Woden’s Day–Odin’s One Eye

640px-Manuscript_OdinnNo pain, no gain. You can’t get something for nothing. Everything has its price. We’ve all heard these sayings, some of us, perhaps, even live by them. To attain what we want, whether it be a minor goal to get in better shape, or a huge dream like making it to the Olympics, some sacrifice must be made. The bigger the dream, the bigger the sacrifice.

In Norse mythology, Odin made a huge sacrifice. Odin sacrificed his EYE.

Odin wanted knowledge; not just any knowledge, but the knowledge of the universe. He traveled to the Well of Urd, also known as the Well of Wisdom, to visit the god Mimir (Mee-meer), who was the guardian of the well. The Well of Urd is the well that nourishes the World Tree, Yggdrasil, the tree in which all of the nine worlds of humans, gods, giants, dwarves, and elves live. Because the World Tree grows in its water, the Well of Urd houses all the knowledge of the universe.

When Odin approached Mimir, he asked if he could drink from the Well. Being a good guardian, Mimir told Odin he’d have to make a sacrifice if he wanted to drink from the Well. The Well contained too much deep wisdom to offer to just anyone. A great sacrifice was required.

Odin gave Mimir his eye. Mimir then gave Odin a drink from the Well of Wisdom. From that moment on, Odin gained extensive knowledge. Odin is the Norse god with the most wisdom and is the most far-seeing.

Odin the Wanderer (1896) by Georg von Rosen
Odin the Wanderer (1896) by Georg von Rosen

I find such deep symbolism in Odin giving up his eye in order to gain wisdom. After all, the eye is the vehicle through which we see, and being able to “see” clearly is usually considered a sign of wisdom. As I mentioned in a previous blog, the god of war, Tyr, sacrificed his right hand to the wolf Fenrir. That was the appropriate, the ultimate, sacrifice for a war god—his right hand, his sword hand. For the god of wisdom, the god who wants to know everything, who wants to see everything that goes on in all the worlds, the sacrifice of his eye is the most symbolic sacrifice.

Odin is always depicted in art and in stories as one-eyed.

4 thoughts on “Woden’s Day–Odin’s One Eye”

  1. this is great. i was wondering could you put pronunciations by all the names/words that are Norse words? i have no idea what how to say them.
    i am thinking of using your week day Norse stories to teach the boys about the Norse gods. 🙂

  2. Umm, I’m going with the Celts on this one. All Finn had to suffer was a burned thumb. Here’s the Wikipedia version:

    /i/The Salmon figures prominently in The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn, which recounts the early adventures of Fionn mac Cumhaill. According to the story, an ordinary salmon ate nine hazelnuts that fell into the Well of Wisdom (aka Tobar Segais) from nine hazel trees that surrounded the well. By this act, the salmon gained all the world’s knowledge. Moreover, the first person to eat of its flesh would, in turn, gain this knowledge.

    The poet Finn Eces spent seven years fishing for this salmon. One day Finn Eces caught Fintan and gave the fish to Fionn, his servant and son of Cumhaill, with instructions not to eat it. Fionn cooked the salmon, turning it over and over, but when Fionn touched the fish with his thumb to see if it was cooked, he burnt his finger on a drop of hot cooking fish fat. Fionn sucked on his burned finger to ease the pain. Little did Fionn know that all of Fintan’s wisdom had been concentrated into that one drop of fish fat. When he brought the cooked meal to Finn Eces, his master saw that the boy’s eyes shone with a previously unseen wisdom. Finn Eces asked Fionn if he had eaten any of the salmon. Answering no, the boy explained what had happened. Finn Eces realized that Fionn had received the wisdom of the salmon, so gave him the rest of the fish to eat. Fionn ate the salmon and in so doing gained all the knowledge of the world. Throughout the rest of his life, Fionn could draw upon this knowledge merely by biting his thumb. The deep knowledge and wisdom gained from Fintan, the Salmon of Knowledge, allowed Fionn to become the leader of the Fianna, the famed heroes of Irish myth./i/

    1. kimberlysbarton

      The Norse have something similar with the story of Sigurd. He does not obtain all wisdom, but enough to keep himself from getting killed. After he kills the dragon Fafnir, Sigurd is told to roast the dragon’s heart for Regin, the dwarf, the one who told Sigurd about the dragon’s treasure, to consume. Sigurd touched the blood and then put his finger in his mouth. Tasting the dragon blood opened his perception and he could hear the birds talking. They told Sigurd that Regin planned to kill him for the dragon’s treasure. Sigurd ended up killing Regin first and taking the treasure for himself.

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