Kvasir and the mead of poetry.

At the end of the war between the Æsir and the Vanir, all of the gods and goddesses sealed their truce by chewing berries and spitting them out into a vat. To keep a symbol of this truce, they created from their spittle a man named Kvasir (fermented berry juice)

Kvasir (pronounced “KVAHSS-eer”) was the wisest man who ever lived. There was no question for which he did not have an answer. He travelled the world far and wide sharing his teachings and knowledge of the nine worlds.

Dwarves Fjalar and Galar murdered Kvasir, and used his blood to form the mead of poetry, which made anybody who drank it a “poet or scholar”.

When the gods questioned them about Kvasir’s disappearance, Fjalar and Galar told them that he had choked on his own wisdom.

The dwarves then invited a giant called Gilling and his wife to their home. They asked him to go rowing with them and after they were far out to sea they capsized the boat. Gilling was unable to swim and was drowned while the dwarves righted the boat and rowed home. They told Gilling’s wife of the accident and she became very upset and began weeping. Fjalar asked her if she would be comforted by looking out to sea in the direction of where Gilling had been drowned. She wanted to do this and Fjalar then told Galar to climb above the door and drop a stone onto her and thus end her wailing. When Gilling’s son Suttung learned of their murder, he seized the dwarves, and put them on a rock covered by the tide. The dwarves begged Suttung for their lives and offered him the mead as compensation for his father. Suttung agreed, and took the mead home. He hid it deep in the mountain Hnitbjörg and set his daughter Gunnlöð as its guardian.

Odin learned of the mead’s existence and wanted its wisdom and knowledge.

Odin disguised himself as a man, and called himself Bölverkr (grief worker).

Bölverkr traveled to Jötenheim and eventually came to a valley where nine men were working in a field, scything grass. Bölverkr could see that the work was slow going because the scythes were not sharp. Striking up a conversation, Bölverkr learned that the men worked for Baugi, the brother of Suttung. He offered to sharpen their scythes. They gratefully accepted and were amazed to find how much quicker the work went after he had finished his sharpening. They offered to buy the whetstone from him.

Bölverkr responded by throwing the whetstone high into the air. The men all scrambled to catch the whetstone and they all cut each other’s throats with their scythes and fell dead. He caught the whetstone as it fell, and continued on his journey.

That evening, Bölverkr made an appearance at the farm of Baugi, the giant, and asked for hospitality. Baugi was not in a pleasant mood. Describing how his nine workmen had killed each other, and he despaired of finding replacements that late in the season. Bölverkr offered to do the work of all nine men for the rest of the season. Provided that Baugi helped him obtain a drink of the mead of poetry from his brother, Suttung. Baugi said he had nothing to do with Suttung’s mead, but he would go along with him and try to persuade his brother.

Bölverkr did the work of nine men and more for the rest of the summer. At the end of the summer, Bölverkr and Baugi approached Suttung and asked for a drink of mead. Suttung refused outright.

Bölverkr then suggested to Baugi to use a trick. Together, they went to the mountain Hnitbjörg. Bölverkr pulled out an auger and directed Baugi to use it to drill through the side of the mountain into the chamber where the mead was stored. Eventually, Baugi announced that he had broken through into the chamber. Bölverkr went up to the hole, and blew into it. Stone chips blew back into his face, proving that the hole didn’t penetrate the stone. Realizing that Baugi had lied to him and was trying to cheat him, Bölverkr harshly set Baugi back to work.

A second time, Baugi announced he had breached the mountain. This time, Bölverk’s breath of air blew the stone chips into the mountain, so he knew Baugi was right. Immediately, Bölverkr turned himself into the shape of a snake, and slithered into the hole. Baugi tried to skewer the snake with the auger, but he was too late.

Once inside, Odin assumed the form of a charming young man and made his way to where Gunnlod guarded the mead. He won her favour and she promised that, if he would sleep with her for three nights, she would grant him three sips of the mead. After the third night, Odin went to the mead, which was in three vats, and consumed the contents of each vat in a single draught. He then transformed into an eagle and flew away. When Suttung discovered the theft, he took the shape of an eagle and pursued Odin. When the gods spied their leader approaching with Suttung close behind him, they set out several vessels at the rim of their fortress in which he spat the mead out. But Suttung was so close to him that he let some drop backwards. Odin reached the abode of his fellow gods before Suttung could catch him, and the giant retreated in anguish. The few drops that fell from his beak, fell to Midgard, the world of humankind, below. These drops, known as the poetaster’s part are the source of the abilities of all bad and mediocre poets and scholars. But the true poets and scholars are those to whom Odin dispenses his mead personally and with care.