In a series of posts a few years ago, I talked about the function of fiction. What is it for? What purpose does it serve? After all, it’s all a pack of lies — and what’s more, it’s lies that everyone knows are false.
In that article I argued that fiction’s primary purpose was to change beliefs about how the world works. Even though it describes false events, the skillful author writes in such a way that the reader believes they could happen; and in doing so, can change the reader’s beliefs about what is possible, or the way the world works, or human nature. The readers of Tolkien may not end up believing in hobbits, but they may be more likely to believe in things like this:
- There is a guiding force to events, which works indirectly through seeming ‘chance’ or ‘happenstance’ (e.g. Bilbo’s finding the Ring; the manner of the Ring’s destruction).
- Despite this, people have free will, and the responsibility to choose wisely.
- Loyalty to one’s king and country is a great virtue, as is military service when necessary.
- Greed for power (and knowledge!) corrupts.
- The world was once much more beautiful and pure than it is now.
- Not all wrongs can be righted, but even tragedy can be beautiful.
Since then I’ve been thinking more about this, and I think I’ve found a perhaps more direct function of fiction. It’s a shamanistic technique, similar to meditation or trance, which actually operates directly on the reader’s subconscious or spiritual connections.
Note: this post is intended to be part of the “Journeying to Otherworlds” synchroblog hosted by Mahud here. Other participants include:
- Faith and the Hero’s Journey (Hawk’s Cry: The voice of a witch)
- Journeying to Otherworlds: Access Denied (Between Old and New Moons)
- Lions at the Door (Quaker Pagan Reflections)
- More Than These Words (Aquila ka Hecate)
- Journeying to Otherworlds (The Dance of the Elements)
- Mythology Synchroblog 4: Children’s Story for Mabo (Pagan Dad)
- Underground Ruminations (Gorgon Resurfaces)
- Synchroblog: Journeys to the Otherworld (Bubo’s Blog)
- Otherworlds Synchroblog: Olympus (Paleothea: the Ancient Goddess)
- Symbolic Saiho-ji and Otherworld Journeying (Symbolic Meanings)
- Becoming pagan in America – an otherworld journey (Executive Pagan)
The World with No Axle
The 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.
My nine-year-old daughter absolutely adores the Chronicles of Narnia. Nothing unusual about that, really — lots of kids do — but why?
After all, isn’t Narnia Christian allegory? It’s blatantly obvious to anyone who gives it a moment’s thought. But I’ve argued elsewhere that children are natural born pagans. So what’s the attraction? Does Christianity touch something in children, after all? Or is Narnia not wholly Christian?