–from Norse Mythology for Smart People by Daniel McCoy
Ragnarok began/will begin when the giants invade Asgard, home of the gods. For this reason, the gods take every precaution, including stationing Heimdall at the Bifrost rainbow bridge to warn the gods when the giants are coming.
It should be no surprise, then, that the tales pitting gods against giants occur in the land of the giants, Jotunheim. Following is a list of the best known of those tales.
- How Menglöð Was Won
- How Thor Killed Geirröd
- How Thor Lost His Hammer
- How Útgarða-Loki Outwitted Thor
- The Abduction of Iðunn
- The Loss of Odin’s Eye
Odin was ever searching for knowledge and wisdom, willing to make significant sacrifices.
First, he willingly wounded himself with his spear, hung himself, and went without food and water for nine days (nine is a significant number in Norse mythology) to gain knowledge of the runes. Runes were much more than just letters; they were pictographs that held secrets and mysteries. Thus knowledge of the runes was the same as knowledge of magic.
Second, he knew wisdom was kept in a well in Jotunheim at the bottom of one of the roots of Yggdrasil, the tree that connects the nine worlds of the Norse cosmology.
The well was guarded by Mimir, a shadowy creature who may have been a god or a giant. Or maybe neither. That Mimir was one of two creatures the Aesir offered to the Vanir at the end of the first Aesir-Vanir war suggests to me that Mimur was Aesir, but there is likely equally convincing evidence I haven’t come across yet that he was not.
What is clear is that Mimir was exceptionally wise, and that the source of his wisdom was the liquid in the well.
Odin traveled to Mimir’s well and asked Mimir for a drink of the water. Mimir knew the value of the water and refused to give the visitor a drink unless he first sacrificed an eye. Because he, too, knew the value of the water, Odin cut out one of his eyes and dropped it into the well. In exchange for the god’s sacrifice, Mimir drew water from the well in a drinking horn and offered it to Odin.
The moral of the story, of course, is that no sacrifice is too great to gain wisdom. The rest of the story is tied with how the knowledge and wisdom is used, perhaps as evidenced through other tales, to be told later.
Image credits: By Image extracted from page 039 of Histoire des peuples du nord, et des Danois et des Normands, by WHEATON, Henry. Original held and digitised by the British Library. Copied from Flickr. Note: The colors, contrast and appearance of these illustrations are unlikely to be true to life. They are derived from scanned images that have been enhanced for machine interpretation and have been altered from their originals. This file is from the Mechanical Curator collection, a set of over 1 million images scanned from out-of-copyright books and released to Flickr Commons by the British Library. View image on Flickr View all images from book View catalogue entry for book. Public Domain Link
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