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The Norse God Odin

Odin and the Mead of Poetic Inspiration



Odin - Norse God Odin


When Gods Spit A New God Is Born

Odin was the head of the Norse pantheon and an Aesir god. Where the Aesir came from we don't know, but the great Icelandic writer of the Prose Edda, Snorri Surluson (1179-1241), traced the ancestry of the Aesir to Troy*. Before the Aesir gods came to Asgard, there was a more peaceful group of gods, who were associated with fertility, called the Vanir. In the inevitable war between the two groups of gods, the Aesir did not wipe out the Vanir; indeed, they might have lost the war, but instead they reached an agreement, granting equal status and intermarriage. The truce was cemented when both the Aesir and the Vanir gods spat into a bowl. From the bowl was created a new god named Kvasir, who wandered throughout the world teaching wisdom.

Odin the Shape-Changer

Like another supreme god, Zeus, Odin could change shape at will. Sometimes he turned himself into an eagle. When in human shape, he enjoyed pretending to be an ordinary mortal. Odin's predilection for disguise and his inordinate thirst for knowledge resulted in the al creation of great human poets.

Alchemical Dwarves Brew the Mead of Inspiration

Norse mythology is full of dwarves and giants, as well as gods. As was also the case in Greek mythology, the giants came before the ruling (again, the Aesir) gods. Two of the dwarves -- who had sprung from the decaying corpse of Ymir, Fjalar and Galar, invited Kvasir to their home, where they killed him. The dwarves then drained Kvasir's, mixed it with honey and let it ferment inside two jars, called Son and Bodhn, and a kettle, named Odrorir, to create a very special mead. Those who drank of it would become inspired.

Dwarves Kill Giants

Soon afterwards, the dwarves invited a giant named Gilling to go on a boat ride with them. The dwarves upset the boat when it was far from shore and Gilling fell out. Unable to swim he drowned. When the dwarves told Gilling's widow, she began to weep. To stop her wailing, one of the dwarves dropped a stone on her.

Dwarves Pay Recompense

Gilling's son Suttung was understandably enraged. He threatened Fjalar and Galar until they offered him something suitable for compensation. This was the mead of inspiration, which Suttung gave his daughter Gunnlod to guard in a cave.

Odin in Disguise Seeks a Taste of the Mead

Odin in human guise, as Bolverk, went to the house of another son of Gilling -- Baugi. Baugi had just lost his nine workers. That Odin/Bolverk had been responsible for their demise, Baugi did not know. Bolverk offered to do the work of the nine laborers for the entire summer in exchange for a drink of Suttung's mead.

Baugi agreed at least to try to persuade his brother to offer Bolverk have a drink in exchange for the work. Perhaps Baugi thought Bolverk's promise that of a fool, since no mortal could hope to do the work of nine, but Baugi wasn't staking anything of his own, so he had nothing to lose.

Baugi Keeps His End of the Bargain

At summer's end, Bolverk had upheld his end, so it was time for Baugi to attempt to make good. He took Bolverk with him to visit brother. Suttung, who had no reason to comply with the request, refused. Bolverk wouldn't be dissuaded and told Baugi they would need to be crafty. Baugi, reluctantly, agreed to help some more.

Bolverk and Baugi went to the cave where Gunnlod guarded the mead. Bolverk told Baugi to bore a hole through the cave. And Baugi did bore, but carelessly, and with a bad grace. Still, he produced a small hole, so Bolverk (revealing his godliness in case there had been any doubt left) turned into a snake in order to slither easily through the hole, Baugi tried to stab Odin with his auger, but he missed, and Odin made it through.

To Quaff, Odin Must Do Another Favor

On the other side of the hole in the cave wall was Suttung's daughter Gunnlod who was not at all amiss to letting the god have a drink of the mead. But she did want something for herself in return. If Odin would sleep with her, she would let him have one drink. Odin obliged. After the first night and the morning's drink, she agreed to let him have a second drink in exchange for a second night. By the end of the two nights, two of the vessels had been drained. Gunnlod and Odin made the same bargain for the third night/drink and so the next day, Odin, filled with the inspirational mead, departed in the shape of an eagle to speed his return to his home at Asgard.

Odin Regurgitates His Excess Mead

Suttung saw the eagle flying from the cave and figured out what had happened, so he also assumed eagle form and chased after Odin. Meanwhile, the Aesir aware of the chase and Odin's need for a receptacle for the vast quantity of mead he'd imbibed, created a fire just inside the walls of Asgard. Flying into it, Suttung burned his wings and fell to earth, only the earth that he fell into was on fire, and so he burned. Meanwhile, Odin reached his waiting fellow gods, and regurgitated all the mead he had drunk. Most went into vessels the other Aesir gods had prepared for him, but some spilled out and it's from this spilled mead that poets gain their inspiration.

Online Sources Formerly at [URL = http://www.kvasir.co.uk/KvasirStory.htm] Kvasir

Troy and the Norse Gods

The Prose Edda

of Snorri Sturlson

Translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur [1916]

"Near the earth's centre was made that goodliest of homes and haunts that ever have been, which is called Troy, even that which we call Turkland. This abode was much more gloriously made than others, and fashioned with more skill of craftsmanship in manifold wise, both in luxury and in the wealth which was there in abundance. There were twelve kingdoms and one High King, and many sovereignties belonged to each kingdom; in the stronghold were twelve chieftains. These chieftains were in every manly part greatly above other men that have ever been in the world. One king among them was called Múnón or Mennón; and he was wedded to the daughter of the High King Priam, her who was called Tróán; they had a child named Trór, whom we call Thor."

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