Bleed for the Mead

One Norse myth I can’t recall coming across before reading Neil Gaiman’s retelling was about the god Kvasir and the origin of poetry. Since poets were the ones telling these tales in the first place, it makes sense that they’d give some kind of divine defense for their craft. The story starts at the end of the war between the Aesir and Vanir, when both groups of gods decided to seal their pact by spitting into a vat. And because the minds of Teutonic deities work in strange ways (these are the ones who built the world out of a giant’s body, after all), they shaped the saliva into a god named Kvasir. He was the wisest of all of them, and I’m not sure what that says about the influence of saliva on brain power.

Two jealous dwarves named Fjalar and Galar invited Kvasir to their home, then they killed him and mixed his blood with honey, creating a mead that would provide poetic skill.

These same dwarves killed a giant couple, drowning one giant and then crushing his wife. Their son Suttung sought revenge on them, and they offered the mead in exchange for their lives.

When Odin learned about this, he found work on the farm of Suttung’s brother Baugi under the name of Bölverk. asking for a sip of the mead as his wages. While Braugi had no claim on the mead, he agreed to do what he could to convince his brother. He failed, but when Odin found out that Suttung kept the mead inside a mountain, he tricked Braugi into drilling a hole in it, and then entered as a snake.

Odin seduced Suttung’s daughter Gunnlod, who was guarding the mead, and she agreed to let him have three sips of it.

Using his godly drinking power (I believe Loki and Thor have also shown signs of having this ability), he drained all of it in these three sips, then escaped back to Asgard in the form of an eagle and regurgitated it into a vat. In his haste to get away from the pursuing Suttung, he pooped out a bit of the mead, and this is what inspires bad poets.

So when someone says a poem is shitty, that’s quite literal according to the Norse. Odin kept the rest of the mead to parcel out as he saw fit. So when someone is a successful storyteller, it’s because they drank from a mixture of saliva, blood, and honey that was regurgitated by a bird.

Picture by Helena Rosova
I’d advise you not to try making your own unless you’re a god, and probably not even then. The story probably ties in with how drunkenness can inspire some creative people, but it obviously doesn’t work all the time. It’s probably more the lack of inhibitions than the booze itself, anyway.

Source: Child of Yden
Kvasir actually makes another appearance in the tale of the binding of Loki, in which he’s the one who susses out that Loki has turned himself into a fish. Gaiman’s explanation is that Kvasir has come back to life, but I don’t know if there’s any classical source for that. It’s probably more likely that this was just an alternate version of the myth cycle where Kvasir hadn’t died. But you never can tell with deities.

This entry was posted in Authors, Mythology, Neil Gaiman, Norse, Poetry and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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