Odin’s Eye, the Plains of Vigard, and Your Last Fight
By Crafty Dog © 2012 DBI
As some of you may know, the Dog Brothers were introduced to the world with these words of Dr. Carl Jung:
“The idea is not to imagine figures of light, but rather to make the darkness conscious.”
This is the idea that underlies our credo “The greater the dichotomy, the profounder the transformation. Higher consciousness through harder contact!” © DBI
Thus the question is presented: just how are we to make the darkness conscious? After all, “darkness”, what Jung often called “the shadow”, is not subject to definition for by definition it is that which is not seen; it is precisely that which exists in the shadows cast by the interaction of light (God?) and a physical world , , , or the “Self” itself.
One way is a path first articulated by Dr. Jung—though the study of myths. Noted Jungian Professor Joseph Campbell explains:
"(T)he qualities of experience are not subject to definition, the un-sayable is still capable of being expressed: artists can do this , , , An author can describe experience only as simile and metaphor. What he makes graphic and what he does, above all, to elicit empathy is to describe a human situation in which the ascribed emotions would naturally appear and conform to the lawfulness of human nature. Such stimulus situations, quite objectively delineable, tally with the released emotions. Artists and authors are constrained in their presentations to these relatively limited number of situations; for any others the listener or reader has, quite literally no "organ," no receptor mechanism for deciphering the message. We can justifiably assume that the foundation of our emotions is formed by universally human inborn behavior programs, primarily innate releasing mechanisms.
“Because of this, we should not be amazed when, in the literature of the world-- all the way from the Epic of Gilgamesh through the most recently published novels-- the same salient thematic elements are used and occur again and again: the hero who frees the maiden held captive; the friend who despite all dangers stands by his friend; social themes such as the strong oppressing the weak, the rich exploiting the poor; the abandoned and helpless child."
These stories/myths/legends/religions have recurring themes which use recurring archetypes such as the hero, the wizard, the king, the trickster/jester, the princess, the queen, and so forth that lurk in the collective subconscious of man. Whether a story is a shadow story, a hero story, a wizard story, a king story, a jester/trickster story it has themes consistent with its type. Sometimes a story can contain a blend of these themes.
While on their surface these stories are often impossible and illogical, they resonate because they are maps to the development of Consciousness and different stories address different aspects of our psyche which are in search of integration and in search of consciousness. This applies both to children (see the work of the child psychologist Piaget for example) and adults.
Seen in this light, “Spider-Man and “The Hulk” are “shadow stories” and their tremendous resonance/”success” a powerful indication of their validity as such. They are tales of the powers and dangers of the dark side, of anger, aggression, sex/creation energies lurking underneath the mild mannered exteriors of the Peter Parker and Dr. Bruce Banners of this world.
I remember when my son was about seven years old and he was quite taken with Spider-Man. At first, my son wondered if Spider-Man was good. He wore a mask, he was in lots of fights, and the police often tried to capture him. We discussed how Spider-Man used his powers and his intelligence to protect good people whether he got the credit for it or not and how though he was a hero he also needed his every day secret identity for when the use of his powers would be inappropriate.
Then the Hulk came onto my son’s radar screen. He asked me whether the Hulk was a hero like Spider-Man. I replied that the Hulk tried to do the right thing with his powers but that unlike Spider-Man, who was a science student, the Hulk was rather stupid. He paused to consider this. We liked the Hulk, but I had just called him stupid. I explained that the Hulk’s rage was both the key to his strength AND the cause of his stupidity—he was too mad to think clearly-- and that was why he needed his woman Betty, whom he trusted, to guide him to do what was right and wrong. Without her, he often got into hot water.
In the story we at which are going to look here, we see a blend of the archetypes of the Wizard and the Hero.
As we will see in a moment, every hero loses a tangible representation of his old world and his old self. In Odin’s case he loses Sleipner, his golden armor, his eagle helmet, and his spear to enter the realm where new wisdom is possible. There he encounters another critical stage in the journey e.g. from Odin All-Father to Vegtam the Wanderer; he passes a major test (Vafthrudner)—not unlike a man receiving his Dog Brother name-- typically at the cost of tangible injuries-- not unlike what happens to a man on his path to Dog Brotherhood.
With this notion of maps to the development of consciousness in mind, let us turn to the Norse mythology and a story about Odin.
ODIN GOES TO MIMIR'S WELL: HIS SACRIFICE FOR WISDOM
AND so Odin, no longer riding on Sleipner, his eight-legged steed; no longer wearing his golden armor and his eagle helmet, and without even his spear in his hand, traveled through Midgard, the World of Men, and made his way toward Jötunheim, the Realm of the Giants.
No longer was he called Odin All-Father, but Vegtam the Wanderer. He wore a cloak of dark blue and he carried a traveler's staff in his hands. And now, as he went towards Mimir's Well, which was near to Jötunheim, he came upon a Giant riding on a great Stag.
Odin seemed a man to men and a giant to giants. He went beside the Giant on the great Stag and the two talked together. "Who art thou, O brother?" Odin asked the giant.
"I am Vafthrudner, the wisest of the Giants," said the one who was riding on the Stag. Odin knew him then. Vafthrudner was indeed the wisest of the Giants, and many who went to strive to gain wisdom from him. But those who went to him had to answer the riddles Vafthrudner asked, and if they failed to answer the Giant took their heads off.
"I am Vegtam the Wanderer," Odin said, "and I know who thou art, O Vafthrudner. I would strive to learn something from thee."
The Giant laughed, showing his teeth. "Ho, ho," he said, "I am ready for a game with thee. Dost thou know the stakes? My head to thee if I cannot answer any question thou wilt ask. And if thou canst not answer any question that I may ask, then thy head goes to me. Ho, ho, ho. And now let us begin."
"I am ready," Odin said.
"Then tell me," said Vafthrudner, "tell me the name of the river that divides Asgard from Jötunheim?"
"Ifling is the name of that river," said Odin. "Ifling that is dead cold, yet never frozen."
"Thou hast answered rightly, O Wanderer," said the Giant. "But thou hast still to answer other questions. What are the names of the horses that Day and Night drive across the sky?"
"Skinfaxe and Hrimfaxe," Odin answered. Vafthrudner was startled to hear one say the names that were known only to the Gods and to the wisest of the Giants. There was only one question now that he might ask before it came to the stranger's turn to ask him questions.
"Tell me, said Vafthrudner, "what is the name of the plain on which the last battle will be fought?"
"The Plain of Vigard," said Odin, "the plain that is a hundred miles long and a hundred miles across."
It was now Odin's turn to ask Vafthrudner questions. "What will be the last words that Odin will whisper into the ear of Baldur, his dear son?" he asked.
Very startled was the Giant Vafthrudner at that question. He sprang to the ground and looked at the stranger keenly.
"Only Odin knows what his last words to Baldur will be," he said, "and only Odin would have asked that question. Thou art Odin, O Wanderer, and thy question I cannot answer."
"Then," said Odin, "if thou wouldst keep thy head, answer me this: what price will Mimir ask for a draught from the Well of Wisdom that he guards?"
"He will ask thy right eye as a price, O Odin," said Vafthrudner.
"Will he ask no less a price than that?" said Odin.
"He will ask no less a price. Many have come to him for a draught from the Well of Wisdom, but no one yet has given the price Mimir asks. I have answered thy question, O Odin. Now give up thy claim to my head and let me go on my way."
"I give up my claim to thy head," said Odin. Then Vafthrudner, the wisest of the Giants, went on his way, riding on his great stag.
Twas a terrible price that Mimir would ask for a draught from the Well of Wisdom, and very troubled was Odin All-Father when it was revealed to him. His right eye! For all time to be without the sight of his right eye! Almost he would have turned back to Asgard, giving up his quest for wisdom.
He went on, turning neither to Asgard nor to Mimir's Well. And when he went toward the South he saw Muspelheim, where stood Surtur with the Flaming Sword, a terrible figure, who would one day join the Giants in their war against the Gods. And when he turned North he heard the roaring of the cauldron Hvergelmer as it poured itself out of Niflheim, the place of darkness and dread. And Odin knew that the world must not be left between Surtur, who would destroy it with fire, and Niflheim, that would gather it back to Darkness and Nothingness. He, the eldest of the Gods, would have to win the wisdom that would help to save the world.
And so, with his face stern in front of his loss and pain, Odin All-Father turned and went toward Mimir's Well. It was under the great root of Ygdrassil—the root that grew out of Jötunheim. And there sat Mimir, the Guardian of the Well of Wisdom, with his deep eyes bent upon the deep water. And Mimir, who had drunk every day from the Well of Wisdom, knew who it was that stood before him.
"Hail, Odin, Eldest of the Gods," he said.
Then Odin made reverence to Mimir, the wisest of the world's beings. "I would drink from your well, Mimir," he said.
"There is a price to be paid. All who have come here to drink have shrunk from paying that price. Will you, Eldest of the Gods, pay it?"
"I will not shrink from the price that has to be paid, Mimir," said Odin All-Father.
"Then drink," said Mimir. He filled up a great horn with water from the well and gave it to Odin.
Odin took the horn in both his hands and drank and drank. And as he drank all the future became clear to him. He saw all the sorrows and troubles that would fall upon Men and Gods. But he saw, too, why the sorrows and troubles had to fall, and he saw how they might be borne so that Gods and Men, by being noble in the days of sorrow and trouble, would leave in the world a force that one day, a day that was far off indeed, would destroy the evil that brought terror and sorrow and despair into the world.
The when he had drunk out of the great horn that Mimir had given him, he put his hand to his face and he plucked out his right eye. Terrible was the pain that Odin All-Father endured. But he made no groan nor moan. He bowed his head and put his cloak before his face, as Mimir took the eye and let it sink deep, deep into the water of the Well of Wisdom. And there the Eye of Odin stayed, shining up through the water, a sign to all who came to that place of the price that the Father of the Gods had paid for his wisdom.
I am not learned in these things, but for what it is worth, here is what I take from this myth:
Wisdom has a price, physically and psychologically--in the weight of the knowledge of our mortality-- and in this we find our reward, for as the story says:
“And as he drank all the future became clear to him. He saw all the sorrows and troubles that would fall upon Men and Gods. But he saw, too, why the sorrows and troubles had to fall, and he saw how they might be borne so that Gods and Men, by being noble in the days of sorrow and trouble, would leave in the world a force that one day, a day that was far off indeed, would destroy the evil that brought terror and sorrow and despair into the world.”
On the Dog Brothers path we too pay a physical price for the wisdom and the consciousness that we seek. We accept this because we know its value.
“Odin knew that the world must not be left between Surtur, who would destroy it with fire, and Niflheim, that would gather it back to Darkness and Nothingness. He, the eldest of the Gods, would have to win the wisdom that would help to save the world.”
And so, like Odin, we accept a price that others do not. This brings us to the question under consideration here today: At what point is the price paid enough? At what point is the price too high? After all, Odin gave only one eye, not both!
The Dog Brothers’ path is to “walk as a warrior for all our days”. If we are too dinged up and damaged to “bring it” then metaphorically we have given up our second eye—we will stand useless on the day of the Last Battle on the Plains of Vigard and we will weep from our empty eye sockets as the Valkeryie pass us over for having fallen short of being ready, willing, and able to defend our land, women, and children.
Sometimes, in the spirit of exuberant abandon that accompanies the willingness to “bet our head” as Odin did, as stick fighters we do not recognize the portal from this stage in our Life to the next. We confuse staying too long with staying young-- and in effect we wind up sightless, having given both eyes instead of one!
In plain words, we need to stop fighting while we still have something left—so that we always have “one more fight” left within us.
For me this means that though I fight no longer I train so I can pull the trigger when necessary and go to the place where I am forever young-- for however long that may be--but I have already given my metaphorical “one ey”e to the stick fighting gods in return for the insight of the experience, and no more “eyes” am I willing to give in my search for wisdom.
Intelligence is the amount of time it takes to forget a lesson. A lesson learned clears the way for the next one. A lesson forgotten will be presented once again by Life until we learn it once again. Thus, if I am intelligent, I remember the lessons from my time fighting. There is a trigger I can pull and go to the place where I am “forever young”—a place where, as the country music song says (working from memory here), “I ain’t as young as I once was, but I’m as young once as I ever was.”
To fight is to accept that one might be damaged lastingly. I know I have been. The durability I have left is for providing for my family , , , and my turn on the Plains of Vigard. And when it is my time, the words of Juan Matus (like Odin, Merlin, and Gandolf the Grey, another example of the Wizard archetype) come to mind:
“And thus you will dance to your death here, on this hilltop, at the end of the day. And in your last dance you will tell of your struggle, of the battles you have won and of those you have lost; you will tell of your joys and bewilderments upon encountering personal power. Your dance will tell about the secrets and about the marvels you have stored. And your death will sit here and watch you. The dying sun will glow upon you without burning, as it has done today. The wind will be soft and mellow and your hilltop will tremble. As you reach the end of your dance you will look at the sun, for you will never see it again, in waking or in dreaming, and then your death will point to the south. To the vastness.”
The Adventure continues,