Modern Day Mystics
Initially, a self-published tract on spiritual self-discovery from the 1970s might not warrant much attention. After all, the period represents a high water mark in spiritual innovation in recent American religious history. However, Clifford E. Cantrell’s Holy Stone Mountain (1975) is of interest for a number of reasons. As a work of spiritual autobiography, it reflects the author’s personal struggles to integrate his Christian faith with aspects of New Age metaphysics. In addition, Cantrell’s connections with the Foundation of Truth in Atlanta are reflected in the work and this helps to provide some insight into that influential organization. Moreover, Cantrell’s use of the memorial to the Confederacy on the side of Stone Mountain captures one dimension of the religious symbolism associated with the carving. Finally, Cantrell’s description of the spiritual interior of the monadnock as a repository for the Akashic Records has established Stone Mountain as a “crystal city” within the small network of adherents engaged in practices related to these sources of spiritual knowledge. Holy Stone Mountain provides a snapshot of spiritual innovation in 1970s Atlanta while also serving to introduce Stone Mountain to a community of “new metaphysicals” invested in New Age spiritual practices (Bender 2010).
Cantrell’s work is a mapping of Stone Mountain into the spiritual landscape of Theosophical and Spiritualist metaphysics. The incorporation of the monadnock into the etheric geography of these traditions provides an opportunity to expand upon the recent spatial turn in the study of religion as developed by scholars such as Kim Knott (2005; 2008; 2011). In addition to mapping the physical and social dimensions of the sacred associated with Stone Mountain, the mental dimension merits attention. Cantrell’s projection of a thirdspace into the very heart of the mountain--a vast spiritual archive of all knowledge--provides a case study in “spatial imagination, the creation of another mode of thinking about space ... [that is] [s]imultaneously real and imagined and more” (Soja 1996, 11).
In examining this particular religious perspective associated with Stone Mountain, the monadnock can be understood as a relatively constant natural place upon which multiple groups can map their religious spaces. Stone Mountain lacks an intrinsic sacred status -- it is sacred because of what the people do there. Jonathan Z. Smith claims a "sacred space is a place of clarification (a focusing lens) where men and gods are held to be transparent to one another" (Smith 1982, 54). Stone Mountain provides such a place of clarification for those seeking to exercise their religious practices and visions. From this theoretical understanding--the centrality of space in helping to comprehend religious practices--Stone Mountain provides the opportunity for exploring contemporary conversations about religion and space. In Cantrell’s work, “Holy” Stone Mountain is appropriated as a natural canvas upon which one religious pilgrim projected his religious ideals and, in turn, helped to create a new sacred space for those sharing his vision.
The primary aim of “A Thinker”--the pseudonym Cantrell lists alongside his name on the cover of Holy Stone Mountain--is to invite others to join him in his quest to bring about a spiritual revolution. Throughout the 62 pages of text in the self-described “booklet” are invitations to help Cantrell start a “School of Thought” near Stone Mountain which will provide the institutional support necessary to bring about the establishment of Christ’s kingdom sometime between during the period from 2000-2036, “either 2000 years from Jesus’s birth or 2000 years from the time of Christ ensouled him at his baptism, 30 or 33 years later, on or about 36 years according to our calendar” (Cantrell, 49). While Cantrell does not appear to have been successful in achieving his goal of establishing a school dedicating to his vision, he did continue his efforts with the Foundation of Truth in downtown Atlanta (Joyce 1976, 2).  Cantrell’s vision of a meeting of the spiritual leaders of the world at Stone Mountain to precipitate a new Pentecost also remained unrealized (ibid., 46). Yet, Cantrell’s booklet provides an interesting example of imagined space as it relates to religious expression. It is the spatial dimensions of Holy Stone Mountain which merit further consideration.
Knott’s effort to apply Henri Lefebvre’s critical theory of social space to religion provides a set of basic categories with which to map Cantrell’s religious practices at Stone Mountain. Knott develops five stages to be used in the spatial analysis of religious data. These are (1) the body as source and resource for space, (2) the dimensions of space, (3) the properties of space, (4) the aspects of space, and (5) the dynamics of space (Knott 2011, 496). Knott’s “aspects of space” draw directly upon Lefebvre’s work in his The Production of Space (1991)."Lefebvre’s three aspects, of ‘spatial practice’ (perceived space), ‘representations of space’ (conceived space) and ‘spaces of representation’ (lived space), provide useful tools for thinking about how people experience the spaces they inhabit, and how they use and represent space. A street, for example, is a site of habitual spatial practice, social interaction and popular imagining, which through intensive examination may be broken open and analyzed. Furthermore, it is a ‘conceived space’ (Lefebvre 1991: 38), produced by city planners and civil servants, and by corporate, technical and other institutional agents whose representations of the city may be uncovered in official documents and the built environment. Periodically, though, such a place may be transformed by the self-conscious, often resistant or discrepant, symbols and actions of those who live there. As such, the street is a ‘lived space’ in which the dominant spatial order may be overturned by a groundswell of local activity, effort and collective sentiment, such as a festival or carnival, demonstration or procession. All three aspects have implications for the way religion is practiced, constituted and lived in such ostensibly secular places, and for how it might be studied and interpreted." (Knott 2011, 496-97)
Each of these “spaces” may be drawn upon in order to help illuminate Cantrell’s appropriation of Stone Mountain.
The category of perceived space is intended to capture the “normal” aspects of daily life associated with the location under analysis. In the case of Stone Mountain in the 1970s, it had emerged as a state park funded by the citizens of Georgia after its acquisition in 1958. The memorial to the Confederacy was completed in 1972 but work had started in 1915 so it had been known as a site for the memorial for sixty years by the time Cantrell published his booklet. Cantrell would spend many of his Sunday mornings sitting in Memorial Hall, constructed during the state-sponsored investment in the park in the early 1960s, meditating upon the memorial across the expanse of the great lawn between the mountain and the hall (Joyce, 2). Already a tourist destination in the 1800s, Stone Mountain continued to be developed as a recreational area and it was this context which helped frame Cantrell’s visits to the memorial.
As a conceived space, Stone Mountain was the product of various efforts to market the location for almost 150 years by the time that Cantrell wrote his work. The earliest Fourth of July celebration on the top of Stone Mountain dates back to 1828 and it was a popular stopover on the stagecoach lines that went by the mountain. A 165-foot tall tower was built at the top of the mountain in the 1838 and became a commercial success for years until it was blown over in a storm in 1849 (Freeman 1997, 28-29). Accounts in the local newspapers throughout the nineteenth century report on excursions by stagecoach and later railroad to Stone Mountain for picnics and other celebrations. However, it was not until the efforts to carve a memorial to the Confederacy began in the second decade of the twentieth century that clearly identified architects of power began to exert their influence on Stone Mountain. It is in this conceived space that the spatial dimensions of religiosity begin to emerge. 
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries there was an effort on the part of organizations such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) to compensate for the federally funded memorials to the Union army and its heroes. Those federal funds were denied to campaigns to memorialize the Confederacy which resulted in more modest memorials throughout the South. This helps to explain the fact that just as politicians in Washington were preparing to finally dedicate themselves to the construction of the Lincoln Memorial in 1914 that the first published call for a memorial to the Confederacy on Stone Mountain appeared three months later (Freeman 1997, 55). Cantrell acknowledges the UDC’s important role in the creation of the monument. However, Cantrell views the efforts of the UDC to have been coordinated by the Great Spiritual Beings in order to bring attention to Stone Mountain."Now that these Great Beings have worked through people, especially the U.D.C. “United Daughters of the Confederacy” and their interest in preserving Southern confederate history, They have allowed them to develop the mountain enough to attract state leaders to buy and transform it into a tourist attraction thereby becoming more and more accessible. Please note that They will utilize any available medium to accomplish their purpose. They used the zeal of these sensitive people to undertake the carving, a project which helped to draw attention and attract people who could benefit from Their near presence." (Cantrell, 16)
Cantrell’s blunt acknowledgement of the instrumental thinking of the Great Beings reflects the commodification of sacred space essential to the success of Stone Mountain (Chidester and Linenthal 1995, 28). Without the encroachment of property rights onto the mountain and the powers of the state to enforce them, the possibility of a memorial would not exist. An understanding of the various domains of power at work in Georgia in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is essential for appreciating the status of the memorial and the mountain in the current century.
The final category in the aspects of space, lived space, provides the most helpful illumination into Cantrell’s appropriation of the memorial at Stone Mountain. Drawing upon Theosophical doctrines of karma, spiritual evolution, reincarnation, spiritual hierarchies, universal consciousness, and the Akashic records, Cantrell subverts the space of the memorial itself. No longer only a carving on the side of the mountain, the memorial is a portal, a gateway through which the initiated may move in order to gain access to the vast repository of knowledge contained within the mountain."[The Akashic records] are archaic records that are kept by recording angels of everything that takes place in a particular area. . . . I have been permitted to observe some of the spiritual activities taking place within the mountain. . . . I have experience contact with at least three of these great spiritual beings . . . . [I was permitted to enter the area through the carving after extensive meditation.] When I became conscious, I found myself within a great or mammouth enclosure, a tremendous place with such large rooms or sections extending as big as a city block and very high. I was so tall you could get 15 to 20 story buildings easily within one of them. There were tremendous corridors leading in different directions and very wide, so wide you could get a two way express system within them with room to spare." (Joyce, 1)
The interior of Stone Mountain contains a massive spiritual repository of Akashic records and Great Spiritual Beings charged with their care.
Cantrell’s Holy Stone Mountain is an earnest plea to discover the wisdom these beings can provide in order to help bring about Christ’s Kingdom, the successor to Jesus’s Church, in the near future. Cantrell’s spiritual understanding of the memorial and the mountain provides an opportunity to analyze the space as it was perceived, conceived, and lived by Cantrell. This in itself is enough to merit the application of spatial methods in the study of religion.
However, Cantrell’s vision of Stone Mountain has survived beyond his booklet. Reflecting some of the new forms of communication he hoped would help spread his message, the Internet has become a resource for reproducing some of Cantrell’s ideas. For example, David Furlong, a spiritual healer and author, has a brief article about Stone Mountain on his web site. After discussing and quoting from Holy Stone Mountain, Furlong describes his own experience with the mountain."My own connection to Stone Mountain occurred in the early 1990’s. I had just visited Sedona and had just received some powerful inner revelations about an ‘etheric’ race of beings called the Elohim who had been responsible for generating the genetic mutation that had lead to the development of modern human beings. They had created a number of “crystal cites” in different parts of the planet one of which was in Sedona, which is why this area is so special.
Shortly after visiting Sedona I came to Atlanta to see an old friend. Whilst there I journeyed with my friend to visit the Etowah Indian mounds. Sitting in the warm sun on one of the mounds I was pondering my experiences in Sedona, when a very clear message came to me that I would find an important site of the Elohimic race - one of their “Crystal Cities” - just to the east of Atlanta.
I mentioned this to my friend but nothing was obvious until a looked at a map and the name “Stone Mountain” leapt out from the page. From my inner journey work I would confirm that this is indeed one of the “holy sites” of the Elohim and can still be accessed today for inner knowledge and wisdom as Clifford Cantrell has stated." (Furlong 2006)
Beneath this text Furlong points to a workshop in Atlanta which was to include a visit to Stone Mountain where “participants will be shown how they can themselves connect to the mountains [sic] unique and very special energies” (ibid.). So, in a small way at least, Cantrell’s vision of Stone Mountain as a destination for spiritual pilgrims has been realized.
- The Foundation of Truth was incorporated as a non-profit organization in May of 1973 and remained active for twenty years as a meeting place for new age religionists in the region. My effort to located principal figures is on-going.
- The decision to commission a memorial to be carved into the side of Stone Mountain was not novel when it was proposed in 1914. Decades earlier, shortly after the Civil War, the idea appeared in a poem by Francis Orray Ticknor titled “Stone Mountain” in which the poet argued for a memorial to Confederate Vice-President, and fellow Georgian, Alexander Stephens (Ticknor 1911, 147–148).
Questions to Consider
- Cantrell was characterized as “odd” for his beliefs. As a student of religion, how would you explain his perspective to someone who made such a comment?
- In the approximately thirty years between Cantrell and Furlong’s reflections on Stone Mountain as a sacred space, what aspects of spirituality have changed?
- What other spaces in Atlanta do you think may qualify as sacred spaces? Explain your reasoning.
Works Cited and Consulted
Bender, Courtney. The new metaphysicals: Spirituality and the American religious imagination. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2010.
Cantrell, Clifford E. Holy Stone Mountain. Decatur, Georgia: Self-published, 1975.
Chidester, David, and Edward T. Linenthal. “Introduction.” In American sacred space, edited by David Chidester and Edward T. Linenthal, 1-42. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.
Freeman, David. B. Carved in stone: The history of Stone Mountain. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1997.
Joyce, A. “Cantrell seeks Holy Ghost inside Stone Mountain.” The DeKalb New Era, 1-2. 14 October 1976.
Knott, Kim. The location of religion: A spatial analysis. London and Oakville, CT: Equinox Publishing, 2005.
______. “Spatial theory and the study of religion.” Religion Compass 2(6), November 2008:1102-6.
______. “Spatial methods.” In The Routledge handbook of research methods in the study of religion, edited by Michael Stausberg and Steven Engler, 491-501. London and New York: Routledge, 2011.
Lefebvre, Henri. The production of space. Trans. D. Nicholson-Smith. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.
Smith, Jonathan Z. Imagining religion: From Babylon to Jonestown. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.
Soja, Edward W. Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and other real-and-imagined places. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1996.
Ticknor, Francis O. “Stone Mountain (To Alexander Hamilton Stephens).” In The Poems of Francis Orray Ticknor, edited by M. C. Ticknor, 147-48. New York and Washington: The Neale Publishing Company, 1911.