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David Chin | profile | all galleries >> My World of Links >> Myths That Every Child Should Know >> Chapter 12 - How Odin Lost His Eye tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Chapter 1 - The Three Golden Apples | Chapter 2 - The Pomegranate Seeds | Chapter 3 - The Chimaera | Chapter 4 - The Golden Touch | Chapter 5 - The Gorgon's Head | Chapter 6 - The Dragon's Teeth | Chapter 7 - The Miraculous Pitcher | Chapter 8 - The Paradise of Children | Chapter 9 - The Cyclops | Chapter 11 - The Giant Builder | Chapter 12 - How Odin Lost His Eye

Chapter 12 - How Odin Lost His Eye


In the beginning of things, before there was any world or sun, moon, and
stars, there were the giants; for these were the oldest creatures that
ever breathed. They lived in Jotunheim, the land of frost and darkness,
and their hearts were evil. Next came the gods, the good AEsir, who made
earth and sky and sea, and who dwelt in Asgard, above the heavens. Then
were created the queer little dwarfs, who lived underground in the
caverns of the mountains, working at their mines of metal and precious
stones. Last of all, the gods made men to dwell in Midgard, the good
world that we know, between which and the glorious home of the AEsir
stretched Bifroest, the bridge of rainbows.

In those days, folk say, there was a mighty ash tree named Yggdrasil, so
vast that its branches shaded the whole earth and stretched up into
heaven where the AEsir dwelt, while its roots sank far down below the
lowest depth. In the branches of the big ash tree lived a queer family
of creatures. First, there was a great eagle, who was wiser than any
bird that ever lived--except the two ravens, Thought and Memory, who sat
upon Father Odin's shoulders and told him the secrets which they learned
in their flight over the wide world. Near the great eagle perched a
hawk, and four antlered deer browsed among the buds of Yggdrasil. At
the foot of the tree coiled a huge serpent, who was always gnawing
hungrily at its roots, with a whole colony of little snakes to keep him
company--so many that they could never be counted. The eagle at the top
of the tree and the serpent at its foot were enemies, always saying hard
things of each other. Between the two skipped up and down a little
squirrel, a tale bearer and a gossip, who repeated each unkind remark
and, like the malicious neighbour that he was, kept their quarrel ever
fresh and green.

In one place at the roots of Yggdrasil was a fair fountain called the
Urdar-well, where the three Norn maidens, who knew the past, present,
and future, dwelt with their pets, the two white swans. This was magic
water in the fountain, which the Norns sprinkled every day upon the
giant tree to keep it green--water so sacred that everything which
entered it became white as the film of an eggshell. Close beside this
sacred well the AEsir had their council hall, to which they galloped
every morning over the rainbow bridge.

But Father Odin, the king of all the AEsir, knew of another fountain more
wonderful still; the two ravens whom he sent forth to bring him news had
told him. This also was below the roots of Yggdrasil, in the spot where
the sky and ocean met. Here for centuries and centuries the giant Mimer
had sat keeping guard over his hidden well, in the bottom of which lay
such a treasure of wisdom as was to be found nowhere else in the world.
Every morning Mimer dipped his glittering horn Gioell into the fountain
and drew out a draught of the wondrous water, which he drank to make him
wise. Every day he grew wiser and wiser; and as this had been going on
ever since the beginning of things, you can scarcely imagine how wise
Mimer was.

Now it did not seem right to Father Odin that a giant should have all
this wisdom to himself; for the giants were the enemies of the AEsir, and
the wisdom which they had been hoarding for ages before the gods were
made was generally used for evil purposes. Moreover, Odin longed and
longed to become the wisest being in the world. So he resolved to win a
draught from Mimer's well, if in any way that could be done.

One night, when the sun had set behind the mountains of Midgard, Odin
put on his broad-brimmed hat and his striped cloak, and taking his
famous staff in his hand, trudged down the long bridge to where it ended
by Mimer's secret grotto.

"Good-day, Mimer," said Odin, entering; "I have come for a drink from
your well."

The giant was sitting with his knees drawn up to his chin, his long
white beard falling over his folded arms, and his head nodding; for
Mimer was very old, and he often fell asleep while watching over his
precious spring. He woke with a frown at Odin's words. "You want a drink
from my well, do you?" he growled. "Hey! I let no one drink from my

"Nevertheless, you must let me have a draught from your glittering
horn," insisted Odin, "and I will pay you for it."

"Oho, you will pay me for it, will you?" echoed Mimer, eyeing his
visitor keenly. For now that he was wide awake, his wisdom taught him
that this was no ordinary stranger. "What will you pay for a drink from
my well, and why do you wish it so much?"

"I can see with my eyes all that goes on in heaven and upon earth,"
said Odin, "but I cannot see into the depths of ocean. I lack the hidden
wisdom of the deep--the wit that lies at the bottom of your fountain. My
ravens tell me many secrets; but I would know all. And as for payment,
ask what you will, and I will pledge anything in return for the draught
of wisdom."

Then Mimer's keen glance grew keener. "You are Odin, of the race of
gods," he cried. "We giants are centuries older than you, and our wisdom
which we have treasured during these ages, when we were the only
creatures in all space, is a precious thing. If I grant you a draught
from my well, you will become as one of us, a wise and dangerous enemy.
It is a goodly price, Odin, which I shall demand for a boon so great."

Now Odin was growing impatient for the sparkling water. "Ask your
price," he frowned. "I have promised that I will pay."

"What say you, then, to leaving one of those far-seeing eyes of yours at
the bottom of my well?" asked Mimer, hoping that he would refuse the
bargain. "This is the only payment I will take."

Odin hesitated. It was indeed a heavy price, and one that he could ill
afford, for he was proud of his noble beauty. But he glanced at the
magic fountain bubbling mysteriously in the shadow, and he knew that he
must have the draught.

"Give me the glittering horn," he answered. "I pledge you my eye for a
draught to the brim."

Very unwillingly Mimer filled the horn from the fountain of wisdom and
handed it to Odin. "Drink, then," he said; "drink and grow wise. This
hour is the beginning of trouble between your race and mine." And wise
Mimer foretold the truth.

Odin thought merely of the wisdom which was to be his. He seized the
horn eagerly, and emptied it without delay. From that moment he became
wiser than anyone else in the world except Mimer himself.

Now he had the price to pay, which was not so pleasant. When he went
away from the grotto, he left at the bottom of the dark pool one of his
fiery eyes, which twinkled and winked up through the magic depths like
the reflection of a star. This is how Odin lost his eye, and why from
that day he was careful to pull his gray hat low over his face when he
wanted to pass unnoticed. For by this oddity folk could easily recognise
the wise lord of Asgard.

In the bright morning, when the sun rose over the mountains of Midgard,
old Mimer drank from his bubbly well a draught of the wise water that
flowed over Odin's pledge. Doing so, from his underground grotto he saw
all that befell in heaven and on earth. So that he also was wiser by the
bargain. Mimer seemed to have secured rather the best of it; for he lost
nothing that he could not spare, while Odin lost what no man can well
part with--one of the good windows wherethrough his heart looks out upon
the world. But there was a sequel to these doings which made the balance
swing down in Odin's favour.

Not long after this, the AEsir quarrelled with the Vanir, wild enemies of
theirs, and there was a terrible battle. But in the end the two sides
made peace; and to prove that they meant never to quarrel again, they
exchanged hostages. The Vanir gave to the AEsir old Nioerd the rich, the
lord of the sea and the ocean wind, with his two children, Frey and
Freia. This was indeed a gracious gift; for Freia was the most beautiful
maid in the world, and her twin brother was almost as fair. To the
Vanir in return Father Odin gave his own brother Hoenir. And with
Hoenir he sent Mimer the wise, whom he took from his lonely well.

Now the Vanir made Hoenir their chief, thinking that he must be very
wise because he was the brother of great Odin, who had lately become
famous for his wisdom. They did not know the secret of Mimer's well, how
the hoary old giant was far more wise than anyone who had not quaffed of
the magic water. It is true that in the assemblies of the Vanir Hoenir
gave excellent counsel. But this was because Mimer whispered in
Hoenir's ear all the wisdom that he uttered. Witless Hoenir was
quite helpless without his aid, and did not know what to do or say.
Whenever Mimer was absent he would look nervous and frightened, and if
folk questioned him he always answered:

"Yes, ah yes! Now go and consult someone else."

Of course the Vanir soon grew very angry at such silly answers from
their chief, and presently they began to suspect the truth. "Odin has
deceived us," they said. "He has sent us his foolish brother with a
witch to tell him what to say. Ha! We will show him that we understand
the trick." So they cut off poor old Mimer's head and sent it to Odin as
a present.

The tales do not say what Odin thought of the gift. Perhaps he was glad
that now there was no one in the whole world who could be called so wise
as himself. Perhaps he was sorry for the danger into which he had thrust
a poor old giant who had never done him any wrong, except to be a giant
of the race which the AEsir hated. Perhaps he was a little ashamed of the
trick which he had played the Vanir. Odin's new wisdom showed him how
to prepare Mimer's head with herbs and charms, so that it stood up by
itself quite naturally and seemed not dead. Thenceforth Odin kept it
near him, and learned from it many useful secrets which it had not

So in the end Odin fared better than the unhappy Mimer, whose worst
fault was that he knew more than most folk. That is a dangerous fault,
as others have found; though it is not one for which many of us need
fear being punished.

odin - from Google Images.jpg

odin - from Google Images.jpg
odin - from Google Images.jpg