Chop Wood Carry Water Plant Seeds is a blog about Self-Sufficient Homesteading. How can we live by creating a sustainable bio-diverse world, instead of by consuming and destroying the only one we have? What kind of teaching have you got if you exclude nature?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Kvasir's Mead of Poetry

Poetry, as the shaping of language through memory, imagination, and speech, was regarded as a mystery, a secret craft not unlike magic. Such power required considerable training, which came at a price. Curiously, at every stage in the myths, poetry is considered so powerful that no single individual can be said to contain or own it. The tales of how Odin claimed power over poets are full of duplicity, theft, and lying, but poetry itself escapes any attempt to utterly control it. It seems entirely appropriate that a common kenning for poetry was mead – for example, “Kvasir’s mead” or “the dwarfs’ mead”. In this tradition, one can be said to literally become drunk with poetry.
~ Kvasir was one of the wisest of the gods, and traveled the world teaching everyone he met. Two dwarves, named Fjalar and Galar, thought to profit by Kvasir’s death; they killed him and reduced his remains in a pot called Odrerir, where they mixed Kvasir’s blood with honey to create a powerful mead. Anyone who drank this mead would gain access to Kvasir’s wisdom: the mead, itself, was poetry.

~ Suttung the giant had a different axe to grind with this murderous pair of dwarves; they had killed his mother. Upon capturing them, he demanded the mead of poetry as a ransom for their lives. Hoping to keep its power to himself, he kept the mead in a deep cave, guarded by his daughter, Gunnlod. Everyone coveted the mead – particularly Odin, who was known to steal that which caught his eye.

~ Through a series of disguises and schemes, Odin managed to break into the cave and seduce the giant’s daughter. For three nights, he drank the mead; on the third night, he changed into an eagle in order to escape. Suttung discovered the theft, and changed into an eagle as well to give chase. Some of the mead escaped Odin’s mouth as he flew; some he allowed to drop, in order to distract the giant close behind him. When he finally made it over the walls of Asgard, he spat out the bulk of the mead into vessels the gods had prepared, making his plan complete.
But as the story ends, the gods themselves cannot claim all of the precious mead for themselves. Both deliberately and by accident, some of the mead fell on the earth, where it touched some of the living; those whom the spilled mead have touched become poets. While a somewhat visceral and queasy metaphor for divine inspiration, it is an important point that in this metaphor,

- poetry is regurgitated and re-consumed. It travels through many stages and transformations (like mead); it does not belong to any one individual.
- It is likewise an important point that poetry – the distillation of the mind of the wisest of gods, and providing access to that knowledge – is constantly shadowed by deception and distortion.
- Finally, the poets themselves are the media (the vessels, the transformers) of poetry. In Norse tradition, poets are powerful, but one should never entirely trust them – no more than one should ever entirely trust Odin.
And for the poets themselves – and their audience – the myth suggests that while it is best shared liberally, one must try never to take in too much poetry at once.


  1. Great Post :D
    I thought you might like my Mead Of Poetry machinima film,
    A new poetic account of the ancient Norse tale written in the old Norse poetic form of Fornyrdislag.
    Bright Blessings