I thought some of the members may be interested into some research I
The Northern Cosmos and the Human Body
by Joel Hopkinson
The following is the result of some of my intuitions and experiences
while working with Teutonic mythology. As a modern person I have many
interests including comparative religion, mythology, qi gong and
Taoism. This lead me to see comparisons between the Northern cosmos
as described in the Poetic and Prose Eddas; and Taoist/ Buddhist
subtle body exercises. Further research provided clues that led me to
see the Norse myths in an entirely different light. I thought I would
share my intuitions with others and see what they thought. They are
an entirely modern reconstruction of mine, and not part of any secret
In Buddhism, Taoism and modern paganism the microcosm is said to
relate to the macrocosm. This is reflected in such sayings as "As
above, so below" and such. In Buddhism when the Buddha achieved
enlightenment it is said that the sun and moon rose within his body.
Using these clues I began to relate the Northern cosmos to the human
body and its subtle energy system.
In Snorri Sturluson's "Prose Edda" (1) we are introduced to very rich
imagery describing the world-view of the pagan Scandinavians. By
drawing a map of this ancient world-view, I began to see patterns
emerging. These patterns seemed to have correlations to work from
other mythologies or religions. Finally after years of meditation and
research my findings are presented to the public.
The Three Worlds:
The concept of three worlds is extremely archaic and is shared by
many cultures. Specifically the Germans, Celts, Turko-Tartars, North
and Central Asians. (2). For the Northern correspondences I have used
Asgard for the Upper world, Midgard for the middle world, and
Niflheim for the underworld.
The threefold model implies a three by three model. The upper or sky-
world Asgard includes its tributary worlds: Vanaheim & Ljossalfrheim.
Midgard includes Jotunheim and Muspelheim. Niflheim includes
Svartalfheim and Nidvellir.
To the modern Druids the three worlds are described in the Barddas as
Annwvn the underworld, Abred this world and Gwynvid the upper-world.
Although a fourth world Cerguant `the face of the sun' is added. This
fourth place basically corresponds to the Tao itself.
The three worlds can be related to parts of the body as used in Hindu
and Taoist practices. Firstly there is Asgard, realm of the gods.
This relates to the head as the seat of consciousness. Ancient
Northern Europeans saw the head as harbouring the life essence. For
this reason the practice of collecting the heads of the slain was
used by ancient Scythians, Celts and Germanics.
Secondly we have Midgard as the chest. Midgard is the realm
of humans, the world of flesh and material things.
Thirdly Niflheim the underworld is the abdomen. It contains the
This threefold system can also be found in the three castes mentioned
in the Rigsmal `Tale of Rig'. Heimdall as Rig is the father of all
humans as explained in this myth. His three sons relate to the worlds
as such: Thrall the serf or servant relates to the abdomen and the
underworld. Karl the craftsman and yeoman farmer is the chest / solar
plexus and Midgard. Earl the noble person and warrior is the head.
Notice also the relationship between the descriptions of Rig. He is
kunngir `knowing' = the head, rammr `tough' = the chest, and
lastly `vigorous' for the abdomen.
In Taoist Qi gong the head; chest and abdomen form the basis of the
three Dan Tiens. These are areas of power in the body and form the
basis of more complex exercises in Chinese internal alchemy.
The Three Dan Tiens are as follows:
The Taoists call The Upper Dan Tien the Crystal Palace. But it is
also called Ni-Wan `mud-pill' a Chinese rendering of the Buddhist
Sanskrit `Nirvana'. This is in the middle of the head, behind the
eyes and above the palate. This includes the middle of the brain, the
hypothalamus, the pineal and pituitary glands. I correlate this
region with Asgard specifically Hlidskialf, Odin's throne of
clairvoyance. The Chinese Crystal Palace is obviously the Norse
Asgard and it has relationships with the Crystal Tower in Celtic
mythology (like the one where Merlin retired to), and the Sacred
Enclosure from a previous article about the martial banners of the
Irish Fianna (3).
The Middle Dan Tien is variously described as in the Heart or in the
Solar Plexus. I prefer the solar plexus, as it is not good to store
too much energy in the heart. The solar plexus is also called the
brain of the abdomen. It contains cells very much like brain cells,
which are used to subconsciously control the intricate functions of
the organs and ducts in the abdomen.
The Lower Dan Tien is two inches below the navel. It is also called
the Hara and is our centre of balance. The umbilical cord was
attached to our navels before we were born. Although this cord has
been removed after birth, the connections that transported
nourishment around our bodies still exist in our adult bodies on a
The concept of a World-Tree is common to many cultures as well. The
Central Pillar is found among the peoples of Arctic and North
America, the Samoyed, the Ainu, Central and North Asia, the Germans
and Scandinavians. To the Abakan Tartars the World-Tree was a white
birch with seven branches, growing on a mountain. This sevenfold
correspondence reveals a Mesopotamian influence. A more archaic model
related to the shamanic practices of Central Asia would be a World-
Tree with nine branches. Odin hitching his eight-legged horse
Sleipnir to Yggdrasil is also a feature of Mongol and Siberian Tartar
The exact species of Yggdrasil is called into question. The most
common theory is that it is an ash. The ash tree is a tall and
straight tree that is very impressive. However others have postulated
Yggdrasill is an evergreen and therefore must be a yew. Other
versions from Central Asian mythologies include the birch or pine.
According to the mythology though Yggdrasil is evergreen because of
the white clay from the Well of Wyrd that is put on its trunk and
branches by the three Norns (1).
Possibly the world tree has different correspondences depending on
the level it is on. For example it could be visualised as a yew in
the underworld, and an ash in Midgard. In Mongol mythology the
Tengeri or gods feed on the fruit of the tree (2). This clue has led
me to believe that Yggdrasill might also be the tree on which Idunn's
apples of youth grow. But then the ash and yew also have fruits.
Irish mythology speaks of a branch bearing acorns, hazel nuts and
apples. This could mean that as a divine tree Yggdrasill has a
threefold nature. Simultaneously a tall straight tree, that is
evergreen and bears fruit. The fruit of Yggdrasill is the essence of
immortality of the gods.
I postulate that Yggdrasil the great cosmic tree could be related to
the spinal column. The spine is the cosmic pillar in Chinese Taoism
and this by no stretch of the imagination could refer to the World
Tree. Under its roots lies a dragon, Nidhogg, just as in kundalini
yoga a serpent lies at the base of the spine.
Other animals also live in the tree and they are a topic for future
articles but for now the eagle at the crown with a falcon sitting on
the eagle's third eye also seems to support a theory that the animals
could be codes or kennings for glands, organs or chakras.
Yggdrasill is the horse of Odin or the vehicle of our super-
consciousness just as the spine, central nervous system and glands
can be trained to help us achieve higher forms of consciousness.
The honeydew collected from Yggdrasil that feeds the bees. Honey, dew
and bees have been thought of as sacred in many cultures.
The white clay of the Well of Wyrd or Urdr regenerates the World-
Tree. This may bear some resemblances to Taoist and yogic practices
that claim longevity or immortality as their reward.
The Three Wells:
The tree has three roots and three wells. The three wells are also
related to the three Dan Tiens in Chinese qi gong. The three Dan
Tiens as mentioned before are part of the third eye, the solar plexus
and the navel. The three wells are found in Asgard (the head),
Midgard (the chest), and Niflheim (the abdomen).
The three wells or springs are the Well of Wyrd, the Well of Wisdom
and the Seething Cauldron. The Well of Wyrd is also called the Well
of Urd the eldest Nornir. The well of Urd (pronounced Urth) is where
the Nornir deal out fate and the gods make oaths. The Well of Wisdom
is where Mimir guards Gjallarhorn, a draught from this spring is the
mead of poetry. Lastly Hvergelmir 'seething cauldron' or 'roaring
kettle' is the well of the underworld. Inside seethe the four
serpents Goin, Moin, Grabak and Grafvolluth. The dragon Nidhogg lies
underneath the Well and gnaws on the third root of Yggdrasill.
The three wells probably have a similar use as the Chinese Three
Cauldrons. The passage about the Nornir using the milk-white water of
the Well of Urd to heal Yggdrasil begins to sound like Taoist
Longevity practices. Interestingly Caitlin Matthews has also found
references to three wells in Celtic mythology (4) so perhaps we are
looking at a common tradition.
Mead of Poetry:
The mead of inspiration could refer to the yogic soma or the Taoist
jade elixir of immortality. This really refers to saliva produced in
the mouth while the individual is deep in meditation. This saliva is
supposed to be magically charged with life energy and is described as
having a sweet, honey-like taste.
There are nine worlds or realms in the Northern cosmos. They are
interesting to compare with the nine centres or nine pools of energy
within the body. The centres are slightly different from the seven
charkas as given in Hindu texts although there are some crossovers.
The ninefold system is used in Taoist Qi Gong and Buddhist Ninjitsu
kuji-kiri. My theory is that the sevenfold Hindu system as made
popular by Western writers is a blind to trick the uninitiated.
Looking at different pictures or descriptions of the charkas we find
that some show the chakras as: crown, third eye, throat, heart, solar
plexus, sacral and base with the sacral centre as the genitals. Other
versions have the sacral centre as the navel. However this is a
debate for another time.
If the nine worlds can be related to nine centres what would they be?
Starting with Asgard (in the ninefold model I use Asgard to
specifically indicate the dwellings of the Aesir), I relate the realm
of the gods to the crown. This is a tricky one because as we shall
explore in other articles the realm of the gods is a complex
mythological symbol and can be related to advanced Qi Gong practices
such as various Crystal Palace and Twelve Chamber exercises. The
crown is called Pai-Hui or Bai-Hui in Chinese.
The third eye relates to Vanaheim. This is the realm of the Vanir, an
ancient race who practice Seidhr-craft. Practitioners of seidhr are
spakona or `prophetesses'. Niord, Freyr and Freyja were Vanir
hostages for Mimir and Hoenir. Interestingly a giant also called
Mimir protects the Well of Wisdom, the same well that Odin exchanges
one of his eyes for a draught. Thus Odin the one-eyed god could be
trying to show us a correspondence with the psychic third eye.
It is also interesting to compare the correspondences between
Vanaheim, Freyja, her magical falcon costume, seidhr and its
relationship with divination, the third eye and its relationship to
psychic ability, and the Eye of Horus from Egyptian lore. The third
eye was well known in Hindu Yoga and is called Yin Tang by the
I use Jotunheim for a correspondence with the Aura. Jotunheim is also
called Utgard (out-gard i.e. outside of Midgard). If Midgard
represents the realm of humans and our body then Ut-gard is outside
the body, surrounding us like a shell. This characteristic is shared
by the aura which is like an energetic egg shell around us.
Jotunheim is the realm of the giants. On one level it is a realm of
danger and conflict but there is also romance, treasure and wisdom in
the depths of Jotunheim. Thus we must explore our external
environment for these adventures. Jotunheim is also described in
mythology as being a development of Gunningagap the Yawning Chasm or
Great Void. The aura is Wei-Chi in Chinese.
I place Ljossalfrheim the realm of the elves as a throat
correspondence. In the Hindu system the throat has an air
correspondence, and elves are the creatures of the air element in
ceremonial magick. The throat is Tan Tiu in the Chinese system.
Muspelheim the realm of fire I place in the heart. The heart relates
to the element of fire in the Hindu four plus one elemental system,
as well as the Chinese five-elemental system. The heart is Shuan
Chung or Sha Zhong in Chinese.
Midgard I use as a solar plexus correspondence. It relates to the
Middle Dan Tien in the solar plexus. Midgard is the realm of humans.
The solar plexus is called Chung Wan or Chung Kung in Taoist
The base centre I relate to Niflheim the underworld. I do not
separate the area of Hel from Niflheim and to express this I
sometimes use the word Niflhel. This is where Hvergelmir and Nidhoggr
dwell. The base is Hui-Yin in the Chinese system.
The sacral or genital centre I relate to Nidavellir the realm of the
dwarves. This correspondence reminds me of the myth of Freyja and the
Brisingamen. This is called Kuan Yuan `ovarian palace' in women and
Jing Gong `sperm palace' in men.
Lastly Svartalfrheim I relate to the navel. This is the realm of the
dark elves. The dark elves are trickster spirits in Norse myth. They
have magical ability especially forging treasures such as Thor's
hammer. The Chinese call the navel Chi-Chung. The Japanese call it
The World serpent Jormungandr could be a serpent of energy that
circles the body, which is called the microcosmic orbit in the Taoist
tradition, and which is further described in the works of Mantak
Chia. The serpent biting its tail is a common symbol in Western
Alchemy. Note that Jormungandr is in the sea between Midgard and
Jotunheim thus it is between the flesh body (Midgard) and the aura
Heimdall the central figure of the Tale of Rig mentioned above guards
the rainbow bridge. Heimdall sacrifices his ear in the Well of Mimir
so that he has superhuman hearing.
Although not a realm, Bifrost has a special place in Norse mythology.
The colours of the rainbow are tempting to relate to seven ray
visualisations but this may be stretching the mythology too far.
I would place Bifrost a bridge over the gap between Midgard and
Asgard. There are two gaps in the channels linking the governing and
conception vessels: the mouth and anus. The mouth is covered to
complete the microcosmic orbit by pressing the tongue against the
palate. This massages the pituitary gland above it. As the pituitary
gland is part of the Crystal Palace in Chinese practice, it forms a
link between Midgard the realm of humans and Asgard the upper world.
Similarly the sphincter muscles are contracted to prevent the escape
of chi or energy. In Norse mythology Giollbridge spans the river
between Midgard and the underworld Niflheim.
Of course there is much more, and this is only scratching the surface
of a rich mythology that possible conceals many cunning secrets. The
ancients might never have thought of anything like what I have
described above but it is a measure of this cultures strength that it
can be reinterpreted to correlate with sophisticated internal alchemy
techniques. I look forward to exploring this new world I have
discovered. And I look forward to seeing how others experience the
1. Sturluson, S., "The Prose Edda"
2. Eliade, M., "Shamanism", Princeton University Press, U.S.A.,
3. Hopkinson, J., "The Banners of the Fianna" Touchstone
4. Mathews, C., & Matthews J., "Encyclopaedia of Celtic Wisdom"
5. Chia, M., "Taoist Ways to transform stress into vitality",
Healing Tao Books, Huntington, New York, 1985.