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Irgam Yigfagna (al-Jabal al-Lamma), the Gleaming Mountain

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(Berber/Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia)

In ancient times, it was thought that the ocean surrounded the earth as if it were a collar. The image was sometimes that of a serpent associated with the depths of the sea and the collar that clasped the earth. The serpent and the ocean were closely linked, the serpent often representative of the ocean. The sea was a supernatural power, and had both destructive and creative possibilities, sometimes hostile to man, sometimes the origin of a god with life-giving powers that could be valuable to those who believed.

Ibn Fatima was once on a voyage on the Atlantic Ocean to Nul Lamta, when his ship was blown off course and he found himself in a strange place that was shrouded in fog. Not knowing where they were, aware only that he and his sailors were lost, he and his crew abandoned the ship. In a small boat, they moved across the mysterious waters. After a time, they reached the middle of these waters, where they saw many white birds. But they reached land only after their provisions were almost exhausted. They had landed at the foot of al-Jabal al-Lamma, the Gleaming Mountain, but they were told by the Berber inhabitants of the area that they should not approach it. They did not know why this was, but obediently turned to the north of it, avoiding the place. As they moved along the shore, they met someone who asked them how it is that they got lost, and, now inquisitive about the mountain, they asked about the warning that they had received about al-Jabal al-Lamma. The people told them that it contained a mass of venomous serpents that always seemed to strangers to be gleaming objects made of beautifully colored stone. Such strangers were thereby deceived into drawing near, and when they did the snakes would kill them. This is what they learned about the Gleaming Mountain: Irgam Yigfagna is a name that was identified with this gleaming mountain. Jabal Qaf, the mother of mountains, encircled most of the inhabited world. Within this range, the Gleaming Mountain, shaped like half of a scepter, was a major source for rivers that flowed into the Atlantic Ocean. A gleaming pillarlike mountain not far from the sea, it was held in religious awe by the nomadic peoples. Within it seemed to be treasure, what seemed to be beautiful stones. Yet it was the abode of death, inhabited as it was by serpents that protected it from intruders who, deceived by its outward appearance, were drawn to it almost against their will. There was also a sea of darkness here, full of terrors—the dangers of mists, storms, and shipwreck. The sea was mysteriously linked to the desert mountain; both were the gate of death, yet at the same time the source of precious stones, sea creatures, bottles containing jinn (who haunted the mountain), and demigods. There was also a holy man—now Moses, now al-Khadr, now some other saint or prophet—who was always present. The crew presented the Berber with gifts in gratitude for their safety, bought mounts from them, and departed for Naghira, the capital of the Gudala. They stayed for some time with the Gudala, drinking camel's milk and dried camel's flesh until they journeyed with them to Nul. Five rivers descended from al-Jabal al-Lamma. The middle river was called Nahr al-Hayyat, the river of snakes. There were many snakes around al-Jabal al-Lamma and nearby mountains, sent by God as a punishment to the people of those regions, but more a blessing than a punishment because the people found them delicious to eat. The sea, the serpent, the holy man, and the Gleaming Mountain are unified. See also: al-Khidr.


Subjects: Religion

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