Heathens of Yorkshire
-by Toni Wilson, May 2019
Today I will be writing about Kvasir (the “wisest being”) and the mead of poetry.
The creation of Kvasir
Snorri Sturluson writes about this in the Skáldskaparmál section of his Edda. The peace between the aesir and Vanir (I have mentioned the war between the two in previous posts) was sealed when both groups spat into a kettle. The gods wished to make the token of their peace more permanent, so they fashioned a man out of his spittle. He was Kvasir. As Snorri states “he is so wise that no one can ask him a question he can not answer.”
The creation of the mead of poetry
Kvasir spent most of his life dispensing wisdom to numerous inhabitants of the nine worlds. Soon word spread of his legendary wisdom and this caught the attention of two dwarves named Fjalar and Galar. Envious of Kvasir’s gifts, the dwarves killed him, mixed his blood with honey and fermented the mixture in the kettle named Ódrerir. Thus, this mixture became the mead of poetry.
The dwarves then invited the giant Gilling and his wife to visit their hall. They killed Gilling by over tuning his boat and his wife by dropping a millstone on her head. Gilling’s son Suttung sought revenge for his parents’ death and left the pair stranded on a rock to be drowned by the rising tide. In order to save their lives, the dwarves gave the mead of poetry to Suttung. Suttung hid Ódrerir and two other vessels, Bodn an Són which contained the mead into the mountain Hnitbjörg, under the care of his daughter Gunnlöð.
Odin’s quest for the mead
As Odin’s obsession with knowledge is limitless this item piqued his interest. He travelled to Jotunheim in order to visit the famous mountain, disguised as Bölverk (Evil-deed). He came across the nine slaves of the giant Baugi (Suttung’s brother) and threw a whetstone in the air. As the slaves rushed to catch the whetstone the scythes they were carrying moved around violently which resulted in the death of the slaves. As compensation for this, Odin agreed to do the work of the nine slaves. He would only do this however in exchange for one drink of the mead of poetry.
When the work was complete Odin asked Suttung for a drink of the mead, as per the agreement. He refused. Odin therefore planned to drill into Hnitbjörg to obtain the mead using the drill Named Rati (which means “Traveler” or “Madman”) with Baugi’s help.
The following is an excerpt from Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda regarding the story.
“Then Baugi said that he had bored into the mountain, but Bölverk blew into the borehole, and shavings flew back at him. And so he found out that Baugi wished to deceive him, and he had him bore into the mountain. Baugi drilled some more, and when Bölverk blew into the hole a second time, the shavings flew in. Then Bölverk changed himself into a snake and crawled into the borehole, and Baugi struck at him with the drill but missed. Bölverk went into where Gunnlöð was and slept with her for three nights, and she granted him three drinks of the mead. In the first he drank everything in Ódrerir, in the second everything in Bodn, in the third everything in Són, and so he had all the mead”
Here we see a less than honourable side of Odin that seems more typical behaviour of Loki for example. I believe this brings to light the complicated nature of the personalities of certain deities and in Odin’s case shows a particular tendency to do what ever it takes on his never-ending quest for knowledge.
The Section continues as follows.
“Then he changed himself into an eagle and flew off as quickly as he could, but when Suttung saw the eagle flying, he changed himself into an eagle and flew after him. But when the aesir saw where Odin was flying, they put their barrel out front, and when Odin came over Asgard, he spat up the mead into the barrel. But Suttung was so close to catching him that he sent some mead out the back and this was not saved. Everyone who wished had some of that, and it is called the bad poets’ share. But Odin gave the mead to the aesir and to those humans who could compose verse”
With this, the gift of poetry was bestowed on humanity.