The mead of poetry : Odin’s drink of choice

The legend of Óðrœrir, or the Mead of poetry and inspiration, holds a special place in Scandinavian cultural history and continues to inspire literature, art, and music.

The association of the intoxicating beverage with the Nordic pantheon’s great patron, Odin, is far from innocent. This link, vital throughout the story, presupposes the divine license for ritual drunkenness, if not its obligation. Thus, the myth reveals a particularly inclined attitude towards excessive drinking among early Scandinavian peoples. Although often overlooked by scholars, the mythological role of intoxication plays a key role in early civilizations, and Odin’s Mead of Inspiration is a prime example.

The story serves as a warning and framework for these same excesses. Odin, patron of poetry and madness, is reduced to a fool, a wanderer, and a renegade for revelling in the excesses of alcohol. Although centered on his mad obsession for knowledge, the story presents alcohol as the key ensabler to Odin’s revelations. Odin, who at times extols the drink and at times preaches sobriety, embodies the ambivalent character of alcohol in ancient Scandinavian society.

The mead of poetry: where the story comes from

Two legends have come down to us concerning the myth of the blessed mead. One in the learned words of Snorri Sturluson, captured in the pages of the Young Edda, the other in the poems of the Old Edda.

The first book tells how Odin, the god of gods, stole the secrets of poetry to bring wisdom and beauty to Asgard, his celestial kingdom. The second, older book sings the praises of this magical mead, the nectar of the gods, which gives drinkers a clearer vision of the world and divine inspiration. Two spellbinding stories, woven from the threads of Norse mythology, that speak to us of the power of art and beauty, and the importance of knowledge and wisdom in human life.

Odin Mead of
Odin est un dieu énigmatique : tout puissant et pourtant cafouilleur. À la fois sage et ivrogne. Sa recherche obsessive du savoir le conduit à perdre un oeil et se faire bannir. Certains aspects rappellent même Dionysos. Qui est-il?

Odin Obsessed with Wisdom

The legend began in Asgard, the kingdom of the gods. Among them was Odin, father of all gods and all men. At the end of a long war between Asgard and Vanaheim, the gods from both sides gathered for a truce and spat together into a large cauldron. From this divine spit, Kvasir was born, the first of men. Kvasir, which means fruit mash, traveled the world and gained a reputation for being the wisest of men, dispensing knowledge and advice.

One day, Kvasir ventured into the home of two dwarves Fjalar and Galar, who invited him into their home. Desperate for his legendary wisdom, the two brothers killed the unfortunate traveler and attempted to steal his secret. They slashed Kvasir into pieces and made a wonderful drink with his limbs. And so they invented Óðrœrir, the drink that brings madness and inspiration.

When Odin heard of the creation of this powerful drink, he nearly lost his mind. Quickly, he set out in pursuit of this drink using all the trickery, deceit, and malice he was capable of. He would stop at nothing.

But misfortune never comes alone, and the Fjalar and Galar were not far behind for those who obsess with absolutes. The two drarwes soon invited two giants to show them their potion and passed them through the sword. The giant’s elder brother Sutur, claimed compensation and, to save their lives, the two brothers had to give up the coveted drink.

Mead of poetry and the wild hunt
Åsgårdsreien (The Wild Hunt), Peter Nicolai Arbo (1872)

As soon as it was created, the inspiration mead was already undermining the pillars of the cosmos.

Odin thus set out disguised in search of the giant. He found the giant in a field supervising the mowing of his hay by 9 slaves. Inspired by the lure of gain, Odin offered the slaves to magically sharpen their sickle to the point where the grain would pile up by itself.

However, he imposed a condition as mean as cruel: the slaves would have to fight among themselves to deserve the miraculous tool. None survived, and Odin offered the giant to replace them all in the labor in exchange for a sip of mead. As soon as promised, as soon as betrayed. The giant refused to honor his bet. His other brother had given the precious liquid to his daughter Gunnloth, but agreed to allow a visit by Odin.

The god, disguising himself again, seduced the daughter and shared her bed for three nights. Taking advantage of her sleep, he drank deeply from the three huge containers but was caught in the act. Quickly, he transformed into an eagle, gripped the last container in his talons, and flew to Asgard, thus brining back the legendary mead with him.

Bravery, foolishness, and cunning are at the heart of this strange ode that tells the story of the youth of a crazy god. At that time, the inspiring mead cast its shadow over song contests, the receptions of the great hall, and the excesses of warrior celebrations.

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