Kvasir was the Norse god whose blood became the first mead, a drink that made a poet out of those who imbibed it. This drink, blood fermented with honey, was the motive for several murders, and wound up in the hands of the god of poets and inspired ecstasy, Odin.
The story of Kvasir is one level another John Barleycorn story – he dies to make mead, just as Barleycorn did to make beer. But there’s clearly more to the story, given that mead bestowed wisdom, just as Kvasir had while alive. He shared freely with all he met, and died for it.
We’re all familiar with nose-to-tail eating, the idea that you should use all of an animal once it’s been slaughtered. Thanks to the taboo on cannibalism and various laws about indignity to dead bodies, we tend not to put human bodies to post-death use. Gods, however, are not so squeamish. The Norse gods in particular show thrift and ingenuity, as well as a strong stomach, in their use of their dead compatriots.
I should point out that the Norse gods could, on occasion, lay on a proper funeral: Baldr was buried with full honours. But the dead bodies of one giant and two gods were clearly too valuable to be left lying around.
In my first post on Rosmerta, I focused on her as a goddess in her own right. This time around, I want to examine the ideas put forth in Michael Enright’s thesis Lady with a mead-cup, which argues that the cult of Rosmerta and Mercury was the basis for the later cult of Odin and various prophetic, mead-serving goddesses (and others) associated with him.
In Norse myth we have two stories involving the theft of a substance that confers a magical benefit to the user. Both involve the thief taking the form of an eagle. Both involve a pursuit with a god and a giant. Of course, the two myths have very different results, although in both cases the final score is Aesir 1, Jotunar 0.
One is the myth of the giant Þiazi kidnapping Iðunn to get the apples of immortality, the other is the story of how Oðin stole the mead of poetry from the giant Suttungr.