The Northern Cosmos & The Hum
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 tradition.
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 the Snorri Sturluson's "Prose Edda" (1) we are introduced to very rich imagery describing the world-view of the pagan Scandinavians. By drawing and trying to map this ancient world-view, I began to see patterns emerging and correlations with 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 or Niflhel 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 or perhaps Niflhel to include 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.
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 lower chakras.
This threefold system can also be related to 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 subtle level.
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 Yggdrasil with nine branches. Odin hitching his eight-legged horse Sleipnir to Yggdrasil is also a feature of Mongol and Siberian Tartar mythology (2). 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 that Yggdrasil is evergreen and therefore must be a yew. Other versions include the birch or pine. (2). According to the mythology though Yggdrasil is evergreen because of the white clay from the Well of Urdr that is put on its trunk and branches by the Nornir (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 Yggdrasil might also be the tree on which Idunn's apples of youth grow. But then the ash and yew also have fruits. 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 supportÜa theory that the animals could be codes or kennings for glands, organs or chakras. Yggdrasil 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 honey-dew collected from Yggdrasil that feeds the bees and the white clay of the Well of Urdr that regenerates the World-Tree 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 see the the four serpents Goin, Moin, Grabak and Grafvolluth. The dragon Nidhogg lies underneath the Well and gnaws on the third root of Yggdrasil.
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. Note that the twelve chambers of Taoist practice could possibly relate to twelve mead-halls in Asgard of which Valholl and Folkvang are two. 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 old One-eye 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 Chinese.
I use Jotunheim for a correspondence with the Aura. Jotunheim is also called Utgard (out-gard i.e. outside of Midgard Ò the body). 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 exercises.
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 the gate of death and life 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. Mostly I choose this correspondence because it is the last available place. This is one area of my thesis where more research is necessary for this very complex system to be working properly. The navel is also called Chi-Chung.
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 (Jotunheim).
The rainbow bridge guarded by Heimdall. 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 is stretching the mythology too far.
For the sake of the vision of the northern cosmos mapping the human body I would place Bifrost a bridge over the gap between Midgard and Asgard. In Hindu Yoga and Taoist Qi Gong there is a gap between the body and head in the mouth. This gap is covered during meditation by pressing the tongue against the palate. The tongue is also applying pressure of the palate, which massages the pituitary gland above it. As the pituitary gland and related area is the Crystal Palace in Chinese practice it is not difficult to correlate this with Asgard.
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 above meditations.
• Sturluson, S., "The Prose Edda"
• Eliade, M., "Shamanism", Princeton University Press, U.S.A., 1964.
• Hopkinson, J., "The Banners of the Fianna" Touchstone magazine, U.K.
• Mathews, C., & Matthews J., "Encyclopaedia of Celtic Wisdom"
• Chia, M., "Taoist Ways to transform stress into vitality", Healing Tao Books, Huntington, New York, 1985.