World mountain

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Weltenberg , also Weltberg, Kosmischer Berg, Urberg, Urhügel , is an old mythological conception of a mountain in the center of the world , especially widespread in Asia , which in cosmogony often emerged from a small beginning and later assumed a terrace shape. The world mountain can stand above the navel of the earth or it can be the abode of the gods in heaven (Himmelsberg). The idea of ​​a world center is related to the world tree and the world axis . In contrast to a holy mountain , which is venerated as the seat of the gods or ancestors, the world mountain does not have to be geographically located in a real mountain.


Creation myths that deal with the origin of the cosmos exist on almost every continent, although in the African cosmogonies they only appear as later adoptions from the Asian region. There the focus is on introducing the first humans. According to the most general idea, which corresponds to an experience horizon limited by the hunting or settlement area of ​​the early peoples, the earth is thought of as a circular structure that drifts in the middle of the boundless primeval sea. This applies equally to early sedentary civilizations and nomadic peoples. In ancient Greek mythology , the ocean flows around the inhabited world, while in Egyptian mythology, for the inhabitants of Philae, their island once emerged from the primordial sea Nun . In the Old Norse Snorra Edda , the circular earth is surrounded on its outer edge by a deep sea. Likewise, several Altai- speaking peoples in Central and North Asia thought of the earth as a round loaf of bread on the primordial sea. In order to fix the disk of earth floating on the water in its position, the Mansi living northeast of the Urals introduced a first human whose task it was to wrap the earth with the help of a belt shod with silver, which inevitably bulged the edges and on the outside Rand created a ring mountain, which also occurs in Iranian mythology and is called Qaf there .

A carrier of the earth is essential for this worldview. This is in any case an animal and very often a cosmic turtle , on whose belly or back the Creator God erects the earth or, more precisely, the world mountain. The Indian tortoise Kurma played a leading role in spreading such a worldview in Asia. With the spread of Buddhism , the turtle came north. Via China she came to the Mongols , where a golden turtle carries the central mountain. In Thailand , among the Ainu in Japan, some Russian and Siberian peoples, a fish carries the earth. Among the Muslim Arabs, a bull carries the earth on its horns, as is the case with many Tatars . The Crimean Tatars combined a giant fish swimming in the sea with a bull standing on top of which the earth rests on its horns. The bearer bull may have come from the Iranian highlands .

Origin of the primeval mound

Maniakala Stupa near the village of Maniakala, 2 km west of the Grand Trunk Road and 27 km south of Rawalpindi in Pakistan. Gandhara period, 2nd century AD. The original shape of the stupa consists of a hemisphere ( anda ) over a cylindrical base ( medhi ).

According to some origin stories, the creator god was tired of swimming in water, which is why he wanted to create solid ground under his feet and created an island, a first stone or a mud hill. In the ancient Egyptian Heliopolis, the sun god Atum rose from the primordial sea and created a "sand hill" or the primeval stone Benben , on which he sat down and brought forth the other elements of creation . The ancient stone was preserved in the old Arabic cult of the Bedouins as betyl (batyl, animate stone , aniconical idol or residence of a deity). In Hermopolis, according to the will of the eight Egyptian primordial gods, a “fire island” with a “high hill” was created. The capital, Memphis, was built on the first land that god Ptah created to stand on . The later Thebes and other places in Upper Egypt also gained importance through a primeval hill on which they were founded.

The idea of ​​the creation of the earth as an island on a water surface can be found both in the Bible and in Sumerian tradition, where the female dragon Tiamat embodies the primal water. The Creator God won the battle against chaos until the body of Tiamat became heaven and earth. The world germinated in the dividing world egg . The world mountain of the Babylonian world ( Sumerian harsag (gal) kurkurra , Semitic sâd mâtâti ) rested in the primordial sea apsu .

As in Egypt, with the Tatars of Siberia, the earth gradually emerged from a tiny hill, which with the Tatars in Khakassia grew into an "iron mountain". Obviously they took over the widespread cosmogonic model and built it into their worldview as a whole. The individual Altai-speaking peoples did not associate the Asiatic conception of the world mountain with one of their regional mountains, even if they considered a certain mountain and particularly often the Altai to be sacred.

Location and shape of the world mountain

Many cosmogonic models are based on a multi-layered sky that spans the earth's circle as a tent or bell. Often there are skies with seven or nine layers on top of each other. Some peoples of Central Asia, like the old Persian idea, knew a sky with three layers, above which paradise was. In the North Asian sky tent, there was a smoke vent in the middle in each layer, through which the shaman passed one after the other on his heavenly journey. In a seven-layer sky, the shaman met the moon in the sixth heaven and the sun in the seventh heaven. At the time of the Roman Emperor Julian in the 4th century, followers of Mithraism knew nine heavens. This corresponded to the Iranian idea of ​​nine planets that could have found their way to India. There it is mentioned in a Vedic text attributed to the Brahmin Yajnavalkya . Mental remnants of a nine-tiered sky in Northern Europe have been preserved in Finnish magic spells. In one verse, the fire originally came from a mountain top rising above the sky navel. In Dante's Divine Comedy , the first-person narrator walks through the seven terraces of the Cleansing Mountain, which is a cosmic mountain above the southern hemisphere of the earth.

The number of layers of the sky finds its correspondence in the terrace levels of the world mountain, with nine levels not occurring. The Mongols imagined the World Mountain to be square with three steps, with the Yakuts the three steps were made of silver and led up to a divine throne made of white stone. The Kalmyks imagined the world mountain with four, the Tatars of Siberia with seven. It cannot be generally judged whether the notches in the wooden pillars erected in North Asia were intended as numerically corresponding images of the layers of heaven or as steps on a shamanic ladder to heaven.

In some myths, the world mountain functions as the residence of the gods and is caught up in heaven. In an Altaic creation myth, the supreme god Ulgen sat on a golden mountain ( altyn tu ), on which the sun and moon always shine. That means heaven. Later the mountain descended and shaded the earth like a vaulted roof, but without touching the surface of the earth at the edges. The gods made another mountain of heaven out of stone until it became so heavy that people were afraid it might fall on them. The gods therefore blew a thick layer of air under the mountain so that people could no longer see it.

The ancient Iranian world mountain Albordschi is essentially a creation of the Zoroastrian god of light Ahura Mazda , which took him 800 years. After fixing the ground in the first 15 years, the mountain grew in stages, first to the starry sky, then further to the moon sky, beyond this to the sky of the sun and even further to the sky of the primeval light. There is the abode of the highest spiritual being Ahura Mazda. All the water flows down from the mountain and flows into the seven continents, on which a total of 244 mountains rise, all of which are connected with the Urberg.

The common Asian ideas of the world mountain go back to the Indian mountain Meru , also Sumeru . According to Indian cosmogony, the gods (Suras) created the world in battle with the demons ( Asuras ) by turning the central mountain Mandara, which stood on the back of a turtle (Kurma), with the help of the rope serpent Ananta-Shesha and so on whirled the ocean of milk . Several gods, sun, moon and stars as well as valuable objects then emerged from the milk ocean.

Sumbur is the name of the same mountain for the Mongols, Sumur for the Buryats and Sumer for the Kalmyks. The rotating Indian mountain of the world fits in with the Asian idea of ​​a world pillar that protrudes like a wooden pole in the middle of the tent up to the sky. It is the enlarged shape of a nail, as some North Asian peoples called the North Star because the starry sky rotates around it in a circular motion. In Scandinavian legends this pivot point is called veraldarnagli ("world nail"), the Sami speak of the bohinavlle ("north nail"). Like the pillar, the world mountain rises to the pole star, so it extends from the earth's navel to the heavenly navel; and just as the Pole Star is in the north, the world mountain is also presented in the north. Indians locate the world mountain in the Himalayas, which for them is in the north, and like the Tibetans prefer to associate it with the holy mountain of the gods Kailash . The Mandaeans call to prayer to the north where they suspect the sky god, the Buddhists brought according to a description from the 13th century, the north facing Qiblah with Central Asia. The pole star, around which the stars circle, is usually - with the exception of the Jainas - above the Sumeru. With the Kalmyks, the heavenly bodies hide behind the Sumer on a starless night.

The Kalmyks have also taken over the whisking of the milk ocean from India. In their myth, the world mountain has the shape of a column. Four gods united the world mountain and turned it around wildly in the primeval sea, so that the sun, moon and stars emerged from it. In another tale of the western Mongols, a creator with a very long pole touched the primeval sea and created the sun and moon. Elsewhere, the primordial soup was stirred with an iron stick until some of this liquid solidified to earth.

The myth of the Indian Milky Ocean came to Central and North Asia in the form of a life-giving milk lake, which is located under the World Tree, around the World Mountain or on its top. For the Yakuts, the heavenly throne formed from a milk-white mountain of rocks is surrounded by a milk lake. Such a source was common in the ideas of the ancient Asian civilizations, where four rivers flowed from the middle of the world. The four rivers belong to the biblical description of paradise ( 1 Mos 2,10–14  EU ) and represent the basic plan of the four-part Persian Garden ( Tschāhār Bāgh ). For some peoples of the Altai, the milk lake was located in heaven, where it was according to old Iranian belief lies together with paradise in the third heaven. According to a Central Asian legend, the milk lake is located on the top of a mountain that reaches into the sky. Every time a child is born, the birth spirit Jajutschi draws vitality from the paradisiacal milk lake. Siberian shamans recount in ecstasy about their meeting with Jajuchi at his yurt in the fifth heaven. In the chanting , the world tree grows in the center of the sky on a watery sea, which is probably the heavenly lake of the Samoyed , from which the Yenisei rises.

Two temple towers ( meru ) with eleven and nine pagoda roofs ( tumpang ) in an unknown Hindu temple district ( pura ) on Bali . Photo from 1890 to 1935

The most detailed design found the presentation of the world mountain at the Meru in India itself and in the areas that have adopted this worldview with the spread of Buddhism. The Thai equivalent of Merus is found in the medieval treatise Traibhumikatha . The mountain came to Central Asia with Buddhist Lamaism . The description of the West Mongolian Kalmyks is exemplary: According to this, the height of the World Mountain rising out of the water is 80,000 miles, below the surface of the water there is a foot of the mountain that is once again as high and resting on a turtle. There is a layer of gold in between. The mountain top is ring-shaped by seven golden mountain ranges, separated from each other by seas. After the middle, the height of the mountains doubles, beginning at 625 miles of the outermost mountain ring, to 1250 meters of the sixth, 2500 meters of the fifth and up to 40,000 miles of the first ring. The distance between the individual mountain ranges corresponds to their height and also increases towards the middle. All seas in between contain fresh water, only the water flowing around the outside is salty. This outer ocean is surrounded by an iron ring (corresponding to the Qaf ) on the outer edge of the world at half the height of the seventh mountain ring. Its scope and distance are also determined numerically.

In the center rises the pyramidal Meru, whose base diameter is 2000 miles and its diameter at the top is 3.5 miles. The mountain slopes are covered with various precious stones and metals and accordingly shine blue on the south side, red in the west, white (silver) in the east and yellow (gold) in the north. In every direction out in the ocean there is a continent of its own like a large island, to which the corresponding color belongs. Each continent is surrounded by two minor islands, bringing the total number of islands to twelve. The number twelve is required to arrive at the corresponding number of zodiac signs in heaven, whose earthly counterparts are the twelve islands. The islands are all inhabited by people who differ in the shape of their faces. People with oval faces live in the south (India and the surrounding area), others with round faces in the west, people with crescent-shaped faces in the east and rectangular ones in the north. The world map of the Kalmyks shows the four times three islands in these same outlines.

In Southeast Asia the idea of ​​the world mountain only occurs in connection with Hindu and Buddhist myths that spread from India in the 1st millennium. The world mountain myth is alien to ancient Indonesian religions. The only exceptions are some ethnic groups in the center of Seram Island , who presumably adopted the myth from the Java- centered Hindu empires at a later time . In the myth of Sima-Sima on Seram, Mount Murkele (or Mount Hoale), which is around 2750 meters high, is the center of the world. The invisible nine-tiered world mountain rises on this, the shape of which is presented as nine circular disks lying on top of one another and decreasing towards the top. The invisible creator god Upua is enthroned in a village on the top. Should anyone see him, they would have to die. Upua created sun, moon, spirits and people from his saliva. For the other ethnic groups in Central Seram, the creator god with the same properties is called Alahatala or Lahatala.

In Palestine , Mount Tabor rises from the plain, visible from afar. The name of the mountain on which, according to Christian tradition, the transfiguration of the Lord took place, is interpreted with the Hebrew word tabbur as "navel (of the world)". The nearby mountain Garizim is nicknamed tabbur eres ("navel of the earth"). In Jewish tradition, the land of Israel was spared from the Flood because of its proximity to the World Mountain . According to the Gospels , Jesus was crucified on the hill of Golgotha , another symbol of the world mountain on which Adam is supposedly buried.

According to an Asian idea, the world has been in danger of going under since the beginning. With the Mongols, the giant snake Losun lurked in the primordial sea surrounding the world, from where it sprayed poison on the earth that killed many people and animals. Nobody, not even the hero Ochirvani, who was sent by the supreme god and who appeared as creator in another Mongolian legend and corresponds to the bodhisattva Vajrapani of Tibetan Buddhist mythology, was able to defeat the snake. Only with the last of his strength he managed to escape to Mount Sumer. On the summit he transformed into the eagle Garide (the snake-killing Indian Garuda ), who grabbed the head of the giant snake with its claws, dragged the monster around the mountain three times and finally smashed its head with a stone. The Scandinavian Midgard snake is of similar poison-spewing, global malevolence .

World mountain symbols

Basic plan of Borobudur , 9th century. The idea of ​​a perfectly symmetrical world mountain reached Indonesia with the spread of Buddhism in the first half of the 1st millennium.

In Indian temple architecture , the notion of an initial cosmic darkness plays a role. The cave-like, narrow and dark cella , the holy of holies of the Hindu temple , is interpreted as a reminder of the night at the beginning of creation in an architecture that was symbolically intended by its builders. In India the cella is called garbhagriha ( Sanskrit , "mother's womb house") and stands for the return to the beginning. The worship of the gods in the cella should lead to a new spiritual beginning. The high tower-like roof structure of the temple ( Shikhara in northern India or Vimana in the south) can be understood as the central mountain within a microcosmically depicted world. Vimana are also the names of the individual layers of the Indian sky in which the gods and other supernatural beings live. Stone pillars (stambhas) set up in the axis of the temple correspond in this context to both the ancient Vedic sacrificial post Yupa and the universal pillar reaching up to heaven. The first self-sacrifice, the cosmic prehistoric man Purusha , from whose body the gods, stars and earth were born, lies according to the mythical basic plan of the Vastu-Purusha mandala in a precisely defined position under the foundation of every temple.

The floors of heaven and the world mountain find their correspondence in the stepped monumental temple architecture, as it is particularly expressed in the south Indian Vimana roof structure. Indian temple towers, whether stepped horizontally like in South India or growing in vertical structures like in North Indian temple architecture, are images of the world mountain Meru. Many temples are named after mythical mountains: Meru, Sumeru, Kailash or Mandara. Some medieval temples were built on top of a rocky mountain where they were supposed to merge with the mountain into one. The majority of the temples, however, do not represent an image of a specific mountain, but of the mythical world mountain.

Balinese Hindu temples are mythologically based on turtles and snakes ( Nagas ), which populate the underworld. The middle of the three Balinese worlds represents the shrine which serves as a residence for a god and where the believers make sacrifices. The pagoda roofs, which are always in odd numbers, embody the Mahameru ("Great Meru") mountain and represent the upper world in Bali.

The peculiarities of the world mountain are also symbolically translated in the Buddhist stupa . An honor umbrella ( chatra ) spreads over the building , which is carried by a central mast ( yashti ). The mast corresponds macrocosmically to the central world axis and in Tibetan Buddhism at the same time microcosmically to the human spine, along which the five chakras (energy centers) lie. The entire stupa stands for the world mountain. The simplest form of the early stupas was a semicircular hill, which, after its name and shape, can also be understood as a cosmic egg (Sanskrit anda ). The hemisphere symbolizes a perfectly timeless shape. Most Tibetan stupas have a four-step staircase between the base and the anda (Sanskrit parisanda , Tibetan bang-rim ), with each of the four steps signifying a certain level of consciousness. As with the cella, the importance of the stupa in its effect as a signpost out of the world lies in the thought of a spiritual ascent from the lower to a heavenly higher level of consciousness. Similar to a flying bird and the shaman's cross-border heavenly journey, man conquers the earthly world in yoga .

A Bhutanese thangka shows the central patron god ( yidam ) on the world mountain Meru , surrounded by deities of followers in the various continents, which are separated from the outer salt ocean by a ring mountain. Tongsa Monastery (Tongsa Dzong ), 19th century

A Tibetan thangka (magical scroll painting, votive offering ) is constructed according to precisely defined geometric principles. On the central vertical axis, a protective deity or a saint with a nimbus forms the eye-catcher, surrounded by smaller depicted secondary deities. Some thangkas represent the images of gods in the context of Tibetan cosmography . According to Tibetan ideas, the world consists of a hemisphere bulging downwards, the four shells of which consist of air, fire, water and earth from the outside inwards with the world mountain towering in the middle.

In the Indonesian shadow play Wayang kulit and in related theater forms, the figure of Gunungan symbolizes the world mountain and at the same time the tree of life. The Gunungan , which was set up in the middle of the screen for the opening, is intended to attract gods and heroes with his magical powers, so that they bring the characters to life.

An early architectural symbol of the world mountain was the Mesopotamian temple shape ziggurat , which is believed to be the basis of the biblical tower of Babel . The open stairs of the broad brick buildings were supposed to connect earth and sky. This symbolic meaning of the steps is evidenced in the name of the ziggurat of Sippar , which is translated as “house of the stairs to holy heaven”.

According to Giuseppe Tucci , the symbolism of the Tibetan mandalas goes back to the older form of the ziggurat with five levels. Later the number of levels was increased to seven. The mandala designed on the floor depicts a stupa viewed from above and, like this, represents the world in a macrocosmic and microcosmic level as an image of the cosmos and image of the psyche. In the center of the mandala is the royal palace (Sanskrit vimana , Tibetan gŽal-yas-kʾang ), the outer edge is formed by a ring-shaped fire mountain ( me-ri ). The walls of the palace are represented by five different colored ribbons and are decorated with vessels that contain the water of life and from which trees of paradise grow (Sanskrit bhadra kalasha , Tibetan bum-pa bzang-po ).

In ancient Egypt , according to a mythological understanding, the step pyramid represented a staircase for the deceased king who was supposed to get to heaven on it. The Cushan temple Surkh Kotal in what is now northern Afghanistan from the beginning of the 2nd century AD is considered an early example of the history of ideas for the development of the Indian temple.Three wide stairs led up over five terraces on a mountain slope to a fire temple in the middle of one large court. Here the idea of ​​the later Indian cult caves as well as the Indian temple mountains was shaped.

When the world mount moves, as is symbolically the case in India with gods processions with the heavy, terrifyingly swaying temple chariots ( rathas ), the world is in a chaotic transitional state. The existing order must be renewed regularly through such an action.


  • Mircea Eliade (preface): The creation myths. Albatros, Düsseldorf 2002
  • Uno Harva : The religious ideas of the Altaic peoples . FF Communications N: o 125.Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, Helsinki 1938
  • Pierre Grimal (ed.): Myths of the peoples. 3 volumes. Fischer, Frankfurt 1977

Individual evidence

  1. Serge Sauneron, Jean Yoyotte : Egyptian creation myths. In: Eliade: Die Schöpfungsmythen , p. 55.
  2. Harva, pp. 27-30.
  3. Serge Sauneron, Jean Yoyotte: Egyptian creation myths. In: Eliade: Die Schöpfungsmythen , pp. 54–56.
  4. Harva, p. 52.
  5. Harva, pp. 58f.
  6. Albordschi. In: Wilhelm Vollmer: Dictionary of the mythology of all peoples. Hoffmann'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Stuttgart 1874, p. 24f (at
  7. Harva, p. 38.
  8. ^ Wilhelm Radloff : Extract from "From Siberia". In: Andrei A. Znamenski (Ed.): Shamanism: Critical Concepts in Sociology. Routledge Curzon, London 2004, vol. 1, p. 53 ( at Google Books ).
  9. Harva, pp. 85f.
  10. Harva, pp. 62-64.
  11. Waldemar Stöhr: The old Indonesian religions. ( Handbook of Oriental Studies. Third section: Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Second volume: Religions . Section 2) EJ Brill, Leiden / Cologne 1976, p. 204
  12. Mircea Eliade: Shamanism and archaic ecstasy technique. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1980, pp. 257f.
  13. Harva, p. 128.
  14. Urs Ramseyer: Culture and Folk Art in Bali . Atlantis, Zurich 1977, p. 121.
  15. Klaus Fischer , Michael Jansen , Jan Pieper: Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent . Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1987, pp. 65-69, 92, ISBN 3-534-01593-2 .
  16. Dieter Schuh: Tibetan Geometry. Tibet Encyclopaedia, 2010.
  17. Sippar / excavation area. Kiel image database Middle East. Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel (photo).
  18. Jörg Lanckau:  Himmelsleiter. In: Michaela Bauks, Klaus Koenen, Stefan Alkier (eds.): The scientific biblical dictionary on the Internet (WiBiLex), Stuttgart 2006 ff., Accessed on February 14, 2013.
  19. To the cosmic-divine principle of Brahman , the analogous equivalent is brahmarandhra , Sanskrit "the opening of Brahman" at the top of the head and the upper end of the central channel ( sushumna ) along the spine: Giuseppe Tucci : Mystery of the Mandala. Theory and practice. Otto Wilhelm Barth, Weilheim 1972, p. 105.
  20. Helmut Hoffmann: Symbolism of the Tibetan religions and shamanism. (Symbolism of Religions, Volume 12) Anton Hirsemann, Stuttgart 1967, pp. 39–42.