In shamanism the axis mundi (also known as the world tree, cosmic axis, world axis, world pillar, columna cerului, "center of the world") is the world center and the connection between Heaven and Earth. It is a point of connection between the upper world, the middle world (where we normally reside) and the lower world and the point where the four compass directions meet.
I discussed shamanic journeys to the lower world in my last post. In that post I described entering an opening or portal through which you could descend into the lower world.
What you were doing was traveling down the axis mundi from the middle world to the lower world. For me at least, it is easiest to view the axis mundi as the world tree. The world tree functions like an elevator. I enter the door and the “elevator” takes me down to the lower world or up to the world above.
The World Tree
A world tree or cosmic tree serve as images of the axis mundi. The image of the World Tree provides an axis symbol that unites three planes: upper world (branches), earth or middle world (trunk) and lower world (roots). Many stories keep the image of the world tree alive for us. Remember Jack and the Beanstock? He ascended up the world tree to a realm above the earth.
The axis mundi can take many forms. One of the most common is a high mountain and in fact shrines are often erected at the summit or base of these locations. Mount Fuji in Japan, has long symbolized the world axis in Japanese culture. In China Mount Kun-Lun, "the mountain at the middle of the world", fills a similar role. Mount Zion probably served the same purpose for the ancient Hebrews. The Sioux view the Black Hills as the axis mundi. To Hindus, Mount Kailash is holy. The Pitjantjatjara people in central Australia consider Uluruto (Ayers Rock) be central to both their world and culture. In ancient Mesopotamia the cultures of ancient Sumer and Babylon erected artificial mountains, or ziggurats, on the flat river plain. These supported staircases leading to temples at the top. The pre-Columbian residents of Teotihuacán in Mexico erected huge pyramids featuring staircases leading to heaven. For Christians the Cross on Mount Calvary expresses the symbol. Recall that Christian literature has Christ descending and ascending from the Cross.
It doesn’t really matter what image or place you use as your axis mundi. Select an site or a tree or anything else that can serve as a symbol for you of the connection of the our realm, the middle world, with the lower world and the upper world. This will help you remember that you are not stuck in the middle world but that you are a shamanic traveler and that you can find wisdom by traveling between realms
I noted above that the axis mundi is also the point of contact of the four directions. East is the direction of beginnings. It is the direction of the rising sun where a new day is announced. Over the course of the day the sun rises higher in the South, reaching its maximum at mid-day. The West is the direction of the setting sun, the direction of fulfillment, completion and death. North, the direction in which the sun never travels, is the place of shadows. It is the direction of sleep, dreams, visions, and regeneration; the place where the earth and the human spirit wait to be reborn in a new dawn.
Today try and be conscious of the directions as you face them and the feelings that they may engender within you.
I'm Dr. Dave, an eclectic shaman. I lived and worked in Bolivia and Peru for over six years, where I and was trained by Andean Shamans, and today practice eclectic shamanism.