Odin, the wise one, the cunning one, knew how to give the head of his friend the power of speech and to preserve it forever. What he, apparently, had not thought of was the kind of trauma Mimir would experience being brought back to life as only a severed head. Woops! Maybe he should have thought that one through.

Or maybe he should have at least given him some aspirin.

Today’s comic has some paraphrased text from Kevin Crossley Holland’s The Norse Myths, a really great collection of better-known (and frankly, more important) tales from Norse mythology. He manages to capture the style and flow of Norse poetry while making the stories engaging for modern readers. It’s a great book with great notes at the end and I highly recommend it as a good place to start.

Today’s comic comes from a story about the war between two factions of deities, the Aesir and the Vanir and has its roots in several fragmented tales from Norse Myth. The story begins with the coming of Gullveig, a powerful Vanir witch, to the halls of the Aesir (the group headed by Odin) where she speaks to the gods there of gold and greed. Her speech is so distasteful to Odin and the others that they throw her into the fire and pierce her body with spears. Each time they throw her into the flames she rises again, whole and unharmed and eventually she leaves the Aesir and returns to her homeland. Appalled by the treatment of one of their own, the Vanir gods ready for war with the Aesir.

Nothing escapes the wise and cunning Odin, however. He gathers the Aesir together and they too sharpen their spears and polish their shields, ready for war and blood. The factions meet on the field of battle and cause great destruction to the countryside and to each other. Seeing the devastation, the leaders of each side come together and agree to the exchange of hostages and an end to the war. The Vanir give up two of their greatest members as a show of respect to their rivals. The beautiful Freyja, goddess of beauty and fertility, joins the ranks of the Aesir as does her brother Freyr. Freyja teaches the Aesir her magic and is beloved by all.

Odin, always cunning, sends Hoenir and wise Mimir to his enemies as hostages. Hoenir, at first, appears to be an intelligent and courageous leader but it quickly becomes apparent that without the whispered words of Mimir, he cannot make important decisions on his own, always deferring to the judgments of others. It becomes clear to the Vanir that they have been tricked and have received an unfair trade. Furious, they behead Mimir and send it back to Odin who uses his charms and spells to preserve it and give it back the power of speech. He talks to Mimir, seeks his council frequently, and reaps the benefits of his knowledge.

And of course, looks extra creepy talking to a severed head.

And now some notes: this story is cobbled together from a few sources including Sturlson’s Prose Edda and the Ynglinga Saga as well as the Poetic Edda (specifically the Voluspa). There are some different concepts thrown around in each of them that, when examined, make a more complete story. For example, in the Prose Edda, the gods make their truce by spitting into a jar one after the other. Instead of throwing it out when the truce is made, they use the spit to create a man called Kvasir, a wise man and a product of the peace between the factions. Later, Kvasir is killed and his blood is used to make the mead of Poetry, a major source of inspiration. In the version of the story I’ve used for the comic, Kvasir (a wise god, but not one created by the process outlined above) is sent as a hostage to the Aesir with Freyr and Freyja and it is Mimir’s severed head that acts as a source of inspiration and secret knowledge rather than the blood of Kvasir (who now plays almost no role whatsoever). Interesting stuff!