Axis Mundi: The World Centre

Standard

Sacred Spaces

I wear a Druids Cross made of fine pewter these days, a remnant from my summer travels in the Scottish Highlands.  It is said that in the times of the Druids, those who wore this symbol had been given the duty of protecting the sacred sites across the land. Rather than wear a pendant, the emblem was tattooed on their bodies so that all that came in their presence would recognize their sacred task.

Mythology speaks to humanity’s search for an axis mundi, which is defined as the world centre, the link that joins Heaven and Earth. This is the point where communication, and perhaps some form of travel, can occur between higher and lower realms.   Many of these places are found in mountains or high places where the earth and sky seem to reach out to each other.  They are usually marked with a mythical object to signify sacredness. Yggdrasil, an immense ash tree whose branches extend far into the heavens and supported by three roots burrowed into three levels of the universe, is fundamental within Norse mythology.  Ancient Greeks, believing that omphalos stones granted the power of direct communication with the gods, were erected throughout the Mediterranean world, the most notable being at Delphi.

The remarkable ability of the axis mundi is that there can be numerous spaces that serve as the centre of the world simultaneously.  They can be found in a natural setting or in a human construction such as a temple or palace.  Every generation has been engaged in creating or acknowledging a place that transcends the ordinary.  From the ziggurats of the ancient Sumerians and Babylonians to the totem poles of indigenous peoples of the Americas, to the modern day skyscraper such as the Eiffel Tower, we continue to look for ways to reach beyond our finite existence.

There are some who believe that the most important axis mundi is found within ourselves.  Thomas Merton once wrote, “What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous.”

Perhaps our centre of the world is closer than we think.