Tag Archives: Norse mythology

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.

Concepts in Magic: Wyrd

Back in January, I launched a series of entries called “Concepts in Magic,” starting with a discussion of creation. I followed this with the second entry, that one about will. As I sat at my computer, I decided that the most logical third entry should be about wyrd, as it’s where the previous two concept meet and interract.

Wyrd is a term from Norse mythology. However, I believe that the concept of wyrd exists in most, if not all, magical systems and religious traditions. This can be seen in the fact that wyrd has many aspects in common with such concepts as karma or fate (though none of them are exactly the same). Given the fact that my own practices are heavily influenced by Norse thought, I will focus on wyrd in this entry. However, I strongly believe that much of what I say translates well to other traditions in some form or another.

At its most basic level of understanding, wyrd is the principle that states that the current moment in time is the cumulative result of all past events and choices. If a person takes a moment to ponder all of the circumstances and choices in their lives, they discover a trail which has led them to the point where they stand at this very moment. As they do this, they are pondering and coming to understand wyrd.

Often times, people come to understand wyrd as a personal thing. You will find both modern heathens and Icelandic authors that speak of an individual’s wyrd much like one might talk about one’s karma in the Eastern traditions. While there may be some benefit to this point of view, I have come to the realization that from a magical viewpoint, the idea of personal wyrd is merely an illusion. What we often like to see as “his wyrd,” “her wyrd,” “your wyrd,” or “my wyrd” is merely a limited perspective of a tiny piece of a much greater tapestry, true wyrd. In reality, there is only wyrd, a single fabric of reality that connects and supports everyone and everything. And it is this larger picture of wyrd that is important to a magical mindset.

It is this interconnectedness of all people and things through a single, universal wyrd that makes magic possible. This is because each of us shapes this universal wyrd on some small scale, thereby affecting the greater whole. Indeed, it is our ability to shape wyrd in some way that makes us participants in the creative process. After all, it is wyrd that holds creation together.

In reality, every living being in the universe can and does shape wyrd, even those who don’t understand or believe in it. However, the magician does so both consciously and willfully. A magician comes to understand the nature of wyrd and his contribution to it, thereby enabling himself to influence wyrd in the way he wishes.

Of course, a wise magician does this respectfully and carefully. Wyrd is governed by certain principles (often known as the primal rules or orlog), and so is the process of shaping it. Indeed, one of the great challenges of working effective magic is coming to understand the governing principles behind wyrd well enough to shape it effectively and responsibly. That is an ongoing learning experience which the responsible magician or witch will devote themselves to for the res of their lives — or as long as they choose to work magic.

Concepts in Magic: Creation

Back around Christmas, I read a blog entry by Mark in which he describes the difference between magic and miracle. While he was mainly investigating the topic while examining literature, particularly Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, it got me to thinking about the nature of magic as I understand it. This line of thought was further stimulated this past week while working on my Review of the movie, “The Covenant.” As a result I’ve decided to start a small series of posts on various concepts I consider important to the practice of magic.

For those who find this and any future entries while searching for spells or practical advice on casting spells, I must inform you that you will be severely disappointed. This is not my intent, as I generally do not believe that a public blog (or most other forms of Internet communication, for that matter) is an appropriate medium for disseminating that kind of information. Instead, this and future posts will be theoretical in nature, covering concepts whose understanding will, in my opinion, at least, enhance a witch’s ability to ply her magical craft.

The first important concept to understand is that creation is not a “done deal.” While many religious traditions teach that God or some other Divine Source created the universe like a “master clockmaker” who assembled everything and wound everything up enough to last for the rest of its existence, a witch understands that the creative forces are still in progress. They see the universe not so much as a mechanical wind-up toy, but as a living thing that has a more organic life. Under such a paradigm, both creation and desctruction are ongoing activities. In Norse mythology, this is represented by Yggdrasil, the world tree which holds up the nine realms. This tree is constantly being nourished so that it grows. That growth is then controlled by the harts which feast on its leaves and the wyrms that gnaw at its roots.

Norse mythology further corroborates that the creation process was not a “one time deal,” at least indirectly, when you consider that there is not a single creation myth in the lore, but a series of stories describing different aspects of creation. In one tale you have the uncovering of Ymir and Audhumla when the fires of Muspelheim and icy waters of Nifleheim combine, while in another tale, you have the creation of man and woman from trees by Odin and his brothers. (Indeed, one might go so far to ask who or what created the trees that were turned to human and when they were created.) This all suggests that the universe unfolded over a period of time.

More importantly, it suggests that there were a great number of players in the creation process. Creation was not done by a single Supreme Being all at once, but was a process where many forces and beings built upon one another’s part of the process. This brings us to the next part of the creation concept: We are participants in the process of creation as well as part of the outcome.

To underscore this concept, I again draw upon Norse mythology. As I mentioned earlier, Yggdrasil is nourished daily. The task of providing this nourishment is left to three giant maidens known as the Norns. These Norns are the embodiment of the Norse concept of wyrd, which can be roughly described as a hybrid of the more familiar concepts of fate and karma. (This is naturally an oversimplification, but a more careful examination of wyrd deserves its own post, which I hope to offer at a later date.) Upon applying this understanding to the myth, the symbolism becomes clear: The universe itself is propagated and nourished by the actions of all who are a part of it. In effect, the universe and its constituant parts, through their actions, guide its own own development and the creative process that is unfolding.

Magical work involves understanding this basic principle and applying it by acting in ways to influence the continuing process of creation in specific ways. Or as Crowley put it, it’s a matter of “effecting change in accordance with will.”

An understanding of creation as an ongoing process addresses one of the issues inherent in Mark’s characterization of magic. Under a paradigm in which creation is a completed process performed long ago by a single Creator, it’s hard not to see any attempt to alter that creation as a “twisting” of said creation. Furthermore, it’s inevitable that one sees that “twisting” as a purely negative and evil thing. The perfect clock cannot be enhanced, and therefore any changes are obviously bad.

An organic understanding of a universe that is still going through the creation process, however, allows for a universe that can be changed both for the better and for the worse. In such a system, especially a system which recognizes every individual as a co-creator anyway, influencing the process becomes natural and understandable. The question of whether said influence is negative or positive becomes a matter of further ethical consideration.