Musings on Mimir’s Well and Ocular Sacrifices

WellOne of my favorite myths is the myth of Odin’s sacrifice of his eye in order to earn the right to drink from Mimir’s well.  It’s one of the myths that explains how Odin gained his wisdom.

One of the most common interpretations I have heard of this myth — promoted by people like Edred Thorsson — is that Odin gave up his eye and dropped it into the well so that it could forever scan the well’s depths, giving Odin knowledge of the secret wisdom contained in the well itself.  It’s an interesting interpretation, but I’ve never really cared for it.  I came to my own understanding of this myth.

I’d say that my own understanding was greatly influenced by the fact that I lived almost the entirety of the first three decades of my life with strabismus, which caused me to learn a good bit about stereoscopic vision, depth perception, and how important two eyes that work in cooperation are to one’s vision.  When I finally had surgery (actually, the second one, this time as an adult) to correct my strabismus, I learned how messing with your eyes can severely alter the perception of the world around you.  (Imagine reaching for a glass only to realize that it’s several inches further away from you than you thought, for example.)

To me, Odin’s sacrifice seems to be more about a change of the way he looked at the world, giving up old perceptions rather than clinging to them.  To me, this is a powerful mythic message for the rest of us.  To gain wisdom and knowledge, we first have to admit that maybe the things we think we know, the way we look at things, our very assumptions, may need to be sacrificed.  Refusing to let go of these things keeps us trapped and bars us from the new wisdom that is being presented to us.

Interestingly, while doing a quick search in preparation for this post, I ran across a post by Wytch in the North.  In it, she describes a couple interpretations of the myths that come close to my own.  Those interpretations differ in that they seem to see the sacrifice as a shift (or a partial one) from linear/logical thinking to esoteric/creative thinking.  I’m not convinced of that, as I think that a true change of perception that can be caused by the loss of an eye affects both of those categories of thinking.  (I’m also hesitant to draw a huge distinction between those to modes of thinking, anyway.)  All the same, it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who’s taken a different view of this myth than giants like Edred Thorsson.

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