For those who seek wisdom, the quest is never-ending. In Hinduism, wisdom and knowledge is envisaged as the Goddess Saraswati. Brahma, the Creator of the Vedas, is her counterpart. He is believed to be both her father as well as his equal and opposite counterpart. Was she created first or was he? The myths are inconclusive.

In Hinduism, Brahma is not worshipped, except at the Brahma Temple in Pushkar, Rajasthan. In all other temples, we see Pita Brahma–a four-headed deity seated on a lotus–on stories carved in stone upon temple walls.

His story is told, but he is never sought.

The Father of all wisdom

In Norse mythology, Odin is the All-Father. His quest for wisdom never ends. He is willing to pay any price to understand the great mysteries of life, which he desires more deeply than anything else. Is it Saraswati and her many embodiments and attributes that he is craving? In a world where everyone chases after Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, it seems that few seek–let alone, find–Saraswati.

Perhaps the trials and sacrifices are too great. Perhaps there is much to distract us on our quest there. But the true seeker never surrenders till his quest is complete.

It is said that on one occasion, Odin hung himself. He wounded himself with his own spear and fasted for nine days and nights in order to discover the runes. The runes are a set of ancient alphabets, which were used to record history as well as prophesise, foresee and foretell the future.

Before we can glimpse into the future, we must first see the past.

Writing is the building block of any society that desires to outlive a human lifespan. It is how we store our thought forms in a tangible form. It is how we immortalise our stories and who we are. If we do not write, we live and we die–leaving little trace behind of who we were and what our lives were like. An alternative to the written word were the images we carved into stone that adorn the walls of our ancient temples.

Together, they tell the story of who we were and who we are destined to one day be.

Odin

The Sacrifice

The sacrifice a father makes is a common motif in mythologies all over the world. But for Odin to succeed in his quest, his own sacrifices were not enough. He needed Mimir. Mimir was the wisest of the gods of the tribe Aesir. He was the guardian of the pool of wisdom and was believed to be a water spirit.

Odin ventured to Mimir’s Well. The well is said to be placed amongst the roots of the world tree Yggdrasil. There dwelt its namesake, Mimir. It is said that Mimir’s knowledge was unparalleled for he was the most knowledgable of all. When Odin arrived, he asked Mimir for a drink. As the well’s guardian–and knowing the true value of such a drink–Mimir refused unless Odin gave his eye in return.

Odin is said to have immediately gouged out one of his eyes and dropped it into the well. Having made the necessary sacrifice, Mimir offered Odin the drink he greatly desired.

But what had Odin acquired in return for his sacrifice?

We, the audience of the tale, never get to discover exactly what wisdom Odin obtained when he lost his eye. Only fragments of the original story remain. The best we can do is put the puzzle pieces together and fill in the blanks ourselves. Or we can borrow from other mythologies to ‘fill in the blanks’. That’s what I like to do. Find the missing puzzle pieces and somehow reassemble them. You’ll never get the full original story back, but at least you’ll be able to create a new one.

In ancient Egypt, there is a story that is different, but it uses the same motif. The Eye. The myth has its roots in a conflict that occurred between Horus with his rival Set. Set is believed to have torn out one or both of Horus’ eyes. The eye was later healed and returned to Horus. Since Horus was a sky deity, ancient storytellers said that Horus’ right eye was the sun and his left eye the moon. Others say that Horus was a representation of Venus–the morning and evening star.

The eye is what allows us to see. It implants certain images in the mind. In addition to what we ‘see’; there is much that we do not see, even though we may possess perfect vision. The quest, then, must have been for perfect perception. To receive this, Odin had to give up his eye. An eye for an eye? In Egyptian myths, it is Thoth–the Moon God–who aids Odin on his quest.

It is said that Mimir was Odin’s maternal uncle. A family dispute is not a new motif in mythology. Even though Odin was Mimir’s uncle, he would not let him drink of the well without receiving something in exchange.

In the end, Mimir was sent by the Aesir as a hostage to the rival gods, the Vanir. Mimir was beheaded. His body was left to decay but his head was returned to the Aesir. Odin preserved the head in herbs and gained knowledge from it. In another myth, Mimir was a smith who taught the hero Siegfried his craft.

Our quest for knowledge is a lifelong one. No matter what we have to give up and sacrifice to possess the knowledge that we seek is always worthwhile. That, of course, is a matter of perception. We would first have to be willing to see the world through a fresh pair of eyes.

Pita Brahma at Sri Krishna Temple, Waterloo Street, Singapore

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