The cry of the Kwakiutl neophyte, “I am at the Center of the World!” at once reveals one of the deepest meanings of sacred space. Where the break-through from plane to plane has been effected by a hierophany, there too an opening has been made, either upward (the divine world) or downward (the underworld, the world of the dead). The three cosmic levels – earth, heaven, underworld – have been put in communication. As we just saw, this communication is sometimes expressed through the image of a universal pillar, axis mundi, which at once connects and supports heaven and earth and whose base is fixed in the world below (the infernal regions). Such a pillar can be only at the very center of the universe, for the whole of the habitable world extends around it….

   To us, it seems an inescapable conclusion that the religious man sought to live as near as possible to the Center of the World. He knew that his country lay at the midpoint of the earth; he knew too that his city constituted the navel of the universe, and, above all, that the temple or the palace were veritably Centers of the World. But he also wanted his own house to be at the Center and to be an imago mundi. And, in fact, as we shall see, houses are held to be at the Center of the World, and on the microcosmic scale, to reproduce the universe. In other words, the man of traditional societies could only live in a space opening upward, where the break in the plane was symbolically assured and hence communication with the other world, the transcendental world, was ritually possible. Of course the sanctuary – the Center par excelence – was there, close to him, in the city, and he could be sure of communicating with the world of the gods simply by entering the temple. But he felt the need to live at the center always – like the Achipla, who, as we saw, always carried the sacred pole, the axis mundi, with them, so they should never be far from the Center and should remain in communication with the supernatural world. In short, whatever the dimensions of the space with which he is familiar and in which he regards himself as situated – his country, his city, his village, his house – religious man feels the need always to exist in a total and organized world, in a cosmos.

excerpt from The Sacred and the Profane by Mircea Eliade

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