The Mead of Poetry in Norse Mythology
Mead was a very important alcoholic beverage in Nordic cultures. This is evident in the myths and stories surrounding mead and how it came to being.
Read on to discover how the Mead of Poetry – the most popular type of mead in Norse mythology – was brewed by a group of dwarfs.
The end of Aesir-Vanir War
After a fierce and lengthy war involving the two major races of Norse gods – the Aesir and Vanir – a peace accord was reached. It was agreed that the Aesir and Vanir would split the sacrifices humans offered to the gods equally. A hostage exchange deal was also struck. The Aesir allowed Norse god Hoenir and Mimir the Wise to go and live among the Vanir gods, while the Vanir allowed Njord and his children, Freya and Freyr, to live among the Aesir in Asgard.
Kvasir – the wisest of the Aesir
To seal the peace accord between the Aesir and Vanir, the gods spat into a bowl. The myth goes on to say that the gods deemed the content of the bowl too precious to discard away. Therefore, the Aesir gods used the contents of spittle of the gods to create a being called Kvasir, who is said to be the wisest among the Aesir.
Such was the vastness of Kvasir’s wisdom that he could provide answers to any question posed to him. He was also a master of poetry (“the spoken word”). Soon Kvasir began to venture into worlds outside of Asgard, sharing his knowledge and poetry with beings of all kinds.
The murder of Kvasir and the brewing of the Mead of Poetry
In one of Kvasir’s journeys into Nidavellir (the realm of the dwarfs), his path crossed with two dwarfs – Galar and Fjalar. Realizing how wise Kvasir was, the dwarfs decided to kill Kvasir and then use his blood to brew a magical type of mead known as the Mead of Poetry. Kvasir’s blood was mixed with honey to make the mead.
Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda states that drinking the Mead of Poetry made the drinker as a wise scholar and poet. In other words, the drinker, like Kvasir, will be able to answer any question he/she is asked.
The giant Suttung seizes the Mead of Poetry from the dwarfs
After brewing the mead, the dwarfs send the giant Gilling to sea and murder him for fun. Upon hearing the news of her husband’s death, Gilling’s wife sobs uncontrollably. Her incessant weeping causes the dwarfs to get wound up, therefore they get rid of her by dropping a huge stone on top of her head.
With both his parents killed by the dwarfs, Suttung sets out to avenge their deaths. He seizes the dwarfs and sends them out to sea. Suttung vows to kill all of them if they do not hand over to him the mead they had made from the blood of Kvasir to him. The dwarfs comply with Sutung’s demand.
Suttung places the barrels of mead in an underground cave in the mountain Hnitbjorg. He then leaves his daughter, Gunnlod, in charge of keeping the mead safe.
How Odin acquired the Mead of Poetry
After gaining the trust of Suttung’s brother Baugi, Odin, the chief of the Aesir gods, managed to sneak himself into the chamber that held the Mead of Poetry. Once inside, he used his wits and charm to convince Gunnlod to allow him take a sip of the mead. Odin instead drank all the mead and then flew away, having shape shifted into an eagle.
When Suttung found out that all the mead had gone, he too shape shifted into an eagle and chased after Odin. The Aesir gods at the walls of Asgard intervened by erecting a barrier to prevent Suttung from catching Odin.
Once Odin was safe within the walls of Asgard, he regurgitated the mead that he had drunk, filling up several barrels.
While the barrels were being a few drops of mead fell into the realm of Midgard (i.e. Earth). According to the myth this explains the source of the poetic prowess and inspiration of Viking bards.
More facts about the Mead of Poetry
Here are some more things that you probably did not know about the Mead of Poetry and Scandinavian mead in general:
- It was believed that in Valhalla, Odin’s magnificent hall in Asgard, Odin and the brave fallen warriors in battle were served with spectacular foods and drinks. The kind of drink served was the Poetry of Mead.
- To the Vikings and many Nordic cultures, drinking was an extremely important social event that allowed ties and alliances to be strengthened. One of their favorite alcoholic beverages was mead, an alcoholic drink brewed from honey and fermented water.
- According to the Dictionary of Northern Mythology, the meaning of Kvasir’s name in Old Norse comes out as “Fermented Berry Juice”.
- In some varieties of mead, fruits and grains were used when brewing.
- A typical mead in Scandinavia is said to have between 8-20 percent alcohol content.
- Due to difficulty in getting hold of a lot of honey, mead would probably not have been drunk with the same frequency as other beverages such as beer and wine. The Nordic areas is not a thriving place for bees because flowering seasons are not that long. It is possible to make up for the shortfall of honey in Vikings areas, honey was imported from other warmer climate areas down south.