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Imago Mundi

By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on

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The imago mundi is another central tendency that Mircea Eliade presents as fundamental to religious beliefs: the building of a miniature cosmos (image of the world) to commemorate creation.

The imago mundi can exist on any multitude of scales without conflict, as it reflects the decision to establish a world and the relative chaos around it: a city can be established along the cardinal points, with water, land and the axis mundi at the religious quarters; a household is a cohesive unit, with a central pillar or chimney;

a temple is an imago mundi, thought of originally as a dwelling place of the gods whose presence their maintained the sanctity of the surrounding world inhabited by that religious-cultural unit.

When an establishment is created, the divine template is used to create order amid chaos.

Eliade supports this premise by explaining the fundamental action that occurs when establishing a city, building a house or otherwise populating a new place: it is a choice to create order out of chaos; it is therefore a recreation of the creation of the world from the entropic waters; and thus the pious build newly constructed settlement (whether a city, house or otherwise) based on the divine example. The house was not a machine for living whose efficiency, livability and luxury were its main merits.

To a mystic, it was inevitable to think of the space in which one lived as an ordered refuge that was distinct from chaos, and it thus followed that any settlement mirrored the creation of the world from the preceding chaos.

Imago Mundi Examples

The tabernacle is an imago mundi.

The tabernacle parallels the universe and the Garden of Eden, similar to Solomon's Temple: God direclty in the garden, and the ark in the tabernacle; the sky above, and the tent cloth; the sky held up by the dome, and the tent held up by pillars; being close to God, versus being cast out into the non-sacred, and the Holy of Holies, reached by departing from the non-sacred; the chaotic waters separate from the universe, and the laver of water outside the tabernacle.

However, the tabernacle was not an axis mundi. In fact, its motility was one of its chief attributes. Also, though it was sacred and built according to God's instructions, it was not directly a hierophany. The ark was a hierophany, as it was the presence on earth of God.