Essentially, any symmetrical shape can serve as a blueprint for the cosmos, including the human body: Icelandic shamans believe every human is a unique reflection of a primordial design, just as every snowflake is a unique variation of a hexagon. And again: each reflection and copy is less perfect than the intangible prototype that, alone, is constant.
According to Greek cosmology, man is a small world (microcosm) in which the organic structure of the greater world (macrocosm) is reflected.
The microcosm theory was developed during the Renaissance into a complex system of interactions between the human body and the world body.
'The ancients called man the world in miniature; an appropriate designation because, since man is composed of earth, water, air and fire, his body resembles that of the earth; just as man has bones, the supports and framework of his flesh, the world has its rocks that support the earth; just as man has a sea of blood in him in which the lungs expand and contract while breathing, the body of the earth has its ocean which likewise expands and contracts every six hours, as if the world is breathing; just as veins originate from that pool of blood and branch out to the body, the ocean fills the body of the earth with an infinite number of springs.'
Leonardo da Vinci (1509).
Man was created on the last day and placed in the center of Creation, as the central point in which the great chain of beings is mirrored and concentrated. In his De Natura Rerum, bishop Isidore of Seville asserts that the human body is an extract of the world.
Conversely, the cosmos is also regarded as human: In the Egyptian creation myths, Earth, as a man, lies on the ground while his wife Nut, the goddess of the sky, bows over him. The god of air, Shu, supports Nut and ensures that heaven and earth remain separated.
A classic way of coming to grips with the world is by projecting our body on to the earth. In anthropomorphic maps, unknown rivers, hills and plains are placed within a recognizable whole. Using his body as a model and a principle, man arranges land into a geography; he provides the world with an identity and a history. This 'cosmic automagnification' gives man an image of immense proportions. The sections of this area were named after our body parts. By personifying the world we establish a memorial in which human relations function as imaginary beacons. Geography literally means describing Mother Earth, Gea.
The world is constructed by tropes derived from the body: Golgotha, the place of the skulls; the axis mundi, the world's navel. Atlas, the Titan petrified into a mountain range: a mythical, anthropomorphic landscape after which the first vertebra was named. Thus, we travel through our body. The body functions as a map of the world and vice versa.
The world mountain
A Chinese cosmic map shows the universe's five world mountains, made of the limbs of the dwarf Pangu, who was born out of the cosmic egg. He was a sculptor who, having grown into a giant, created the world from his own body using a hammer and chisel. His hair became the rotating starry sky, his eyes became the Sun and Moon, his breath became the atmosphere, his body Earth, his limbs the five mountains, his blood the oceans, his fleas the animals on earth.
Odin slays the giant Ymir who threatens to cover the gods in shadow. Other giants drown in a flood of blood or are washed away to a hidden dimension of reality: Jötunheimr. Ymir's bones become mountains, his flesh becomes the earth, his teeth become the cliffs, his blood the sea and the rivers, his hair the plants, his blue skull the sky, his brain the clouds. His eyebrows are the walls which protect the world from the ice giants. (Prose Edda)
Marduk created Mesopotamia by bisecting the body of the mother goddess Tiamat: one half became heaven, the other earth. (Enûma Eliš)
The monster symbolizes the terrifying unfamiliarity of newly conquered and demarcated land. By killing and hacking the primordial monsters we stabilize creation. Sacrificing primordial entities (Ymir, Purusha, Pangu, Proto-Adam) gives structure to ultimate reality.
Polynesian fishermen see the god Maui as a great fisher who angled the islands out of the Pacific Ocean using his mother-in-law's jaw. He sailed in a banana peel to England where he has since been worshipped as Jehova.