There are many elements about sacred mountain beliefs in Japan, the way village clans and royal kings oriented their rites and ceremonies and ancient burial mounds around sacred mountains typified by Mt Miwa, Mt Katsuragi, Mt Fuji and many other mountains – appear to have close connections with the mountain god beliefs of Tibetans. Tibetan myths contain many details that are consonant with those of Kojiki and Nihongi ancient chronicles’ creation myths, earliest hierarchy of gods and their descent upon mountains and tie to divine emperors and empresses.
There are strongly identical elements of the “heavenly rope” and sacred tree rope; the snake shape-shifter of Mt Miwa (the wife of mountain god) vs mountain goddess riding stag; the iconic spear, gems (of mountain god) mirror (wife goddess) appear in both Tibetan and Japanese versions; the bird that brings fertility (Yayoi as well as Kofun period totems); animal sacrifices that have to be made… These identifiable commonalities together with the shared Tibetan-Burman and Japanese haplogroup types suggest the influx of these belief systems during migrations from possibly late Yayoi through Kofun periods.
“In Tibetan historiography, the mountain god yar-lha-sham-po is often called the royal god, and represents the power of the royal family. At the beginning of the spread of Buddhism into Tibet, many members of the royal house, adherents of the native Tibetan religion, Bon-po, remained averse to
Buddhism. This situation gave rise to the story of how the Buddhist deity pad-ma-vdyung-gnas encountered resistance from yar-lha-sham-po, who caused a flood to destroy a Buddhist palace. The emergence and triumph of yar-lha-sham-po as the supreme mountain god is also the history of the
development and strength of the yar-lung tribe. Absent a unified Tibetan power and a wise king skilled in military strategy, the Tibetan mountain god yar-lha-sham-po would not have become such a preeminent fixture.
A distinctive feature of Tibetan mythology is that the images of mountain gods are based on religious elements other than the physical mountains themselves. They are often embodied as animals or totems.
“At this time, sku-gnyan-thang-lha is the testing master.
He stretches his head to the region of gru-gu;
His tail fills up the possession sog-chu-gyer-thang.
A white snake blocks the road,
The master puts the stick onto the waist of the snake, and says:
“You are the Dragon King ne-le-thod-dkar,
dri zavi rgyal po sur phud lnga pa zhes.
gnyan-chen is the son of the mountain god vod-de-gung-rgyal and the single-winged jade bird, and is the chief of the gnyan gods. The place where the god lives is called vdam-shon;5 the jade-green bird brings vitality and the greenness of spring even to the snowy mountains in wintertime….
the mountain god is described as wearing armor and a white fighting gown studded with decorative gems. He is often pictured waving a spear with a fixed flag in his left hand, while holding a magic bowl full of gems his right hand.””
His wife is the goddess rma-chen…She originally lived on the anyesrmachen mountain and was considered the greatest of the twelve goddesses Tibetan ritual texts describe her in this way: she rides a stag as white as a conch, and her body is as white as the snowy mountains.
She is extremely beautiful, and her hair is plaited with colorful ribbons. In her right hand she holds a magical mirror, in her left a lasso and an iron hook. Dressed in a silk coat, she is adorned with a golden crown decorated with diverse gems atop her head. She also wears a pearl necklace, bracelets,
and anklets; a shining bell is fixed to the belt around her waist.”
In Tibetan mythology, the mountain gods have immense power and rule all other deities; this power stems from their control of weather phenomena—the wind, the clouds, thunder, hail, and so on. Accordingly, they have become the principal gods of Tibetan mythology, and their veneration is the most important form of nature worship in Tibet.
Because of their massive “bodies” and because of the illusions created by the weather around the peaks, mountain gods have changeable images in ritual. In time an amalgamation of mountain god worship with animal worship occurred: animals such as sheep, yaks, and wild horses all but replaced the old images. This animal imagery in turn gave way to anthropomorphism, as the animal forms became accompanying gods or the beasts that the mountain god rides. Changes in ritual imagery notwithstanding, the preeminence of the mountain gods in Tibetan mythology is unquestioned. Sacrifices to them are a collective rather than an individual matter, for a mountain god is not usually considered to be an
individual guardian; instead, he or she is the guardian of a particular tribe or even an entire people.
“ancient Tibetans connected the mountain gods to the more abstract conceptual class of heavenly gods, believing the peaks to be sites for passage from this world to the heavens above, sites where a rope (or step) was connected directly to heaven.
Myths about this heavenly rope (dmu-thag in Tibetan) were, not surprisingly, especially prevalent among the various ethnic groups that lived near the mountains themselves.”
“Early Tibetan mythology differentiated mountain gods from heavenly gods: heavenly gods were chiefly symbolic and less directly connected to the material life of early Tibet. Over time, however, the apparent physical proximity, together with similarities in ritual worship, led to increased identification between the mountain gods and the heavenly gods, the result being that the latter now possess a large measure of the features of the preeminent mountain gods; it is even held that mountain gods and heavenly gods can transform from one into the other. The mountain gods sometimes rise to the status of heavenly gods, and the heavenly gods sometimes descend to become mountain gods.
Vod-de-gung-rgyal, for example, is a patriarchal god ranked among the so-called “nine creator-gods.” However, judging from the word vod-de-gung-rgyal, this mountain god is also a heavenly god, for in Tibetan, gung means “heaven,” and gung-rgyal signifies “heavenly king.”
Here it may be appreciated that the way the Tibetans understand the heavenly gods is somewhat different from that of peoples who live in other geographical conditions. The Tibetans’ understanding of the heavenly gods developed on the basis of their mountain god worship. After developing the
conception of the heavenly gods through this kind of worship, ancient Tibetans postulated a tie between the two sets of gods. Hence the myth of the heavenly rope.
Tibeto-Burmese languages strongly suggests that mu- in Tibetan refers to “the heavenly god.” As for the word dmu-thag, I believe it to be closely connected to the Tibetan word for “rainbow” (vjav). A rainbow could well be understood by early societies as a rope connecting heaven to earth, a rope
sent down by the heavenly gods. Literally, dmu-thag means “the heavenly gods’ rope….
It is stretched by the wind, woven into threads, and wound round a tree. It is known as Dmuthag or g.yang thag (“fortune rope”).”16 This text clearly identifies dmuthag with the rainbow.”