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  • Writer's pictureNorse Norn

Mimir: The Wise Advisor of Ancient Myths

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

In the ancient world of the Vikings, Mimir was considered the wisest of the Norse gods. He guards the Well of Wisdom where great knowledge can be found. But he demands a high price for his guidance. Odin, the Norse All-Father, had to sacrifice an eye for a sip from Mimir's well.

Mimir is best approached when looking for sound counsel to unravel complicated challenges. He can also be a guide for those wanting to learn the magical arts.

Odin visiting Mimir at his well, accompanied by his steed Sleipnir
Odin visiting Mimir at his well, accompanied by his steed Sleipnir

Mimir the Wise Giant

Most linguists agree that in Old Norse the name Mimir means "to think, recall, reflect, or worry over something". This seems an appropriate name for a god associated with deep thought and wisdom.

Based on religious myths, it is likely that Mimir is the brother of Odin's giantess mother Bestla. This uncle taught Odin nine magical songs.

The classical mythology of the Vikings did not always make clear distinctions between different types of supernatural beings and the lines between gods, giants, elves, and other creatures are not always clear. What is clear is that they are all much greater than human beings.

If Mimir is a giant, a Jotun in Old Norse, rather than an Aesir god, this could make sense for the location of the Well of Wisdom in Niflheim, the land of the frost giants. It could also explain one passage in the Ragnarok prophecy which states that the sons of Mimir will be at play while "fate burns". Since the giants will oppose the gods at Ragnarok and wreak havoc, this would make sense if Mimir, and his sons, are giants.

Modern interpretations of the appearance of Mimir
Modern interpretations of the appearance of Mimir

Advisor of the Gods

The origin story of Mimir belongs to the ancient history of the Norse gods, when two different tribes of gods, the Aesir, led by Odin, and the Vanir, were at war.

It should be no surprise that a giant was living among the Aesir at this time. After all, Loki was welcomed among them despite the trouble he made.

When a truce was reached between the two tribes of gods, it was sealed with an exchange of hostages.

Mimir was sent to Vanaheim along with the charismatic Aesir god Hoenir. This Hoenir was to be the new leader of the Vanir, and Mimir his advisor.

But the Vanir soon became suspicious of Mimir, who was always whispering in Hoenir's ear. They were also frustrated that Hoenir could only provide wise counsel when Mimir was by his side.

In the end, the Vanir killed both. They also beheaded Mimir and sent his head to Odin.

Odin as a grand wizard drinking from the Well of Wisdom
Odin as a grand wizard drinking from the Well of Wisdom

The Head of Mimir

Most of our knowledge of Mimir comes from Christian written records of the famous myths of the Norse people passed down through oral tradition. But according to these texts, including the Poetic Edda, the Prose Edda, and the Heimskringla, Odin did not want to lose the counsel of Mimir. Therefore, Odin embalmed his head with herbs so that it would not rot and reanimated it with a special charm.

Odin then placed the head in Niflheim, at one of the wells that feed Yggdrasil the world tree. The well soon became known as Mimisbrunnr to mark the presence of the god.

Odin would visit the well when he needed Mimir's guidance.

According to the ancient mythology of the Norsemen, Odin plucked out his own eye in exchange for a drink from the well of Mimir, which granted great wisdom. One of the strongest mythological themes linked with Odin is his willingness to make any sacrifice in the quest for wisdom. he also hung himself from the tree Yggdrasil for nine days and nights while pierced by his own spear to learn the secrets of the runes.

However, it is also possible that Odin used his eye to create the Well of Wisdom when he reanimated Mimir's head. Mimir is described as drinking from the well each day, which is called "Odin's wager", referring to Odin's sacrifice. This could imply that it was Odin's eye that imbued the well with its special properties and that it was the water of the well that maintained the life of Mimir's head.

Mimir is also described as drinking from the well using the horn Gjallarhorn, which is the same name given to the horn of the god Heimdall, which he will use to alert the gods when Ragnarok arrives.

According to the prophecy, when Heimdall raises the alarm for the Twilight of the Gods, Odin will go to Mimir for advice and counsel. Odin may take the horn with him to feed water from the well to Mimir to animate the head and get the advice that he needs. It seems plausible that when Odin visits Mimir, he must first give his head some water from the well to awaken it.

Therefore, the story of Odin's eye may be counted among the Norse creation stories.

Odin drinks from the well with Mimir, Odin's eye looks out from the water
Odin drinks from the well with Mimir, Odin's eye looks out from the water

Rituals for Reanimation

In the story of Mimir, we are told that Odin used various herbs to preserve Mimir's head, and then chanted a spell to reanimate it. But we are left to wonder about the details of this ritual.

But some insights can be found in another Norse story about a woman who preserved and revived a horse's penis in a similar ritual.

She is described as carefully drying the severed piece and then wrapping it in a linen cloth with leeks and other herbs. She then chanted a galdr, a spell or incantation in Old Norse, over the object.

Every evening she would then revive the member with prayers and worship, treating it like a god, until she was taught the error of her ways by Saint Olaf.

Linen and leeks might seem like fairly mundane household items, but they were both connected with magic.

Drawing of a Volva working magic with leeks
Drawing of a Volva working magic with leeks

Magical Properties of Leeks

One runic inscription on a woman's grave from the 400s reads "linen leek wealth", as a kind of invocation.

Leeks are also frequently mentioned in magical charms, especially those conducted for virility, and the word is used in a similar way in the Poetic Edda. In one of the sagas, a man dreams of leeks growing from his knees. This is interpreted as the man dreaming about his children.

In the Sigdrifumal a Valkyrie warns a man to protect his drink against poisoning by pasting a laukr (leek) into the liquid.

There are also surviving examples of ornamental medallions inscribed with the word for leek, and accompanied by images of men and horses.

In the Voluspa, the leek sprouting from the ground is taken as the first sign of life when the sun shines for the first time. That leeks were considered before grass in this creation story again points to the magical property of the plant.

It is not clear what plant the Vikings were referring to with the word leek, but it is probably wild onions and garlic in general.

Powerful Flax and Linen

Just like Odin taught mankind the secrets of the runes, the Norse goddess Holda taught the secret of making flax into linen.

The process is difficult and the resulting fabric is extremely thin and fine, which explains its great value. It may also be significant that the fabric is made from plant fibers rather than animal materials, like most other fabrics of the era.

The Vikings believed that no one could work evil magic in a flax field, and in various cultural traditions, women placed flax seeds in their shows for good fortune or to appear more beautiful. Swedish mothers spin linen thread during pregnancy to protect the growing baby.

Mimir as he appears in the game God of War
Mimir as he appears in the game God of War

Mimir in Ancient Greek Mythology

Recently Mimir has become associated with Greek mythology thanks to his appearance in God of War.

The original game is set in ancient Greece. The protagonist of the game is Kratos. He is a Spartan warrior, one of the most famous warriors among the ancient Greeks. But he is tricked into killing his entire family by Aries, the god of war in the Greek pantheon. It is later revealed that Kratos is a demigod and one of the many sons that the ancient Greek god Zeus fathered on mortal women.

But while the first God of War game is set in ancient Greece and draws inspiration from the Greek gods and ancient Greek mythology, in God of War: Ragnarok, the character is transported to the world of Norse mythology.

In reality, there is little synergy between the Greek gods and Norse mythology. They emerged from different cultures, and the similarities that exist tend to be limited to the things that are consistent across all religions.

The Romans, who largely shared ancient Greek mythology but used different names for their gods, had some contact with proto-Norse religion through the Germanic tribes. They often understood these new local gods that they encountered by identifying a Roman equivalent. In the first century AD, the Roman writer Tacitus equated Odin with Mercury, Thor with Hercules, and Try with Mars. There is no record of Mimir's Roman equivalent.

Some modern day commentators link Mimir with Athena, as she is the goddess of wisdom in the Greek pantheon. But Mimir is perhaps better linked with the ancient Greek goddess Metis.

Among the Greek gods, she was one of the Okeanides and the Titan goddess of good counsel. According to Greek mythology, she acted as a counselor for Zeus during the Titan War and was responsible for the plan in which Kronus was forced to regurgitate his children, which he had previously devoured.

Metis then swallowed Zeus when it was prophecized that she would give birth to a child greater than its father, Zeus. She then gave birth to Athena, whom Zeus equipped with armor inside the belly of the goddess before Athena was born from Metis' head.

Metis is also sometimes considered to be an aspect of Zeus, and Athena is called the "motherless goddess" and emerges from the head of Zeus himself.

In the game, the ancient greek warrior Kratos visits Mimir, considered the most intelligent being in existence, for information and guidance.

Spoiler alert! Kratos ends up killing Mimir at his own request since his life imprisoned by the well is a terror to the god.

But outside of this fantasy game, Mimir is not numbered among the Greek gods and has no place in the ancient world of the Greeks.

Image of Metis from an ancient Greek pot
Image of Metis from an ancient Greek pot

Making an Altar for Mimir

Mimir is a god associated with the water, and water should always be included in altars and religious rituals for the god. It can be beneficial to conduct ceremonies in nature near streams and lakes.

Mimir is best invoked when seeking wisdom and guidance or looking for instruction in the magical arts. He can teach the foundational elements of magic that will allow a practitioner to develop their own unique rituals.

To obtain this guidance, you will want to drink from the spiritual well or wisdom, so rituals should contain a drinking horn of liquid that he been dedicated to the god.

It is important to remember that you will have to sacrifice something to gain the knowledge that you seek when you drink.

Small offerings to the god could incuse something like liquor, but if you are making a big request, expect to make a greater sacrifice.

If you want to see through the eyes of Mimir, you can also dedicate a mask to the god and then wear it. If the god accepts your offering, looking through the mask should provide a new and enlightened view of the world.

Mimir can also make an excellent companion when it comes to rune casting. He can help you better understand the hidden messages of the runes. He is most closely associated with the Mannaz rune.

Those interested in the runes should check out Mimir’s Well Creations.

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