Although I haven’t been asked this question in a while now, I remember a time several years back when it was a topic of raging controversy (second, perhaps, only to “What did Odin whisper to the dead Balder on His funeral bier?”), and I still see it resurface from time to time. Odin’s women, especially, seem to have firm and unshakable opinions on the matter. Freya Aswynn believes it to be His right eye, since the right eye is associated with the left side of the brain, meaning that He would have sacrificed linear, logical thinking for His more creative, mystical side. I have heard that Diana Paxson favors the left-eye argument, Odin’s left eye corresponding to His creative, mystical, spatially oriented side—meaning that this side is in Mimir’s Well, or the Well of Wyrd, where it continues to see on its owner’s behalf, using the vision into Wyrd thus gained to plot Odin’s long-term strategy to defeat the forces that will range against Himself and His kin at Ragnarok.
Both of these arguments have their respective merits, and therein lies the problem. In an attempt to shed some light on this burning issue, I have asked Odin Himself, and the reply I received was: “Which of My eyes did I sacrifice? Why, whichever one I damn please, of course.”
While He can be frustratingly cryptic much of the time, once in a while Odin chooses to cut through the bullshit and speak plainly. Believe it or not, this is one of those times.
In my own inner sight, as well as on occasions when He has been horsed for me and the image He wishes to project of Himself overlays the physical form of the horse, I have seen my Beloved with the left eye missing, the right eye missing, and with both eyes very much present and accounted for. These variations did not seem to be determined by whether I was interacting, at that moment, with a younger or older version of Odin, or with His pre-Well or post-Well self; instead, it was solely determined by how He wished to portray Himself at that time. This underscores a basic fact about Odin’s nature that many people seem to forget: He is not human. In our realm, He presents as a spirit, with varying degrees of ability to manifest in our physical plane depending on who is aiding Him and the energies He is able to draw upon.
In His own realm, and most of the other non-earthly realms, He has much greater agency as well as a certain physicality, but nothing in the non-earthly worlds is solid and fixed in the same sense as reality as we know it. This is the reason why, in the myth of Balder’s death, Balder could have been returned to life if only everyone living could have been made to agree that this should be the case. Even in the Otherworld version of Midgard, consensus reality is a fluid thing, open to being shaped by…well, by consensus. In Asgard, the realm of Odin, which lies at the very top of the World Tree, reality is very much Odin’s to shape and mold, not simply because He is King there, but because His is simply the most powerful, influential and creative mind present, and thus the most persuasive influence on the “consensus reality” that determines the shape of things. Reality is not quite Odin’s plaything there only because His influence is counterbalanced by that of the Norns, Whose responsibility it is to see that all of the worlds within the province of the Well and the Tree remain in a relative state of balance. However, the Norns don’t much care whether Odin decides that a table will be black or white on a particular day, whether He Himself manifests to His followers as a handsome young man or a grandfatherly older one, or whether His left eye, His right eye, or neither are missing. Perhaps He even appears to some people as entirely blind, thus generating one of His Heiti (or by-names), “Twice-Blind.”
Is it any wonder that a god Who has Grimnir (Masked One) among His many names would delight in being able to puzzle and confound people with this conundrum?
I have also heard the story of Odin’s sacrifice to Mimir’s Well interpreted in more symbolic terms, the gist of it being that He didn’t actually tear an Eye out of His head on this occasion—not literally, anyway; instead, He sacrificed half of His focus on the linear, logical, cognitive, left-brained world for enhanced vision and power in the world of dreams, magic and conceptual imagination. I like this version of the story. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I think the myths are all to be interpreted symbolically, or that the gods Themselves are archetypes (perish the thought; why would I marry an archetype?). No, I like this interpretation because it is more honest than arguing in favor of either the left eye or the right eye with an equally symbolic reasoning as the basis. It is also more deeply rooted in Truth. After all, don’t all of us who come to this Work sacrifice some of our ability to function in the rational, linear world of day jobs and time clocks in favor or being able to converse with non-corporeal beings? Don’t all of us give up some of our interest in climbing the corporate ladder, keeping up with the Joneses, and staying conversant with the expectations of this world’s consensus reality in exchange for climbing the World Tree, speaking with spirits, and becoming conversant with the consensus reality of the Otherworlds? At some point in our respective journeys, even those of us who identify as god-slaves were offered a choice: the mundane world or the Otherworlds, humans or Them? I know what choice I made, and I suspect that many of you reading this now made the same one. Yet it is foolish to suppose that anyone—even Odin—could maintain equal competence in both worlds—the spiritual and the rational/temporal—at all times. The result of this, for many of us poor spirit workers, is that our grasp on the consensus reality of physical Midgard gradually wanes, to the extent that some of us find our ability to function in it becoming increasingly limited.
For Odin, however—being Odin–His focus simply…shifts, moving back and forth from the linear to the conceptual as need and choice dictates. This is why He is a god and we’re not. In short, it is “whichever Eye I damn please,” and in the end it doesn’t matter whether or not the sacrifice was an actual, physical one.
Knowing Him, though, I suspect that it was. Just for kicks (and for the fun of keeping us all wondering), if for no other reason.