Axis mundi

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Mount Kailash, depicting the holy family of Shiva and Ganesha

The axis mundi (world axis), in religion or mythology, is the center of the world and/or the connection between heaven and earth. It is common to virtually all cultures on Earth, although it plays a much more explicit role among indigenous peoples. It is thought that the idea of the Proto-Indo-European religion axis mundi, spread throughout Eurasia, in particular the concept of the world tree. It is familiar today as the caduceus, the symbol of medicine; the staff is the axis itself, and the serpents are the guardians or guides to the other realm. It is a common shamanic concept, the healer traversing the axis mundi to bring back knowledge from the other world. The axis mundi both connects heaven and earth as well as provided a path between the two. The axis mundi is commonly represented as a "rope", "tree", "vine", "ladder", "staff", as well as many other things; the yin-yang descends from this in addition to the caduceus. It is sometimes, depending on representation and belief system, considered explicitly male or even phallic.

Many cultures consider a specific place, almost always a hill or mountain, to be the axis mundi; for example, the Sioux consider the Black Hills to be the axis mundi, while Mount Kailash is holy to several religions in Tibet. Often, several places may be considered the axis mundi; in Islam, the Dome of the Rock, where Muhammed was raised and lowered from heaven, as well as the shrine at Mecca play this role. The Temple Mount, site of the Dome of the Rock, is also holy to Judaism and Christianity. Other nearby sites that are considered sacred and are on hills include the Mount of Olives and Calvary. The ancient Greeks had several sites that were considered places of the omphalos (navel) stone, such as the oracle at Delphi, while also maintaining a belief in a world tree and Mount Olympus as the abode of the gods.

Many religious structures explicitly mimic axis mundi. The stupa of Hinduism, and later Buddhism, reflects the Mount Meru. The upright bar of the cross is sometimes seen as representing a world axis, while the steeple of a church or minaret of a mosque indicates a place where the earthly and the divine meet. Structures such as maypoles in pre-Christian Europe and totem poles among Native Americans also formed local or temporary world axes.

Other times a specific plant is considered the axis mundi, such as the Bodhi tree in Buddhism. In some Pacific island cultures the banyan tree, of which the Bodhi tree is of the Sacred Fig variety, is the abode of ancestor spirits. Entheogens are often considered to be the axis mundi, such as the Fly Agaric mushroom among the Tungus. Other corrolaries include Yggdrasil of Norse mythology, Jievaras of Lithuanian mythology, the Sefirot of Judaism, the Chakras common to many Eastern religions, and the Trees of Knowledge and Life in the Garden of Eden.

Some scholars have stated that the architectural axis mundi have transferred into secular societies. In this conception, the Washington Monument of the United States and Eiffel Tower of France represent world axes proclaiming secular power. This transfer of the idea of axis mundi from a religious to non-religious context is sometimes contentious.

See also


  • Free Encyclopedia of Thelema (2009)
  • Wikipedia (2005). Axis mundi. Retrieved May 25, 2005.