Magic mountain of the mystics

Shasta and its city are magnets of New Age spirituality

San Francisco Chronicle/October 13, 2002
By John Flinn

Mount Shasta City, Siskiyou County -- I am following Beverly Ann Wilson through room after room of her sprawling crystal emporium, and Beverly is following a pair of twitching metal rods.

I'd come in to shop for a souvenir. But in Mount Shasta's Middle Earth Crystal Room, she informs me, customers don't choose their crystals. Crystals choose their customers.

Beverly is using the metal divining rods -- the same tools dowsers employ to find hidden water -- to tune into the vibrations emitting from "my" crystal.

It doesn't matter if I have my heart set on, say, one of those pretty Lemurian seed crystals over on the far wall.

"If the crystal says no, it doesn't go," explains Beverly. "It doesn't leave the shop. It's that simple."

And here's the thing: After a day and a half in Mount Shasta City, none of this seems strange to me.

The town, which sits at the foot of its namesake mountain, has for many years existed in two very different dimensions. There's the dimension I knew best -- a center for hiking, climbing, skiing and fishing -- and the dimension I'd come to explore: the vortex of New Age spiritual energy, the home of mystics, healers, psychics, shamans, chanters, metaphysicists, drum beaters and UFO watchers. What, I wondered, brought them all here?

Soaring 14,162 feet into the Northern California sky, Mount Shasta is such an imposing presence on the landscape that it creates its own weather -- most notably the eerie-looking lenticular clouds that form on its summit, resembling either a jaunty beret or a UFO mother ship.

The mountain exerts a strange force even on those not normally associated with New Age leanings. John Muir wrote that the first time he saw Shasta, "all my blood turned to wine and I have not been weary since."

Peculiar and unexplained things have been happening around the mountain at least since 1883, when a young man in nearby Yreka named Frederick Spencer Oliver claimed his hand was seized by strange forces that made him write uncontrollably. The result was "Dweller on Two Planets," an occult classic that told the story of the Lemurians, an ancient race who abandoned their Atlantis-like continent when it sank beneath the Pacific Ocean and formed a mystical brotherhood inside Mount Shasta. (Many years later, Shirley MacLaine was browsing in a bookstore in Hong Kong and reported that this very book fell mysteriously off a shelf and landed in her hands.)

Other accounts have described the Lemurians as old yet virile, with walnut- sized protrusions in their foreheads that allowed them to communicate telepathically. Occasionally, according to these accounts, they would come into Mount Shasta City to trade gold nuggets for supplies.

I couldn't find anyone who claimed to have seen a Lemurian -- or even admitted believing in them -- but Beverly, the crystal lady, allowed that they very well might exist on a vibrational level to which we're not yet ready to tune in.

There are other stories. In 1930, a local man said he encountered a mystical "ascended master" named Saint Germain near a spring on the mountain. This led to the founding of a new religion, the I AM Activity, which still has followers in Mount Shasta City and around the world.

In 1987, nearly 5,000 people from around the globe gathered on the slopes of Mount Shasta for the Harmonic Convergence, an effort to draw on the energies of sacred "power spots" to bring about world peace.

Perhaps some of that power derives from the fact that Mount Shasta is the font of California's greatest river. Just north of town, in a leafy little park on the mountain's lower slopes, I went to have a look at the spring that gives birth to the mighty Sacramento. I expected a little pool of water bubbling out of the ground, but what I found was a fully formed stream -- a large, frothing creek -- gushing from the mountain, even in late August. I'd never seen anything like it, anywhere in the world.

Still trying to get a handle on the town's status as a "world renowned spiritual energy vortex," as a brochure I picked up in the visitor's center put it, I called the Circle of Life Wellness Center for Conscious Living and made an appointment to have my body's energy systems checked out by something called the Aurastar 2000.

In a little office above a Papa Murphy pizza restaurant, a woman named Carol Ito had me place my left hand on a device with 50 metal sensors and count backward from 100. Ito booted up her IBM ThinkPad laptop, and in a few seconds an image appeared on its screen -- Leonardo da Vinci's famous sketch of the male body superimposed on what looked uncannily like the swirling colors of a tie-dyed T-shirt.

Those colors, Ito explained, represented my energy fields. "It's the same as your aura, but we don't like to use that word," she said. "It's too charged. "

Examining the readout, Ito told me that my heart, solar plexus, spleen and root chakras were doing just fine, but that my neck and throat chakra wasn't doing so well -- probably stress -- and that my brain and third eye were working overtime.

"People use this feedback to make decisions in their life," she said.

Frankly, I wasn't much taken with the Aurastar 2000 -- until Ito noticed the band of gray around my midsection in the readout. "You've had an injury to your waist, haven't you?" she said. As a matter of fact, I had. I'd had a kidney removed three years earlier, the only serious trauma to my body in many years. I left her office a bit less skeptical than I arrived.

On my last day in town I drove 15 miles up the Everett Memorial Highway to its end on Shasta's southwest flank, at about 7,900 feet. I set off walking up a rocky trail, past the last, stunted trees. Much of Shasta's paranormal activity has been reported in this area -- probably, the skeptic in me thought, because it has easy highway access.

As I climbed higher, into an amphitheater formed by Sargents Ridge and Green Butte, I caught a glimpse of an odd, pudgy creature darting behind a rock. Was it a Lemurian? Or the ascended master Saint Germain himself? No, it was a big, fat marmot.

As I ascended higher still, skirting around snowfields, I kept telling myself to slow down, since I wasn't used to the altitude. But I felt buoyant and strangely energetic, as if some force was pulling me upward.

Finally I stopped to survey the view. Off in the distance I could see Shasta's fire-and-ice sister, Mount Lassen. To the south, the fortresslike ramparts of Castle Crags stood guard over the Sacramento River canyon. The endless folds and wrinkles of the Siskiyou Mountains stretched off into the hazy west.

An icy wind blew down the mountain. I could feel the chill of the heights. I turned around and started back down the trail. But as I did so, I could feel Mount Shasta's powerful presence behind me, still exerting its pull.

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