So you can imagine our excitement when we discovered that there is a special drink, a mead, that provides poetic inspiration, that gives total wisdom, information, and the ability to solve any question: the famed Mead of Suttungr.

So take a sip and delve into all you need to know about this tuitional tipple.

Spit happens

History owes a huge debt to that Icelandic author, historian, poet, and politician, Snorri Sturluson. Modern historians and scholars generally agree that he compiled parts of the Prose Edda and Heimskringla – perhaps the two most definitive sources we have of Norse mythology and early medieval Norwegian royal history, respectively. 

It is in the second part of the Prose Edda, often called the Skáldskaparmál (Old Norse for "The Language of Poetry"), that the myth of the Mead of Suttungr is found.

The creation of the myth arises from that eternal conflict between the two groups of deities that occupy the Norse pantheon – the Æsir and the Vanir

The former group includes many well-known Norse gods like Odin, Thor, and Frigg, whilst the latter includes mostly gods associated with fertility, foresight, and wisdom, such as Njörðr and his children, Freyja and Freyr.

At the conclusion of this war – there is much scholarly debate about the historicity of the actual events of this mythical war - which saw the gods merge under one pantheon – the gods sealed a truce and peace by spitting into a barrel. 

To keep a permanent reminder of their peace agreement, the Gods, using this spit, forged a man – Kvasir. This name is a bit of a pun in Old Norse that doesn't quite translate but means something like "Fermented Berry Juice." 

READ MORE: What was the language of the Vikings?

Aside from his rather disgusting creation, Kvasir was exceptionally wise and spent most of his time traveling to help spread his knowledge.

Death by dwarves and other incidents

Upon his travels, Kvasir came across two dwarves, Fjalar and Galar. Being somewhat unhospitable hosts, instead of seeking to gain some knowledge and wisdom from Kvasir, they killed him and poured his blood into three barrels - Óðrerir and Boðn and Són

They then turn his blood into mead, an alcoholic drink normally made by fermenting honey with water, adding spices and honey. This mead would endow the drinker with some of Kvasir's intelligence and instantly turn them into a poet or a scholar. Covering their tracks, the two dwarves told the gods that Kvasir had died under the weight of his own intelligence.

The dwarves, however, are not done with their trickery and penchant for murder. Inviting a giant and his wife to their home, they drown the husband causing the wife to kill herself due to grief.

Feasting in Viking times involved the copious drinking of alcoholic beverages, especially mead. Illustration: The Viking Herald

When the couple's son, Suttungr, finds out what happens, he threatens the dwarves with death until they compensate him by offering the bloody mead. 

The mead eventually gets stolen by Odin, who is chased by Suttungr after both transform into eagles. Odin eventually gets away but not before letting some of this precious mead leak from his behind. 

The precious mead was only reserved for the Gods, whilst the second mead – the one that had quite literally passed through Odin – could be drunk by anyone, including us mere mortals. It did not have the same magical properties as the original Suttungr mead, though.

Interpretations, meanings, and modern references

The use of alcohol as a social lubricant and ritual element made it an important part of Viking societies. The most common alcoholic beverage was beer, but mead was a close second. 

Despite the fact that it was often quite harmful to make mead – think of collecting honey without all the modern protective equipment – it became a much loved and common drink throughout the societies that the Norse dominated. 

Feasting – that most non-violent and fun Viking activity – involved the copious drinking of alcoholic beverages, especially mead. It should be no surprise then that mead features so heavily in the Norse sagas.

Despite the mead being a part of a ripping yarn, many scholars have pointed out that the drink itself is a colorful metaphor for poetic inspiration. 

Linguists and scholars have pointed out that modern translations of the Prose Edda are not quite satisfactory; they lose some of their color and flair in the original Old Norse. 

The best example of this, some scholars argue, is that the Suttungr's mead is reserved for Gods and the occasional human. Whilst the majority of poets drank and were inspired by the mead made from excrement, which was surely a medieval burn, by Snorri, at his less glorious peers.

The mead is also referenced in Henrik Ibsen's play, Sancthansnatten, whilst also being the basis of a new cultural movement originated by Norwegian author Ingeborg Refling Hagen.

The Irish Examiner has written more on the history of mead, available here.

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