In the central Andes, where the second highest mountain chain makes their imposing presence viscerally felt, the indigenous people have since time immemorial venerated their mountain peaks. Quechua-speakers (the language of the Inca Empire) call them Apus.
Certain Apus are designated sacred mountain peaks, based upon teachings of the wise ones. Typically these sacred Apus are found in pairs – one is considered masculine, the other feminine. And to these mountains sacred gifts are offered and special ceremonies enacted at specific times in the calendar year. And at all times, prayers include the local mountain peaks – considered to be protectors of the zone – in the spirits thanked and invoked.
Some of us in the Monadnock area yearn for a deeper sense of this kind of connection with our own geography and place. Some activities an increasing number of local folks are stepping into more boldly these days such as organic agriculture, CSA farming, engaging in ritual and ceremony, healing modalities of many types, community support, helping animals and plants, etc., are being done – at least in part – to contribute in some small way to helping heal and nourish our beautiful environment.
Place-based ceremony and ritual may be one way to contribute to such needed healing.
Back in 2007, when I had lived in this area for a few years and just begun to discover Mount Monadnock, I was faced with a pivotal decision in my life. I was offered the chance to move elsewhere, to an area and job that in many ways were more appealing. Yet I fleetingly sensed Mt. Monadnock whispering to stay around here, that there was work to do in this area. And so I chose to stay.
Last year, my friend Lisa who lives atop a hill in southern Vermont, spent a month in Peru in ceremony and ritual. Months later, on a crisp and clear Fall day, she was on Putney Mountain walking her dogs when she happened to look to the East and beheld Mt. Monadnock silhouetted alone on the horizon. And she sensed its presence, as she received the following message: “You do not have to go to Peru to find the Apus. I am right here in front of you. Look at me.”
Lisa called me all excited and we met and talked about our local Apu – Mount Monadnock. And we decided – as many others have before us and many will do in the future – to enact a ritual ceremony for this powerful mountain that looms nearby us. Mount Monadnock offers us the opportunity to acknowledge its presence and feel its energies if we so desire.
James Beard, also known as Noodin, is a NH park ranger who is lucky enough to live in the cabin at the base of White Dot trail. He is also a white man who has spent many years studying deeply with the indigenous peoples, especially the Ojibway, and he has written a wonderful book about his own life journey along this path of learning.
From what he has gathered from indigenous peoples as well as from the mountain itself, Mt. Monadnock was considered especially sacred because it did literally “stand alone,” as its name attests in the Abenaki language. And due to its sacred qualities, most people walked the base of the mountain and left offerings. Only a few of the very wisest would at special times climb to the peak for ritual ceremony.
How different from today where hundreds and even thousands climb the mountain on a nice weekend day, most viewing it solely as a diversion and exercise. In recent years, money has been charged to visit the mountain and rules enacted such as keeping dogs off, which contribute to making the mountain – like so much in our current society – another commodity to be marketed for profit.
Knowing the long indigenous history in this area and the Abenaki name given to Mt. Monadnock, I was surprised to hear last year at a fundraiser a member of the NH park service say that the first person to see the mountain was a white man sometime in the 1700s or 1800s!
Mt. Monadnock is our Apu, as my friend Lisa heard so emphatically. And as a mountain that does indeed stand alone, perhaps it holds both the male and female presence within it. That makes it even more special for some of us…thank you Mt. Monadock! May we honor you through how we treat you.