Sacred Mountains, Rivers, and Heavenly Bodies
Various religious traditions recognize sacred cities. For instance, in India, Varanasi (Banares) and Haridwar are sacred, among other cities. In Islam, Mecca, the terminus of the hajj pilgrimage, and Medina are sacred as cities in which Muhammad lived and established Islam. Jerusalem is also a sacred city in the Islamic tradition, as it is for Jews and Christians too. Mountains and rivers can be sacred in religious traditions for the same reason that cities and mosques, shrines, temples, and churches are sacred—because they are the place where a religiously significant event occurred or because they are a place of worship or religious observance. Mountains and rivers, however, may also be sacred in a religious tradition for a quite different reason. They may be sacred because they themselves are gods. In this chapter, we consider sacred mountains, especially those of Japan, that have been experienced as gods, and the primary sacred river of India, the Ganges, experienced and religiously interacted with in the Hindu tradition as the goddess Ganga. Heavenly bodies have also been regarded as gods, and we observe how for a period in ancient Egypt, the sun, Aten, was considered the supreme god.