Friday, October 19, 2012

The Suffering of Odin: Paying the Price

I’ve been reading Edith Hamilton’s wonderful book, Mythology. Most of the book is about Greek mythology, with some Roman thrown in. But Part Seven is about Norse mythology. Norse, as Hamilton points out, means Teutonic, and Teutonic includes the English and many of us today.

Norse mythology differs from Greek in that it predicts the eventual triumph of evil over men, over all the earth, over Valhalla, and even over the gods themselves.

The chief god, Odin, has
the responsibility more than all the other gods together of postponing as long as possible the day of doom, Ragnarok, when heaven and earth would be destroyed. He was the All-father, supreme among gods and men, yet even so he constantly sought for more wisdom. He went down to the Well of Wisdom guarded by Mimir the wise, to beg for a draught from it, and when Mimir answered that he must pay for it with one of his eyes, he consented to lose the eye. He won the knowledge of the Runes, too, by suffering. The Runes were magical inscriptions, immensely powerful for him who could inscribe them on anything – wood, metal, stone. Odin learned them at the cost of mysterious pain. He says in the Elder Edda that he hung
Nine whole nights on a wind-rocked tree,
Wounded by a spear,
I was offered to Odin, myself to myself,
On that tree of which no man knows.
He passed the hard-won knowledge on to men. They, too, could use the Runes to protect themselves.

Does this sound familiar, the deity hanging on a tree, wounded by a spear, being offered to himself, for the benefit of men? Is this a foreshadowing of the Christ?

And the dark distortion of it, a gut feeling in many of us that good gifts from above (like “forgiveness”) must be paid for, and paid for specifically in the coinage of suffering – is Norse mythology where that notion comes from? Does the terrible assumption date all the way back to Odin?

That possibility may not be as far-fetched as it first sounds; to me, at least, it appears Norse mythology still influences us today more than we are aware. Consider, for example, that four of our weekdays are named after Norse gods. Tuesday was originally Tyr’s Day; Wednesday is Odin’s Day, Thursday is Thor’s Day, and Friday is Freya’s Day.


Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

This book looks absolutely amazing....I will look out for it !