Meaning and The Mountain: Mapping an Archetype in the Mind

Fri, Feb 25, 2011


In my article about Mediating Physical Existence I refer to towers of meaning in our minds, with higher level meanings constructed on lower levels meanings in a tower like structure.  At the pinnacle of each tower a super meaning construct acts like a guiding beacon helping us navigate our lives. Such towers of meaning map directly onto the mountain archetype found throughout human culture.

But first a word on Archetypes.  Archetypes are mental constructs of meaning that are shared in common by vast swaths of humanity.  Carl Jung is the originator of the term in its modern usage (read Man and His Symbols for more information), but the term goes back at least to Socrates and his concept of Universals as quoted by Plato.

One such Archetype, present in almost every culture, is the mountain symbol, which denotes God or some other higher supernatural power.  We see this symbol in Egyptian, and Mayan pyramids, in Ziggurats of the Middle East, in the Many temple mounds scattered around the world, and in numerous myths (e.g. Mount Olympus) and religious literature (e.g. Mount Zion).

The mountain symbol maps directly to the psychological towers of meaning. Mountains symbolize a getting closer to a higher power, to some universal principle, which is what a tower of meaning is: a universal meaning construct standing above the rest of the constructs in the landscape of our mind.  High up on a mountain we gain a wider view of the world, a higher view of the world, a view that is borne from a growing consciousness, and since I have argued that we expand our consciousness by building towers of meaning, we can again map mountains to such towers.  According to Ken Wilber’s Integral theory, we develop consciousness in many different areas, and not all to the same level.  Thus towers of meaning correspond to this multi-modal consciousness, mapping directly to a mountain range or mountain-like temples each at different heights.

Yet, mountains are huge and natural.  They are beyond little man made towers and pyramids.  But this very fact points to something important in the development of consciousness: we, as individuals, do not build much of our own consciousness, and that most of what we have today has been handed to us through a long and massive effort of the billions of individuals in the generations coming before us.  Such cultural mountains of meaning are not just outcomes of individual efforts, but have evolved through millennia, been tested and eroded, knocked down and reconstructed, are the results of the work of great religious leaders and humble artisans, and are transmitted to us through our parents, our community, through novels and poetry, music and paintings, religious practice and mental techniques.

Climbing such a mountain is about learning the accomplishments of the past, and even the fact that very few individuals make it to the top of great mountains is intuitively understood, when our society as a whole turns to and remembers works from outstanding individuals.

The mountain symbol is not just similar to towers of meaning–the mountain symbol is the archetype and the physical expression of the towers of meaning; Reflecting on it and dreaming about it is reflecting and dreaming about higher consciousness.

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