Since we humans first stood up on our hind legs, we have been trying to make sense of the universe. We've tried to figure out why we're here, how we got here, and what we should be doing about it.
Words by Fiona McIntosh
Photographs by Shaen Adey
Siyabona Africa recommended book on Table Mountain:Table Mountain Activities
Authors: Shaen Adey and Fiona McIntosh.
Copyright © 2004 Struik Publishers Cape Town.
In the millennia-long course of this quest, we have found some places more amenable to deep thought than others. Some places, in fact, seem to encourage a thoughtful introspection and inspire great insights - in short, they are places of power and enlightenment.
Not surprisingly, people have always gravitated to these sites, where they've settled, built centres of worship and also buried their dead. Table Mountain is one of earth's geographical features that have historically been regarded as special places of power. It's therefore not surprising that the city in its shadow has been described as one of the places everyone has to visit before they die. Capetonians have always loved Table Mountain and retreated to it for relaxation, recreation and healing.
Former Prime Minister Jan Smuts, among others, was noted for his regular sorties onto the slopes of the mountain where he found solace, peace and inspiration - and he was instrumental in some of the most far-reaching political decisions of the twentieth century. He said, at the unveiling of a memorial to Mountain Club members who had died during World War I: 'Table Mountain was their cathedral where they heard a subtler music and saw wider visions and were inspired with a loftier spirit. Here in life they breathed the great air; here in death their memory will fill the upper spaces.'
The Earth Spinner
Over the last few decades many people have come to realise and generally accept that all life on earth is interconnected, and that what happens in one place affects the whole planet. We know there are wind systems and ocean currents that circulate tangible solar energy around the world, so it's not hard to believe that there are other energy fields circulating other forms of energy - perhaps magnetic, perhaps electrical, perhaps spiritual.
There is an ever-increasing body of people who believe that the earth has a number of energy centres, of which 12 are major. These are the eight chakras and the four spinner wheels, each relating to one of the four elements: earth, air, fire and water. Chakras are energy centres, and spinner wheels are places that radiate this energy out to the chakras along ley lines, also called serpent or dragon lines.
St George's Cathedral, at the foot of the mountain, is built on such a ley line so it's not surprising that this lovely building, and the institution it represents, has had a positive effect on South African society. For many years the cathedral was the focus of resistance against apartheid, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who presided over the cathedral from 1986 to 1996, is widely recognised as having contributed extensively towards the making of South Africa's new democracy.
Each spinner wheel has its own purpose. The water wheel, Lake Rotopounamu in New Zealand, is intuitive and expands love; the fire wheel, Haleakala Crater, Hawaii, radiates masculine energy and increases will and liberty; the air wheel, which occupies a space stretching from the Great Pyramid in Egypt to the Mount of Olives, concentrates the more abstract and mental energies, thus contributing to more abundant qualities of life; and the earth wheel, Table Mountain, is nurturing and sustaining and generates light. For our planet to survive and prosper, we need all four to be able to operate freely and without any restrictions.
All centres of earth energy are reputed to be excellent places for meditating but we all know that the mountain is also just a great place to be, to chill out, to relax, to revitalise and clear your head. It is also widely believed that the presence of people thinking positive thoughts and doing positive things in a place of earth energy contributes to planetary health. And you thought walking on the mountain was just good for you - it's possible that every step you take in love, peace and harmony spreads positive energy around the world. Now that's a pretty good reason to go for a walk, isn't it?
The Peace Pole Debacle
In the eighties, an international movement to promote the idea of universal peace set about planting 'peace poles' in a number of sites across the world as symbols of their commitment to peace. Cape Town was one of the places chosen and two poles were planted, one in St George's Mall and the other on the slopes of Table Mountain, as a form of planetary acupuncture. It is perhaps testament to the inherent power of the places chosen for these poles that Christian fundamentalists considered them to be 'idols' and tore them down.
Perhaps Devil's Peak was not really such a good choice for a peace pole after all. The fundamentalists were prosecuted and paid a small fine. In 1999, five years after South Africa's first democratic elections, another peace pole was planted, this time on Robben Island, that lowest and perhaps most spiritual of Table Mountain's peaks. This one has had better luck. Perhaps it was the timing.
The Ring of Islam
Cape Town's Muslim community is largely descended from initially rather reluctant immigrants, who were brought to the Cape as slaves from the East and other parts of Africa in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Since the abolition of slavery in the early nineteenth century and the end of apartheid in the late twentieth century, however, many have felt that Cape Town is one of the better places to live, surrounded as it is by a protective ring of kramats, which are the burial sites of holy men or Auliyah - friends of Islam.
The circle starts at Signal Hill, continues to the site at Oudekraal, through Constantia, and further east to Cape Town's most famous kramat - that of Sheikh Yusuf at Faure on the Cape Flats. The tomb of Tuan Matarah on Robben Island is the final one completing the circle. It is believed that anyone living within this circle will be protected from natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes and hurricanes. The kramats accessible from the mountain include those at Oudekraal, Signal Hill, Deer Park and Vredehoek.
The Black Tortoise
The Chinese art (or is it a science?) of feng shui recognises four celestial animals, all of which should be present for an ideal site for a building, settlement or city. These animals are the Black Tortoise of the North, the Green Dragon of the East, the White Tiger of the West and the Red Bird of the South. It is important to remember that, in feng shui, the directions do not necessarily correspond to actual geographical directions. In fact, some people believe they should be turned through 180 degrees when used in the southern hemisphere.
Notwithstanding, let's look at the four celestial animals as they relate to Cape Town. The Black Tortoise, also called the Dark Warrior, should be a high mountain to the north which protects the site from strong winds. Of course, Table Mountain, which is widely acknowledged in feng shui circles to be the perfect Black Tortoise, is to the south but let's just swing things around and pretend it's north. To the west is the White Tiger, which should be a low range of hills, as is the Green Dragon to the east.
Devil's Peak makes a pretty good White Tiger and Lion's Head and Signal Hill are the perfect Green Dragon. Now the ideal site, according to feng shui experts, should have these three celestial animals protecting the back and flanks and have water or a flat area in front - with a low feature, or a lip, called the Red Bird of the South, positioned at the end of the flat area to prevent good chi (or energy) from leaking out. And there we have Table Bay with Robben Island - the lowest of Table Mountain's peaks - or perhaps Blouberg across the bay. And we always thought Cape Town was such a great city because... Actually, we never really need to think about it, do we? We just know.