Mother Earth does not discriminate. She cares for all her children in all their varied forms. Our ancient ancestors considered Earth and its many geological elements to be feminine and/or associated with goddesses – from caves, to rivers, lakes and seas, to forests, to agricultural fields, to mountains.
Many mountains, seen from a distance, appear to delineate the form of a sleeping or reclining woman.
The Dena’ina people of Alaska believe that the mountain they live on was created by a giantess who decided to lie down by a river she loved, becoming Mount Sustina. Rivers then flowed down the mountain feeding plants and animals which allowed the tribe to live and flourish.
Around the world legends grew up to explain the Sleeping Woman appearance of many mountains – often involving “Romeo and Juliet” type of doomed love.
The Nez Perce of Utah have just such a tale about Mount Timpanogos. The chief’s daughter, Ucanogos, fell in love with a man from a neighboring tribe, Timpanac. But various young men from her tribe wanted her for themselves. The chief set challenges- the winner to win Ucanogos’ hand. As the men raced up the mountain to complete the tasks, Timpanac was ambushed and pushed to his death. Grief stricken, Ucanogos then jumped to her death, wishing to join their two hearts together forever in the mountain. Still today the mountain, whose name combines their two names, resembles a reclining woman. In addition there is an beautiful heart-shaped stalactite in Timpanogos Cave.
Another legend explains the formation of the mountains outside of Mexico City. The chieftain of the Tlaxcala people, fed up with the tribute demanded by the Aztecs, started a war. His beautiful daughter, Iztaccíhuatl, loved one of their great warriors, Popocatepetl. Her father gave permission for their marriage but only after Popocatpetl returned victorious from the war. Tragically another jealous suitor told Izataccíhuatl that her love had fallen in battle. Grief-stricken, Iztaccíhautl cried and cried until she died. Upon his return Popocatepetl was inconsolable with grief.
Finally he carried her to the mountain top where he lay her atop a massive tomb he had built. He knelt beside her with a smoking torch, never leaving her side. Centuries passed and they were covered with snow and ice, becoming the mountains they are today – Izataccíhuatl in the shape of a reclining woman and Popocatpetl as a kneeling man.
Breast-shaped hills, found in many places throughout the world, were often revered as manifestations of Mother Goddess. The local word for breast or nipple was used to name these hills – Paps in the Celtic world; Cioch and Mam in Scottish Gaelic, Mamelon to the French, Mamelles in Mauritius, Nipple Peak in the Palmer Archipelago, Sroh-Plom Mountain (“Virtuous Woman’s Breast Mountain”) in Cambodia, Marens Patter (“Maren’s breasts”) in Denmark, Rushan (“Breast Mountain”) in China and Breasts of Aphrodite in Mykonos, Greece to name just a few.
Danu, Celtic Mother Goddess who was first known as Anu, is associated with the Paps of Anu in Co. Kerry. These breast-shaped hills are each topped with a cairn, appearing to be erect nipples on the mountain tops. Danu, who promises fertility and abundance, embodies the wisdom of living in balance with Earth.
The Cailleach of both Ireland and Scotland is credited with forming the landscape of mountains and valleys and creating winter weather, particularly the storms. She lived on the mountain tops as was often seen reflected in their form.
In Scotland most places associated with the Cailleach are high up and many have breast-shaped peaks -the Paps of Jura, the Paps of Fife, the Pap of Glencoe, the Maiden Paps of Roxburghshire, and many others.
One of the most impressive of these mountain tops is the Paps of Jura with three breast-shaped mountains. Located on the western side of the island of Jura, in the Inner Hebrides, they reign supreme over the island landscape and the surrounding area. On a clear day they can be seen from the Isle of Sky and Northern Ireland.
Some link the Cailleach to Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in Scotland. It has a river named Allt-na-Cailleach, stream of the Old Woman.
Holy wells, symbolic place names and early sacred sites have been found near many of these Paps, further indicating their association with an ancient Earth Goddess. The Goddess is still alive in the hills and mountains of both Scotland and Ireland.
But there is another side to both Danu and the Cailleach. Some scholars believe that Danu incorporates the dark aspect of the goddess also – being the one who delivers destruction and death. Many tales view the Cailleach, Winter Queen and Brigid, Goddess of Healing, Smithcraft and Inspiration as one, in which the Cailleach turns into the bright, life-giving goddess Brigid on Imbolc. The Great Goddess in her wisdom understands that for balance to be maintained death and destruction will always be part of the physical equation. This reality is being driven home for us right now as we face the consequences our collective actions have wrought in the form of the coronavirus. Both the Cailleach and Danu, reigning from the mountain tops, see beyond the world of duality to the ultimate reality of unity and interconnectedness.
One final story I’d like to share comes from the Navajo of the American Southwest which brings God and Goddess, dark and light, together in their four sacred mountains. The sun rises over the eastern mountain of Blanca Peak – “Dawn Man” – the rising sun. The sun travels further to shine over Mt Taylor – “Horizontal Blue Man’ – the daytime. The San Francisco Peaks are to west, associated with “Horizontal Yellow Woman” – the setting sun. And finally to the north is Hesperus Peak representing “Darkness Woman” and the nighttime.
If you live near a mountain take a moment to find the woman embedded in its form. Remember the mountain stories of the enduring nature of love, of the blessings Earth gives us and of the difficulties life can present. Know that we all are of this Earth and that we are held in her loving arms, even through times of trail and tribulations.
Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now. You can order your deck on Judith’s website – click here. Experience the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses!
Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her art. She continues to be inspired by the Goddess in all of Her manifestations, which are found everywhere in the natural world. In recent years Judith became very interested in the Goddesses of her own ancestors, the Celts, resulting in her deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle cards. She is now working on her next deck of oracle cards – Animal Spirit Guides. Originally from New Orleans, Judith makes her home in New Mexico where she paints as much as time allows and sells real estate part-time. Give yourself the gift of one of Judith’s prints or paintings, priced from $25 – $3000.