Magical Mountains #folklore

Mountains have always held a mystical appeal to mortals. They’ve found their way into mythology, folklore and religion.


HAWAIIAN LEGENDS OF GHOSTS and GHOST-GODS collected and translated from the Hawaiian by W. D. WESTERVELT [1916]


This is not a Hawaiian legend. It was written to show the superstitions of the Hawaiians, and in that respect it is accurate and worthy of preservation.

FAR away in New England one of the rugged mountain-sides has for many years been marked with the profile of a grand face. A noble brow, deep-set eyes, close-shut lips, Roman nose, and chin standing in full relief against a clear sky, made a landmark renowned throughout the country. The story is told of a boy who lived in the valley from which the face of the Old Man of the Mountain could be most clearly seen. As the years passed, the boy grew into a man of sterling character. When at last death came and the casket opened to receive the body of an old man, universally revered, the friends saw the likeness to the stone features of the Old Man of the Mountain, and recognized the source of the inspiration which had made one life useful and honored.

Near Honolulu, just beyond one of the great sugar plantations, is a ledge of lava deposited centuries ago. The lava was piled up into mountains, now dissolved into slopes of the richest sugar-land in the world. And yet sometimes the hard lava, refusing to disintegrate, thrusts itself out from the hillsides in ledges of grotesque form.

On one of’ these ancient lava ridges was the outline of an old man’s face, to which the Hawaiians have given the name, “The Old Man of the Mountain.” The laborers on the sugar-plantations, the passengers on the railroad trains, and the natives who still cling to their scattered homes sometimes have looked with superstitious awe upon the face made without hands. In the days gone by they have called it the “Akua-pohaku” (the stone god). Shall we hear the story of Kamakau, who at some time in the indefinite past dwelt in the shadow of the stone face?

Kamakau means “the afraid.” His name came to him as a child. He was a shrinking, sensitive, imaginative little fellow. He was surrounded by influences which turned his imagination into the paths of most unwholesome superstition. But beyond the beliefs of most of his fellows, in his own nature he was keenly appreciative of mysterious things. There was a spirit voice in every wind rustling the tops of the trees. Spirit faces appeared in unnumbered caricatures of human outline whenever he lay on the grass and watched the sunlight sift between the leaves. Everything he looked upon or heard assumed some curious form of life. The clouds were most mysterious of all, for they so frequently piled up mass upon mass of grandeur, in such luxurious magnificence and such prodigal display of color, that his power of thought lost itself in his almost daily dream of some time wandering in the shadow valleys of the precipitous mountains of heaven. Here he saw also strangely symmetrical forms of man and bird and fish. Sometimes cloud forests outlined themselves against the blue sky, and then again at times separated by months and even years, the lights of the volcano-goddess, Pele, glorified her path as she wandered in the spirit land, flashing from cloud-peak to cloud-peak, while the thunder voices of the great gods rolled in mighty volumes of terrific impressiveness. Even in the night Kamakau felt that the innumerable stars were the eyes of the aumakuas (the spirits of the ancestors). It was not strange that such a child should continually think that he saw spirit forms which were invisible to his companions. It is no wonder that he fancied he heard voices of the menehunes (fairies), which his companions could never understand. As he shrunk from places where it seemed to him the spirits dwelt, his companions called him “Kamakau,” “the afraid.” When he grew older he necessarily became keenly alive to all objects of Hawaiian superstition. He never could escape the overwhelming presence of the thousand and more gods which were supposed to inhabit the Hawaiian land and sea. The omens drawn from sacrifices, the voices from the bamboo dwelling-places of the oracles, the chants of the prophets, and powers of praying to death he accepted with unquestioning faith.

Two men were hunting in the forests of the mountains of Oahu. Tired with the long chase after the oo, the bird with the rare yellow feathers from which the feather cloaks of the highest chiefs were made, they laid aside spears and snares and lay down for a rest. “I want the valley of the stone god,” said one: “its fertile fields would make just the increase needed for my retainers, and the ‘moi,’ the king, would give me the land if Kamakau were out of the way.”

“Are there any other members of his family, O Inaina, who could resist your claim? “

” No, my friend Kokua. He is the only important chief in the valley.”

“Pray him to death,” was Kokua’s sententious advice.

“Good; I’ll do it,” said Inaina: “he is one who can easily be prayed to death. ‘The Afraid’ will soon die.”

“If you will give me the small fish-pond nearest my own coral fish-walls I will be your messenger,” said Kokua.

“Ah, that also is good,” replied Inaina, after a moment’s thought. “I will give you the small pond, and you must give the small thoughts, the hints, to his friends that powerful priests are praying Kamakau to death. All this must be very mysterious. No name can be mentioned, and you and I must be Kamakau’s good friends.”

It must be remembered that land tenure in ancient Hawaii was almost the same as that of the European feudal system. Occupancy depended upon the will of the high chief. He gave or took away at his own pleasure. The under-chiefs held the land as if it belonged to them, and were seldom troubled as long as the wishes of the high chief, or king, were carried out. Inaina felt secure in the use of his present property, and believed that he could easily find favor and obtain the land held by the Kamakau family if Kamakau himself could be removed. Without much further conference the two hunters returned to their homes. Inaina at once sought his family priest and stated his wish to have Kamakau prayed to death. They decided that the first step should be taken that night. It was absolutely necessary that something which had been a part of the body of Kamakau should be obtained. The priest appointed his confidential hunter of sacrifices to undertake this task. This servant of the temple was usually sent out to find human sacrifices to be slain and offered before the great gods on special occasions. As the darkness came on he crept near the grass house of Kamakau and watched for an opportunity of seizing what he wanted. The two most desired things in the art of praying to death were either a lock of hair from the head of the victim or a part of the spittle, usually well guarded by the trusted retainers who had charge of the spittoon.

It chanced to be “Awa night” for Kamakau, and the chief, having drunk heavily of the drug, had thrown himself on a mat and rolled near the grass walls. With great ingenuity the hunter of sacrifices located the chief and worked a hole through the thatch. Then with his sharp bone knife he sawed off a large lock of Kamakau’s hair. When this was done he was about to creep away, but a native came near. Instantly grunting like a hog, he worked his way into the darkness. He saw outlined against the sky in the hands of the native the chief’s spittoon. In a moment the hunter of sacrifices saw his opportunity. His past training in lying in wait and capturing men for sacrifice stood him in good stead at this time. The unsuspecting spittoon carrier was seized by the throat and quickly strangled. The spittoon in falling from the retainer’s hand had not been overturned. Exultant at his success, the hunter of sacrifices sped away in the darkness and placed his trophies in the hands of the priest. The next morning there was a great outcry in Kamakau’s village. The dead body was found as soon as dawn crept over the valley, and the hand-polished family calabash was completely lost. When the people went to Kamakau’s house with the report of the death of his retainer, they soon saw that the head of their chief had been dishonored. A great feeling of fear took possession of the village. Kamakau’s priest hurried to the village temple to utter prayers and incantations against the enemy who had committed such an outrage.

Kokua soon heard the news and came to comfort his neighbor. After the greeting, “Auwe! auwe! ” (Alas! alas!) Kokua said: ” This is surely praying to death, and the gods have already given you over into the hands of your enemy. You will die. Very soon you will die.” Soon Inaina and other chiefs came with their retainers. Among high and low the terrible statement was whispered: “Kamakau is being prayed to death, and no man knows his enemy.” Many a strong man has gone to a bed of continued illness, and some have crossed the dark valley into the land of death, even in these days of enlightened civilization, simply frightened into the illness or death by the strong statements of friends and acquaintances. Such is the make-up of the minds of men that they are easily affected by the mysterious suggestions of others. It is purely a matter of mind-murder.

It is no wonder that in the days of the long ago Kamakau, moved by the terror of his friends and horrible suggestions of his two enemies, soon felt a great weakness conquering him. His natural disposition, his habit of seeing and hearing gods and spirits in everything around him, made it easy for him to yield to the belief that he was being prayed to death. His strength left him. He could take no food. A strange paralysis seemed to take possession of him. Mind and body were almost benumbed. He was really in the hands of unconscious mesmerists, who were putting him into a magnetic sleep, from which he was never expected to awake. It is a question to be answered only when all earthly problems have been solved. How many of the people prayed to death have really been dissected and prepared for burial while at first under mesmeric influences! The people gathered around Karnakau’s thatched house. They thought that he would surely die before the next morning dawned. Inaina and Kokua were lying on the grass under the shade of a great candlenut-tree, quietly talking about the speedy success of their undertaking. A little girl was playing near them. It was Kamakau’s little Aloha. This was all the name so far given to her. She was “My Aloha,” “my dear one,” to both father and mother. She heard a word uttered incautiously. Inaina had spoken with the accent of success and his voice was louder than he thought. He said, “We have great strength if we kill Kamakau.” The child fled to her father. She found him in the half -unconscious state already described. She shook him. She called to him. She pulled his hands, and covered his face with kisses. Her tears poured over his hot, dry skin. Kamakau was aroused by the shock. He sat up, forgetting all the expectation of death.

Out through the doorway he glanced toward the west. The sinking sun was sending its most glorious beams into the grand clouds, while just beneath, reflecting the glory, lay the Old Man of the Mountain. The stone face was magnificent in its setting. The unruffled brow, the never-closing eyes, the firm lips, stood out in bold relief against the glory which was over and beyond them. Kamakau caught the inspiration. It seemed to his vivid imagination as if ten thousand good spirits were gathered in the heavens to fight for him. He leaped to his feet, strength came back into the wearied muscles, a new will-power took possession of him, and he cried: “I will not die! I will not die! The stone god is more powerful than the priests who pray to death!” His will had broken away from its chains, and, unfettered from all fear, Kamakau went forth to greet the wondering people and take up again the position of influence held among the chiefs of Oahu. The lesson is still needed in these beautiful ocean-bound islands that praying to death means either the use of poison or the attempt to terrify the victim by strong mental forces enslaving the will. In either case the aroused will is powerful in both resistance and watchfulness.

An Inquiry into the Animism and Folk-Lore of the Guiana Indians By Walter E. Roth [Washington D.C., 1915]


Their presence due mainly to: Peculiarities in geological conformation, markings, etc. (171), for example, in legend of Kaieteur Fall (172), Rock-engravings (173); Actual Transformation of Sentient Beings into rocks and stones (174); Site of some long-past remarkable occurrence (175-176).

   171.* The belief on the part of the Indians in the presence of Mountain Spirits in certain localities would seem to have been due in large measure to one or another of three sets of causes: peculiarities in conformation, marking, position, and other features of the rocks (on the principle of suiting a picture to the frame); the supposed transformation of the person or animal into stone; or the association of the locality with some remarkable event that took place in the long-ago.

   There are an endless number and variety of Spirits connected with mountains, precipices, rocks, cataracts, etc. (cf. Sect. 58). South of the Takutu River is a mountain chain taking its name from a hill resembling a crescent in the distance, whence the Wapisianas have compared it to the moon (Kaira in their language), and designating it in consequence Kai-irite, or Mountains of the Moon (ScT, 48). Now all this country in Schomburgk’s time was terra incognita to both Brazilians and Indians, and hence, as might have been expected, and as he tells us, “the Indian banishes all evil spirits to this region, while the Brazilian considers it the abode of wild Indians who massacre any person foolhardy enough to come within their precincts.” So extraordinarily has nature molded her mountain forms in different parts of the Guianas, that there are seldom wanting resemblances, comparatively striking, to common everyday objects. I can quite sympathize with Schomburgk when he so much regretted that the little knowledge which he possessed of the Makusi language did not permit him to understand some of the many wonderful stories the Indians had to tell him of every stone they met on the road that was of more than ordinary size or fantastically shaped by nature (ScF, 199). Along the valley of the Unamara, a very good example is Mara-etshiba, the highest mountain, where the bulging out in the middle of this mass of rock has been identified with the maraka. Another is Mount Canu-yeh-piapa (lit. “guava-tree stump”), while a third is Mount Puré-piapa (“headless tree”) (ScF, 197). Elsewhere, there is Mount Pakaraima, a singular isolated mountain which from its figure “has been called the Pakara or Pakal, meaning p. 236 a basket” (ScF, 221). Mount Sororieng, the “swallows’ nest,” an object of much dread to the superstitious, is another good instance (BW, 177). The Takwiari offset of the Twasinkie Mountains, Essequibo, derives its Carib name from a remarkable pile of large granite bowlders so placed as to resemble a water-jar, called Comuti by the Arawak Indians, and by this name they are more commonly known (ScR, I, 328). Ayangcanna Mountain can be seen in the distance from the upper Mazaruni, forming a most singular picture. The word means “lice-searchers,” this disagreeable name being bestowed on account of a row of huge pointed rocks on the crest, which are sharply defined against the sky, and to the Indian eye resemble a row of women seated one behind the other, searching each other’s head for vermin, a custom very prevalent among all Guiana tribes (Bro, 390). It must be admitted that such fancied resemblances are not always too clear to European eyes. Clear or not, however, once the resemblance admitted, then follow the explanation and the “padding,” the pointing of the so-called moral to adorn the tale. Wayaca-piapa Mountain, northwest of Roraima, is the “felled tree” which, as the Indians say, the Spirit Makonaima cut down during his journey through these parts. On the Mazaruni, near Masanassa village, relates Boddam-Whetham: “We passed a peculiar rock in the middle of the river somewhat resembling a human figure: the Indians thought it was a river-god watching for pacu” (BW, 179). On some granite blocks, above the Waraputa Rapids, Essequibo River, “I found,” says Schomburgk, “two impressions of a man’s foot, as if he had sprung from one rock to the other. The imprint of each foot, even to that of the five toes, was really striking. The Indians told us that these were the tracks which the Great Spirit had left behind when he took his departure along this route from among their forefathers with whom he used to live” (ScR, I, 326).

   In passing the Carowuring [branch of the upper Mazaruni] the guide informed us that when high it is navigable for canoes for half a day’s journey up, to the foot of a high fall, at which there is a large sand-beach, marked with mysterious footprints resembling those made by the human foot. The sand also is thrown up as if children had been playing there. If the Indians who visit the spot trample down these heaps, and go away for a short time, on their return they find them there again as before. The Indians believe that wild men live near the spot, but have never succeeded seeing them. [Bro, 385.]

   The torrential streams which so suddenly gush down from the heights of Roraima are but the sorrowful tears of the Mother of Pia and Makonaima—she who had been left behind on top of this mountain by the former (Da, 342). At least that is what the Makusis affirm. Some people say that over the tops of Roraima and Kukenam are spread seas filled with all kinds of fish, especially dolphins, and continually circled by gigantic white eagles, which act as perpetual watchmen (ScR, II, 265).

p. 237

   172.* Another example of this series of cases is the legend relative to the calebrated Kaieteur Fall (pl. 4), which I give here in the words of Barrington Brown (Bro, 214), the discoverer of this wonder-spot:

   Once upon a time there was a large village above the fall, situated on the little savanna, amongst the inhabitants of which was an old Indian, who had arrived at that period of human existence, when his life had become a burden to himself and a trouble to his relatives. Amongst other duties, there devolved upon his near relations the tedious one of extracting the jiggers from his toes which there accumulated day by day. These duties becoming irksome at last, it was arranged that the old man should be assisted on his way to his long home, that spirit land lying two-days’ journey beyond the setting sun. He was accordingly transferred, with his pegall of worldly goods, from his house to a woodskin on the river above the head of the great fall, and launched forth upon the stream. The silent flood bore him to its brink, where the rushing waters received him in their deadly grasp, bearing his enfeebled body down to its watery grave in the basin below. Not long after, strange to relate, his woodskin appeared in the form of a pointed rock, which to this day is seen not far from our lower barometer station; while on the sloping mass of talus to the west of the basin, a huge square rock is said to be his petrified pegall or canister. Thus has the fall been named Kaieteur in memory of the victim of this tragic event.

   173.* The remarkable petroglyphs, scattered through tha Guianas, to which so many travelers have drawn attention, are in the same way credited with a supernatural origin. Thus Schomburgk relates, when at the Waraputa Rapids: “I was most anxious to carry away part of one of the rocks . . . and neither threats nor promises could induce any of our Indians to strike a blow against these monuments of their ancestors’ skill and superiority. They ascribe them to the Great Spirit, and their existence was known to all the tribes met with. The greatest uneasiness was depicted upon the faces of our poor crew; in the very abode of the Spirits, they momentarily expected to see fire descend to punish our temerity” (ScG, 275). The Piapocos of the lower Guaviar River ascribe such rock-gravings to their Mami-naïmis, or Water Spirits (Cr, 525, 529). The amount of intelligence displayed by the expression of such a belief was however, within comparatively recent times, paralleled by that of a European Power, for on the Montagne d’Argent on the coast between Cayenne and the River Oyapock, the rock-carvings were claimed by the Portuguese to represent the coat-of-arms of Charles V when they had a dispute with the French over their boundary line (Cr, 145).

   174.* The existence has been shown (Sect. 58) of a belief in the origin of human and animal life from rocks or stones and in the transformation of such sentient beings into the inorganic material similar to that from which they have sprung. This transformation is regarded not only as a natural departure from the normal course of events; but also in the light of a punishment (Sect. 67). At Aramayka, a settlement on the Mazaruni, close to Karamang River, the cliffs of Mara-biacru become visible to the height of about one thousand feet, with perpendicular faces on the north. A remarkable detached peaked p. 238 rock on the western face of the cliffs is called the Caribisce. The legend says it is a man of that nation turned into stone for attempting to scale the cliff (HiA, 32). The Nation of Stone-adzes, where all the people are really stones, has been mentioned (Sect. 158). But however produced, these inorganic objects with human instincts, powers, and ideas, so to speak, all play a more or less important part on the world’s stage. Thus, a rugged rock, a real good friend, comes and quells the fountain which threatens to overwhelm the nation (BrB, 106). In those cases in which the transformation is the result of punishment it might only be expected that the propensities of such rocks and stones would be directed into channels other than good. Perhaps it was some idea similar to this which led to the loss of Schomburgk’s geological specimens: “One of the Indian carriers said he had lost my geological specimens: my brother had previously warned me of this—the Indian thinks it something evil, and will secretly throw it away” (ScR, I, 433). The same may possibly be said of the following: Above the cataracts of the River Demerary are abundance of red and white agates, which remain untouched by the natives, who avoid them from a principle of superstitious veneration, as they are dedicated to the service of their magical invocations (Ba, 21). Probably some idea of this nature may form the basis of the practice noted by Brown, in the Cotinga District, in connection with certain small artificial stone-heaps on the sides of the paths over the Savannah Mountains. These were 3 or 4 feet in height. The Indians with him, in passing, had added to the heaps by dropping on them stones picked up near by; he could never learn their object in so doing, for when questioned about it, they only laughed (Bro, 276). (In the Gran Chaco, the Indians, on going over a pass, will place a stone on the ground, so that they will not get tired on the way (Nor, 12).)

   175.* Again, just as in the Old World, the scene of some tragedy, apparition, or of any untoward event—real or imaginary—may ultimately assume by the addition of tale and fable a halo of reputed sanctity, so may many a local feature of natural scenery in the Guianas constitute the landmark as it were of some notable occurrence—a death, a bloody feud, the appearance perhaps of some extraordinary animal—with the result that such a spot becomes weird and eerie, and all kinds of fanciful stories are told in connection with its immediate neighborhood. The Indians have a tradition that the cliffs, hillocks, and other places, about a mile from Kayiwa on the Corentyne are inhabited by a large snake, which from time to time goes to drink the water of the river, and that its passage thither has deprived the cliffs of vegetation (ScC, 289). On a low hill above the Waiquah River, a branch of the Cotinga, Barrington Brown “observed p. 239 a huge artificial mound of earth and small stones, which the guide said was the grave of Makunaima’s brother. It would seem that the Great Spirit is a dweller in this region, for an isolated rocky mountain, seen from the Cotinga lower down, at the head of the Mauitzie River, is called Makunaima-outa, which me ans the ‘Great Spirit’s House'” (Bro, 276). In the Pakaraima Mountains there is a singular rock called by the Makusis Toupanaghœ, from its resemblance to a hand. The Indians make it the seat of a demon and pass it under fear and trembling (ScG, 256). At the Merume escarpment, upper Mazaruni, says Brown, “the Indians begged my men not to roast salt fish on the embers, fearing thereby to rouse the ire of a large eagle and camoodie snake, which they said lived on the mountain side, and would show their displeasure by causing more rain to fall” (Bro, 399). According to the tale told by a medicine-man, Mount Roraima was guarded by an enormous camudi, which could entwine a hundred people in its folds. He himself had once approached its den and had seen demons running about as numerous as quails (BW, 225). Another Indian in the same neighborhood objected to camping near what he believed to be the cave of a celebrated “water-mama,” near which it was dangerous to sleep (BW, 210).

   176.* Sometimes the facts of the original occurrence have been lost sight of and only a memory remains, but this memory is grafted on the minds of the Indians apparently in the form of a Spirit, if we are to judge by the procedures adopted on their visiting such localities—these must neither be approached too closely, nor pointed to and sometimes not even looked at, or spoken of. Although it is permissible to single out a person by a nod with the head, to point the finger at a fellow-creature is to offer him as serious an affront as it would be to step over him when he is lying on the ground (Sect. 72); in the latter case he would tell you that he is not dead yet, and that you must wait until he is. To point the finger at a Spirit must necessarily be a much more serious matter. We have the Old Man’s Rock in the Essequibo, which a murdered buckeen continually haunts, and at which it is dangerous to point the finger (A, I, 93). So also, there is a large bare rock (the Negro Cap) standing with its head about six feet above the water, close to the Three Brothers Islands, in the same river, concerning which the natives entertain a most curious superstition. They believe that if any individual points at this rock a heavy storm will immediately overtake him for his audacity (StC, II, 37). The dangers consequent upon talking about Spirits have already been dealt with (Sect. 124), hence the following allusion from im Thurn is of interest: “In very dry seasons, when the water in the rivers is low, the rocks in their beds are seen to have a curious glazed, vitrified and black appearance, due probably p. 240 to deposits of iron and manganese. Whenever I questioned the Indians about these rocks, I was at once silenced by the assertion that any allusion to their appearance would vex these rocks and cause them to send misfortune” (IT, 354). The most curious, however, of all the procedures indicative of a Spirit’s presence somewhere in the immediate neighborhood is that which concerns the sense of sight; several examples of this temporary occlusion of vision are recorded elsewhere (Sect. 252).

Troll mountain rock. Image credit.

The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies by Lucy Cooper


Earth-dwelling spirits of Norwegian folklore. Literally “those who live underground” they live in mountains and in ancient burial mounds. Although usually concealed from human sight, there are tales of underjordiske appearing to humans in remote forests or mountains.


Little people in the folk beliefs of the Cherokee people. These music-loving spirits dwell in the hills of northern Georgia; it is said that the sound of their rattles and drums can sometimes be heard deep in the forests or high on the mountains. They are generally benign but, like most denizens of the fairy realm, they value their privacy and cast spells upon humans who attempt to pry into their affairs.

*More can be read in the book.

Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology by Theresa Bane


Variations: Orends, Orestiad

The Oread (“mountain”) of classical Greek mythology were one of the twelve species of nymphs, they were the nymphs of grottoes, mountains, ravines, and valleys. Living lives virtually identical to human females, the oreads were associated with the goddess Artemis because when she hunted she preferred mountains and rocky precipices.

An oread was usually known by the name of the mountain or hill on which she lived.


The achachilas are a group of nature spirits from the folklore of the Aymara people of Bolivia whose ancestral home is located in the Andes Mountains. These fairies keep a watchful eye on the Aymara, assisting them as needed and oftentimes sending dreams to warn of upcoming dangerous or unfortunate situations… achachilas control the weather and send frost, hail, or rain to a region depending on how benevolent they are feeling. In the high mountain passes stone altars dedicated to the achachilas have been erected.

*More can be read in the book.

The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore by Patricia Monaghan

Ard Éireann

Irish mythological site. The mountains in central Ireland called Slieve Bloom include a peak called by this name, which means “height of Ireland”, although it is not the highest geographical point in the land; the summit was mythically the birthplace of the island of Ireland.

Caer Idris

Welsh mythological site. At the top of a mountain in Merionethshire, there is a formation of rock reputed to have magical powers. Anyone who spent the night sitting in the stone chair would greet the dawn either insane or inspired with poetry.


Cosmological symbol. Mountains were sacred to the Celts, but so was everything else in nature, which was the residence of the divine. Divine force did not spread itself thinly across the world but tended to condense in specific sacred places. Mountains had additional significance in Ireland as places of royal or political power.

*More can be read in the book.

The Forest in Folklore and Mythology by Alexander Porteous

Other varieties of Nymphs were the Oriades, or Mountain Nymphs, which haunted the mountains.

*More can be read in the book.

The Element Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells by Judika Illes

Perhaps magic may be best understood by considering one of its branches: the school of magical arrangement, feng shui.

Feng shui’s literal translation “wind and water” implies that this is a natural art, not a manufactured one. According to feng shui, objects are manipulated to create good fortune, minimize hardship and (hopefully) eliminate disaster. Likewise, one must pay attention to natural earth formations (mountains, valleys, waterways) in order to harmonize one’s own energies and desires with them for your maximum benefit.

Joy of the Mountain Happy Home Spell: the Origanum family of botanicals may derive its name from the Greek words oros “mountain” and ganymai “I am joyful”. Blend, grind and powder oregano, marjoram and Dittany of Crete; sprinkle on lit charcoal and waft the fragrance through the home to stimulate joy.

Lucky Mountains

The Romany of Central Europe possess legends of “lucky mountains.” Dirt from these mountains provides blessings of all kinds. Traditionally, there are seven lucky mountains.

There is some ambiguity as to exactly where these mountains are or which mountains they may be. You wouldn’t want to accidentally miss one, so the custom has arisen of collecting pinches of Earth at any auspicious-seeming height. This dirt is placed in a conjure bag, in the hopes that this could be the magic mountain, and presumably some of them are. This becomes a lifelong collection: the bag is eventually placed in the grave with its owner to ease the transition to the next realm and continue bringing luck.

Literally only a tiny pinch of Earth is taken; the conjure bag need never become very heavy. The practice emerged amidst a nomadic tradition; bags are light and portable, although you may also place your pinches of dirt in small boxes and vials to place upon an altar.

Fairy Vision Spell: Mountain Realm

Many fairies are believed to inhabit hollow hills, mountains, and mounds. Fairies are discreet; doorways are invisible. It’s difficult to catch sight of them except for a few rare days of the year when the fairies troop.

Comings and goings from the Fairy Mound may be observed on May Day, Midsummer’s Eve and Halloween. A few days before, begin preparations: cast intensive cleansing spells, fast as desired, and ornament yourself with protective amulets. Journey to the Mound and wait. Do not fall asleep. Eventually you will see a troop of fairies departing or returning. If you stay discreetly hidden they will pass you by. However, contact may be made if desired.

*More can be read in the book.

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft by Judika Illes

During Europe’s witch-hunt era, witch-hunters identified and named specific locations as the haunts of witches. Sometimes they posted scouts and spies to see who was traveling to and lingering in these areas. In many cases these were places that had ancient associations with Pagan religions or were by their nature (caves, mountain peaks) places that would be conducive to witchcraft practices.


Witches revel. But where do they revel? According to widespread European folklore, witches hold their parties and perform sacred rituals atop hills and mountains.

Other popular meeting points including standing stones, large barrow mounds or similar unique monuments and, of course, the highest point in the area.

The highest point in the area is a vantage point: it has an obvious advantage.

Those already in attendance can see exactly who’s approaching, crucial during the witchhunt era when festivities, rites, and revelry were forbidden and threatened by legal persecution. Many of the mountains associated with witchcraft combine features: they are also forested and dotted with caves. If the wrong people crashed the party, devotees might have the opportunity to find safety within these caves and forests.

Mountains and hills are more than that, however: they are also sacred places, the places on Earth closest to the Heavens. There are a tremendous number of these places. Some (Bald Mountain, The Brocken) are very famous: allegedly witches flew from all over the world to attend the massive festivities held there. Others are only of local repute.

*More can be read in the book.

The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft and Wicca by Rosemary Ellen Guiley

Hexenkopf (Witch’s Head) A rocky hill near Easton, Pennsylvania, in the Lehigh Valley, steeped in witchcraft superstitions and folklore influenced by German immigrants who settled in the area in the 18th and 19th centuries. The German immigrants imported their beliefs in witchcraft, witches (hexerei), demons and magical healing, called braucherei in Germany and then powwowing in America. Many of the settlers had come from the Harz Mountains area, where witchcraft beliefs were especially strong. The Harz Mountains were known as the abodes of witches, and the tallest peak, the Brocken, was the site of regular sabbats and witches’ revelries, most notably Walpurgisnac ht. In the Lehigh Valley, the Hexenkopf took over that role.

*More can be read in the book.

Further Reading:

Mountain Folklore in a Nutshell by Ronel

All over the world, mountains are believed to be magical. They are eternal, silent witnesses to history.

The Judaculla Rock teems with Native American carvings. One specific glyph is believed to be the seven-fingered handprint of the giant Judaculla, left there when he jumped from his perch high on the mountain. It is said that this rock serves as a boundary between this world and the spirit world.

A Cherokee legend has it that the Connestee people invited them to visit near a waterfall, behind which a cave led to another world. The Connestee invited their guests to come and live with them there. Only one man refused. As he left, there was no longer a cave but a solid rock wall.

In the Pacific Northwest, many Native American tribes believe that powerful spirits (ones you really don’t want to mess with) lived on top of mountains. Some have malevolent powers, some are capricious and vindictive, and others are almost human-like in their romantic entanglements with other mountains.

Mountains have been sacred in many religions and legends. Some, like Mount Olympus, is the home of the Greek gods. Mount Etna is believed to be the home of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and the forge.

For the ancient Inca, mountains and death were intricately linked. The Inca could sense the reservoir of spirituality in the mountains and believed that some parts of the mountains acted as portals to the gods so they built their villages there. Once a year, they would make a ritual child sacrifice to their gods at the top of the mountain.

Because sacred mountains are viewed as the source of hallowed powers and the homes of spirits, access to these mountains are often restricted. This restriction can come in the form of climbing being banned or a specific society giving the mountain a wide berth. These mountains are also often protected by laws to keep them conserved.

In South Africa, we have Table Mountain which draws the most attention from folklore. The mountain has a fabulous cloud that just appears whenever it feels like. The “tablecloth” has so many origin stories: one myth says it resulted from the San Mantis god smothering a blaze on the slopes of the mountain with a giant white karos (animal pelt), another tells the story of a smoking contest between the Devil and the pirate Van Hunks. As for the mountain itself, a Xhosa tale tells of the dragon of the seas battling against four giants and the giants ultimately becoming the mountain to keep the land safe from the sea. Mountain ghosts also live on Table Mountain. Aintjie Somers, a slave who worked herself to death and came back as a gnome-like spirit to avenge her hard life, is the most well-known of these ghosts. To instil good behaviour in children, the old saying is still said in the Cape today: “Be good or Aintjie Somers will get you”. The mountain has also been likened to a hostile and vindictive giant who causes turmoil on the sea, stopping anyone who tries to pass – the giant, of course, was defeated and became a motionless mountain allowing explorers like Vasco da Gama to round the tip of Africa and get to India.

Whether you believe that mountains are the homes of deities, the entrance to the spirit realm or sentient in themselves, one thing is for certain: they are magical.

Mountains in Modern Culture

There are various mountains in movies.

Check out this article: Everest and 10 of the most memorable mountains from the movies and this one: Movies to Make You Fear the Mountains

Mountains in Moana (movie)

Te Ka

Te Ka is a mountain of red-hot lava and flame, surrounded by clouds of scalding steam and ash. The molten monster is by far the most dangerous foe Moana and Maui are about to face. But face it they must, if they are to reach the island of Te Fiti!

Te Fiti

Peaceful, loving Te Fiti is the mother island who generously gives life to the sea and the other islands. She is part island, and part spirit of life. When Te Fiti is happy, all is well!


If you want to read books about climbing, there are plenty: 10 of the best books about mountains – for a virtual climb and 10 great books about mountains that have nothing to do with climbing

As for fiction, there are the various mountain ranges in The Lord of the Rings the characters have to face, the mountains that protect academies (such as in Van Helsing Academy, Spud and Vampire Academy), mountains that are homes (A Faerie’s Secret and Dealing with Dragons), mountains as a living part of a community (Princess Academy), and mountains that are just part of the scenery (Harry Potter).

You can see all these books (and more) on my Goodreads Read shelf.

Television: Grimm

Volcanalis is a towering humanoid demon made of pure magma.

It has been known to take residence within mountains, coming out only to exact vengeance upon those who dare to take its “property,” or the stones found close to its habitat, making it very territorial and possessive. Once alerted of the theft, the Volcanalis will hunt down the perpetrator.

It seems to have an affinity with the earth itself, being able to track those who took the rocks found within its abode. It travels around underground, smouldering the earth itself to get close to its target.

According to Wu, there were multiple unresolved incidents on file where rocks were taken from active volcanoes around the Ring of Fire, only for the perpetrators to die under mysterious circumstances. He also noted that ancient cultures in the area stated that “there is hell to pay” if any rocks were stolen from any volcanoes because they were considered sacred.

Mountains in My Writing

Mountains are the eternal landmarks of the realms. Various pathways exist within them to connect the realms. Mountains are also the homes of various fae and it is connected to the life-force of the realms and those who reside in them.
Various fae are manifestations of the mountains. They are bound to them. Oreads (mountain nymphs) are one example. Their job is to keep their mountains safe (from excavation, modernisation, pollution, etc.). These fae have the power to cause avalanches, storms and other natural phenomena.

It may look ordinary, but something magical lurks within.

mountain english berg afrikaans

The first time I saw Table Mountain in real life, it was covered in a blanket of wispy clouds. It was the middle of the day and I thought it had to be magic. (I’m from Gauteng and mist usually dissipates once the sun’s out – it doesn’t suddenly form in the middle of the day.) A few days later, I went up the mountain. I’d barely started exploring when mist rolled in. The confusion and disorientation of being suddenly isolated cannot truly be described. Though I do try in Mystical Mountain where everything isn’t as it seems.

Table Mountain with magical cloud coverage. Image credit.
tortured tales book extract
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Do you have any mountain folklore you’d like to share? Any favourite stories with mountains you like? Check out my Pinterest board dedicated to mountains.

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3 thoughts on “Magical Mountains #folklore”

  1. There is something almost hypnotic about mountains, geology in general. Their deep crevasses, wide valleys, multi-colored faces. In another life, I’d spend a lot more time there.

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