III) Scandinavian mythology: Mead

As regards Norse mythology, the intoxicating drink granting eternal life, wisdom and poetic inspiration to the deities is Mead. One of the most important myths, contained in the 10th-century Hávamál 2496 and in the early 13th-century Skáldskaparmál 2497, explains the origin of the sacredness of Mead and how the gods take possession of the ultimate beverage:

‘After the truce between the Aesir and the Vanir, each of them spat into a vessel, and from this fluid they made, as a token of peace, the man Kvasir, who was very wise. Kvasir was slain by two giants, Fjalarr and Galarr, who caught his blood in the kettle Othrerir and two vessels. The blood they mixed with honey, and from this arose the mead of the Scalds, [i.e. a divine beverage which procured ‘Scaldship’, i. e. poetry and knowledge]2498

Óðinn, the supreme god, set out to gain the mead to obtain immortality and supremacy. After all sorts of incidents, Óðinn managed to acquire the magic mead from Gunnlöð (‘the one who incites to the battle’), who was in charge of protecting the precious drink. He turned into an eagle and flew away. When they saw Óðinn arriving, the Aesir brought their vessel outside so that Óðinn could regurgitate the inspiring beverage into it. This is how Óðinn and the Aesir obtained immortality, absolute knowledge and the gift of poetry. In this myth, it is interesting to note that mead is obtained through the fermentation of honey and the spit of the two divine races, which justifies the divinity of the liquid. Interestingly, spit or saliva, which plays the part of water in this myth, is believed to enhance fermentation.

Another noteworthy reference to mead concerns the nanny-goat Heiðrún,2499 who, perched on the roof of the magnificent banquet hall Valhöll, where Óðinn gave splendid feasts, grazed the young branches of the ash tree Yggdrasill (or Læraðr).2500 It is told that mead flew from Heiðrún’s udder in such quantities that it would fill a whole vat every day. The Einherjar, the divine warriors of Óðinn, would feast in Valhöll every night after fighting, and would rise from the dead thanks to the immortal properties of Heiðrún’s mead.2501


verses 104-110, composed of six poems, the most ancient dating from the 10th c., the antiquity of the myth is certain.


Chapters 5 and 6, part 2 of the Edda by Snorri Sturluson, 1220-1230.


Mortensen, 2003, pp. 66-68 ; Renaud, 1996, p. 45 ; Willis, 2007, p. 194.


Heiðrún is a female goat because its name ends with –rún, an element which appears in some Scandinavian female names and which could signifies ‘bright secret’.


Renaud, 1996, pp. 41-42.


They would also eat the boarSæhrímnir, cooked every day in the cauldron Eldhrímnir by the cook Andhrímnir.