Monday, December 27, 2004

Pyramid as Model of Sacred Volcano

The pyramid as a model of the World Mountain is found in far corners of the Earth. Whether this is due to diffusion of ideas or independent development has long been a subject of controversy.

Those Nusantao far from the sacred volcanoes may have desired to create models of these mountains for worship.

In Egypt, I have mentioned the glyph Akhet which is often translated as "horizon." However, at times the glyphs refers to the "Mountain of Light" in Egyptian cosmology, or to pyramids or temples as in Akhet Khufu "the Pyramid of Khufu." The word can also refer to the start of the summer solstice season and, according to one theory, to the solar eclipse.

The Mountain of Light is a twin-peaked "stairway to Heaven" which has folding double doors. The Sun is said to rise between the two peaks on the fiery pillar of god Shu. The fiery pillar rising between the peaks is strong imagery of a volcano. The Mountain of Light is the same thing as the "Isle of Fire" or "Primordial Hill" in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which rises from the sea, and from which the first Sun is said to arise.

Hieroglyph of the Primordial Hill

The pyramid is a model of the Primordial Hill. Also the Benben Stone upon which Atum as the Isle of Fire alights is said to be the abode of the Sun. The Benben Stone is often in the form of a truncated pyramid with a pillar rising from its center. This pillar may represent the flames that shoot up from the Mountain of Light.

The Benben Stone

In Southeast Asia, where many of the Hindu and Buddhist temples are believed to be built on previous indigenous ziggurats, the concept of the holy volcano is often preserved by the placement of a jyotir lingam, representing a pillar of fire, at the top of the temple. A similar practice is found in South India.

The Southeast Asian temples are usually models of Mt. Meru, which itself has the double mountain coded into a single symbol. In this case, Meru has two peaks, Sumeru and Kumeru, the latter located on the opposite side of the world. A similar idea is found far away in Mesoamerica, where the sacred mountains are represented as two opposing triangles connected at their bases.

Indeed the double mountain motif often is compacted into one symbol. This usually takes the form of a mountain with a hole at its base through which the Sun enters at sunset in the West. The Sun then travels through the underworld at night and arises through a hole at the summit of the mountain in the East at dawn.

In some cases, both the western and eastern parts of the mountain are represented as peaks, although in these cases the eastern part is itself still viewed as twin-peaked.

The alignment of the mountain of the Sun to the east (paralaya) and the mountain of the Moon to the West as found in the Kapampangan myth referenced earlier is fairly closely represented at Teotihuacan. There the Pyramid of the Sun stands to the southeast of the Pyramid of the Moon.

Both the Mayans and Aztecs had ideas of the Sun rising from the top of a pyramid. Among the Aztecs the Sun of the fifth and present era in their calendar arose in such a way.

Among the Sumerians, the ziggurat was called the "Mountain of Heaven and Earth" or by similar names which represented both the world and duality. Anu, the god of Heaven, came to earth on the top of the ziggurat and this was also the location of the sacred marriage between mortal and god. In the same sense, Mt. Mashu was seen as a portal to both Heaven and the Underworld from which the Sun arose.

The idea of a mountain with an opening at its summit associated with the Sun and a pillar of fire clearly gives some idea of a volcano. The concept of the double mountain or a mountain with two peaks also is found repeatedly together with the cosmic duality. Is this too many coincidences to suggest independent invention? Could the Nusantao have spread the idea of the pyramid as a model of the dual volcano to so many widely-scattered peoples?

Paul Kekai Manansala