Monday, February 22, 2010

History of Nordic Mythology VII: The Source for Poetic Inspiration

Dear “Hyperborea Exists” followers, we’re here again to keep up with our lessons about the history of Nordic mythology and, finally, we go into expanding some of the legends of Nordic mythology, specifically in this extended update we’ll speak about the origin of poetic inspiration and the myth of Odin and the honey mead.

The myth of the poetic honey mead appears in the part of “Edda in prose” made by Snorri Sturluson called the “Skalds-kaparmal”, formed by some episodes that form a cycle and that it is very complex. The myth speaks about the poetry as the fruit of the divine inspiration, which gives us an idea of the importance that was given to it and the prestige the poets in the Scandinavian world had.

In the dawn of time, after a war between the Aces and the Vanes, both declare a truce by spitting on an ink that, using the accumulated saliva, an already-adult man, named Kvasir, is born. He knows everything and has the knowledge of both the Aces and the Vanes.

In Midgard, where humanity lived, Kvasir became famous thanks to his ability to answer any question without mattering how wise was the one that asked. Those that needed advice knew that he would come just by calling him. In one of those trips he meets two dwarves, Fialar and Galar, who invite him to eat deep in their caves. There they murder him and empty his blood in two pots made of mud and a boiler, where they mix it with honey until they obtain a honey mead that turns everyone that drinks it into a poet or erudite.

The giant Baugi, convinced by Odin, drills the chamber of his brother Suttung. This picture represents the giant Baugi making a hole in the cave where the honey mead is hidden. The drill has magic powers: it gets larger every time it is used; there is no place it cannot reach. The dwarves tell the gods that Kvasir has died, after choking with his own knowledge after being unable to find anyone that can compete against him in wisdom.
Afterwards, they invite Gilling, a giant, and his wife, to their lair. They carry Gilling in a rowboat, but it crashes against a rock and knocks over. As he can’t swim, Gilling drowns, but the dwarves manage to turn the boat again and getting back home to tell the giant about her husband’s death. The dwarf Fialar asks her if looking back at the place where he drowned would ease her pain, but it’s all a fallacy. As soon as he crosses the door, Galar throws a stone at her and kills her. When the son of the giants, Suttung, finds out what has happened, he locks the dwarves up and abandons them in an island that ends up covered by the flood tide. Dwarves beg for forgiveness and they offer him the honey mead as compensation for his parents’ deaths. Suttung accepts, takes the valuable honey mead, hides it inside a mountain called Hnitbiorg and puts his sister Gunnlod as guardian.

Odin in search of the honey mead

Next, history revolves around Odin’s efforts to obtain the honey mead from Suttung. Dressed as a peasant, Odin starts his mission. One day, he walks into nine serfs that are harvesting hay and with his sharpening stone he sharpens their sickles. The serfs are so impressed with the result that they decide to buy it from him. Odin accepts under the condition that the price is fair. After that, Odin throws the stone into the air and, anxious, the serfs fight for it. In the melee, they end up cutting each other’s throats with their sickles.

Odin stays in with a giant called Baugi, Suttung’s brother, to whom he hides his true identity telling him that his name is Bolverk. The nine serfs were working for Baugi, who needs to search for new workers for the harvesting. Odin offers himself to make the work of the nine men in exchange for a swig of Suttung’s honey mead. Baugi doubts that his brother accepts to share a single drop of the honey mead, but he promises to help Odin to get it after finishing the job. Odin completes the harvest and he goes to see Suttung with Baugi, but he refuses to share the honey mead. Odin draws a drill called Rati and tells Baugi to dig a hole and gets through Hnitbiorg until reaching the honey mead. Baugi drills the mountain where the honey mead is kept, but Odin makes him to get into the cave.

Necklace or amulet, IX century, Sweden. The figure, maybe a priest of the Odin’s cult, holds a sword and two spears and has an ornamented helmet. Odin is a very complex god; although he is a god of war he is also the god of wine and inspiration, although many see in his multiple faces a common perk: the evasion of oneself, by means of death or drunkenness.
After transforming into a snake, Odin glides through the hole. Baugi, on his last attempt to change his opinion he tries to drill the snake’s tail when he is about to disappear, but fails. Once inside the mountain, Odin seduces Gunnlod, who guards the honey mead, and spends three nights with her. He persuades her to allow him take three swigs of the honey mead, one for each night with her; that is everything Odin needs to empty the three recipients. After that, he turns into an eagle and flies through Asgard. Suttung watches him escape and follows him, also as an eagle. When they see Odin, the Aces bring recipients to Asgard’s yard as they were told. Odin vomits the honey mead, but Suttung follows him closely and excretes unnoticing some of the liquid. That part isn’t picked up, it is left for whoever wants it.

Odin offers the gods the picked up honey mead, and whoever tastes it becomes a consummated poet; but whoever tastes the excreted honey mead only composes bad verses. And with Suttung, some versions say that, after reaching Asgard’s walls, the sun rays touched him and took his eagle disguise away, making him fall to the floor. In others, the gods light a fire that burns his wings, he falls to the ground and dies.
That’s all for today, Hyperborea Exists followers, for the next update I have prepared an introduction to many tales about the descendents of the gods like Freyr or Thor.

Note. You can find some of the info included in this series of chapters in the book Mythology/: Myths, Legends and Fantasies/ by Global Book Publishing, a great work to introduce yourselves into the general
mythology of every culture in the world.

1 comment:

  1. Great Post, i thought you might like my Mead Of Poetry machinima film,
    a new poetic account of the ancient Norse tale and written in the old Norse form of Fornyrdislag.
    Best Wishes
    Celestial Elf ~