Uncle Odin and the Quest for the Pole

March 7, 2009 § Leave a comment


Odin – Father of Cups in the North

Continuing the family theme, this week Uncle Odin is visiting. (Yes, I know he’s a father, but he’s not my father. He seems much more Uncle-ish to me.) People think he’s a bit mad, what with his one eye and his two pet ravens and his penchant for hanging upside down from trees, but to me he’s just dear old eccentric Uncle Odin. He looks a bit like an old sea pirate and, who knows, maybe he once was.

If you ask him how he lost his eye, he’ll reply, “I didn’t lose it. Losing things is careless. I swapped it for a heart, which took great care”. Press him further and he’ll tell you the story of how he met, fought for, and eventually married a beautiful teacher, the woman who was his wife for 55 years until she died. He never complains about his missing eye, never regrets a thing. “It comes down to this,” he says. “How much are you willing to sacrifice to get what you want? I only had to pay one eye, but I would have given more.”

He’s a romantic, of course, but not a sap. Loyalty, faithfulness, and commitment are the codes he lives by. He dreams big, with his whole heart and mind, and fully commits himself to everything he does – otherwise, why do it? The day you let fear bind your heart is the day you relinquish your right to happiness, as Uncle Odin likes to say.

This, of course, has nothing whatsoever to do with Odin, but my imagination was captured by what Rachel Pollack wrote in the Reader’s Handbook:

“Imagine studying with a professor who lost his right eye in an experiment, but who would do it again for the sake of knowledge, and expects the same kind of commitment from his students…Odin can teach us about commitment and firmness of purpose. Even if we would not go as far as he did, if he comes to us as a teacher in our reading; we may need his lessons. Odin teaches us to take ourselves and our quests seriously.”

Which reminded me of Captain Scott, who is one of my heroes and who famously perished in Antarctica after failing to be the first to reach the South Pole. (Actually, reaching the pole was never the point of his expedition but he needed to throw that in to secure funding for his real task: exploring and recording the area’s natural history to expand knowledge of the world’s species.) Anyway…Scott and everyone in his party knew the risks, but they were driven by a desire greater than the desire to live a long, safe life. The ad placed by Scott to recruit members for the expedition read:

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages. Bitter cold. Long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful…..”

The Father of Cups, unlike the Son (Parsifal), has the benefit of hindsight. He knows how much he has needed to sacrifice and what it got him. I get the feeling that – even if he hadn’t won his wife’s heart – Uncle Odin still wouldn’t regret losing his eye.

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