I’m working through the edits on my second novel Valda Goes Through Hel. It is a sequel to my first one Valda and the Valkyries and follows the title character on a difficult journey as she travels through the Norse land of the dead at the same time that she through one heck of an emotional wringer.
As I was working through some of the comments I got back from my great friend/first reader/editor Lyn Meany Robertson I came across a comment from her about how All-Seeing Odin did not foresee the outcome of a certain event. While I typed out a response to her comment it brought up an interesting train of thought that I wanted to share.
Odin has many different names. You can find a great list of them on this Wikipedia page. He is The Wanderer, Raven God, God of Wishes, Father of Victory and many, many more names including All-Seeing. But when I think of this last name I think it refers to his actual vision, in particular when he is seated on his throne Hlidskjalf. When he is seated there Gylfaginning tells us that “he looked out over the whole world and saw every man’s acts, and knew all things which he saw.” This strikes me as a reference to physical vision.
When Odin trades his eye in exchange for a drink from Mimir’s Well he gains knowledge of the future and the coming end of the gods at Ragnarok. But he still doesn’t know everything, he doesn’t see the outcomes of all of his actions. That sense of fallibility, that the gods are not all-knowing, runs through almost all of the Norse myths. The gods are not perfect: Thor loses his temper; Loki is a liar and a cheat; Odin steals the mead of poetry. For all of their might and power – they have human qualities. (I could just as well say that we have their qualities.) I think it is this humanity that makes their stories so appealing through the years. We still thrill to their legends because we see touches of ourselves within them. Faced with the often intimidating specter of an unknowable future, we can draw comfort from the fact that the gods in some small way share our journey.