Whenever I ponder the World Tree, I often reflect on my own relations with trees. In my experience, They are magical beings, Each with their own personalities. By carrying their own vision of the world inside Themselves, each species of tree offers something of Themselves to the Axis Mundus, which is the World Tree.
In imagining this Axis Mundus, I think back on my experience with a white oak, which lived next to my third story condo. During a hurricane (more than fifteen years ago) the tree fell through my living room. Between the chaos and the debris, I stopped to marvel at this immense tree laying on the floor, taking up my living-dining room. The crown, the branches, the leaves, the acorns, and the trunk all spilled out over the floor. Amongst the debris were some squirrels and two of their nests. (That is a story for another time.)
As I touched the felled tree, I felt that I stepped through a door to other worlds. All of these worlds, whether they were below, above, or in-between, were connected through this tree. Moreover, all life was centered in, around, under, above, and through this tree. For me, it was a disorienting, yet remarkable experience. From that, I gained knowledge of the World Tree.
Now when I picture the World Tree, I see a towering, massive tree with branches reaching to the sky, and roots reaching deep into the earth. This broadleaf tree offers shade from the sun and shelter from the rain. The leaves reflect the passing seasons, but they never leave the tree completely bare. Also, this tree provides food for the beings living in it and around it.
Again, I flashed to a huge oak in my life. This oak of my adolescence sat next to a stone wall in my family’s yard. A clothesline ran from its lower trunk to one of the posts of our patio. This oak tree was said to be a least two hundred years old, and seemed as ancient (at least to me). Whenever, I hung out wet clothes or gathered in the dried ones, the Tree would talk to me. In the summer, I would look up into the crooked branches, and watch the leaves move in the breeze. In the fall, “She” would drop acorns on me. (I thought of this Oak as “She.”) In winter, a few brown leaves would wave at me. Through it all, the Tree was there for me.
To guide me further, the Oak introduced me to the squirrels. These mammals seemed to be everywhere: eating acorns, buying acorns, chasing each other, and building leaf nests. During the mating season, the squirrels would gather leaves to refurbish their nests. When I was feeling my teenage angst, the squirrels would cheer me up with their activities. The squirrels were partners to the Oak, as they were nurtured by Her, and they cared for Her.
This Oak nurtured me through some stormy times. She counseled me and gave me her strength. She offered the world to me, for which I was grateful. With her help, I made it through adolescence.
Therefore I regard the Oak to be the World Tree, the Axis Mundus. Furthermore, the lore about oak trees in various cultures supports my idea. For example, the Celts, not only considered oaks to be Chieftain Trees, but also the Doorway to Other Worlds. To the Romans and Greeks, the oak represented Jupiter and Zeus (respectively), the heads of their pantheons. These Gods spoke through lightening which was caught by the oak. This lightening would travel from the oak’s crown to its roots. This means to me that the oak acted as the Axis Mundus. Not only that, but the oak also contains the sheer life force of the Universe. That is how I imagine the World Tree.
Hageneder, Fred, “The Meaning of Trees.” Chronicle Books: San Francisco. 2005.
Hidalgo, Sharlyn, “The Healing Power of Trees.” Llewellyn: Woodbury MN. 2010.
Hopman, Ellen Evert, “A Druid’s Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine.” Destiny: Rochester VT. 2008.