Mythology I

Daily Meditation #214–9/24/2022

The views of my Scandinavian ancestors

There are a variety of series featured in the Daily Eudaimonia Meditations. They include:
Philosophical Questions, Death Meditations, Gratitude Meditations, and Eudaimonic Fables.
This will be another periodical.

Norse and Finnish mythology are without doubt my two favorite ancient belief systems. They are quirky, complex, and full of colorful stories and riddles. However, even more important, they have many pieces of sound (albeit occasionally very outdated) advice and parables.

In the ancient Norse world, Odin was the highest, greatest, and most powerful of the Gods, serving as a sort of king or leader over what could be considered a “council of Gods.”

Odin had a few children-gods — you have probably heard of Thor. However, there were also Balder and Víðarr among myriad others who are mentioned less. He also served as a sort of father figure to other gods like Loki (who is absolutely not brothers with Thor as Marvel portrays). For this, Odin was often called “Allfather.”

However, the most important aspect of Odin is that above all things, he seeks wisdom and knowledge.

First, Mímir, an exceptionally wise individual is beheaded after a war between two groups of deities.

Odin, in his desire for ever more knowledge, preserves Mímir’s head with herbs and leaves, speaking enchantments over it. In doing so, the head is able to whisper secrets of wisdom from this world and beyond.

Second, Odin has two crows he keeps at all times.

Named Huginn and Muninn — literally “thought” and “memory” or “mind” — Odin sends them forth over the world each day with the sole purpose of gathering information for him, coming back to tell him each day. There is a verse where Odin says he worries about their return, but almost humorously states he “worries more” for Muninn, whose namesake meant “memory” and “mind.”
This has always made me curious if the Norse witnessed some wise elders afflicted with Alzheimer’s and recognized that no matter how much great wisdom they may have, without the mind and without memory, it counts for nothing.

However, the most striking feature of Odin’s thirst for wisdom was that of sacrifice:

He willingly gave his own eye for more knowledge.

Firstly, he understood wisdom above all things was the greatest thing we can sacrifice for.

With wisdom, we can live longer. Lead better. Inspire more. Understand others.

Wisdom is power, but perhaps more important, is the ability to discern with that power.

Secondly, the eye being the body part he sacrifices is powerful.

Dr. Jordan Peterson often talks about the meaning behind sight.
We don’t look at a chair and think “chair,” we look at it and “see” the meaning of chair.

An object upon which to sit.
And we look upon the ground, a couch, someone’s lap, a stump and many other things as “objects on which I may sit.”

Seeing is a mechanism through which we search for meaning around us.

And Odin gave half of his vision, choosing partial blindness because he understood what this sacrifice would empower him with.

We do not sacrifice nearly enough to attain knowledge.

It costs us time. Money. Energy.
Gaining wisdom doesn’t necessarily just mean reading a book, which could take 8, 12, or 24 hours, scattered over weeks, but also using that wisdom in our lives over the course of years as it becomes refined via experience.

Wisdom is also the pursuit of mastery, the “10,000 hour rule” as it were.
Do you want to spend 10,000 hours — which is 416 days — working to achieve a penultimate, authority-level understanding of a trade or skill?

Most do not and most don’t.

It’s because that 10,000 hours learning to be an electrician, public speaker, writer or bodybuilder is a sacrifice.

We would much rather play video games, read fiction, or hang out with our friends.

Wisdom is one of the greatest endeavors we can pursue in our lives. It will require true sacrifices, but will pay the greatest dividends to you in the long run.

Odin gave his eye for more knowledge.
What are you willing to sacrifice for it?

Follow for daily philosophical meditations.

These are distillations from my coming book “YouDaimonia: the Ancient Philosophy of Human Flourishing.”

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Lucas A. Davidson

Born and raised a Yooper, I write daily philosophical meditations on Eudaimonia. These are distillations from my book on the topic!