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Mimir's Well, A Scandinavian Myth by Julia Clinton Jones


In the north of Europe there is a rugged land, where the winters are long and dark, with short bright summers. Nine hundred years ago the people there were pagans, believing in gods and giants, and their mythology is full of wonderful stories. As these myths, or sacred fables, tell of strange adventures, I think you will like them quite as well as even the Arabian Nights.

Take your maps now, and find this wild north land. It is called Scandinavia, and comprises Norway and Sweden. The home of these Northern gods was a city called Asgard, built above the clouds, in the midst of which stood Valhalla, the hall of the chief god, Odin. Such a marvellous place as this was! It had a golden roof that reflected light over all the earth, just like the sun, and its ceiling was supported by spears, while millions of shields formed its walls, over which were draped coats of mail. A huge wolf stood before its immense gates, through which eight hundred men could march abreast. Around the walls flowed a deep river, through whose waves Odin's guests were forced to wade. But I can not tell you now of Odin's feast, which was always being held in Valhalla, nor of his guests, the heroes, whom the beautiful Battle Maidens brought there on bloody shields from the earth. Asgard was overshadowed by the mighty tree Igdrasil. This tree was more marvellous than any of which you ever heard; no cork, nor India rubber, nor banyan tree could begin to compare with it; for this was the Life-Tree, and had been growing before creation. The horrible dragon, Death, gnawed constantly at its roots, but three sisters, the Nornas, watering them daily from the Life-Spring, kept the tree flourishing. Seated under its shade, the elder sisters (Past and Present) spun away briskly at the wonderful web of Time, which the youngest (the Future) amused herself by tearing to pieces. Far down in Giant-land, where the roots began to shoot, was an ancient well, guarded by the good giant Mimir (Memory). There the gods always went for a morning draught that should make them wise in their daily tasks, since this was the well of wisdom.

On one occasion there was a disturbance in Asgard. Loki, a bad spirit, living there in disguise, had been playing tricks on the goddesses, and setting the gods by the ears through his mischief-making pranks, while leading them into many dangerous scrapes, though as yet he had not been found out. His children, too, were just as bad as himself, his son Fenris (Pain), a hideous howling wolf, being the terror of Asgard, while Hela, his daughter (Death), was more horrible than I can describe. Besides these, Loki had brought in other bad spirits, and altogether Asgard was greatly disturbed. Odin himself did not know what to do. He asked the Nornas, but they could not answer, although the youngest hinted that if her lips had not been sealed she could have told something. At last he determined to see Mimir, and take a drink from his well. Saddling his eight-footed horse Sleipnir, away he rode in the night, all alone, over the Rainbow Bridge that joins Asgard with Earth, down to dark Giant-land. He had often before been there to consult Mimir; for although Odin was very wise, Mimir was wiser still, since he guarded the source of wisdom.

The giant was sitting deep in thought by the well, his white beard flowing down far below his waist, which was clasped by a girdle graven with curious characters, as old as the world. He heard Odin coming, and rising to meet him, said this was just what he had known must happen; for what else could have been expected with such a set as Loki and his family living in Asgard? The first thing to be done, he said, was to cast them out from among the gods, then bind them fast in some safe place far away.

What do you suppose this advice cost? Giant-land, you know, was very dark, and although the well was full of wisdom, Mimir had not always light enough to read its secrets. Odin's eye was the sun; so Mimir was glad enough to give his horn of water for a daily loan of Odin's glowing eye, while Odin was willing thus to buy the advice that should make Asgard happy again.