Alcohol was a very important part of ancient civilization’s culture. It helps define their leisure time and identity as a people and thus gets a prominent role in their stories and myths. Mead is no different to the Nordic peoples during the viking age. So important, in fact that they use the drink as essentially a metaphor for how inspiration for creative endeavors possesses people. The Mead of Poetry is a mythical beverage that causes its drinker to gain great wisdom, to the point of being able to recite any information or answer any question. There’s a whole myth devoted to its creation and the aftermath of such a valuable treasure existing.
It is quite bizarre.
As is expected of a Norse myth, we begin with the conclusion of a war. This one was between the two main families of the Norse gods – the Aesir and the Vanir. To mark their truce, the gods proceed to spit into a vat. Not to let good spittle go to waste, they decide to turn this mixture into a man named Kvasir. This man was so wise that there was no question he could not answer, and proceeded to travel spreading his knowledge and counsel to mankind.
During his travels, he visited two dwarves. Fjalar (Deceiver) and Galar (Screamer), with such fine and upstanding names proceeded to kill Kvasir, and drain him of his blood. This, they mixed with honey – creating the first ever “mead”. This beverage temporarily granted all of Kvasir’s wisdom, making them a scholar or poet. Such a brilliant man’s disappearance did not go unnoticed, however. The gods questioned them about it, but they claimed he had choked on his intelligence.
This brutal endeavor wasn’t enough for the dwarves. They, with some friends, proceeded to visit some giants. They capsized one’s ship, causing him to drown. And later, when they tired of his wife’s loud weeping, dropped a millstone on her head. The giant’s adult son, Suttung, was not pleased when he heard of this, and snatched up the dwarves and stranded them on a small reef at low tide where they would surely drown when the sea rose. The dwarves begged and pleaded, and finally offered to trade the mead for their lives, to which the giant agreed. He took his prize back to a hiding place underneath a mountain and placed his daughter there to guard it.
Odin’s thirst…for knowledge
Odin, meanwhile, heard about this mead’s existence and desired to obtain it for himself. Disguising himself as a wandering farmhand, Odin went to the farm belonging to Suttung’s brother. He offered to sharpen the scythes of the nine servants mowing hay. After a demonstration of how well the scythes could now cut, they were all quite impressed by the whetstone and offered to buy it. Odin consented to sell, but claimed it would cost them a high price, and threw it into the air. In their scramble to catch it, the nine servants killed each other with their newly sharpened scythes. Odin then went to the brother and offered to do the work of the nine servants, and demanded a sip of the mead as his price. The brother had no access to the mead, but still agreed to help Odin obtain it if he could actually do the work of the nine men. Odin accomplished his herculean task, but Suttung refused to allow Odin access to the mead.
Odin reminded the brother that he promised to help him obtain it, and had him drill a hole in the mountain. When the hole was complete, Odin turned into a snake, and made his way through the hole. He then transformed into a charming man and was able to seduce Suttung’s daughter into allowing him to take a sip of the mead if he slept with her for three nights. Odin was able to consume the entire container’s contents in one sip. He then turned into an eagle and took off towards Asgard, still holding the mead in his throat.
The Mead of Poetry returns to Asgard
However, Suttung was also able to turn into an eagle, and gave pursuit. During the chase, Odin swallowed a small bit of the mead, which proceeded to come out his other end and landed in Midgard (the land of humankind). This is known as the rhymester’s share, and is the source of inspiration for bad poets. Odin is to blame for shitty poetry. Suttung was unable to catch Odin before he reached Asgard, and was able to spit the rest of the mead out into some containers. Odin doles out this surviving portion, the mead of poetry, to inspire great works of art.