Mount Shasta is a potentially active volcano at the southern end of the Cascade Range in Siskiyou County, California. At an elevation of 14,179 feet (4321.8 m), it is the second-highest peak in the Cascades and the fifth-highest in the state. Mount Shasta has an estimated volume of 85 cubic miles (350 km3), which makes it the most voluminous stratovolcano in the Cascade Volcanic Arc. The mountain and surrounding area are part of the Shasta–Trinity National Forest.
Mount Shasta is connected to its satellite cone of Shastina, and together they dominate the landscape. Shasta rises abruptly to tower nearly 10,000 feet (3,000 m) above its surroundings. On a clear winter day, the mountain can be seen from the floor of the Central Valley 140 miles (230 km) to the south. The mountain has attracted the attention of poets, authors, and presidents.
The mountain consists of four overlapping dormant volcanic cones that have built a complex shape, including the main summit and the prominent satellite cone of 12,330 ft (3,760 m) Shastina, which has a visibly conical form. If Shastina were a separate mountain, it would rank as the fourth-highest peak of the Cascade Range (after Mount Rainier, Rainier’s Liberty Cap, and Mount Shasta itself).
California’s Mount Shasta has been the subject of an unusually large number of myths and legends. In particular, it is often said to hide a secret city beneath its peaks. In some stories, the city is no longer inhabited, while in others, it is inhabited by a technologically advanced society of human beings or mythical creatures.
Mount Shasta can generate lenticular clouds, which may contribute to its supernatural reputation.
According to local indigenous tribes, namely the Klamath people, Mount Shasta is inhabited by the spirit chief Skell, who descended from heaven to the mountain’s summit. Skell fought with Spirit of the Below-World, Llao, who resided at Mount Mazama, by throwing hot rocks and lava, probably representing the volcanic eruptions at both mountains. Writer Joaquin Miller recorded various related legends in the 1870s.
Mount Shasta has also been a focus for non-Native American legends, centered on a hidden city (called Telos) of advanced beings from the lost continent of Lemuria. The legend grew from an offhand mention of Lemuria in the 1880s. In 1899, Frederick Spencer Oliver published A Dweller on Two Planets, which claimed that survivors from a sunken continent called Lemuria were living in or on Mount Shasta. Oliver’s Lemurians lived in a complex of tunnels beneath the mountain and occasionally were seen walking the surface dressed in white robes. In 1931, Harvey Spencer Lewis, using the pseudonym Wisar Spenle Cerve, wrote a book (published by the Rosicrucians) about the hidden Lemurians of Mount Shasta that a bibliography on Mount Shasta described as “responsible for the legend’s widespread popularity.” This belief has been incorporated into numerous occult religions, including “I AM” Activity, The Summit Lighthouse, Church Universal and Triumphant, and Kryon.
According to Guy Ballard, while hiking on Mount Shasta, he encountered a man who introduced himself as Count of St. Germain, who is said to have started Ballard on the path to discovering the teachings that would become the “I AM” Activity religious movement.
According to a legend, J. C. Brown was a British prospector who discovered a lost underground city beneath Mt. Shasta in 1904. Brown had been hired by the Lord Cowdray Mining Company of England to prospect for gold, and discovered a cave which sloped downward for 11 miles. In the cave, he found an underground village filled with gold, shields, and mummies, some being up to 10 feet tall.
Thirty years later, he told his story to John C. Root, who proceeded to gather an exploration team in Stockton, California. About 80 people joined the team, but on the day the team was to set out, Brown did not show up. Brown was not heard from again.
Mount Shasta is believed to be a home base for the Lizard People, too, reptilian humanoids that also reside underground. The mountain is a hotbed of UFO sightings, one of the most recent of which occurred in February 2020. (It was a saucer-shaped lenticular cloud.) In fact, the mountain is associated with so many otherworldly, paranormal, and mythical beings—in addition to long-established Native American traditions—that it’s almost like a who’s who of metaphysics. It has attracted a legion of followers over the years, including “Poet of the Sierras” Joaquin Miller and naturalist John Muir, as well as fringe religious organizations such as the Ascended Masters, who believe that they’re enlightened beings existing in higher dimensions. What is it about this mountain in particular that inspires so much belief?
Pluto’s Cave is a volcanic lava tube on the outskirts of Mount Shasta.
“There’s a lot about Mount Shasta, and volcanoes in general, that are difficult to explain,” says Andrew Calvert, scientist-in-charge at the California Volcano Observatory, “and when you’re having difficulty explaining something, you try and understand it.” Calvert has studied Shasta’s eruptive history since 2001. “It’s such a complicated and rich history,” he says, “and Shasta itself is also very visually powerful. These qualities build on each other to make it a profound place for a lot of people—geologists, spirituality seekers … even San Francisco tech folks, and hunters and gatherers from 10,000 years ago. It’s one that can have a really strong effect on your psyche.”
Taylor Tupper, a Modoc Indian of the Klamath Tribes, raised in the Klamath Basin just north of Shasta. Tupper says she leaves people to their own beliefs about Shasta as well: spiritual, metaphysical, or simply on another plane. “People always ask me about UFOs and such, and I say I’m not going to go poking around in others’ business. Every place you go is sacred or special to someone or something, or was at some point. Treat it all with respect and your spirit will be in tune with nature and the creator, and you won’t be going against spiritual law. If you are going against it, nature will let you know.”