Mountains have always had a special aura in the human mind. They are huge, challenging, closer to heaven and inspiring. There’s Mt. Sinai, where God supposedly spoke to Moses; Mt. Olympus (left), the home of Greek gods; Mt. Fuji, the sacred Japanese mount; Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa; Mt. Everest; Mt. Rushmore; the Alps; the Andes; the Rockies; and so on. Maybe the clouds surrounding the peaks like halos, shielding the top from view, gives them that special aura.
Now, there’s a new mountain to add to the sainted mix: Pic de Bugarach in France. It may be the most mysterious of all of them.
You may never have heard of it. After all, Bugarach (right) is just 4,000 feet high – not even among the top 100 world’s tallest mountains -- and located in the equally unfamiliar Corbières Mountains in one of the poorest and least populated parts of France. This was an area hikers traditionally visited in an effort to get away from everything.
These days, however, they have to find somewhere else to walk. Bugarach has attracted a lot of attention from deluded doomsday cults expecting the world will end on Dec. 12, 2012. Some of them believe, for no apparent reason, that only people living in the small village at the base of the mountain will survive the coming Gotterdammerung.
“The apocalypse we believe in is the end of a certain world and the beginning of another, a new spiritual world,” a former teacher now living in a tent outside the village told reporters. “The year 2012 is the end of a cycle of suffering,” Jean said. Bugarach is “one of the major chakras of the Earth, a place devoted to welcome the energies of tomorrow.”
Bugarach has actually attracted bizarre attention in the past because of its unusual shape. Soon after the mountain was uplifted, geologists have determined, “it exploded, and the top landed upside-down. “ The strange appearance gave it something of a sacred tag from people with little else to do but to identify odd places as sacred.
One recurring theme is that the mountain houses aliens. “We all know that aliens are there for thousands of years,” said Paul Ponssot, the owner of a Paris-based bookstore specializing in esoteric literature. “They may be the forces who will help us get through 2012.”
The 200 or so local residents have never seen anything unusual, except an occasional pilgrim, but they probably lack the deep insight and clear vision that religious fanatics always bring to a situation.
Mayor Jean-Pierre Delord (left) said that some 20,000 people have already flocked to the place to set up camp and perform religious rituals. "They think Pic de Bugarach is 'un garage à ovnis' [an alien garage]," he told reporters. "The villagers are exasperated: the exaggerated importance of something which they see as completely removed from reality is bewildering.”
Removed from reality? Not the American Ramtha School of Enlightenment, which has taken up campsites in the area. Members espouse the teachings of Ramtha, an ancient warrior who, they claim, “battled the residents of Atlantis more than 35,000 years ago and discovered the secret to immortality.”
How much closer to reality can you get?
Atlantis, the mythical nation described by Plato as having been destroyed around 12,000 B.C.E., gets entwined in the French mountains because, according to very tall tales, a few survivors of the catastrophe moved there and set up their civilization underground.
They have some lightweight company. Early Celtics, those paragons of logic whose ideas have animated Christmas, thought that the mountain served as a doorway to the realm of ancient Tinkerbells. The fairies could be neighborly because, in these stories, Pic de Bugarach has a hollow core. That idea generated a lot of thoughts in fertile minds.
For example, 1800s English author Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton (right) -- best known for the line: “It was a dark and stormy night” – once described the people of the underground who would emerge to make us all slaves. That’s slightly better than being annihilated during Armageddon, I guess.
Captivated by the idea that some secret world hides under the mountain, French author Jules Verne also liked Bugarach and referred to the site in some of his novels, as did many other famed French writers such as Maurice Leblanc, Gaston Leroux and George Sand.
Unfortunately, the mountain is not hollow. It’s solid limestone, like lots of mountains, with an occasional cave to boost the imagination. Besides, lots of French mountains are supposedly hollow, including High Loire (Pradelles), Ariège (Miglos), the Pilat (Annonay), the Ardeche (St Pierreville) the Maritime Alps (Falicon), Provence (Clansaye, Baux of Provence), according to a lengthy report on Bugarach.
All those places are quite solid, too, but are also home to stories about poor souls who wandered into a secret cave and either disappeared or stumbled over a strange village buried beneath the earth.
The folks settling down at Bugarach are in good company. They are doing something else that’s pretty familiar around the world, too, especially when it comes to the possible end of the world – making a mountain out of a molehill.
Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history. He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida. You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.com. He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion. His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.