We learn about the centre, the axis connecting Upper World, Lower World and Middle World. We use names such as Axis Mundi, World Tree, Central Mountain, the Centre. This Centre is the bond or axis connecting Middle World (Earth), Upper World (heaven) Lower World (Caves and caverns). Our voyages often take us from one region to another, climbing the tree into the ever extending heavens of the Upper World, or following its roots downward to the deep rich Lower World.
Shamans of old knew how to traverse between the worlds, their teachings showed them where the Centre was, the place that linked all the worlds together. There are abundant myths extolling the ability of the shaman to pass through an ‘opening’ or a ‘hole’. The myths of old told that it is through this hole that the Ancestors themselves descend to earth, the same hole the dead pass through to the subterranean regions.
Each layer represented a different aspect of cosmology and myth. Among the Amerindians of Venezuela, the sky was associated with men, jaguars, birds and the shaman. The earth was associated with the village and community, animals and spirits. The underworld was associated with women, murky waters, the anaconda, amphibians and other water dwelling animals.
The concept of unity often leads to the conception of the tripartition of the cosmos in three distinct yet interpenetrating planes of existence. In the Upper World, the Sky Nation, Father Sun, Grandmother Moon and the Stars who are our brothers and sisters.
The Spirits of the Upper World have held our mythic imagination all of our collective lives. The Upper World can be experienced as more ethereal than the Lower World. In the Upper World you might know you are standing on something, but what is holding you may seem vague. The landscape here is also varied from crystal cities, castles in the clouds, or moving off this planet earth and traveling the multiverses beyond. Here you may meet Buddha, Christ, Krishna, I generally meet with the Counsel of Elders or the Crystal People.
When we explore the Lower World, we may get there by journeying through a tunnel leading deep of animals, trees, plants, and rocks as well as human spirits that are connected with the mysteries of the earth. Caves are sacred ceremonies sites utilized by the shamans. Secreted from the outer world, with only their animal allies as witness, the shaman communicates with the mystic realm.
The Celestial plane above, the plane within or below and the plane of the middle, earthly existence. Through the years I had led journeys using a Ladder or Steps to evoke the action of ascending when upright and descending when reversed. This movement evokes the path of cosmic energies as they descend to fertilise the earth and ascend when they are re-emited as natural radiation in the natural world, and in the metaphysical realm as prayers to the Celestial divinities. The Ladder could therefore symbolise, the world tree, the world mountain or the axis mundi linking the three spheres of existence. In this sense, it represents the concept of space.
The spiral, on the other hand, represents movement. In the Andean cosmology it expresses the idea of the cycle in its dynamic form, a concept which is synonymous with time. Its geometric rendition may vary from culture to culture, either as the pure spiral or as abstracted angular designs. More often than not, spirals are incorporated within square planes and will be found in association with another spiral of opposite direction. This latter symbol, as in other cultures, has the probable meaning of ‘involution – evolution’; time inexorably unfolding towards the future and continously contracting the past within itself. In so doing, the spiral movement draws within its eye or the axis mundi, the celestial energies to the sub-terrestrial plane and create in the middle world the merry-go-round of life, growth and death. The double spiral as a pure geometrical form also finds a mythological correspondence in the double serpent, the double helix, akin to the Ourouboros of greek mythology, symbolising the untamed primordial energy of movement and formation. Rhianon, the Greek goddess, crushed his head (or more likely joined its head to its tail) to prevent the destruction of the universe, consequence of his ardent and fiery nature. As a result of this quasi emasculation, he was tamed and fertilised the Cosmos in an orderly manner.
The steps and the spiral as a double sign is thus loaded with transcendental meaning and could reasonably represent the linked concept of space and time. Time unfolds whilst space expands in a continuous rhythm which affects the three spheres of existence. Hence, this dual symbol reflects the modern idea of growth in time and gives us the sense that duality is, in reality, the dynamic aspect of unity.
The Middle World is the hidden reality of the world we live in. The Middle World is also inhabited by a variety of spirits such as “the hidden folk”. The hidden folk are the fairies, elves, dwarves, trolls, and forest guardians that are present in so many myths and stories. The hidden folk remind us of a magical time in our lives before cultural conditioning trained us to close the veils between the worlds. In the Middle World we can travel back and forth in time. It is also a place where we can journey to search for lost and stolen objects. We know that everything is alive so it is no mystery to us that we can speak to the spirit of the rocks, trees, plants, wind, water, fire, earth, etc. We can speak to the spirit that lives in all things here.
Spirit holds our imagination the Middle world of normal human life where also dwell many types of spirits, both harmful and useful; and the Lower world, with its powerful Deities and Spirits. The Shaman must know the names and powers of all these beings for use in healing work. The myths and tales surrounding the shaman’s work provide important clues to western students for accessing the shaman’s power.