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The Wheel’s Hub: the Axis Mundi in Tolkien’s Middle Earth

Note:  this post is intended to be part of the “Journeying to Otherworlds” synchroblog hosted by Mahud here.  Other participants include:

  1. Faith and the Hero’s Journey (Hawk’s Cry: The voice of a witch)
  2. Journeying to Otherworlds: Access Denied (Between Old and New Moons)
  3. Lions at the Door (Quaker Pagan Reflections)
  4. More Than These Words (Aquila ka Hecate)
  5. Journeying to Otherworlds (The Dance of the Elements)
  6. Mythology Synchroblog 4: Children’s Story for Mabo (Pagan Dad)
  7. Underground Ruminations (Gorgon Resurfaces)
  8. Synchroblog: Journeys to the Otherworld (Bubo’s Blog)
  9. Otherworlds Synchroblog: Olympus (Paleothea: the Ancient Goddess)
  10. Symbolic Saiho-ji and Otherworld Journeying (Symbolic Meanings)
  11. Becoming pagan in America – an otherworld journey (Executive Pagan)

The World with No Axle

ire7The Axis Mundi (Latin, literally “world’s axle”) is the mythological center of the world.  Not all mythological systems have such an Axis, but the vast majority do.  The list includes Mt. Meru and the Bodhi Tree in Buddhism, Mt. Olympus and Delphi for the Greeks, Yggdrasil for the Norse, Mt. Fuji for the Japanese and Mt. Kun-Lun for the Taoists, the Black Hills for the Lakotah, Tara for the Irish, the North Star for the Finns, and Mt. Zion and the Garden of Eden for the Abrahamists.  The Axis Mundi is not just the physical center of the universe, nor yet only a spiritual center, but contains within it a reflection of everything surrounding it; it is a microcosm of all creation.  Thus it is a symbol of the universe, as well as its center, and a journey to the Center is really a journey to the All.

Among the mythological systems with no clear Axis Mundi is Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.  Tolkien has no central mountain, no great World Tree, no Middle Kingdom; and on the face of it this is odd, because the traditions he drew upon — primarily Norse, Celtic, and Finnish — certainly had it.  But I don’t think the omission was accidental.

In this article I’m going to look at why Tolkien had no Axis Mundi, and speak briefly to the role of the Axis Mundi in the life of an individual — in particular, the significance of your own spiritual center, and what it means to have one, and to lose it.

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