back at least to the 12th century in Europe – which knowledge does not burden the “new agers” of California or elsewhere.)
In the late 1980’s a small but characteristic event – a sort of spiritual manifestation, an “annunciation” of sorts – happened in the small town named for the mountain Mt. Shasta on a quiet, neighborhood lane. It was near the home of a friend of mine (who had moved there to live because of the clean air and “spiritual vibrations”). Something was wrong with a television set in a home – on the screen appeared a vague “light pattern” which resembled (the image people often have in our time of) an “angel”. Was it a spiritual apparition? Before long “spiritual” neighbors had come to see this remarkable (?) occurrence, and the news began to spread. Within a day or two, the small quite living room of this house, with its “spiritual” (malfunctioning) television set, had begun to be a place of pilgrimage. At first it was just many of the local “spiritual” people – many of whom tend to readily believe such “spiritual happenings” around the “sacred mountain”. But the news soon began to spread wider...to the regional newspapers (which love such stories) and even the California news. Though some pseudo-explanations seem to have been given as to why the television needed to be “plugged into the wall” (i.e. to need electricity) for the apparition of the angel to appear, even the newspaper’s quotation of a local television repairman – who understood and explained the particular electrical problem with the television set – could not stop the believers. Soon the neighborhood – as even my believing spiritual friend said with disbelief – was full of cars, of people who had driven from the region to come see, and perhaps receive a blessing or vibration from, this television angel. (Note that this mountain area is not populated only by illiterate country bumpkins; many “spiritual” people there have American university degrees!) As special, chartered buses of “spiritual pilgrims” from Los Angeles (ca. 10-12 hours drive away) began to arrive in that small neighborhood around the spiritual “Mt. Shasta” to see this angelic manifestation, a local, TV repairman placed a sign in his shop window, stating that he could put an angel in your own television set for only $39.95!
It was all over in about a week. Some people were convinced that it had been a real angelic visitation; others were more skeptical – even amongst spiritual believers in this very unsceptical “spiritual” village. But it all soon passed. The disturbed neighbors had been angry; the carpet in the room with the television had become dirtied and worn – so off with the television, and away with the angel... And another, characteristic episode in the “spiritual life” of California faded away into time. Of course, most people in California were not as believing as those dedicated Los Angeles “pilgrims”, and many of the state’s ca. 30,000,000 people were indifferent, or humored, by this silly television “annunciation”. But it is revealing of the cultural, intellectual and spiritual conditions in California that it could and did take place.
Mt. Shasta is no longer just a “beautiful” California mountain for hiking, sight-seeing or snow-skiing; this is no longer an adequate identity for the mountain, not for many “spiritual seekers”. Though a dormant volcano – a volcano in Washington state erupted violently in 1980 – it has come to have an active place in the mythical and spiritual psychology of California and America – and this “mythical/mystical” character is not only known of throughout “spiritual” or “new age” USA, but increasingly in communities of people around the world (who are in some way adherents of these directions of thought). Many such people, long before they have ever “seen” or actually “experienced” the mountain itself, speak with awe of Mt. Shasta and visiting there – and most are convinced ahead of time that it is a very spiritual place. A similar process, of the mystification of a place, can be seen in relationship to one of the most recently “discovered” American “spiritual power spots”, Sedona, Arizona – only in the late 1980’s it changed from being an indifferent location, to quickly becoming a “new age” pilgrim-tourist sight for many easy believers. (Such a place then becomes a more convenient American substitute for trips, in search of spirit, to such places as India, the Tibet, Egypt, Peru...)
Mt. Shasta, California and Sedona, Arizona are places that have acquired their surrounding mythology comparatively recently – not a millennium or two ago. (But the ahistoria which permeates the “new age movement” seldom notices such.) They reflect a real need or desire in America, among some people, for “spirituality” – for the spiritual to be physically located somewhere in this world. The perennial, world-wide distinction – which applied to minerals, plants, animals and man – between the physical (body), the mediating soul and immaterial spirit is typically confused and obscured. If some nature setting is not itself more or less clearly “spiritualized” or “deified”, its natural-physical location must often serve as some sort of “vortex” for non-physical, spiritual realities (which in fact renders the natural reality secondary to the spiritual belief). (In a coming American Reflections we shall look at this deep and popular American confusion in regards to ideas of the mid-Pacific Hawaiian Islands as a heavenly paradise.)
As one who has often been to Mt. Shasta, seen the mountain, and the spiritual bookstores full of “channeled” books from various “ascended masters” (often having contents which are just ahistorical psycho-babble), and other new age/spiritual books and paraphernalia, and observed the “spiritual” people who live around the mountain, I could not but notice the tendency towards spiritual euphoria amidst those who hold the many various beliefs there around this mountain. One often sees there, the typical “California spiritual smile”, with a soft, (“uncursed” – Dostoyevsky) glowing look in the eyes, and hears many variations of euphoric psycho-babble, cosmo-babble, etc. in casual conversations around the town. Indeed, another expression which is used in California – by somewhat more thoughtful, questioning, or skeptical people – to describe many “spiritual believers” there is “spiritual airhead” (which explains itself in its meaning). “Mt. Shasta” is considered by many believers to be one of the “most spiritual places” in California and North America; and Mt. Shasta’s “spiritual seekers” and “spirituality” often do make other “spiritual places” in California and America seem positively practical, grounded and incarnated.
America has for more than a century been criticized by some (both by foreign and American observers) for its “materialism”. And the spiritual/cultural life of California – in this way it is not very different from other places in the USA (though it is thought to be “spiritually avant-garde”) – reveals a great need for some sort of this-worldly presence of other-worldly “spirituality” and mystery (Dostoyevsky), if only in contrast to the more common, agnostic, material life, comfort and (post-World War II, Pax Americana) prosperity many have known in the USA, and the mere physical world. The fact is that there is a strong tendency amidst such spiritual seeking-communities of people, in California and elsewhere, towards accepting and believing almost anything “spiritual” uncritically. (This was, and usually is, known as “gullibility”.) And while this is not always the case, of course, it is a very common, characteristic tendency found throughout much of the cultural life in California. (A former believer once described such popular tendencies and beliefs to me as infantile.)
As science (with its modern skepticism, its critical spirit, its agnostic or desolate materialistic world-view and assumptions) rules today in the universities, “spiritual” people in California often reveal a tendency rather towards an unquestioning, uncritical, and often naive acceptance of anything “spiritual”. (I once witnessed a lecture – cost $5 – full of young seekers in which the speaker was trying to convince them that the human being did not need to eat; that all sustenance could come from the air alone. He was eventually caught by some of his hungry followers, after makings thousands of dollars via lectures, eating a Mexican burrito!) Since now, for examples, jogging, belly-dancing and sex are casually described in California as being “spiritual”, serious thoughtful, mature, “cursed” (Dostoyevsky) and more broadly-educated (Jefferson) individuals, are often forced to using the word “spiritual” only with great qualification there, usually indicating that it be placed in quotation marks. (This writer was eventually compelled by such circumstances to using the Greek word “pneumatic” in lectures as a substitute.)
“Euphoric” is one of the best descriptives of the tendencies in the “spiritual” psychology of California – especially clearly manifest around Mt. Shasta. [Etymology of euphoria: Greek, power of bearing easily < euphoros, bearing well < eu- good, well + pherein, bear.] But “euphoria” is a sort of exaggerated, unstable state of being – a slightly disincarnate state, especially in contrast to the harsh “materialism” present in scientific, academic circles there, or common daily material life. (The “euphoria” of people, for example, which was reported when the Iron Curtain “fell”, was a sure indication that hard times were coming, as they did.) A mountain, Mt. Shasta, cannot just be a dormant volcano (frightening and “fallen”, or “beautiful” and divine). It cannot just be an earthly, physical mountain. It must be something far greater, something divine, otherworldly, immaterial, “spiritual” – almost anything spiritual – even if this is not real, or true.
Spiritual believers around Mt. Shasta, California, USA, of course, have the constitutionally protected “right” not only to freely believe whatever they wish and will, but also to publish books, give lectures, hold conferences, found religions, do ceremonies, sell their teachings, “channel” Jesus, Mother Mary and other “ascended masters”, etc., etc., etc. But the plurality of beliefs surrounding Mt. Shasta are often fundamentally contradictory of each other – which means that, in any serious human view, some are right, and some are wrong. It is infantile or inane, in this author’s view, for people to imagine some sort of “cosmological liberalism” (where a divergent variety of ultimate beliefs is considered by some to be progressive and democratic) as an adequate, intelligent, serious human response to such contradictory spiritual diversity. (Such a view means that “Truth” – or its pursuit – has little real meaning, and that illusions or fantasies becomes indistinguishable from facts.)
Civil wars, due to “spiritual disagreement”, are not going to break out amidst the smiling spiritual believers around Mt. Shasta; nor will the government enforce some spiritual doctrine. Yet it is certainly not a serious or mature “spiritual” community, which blithely, unquestioningly and uncritically accepts and believes often contradictory spiritual myths about Mt. Shasta. But such is how things are there! The freedom and “constitutional right” to diverse beliefs does not mean that all beliefs are right. Here social and intellectual community – in California, America, and elsewhere – are disintegrated and disoriented by humanity’s ultimate uncertainties.
However history shall come to reveal this condition being resolved, to this writer there is no necessity for distant Russians to eventually hear, simply accept and believe, the “spiritual myths” from the spiritual euphoria surrounding the volcano Mt. Shasta.
First published in the magazine English, #44, November 1996, p. 14; #46, December 1996, p. 14.