A guest lecture explores the “sacred” nature of the mountains – Les Appalaches

The mountains around App State were shown in a new light Thursday as experienced mountaineer and scholar Edwin Bernbaum delivered a guest lecture, “The Sacred Mountains of the World,” to an audience of students, faculty and faculty. community members.

The event, hosted by the College of Arts and Sciences, took place in the Parkway Ballroom at the Plemmons Student Union from 6-9 p.m. He explored the nature of mountains and the roles they play in culture, history, mythology and more.

After the event, attendees had the opportunity to purchase a signed copy of Bernbaum’s book, also titled “Sacred Mountains of the World.”

The event was part of a larger series of mountain studies conferences that were to take place every two years. Lauren Andersen, director of marketing, communications and engagement for the College of Arts and Sciences, said the previous Mountain Studies conference, which was to be the first, was originally scheduled for March 2020 and was to be moved to a virtual format due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This year is really our first in-person mountain studies conference, so we’re really excited to have people sit down, listen to our speaker, meet them in person,” Andersen said. “It’s really exciting.”

Before taking the podium, Bernbaum was briefly introduced by Mike Madritch, acting dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. After this introduction, he discussed the subject of his lecture and what he hoped those present would take away from it.

“What I would like you to take away from this is just the incredible range and diversity of ways in which mountains are sacred around the world and their importance in all sorts of different areas and for people in general: indigenous peoples , followers of religions and even the secular public,” Bernbaum said.

After discussing his childhood in Quito, Ecuador and Washington, DC, Bernbaum moved on to what inspired the creation of his book.

Bernbaum recounted one of his first adventures in Tibet, during which he spent about 10 days walking to the city of Kathmandu with the abbot of Tengboche monastery. During this time, he had the idea of ​​microfilming the monastery texts to preserve them in case they were destroyed, which ultimately inspired the creation of his first book: “The Way to Shambhala: A Search for the Mythical Kingdom Beyond the Himalayas”. ”

After giving a day-long seminar on this topic for the University of California, Berkeley, Extension, he was asked to give another, for which he came up with the idea of ​​Himalayan Myths and Legends . After being asked to “expand it”, Bernbaum chose the theme of “sacred mountains of the world” and later led seminars at Berkeley and the Smithsonian Institution.

“In doing so, as I said, I became interested in what mountains mean to people in cultures around the world,” Bernbaum said. “Obviously they’re extremely meaningful to me and I’m sure they’re meaningful to you too because you live here in the mountains.”

Bernbaum then moved on to the main topic of his talk, which was the 10 themes he identified through which people hold mountains to be sacred. These include height, center, power, deity or abode of a deity, temple or place of worship, garden or earthly paradise, ancestors and the dead, sources of identity, the source of blessings or resources and the general theme of transformation, revelation, inspiration and renewal.

“Both in a religious sense and even in a secular sense, mountains evoke an experience of something of deeper meaning in reality that gives meaning and vitality to people’s lives, so we’ll take that as a starting point,” Bernbaum said.

Bernbaum then recounted his experience of an avalanche on the slopes of Annapurna in Nepal, which he called a “powerful” moment in his life. The collapse of a hanging glacier triggered an avalanche that carried him about 1,000 feet up the mountain, where Bernbaum and a companion were able to extricate themselves from the snow and narrowly avoid a second.

“There were a lot of things that I learned afterwards, but one of the things that happened was in the middle of the night afterwards, I was expecting terrible nightmares and I got the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time,” Bernbaum said.

Bernbaum said that “for the first time on the whole expedition” he “felt like he was climbing a mountain just for the sheer pleasure of climbing it”, rather than accomplishing something.

“It took me many years to really understand that when you do things just for the sake of doing them, that’s when you do your best and have the best effects on people. others,” Bernbaum said.

Bernbaum also discussed his work with several organizations and projects. Some of them include the Badrinath Reforestation Projectthe Sacred Mountains Programthe International Union for Conservation of Nature and the establishment of signs highlighting Cherokee history and culture along the Oconaluftee River Trail of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

As a final topic of discussion in his seminar, Bernbaum also highlighted climate change and its implications for mountains.

“Almost all the glaciers have disappeared on the equator,” Bernbaum said. “So the thing with the mountains is with the Arctic and the Antarctic, that’s where you first see the impacts of global warming and climate change, very dramatic, especially on the equator.”

Bernbaum discussed the implications of climate change and global warming on the peoples and cultures that hold mountains in high regard. He also explained the ways people are trying to slow this process down, such as trying to create new glaciers and covering existing glaciers with tarps.

Before opening the floor to questions from the audience, Bernbaum concluded his lecture with an excerpt from the last paragraph of his book.

“Mountains help us rediscover that feeling of freshness and wonder that a child has, eyes bright and clear, hearts open and free,” Bernbaum said. “We once again stand at the beginning and source of all that is and all that can be.”

Bernbaum said he hopes those who attend his talk will come away with a deeper understanding of other cultures and the roles that mountains play.

“One of the things you can walk away with is just, you know, how the mountains can enrich your experience, and they also provide a great bridge between cultural understanding,” Bernbaum said.

Anna Lee, a senior student in biological anthropology, said it is “really special” to learn more about “sacred mountains” elsewhere in the world, because what other people and cultures consider precious has to both “a very great continuity” and “a uniqueness” which is a particular accent. of the state of the application.

“Topics like this really get glossed over when you look at the general program,” Lee said.


Angela C. Hale