Walking in the shadow of the mountain, there’s an eerie sensation. Perhaps it’s the mountain’s imposing 14,161-foot height, or that its looming peak is one of the largest dormant volcanoes in the United States. It’s quiet except for the sound of water rushing over polished rocks and lava tubes as it flows from the McCloud River to Shasta Lake.
The dramatic beauty of Mount Shasta’s pristine landscape is enough to leave anyone breathless. It’s not hard to see why it draws thousands of visitors each year. Some seek adventure on the mountain’s many hiking trails, ski runs, and waterways, while others come in search of something deeper–most commonly, a spiritual connection or extraterrestrial encounters.
Local resident Peter Chesko, a former skier, fine jeweler, and park ranger, has lived in Shasta for 27 years. “It’s the last national park with no gates or borders,” Chesko says. He explains that he has traveled the world but picked here to live. Chesko likes the bountiful trees and the fresh water of the mountain as well as the progressive, comfortable nature of the town. “I’ve even met lumbermen here who practice meditation,” he says.
Mount Shasta’s traditional spirituality draws its roots from the Native American tribes who trace their ancestry to its slopes: the Achumawi, Shasta, Modoc, Atsugewi, and Winnemem Wintu tribes. According to the legends of the native Shasta tribe, the mountain is their birthplace, for they are descendants of the grizzly bear people and the Great Spirit of the mountain. The Shasta tribe regards the slopes above the tree line of the mountain as incredibly sacred. Only shamans and spirits of the dead venture there.
The Winnemem Wintu also regard the area as their native place of worship, regularly hosting rituals such as coming-of-age ceremonies in the rivers that flow from the mountain.
Today, Mount Shasta is a spiritual melting pot. Nestled in the woods of the mountainside, cobblestone walls make up the beautiful wooden complex of Shasta Abbey, home to a community of 26 male and female Buddhist monks ranging in age from 25 to 75. Some locals believe that the mountain is home to an advanced, ascended race of ancient beings called the “Lemurians,” survivors, of sort, from the sunken fabled continent, Lemuria. Today, ambitious adventurers seek out entrances to the supposed hidden city within the mountain, and some even claim to have contacted them.
Further from these spiritual hotspots, at 3,600 feet, is the small community of Mount Shasta City, California. The mountain watches over its inhabitants. Sunlight pours over the streets, and people walk unfazed by the heat in loose, colorful garments. Some are travelers with backpacks or peaceful retirees; others are teachers, practitioners, and shopkeepers at various alternative medicine and therapy stores. Enterprising residents give tours of the mountain’s various spiritual and recreational locations, while others simply enjoy the city’s serene atmosphere.
Lawrence Jordan has been living between Mount Shasta and Marin County with his wife since 1963. “It’s rural, beautiful, quiet and peaceful. It’s uncontaminated,” says Jordan. Tourism for recreation and spiritual enlightenment is a large part of the town’s economy, and summer is its busiest season. “I think there’s definitely something mystical about the mountain. It’s a religious icon, like Fuji and other big mountains of the world,” says Jordan.
he rich variety of spirituality in the region draws in tourists from all over the world. Walking along the main boulevard of the city, sits a small yellow cottage with stained glass doors and “I AM READING ROOM” painted above the porch. As soon as the door opens, a three-foot portrait of a bearded man in 18th century French dress stares back through intense violet eyes. This is Saint Germain, the central figure of the spiritual group, I AM.
According to his book Unveiled Mysteries, in the early 1900s engineer Guy Ballard encountered the “Ascended Master”, Saint Germain, while climbing Mount Shasta with his wife Edna. So began Mount Shasta’s most famous spiritual movement, I AM, which teaches that each person has their own individual omnipresence, his or her own “God Self,” with the potential to ascend to become a higher immortal form.
During the summer, thousands of believers nicknamed “I AMs” by the community congregate for the annual conclave, where non-members are prohibited entry to even view the gathering. This year marks the conclave’s 15th anniversary, concluding with a three-day I AM Pageant at the G.W. Ballard Amphitheater, which is accessible to the public.
Further down the boulevard, shop windows on either side of the street are glimmering with the reflections of crystals, amulets, flutes, skulls, tuning forks, and holy figures from a pantheon of religions.
At a repurposed 76 gas station in the heart of town lies Mount Shasta’s Shambhala Center. Written on the gas station’s sign, past a row of prayer flags, are the words, “Home of the 13th Crystal Skull”.
Inside the Shambhala center, old refrigerators are filled with exotic jewelry and crystals. Lounge chairs flank shelves of colorful books. Rows of small Buddhas and angels gaze out at customers, while ambient music plays from behind the counter. Here, locals and tourists alike shop for icons that promise spiritual fulfillment, or stop in for classes and outdoor workshops aimed at increasing spiritual wellness.
Sitting in a separate, tapestry-covered room in the corner of the center, Susan Isabelle’s golden-white hair is pulled back to reveal dangling gemstone earrings. Her voice is soothing, matching the tranquil music floating through the center. “It completely flipped my life around,” says Susan, who first visited the area on a spiritual journey in 1999. “This is an incredibly spiritual place.”
Isabelle moved to Mount Shasta City in 2004 because of one specific sacred artifact—she calls it the “13th Mayan Crystal Skull”. According to Isabelle, the Mayan people of Belize claimed she was the keeper of a sacred crystal skull, and led her to attain two halves to make the skull whole.
“While the first half is masculine,” Isabelle explains the skull’s shape, “the second half is feminine. When the two pieces come together, they form [the shape of] a perfect human heart and they even have a heartbeat.”
Isabelle believes the crystal skull connects the idea of “one heart, one mind,” epitomizing the ideal mantra for humanity. “I was literally sent here to be with the mountain, which is both male and female,” she says. Mount Shasta has two peaks, known as Shasta and Shastina; Isabelle believes Shasta is male and Shastina is female. “To me, it’s a great big twin flame crystal that rises up through the earth… This mountain holds that energy.”
To Isabelle and travelers seeking spiritual guidance, crystals provide a source of energy to find inner peace, healing, and creativity. “People come here who don’t know why they’re here, but they end up at this store. Here at the Shambhala Center, we are a multicultural center that honors all religions and all beliefs,” she says.
On the other side of town, author and mechanic Brian Wallenstein doesn’t necessarily agree with the profiteering nature of spiritual practices in Mount Shasta.
“When I first moved here, there were a lot of ‘teachers’ up here,” says Wallenstein. “There were lots of groups competing with each other. A lot of these people were charlatans, and they were doing what they were doing for money.”
Down a long stretch of winding road just outside the city, Wallenstein lives in a forested property surrounded by chicken wire. An old black Volkswagen Beetle rests on the lawn. He sits on his deck below a set of wind chimes, dressed in a sleeveless t-shirt and shorts. A colorful tattoo of a dreamcatcher decorates his tanned left arm, and his messy, curled hair makes him look far younger than his wizened face suggests.
“I was hitchhiking around California, and didn’t know anything about Northern California. I didn’t know there was a volcanic mountain here. I told myself, I got to come back here,” says Wallenstein. “There’s a unique energy here and it’s been here for a long time.”
Wallenstein recently released a 625-page book called Mount Shasta Sightings, documenting specific dates, photos, and research behind various extraterrestrial encounters surrounding Mount Shasta.
Now, living in Shasta, Wallenstein says he has seen many incredible sights.
“Amazing things have happened here. With UFOs, I’m fortunate that all my encounters have been with other people. Plus, I study science, so I was really trying to come from an empirical viewpoint.”
He describes a particular instance in the early 90s when two missiles were rumored to have chased a UFO over the Dunsmuir, California area. “One crashed on the mountain, and hundreds of people saw it,” recalls Wallenstein. “Later, they basically put sham stories in the newspaper to cover up what had happened. Everyone forgot.”
According to Wallenstein, who refers to extraterrestrials as off-worlders rather than extraterrestrials, UFOs are common in Siskiyou County, and are usually spotted in quick sightings.
“Why Mount Shasta? Why are UFOs here? Maybe it’s just a beautiful place,” ponders Wallenstein, flipping through pages of his book as he recalls local alien sightings. He remarks that one theory connects the aliens to ancient places in the area. “I mean, how many ancient sites have accepted off-world intervention as a sound variable?”
UFOs are not the only unusual encounters Wallenstein has had during his time in Mount Shasta.
Wallenstein recalls a particularly memorable venture to the mountain in 1987, when he and his friends came across an overwhelmingly musky odor around the mountain’s old ski lodge.
Peering back at them through amber eyes and white fur matted in clumps, says Wallenstein, was a family of majestic Sasquatch—a male, female, and juvenile.
“They were really beautiful and pleasant to look at,” he recalls. “They were just as scared as we were.”
His group slowly backed away and never saw the Sasquatch again. The US Forest Service tore the lodge down the next year and, according to Wallenstein, gave no reason for the closure and denied any association with the Sasquatch. “They were trying to protect them,” he says. “They’re so endangered, but they’re out there. They exist.”
It’s easy to see why so many legends have found a home in Mount Shasta. From its giant lava-formed boulders to its abundant rushing streams, the mountain attracts a wide variety of creatures, plants, and people. The sky overhead is as bright and crystal-clear as its reflection on the water. Come sunset, crimson and magenta spill over the horizon. Clouds float above the mountain and rest by its slopes in perfect discs, giving it the appearance of a meeting place for hovering spaceships and wandering spirits. While many hikers may not know of Shasta’s mystical reputation, they just might feel something mysterious in the mountain’s shadow.