Axis Mundi

The sixth chapter of Chemical Serpents is titled “The World Dragon Tree”. The image of the tree as symbolic of the cosmos is a ubiquitous one, with Yggdrasil and the Tree of Life of the Kabbalah providing enduring examples. Traditionally the tree has come to represent a bridge between the underworld and the heavens, with mankind somewhere in the middle or at the base. Dark entities lurk in the depths, while winged ones soar from high branches, and forbidden fruits grow that may enlighten and destroy.

Axis Mundi
Axis Mundi © 2012 Janice Duke

Axis Mundi means “cosmic axis”, “world pillar”, “centre of the world” or “world tree”. To me trees are a symbol of the evolution of consciousness, that to embrace our highest heights requires we also embrace our darkest depths. The beasts that lurk in the underworld lurk within our own psyches, and to reject or fear them is to hand them control of our most basic impulses. The brave do not slay dragons, they ride them. Our passions can be our greatest weakness or our most supreme power. Our fears and desires can rule us, or be overcome, and in that overcoming the individual becomes sovereign, able to restrain or release themselves with some degree of choice and able to accept the consequences of their choices as their own.

This is neither easy nor, in many cases, desirable, as we tend to prefer the idea that someone or something else is in control. The scarier truth seems to be that no one is, not even ourselves. Forces move us that we are often totally unaware of, we may gain some influence and understanding, but that only serves to make clearer that we have never been in control and never will be. Sovereignty is an inner knowing, a respectful courage, not an outer power over others.

I have had a fascination with tarot imagery since childhood, having been given my first reading and deck around age eight. This image references both The Fool and The Hanged Man, in that the figure is at once boldly leaping forward and bound to the tree. Their expression is calm and relaxed, they have surrendered and gained wisdom through sacrifice. Their head rests in the eagle’s nest, as an egg cracking open to both receive and to birth. Their torso is a cosmic egg, containing a knotted, embryonic universe at the centre of a flower, their transient and beautiful existence. Their right foot plunges into the skull face of the abyss, where the scarab beetle Kephri pushes the sun through the darkness of the underworld to be reborn and become the bright sun at the top of the tree.

There is an Axis Mundi within each of us; the Egyptians equated it with the spine, a falcon of gold flying above it, while a lion/serpent sleeps in the shade. The task of the initiate is not to shun one for the other, or be subsumed by these fearsome creatures, but to be the knot where both meet, to be the crowned and conquering soul that can walk hand in hand with both the merciful and the severe, the kind and the cruel, the joyful and the sorrowful, the highest and lowest within us, with equanimity.


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