The Mountain and the Goddess by Judith Shaw


judith shaw photoMother 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.

Mountain-Mama-painting-by-judith-shaw

Mountain Mama, oil on canvas, 12.5″ x 44″, by Judith Shaw

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 timpanogoscavenm_stalactite-two-heartsfrom 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.

Mount Timpanogos, Photo by: Eric Ward from Provo, UT, USA / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

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.

photo by: Orhbeliever / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

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.

By Gerard Lovett from ireland – The Paps of Dana-01, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3989838

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.

Ileach at English Wikipedia / Public domain -photo by John Shaw

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.

The Cailleach, Celtic Goddess, painting by Judith Shaw

The Cailleach by Judith Shaw

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.

Sources: Wikipedia, Daily Herald, Culture Trip, The Corryvreckan Whirlpool, Wikipedia, Sacred Mountains

Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now.  Celtic-Goddess-Oracle-cards-by-judith-shawYou 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.



Categories: Earth-based spirituality, General, Goddess Spirituality, Indigenous Spirituality, Myth, Paganism

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26 replies

  1. Thanks for this Judith.

    The long arm of the Bible with God on Mount Sinai (and Baal of the mountaintop) continues to shape the imagining of mountains as masculine. I see this in discussions of the mountaintop shrines among Minoan archaeologists. The idea of the Mountain Mother seems not to have occurred to them. Siggghhhh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can’t help wondering Carol if the male biblical god appeared out of a barren mountain Mount Sinai – people are so influenced by the land upon which they live.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Carol,
      It’s no surprise that the Minoan archaeologists don’t consider the mountain as Mother Goddess is it? In my research I found other cultures besides Hebrew which associated mountain tops with gods and revelations from God. I decided not to include them in my essay as there’s plenty of press out there for gods who after all came along after the Great Goddess of our most early human experience.

      Though it would be an interesting article to compare and contrast the difference between the immanent and Earth affirming mountain goddess and the transcendent, rising above the muck of Earth philosophies of the gods.

      It’s been so long (sadly) since I’ve been to Crete. Do the mountains there have the shape of a woman? Our Sandia Mountains here in ABQ do.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The art work and photos are magnificent, Judith, and the stories riveting. Thank you for this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Love this post. Another aspect to add. In the Bible, the world “El Shaddai” is usually translated as “almighty” or “god almighty.” It comes from the root word “shad” which means “breast.” A vestige from an older time!

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    • That’s interesting Janet. Thanks for sharing.

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      • El in Hebrew is the masculine singular for God. Shaddai is the dual meaning of the two breasts or the two breasted one. Biblical Hebrew has singular, dual (referring to two), and plural (referring to more than two). It is possible that Shaddai was the name of the Goddess who appeared as a double breasted mountain and El was later added in order to shift the understanding towards the male God.

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  4. Wonderful post Judith and such beautiful paintings……..”Many mountains, seen from a distance, appear to delineate the form of a sleeping or reclining woman.” Yes! We are drawn to them without understanding sometimes… I first met the Mountain Mother in my own mountain field while picking blueberries and giving thanks one summer a long time ago… Suddenly I experienced an outpouring of LOVE that came up from the ground – I was stunned by the visceral feeling of that love. One thing I notice here in New Mexico is how much I MISS those soft rounded mountains covered with trees… here the peaks are jagged – reptilian – harder – devoid of lush vegetation – too much stone – the darker side of the goddess?

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    • Sara, What a beautiful experience you had. Were the mountains that elicited that feeling of love more rounded like the Paps? The mountains in Northern New Mexico are higher and perhaps a bit harsher looking than the Sandia Mountains that border the east side of Albuquerque. She is so evident in there as a gently reclining woman – but to one side of her figure is one of the jagged peaks you mention.

      I used to live in Taos myself and remember the local saying “The mountain either loves you and welcomes you to stay or the mountain sends you away” or something to that effect.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Reading the post I kept seeing those wonderful little palm size “Venuses” dug from the Earth and caves throughout Europe – round of breast and ample of hip, they fit snugly in the hand- perhaps as a talisman when wandering far from familiar peaks. I too like these paintings very much.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Christine,
      What a lovely thought! I am going to hold that image in my mind of folks holding a little goddess in their hands while wandering away from the familiar. Long ago I did an installation “The Shrine of the Bird Goddess” which had some recreations of the little goddess figures for people to hold as they walked through the shrine. I still have one left that lives on my altar now. Thanks for the reminder as I have been neglecting her.

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  6. We have such a mountain here in Southern California. Here’s the best photo I can find that I can paste here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saddleback_(Orange_County,_California) It’s called Saddleback, obviously named by some cowboys. I bet Carol remembers seeing it. I was enchanted by it when I first moved to Santa Ana. it’s not, alas, visible from Long Beach.

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    • Yep looks like a reclining woman to me. Now that I have lived all of my adult life by mountains it’s hard to imagine returning the flat, swampy terrain and below level land of my childhood in New Orleans.

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  7. I echo all of the above! Beautiful, inspiring post and images. I very much appreciate your suggestion to look for the woman/women in the mountains that surround me. I see the Shawangunk Ridge out my window as I type. There is a beautiful swell, perhaps of hip that I echo with various stones I set on the windowsill. I watch the sunrise make its way from a low dip at Summer Solstice to just over the crown of the ridge in the winter. How beautiful to see the rising sun roll along her flank.

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  8. Judith, yesterday your art work and post inspired me to write a poem about the Mountain Mother in Maine… by the way, I started calling her that before I knew about her!

    At some point afterwards it hit me… yesterday was the original “Mother’s Day” according to Barbara Walker and many others…. how could I have forgotten?

    What’s interesting is that we both honored Her Being with our work…. something very moving there…

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  9. She is speaking through you and me and many others I believe. I look forward to reading your poem on one of your posts.

    And of course Mother’s Day was originally a protest by women against war – another disease plaguing the world again and again!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Wonderful. I have seen the Hebrides from the coast of Northern Ireland, and I have seen the Isle of Mann from Northern Ireland, also breast shaped .I wish our pornified world could see the female form as sacred rather than a commodity to be exploited. Beautiful post, thank you.

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    • Your wish is mine also Trelawney. I had my first trip planned to Scotland this coming June hoping to see these beautiful spots. Alas that is not possible now. I’m sure you hold those images very dearly in your heart.

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  11. Wow this one is mind blowing. And yeah all most every mountain has a some kind of mysterious story behind that. Something which happened related to that particular mountain and gives you a feeling like “Am i really into this “. Check this out you may find it interesting

    https://malindakavih.wordpress.com/2019/01/15/your-mountain-is-waiting/

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