Exploring the Mystical Realms of Mountainous Initiation: Asceticism, Self-Realization, and the Transgressive Alchemy of Pain and Suffering

The loss of the sacred dimension of the human being in modern society is due to the overwhelming imperialism of rationalization and moralization of human life. Modern society has progressively marginalized the sacred in favor of rational, productive, and utilitarian values, leading to the repression of essential aspects of human experience such as desire, violence, among others. This relentless pursuit of productivity and efficiency in modern society has led to the suppression of the irrational and the sacred, relegating them to the periphery of human existence. Therefore, the apophatic exploration of the fields of this forgotten and proscribed periphery could allow the human being to enter into the mysteries, ussually devalued because they do not fit into rational and utilitarian frameworks, of the divine aspects.

Mountain climbing, scrambling, canyoning, and rock climbing are examples of exhilarating activities that offer a unique blend of physical challenge and breathtaking scenery, as well as views of the mysterium tremendum. These pursuits come with inherent risks and adversities: extreme fatigue, which causes psychological distress and mood destruction but can also lead to accidents, can occur in mountain activities; unpredictable weather conditions, which can change rapidly, leading to sudden shifts in temperature and visibility, storms, extreme cold, or avalanches. Treacherous terrain, steep cliffs, loose rocks, and crevasses pose serious threats. Inexperienced, and also experienced, climbers may find themselves in perilous situations, struggling to progress vertically and horizontally through difficult passages. Falls are a constant risk, especially when ascending or descending steep slopes. Altitude-related issues are common in high-altitude mountaineering: oxygen levels decrease at elevation, leading to altitude sickness, which can cause nausea, dizziness, and, in severe cases, pulmonary or cerebral edema.

All of these externalities derived from mountain activities consciously and unconsciously encompasse rituals and practices that involve abstention, prohibition, and renunciation.1 Suffering plays an important role in the development of the individual’s moral and spiritual life; it is not something to be avoided or eliminated, but rather something that can be transformed into a positive force for self-realization. Through the experience of suffering in the mountains, the initiatic climber can come to recognize his own limitations and weaknesses.2

The transgressive nature of mountain activities is not limited to the physical realm; it extends to the apeirophobic dominion of the psychological and spiritual dimensions of the Unknown. Tenebrous landscapes constructed from elements of illusion and fear adorn the interior visions that are reflected in the responses that the individual presents with respect to the environment, even in ignorance of it. The climber, in his pursuit of the summit through heterological experiences of sacred violence,3 challenges not only the external obstacles but also the internal barriers. The act of facing one’s fears, doubts, and limitations is a form of sacred transgression, a rebellious dance with the wilderness against the inner constraints that hinder self-realization and shackle the individual.

Transgression plays a crucial role in the alchemical quest for self-realization, involving going beyond the limits imposed by society and morality, allowing individuals to experience a sense of freedom and fulfillment and connection with the divine that is not readily found in ordinary, everyday life. It is a way to liberate desire and access the sacred dimension of human existence that has been repressed by modern society, enabling the esoteric wanderer to experience his true nature and potential beyond the constraints imposed.4 Notwithstanding its shocking essence, this transgression is not an escape from reality or a denial of morality. Bataille (1957) argues that transgression should be conscious and responsible, serving as a way to affirm life and freedom rather than destroy them. In this sense, transgression is a means of affirming life and accessing the sacred dimension of human existence that has been suppressed by modern society.


The symbolism of ascent and descent is clear, and deeply rooted in the collective unconscious, reflecting archetypal patterns of mytical transformation. In the ascent, the climber moves towards the heavens, transcending the earthly realm and reaching for the divine. In the descent, he returns to the earthly domain, transformed and renewed. This cyclical movement mirrors the eternal recurrence, the perpetual cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Different processes of a katabatic and anabatic nature interact alchemically to mold, incinerate and transubstantiate the pilgrim into a mixture of ashes, mud, and blood.

The mountain, as the symbolic battleground, witnesses the insurgence of the individual against the herd and also against the conventions of homogeneity, a clash between autonomous will and social, conformist pressures. In this rebellious ascent, the wanderer confronts not only external challenges but also the internal shadows, a deliberate confrontation with the chaotic forces within—this is the ravenous and radioactive embrace of the Dark Fire that burns in the bleeding heart of the pilgrim.

As we delve into the mystical aspects of mountainous initiation, we encounter the crux. The crux becomes the heart of the initiatic ordeal, a point of ultimate transgressive confrontation where the climber grapples with his deepest fears and limitations. It is a symbolic death, a surrender of the old self, paving the way for a rebirth—a Homo religiosus connected to the violently sacred forces of nature. In the alchemical crucible of pain, suffering, and the confrontation with the crux, the initiatic climber undergoes a profound transformation. Mysterical and mystical experiences of pain5 lead the initiatic walker into paths where he explores hidden aspects of himself that open his perception —through unorthodox ways— to other forms of knowledge. It is here that he embodies himself as a shaman,6 immersing himself in the labyrinth of mountain asceticism. This path to self-realization involves undergoing intense spiritual and transformative experiences, often including visions, dreams, and encounters with, for the sake of understanding, spiritual entities. Through these experiences, the shaman gains a deeper understanding of the spiritual dimensions of existence and his own place within the cosmos.

Affliction torments the soul and pulverizes the ornaments of homogenity that have colonized the individual, such as a vine that grows and suffocates a tree and offers the tree the possibility of accessing only a part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The mountain, once a formidable adversary of cyclopean proportions, transforms into a benevolent deity—a hierophany revealing the sacred in the ordinary. Every grip, every move, every accelerated pulse becomes a hymn to the divine within and without, a canticle to the monument to the mysterium tremendum et fascinans.

This initiatory journey unfolds as an antinomian rebellion—a radical embrace of the heterologous elements that disrupt the homogeneity of everyday existence in the mundane reality. The alchemical wanderer willingly participates in the catastrophic collision between the sacred and the profane, between the natural and the constructed. This deliberate immersion into the ineffable, although monstruous, divine—the apophatic experience—becomes a kenotic transmigration, an emptying of the self to embrace the subtle realms lying beneath the surface of artificial layers. By destroying the delusional, in this ordeal of blazing fire Reality is purified just as a mineral is cleansed of the layers of impurities that have accumulated on it over and over again.

The asceticism of mountainous initiation is not a passive endurance but a conscious rejection of the superfluous—a stripping away of societal conditioning to rediscover the raw simplicity of existence. The walker, in minimalist communion with nature, rediscovers the essence of life and death, confronting only the essential facts of existence. The asceticism inherent in the trials of mud, dirt, blizzard, and hunger —the frenetic suffering that empties the mortal shell— is a deliberate stripping away of societal layers and morality—a return to the primal, a feral communion with the wild nature within.

The pain and fatigue become alchemical crucibles, transmuting the base metal of the human soul into spiritual gold to prepare the Adept for presencing the Numinous. The initiatic wanderer, like the alchemical adept, understands that true transformation requires the dissolution of the ego and a dance with the chaotic and uncontrollable forces of nature. Acausal whirlwinds lash the monoliths of the Causal, breaking the dam that temporarily contains the visions of the ecstatic, allowing the esoteric wanderer to approach a kind of mystical hall where he can delve into visualizations of Emptiness, down there where compositionality merges into nothingness.

In this sacred dance with the mountain and its ubiquitous perils, the initiate becomes a vessel for the sublime—a conduit for the ineffable forces that desperatley seek to rule the cosmos. The ascent, the struggle, and the triumph in the face of the crux become a quest for the divine within and without. The mountain, as the axis mundi, stands as a silent witness to this sacred drama, inviting the pilgrim to ascend (or to descend, e.g., disciplines such as speleology or canyoning), to confront, and to become. Or to destroy himself, becoming one with the formless shadow by returning to the dark womb of Non-Duality.


1 According to Durkheim (1912), practices involving self-inflicted tortures are focused on the separation from the profane or impure elements in order to approach the sacred or divine. The negative cult involves actions such as fasting, abstinence, and other forms of self-denial aimed at purifying oneself and maintaining distance from what is considered impure or profane in the religious context. These practices are often seen as a means of preparing oneself for engaging in the positive cult, which involves active rituals of worship and adoration.

2 In Durkheim’s view, the transformation of suffering into a positive force for self-realization and moral growth requires a certain degree of discipline and self-control. He believed that individuals must learn to endure suffering without becoming overwhelmed by it, and must develop the ability to channel their pain and hardship into constructive action.

3 The surplus of energy that finds expression in extreme acts, violent rituals, or limit experiences that transcend social norms and constraints—this is inherent to human nature and is connected to what Bataille (1957) calls the «unproductive expenditure» of energy.

4 For instance, in contemporary society, the heightened emphasis on hygiene has led to a nuanced perception of outdoor activities, often casting a shadow on experiences that involve getting dirty, despite their initial romanticization for their connection with nature. The modern cultural obsession with cleanliness, driven by health and aesthetic concerns, has created a dichotomy where outdoor pursuits are celebrated for their natural beauty but shunned if they involve dirt—the doomed aesthetics related to heterology. The fear of germs and the pursuit of a pristine appearance have contributed to the perception that dirtiness is undesirable, overshadowing the potential benefits of these activities and even of dirt as a means of boosting the immune system.

5 In some traditions, pain is used as a form of penance or purification. For example, in some ascetic practices, individuals may inflict pain upon themselves through fasting, flagellation, or self-injury in order to purify their soul or draw closer to the divine.

6 The process of becoming a shaman often involves a period of initiation, during which the individual undergoes rigorous training, often including physical ordeals, fasting, and isolation. These experiences are believed to facilitate the shaman’s spiritual growth and transformation, leading to a heightened awareness of the interconnectedness of all things and the ability to navigate the spiritual realms.


Bataille, G. 1957. Erotism.

Durkheim, E. 1912. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life