« A quarter of the Earth’s surface lies at heights above 3,300 feet or more above sea level but these mountain areas are thinly populated by man. Mountains are the closest we can get to the heavens on earth and this says much about their symbolic significance in stories. From the peak of a mountain a character has a better perspective on things. Perhaps he can even see the divisions of ecosystems from his lofty observation point. He can see where the deserts end and the prairies begin and where the oceans stop and the land begins.
Throughout history, mountains have symbolized constancy, eternity, firmness and stillness. Mountain tops, notes J.C. Cooper, « are associated with sun, rain and thunder gods and, in early traditions of the feminine godhead, the mountain was the earth and female, with the sky, clouds, thunder and lightning as the fecundating male. » On the spiritual level, observes Cooper, « mountain tops represent the state of full consciousness. » Cooper notes that pilgrimmages up sacred mountains symbolize aspiration and renunciation of worldly desires.
The profoundest symbolism of the mountain, Cirlot notes, is one that imparts a sacred character by uniting the concept of mass, as an expression of being, with the idea of verticality.
« As in the case of the cross or the Cosmic Tree, the location of this mountain is at the ‘Centre’ of the world. This same profound signicance is common to almost all traditions; suffice it to recall mount Meru of the Hindus, the Haraberezaiti of the Iranians, Tabor of the Israelites, Himingbjor of the Germanic peoples, to mention only a few. Furthermore, the temple mountains such as Borobudur, the Mesopotamian ziggurats or the pre-Columbian teocallis are all built after the pattern of this symbol. Seen from above, the mountain grows gradually wider, and in this respect it corresponds to the inverted tree whose roots grow up towards heaven while its foliage points downwards, thereby expressing multiplicity, the universe in expansion, involution and materialization. »
Mircea Eliade in Images And Symbols, emphasizes the mountain as the center of the earth. He says that the « peak of the cosmic mountain is not only the highest point on earth, it is also the earth’s navel, the point where creation had its beginning. » This mystic sense of the peak, writes Cirlot, « also comes from the fact that it is the point of contact between heaven and earth, or the center through which the world-axis passes. »