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- Mount Zion in the far north
by Barry Dunford
Schiehallion, Central Highlands of Scotland
In the Book of Isaiah from the Old Testament there is a curious reference to "the mount of assembly in the far north" (Isa.14:13 Revised Standard Version). Gordon Strachan in his erudite work Jesus the Master Builder: Druid Mysteries and the Dawn of Christianity (1998) comments on this biblical statement saying "There was evidently a mythological mountain in the far north where the gods held their assembly". Furthermore, this sacred mountain appears to be associated with "Mount Zion in the far north" as recorded in Psalm 48 in the Hebrew Old Testament. Gordon Strachan further says "Commentators have pointed out that 'in the far north' cannot be a geographical description of Mount Zion [in Palestine]....Where was this other holy mountain in the north, this other mythological Zion, the abode of the gods? Was it located at Mount Meru or the Alborg, or the Aralu, or were all these, like Mount Zion itself, pointing towards a common prototype much further north?"
According to an esoteric tradition there was a primary trinity of holy mountains, i.e. Mount Moriah in Palestine, Mount Sinai in Egypt, and a mysterious Mount Heredom. The latter is not to be found on any map. Could it be that Mount Heredom was also "Mount Zion in the far north" as recorded in the Davidic Psalm? Moreover, in her work entitled Celt Druid and Culdee, first published in 1938, Isabel Hill Elder refers to the gigantic monoliths placed in circles and piles of stones called si'uns or cairns. She points out: "The similarity of si'un with the Hebrew word 'Zion' (fortress), the Mount of Stone (as the name Zion in Celtic means) is striking."
In the writings of the Chevalier de Berage, first published in 1747, on the origins of Freemasonry, he states: "Their Metropolitan Lodge is situated on the Mountain of Heredom where the first Lodge was held in Europe and which exists in all its splendour. The General Council is still held there and it is the seal of the Sovereign Grand Master in office. This mountain is situated between the West and North of Scotland at sixty miles from Edinburgh." If we follow these directions precisely and plot a course mid-northwest from Edinburgh for sixty miles we arrive at Schiehallion, which is to be found at the geographical centre of Scotland. Furthermore, Albert G. MacKay, in his "Lexicon and History of Freemasonry" says that he found the word "Heroden" given in an old manuscript of the Scotch Rites, as the name of a mountain situated in the north west of Scotland, where the first Metropolitan Lodge of Europe was held.
From a letter dated 4th October 1814, the then Deputy Grand Master and Governor of the Royal Order of Scotland states: "The Sublime and Royal Chapter of the H.R.D.M. [Heredom] was first constituted on the Holy top of Mount Moriah in the Kingdom of Judea and afterwards re-established by King Robert the Bruce." Interestingly, after his defeat by English military forces at Methven, in Perthshire, in 1306, the Scots King, Robert the Bruce, retreated into the mountain recesses of central Perthshire and there is a strong tradition of his having taken refuge in a small castle by the north slope of Schiehallion. Coincidence? The apparent association of the Royal Chapter of Heredom with Mount Moriah in Palestine may be pertinent when considering the Palestine based ancient Davidic tradition recorded in Psalm 48 which refers to "Mount Zion in the far north", particularly when bearing in mind the possible connection between Mount Moriah and Schiehallion (Mount Heredom) in central Scotland.
The Masonic historian, Rev. George Oliver D.D., in his work The Historical Landmarks of Freemasonry (vol. II), published in 1846, states: "The only high degree to which an early date can be safely assigned, is the royal order of H.R.D.M., founded by Robert Bruce, in 1314; and very little is known about it out of Scotland. Its history in brief refers to the dissolution of the Order of the Temple. According to the testimony of Baron Westerode, who wrote in 1784, this is not the most ancient of the high degrees of Masonry." The Rev. George Oliver goes on to say that the degree of H.R.D.M. "may not have been originally Masonic. It appears rather to have been connected with the ceremonies of the early Christians. These ceremonies are believed to have been introduced by the Culdees, (Cultores dei), in the second or third centuries of the Christian era. Operative masonry existed in Britain at that era, as is evidenced by the building of a church at York, and a monastery at Iona; and it was in active operation before the twelfth century."
This Celtic Culdee connection is further commented on by Henry Corbin, in The Imago Templi in Confrontation (1974) who states: "The primitive Celtic Church, prior to Romanization, is represented by groups of monks known as Culdees .The groups of companions called by this name seem, moreover, to have played a much larger role in Scotland than in Ireland .these autonomous groups of hermit brothers correspond to what we know of the original structure of the Celtic Church .these Coli Dei [Culdees] had a role to play on the Celtic side analogous to the role attributed on the eastern side .to the canons of the Holy Sepulchre, the spiritual descendants of the Essenes. The appeal to a distant Celto-Scottish filiation parallels the appeal made to affilitation with the builders of the Temple of Solomon and the community of Jerusalem. It is as if the double line of descent, Hierosolymitan and Scottish, linked, Ab origine symboli, the Church of James and the Celtic Church in the trials and misfortunes from which the Temple knighthood have to rescue them." Corbin continues: "The Coli Dei are also included in the spiritual line of descent from the builders of the Temple of Solomon, the line of the Essenes, the Gnostics, even the Manichaeans and the Ismailis. They were established at York in England, at Iona in Scotland, in Wales, and in Ireland; their favourite symbol was the dove, the feminine symbol of the Holy Spirit. In this context, it is not surprising to find Druidism intermingled with their tradition and the poems of Taliesin integrated to their corpus. The epic of the Round Table and the Quest of the Holy Grail have likewise been interpreted as referring to the rights of the Coli Dei. It was, moreover, to the time of the Coli Dei that is assigned the formation of the Scottish knighthood whose seat is typified by the mysterious sanctuary of Kilwinning, under the shadow of Mount Heredom in the extreme north of Scotland."
An esoteric tradition tells of a Templar Knight called Robert of Heredom whom, after being initiated in a cave on Mount Carmel, came to Scotland. In support of this the French oriental scholar, Henry Corbin, in a profound and illuminating address delivered to the Eranos Conference in Ascona, Switzerland, in 1974, entitled The Imago Templi in Confrontation, after commenting on the "Sons of the Valley" which he identifies as "an exalted company of initiate Brothers, who constitute ab origine the secret Church of Christ", goes on to state: "Robert of Heredom is thus initiated by the Sons of the Valley and created Grand Master of the new Temple, which will be born again from the ashes of the old .Roberts name in chivalry refers us to the mystical mountain of Heredom in the north of Scotland .The entire Scottish tradition is thus evoked, the part played by Scotland in the renaissance of the Order of the Temple after its destruction. The person of the young knight likewise comes to be integrated to the geste of the knights who, in the company of Pierre dAumont, were accorded in Scotland the protection of King Robert the Bruce and, according to the tradition, continued the Temple there. After the sacrifice of Jacques de Molay, Robert of Heredom receives, from the hands of one of the Sons of the Valley, the coffer containing both the authentic doctrine and the bell of the primitive Church, which he will transmit to future generations. Six more knights who have become Brothers of the Cross are attached to him by the Valley, and the little company of seven men ride out at daybreak, the symbol of rebirth, youth and strength, towards the castle of Heredom in Scotland."
Furthermore, Rev. George Oliver, in his Historical Landmarks of Freemasonry (vol. I), informs us: "The Temple Masons were bolder: they met on the summit of mount Moriah. These knights, says the Encyclopaedia Metropolitana, were much connected with the Masons, and are supposed to have been frequently initiated among the Syrian fraternity. On the dissolution of their Order, in the 14th century, the Provincial Grand Master of Auvergne, Pierre dAumont, with two Commanders and five Knights, fled, disguised as Masons, to one of the Scottish isles, where they found the Grand Commander, Hamptoncourt, and other members of their Order; and they resolved to preserve the institution, if possible, although in secret, and adopted many of the forms of the Freemasons, to conceal their real designs. They held a Chapter on St. Johns day, 1313, when dAumont was chosen Grand Master; and in 1361 their seat was removed to Aberdeen." According to tradition the Scottish isle in question was the Island of Mull.
Schiehallion ("the fairy hill of the Caledonians")
The conical Schiehallion ("the fairy hill of the Caledonians") has long been considered a sacred and mystical mountain by the gaelic Highlanders of Scotland. Its topographical features are somewhat reminiscent of Mt. Shasta in California, USA, which is held sacred by the North American Indian tribes. In his classic work Cuchama and Sacred Mountains (1981 USA), the Buddhist scholar Dr. W.Y. Evans-Wentz comments: "In the scriptures of mankind, certain mountains are considered sacred; and they are referred to as being sources of inspiration and revelation to prophets, saints, and sages. Mountains rising on high and merging into the invisible depths of space come to be looked upon as being the abodes of heavenly beings, the repositories of wisdom, and the founts of spiritual illumination." He goes on to say, when speaking about Mt. Omei, a sacred mountain in China: "Phenomena of most unusual character are associated with this Sacred Mountain, and at least some of them may merit a more than purely mundane explanation. The monks and pilgrims who frequent Mt. Omei believe these phenomena to be self-evident proof of its sanctity."
Geographically, Schiehallion is located at the very centre of the Scottish mainland. Similarly, we find the sacred hill of Uisnech at the geographical centrepoint of Celtic Ireland, and also the five-peaked mountain called Plinlimmon sited at the centre of Celtic Wales. Can this really be a geographical coincidence? In his book The Highland Tay (1901), the Rev. Hugh MacMillan comments on Schiehallion, saying that it is a "well-preserved glacial monument, which speaks impressively of the great icy tool that sculptured its sphinx-like form .it is a residual, adamantine knob of pure quartz." He further remarks: "It is the spire of the whole vast landscape, lifting it up to heaven, and giving it something of the feeling of poetic or religious awe which, from the earliest time, the human mind has felt in the neighbourhood of great mountains."
Rev. John Sinclair, Earl of Caithness
In his work entitled Schiehallion, published in 1905, the Rev. John Sinclair, M.A., B.D., Parish Minister of Kinloch Rannoch, Perthshire, writes: "Schiehallion is distinguished as a widely known and very beautiful mountain. It was on its sides, in 1774, that Dr. Maskelyne, the Astronomer Royal, made those famous observations on the attraction of the Pendulum by a large but determinate mass of matter, which afforded the data from which the weight of the earth was approximately ascertained; and, accordingly, wherever there is an association of scientific men throughout the civilised world, the name of Schiehallion is familiarly known to them in this connection." The Rev. John Sinclair who, as the Earl of Caithness was the head of the Sinclair Templar family of Rosslyn Chapel fame, also writes: "I envy not the man who can climb Schiehallion without experiencing certain emotions of reverential awe, which raise the thoughts of the heart from earthly to heavenly things. I can truly say that in my climbings of the dear mountain, I invariably felt myself, as it were, in a sweet atmosphere of Bible imagery, thinking of Moses, Elijah, the Saviour, and others, when they climbed those sacred mountains in the east, and there held communion with the great Father of spirits....The poem entitled, 'The Second Sight: A Rannoch Mystery,' has got at least this one merit that it is an attempt to picture out a form of belief in the superhuman which has probably existed among the people of the district for many hundreds of years. In former times it was the males that were the seers of the Rannoch Israel; but in our day the Deborahs and the Huldahs have taken up the role of revealing the mysteries of the present, the distant, and the future."
The following curious story related by the Rev. Robert MacDonald, a former minister of Fortingall, in the new Statistical Account for Scotland (Perthshire), published in 1845, may be relevant to the theme of this article: "There is a very remarkable cave near the south-west angle of Sith-chaillinn [Schiehallion], at the Shealing, called Tom-a-mhorair, or the Earls eminence. Some miles to the east, there is an opening in the face of a rock, which is believed to be the termination thereof. Several stories are told and believed by the credulous, relating to this cave; that the inside thereof is full of chambers or separate apartments, and that, as soon as a person advances a few yards, he comes to a door, which, the moment he enters, closes, as it opened, of its own accord, and prevents his returning." It is interesting to note that the same minister comments that the local people "may be characterized as intellectual, sober, and industrious in their habits, honest and religious." Moreover, in Rambles in Breadalbane (1891), the author, Malcolm Ferguson, when writing about Schiehallion, remarks: "It is said that there are a long series of mysterious caves, extending from one side of the mountain to the other." Interestingly, the Masonic historian and researcher, A.E. Waite, mentions three Templar Knights who found refuge in "the caves of Mount Heredom".
Initiation stone on Schiehallion
It has often been recorded that many of the ancient esoteric orders and mystery schools held initiatic ceremonies in caverns and underground grottos. In his Historical Landmarks of Freemasonry (vol. I), the Rev. George Oliver informs us: ". in some of the philosophical degrees, the place of meeting is figuratively termed a cavern, in imitation, probably, of the spurious Freemasonry, which was always held in the bowels of the earth; and the most stupendous specimens of the fact are visible to this day in the Indian, Persian, and Egyptian subterranean temples. In some places, entire mountains were excavated, and the cavern was constructed with cells, chambers, galleries, and streets, also supported by columns, and forming a subterranean labyrinth. Examples of this practice are found in the excavations underneath the great pyramid of Egypt; at Baix and Sena Julia in Italy; near Nauplia, in Greece; at Elephanta and Salsette, in India; at Ceylon; and in Malta is a cave, where we are told that the rock is not only cut into spacious passages, but hollowed out into numerous contiguous halls and apartments. Similar cavern temples are found in every country upon earth."
Donald A. Mackenzie in his work Buddhism in pre-Christian Britain (1928) remarks: "In Scotland various caves lead to the Underworld." Could this be the case with the mysterious cave, Tom a Mhorair (the giants cave), located on the south west flank of Schiehallion? A similarly mysterious cave is to be found on the giant mountain Ben Mhor, having a circumference of forty miles, which is located on the Scottish western Isle of Mull. In The Riddle of Prehistoric Britain (1946), the author, Comyns Beaumont, says: "Ben Mhor possesses two unusual features. One is a series of rising terraces towards its summit which may have been natural or roughly made by man. The other is the enormous cavern at its west base looking to the open Atlantic, known as MacKinnons Cave, with which many eerie legends are connected. Some believe it was a pagan temple to a sea-god, and this finds support from the fact that an inner cave possesses an ancient and immense flat stone, perhaps part of a former cromlech, called Fingals Table, but some think was a pagan altar and sacrificial stone. Local superstition keeps visitors away, added to the fact that the sea enters the cave and flows far inland with the rising tide, for it is said that the caves recesses pass right through the mountain to the other side."
Ben Mhor on the Isle of Mull
Further pertinent information is to be found in A Highland Parish or the History of Fortingall (1928) by Alexander Stewart who comments: "Palestine has its sacred mountainsHoreb, the hill of God, and Sinai, whence the moral law was given forth. Greece has its classic heights of Hellicon and Parnassus, sacred to Apollo and the Muses. Switzerland has its Alps and Asia its Himalayas. America has its Andes and Rockies. Scotland has the Grampian Range with a rugged grandeur all their own. And Fortingall has its far-famed Schiehallion which, though it does not aspire to any great elevation, has an interest that no other mountain in the British Isles can rival .Schiehallion is in a special sense the mountain of myth and mystery .At the west shoulder of Schiehallion is Creag-na-h-Earra, with its covering of heather and boulders and its base laved by two burns. At the point at which these two burns meet is situated a rock that bears more cup marks than any other stone surface of the same size in the British Isles. Near the same place is a wonderful cave which the lively imagination of our Celtic ancestors peopled with fairies and goblins .Of all the caves in the Parish, the most remarkable is that at Tom a Mhorair, on the south side of Glenmore, near the west shoulder of Schiehallion. It has a fairly wide opening which extends for three or four yards. It then contracts and slants into total darkness in the bowels of the earth. Some miles to the east of this there is another opening, which tradition holds to be the other end of the cave. According to the traditional accounts, this cave was regarded as an abode of fairies and other supernatural beings, rather than a hiding place of mortals. The only men who were supposed to have lived there were individuals who were believed to have been in league with supernatural powers."
Could the foregoing be indicative of the mysterious Mount Heredom, the high initiatic abode of spiritual adepts, which the Old Testament Prophet, Isaiah, knew as the holy "mount of assembly in the far north" and the Hebrew King David knew as "Mount Zion in the far north"?
The spiritual sanctity of Schiehallion is captured in the following poetical stanzas:
O! if there be on earth
Where righteous souls in glory wait in trust
Till the sweet resurrection of the just,
Methinks that region round Schiehallion lies,
And that good angels, hovering o'er its cone,
Impart to it that chaste and heavenly tone.
I love to view Schiehallion
In blaze of beauty 'gainst the eastern sky,
Like a huge pyramid exalted high
O'er woodland fringing round its base below;
The Bible tells of Hebrew mountains grand,
Where such great deeds were done in days of old,
As render them more precious far than gold
In our conception of the Holy Land;
But every soul that seeks the heavenly road
May in Schiehallion, too, behold a Mount of God.
(From Schiehallion by Rev. John Sinclair)
© Copyright 2004 Barry Dunford. All rights reserved. PERMISSION FOR USE: No part of this article may be published without the permission of the author Barry Dunford.
Barry Dunford is the author of The Holy Land of Scotland: Jesus in Scotland and the Gospel of the Grail (revised and expanded edition 2002) and Vision of Albion: The Key to the Holy Grail (2008).