I love mountains, and always have. And given Mercury’s affinity for high places (from his native Mt Cyllene in Arcadia to his Gallic shrines in the Vosges, the Puy de Dôme, Montmartre and Tawern, not to mention the St Michael’s Mounts I alluded to a few weeks ago), it seems particularly fitting to seek out high places to do him worship.
And yet I live near Chicago.
The nearest mountain worthy of the name is in the Appalachians—a very great ways from here. We barely have anything in the way of hills. Erosion provides a few gorges, as at Starved Rock, but for the most part our landscape is lamentably flat (the city itself was laid out on swampland). I therefore hied me over to the highest point of the Driftless Area of southwestern Wisconsin for a weekend getaway. The point in question is Blue Mound. My Civil War–era ancestors lived in the vicinity, which was an added inducement.
And so I went. It’s rather serene up there. The landscapes around the slopes of the mounds are surprisingly Middle Earth–like for the Midwest, with dramatic outcroppings of exposed rock and lush ferns amidst the oak forest. I said my prayer to Mercury. But I wasn’t altogether convinced that, as Brigham Young would say, ‘this was the place.’
Later on during the same trip I went to Aztalan. This was outside of the Driftless Area, so the rolling hills and dramatic rocks were gone. I was surrounded by flat cornfields, and the heat and humidity were beastly enough that I knew I was home again. Yet Aztalan really did strike me. This was a city, a sanctuary, a market, a gathering-place of singular importance in the area. In its day (it flourished from around 1000 to 1200 CE), Aztalan would have been the main exponent and representative of Mississippian civilization in the Great Lakes region.
The site is larger than I imagined. You can see a row of conical mounds overlooking a broad gradual slope down to the Crawfish River—there were formerly far many more mounds like this—way-markers, they think, rather than burial mounds. In the midst of that slope is the great open plaza, demarcated by earthen pyramids at two corners and the houses that would have stood by the river. The pyramid at the southwest was a great platform mound with obvious affinities to the one at Cahokia.
Our Native American brethren often enjoin us to eschew their religious traditions, and worship only the gods of our own ancestors. For the most part, I follow that advice. As Plutarch remarks, however, the sun and moon are common to all nations, and so too are the gods. The sun god was worshipped a millennium ago at this temple pyramid, so I thought I might offer my own unobtrusive adoration to Sol Invictus in English and Latin from atop the pyramid. I do wonder what rights the Hocąk or other First Nations have to access the site and use it for ceremonial purposes.