ARUN RATH, HOST:
Mt. Shasta in Northern California draws a lot of tourists, and why not? The massive, snowcapped volcano is surrounded by miles of pristine national forest with some of the purest water in the state. And as reporter Steven Jackson discovered, the mountain has a global reputation as a gathering place for spiritual seekers.
STEVEN JACKSON, BYLINE: If you visit the city of Mount Shasta, you might find yourself here.
ASHALYN: Shasta Vortex, this is Ashalyn.
JACKSON: Just Ashalyn - she doesn't use a last name. Ashalyn is the founder of Shasta Vortex Adventures. Her company does guided meditations, vision quests and hiking and driving tours of the mountain's sacred sites.
ASHALYN: I get people from all over the world. They come here for spiritual growth, healing, understanding more about themselves, figuring out what their life purpose is and sometimes just to feel the energy.
JACKSON: That energy attracts about 26,000 people a year. And many of those visitors just never leave.
JUDITH ORDAKOWSKI: Well, actually, what drew me here was the mountain.
LEWIS ELBINGER: I was called; the mountain called me. When I'm walking through the forest, I feel like I'm walking in a cathedral.
DIANNE ROBBINS: It does not matter where you go on the mountain. The mountain's energy is everywhere. It's bliss.
JACKSON: That was Judith Ordakowski, who works at Mt. Shasta's visitor center, Lewis Elbinger, who owns a donation-based tea shop downtown and spiritual author Dianne Robbins. There are dozens of myths, legends and stories surrounding the mountain. And back at Shasta Vortex Adventures, Ashalyn tells me about some of the big ones - number one, Native American stories.
ASHALYN: Well, the Native Americans have always felt the mountain was the sacred center of the universe.
JACKSON: Shasta straddles a handful of Native American territories, and the mountain shows up in lots of tribal myths. It's especially important to the Wintu tribe, who trace their people's origin back to the mountain.
ASHALYN: And they have always done their sacred ceremonies there, and they continue to do them to this day.
JACKSON: Then there's legend number two - ascended masters. It's a complicated story, but Ashalyn explains the basics. In the 1930s, a businessman named Guy Ballard encountered a mysterious figure on the mountain who claimed he was an ascended master.
ASHALYN: And those are beings who have had many lifetimes on this planet and no longer need to come back into that birth-death cycle that we're in because they've learned to master the physical plane.
JACKSON: The master passed on his wisdom to Ballard, who started a religious movement called the I AM Activity. They were eventually charged with fraud for swindling their followers out of millions of dollars, and the group fell into obscurity. OK, legend number three - Telos.
ASHALYN: Another theory is the city of Telos that's underneath Mt. Shasta.
JACKSON: According to Ashalyn, Telos is a crystal city inside the mountain inhabited by beings called Lemurians who mostly keep to themselves.
ASHALYN: Well, there's a couple stories from the 1940s where the Lemurians were actually seen walking into town.
JACKSON: They were seven feet tall, dressed in long white robes and sandals.
ASHALYN: And they're going to the store and buy something -pay for it with a chunk of gold. The shopkeeper would take the gold, turn around and try to give them change, and the Lemurian would be gone.
JACKSON: Considering all these stories, I decided to check out the mountain myself.
So I am walking into a snow-covered meadow. I think this is the vortex that Ashalyn told me about. There's hardly any foot prints out here.
The air feels cold and sharp. The old-growth seeders are covered in brilliant green moss and shape-shifting clouds whip across the sky impossibly fast. I don't have a spiritual epiphany, but it is awesome - I mean, literally awesome. And I think I understand why the mountain has so many legends to its name. Ashalyn probably puts it best.
ASHALYN: It's a non-denominational mountain - Mt. Shasta.
JACKSON: The Greeks had Olympus. Moses had Sinai. And spiritual seekers in the modern age have Shasta. For NPR News, I'm Steven Jackson.
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