I admit, I’m rather envious of Gordon’s ability to go visit Neolithic stone circles and ruined cities on the weekends. Here in New England, the chance to do that sort of thing shows up only rarely. And in general, people who think of themselves as pagan (whether they are or not) practice indoors or in private, and only rarely out in public.
The following is kinda long, and well off the beaten path of my usual writing. But it’s a road-opener working of sorts, and an effort to use appropriate tech for an entirely new purpose.
I have talked fairly often with C.T. and others about how one of the challenges that pagan and pagan-friendly people face in North America is that it’s Cultural Appropriation to use Native concepts, but that this is a decidedly non-European landscape — most of us live within an hour or so of an urban center or two, and major urban centers are rarely more than a couple of hours away. Yet the space between is often heavily wooded… and yet not truly wilderness.
Some friends of mine introduced me to a Chippewa colleague of theirs, who said that New England is the first region of the world she’s ever been to that feels spiritually dead. Except perhaps for a back yard here and there of someone who cares about nurturing the spirit realm, there’s very little going on energeticaly. Even there, it’s usually only a flickering presence (she said). It’s thus a complex landscape in several different ways for the spiritually- or pagan-minded: we don’t want to trespass on other people’s spiritual landscapes, but we’re not resident in the land of our own ancestors. We’re close to woods, but not necessarily close to wilderness. We’re in a region of dense population but filled with interstitial spaces and times that are potentially valuable.
Hence this experiment on September 14, 2013: to find keys to a sacred landscape that can be used without trespass, and with some semblance of dignity; to see if a pathway to a holy place can be made, even in a place as public as a park.
To find, not Olympian, but Higbyan Jupiter.
Mount Higby is a prominence of traprock left over from an ancient volcano of the Triassic Period, when Europe and Asia on one side, and North America on the other, went through a tremendous divorce. Lava broke through the Earth’s crust here, forming sheets of basalt hundreds of feet thick. Later earthquakes and faulting shifted these sheets and shattered them, tilting the mountain downward and eastward at an angle into the earth — and lifting up the western edge into a high cliff face visible from I-91, between Meriden and Middletown [Google Maps].
Which is what the geologists will tell you.
But of course, this is mythology, so it’s important for you to know that Jupiter, in his contest with his father Saturn, launched himself to Olympian heights from this point in order to begin the battle with the Titans. It is in this place that the mighty sinews in the thighs and calves of Jupiter bent and flexed, and he vaulted into the heavens. The earth heaved with his passing, and shattered, and molten rock filled his footprints, and the ground broke beneath his feet. And now this mountain lies here, Besek to the south and this one here to the north, enduring testaments to the power of Jupiter.
Not for nothing does the state police academy shelter beneath these mighty cliffs, its memorial to fallen officers clearly visible from the treeless lookouts along the summit — for good government and honorable justice, and the responsible execution of the law, all take place beneath the watchful and generous eye of the Thunderer. On a clear day, from some parts of the northern flanks of the mountain, the dome of the state capitol building is also visible.
OK, this seems hokey even to me. I mean, mythologically, it’s believable if you can believe in myth at all. What is it that Suetonius said, “things that always are and never were”?
But here I am, halfway up the path from the car park. For a variety of reasons, most of them work- and bad-sleep related, I’m climbing this mountain halfway to midday, instead of at the hour of Jupiter — because I know that it’s Saturday, and Jupiter’s day is Thursday, and yesterday was the Lectisternalia. Still, it’s the right season, and I’m hoping that the gift of a mountain will count for something (what do you get a god who has almost everything for his anniversary?). Still, I’d rather not be struck by a terror of what I’ve done on the way back down — I’ve done that once before, after all.
A Pilgrimage Road
But you have to be in the right frame of mind to go find Jupiter on Mount Higby. I mean, kids and parents and their dogs play here, and old people go walking here, and young people find places to smooch and do other things in the woods here. You can’t just declare the whole mountain sacred to one deity without so much as a by your leave to all the human beings who use the park and the mountain for all the other purposes.
You need to have locks in place, too, so that the Neighbors, that might happen to upset those other, human visitors to this area don’t wind up wandering around out of doors scaring away the tourists and the bicyclists, or frightening dogs off the cliff edges.
Which means that you need keys to those gates. And you need to put the keys out there so people can find them if they need them or want them — hence this blog post — but that no one is going to stumble into the high places of Higbyan Jupiter accidentally.
You have to make it a pilgrimage. And the keys are the acts that pilgrims perform on the road, to let the entities at the end of the road know they’re coming. They’re the bells rung on the doorposts, the proclamations of Hekas, Hekas, esti bibeloi, the raps of the door-knocker. We’re coming. Are you home?
I know, from previous experiences in Spain, that it’s possible to travel to the same place by different routes, and not arrive at the same locus of power. In June of 2000, I walked the Camino de Santiago across northern Spain, from Léon to Santiago, with a tour group. It was, in many ways, a grueling journey. It was a lot of fun, too.
I don’t think I can forget my visit to a village called O Cebreiro, though. The Holy Grail is on display there, in a glass case. The tricksy thing is, though, it’s not the Holy Grail if you arrive there by car or by tour bus. And I know, from talking to other people, that even if you walk there, it may not be the Holy Grail you find, but a 10th century gold chalice. Thus, it’s helpful to have a copy of the official Camino passport in your pocket, duly stamped and filled out in whatever post office, bar and refugio has a damp inkpad and a rubber stamp. Because, apparently, this historical artifact is the Holy Grail if and only if you arrive in O Cebreiro by walking there, as a pilgrim. Otherwise, it’s just a valuable but not particularly beautiful gold cup.
And so this is how I’ve chosen to structure this pilgrimage. Part-way up the path from the Route 66-westbound carpark, is this enormous stone, suitably and completely coincidentally cracked in four pieces, and just beyond it a beautiful glade of grass under trees. Oak trees, sacred to Jupiter at Dodona and other places around the ancient Mediterranean.
Stop a moment here, and say or sing a formal prayer to Jupiter:
O divine one, dwelling in majesty and jubilance,
send a ray of thine abundance to descend upon this place,
and awaken in me a measure of your powers —
for I am coming to do you honor.
Pour out a libation from your water bottle, or your other bottle, if you just happened to bring one, and press on.
And then pause for a bit to admire the grassy glade beyond. Have a picnic here, if you wish, and don’t forget to leave a few crumbs behind… Or at least a libation. This part is totally optional, but it’s still a beautiful spot.
The same prayer can be used as before, or you can play Holst’s The Planets, with the Jupiter movement, as you go on. This is not particularly hard. The whole point of these kinds of keys is that anyone should be able to do them — and while they’ll work here, it’s also possible that they’ll work elsewhere, on different routes, if people take the trouble to think about them and set them up. The route needs to be primed — sort of like a trail of gunpowder to a large firework. That’s sort of the point here — this is replicable tech. I think.
At the top of the glade, the path sort of meanders off in three different directions. One of them goes to the right and across this beautiful glade; another goes down a sloping path to the left, and which loops around this next challenging bit without any difficulty at all.
We want some difficulty, though. Jupiter makes things easy for other people, sure. But that doesn’t mean he wants you to take it easy coming into his presence. You want to make sure he knows you went to a bit of trouble to come see him. So don’t take the easy route.
Take the stairs:
These are the Stairs of the Middle Path (quite literally, since the other two paths branch left and right), and it’s the middle way that leads to Jupiter.
Say or sing this:
Radiant among the gods, O Jupiter,
as a child you hid in the caves of Mount Ida:
Now I take the rough-hewn way over rock to reach you:
send a ray of your abundance down on this place
for I am coming to do you honor.
Because it’s nice to make an appointment, and it’s nice to let people know you’re coming ahead of time; and if traffic is bad, you or your partner phones or texts ahead to let them know where you are, right? It’s politeness, especially if you’re approaching the house where the big party was just a few days ago. Did I mention the thunderstorm on Thursday?
Turn right at the bottom of the stairs. North-ish.
Then the path will cut down into a ‘ravine’. Everyone comes this way, I think — or at least, everyone else up on the heights came this way or left this way. Was a regular traffic jam. Caught up with a couple of late teens kissing here on the way up.
As you cross the ravine:
Monarch of brilliance and thunder,
send down your servant Iris,
open the way between you and me,
for I am coming to do you honor.
And then you’re going UP. Into cedar trees:
And at right about this point, if you look west, or left, you’ll see the state police academy down below, with its mini-city-street shooting gallery, and its pistol range, and the memorial for fallen officers, and the big block that looks like a high school.
And what comes next should be obvious. You’re going to turn left, and look at that view, and shower blessings down on the future guardians of order. Because that’s what worshippers of Jupiter do, man, on their way to see the king in his own house:
Lord of might and majesty,
mercy and judicious law,
send a ray of your authority
down upon the students and faculty
of that school, right there,
that its graduates may be
honorable and decent
in upholding the law,
when carrying out justice.
Four keys turned, right? Four locks unlocked. Four gates opened. By now, it’s likely obvious that you’re not taking the same route to the top of this mountain as everyone else. And you’ll be looking out at the same view as all those rubber-neckers, but you’re not going to be seeing the same things.
In fact, you’re not actually arriving at the same mountain top that they are. Even though you’ll be tripping over one another at the top of the mountain: kids with their mothers, kissing couples, elderly people who probably shouldn’t be climbing on mountain tops, and all the rest. They’re not where you are, even though you could reach out and touch them. You’re not where they are — you came here through other doors.
I hope you really meant to use all those keys.
Not much farther beyond the cedars is an open place on the top of the ridge line, on the western cliffs of Mount Higby. It’s not the summit of the mountain, which is another quarter-mile further along (and which has equally impressive, if similar views). But if you’re here as a suppliant, this is the end of the road. This is the forecourt of the temple, and we don’t trespass on holy ground, not on our first visit, not with the four gates open. This is the place you do your work. But farther beyond this? Leave that to the god, and to the hawks, and the tourists who don’t know what they’re doing. (They don’t really let you touch the reliquary of Santiago in Santiago either, and you don’t get to say mass there even if you are a Catholic priest. Follow the local customs, please.)
And here, with the valley of the Quinnipiac River stretching out before you, and with northern New Haven visible to the south, and the edges of southern Hartford (barely) visible to the north, and the clouds massing in the west, you stand upon one of the highest points you can see. With a mass of trees behind you, it’s impossible to see the east, but it’s there — the Connecticut River beyond the hills, and beyond the river, another horizon line of hills and ridges. To all appearances, here on Mount Higby, you stand at the center of the visible world.
There are plants and animals on this mountain that can be found nowhere else in the state. It gets more lightning strikes than anywhere else around here. And you’re right there, in the middle of that.
My altar — in my current style — in lower right, with my current working notebook.
And I asked Jupiter to recognize the gates and keys that I had established upon the routes to this high place. With visible hawks, he accepted. I asked him to accept the mountain — when approached through these portals already established — as his sacred mountain. And he accepted again. And finally, I asked him to accept the ashes of the incense offerings I’d made elsewhere, as offerings made to him here (they really frown on fire up here, at least for now — downwind of the city reservoir, and lots and lots of very dry trees…). And he accepted. So, I poured out my libations from their little bottles, carried up in my kit, and scattered my crumbs, and ate and drank my (suitably small) share.
Chances are, when you do this on Mount Higby (or in your own neighborhood, on your own locally-sacred mountain), you’re going to run into a lot of Others. And I don’t mean spirits, although it could mean that. I mean, other humans. People out enjoying the day. People taking selfies against this tremendously wide and beautiful backdrop. People out for day hikes. People hiking the whole of the Metacomet Ridge. Lovers. Old people. Old lovers. Kids. Dogs wandering perilously close to the edge (and there is an edge. AND it’s a long way down. Don’t be stupid up here, folks).
Be friendly. I was perhaps overly friendly; I got sucked into a lot of conversations. Don’t be open about what you’re doing there, but be open about who you are. Friendly, generous, merciful, open. Those are the virtues of Jupiter, and you must remember to practice them here, in his temenos at the center of the (local) world.
But remember, they’re not with you, and they’re not doing the same things you are. You’re not even standing on the same mountain top, even if you shake hands with them, right then and there. EIther they’re somewhere else, or you are, or both.
During a rare window when there didn’t seem to be anyone around, I performed some particular libations, and I asked Jupiter to take the mountain as his local home. He agreed, although it feels like it’s going to be more like his fifth house in Aspen that nobody really visits any more, and it’s been on the market for years. He promised to be home if you let him know you’re coming ahead of time, though.
I’m not going to reveal all the details of consecration, because then it might be blissfully easy to undo them, or make a hash of things. Frankly, from the “Jesus saves” graffiti in a lot of places up there, I think it’s fair to say that the mountain has already been claimed by a surprisingly large passel of divinities, all of whom are welcome to work out the covenanting and time-share details among themselves. Between their various afterlives, they ought to have enough lawyers from enough different traditions to settle the matter by now. And even if they don’t, the paperwork and the negotiation will keep them interested in the property and what happens there, for decades, at least.
Who knows? Maybe someday the temple that I saw in a fever-vision on top of this mountain, thirty-five years ago as a kid, will eventually be built. Probably not in the lifetimes of anyone kicking around today, but you never know. We all have to leave big projects behind, for someone else to carry on after our deaths: This may become mine. Maybe that’s just hubris, too. Maybe I’m the only one who will ever perform this particular experiment.
One Last Drink, and a Dice Throw
There’s one big rock that’s easy to miss on the way up, and difficult to miss on the way down. If you’re stumbling downhill in the dark, be cautious: the path takes a big turn to the left just before this boulder. If you wind up passing this boulder on your left, instead, you’ll be tumbling head over heels all the way downslope to the car park a few hundred feet further down.
Here it is: The Oracle Stone. Don’t do your divinations to communicate with the god in the temenos itself. Do it on the way out, as you’re leaving, as you’re closing the gates behind you.
In the little shelter this rock provides, half-hanging off the edge of a mountain, draw a card from your Tarot deck, or throw your geomancer’s dice, or drop your knuckle-bones. However you do divinations, whether nature-mancy or sortilege, cast your chart here. This is the place, just where the path juts against this enormous rock.
Then pour your last libation in the crack between the stones, the last bit of drink you brought up the mountain. Save it for here, and say:
Close the gates for now,
and bar the doors, merciful Jupiter:
let the doors be shut until next time,
when reverent suppliants and joyous worshippers
climb the heights of your sacred mountain.
And now your visit to Higbyan Jupiter is over. You’ve made the pilgrimage, you’ve scaled the heights, you’ve passed the four sacred portals, and you’ve walked in the temenos of an Olympian in North America. I hope it was worth the trip.
Is This For Real?
For some readers, those who clicked through thinking who knows what this could be and then found themselves falling down a rabbit hole of decidedly pre-modern thinking: You’re now likely wondering what you’ve gotten into, what idiocy is this, who would do this, what strangeness is this? What does he possibly believe about all of this?
I can say, with perfect certainty, that while I was going uphill I knew what I was doing, and I even believed in what I was doing. Coming down the mountain again, my usually-rational and fairly-skeptical self reasserted itself, and I found myself losing whatever arete had possessed me on the way up. Perhaps it was fear of hubris reasserting itself.
But after I closed the gates, and left the Oracle Stone, I watched a young family — two kids, dog, energetic mother, tired father — climbing toward the summit. They were walking on the tourist path, not the pilgrimage path I’d just finished defining and opening. They were going to arrive on the summit of Mount Higby, not in the high temple of Higbyan Jupiter.
And the moment those gates closed behind me, I no longer know whether *I* had been in the temple of Higbyan Jupiter. I mean, I said the words, and I sang the songs, and I asked that the gates be opened, and I had spoken words of consecration and dedication over the whole mountain. And I’d babbled at ordinary people in moments of pure joy, that I was in the presence of divinity. What exhilaration!
But now those doors were closed, and I was no longer half in this world and half in another. And skepticism reasserted itself.
Still, there’s my question performed at the Oracle Rock: Is this mountain called Higby, now properly consecrated to Jupiter the god of the same planet, and of lightning, the king of gods?
My answer process, returned by sortilege, and dutifully recorded in my notes as it happened: Perfect success, by your own proper efforts.