Altered Eyes

A delightful article has been posted and is making the rounds: “An Eye for Odin? Divine Role-Playing in the Age of Sutton Hoo” by Neil Price and Paul Mortimer. I thoroughly recommend it.

One particular table is given on page 531 and I cannot help but present it here. It’s a listing of items with “altered eyes” in what we may assume to be representations of Wōden’s missing eye.

Object and Location Deposition Date Altered Eye
Högom textiles, Sweden c. 500 Left
Elsfleth buckle tongue, Germany c. 500–600 Left
Hellvi helmet mask, Gotland, Sweden c. 550 Right
Torslanda matrix, Öland, Sweden c. 550–700 Right
Uppåkra helmet eyebrow, Skåne, Sweden c. 550–700 Right
Gevninge helmet ocular, Roskilde, Denmark c. 550–700 Right
Vendel grave 12 shield grip, Uppland, Sweden c. 600 Right
Valsgärde grave 7 helmet crest, Uppland, Sweden c. 620–710 Left
Sutton Hoo Mound 1, East Anglia, England Helmet eyebrow, animal head, whetstone, and purse-lid figure c. 625 Left
Uppåkra figurine, Skåne, Sweden c. 700–900 Right
Øster Vandet mask-weight, Denmark c. 700–900 Left
Staraja Ladoga ferrule, Russia c. 750–800 Left
Ribe pendant head, Denmark c. 750–950 Right

Even if you limit to particular areas with more than one find, the results are still mixed as to which eye is altered. It seems like a good bet, if we’re interpreting the finds correctly, that it didn’t matter which eye was missing, just as it doesn’t especially matter now.

Solar Cycle

The sun […] was helped at sunrise and sunset by divine twins in the shape of warriors, riders, horses, or horned animals. […] At its zenith, the sun passed through the sky, where the sky god Týr ensured cosmic order. He did this by sacrificing his hand in the mouth of a chained wolf, which would otherwise devour the sun. The cosmic order was also secured by the thunder god [Þórr], who fought the powers of chaos in the sky and the world serpent in the sea around the world. During the night, the sun travelled in a night-ship in the underworld.

— Anders Andrén, Tracing Old Norse Cosmology (pg 157), on the reconstruction of the early Gotlandic solar cycle


In Norse lore, Óðinn has two brothers: Vili and Vé.1Lokasenna 26 7Sonatorrek 23 2Gylfaginning 6 3Ynglinga saga 3 These names alliterated in earlier stages of the language4Rudolf Simek, Dictionary of Northern Mythology (2007) pg. 362, as well as further back into Proto-Germanic as *Wōdanaz (or *Wōdinaz, dialectally varying), *Wiljô, and *Wīhą.

I personally find the alliteration interesting and useful. In West Saxon Old English, the alliteration is continued as Wōden, Willa, and Wēoh, although the last two are not attested as deities. The closest that we get to seeing the three names together is in Maxims I as Wōden worhte wēos, commonly translated as “Wōden made idols”. 5Maxims I, line 132 The whole section, however, is less supportive of heathen activities:6Translation by Michael Drout, 2007

Woden worhte weos,         wuldor alwalda,
rume roderas;         þæt is rice god,
sylf soðcyning,         sawla nergend,
se us eal forgeaf         þæt we on lifgaþ,
ond eft æt þam ende         eallum wealdeð
monna cynne.         þæt is meotud sylfa.

Woden made idols, the Almighty made heaven, the roomy skies, that is the god of the lands, the true king himself, the savior of souls, who gave us all that we live on, and again at the end will rule all, the kin of men. That is the ruler himself.

Nonetheless, Germanic poetry is very conservative. Components are often reused. It’s entirely possible that Wōden worhte wēos was a fairly common phrase and indicative of native beliefs, but only speculation may be done.

It is with this in mind that I’ve started considering worshipping Willa and Wēoh. Even with Norse sources, there isn’t much lore to go by in such things, but everything starts somewhere. Besides, it provides a possibility of using more of the story about man’s origins in our comparative mythology. More gods, more fun, I suppose.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Lokasenna 26
2. Gylfaginning 6
3. Ynglinga saga 3
4. Rudolf Simek, Dictionary of Northern Mythology (2007) pg. 362
5. Maxims I, line 132
6. Translation by Michael Drout, 2007
7. Sonatorrek 23