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Mimir, the Wise God

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects including education and creative writing.

mimir-the-wise-god

The Old Norse word “mimir” can be translated in two ways: the first meaning is “the one who remembers or memory”; the second is “the wise one.” In fact, mimir—or Mimir, the name of a Norse god—is believed to be the origin for the English word “memory." You can thank the god of wisdom and knowledge for that.

While he started in the realm of Nordic lore, Mimir has branched to into the modern era. His name can be found throughout the Internet. In fact, a Google search reveals that there is a never-ending list of blogs, companies, consulting firms, and other private businesses that bear his name.

In addition, he has new life in other media. He is part of the modern myths of the comic book “universe," as well as a pivotal character in a popular interactive game.

This is not bad for a deity that played a small, but important, role in the exploits of the Norse gods. So how did this god manage to survive the test of time? It’s all in the name . . . and so much more.

A Place in Ancient Literature

Mimir’s story may be old. Most likely, it stretches back to a time when his narratives were passed down from one generation to the next through oral tradition. Eventually, the famed 13th century chronicler, Snorri Sturluson, recorded Mimir’s exploits—as well as the rest of the Nordic deities—in the monumental volume, Prose Edda.

Prose Edda was a collection of stories based on Old Norse Mythology compiled primarily by Sturluson while in Iceland. Several books make up the collection. Among them are Gylfaginning and Skáldskaparmál, which mentions Mimir, briefly.

Prose Edda isn’t the only seminal work of that era to mention Mimir. Two other collections come to mind:

  • Poetic Eddas: A collection of anonymously written poems compiled in the manuscript called the Codex Regius. Two poems, “Völuspá” and “Sigrdrifumal” tell of Mimir’s role in the myth.
  • Heimskringla: Another collection of stories written in Old Norse that were recorded by Sturluson. This includes the “Ynglinga Saga, which mentions Mimir and his role in the Aesir-Vanir War.

Many references to him are brief, but pivotal and graphic. Also, they vary. Even the numerous translations made over the year have altered minor details about him and sagas he was in.

Guardian of the Well

One area many accounts can agree on was his status and the item he was in charge of protecting—and using for his powers. According to these collections, Mimir served many roles, including ambassador, advisor, and confidant between the embattled gods, Aesir (which he was a member) and the Vanir. In addition, he became the eyes and ears (literally—more on that later) for the supreme god, Odin.

Most notably, he guarded and drank from the well of wisdom, which was situated in Johunheim (one of the nine worlds that was the homeland of the frost and rock giants). The well resided under the roots of Yggdasil (the world tree).

mimir-the-wise-god

In Stanza 28 of “Völuspá”, Odin valued the well so much that he sacrificed an eye just to draw water from it. The well, itself, was famously known as Mímisbrunnr (Mimir’s well). In addition, Odin sought council with Mimir while at the well.

There’s a good reason the well was associated with Mimir. In Prose Edda’s “Gylfagninning” it is stated that Mimir drank from it and gained great knowledge. This connection to the water in the well may be the reason he is often called a water spirit in some accounts. Many sites and journals on the matter state that his official title was the god of Wisdom and Knowledge. This is a direct link to the power of the well.

An Ill-Fated Partnership

Not everything turned out great for Mimir. He existed in a perilous mythos. Much of Norse Mythology centered on the struggles between the heavenly gods (the Aesir) and the earthly giant gods (the Vanir).

Despite how much Odin (the leader of the Aesir) valued Mimir, he was not above putting him in peril. One such moment occurred after one of many wars between the two sets of gods ended. In the “Ynglina Saga”, Odin decided to send him and the god Honir (sometimes spelled Hoenir), to the Vanir as part of a hostage exchange to ensure peace.

There was one problem: whereas Mimir was a valuable commodity, Honir wasn’t. The latter was known as being insignificant and dimwitted, despite looking the part of a powerful warrior. The Vanir didn’t catch on. They were impressed with his appearance and eventually made him a leader. Additionally—and fortuitously for Honir—Mimir became his most trusted advisor.

Was Mimir sent as a spy?

Why would Odin send his most incompetent god with one of his most valuable ones? No definitive answers are given by scholars who study Norse mythology. However, this may reflect a tactic that the Vikings and other Germanic tribes used as part of a peace treaty.

Still there are some speculations:

  • Did Odin purposely send Honir as a way to get rid of an incompetent member of the Aesir?
  • Was Mimir sent as a spy?
  • Did the Vanir choose Honir because they believed that he was a leader because he looked the part, and Odin added Mimir to make him look after Honir to make sure he didn’t mess up?

There are no simple answers. And, possibly, there are no answers, at all. What is known, however, is that this hostage exchange didn’t go well for Mimir

The Raw Deal

The Vanir gods grew suspicious of Honir’s ability to lead. They began to notice that he was indecisive when Mimir was not around (Mimir had instructed Honir to let others come up with decisions). When they sought advice during complex times—especially when Mimir wasn’t around—their anointed leader, often responded by saying: “Let others decide.”

Suspecting that Odin sent an incompetent god to join their ranks, they sought revenge. They chose to punish Mimir. It is unclear why the Vanir did this.

The Beheading

The Beheading

The Beheading

Translations and various accounts of the myth differ. Scholars are not sure exactly how the event occurred. What everyone can agree upon is that Mimir met a horrible fate at the hands of the Vanir. He was beheaded. Some scholars speculate that Honir did it to prove to his new tribe that he was now “one of them.” Others state it was a member of the Vanir.

In addition, variations on the story conflict on whether his head was dumped into a river that made it to Asgard, and, eventually, to Odin. From there, Odin (being the supreme god) brought the disembodied head of Mimir back to life and used him as his advisor (some accounts described him using herbs or his own magic to bring him alive). In doing so, he placed him on his shoulder. In doing so, Mimir could directly speak into Odin’s ear.

This symbiotic relationship between the gods continued onward through the mythos’ timeline until it reached the penultimate war better known as Ragnarok (Doom of the Gods). This climatic event was traditionally seen as the end of the Norse gods. However, modern culture and literature stated otherwise.

Mimir Joins the Marvel Universe

Mighty Thor, the iconic God of Thunder, found new life in the pages of the pictorial modern myth better known in the comic book world as the Marvel Universe (and later the cinematic equivalent, Marvel Cinematic Universe or MCU).

Bringing back a god from ancient mythology proved to be extremely successful. As a result, Marvel Comics brought Thor’s fellow Nordic Gods back to life and created a universe within a universe in comic book lore.

In many issues, mimir was represented as a "flaming head"

In many issues, mimir was represented as a "flaming head"

As a result, Mimir reemerged. He first appeared in Thor #240 (October 1975). Later, he was a character in:

  • Thor #252 (Oct. 1976),
  • #255 (1977),
  • #274 (August 1978),
  • Thor Annual #9 (1981), and
  • Thor #83 (Oct. 2004).

Mimir was given a background too. According the Marvel Comics version, Mimir was a child of Buri, Odin’s uncle. Once, he was an enemy of Odin. Then, after Odin transformed him into a fiery being, the two became allies.

In addition—and true to the original myth—Odin sacrificed his right eye to Mimir for the wisdom of the upcoming to Ragnarok (which had the same meaning as the original myth). Unlike the Norse myth, Mimir was killed by Thor.

“The Smartest Man Alive”

Dying at the hands of Marvel’s Thor wasn’t the end of Mimir. In the 21st century, he became a pivotal character in another medium. This time, he popped up in the interactive game world of God of War.

Mimir still retained much of his characteristics from the original source. He’s known as the God of Knowledge and Wisdom (as one of his alias) and plays the role of the wizard/spiritual guide. However, this latest version has some noticeable differences:

  • He’s confined to a tree;
  • Has horns; and
  • Is missing an eye (taken by Odin in a complete twist from the Norse mythology).

Even his back story has been altered. He fell out of favor with Odin. This explains his confinement to the tree, loss of an eye, and imprisonment for 109 years for daring to propose a peaceful solution to the conflict between the Aesir and Vanir.

The “smartest man alive” moniker is an interesting one. It is what he calls himself when he meets Kratos.

In addition, Mimir of God of War is a culmination of gods and deities from other mythologies has several aliases such as:

  • Puck (the deity from English folktales and William Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night Dream which explains the horn);
  • Robin Goodfellow (another name for Puck in English folklore);
  • God of Wisdom;
  • The Smartest Man Alive; and
  • Head (much like Odin, Kratos—the main avatar of the game—uses Mimir’s live head as an advisor).

The “smartest man alive” moniker is an interesting one. It is what he calls himself when he first met Kratos.

“Me? I’m the greatest ambassador to the gods, the Giants, and all the creatures of the Nine Realms. I know every corner of these lands, every language spoken, every war waged, every deal ever struck. They call me . . . Mimir—the smartest man.”

This quote, which was used in the God of War Fandom Wiki page, tells Kratos (and the gamer controlling him) nearly everything that one needs to know about this version of the Norse god. While he still abides to the original myth (i.e. giants and the Nine Realms), it also reveals a sense of self-awareness of his prowess as being extremely intelligent.

Mimir from God of War game.

Mimir from God of War game.

Smart Enough to Live On

Well into the 21st century, Mimir endures. From being the disembodied advisor to Odin, to a brief member of the Marvel Universe, and now a pivotal character in a popular interactive game, Mimir proves to be smart enough to endure the test of time.

In addition, his name is the origin for modern words such as memory. That, alone, makes the name ideal.

Mimir’s reputation as a god of wisdom and knowledge makes this ancient god an extremely likely candidate for many companies to identify with. This doesn’t just apply to a name for a business; it can refer to a product. A business software program bears his name. Also, a few bloggers have named their sites “Mimir” or “Mimir’s well” in an attempt to give readers the indication that these websites will dispense some form of knowledge that can be useful for them.

Mimir has come a long way. By the looks of things, he may be around for a long time.

Works Cited

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Dean Traylor

Comments

Rodric Anthony from Surprise, Arizona on February 16, 2021:

At first, I thought you were giving a back story to Thor's first hammer, but this article was interesting. I like Norse mythology. Good read.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on February 14, 2021:

Interesting. Well presented.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on February 14, 2021:

Very interesting. I have read a lot about the Norse gods but your article added to my info. Thanks