Since I’ve already written at length about Odin in His guise of Bolverk (the face He wears in the Mead of Poetry myth cycle), and have at least touched on Bruni and Bjorn (both referring to His bear persona), for this post I decided to focus on a different B name: Blindi. This name quite obviously means “blind,” and in fact there are several of His names which have to do with His eyesight, such as Tviblindi (“twice blind”), Bileygr (“feeble-eyed.” or possibly “one-eyed”), and Baleygr (“blazing eye”)–although the latter may have more to do with His gimlet gaze than with the loss of eyesight.
Odin’s sacrifice of an eye to Mimir’s Well is one of His most famous myths, second in familiarity only to His ordeal on the Tree. In Snorri’s version of the tale, as well as in the Havamal section of the Poetic Edda, the transaction is a literal one: Odin wanted to drink from the Well guarded by Mimir in Jotunheim (twin to the Well of Wyrd in Asgard, and according to some views, the very same Well, which is so real and so fundamental to reality that a version of it appears in all worlds, just as with the World Tree itself) and the price named by the Well’s guardian was one of His eyes. Not to be deterred, Odin obligingly, and without flinching, ripped an eye from His own head (no one can say which one, and last time I checked He wasn’t telling) and handed it over. In return, He received His prize: a deep draught from the Well of Memory (Mimir)–basically, the accumulated consciousness and wisdom of all People, from all races—divine and mortal—throughout all time. What is more, Mimir then cast the severed eye into the Well, where it—according to some—continues to see, and somehow continues to transmit information back to the One who once wore it.
First of all, let me assure you that removing His own eye from His head is not something I would put past Odin even for a second; I could totally see Him doing it. After all, this is the same god who hanged Himself from the World Tree (ever thereafter known as Yggdrasil—the “steed of Ygg,” aka Odin) for nine nights, after wounding Himself fatally with His own spear. Pain does not stop Him from achieving an end He has in sight, and while many of His human followers might (justifiably) accuse Him of harshness at times, there is nothing He would put any of us through that He would not (or has not already) done to Himself. That said, I’m not sure how literally we should take this particular myth. (In fact, mythic literalism is something I really need to devote a post of its own to one of these days, though I’m sure it will rear its ugly head many times during this series.) For one thing, there is no agreement among either Odinists or anyone else as to which eye was involved. Odin has appeared in my visions (and everyone else’s that I’ve been privy to), sporting either a missing left eye, a missing right eye, or having both eyes present and accounted for–and this is apt to change from one Odin-sighting (if you’ll forgive the pun) tot he next. For another thing, the tale itself seems to be less of a literal recounting of something Odin did and more of a Mystery—something to ponder in search of a deeper understanding of His divine nature, as well as a clue to assist guide those of us who would follow and emulate Him.
Now, when I say “emulate,” I am not recommending that anyone—devotion to Odin notwithstanding—remove one of their eyes, either as a devotional act or in search of enlightenment. This would be less likely to result in wisdom than massive blood loss, the risk of infection, and possible death (due to the eye’s very close proximity to the brain). We are not gods, and attempting to emulate Them too closely can be dangerous just as a general principle. However, if we assume that the story is symbolic rather than literal, why is it that so many of His devotees (myself included) have experienced eye pain, eye surgery, vision changes, and even sometimes blindness in one eye? And why is this such a common trend that it may as well be one of His calling cards? Is this a sign that the myth is to be taken literally, or does it mean something else entirely?
What if this is not the story of a literal trade, and not even merely a symbolic demonstration of how wise Odin is, or how much of His own blood He is willing to shed in pursuit of that wisdom, but is instead a warning: when you seek vision and understanding greater than that normally allotted to a mortal (or even to a god; the scale changes here, but the principle remains the same) you will pay a price, and that price is the loss of vision (focus, concentration, perspective) in the “ordinary” world, the world of consensus reality. Almost every devotee of Odin intends, in some way, to extend ourselves beyond our natural reach, to transgress upon territory beyond that which was given to us by the circumstances of our birth and the life we have built since then—in other words, our orlog, what we and those around us have laid down for us up until now. Like Odin Himself, we mean to push the limits of what we dare to become and achieve, and to leave the expectations and limitations placed on us by others behind us in the dust. And so, as we stand at the threshold of this journey into the unknown, we are issued a warning. This warning is sometimes translated into literal terms: eye pain, or changes in physical vision that mirror the changes taking place within. To part the veil, to see that which is invisible to all of those around us (the gods, the dead, nature spirits, the threads of wyrd), requires a bit of a trade-off: some of what the “ordinary” people around us can see quite clearly, can keep track of almost effortlessly (fashion trends, water cooler gossip, the latest news from the Tabloids) no longer makes any sense to us, and thus fades from our view. The deeper we journey into the Mysteries, the more true this becomes. And in turn, we fade from the view of many of those around us; they often simply do not see us, as we no longer fit in with consensus reality; we become fuzzy around the edges, like an image seen through water.
Perhaps this is the secret behind Odin’s mastery of disguises: because He does not fit into the consensus reality even of most other immortal beings—the gods and giants, alfar and dwarves—it is a simple matter for Him to bend their gaze, to make them see Him as He wishes to be seen, or not at all. But we’ll talk more about that a bit later in the year, when we get to G.