"Nordic mythology presents the same eternal image in the story of the poet-shaman Odin (or Woden), who must hang on the cosmic tree for nine days and nine nights to receive a sublime revelation. He ascends the Tree to surrender to the streaming of cosmic currents through its leaves and branches. Through this ordeal he acquires the runes, a secret alphabet composed of divinatory symbols. The runes represent the generative formulas of all possible languages, the bases of all verbal and written expressions in which human knowledge can be captured and transmitted. By his ordeal the "tree-hung" shaman acquires the magical power of language, but still needs access to the transcendent wisdom that will use language for its instrument. For this second endowment, Odin must descend into the underworld, to the root of the Tree, and drink from the miraculous Well of Mimir. The name Mimir is related to the Latin memor, hence Mimir’s Well has been called the “well of remembrance”. Ralph Metzner explains:
• It was said that to drink from this well would give one knowledge of the beginnings and origins of things — of humans, of life, of the worlds... In German translations, the term used to describe Mimir’s well is marchenreich, “filled with stories” — a clue that to drink from the well was an experience that involved both visioning and storytelling. Stories tell us about our past, and visions tell us about our future. To drink from Mimir’s well, then, is to enter into a state of consciousness of recollection, where we can remember our evolutionary origins, our relatedness to the realms of animals and plants, and our primordial nature as children of Earth...
. . Nordic myth says that when Odin came to the Well of Mimir, he was confronted with a test by its guardian. The giant demanded an act of surrender before allowing Odin to drink at the Well. To gain illumination by mystic memory, Odin must surrender one of his eyes. Hence this shaman became known as the One-Eyed Seer.
The myth teaches that we must surrender our one-sided way of seeing and understanding, the preclusive rational mentation of the left brain, in order to realize the poetic-visionary faculties of the other eye, the right brain awareness. Curiously, the left-brained mentality, when surrendered, does not go away. According to the Icelandic Eddas, “when the giant Mimir, or other gods of knowledge-seeking shamans, drank from the well, they would see Odin’s eye looking back at them.” Sunk to the bottom of the well, the sacrificed eye (the rational faculty, Odin's left eye) keeps seeing. ac At this point it would appear that the higher teaching of the myth proposes an arresting thought: if we peer deeply enough into the well of ancestral wisdom, the rational, left-brain thinking with which we are so identified and in which we invest the sole validity for knowing how the world works, will be there peering back at us. Here the myth conveys a key survival lesson:rationality is not precluded from the deep-level transrational knowing of ancient seership, even though the rational limits of cognition must be surpassed for that deeper knowing to become experiential. This paradox was uniquely understood in the tradition of the Gnostics, pagan spiritual teachers who asserted the basic complementarity of rational and visionary knowledge.
John Lamb Lash