When Mountains Never Leave Us Alone
A review of Adrian Cooper’s Sacred Mountains: Ancient Wisdom and Modern Meanings (Floris Books, 1997) by Toni Fergusson.
When a book is still discussed with approval years after its publication, it deserves careful review among a wider audience of readers. Adrian Cooper’s Sacred Mountains has dropped into so many conversations around me, I knew it was time to share my thoughts on his achievement with others who may be interested.
Sacred Mountains is a record of Cooper’s interviews with 144 pilgrims from many faiths and from all over the world. They have one thing in common: a fascination with the inspirational quality of mountains. Each of these pilgrims had their own reasons for travelling out to their chosen mountain destinations. Sometimes those expectations were gloriously fulfilled. More often, their illusions were shattered, only to be replaced by deeper and more challenging spiritual truths. Rarely after all, are mountains places of comfortable vindication. Through his interviews with these spiritual seekers, Cooper explores how their truths were first encountered, how they challenged the pilgrims, and how those individuals became changed through those surprising and unsettling encounters. Significantly, Cooper not only shows how the pilgrims were challenged and changed in the mountains, but also when they returned home.
Part of Cooper’s success is to include throughout his book extracts from tape recorded interviews with these pilgrims. We therefore get to read first-hand what it felt like to feel the mountains bring profound change and renewal. But Cooper didn’t just spend a few hours taking a superficial snapshot to interview these people. Sacred Mountains took thirteen years of patient research to compile. While only a few pilgrims made contributions over that full period, it remains true that everyone was interviewed over a period of years. Most of the time, meetings were face-to-face whenever the interviewees were able to visit the UK, or when Adrian Cooper was able to travel out to meet the pilgrims on their home soil. But with the added help of e-mails, letters, phone calls, faxes and extracts from diaries, Cooper was given an amazing insight into 144 spiritual journeys. Whenever the book is discussed among people I know, one of the themes which often arises is the respect which those individuals must have had for Cooper’s intentions to spend so much time with him in an attempt to get the book right.
Another fundamental element of Sacred Mountains is Cooper’s inclusion of extracts from sacred texts and other inspirational books which have challenged and influenced each pilgrim. So not only do we have their personal words at various stages of their spiritual journeys through the world’s mountain areas, but we also have the published words which the pilgrims were carrying with them at the time. And what a range of books there are! From the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, Torah, New Testament, Eddas, Manyoshu, Homer’s Iliad, Ovid’s Metamorphosis and many others, the list is long and fascinating. For me, it is a collection of texts which have stood the test of time – books which have worked and inspired these pilgrims during some of the most challenging journeys of their lives.
But who are these pilgrims who Adrian Cooper spent so much time with? Are they the great and famous names of spiritual authors, celebrities or other media personalities? No, they are not. They are ordinary people like you and me. Their occupations include car mechanics and office workers, business people and teachers, single parents, hair dressers, artists and electricians, musicians, truck drivers and students. Cooper therefore shows convincingly and conclusively that the power of mountain sacredness is not restricted to famous authors and ascetic seekers. It is a power which is available to all of us today, if only we would be humble enough to let it in. Sacred mountains can never be restricted to the distant realms of history and myth. They can be alive for all of us today. That’s what these 144 pilgrims are really telling us. Many of those individuals have taken extended breaks from their home-lives and careers, often at great personal cost and sacrifice. But when a sacrifice is recognized as being so abundantly worth making, there is no choice other than to follow its call.
For all these reasons, and probably many more, Adrian Cooper’s book has stayed alive for the last ten years since its publication. Something tells me it will continue to inspire and influence spiritual seekers for many more years to come.
These mountains are our temples, our sanctuaries, and our resting places.
They are a place of hope, a place of vision, a very special and holy place where the Great Spirit speaks with us. Therefore, these mountains are our sacred places.1.
- Quoted by Adrian Cooper from Chief John Snow, These Mountains Are Our Sacred Places: The Story of the Stoney People (Samuel Stevens, Toronto, 1977, p13)
Disclaimer: views represented in SOFiA articles are entirely the view of the respective authors and in no way represent an official SOFiA position. They are intended to stimulate thought, rather than present a final word on any topic.