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What Viking Mythology and Islam have in Common by Rayhan Al-Safawi

The acquisition of knowledge and wisdom is of primary importance in Viking mythology and Islam. Sacrifices are needed in order to gain wisdom.

By Rayhan Al-Safawi

In Norse (Viking) mythology, Odin is the father of the god of thunder Thor. Odin is the supreme god of Germanic mythology. Many of you have known Odin through his casting in Marvel’s Thor (Odin is played by Anthony Hopkins). Many have wondered as to why Odin is missing an eye.

Daniel McCoy, an online expert on Norse Mythology, relays the story as follows:

Odin’s quest for wisdom is never-ending, and he is willing to pay any price, it seems, for the understanding of life’s mysteries that he craves more than anything else. On one occasion, he hanged himself, wounded himself with his spear, and fasted from food and drink for nine days and nights in order to discover the runes.

On another occasion, he ventured to Mimir’s Well – which is surely none other than the Well of Urd – amongst the roots of the world-tree Yggdrasil. There dwelt Mimir, a shadowy being whose knowledge of all things was practically unparalleled among the inhabitants of the cosmos. He achieved this status largely by taking his water from the well, whose waters impart this cosmic knowledge.

When Odin arrived, he asked Mimir for a drink from the water. The well’s guardian, knowing the value of such a draught, refused unless the seeker offered an eye in return. Odin – whether straightaway or after anguished deliberation, we can only wonder – gouged out one of his eyes and dropped it into the well. Having made the necessary sacrifice, Mimir dipped his horn into the well and offered the now-one-eyed god a drink.

Read more here.

The morale of the story is pretty clear. No sacrifice is too great when it comes to knowledge. For many people, the eye is the most important sensory organ in the body. People would rather lose limbs than go blind.

In our current capitalist culture, the supreme form of acquisition is no longer knowledge but commercial goods. As Odin sacrificed his eye in order to gain knowledge and wisdom, people today are selling their kidneys in order to get iPhones and iPads.

In rehabilitating our īmān or faith in God, we must learn to reform our values and prioritize the building of our souls and minds over the endless quest for consumer goods.

If Islam and the Ahl al-Bayt (as) ever encouraged the pursuit of an endless quest, it was the quest for knowledge. In one tradition, the 6th Shīʿī Imām Jaʿfar al-Sādiq (as) was reported to have said:

اُطلبوا العلم وَلو بخوض اللُّجَج

“Seek knowledge, even as far as going to the depths of seas.”

(Bihar al-Anwar, volume 71, page 277)

In past times, Muslim scholars would travel for years to learn under prominent teachers and they would sell their shoes in order to acquire books of knowledge. I am not advocating this kind of zealousness in modern times, however, a greater appreciation of the virtues of learning and making sacrifices (which means $) for the sake of gaining knowledge may go a long way in fixing our faith and relationship with God.

Yours Faithfully,

Rayhan Al-Safawi

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