How Odin Lost His Eye

Mythology has always fascinated me. The Norse pantheon especially so. One thing that draws my interest is that the gods are immortal but know that they will eventually die during Ragnarok (a contradiction I know). These mortal immortals behave much like humans and are not immune to emotions, but they of course perform impossible feats and live in a world that contains what we would call magic. The story I am sharing with you this week (it’s Flash Friday) is the story of Odin and how he loses his eye, and what he gains in return.

If you have not yet dipped your toes in the waters of mythology and enjoy this snapshot of a story, I recommend you check out the original. Of course the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda are great sources for Norse mythology, but if you don’t like poetry or a translated book originally written around the year 1200, I recommend you try Myths of the Norsemen by H. A. Guerber or Neil Gaiman’s recently released Norse Mythology. Neil’s version is of course modern (but stays true to the myth) and is suitable for all ages. Guerber’s was written in the early 1900’s and is very informative (he did his homework).

The following is a retelling of Odin’s short exchange at Mimisbrunnr.

The Price of Wisdom

Many months had passed since Odin left Asgard. He had shed all ornament before his departure. Instead of his spear, he carried a walking staff. Instead of his armor, he wore simple clothes wrapped in a dark blue cloak. And instead of riding Sleipner, his eight-legged horse, he simply walked. He appeared as nothing but an old wanderer to any who would see him. He appeared as a man to men and a giant to giants. Nothing about his appearance would reveal his name. He had traveled across the vast land of Jotunheim, the land of giants, before he found the end of this particular journey; a well. Beside it stood its warden.

“Greetings, Odin, Borr’s son.”

Odin grinned, “Well met, Mimir, guardian of wisdom. I have come to drink from your well.”

“Many have desired such as you, but none has so desired it that they would offer what is asked of them. You know your price.”

“I will not shy away from it.” Odin walked to the well. It was brimming with water so thin and clear it could have been air. He felt his thirst for it. He raised a hand to his right eye. With his thumb and two forefingers he spread his eyelids wide, dug deep into his skull, and pulled his eye from its resting place. Through all the pain he did not make a sound. Blood dripped like tears from the empty socket. Odin held the eye before him and looked upon it one last time, then he dropped it into the well where it sank deep into its clear water. “The price is paid. I will have what is mine.”

Mimir nodded and produced a large drinking horn. He filled it with the well’s water and handed it to Odin, the first and last to pay the price. Odin took the horn with both his hands and drank deeply. Behind the taste of sunlight, the future became clear. He saw all that would happen in the nine worlds. All the troubles and triumphs of men and gods, and beyond that he learned why the sorrows and trials must be made. Noble acts amidst the troubles and sorrows would create a force that one day, a day long in the future, would grapple and destroy the evil that brought terror and torment into the world. Odin new what he must do to prepare for the end of days, and he took solace in the thought of a world reborn. A world he would never see.

Odin drained the horn in one drink and handed it back to Mimir. He thanked the wise giant, then turned and left. His right eye would remain suspended in the well of wisdom, looking up through the water, as a sign to all who would wander there that the Allfather had paid for his wisdom.

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