How Odin Lost His Eye

Odin, also known as Wodan or Wotan, is undoubtedly the most famous god in Norse mythology. A principal Norse god, Odin is most known for having a very complex character and role in the Norse pantheon. However, in almost every depiction of Odin, the all-father god is shown to be missing his right eye. Why is this the case? And how did a powerful god as Odin lose his eye? In the article below WHE explores the myths surrounding Odin’s missing eye.

Odin’s unrelenting quest for knowledge and wisdom

Odin, disguised as a wanderer, by Swedish-born painter Georg von Rosen (1886)

The All-father god Odin in Norse mythology is believed to be one who had an insatiable appetite for knowledge. As a result, he would often embark on long and arduous journey whenever he could in search of great knowledge. Odin would often sit on his throne in the hall of Valhalla and gaze into the beyond, desiring to see and know everything that happens in the cosmos.

The All-father’s journey to the World Tree

Yggdrasil is sometimes known as askr Yggdrasils, which means the world tree upon which “the horse [Odin’s horse] of the highest god [Odin] is bound”. | Image: The Ash Yggdrasil (1886) by German-born painter Friedrich Wilhelm Heine (1845-1921)

In one such journey of his, Odin went as far as Yggdrasil, a mighty sacred tree located in the center of the Norse cosmos. According to sources such as the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, all the Nine Worlds formed around Yggdrasil. It is for this reason why the sacred tree is sometimes known as the “World tree”.

In the Prose Edda book Gylfaginning, the character called High tells Gangleri about how the World Tree Yggdrasil has three roots. High goes on to say that one of the roots of the tree goes all the way to Ginnungagap, the home of the frost jotnar which was once a primordial void.

Note: the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda are the two main sources when it come to Norse mythology. The former was compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, including oral ones as well. The Prose Edda, on the other hand, was written in the 13th century by Icelandic poet and statesman Snorri Sturluson.

Mimir’s well (Mímisbrunnr)

The roots of Yggdrasil are believed to go deep down all the way to Mimir’s well, which is also known as Mímisbrunnr.

Mimir’s well, which is located beneath one of three roots of Yggdrasil, holds unimaginable amount of wisdom. Mimir himself is a figure in Norse mythology most known for his vast knowledge and wisdom.

Upon reaching the Mimir’s well, Odin inquired from the guardian Mimir if he could take a sip from the well to which Mimir replies with a warning to Odin. Mimir tells Odin that in order to take a drink from the well, one must pay a very steep price.

Mimir further reveals to Odin how several heroes from all over the Norse cosmos had come to the well only to go back because they could not pay the huge price the well asked for.

Odin sacrifices one of his eyes

Odin then convinces Mimir to reveal to him the price he had to pay. Mimir then tells Odin that he would have to sacrifice his eye in order to have access to the vast knowledge and wisdom contained in the well.

The Allfather (Alfǫðr) takes his time to think over the price that he must pay. He comes back to Mimir and accepts to let go of his eye in exchange for a drink from the Mimir’s well. Mimir then filled his great magical horn Giallarhorn with water from the well.

As Odin drank the water, he suddenly came to understand a great deal of things that he never even had imagined. It’s said that the future was revealed to him.

Once Odin had drunk all the water from the horn, he went straight for his face and plucked one of his eyes and then presented the eye to Mimir, who cast it straight into the well.

It’s said that Odin’s right eye, which continues to sit at the bottom of the well, shines very bright. It is supposed to serve as warning to people and creatures who seek to drink from Mimir’s well of the price one has to pay.

Guarded by the Norse being Mimir, the water of Mímisbrunnr is believed to hold vast knowledge and wisdom. To take a drink of the water, one had to pay an enormous price. | Image: Odin drinks from Mímisbrunnr as the guardian of the well Mímir looks on (1903) in a work by Robert Engels

Other kinds of sacrifices that Odin made to gain great wisdom

Odin sacrificing himself upon the World Tree Yggdrasil as depicted by Danish painter Lorenz Frølich, 1895

When it came to gaining knowledge or wisdom, Odin was perhaps the only god in Norse mythology capable of going to great lengths. In addition to sacrificing his one of his eyes to gain vast wisdom from Mimir’s well, the All-father god once hanged himself in Yggdrasil for nine days and nine nights, according to the Poetic Edda poem Hávamál. In that particular endeavor of his, he is said to have gained understanding of the runes, an old Germanic alphabet.

To Odin, there is no price steep enough for wisdom. This insatiable appetite of his caused him to stab himself with his spear Gungnir as a form of ritual suicide.

Often times during his sacrificial endeavors, he gains tremendous amount of visions of the future and many secrets of the cosmos. As a result, Odin became a very wise god, perhaps one of the wisest in all the Nine World. He possessed knowledge that allowed him to heal the sick as well as perform numerous other magnificent feats.

Note: Many Norse mythographers opine that the Nine Worlds in Norse mythology are: Asgard (home of the Æsir  gods), Vanaheimr (land of the fertility and wisdom Vanir deities), Álfheimr (home of the Light Elves), Niðavellir (home of the dwarfs), Jötunheimr (land of the Jötun/giants), Múspellsheimr (realm of fire), Svartálfaheimr, Niflheimr (sometimes known as Hel or Helheim), and Midgard (Earth).

Other notable myths

How Odin lost his eye | Odin is usually depicted as a tall old man with flowing white beard. He is also known in many depictions to wear a cloak and a wide-brimmed hat. He is also known to wield his most favorite weapon, the spear Gungnir. The god of war and protector of heroes is often times flanked by his ravens Huginn (thought) and Muninn (memory/mind), and his two wolves Geri and Freki.

  • Much of what we know about Odin sacrificing one of his eyes can be found in the Poetic Edda poems such as Völuspá. In that poem, a völva (i.e. a seress) tells of a story about how Odin, the father of the gods, once sacrificed one of his eyes in exchange for the wisdom from Mimir’s well. the völva also states that Mimir came by his vast knowledge and wisdom because he drinks from the well every morning.
  • In addition to Odin, there were a few Norse gods that paid a steep price for wisdom from Mimir’s well. For example the Norse god Heimdall sacrificed his ear in order to drink from the well.

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