I’m feeling hard-up for narratives lately, so here are some pictures. These are from my walk over the ranges of western Shanxi (山西) Province, up finally out of the endless loess country and into brambly mountain ridges.
One interesting thing to be found up there are a great number of shrines to the Mountain Gods (shan shen, 山神) and the Gods of the Place (地神). Mountain God worship, particularly, is something that I had heard about from Korea and Japan (san sin [산신] or yama no kami [山の神] respectively, both derived from Chinese). Mountain gods are quite popular in Korea in fact; it is not unusual to see signs on the street in Seoul for shamans offering seances with the mountain gods. (This guy’s website, if you’re interested in this, is a trip, as is this blog post.) Tibetans also have a whole typically variegated typology of mountain gods as well, with (so far as I can remember), the basic types being sa bdag, “Lords of the Place”, lha ri “Spirit Mountains”, and generalized gnyan “Spirits”. But I’d never met with mountain worship in China before. Nearly every village in this part of Shanxi, however, has a Mountain God shrine, often just a little arch built of stones on a nearby ridgeline. These can be found as well on remote mountaintops, surrounded by cairns, as well as at the entrance to deep forests, passes, etc. Locals tell me that the Mountain God appears as an elderly man, who finds lost sheep and cows and prevents injury or misfortune in the high country.
The Reed Sprout Mountains (芦芽山) at dusk.
Forest in the Black Tea Mountains (黑茶山)
Shrine to the Mountain Gods and the Gods of Place in the Black Tea Mountains.
Rock shrine in the Reed Sprout Mountains
Mountain god shrine near Jia County (佳县); I spent a night here.
Mountain god shrine at the entrance to the forest in the Black Tea Mountains
The monastery at the peak of Big Belly Mountain (大肚山), in which lives one monk and some assorted peasants. I spent the night here.
Rock hermitage on the slopes of Big Belly Mountain.