Universal consciousness connects all that there is and this cosmic connection between heaven and hell, high and low, and the different dimensions is the Axis Mundi. This connecting link or metaphysical axis is a symbol found in every religion, in every place or mythology.
It’s like a spine that holds together all of the realms from lowest to highest with the human world in the center. Axis Mundi is also referred as the tree of life, the center of the Earth, World axis, world pillar and so on.
William F. Romain stated in his book, Shamans of the Lost World: A Cognitive Approach to the Prehistoric Religion, “Cross Culturally, the Axis Mundi is expressed in many different ways. In some cultures the Axis Mundi is symbolized as the ‘world tree’ that links the upper and the lower worlds. Other cultures visualize the Axis Mundi as a column or pillar. Yet other describes it as a cosmic mountain. In many cases, the Axis Mundi is symbolized as temples, cities and palaces.”
Different cultures represent the axis mundi by different symbols such as a mountain, a tree, a vine, a column of smoke or fire or even a tower, a staircase, a totem pole, a pillar, a spire etc. Here are some interpretations of this mystical symbol.
Axis Mundi in Hinduism
Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas speak of Axis Mundi in many chapters and customs. The Katha Upanishad describes it as “eternal asvattha (in spiritual literature, this tree is represented as the Upside-down tree with roots exposed above. It is called the Tree of Samsara. Asvattha is the Sanskrit name for the Peepal or fig tree) whose roots rise on high and whose branches grow low. It is pure, the brahman, what is called non-death. All the world rests in it.”
Even in mythological tales, Mount Meru in India and Mount Kailash in Tibet are considered to be the Axis Mundi, the closest point where Earth and sky unite and a clear communication can take place.
Axis Mundi in Shamanism
Shamans travel in time and space to heal and retrieve soul pieces and gather wisdom from other realms. The mystic science of shamanism believes in the presence of Axis Mundi, the central pathway connecting the upper, middle and the lower world, as well as the four dimensions, which allows the shamanic healer to travel in different realms.
H.S. Webb in Exploring Shamanism: Using Ancient Rites to Discover the Unlimited Healing Powers of Cosmos and Consciousness, mentioned that a shaman detaches from his/her ego self and enters a state of possibility. “In this space, a cancerous tumor can shrink and disappear within moments. In this space, the shaman can see the location of the missing child…It is in this place of all –time and no-time, of all space and no-space, that magic is translated into physical world. The space where this happens is known by many names, here called the Axis Mundi, the central pillar of the world.”
Axis Mundi in Buddhism
The Buddha represented the axis mundi, and the Bodhi Tree under which he gained enlightenment serves as image of the Axis Mundi. The tree is considered to be the reconciliation of macrocosm and microcosm.
The book Relics, Ritual, and Representation in Buddhism: Rematerializing the Sri Lankan Theravada Tradition by Kevin Trainor stated, “by bringing a branch of the Bodhi tree to Lanka, the island itself became part of this axiality.” Even the Stupas are considered to be the celestial pole, where communication between higher and lower realms is possible. Just like staircases rising up to the sky are present in various sacred places depicts the rise of the soul to heaven.
Axis Mundi in Human Beings
Situated between the upper and the lower realms, human beings are considered to be a form of Axis Mundi themselves. The whole chakra system is based on the concept of cosmic pole, where the practitioner with the help of meditation can reach a state of nothingness. Its believed that the human body is a temple and with prayer the gap between the two extremes can be bridged. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man represented a symbolic and mathematical exploration of the human form as world axis.
Axis Mundi in Nature
Nature is the biggest teacher to mankind, and through various means it keeps reminding us of the sacred designs and concepts. There have been sacred mountains considered to be the Axis Mundi in various religions. Apart from the two spoken above, Mount Fuji in Japan, Mount Zion from ancient Hebrew, Mount Olympus in Greek mythology and Sioux take the Black Hills as the axis mundi.
Many Hindu temples are placed on high mountain peaks like Vaishno Devi, Amarnath, Tirupati & many more, which shows that the mountains are a sacred place for cosmic union. Mountains act as a perfect gateway for free communication between the two poles and balancing the energy. This is the reason why those seeking eternal bliss have to go to the mountains to begin their spiritual journey.
On the other hand, trees also represent the center of the world. Anther symbolic representation of Axis Mundi is through the cosmic tree, whose branches are the sky, earth is the trunk and the roots are underworld, which depict all the three dimensions. The Bhagavad Gita calls the Banyan tree the Axis Mundi, known as “Ashwath Vrikasha” meaning ‘I am Banyan tree among trees’. In ancient mythology, some of the trees of life known across cultures are sacred fig tree, Bodhi Tree, Yggdrasil in Norse mythology, Thor’s Oak, etc.
The places where Axis Mundi is present are considered to be ‘Omphalos’ or navel in Greek. From centuries men have come in contact with these cosmic poles and have been able to transport to a different realm only to come back with more knowledge. And in modern times, Axis Mundi forms a part of architecture as well like Washington monument, Eiffel Tower, Peace Pagodas etc. With multiple interpretations and acceptance in various cultures, the subject remains of great interest to those seeking deeper understanding of other realms.