Bridge Over Troubled Water

Axis Mundi


The axis mundi offers a means of travel and correspondence between the two realms of Heaven and Earth.

The axis mundi is the place where the four compass directions unite, allowing the Light of Heaven to be disseminated throughout the noumenon.

The axis mundi resides at the center of the world: at its omphalos, the source of emanation of the noumenon.

The axis mundi appears in all cultures and takes many forms.

The axis mundi symbolic image is both feminine - an umbilical providing nourishment, and masculine, a phallus providing insemination.

The axis mundi may have the form of a natural object (mountain, tree, vine, stalk, column of smoke or fire) or a product of human manufacture (staff, tower, ladder, stairway, maypole (Irminsul), cross, steeple, rope, totem pole, pillar, spire).

The axis mundi exists in the Hindu lingam or Greek omphalos and is featured prominently in the most technologically advanced cultures - where the impulse persists to link a tower with the idea of a world center.

The axis mundi is reflected in the pagoda, temple, church, obelisk, minaret, lighthouse, bridge, rocket, skyscraper.

People think of their own home, land, village and place of worship as the center of the world because they are designated as cultural centers.

People think of themselves as the axis mundi because that is the vantage point from which they gaze out upon the noumenon.

People think of the Source of the noumenon as residing in the center but gnostikos know there is no center.

sacred places

In ancient Mesopotamia the cultures of ancient Sumer and Babylon erected artificial mountains, or ziggurats, on the flat river plain with stairways leading to temples, the axis mundi, at the top.

Judaism has Mount Sinai and Mount Zion as the axis mundi.

Christianity has the Mount of Olives and Calvary as the axis mundi.

Islam has the Temple Mount (Dome of the Rock) and Mecca, said to be the place on Earth that was forged first.

Japan's highest mountain, Mount Fuji, has long symbolized the axis mundi in Japanese culture.

Mount Kun-Lun is now the the axis mundi in China while the ancient Chinese recognized four mountains, residing at the compass points, as pillars holding up the heavens.

The Sioux believe the Black Hills are the axis mundi.

Mount Kailash is holy as the axis mundi to several religions in Tibet.

The pre-Columbian residents of Teotihuacán in Mexico erected huge pyramids featuring stairways leading to temples at the top - stairways to heaven.

The ancient Greeks regarded several sites as places of earth's omphalos (navel) stone, notably the oracle at Delphi, while still maintaining a belief in a cosmic world tree and in Mount Olympus as the abode of the gods.


All sacred places constitute reality centers (omphalos) with the altar or place of prayer as the the axis mundi.

Altars, incense sticks, candles and torches help form the axis mundi by sending a column of smoke, and prayer, toward heaven.

The calumet, or sacred pipe, represents a column of smoke (the soul) rising form an the axis mundi.

"Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant?" - Song of Solomon 3:6


The architecture of sacred places often reflects the connection between Heaven and Earth.

The stupa of Hinduism, and later Buddhism, reflects Mount Meru.

Cathedrals are laid out in the form of a cross, with the vertical bar representing the union of Heaven and Earth as the horizontal bars represent union of people to one another, with the altar at the intersection.

Pagoda structures in Asian temples take the form of a stairway linking Heaven and Earth.

A steeple in a church or a minaret in a mosque also serve as connections of Heaven and Earth.

Palaces and castles, unlike the pragmatically engineered fortress, had towers serving the axis mundi connection function.


Dwellings also serve as centers of reality - the axis mundi of family life.

The hearth participates in the symbolism of the altar and a central garden partipates in the symbolism of a primordial garden paradise.

In Asian cultures dwellings were traditionally laid out in the form of a square oriented toward the four compass directions - east, west, north and south.

A traditional Asian home was oriented toward the heavens through Feng shui, a system of geomancy, just as a palace would be.

Traditional Arab houses are also laid out as a square surrounding a central fountain that evokes a primordial garden paradise.

A common shamanic concept, and a universally told story, is that of the healer traversing the axis mundi, the connection between Heaven and Earth, to bring back sacred mystical knowledge from heaven.

human form

The human form can function as an axis mundi.

Some of the more abstract Tree of Life representations, such as the Sefirot in Kabbalism and in the Chakra system recognized by Hinduism and Buddhism, merge with the concept of the human body as an axis mundi between Heaven and Earth.

Disciplines of Yoga and Tai Chi begin from the premise of the human body as axis mundi.

The Renaissance image known as the Vitruvian Man represented a symbolic and mathematical exploration of the human form as axis mundi.

Most world religions regard the body itself as a temple and prayer as an axis mundi uniting Heaven and Earth.

Trees may serve as an axis mundi.

Many trees in legends serve this function including:

World Tree, Yggdrasil, World Ash, Tree of Life, Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Bodhi Tree, Iboga tree, Thor's Oak ...

Siddhartha Guatama attained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree.

In some Polynesian cultures the banyan tree, of which the Bodhi Tree is of the Sacred Fig variety, is the abode of ancestor spirits.

Yggdrasil, or World Ash, functions in much the same way in Norse mythology; it is the site where Odin found enlightenment as does Jievaras in Lithuanian mythology.

The Christmas tree, which can be traced in its origins back to pre-Christian European beliefs, represents an axis mundi.

An Oak Tree can serve as the axis mundi as it did for pre-Christian Germanic peoples with Thor's Oak.

The Great Tree provides an axis mundi that unites three planes:

its branches reach for Heaven, its trunk meets the Earth, and its roots reach down to Hell.

axis mundi root


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