God Kvasir – Mead of Poetry

Kvasir was the god of poetry. Yes, even among wars, among adventures, there was room for poetry. The birth of Kvasir is no less miraculous than he himself. However, for the clever deity, who understood the plan of the insidious Loki with the fishing net, it is fitting for him to have an unusual story about his birth.

After the war between the Aesir and the Vanir, the two clans spat into a large clay bowl and created the god Kvasir from the mixture of saliva. Everyone was looking for Kvasir’s advice: gods, dwarves, giants, all sorts of other bizarre creatures. And why wouldn’t they – he is created by the wisdom and knowledge of all the gods. He was like a walking source of knowledge. He answered every question directly; when someone asked him what was right and what was wrong, he relaxed, closed his eyes, and invited the interlocutor to continue. The interlocutor thought aloud and came to the conclusions himself. Kvasir has earned the respect of all and the fame of a wise god and poet. Everyone wanted to listen to him and gathered to absorb his wisdom.

But with fame comes envy. It came in the form of two dwarves, the brothers Fjalar and Galar. They invited Kvasir to a feast in their cave. Under the ground, despite the stalactites and humidity, the feast was rich, the dishes delicious and served in golden wrought bowls. Proper banquiet for a deity. After they were all done, the dwarves invited Kvasir a little deeper into the cave, drew sharp knives and stabbed him to death. Kvasir’s blood flowed like a river, and Fjalar and Galar collected it in the Son and Bodn clay bowls, as well as in the Odrorir teapot, and mixed it with honey.

They knew that the blood was precious, only one sip was needed to reach the supreme wisdom of Kvasir, so they kept it in mead and hid it in a safe place. They told the Aesir that the wise poet had choked on his wisdom and died.

Giants and Bolverk

Not long after Kvasir’s death, the giant Gilling and his wife visited the dwarves. The hosts and the giant got into a fight, heated words and quarrels followed. Gilling went out into the fresh air. They took the boat out and circled the sea around Midgard, but crashed into a rock that drowned the giant. The dwarves turned the rock and returned. They had to explain to his wife that Gilling had drowned. It was an accident. His wife was so upset that she annoyed the dwarves. They offered to reassure him where he had drowned. Fjalar took her to the beach, and Galar dropped a stone on her head and killed her.

Suttung threatens the dwarves, Louis Huard

Their son Suttung  was worried – his parents did not return. He went to look for them and went to the dwarves, and Fjalar and Galar began to justify that they had both died in a sudden accident. Suttung became so angry that he grabbed them by the necks and dragged them to the sea. The dwarves were so frightened, they realized that Suttung would kill them, and offered to show him the mead, the collected blood of Kvasir, in exchange for their lives. Mead guarantees wisdom, only one drop is needed and there will be from the wisdom of the great poet. Suttung agreed, his parents were dead anyway, and the mead seemed like a tempting ransom to the lives of the two rogue dwarves.

He took a sip, but took the mead for himself. He carved a box of stone and placed the two bowls and the teapot inside. He hid the box deep in the mountains and set his daughter Gunlod to guard it.

However, Suttung began to brag, and soon the rumor reached Odin. Odin himself, who gave one eye to drink from the well of Mimir’s well of wisdom, was drawn to the thought of more knowledge. Then he decided: he transformed into a giant named Bolverk and went wandering around Midgard. He reached the field owned by Suttung’s brother, Baugi. When the one-eyed Bolverk saw the workers in the field, nine workers were mowing the tall grass. He offered to sharpen their scyths, and they really became the sharpest scyths ever to be in their hands. The workers were so impressed that they offered to buy the sharpener and Bolverk threw it high. They rushed to catch it and cut each other in the rush. 

The one-eyed Bolverk continued down the road. It was getting dark, but he finally reached Baugi’s doorstep. He asked him to feed him with his hospitality from the long exhausting journey. Baugi accepted absentmindedly – his thoughts were that all his workers were dead. The giant just didin’t know how to manage his fields with all his workers dead. Bolverk, however, offered to work in the fields and to be payed for his work from the mead. Baugi agreed to ask his brother about the payment, and to see what he can do about it.

Bolverk worked in the fields all summer. It was time to be payed, but Suttung refused to give of the magic liquid. Bolverk persuaded Baugi to steal the mead, and he accepted it out of fear of the giant because he had done so much work with the power of nine workers without even getting a sweat. He acknowledged his power. He led him to the mountain, where the magic liquid was, dug a hole in the slope. At that moment, Bolverk turned into a snake, and before Baugi could cut off the snake’s body, it had already slipped into the hole.

Odin in his eagle form spits out of the mead, an 18th century manuscript, Jakob Sigurðsson

Gunnlod, Suttung’s daughter, who guarded the cave and the mead, saw a giant in front of her. Odin from a snake had transformed again into Bolverk form. Gunnlod was glad that she finally had someone to talk to, because keeping the mead was a tedious task, and she was quite surprised. Odin in the image of Bolverk sang one of the sacred nine songs he had as enlightenment when he hung on the Tree of Life Yggdrasil. Gunnlod was also captivated by the giant’s appearance. She fell in love. Bolverk seized the moment, asking the naive giant to drink three times the mead, and she agreed. He drained the Odrorir kettle in one gulp, then the Bodn bowl, and finally the Son bowl. He transformed into an eagle and flew away toward Asgard.

Suttung saw the eagle and guessed that something wasn’t right and the mead was probably stolen. He, too, transformed into an eagle, a spell he knew from the wisdom of Kvasir’s mead, and flew after Odin.

The Aesir noticed Odin’s flying towards them, and prepared bowls and cups for the mead, but after him was the eagle Suttung, who overtook him. Suttung was gaining speed, and Odin, rising high and descending over Asgard’s wall, spat out a small amount of the mead. However, part of the amount was spilled from the bowls and cups in a puddle, from which only the poets loved to drink. The rest he kept to himself. He rarely gave it to a god or a man – only in the most special cases, and yet, rarely.