Being the most popular god in the Norse Pantheon, there is a lot written about Odin, The mighty all father is known by many names and depicted in many ways. There are a lot of symbols that represent Odin. Aside from his powerful spear, two ravens, and wolves, Odin is also recognized by his infamous missing eye. But how did Odin lose his eye and what does the eye of Odin symbolize? In this post, we will explore the meaning behind the eye of Odin, starting from how it came to be.
What Is The Eye Of Odin?
When we talk about the eye of Odin, we are referring to the missing eye that the All-Father is depicted having. This is the eye Odin is said to have lost as a sacrifice while on his quest for knowledge and wisdom. If there is anything that is emphasized from what is known of Odin, it is that he had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. He would go to great lengths to acquire it, including losing his eye.
Choosing to give his eye as a sacrifice is a significant fact. For many years, the eye is seen by many as a poetic metaphor for perception, in terms of how we view and understand things. This metaphor has been used by many poets and even in our daily lives. Odin sacrificed his eye to receive a greater and deeper understanding of all things in the cosmos.
In a way, you could say that he sacrificed one form of perception to receive another. This is similar to the time when Odin went in search of knowledge of the runes. During this time, we could say that Odin sacrificed his lower self to attain his higher self. That means, he let go of his ordinary sense of self to acquire a higher and spiritual sense of self. In the same way, when Odin sacrificed his eye, you could say that he was letting go of the profane mode of perception that was blurred by many errors so that he could achieve a more divine sacred mode of perception.
Why Does Odin Have One Eye?
Although in almost all his depictions, Odin is shown with one eye, he wasn’t always this way. As we’ve mentioned, it was his unquenchable thirst for knowledge that led to the loss of his eye. How exactly did this happen?
Despite being the powerful All-Father, Odin was not an omniscient god. That is what fueled his pursuit for knowledge and desire for wisdom. He traveled far and wide to acquire this knowledge sacrificing anything to get it. Eventually, Odin became one of the wisest gods in Norse mythology, that is because there was still one Norse deity who was slightly superior to him when it came to intellect and wisdom. The name of this deity was Mimir, which meant ‘The Rememberer’. Mimir was said to have the divine knowledge of everything in the cosmos. He achieved this status by drinking daily from the Well of Mímisbrunnr, also known as the Well of Wisdom. When Odin found out about the source of Mimir’s wisdom he traveled to the Well of Urd where he met Mimir, who was the guardian of the well.
Mimir knew that each drop of water from the well carried immense power, therefore it couldn’t be easy for anyone to just drink from it. So, when Odin requested Mimir for a drink, Mimir gave the condition that he could only drink from the well if he was ready to sacrifice his eye. It is not known whether Odin obliged immediately or not, but he eventually gouged out one of his eyes and threw it into the well as Mimir had demanded. In return, Mimir drew his horn filled with the mystical water and offered it to the All-father.
Odin drank the water swiftly and eagerly awaited to be infused with knowledge. It is said that the knowledge Odin was looking for was not the scholarly kind but ethereal and spiritual enlightenment. It is not clear whether the water quenched Odin’s thirst for knowledge, but what is clear is that after drinking from the well of Mímisbrunnr, his intellect and wisdom were unmatched by any other god.
Which Eye Did Odin Lose?
It is well known that Odin only had one eye after his great sacrifice. What is not clear and what most people don’t know is which of his eyes did Odin choose to sacrifice. The truth is that there is no definite answer to this question.
There is no Norse mythology that truly confirms this given the differing accounts. Even in his artistic depictions, Odin is sometimes shown missing his right eye and in some, he is missing his left eye. Some new-age scholars even believe that Odin sacrificed his third eye instead. Most accounts and depictions, however, show that it was his right eye that he sacrificed.
Whether or not this is true is not important. What is important is the known fact that Odin did sacrifice an eye. That and the deep meaning behind the sacrifice which was giving up the mundane for the divine.
As we’ve already discussed Odin had an insatiable desire to know all things hidden from him. This was the motivation behind all of his self-sacrifices. Aside from sacrificing his eye at the Well of Mímisbrunnr, he also performed a kind of ritualistic suicide by throwing himself on his spear, Gungnir. Odin also hangs himself from Yggdrasil, the tree of life, for nine days and nights, to get knowledge of the runes. He even sacrificed his dignity as a man by practicing prophecy. This was sorcery known to be for women, therefore being a man and a seer was seen as degrading by some gods. Odin however, did not care about his reputation, as long as he could see and understand everything in the cosmos.
But all his self-sacrifices were not in vain. Each time he received secret wisdom and magical knowledge that made him even more powerful. With his immense knowledge and wisdom, Odin was able to calm storms, turn weapons against the enemies or render them harmless with a simple look. He could also cure all illnesses and make women fall in love. Another great ability he gained was that of shapeshifting in any being he desired. As part of his ability, Odin could put himself in an ecstatic trance and send out his soul to inhabit another body or adopt the form of an animal. This power allowed him to travel far and wide which aided him in his quest for more knowledge.
Odin is usually portrayed as a charming man who enjoys his wine and mead. But he has also been accused of being shrewd and cunning, going to any lengths to achieve his goal. Even if it meant stealing what did not belong to him. Like the account of when he stole the mead of poetry for himself.
The Eye Of Odin Symbol Meaning
We have spoken about we have explored what the eye of Odin is and how he came to lose one eye. Now we are left with a final and most important question, what is the symbolic meaning of his missing eye?
To begin with, the story of his sacrifice has been a source of inspiration to the Viking era. It is also the perfect metaphor indicating how true knowledge and wisdom were viewed and gained by the Old Norse people. There are many ways that this story can be and has been interpreted, deriving from it several meanings and life lessons that are as follows:
Meaning of The Eye of Odin
The following are some of the meanings derived from Odin’s sacrifice:
From Chaos to Peace
This symbolic meaning is based on the interpretation of the eye as the one that observes the chaos and troubles of life. From this blurred perception we gain a negative understanding of the world. Because the word Mimir means Rememberer, it meant remembering the ancestral tradition and wisdom. You could, therefore, say that Odin sacrificed the perception of chaos, to gain the perception of peace as guided by the wisdom of his ancestors.
External to Internal
Odin was well known for his trades when it came to acquiring knowledge. He understood the value of internal wisdom and so he sacrificed his external self to acquire it. Just like when he hanged himself from the Yggdrasil, sacrificing his eye can be seen as him giving up his external vision to gain internal insights. He understood that while external eyesight helps us perceive our surroundings, internal wisdom, helps us properly evaluate and value what we perceive. That is why Odin sacrificed one eye and not two, so he could benefit from both.
Life Lessons from The Eye of Odin
Aside from the symbolic meaning, the following are several life lessons that can be interpreted from Odin’s sacrifice:
A Quest For Knowledge Is A Noble Pursuit
Odin was the All-Father, the mightiest god among all of the Norse gods. Despite this fact, Odin recognized that knowledge and wisdom was a valuable asset to have, which is why he was willing to sacrifice his eye for its sake. From that, we learn that knowledge is valuable, and to seek it is a noble act.
No Sacrifice Is Too Great For Knowledge
By sacrificing his sight, Odin demonstrates that there is nothing more important than higher learning and attaining a greater sense of self. From his sacrifice, we learn that we should not be afraid to go to all lengths and pull all stops if it means acquiring enlightenment. But of course, we are not saying that you should do this at the cost of other people.
Wisdom Comes From Loss
Odin losing his eye to gain the wisdom Mimir has is just another example of the fact that to gain more wisdom we must lose something. Sometimes it may be our self-respect like Odin lost his dignity as a man to be a seer. Other times it is the loss of a sense or body part like Odin lost his eye. It could even be the loss of a loved one. Whichever the case, these experiences make us wiser since there is always a lesson, we gain from them.
There Is A Distinction Between Human and Godly Knowledge
When Odin sacrificed his earthly vision to attain spiritual insight, it is a lesson and recognition that the knowledge we possess as human beings is nothing compared to godly knowledge. As such we should not hold on to only what we know as humans but seek to be enlightened by also pursuing spiritual wisdom.
Ancestral Traditions and Histories Are Valuable Teachings
Although they came from a different generation from us, there is a reason why we are taught about the histories and traditions of those who came before us. The well of Mímisbrunnr carried the wisdom and traditions of the ancestors, which Odin recognized to be valuable. By him drinking from the well, it is a lesson to us, that there is a lot we stand to learn from our ancestors’ past experiences and possible mistakes. Using this knowledge, we can build a better life for ourselves as well as the future generations.
Sacrificing the physical to gain cosmic understanding is common in Norse mythology. As human beings, we are used to using our external senses to search for meaning. We try to understand the world through the knowledge we gain in this manner. This type of knowledge can, however, only show us the surface. For a true and deeper understanding of the world, we must also look inwards at ourselves, because to know yourself is to understand the universe. In other words, we need to sacrifice one mode of perception to gain a better one. Odin traveled far and sacrificed a lot in the quest for wisdom and knowledge. What are you willing to sacrifice for true enlightenment?