Wounded I hung on a wind-swept gallows
For nine long nights,
Pierced by a spear, pledged to Odhinn,
Offered, myself to myself
The wisest know not from whence spring
The roots of that ancient rood
They gave me no bread,Hávamál: The Sayings of Hár
They gave me no mead,
I looked down;
with a loud cry
I took up runes;
from that tree I fell.
I wink at you, a sign of shared hidden knowledge. The term, wink, comes from German, and derives from Norse mythology. Odin, the god, gave up an eye for knowledge.
Odin craved knowledge and power. He watched as the Norns inscribed runes on the trunk and roots of the great tree, Yggdrasil. What the Norns wrote became manifest. Odin desired this knowledge. It required great sacrifice. A sacrifice to Odin usually meant a strangling and stabbing at once. Odin sacrificed himself to himself, hanging himself from the tree and stabbing himself with his spear. He hung for nine days and nights, refusing offers of food and drink. More dead that alive, he perceived the secrets of the runes. He acquired vast powers.
Runes are the ancient Germanic alphabet. Runes are letters, they are also magic. Spelling becomes spells. The alphabet is a key invention of our modern world. Literacy restructured consciousness, giving us pages to store knowledge, to learn science and arts and technology, to communicate from a distance, even after death.
First scrolls, then books. Books were a handy invention, easy to hide and carry a secret message. The invention of the book was at the heart of the Christian revolution, the religion that ultimately replaced Norse mythology, taking from it key stories. In the Christian story, Jesus was nailed to a cross, called the tree of life. Inscribed upon the cross were the letters INRI, “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.” Jesus is stabbed with a spear. He refuses the drink offered him. He descends into hell and comes back after three days, having sacrificed himself for the sins of the world. Great stories never die.