The darkness is absolute. Steam and burning herbs scald my nostrils, choke my throat.
I’m not actually claustrophobic, but panic sends my heart into a canter, and I remind myself the tent opening is only four feet to my left.
I’m in a sweat lodge near Mt. Shasta. It’s the Day of the Dead, and for a moment, in that burning pitch, it seems I’ve descended to the underworld. A native American woman brushes the hot stones with dried grasses, and sparks glow, fly, vanish, plunging us in darkness again.
Though I grew up in California, I’d never explored Shasta. I arrived the day before Halloween battling my first real case of writer’s block and with the intention to sit in a remote cabin in the woods until the words came. I also figured it would be an opportunity to channel my inner Agent Mulder and explore the mountain’s paranormal mysteries.
Halloween at Mt. Shasta was both a good and bad idea. Good because Shasta is one of the few places in California you can actually see some fall color. It’s not Vermont, but it’s lovely. Bad because it was a bit rainy. While that kept me from slogging up the mountainside to visit energy vortexes (apparently there are buckets of them at Shasta), there’s still plenty paranormal to ponder.
Mt. Shasta is believed to be one of the earth’s seven energy chakras – specifically, the first chakra. The Pit River Tribes called Shasta the “Sacred Spirit Mountain.” With few foothills to block the view, it does have a special feel to it.
And then there are its magic waters.
Natural springs are not quite everywhere, but there are an awful lot of them bubbling up from this slumbering volcano. The headwaters of the Sacramento River are a consecrated spring in Mt. Shasta City Park (photo, top). The spot is believed to be favored by the fae folk, and it's certainly lovely. (It's also the inspiration for the fairy spring in my upcoming trilogy, The Witches of Doyle). I collect some of the water for a friend of mine who makes tinctures and clearing sprays.
Stewart Mineral Springs Retreat, where I stay (and participate in the sweat lodge) has two sacred springs – one red and iron-rich beside a white, silica and sulphur spring. These “masculine” and “feminine” springs flow together into a creek, and feed the bathhouse. The silica in the baths makes your skin silky smooth and the bathtub dangerously slippery. I collect water here as well.
There have been Bigfoot sightings at Shasta. Less well-known are the Lemurians, a mythical race of “little people” believed to live beneath the mountain. Are they third-dimensional beings? Escapees, like the Atlanteans, of a sunken island? People swear Lemurians used to stop into town to trade gold.
While I’m in in town, an acquaintance calls. He tells me his family used to own property nearby, in Lassen, and hidden on that property lived a real lost race – the last Yahi Indians. In 1908, all but one member of the tribe, Ishi, were killed by surveyors.
I wonder (silently) if hidden tribes such as these could have been the origin of the Lemurian myth. Perhaps I’m more Scully than Mulder at heart.
But if Mulder did come to Shasta, he’d likely be seeking UFOs. Weird, saucer-shaped, lenticular cloud formations tend to hover above and around Mt. Shasta, and this is likely where the UFO stories came from. Whatever. The clouds are gorgeous, and I come to appreciate the towering clouds even when they’re partially obscuring the mountain.
It’s round three in the sweat lodge. Each round is interrupted by prayers and a homily by the spiritual leader, Walking Eagle. Each round also seems to get successively hotter – more hot stones, more steam. This final round is searing. I bend over, seeking cooler air, and finally prostrate myself, pressing my face as close to the ground as I can get.
If anyone could see me, they might think I was having a religious experience. I’m not. But maybe being flattened is exactly what my ego needs.