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A Saga of Odhinn

Updated: Nov 11, 2023

The Winning of the Mead of Poetry

The sagas speak often of Odhinn. He was the chief amongst the Aesir, one of the two tribes of gods of the Northern Tradition. God of Wisdom, Knowledge, Healing, the Runes and Rune magic, poetry, war, and royalty. He is known by literally hundreds of names, often descriptive, called kennings

Odhinn has many purposes in the world, some open and some forever secret. Two of his known quests are the delaying of the day of Ragnarök, the End of Days. He cannot stop it coming but he can delay it. The other, the one we will look at here, is his eternal and endless quest for Knowledge and Wisdom.

This is the story of how Odhinn came to possess the Mead of Poetry (Old Norse Óðrœrir, “Stirrer of Inspiration “).

Two tribes of gods, the Aesir and the Vanir, came into contact with each other. They had difficulties getting along and each blamed the other for the problems. The Aesir and Vanir came to hate and fear one another, and these hostilities erupted into war. The Aesir fought by the rules of plain combat, with weapons and brute force, while the Vanir used the subtler means of magic. The war went on for some time, with both sides gaining the upper hand by turns.

Eventually the two tribes of divinities became weary of fighting and decided to call a truce. The two sides agreed to pay tribute to each other by sending hostages to live among the other tribe. Freya, Freyr, and Njord of the Vanir went to the Aesir, and Hoenir (pronounced roughly “HIGH-neer”) and Mimir went to the Vanir.

At the end of the Aesir-Vanir War, the Aesir and Vanir gods and goddesses sealed their truce by spitting into a great vat. From their spittle they formed a being whom they named Kvasir (“Fermented Berry Juice”). Kvasir was the wisest human that had ever lived; any question asked of him, he was able to give a satisfying answer. He became famous and traveled throughout the world giving counsel.

Kvasir was invited to the home of two dwarves, Fjalar (“Deceiver”) and Galar (“Screamer”). When he got thee, the dwarves killed him and brewed mead with his blood. This mead contained his ability to dispense wisdom, and was appropriately named Óðrœrir (“Stirrer of Inspiration”). Any who drank of it would become a poet or a scholar. The mead was kept in three vessels, Són ("blood") and Boðn ("vessel") and the third was a kettle called Óðrerir ("stirrer of inspiration" or "stirrer of fury"):

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

The two dwarves apparently delighted in murder. Soon after this incident, they took the giant Gilling out to sea and drowned him for no good reason. The sounds of Gilling’s weeping wife irritated them, so they killed her as well, this time by dropping a millstone on her head as she passed under the doorway of their house.

But this last act got the dwarves into trouble. When Gilling’s son, Suttung (“Heavy with Drink”), learned of his father’s murder, he seized the dwarves and, at low tide, carried them out to a reef that would soon be covered by the waves. The dwarves begged for their lives, and Suttung granted their request only when they agreed to give him the mead that they had brewed with Kvasir’s blood. Suttung hid the vats of mead in a chamber beneath the mountain Hnitbjorg (“Pulsing Rock”), where he asked his daughter Gunnlod (“Invitation to Battle”) to watch over the vats.

Now Odhinn, the chief of the gods, who is relentless and unstoppable in his pursuit of wisdom, was unhappy with the precious mead’s being hoarded away beneath a mountain. He wanted it and turned his hand toward acquiring it for himself and those he thought worthy of its powers.

Disguised as a wandering farmhand, Odhinn went to the farm of Suttung’s brother, Baugi. There he found nine servants mowing hay. He approached them, took out a whetstone from under his cloak, and offered to sharpen their scythes. They eagerly agreed, and were very happy at how well their scythes cut the hay. They all declared this to be the finest whetstone they had ever seen, and each asked to purchase it. Odhinn consented to sell it, “but,” he warned them, “you must pay a high price.” He then threw the stone into the air, and, fighting for it, the nine killed each other with their scythes.

Odhinn then went to Baugi’s door and introduced himself as “Bölverkr” (“Worker of Misfortune”). He offered to do the work of the nine servants who had, as he told it, so stupidly killed each other in a fight in the field earlier that day. As payment, he demanded a sip of Suttung’s mead.

Baugi responded that he had no control of the mead and that Suttung guarded it closely, but that if Bölverkr could really perform the work of nine men, he would try to help Bölverkr to obtain his desire.

At the end of the growing season, Odhinn had fulfilled his promise to the giant, who then agreed to come with him to Suttung to ask about the mead. Suttung, however, wasn't having any and angrily refused. The disguised god, reminding Baugi of their bargain, convinced the giant to help him in gaining access to Gunnlod’s dwelling. The two went to a part of the mountain that Baugi knew to be nearest to the underground chamber. Odhinn took an drill out from his cloak and handed it to Baugi for him to drill through the rock.

The giant did so, and after much work announced that the hole was finished. Odhinn blew into the hole to verify Baugi’s claim, but when the rock-dust blew back into his face, he knew that he had lied to him. Odhinn then told the giant to finish what he had started. When Baugi proclaimed the hole was complete, Odhinn once again blew into the hole. This time the debris were blown through the hole.

Odhinn thanked Baugi for his help, changed himself into the shape of a snake, and crawled into the hole. Baugi stabbed at him with the dirll, but Odhinn made it through just in time.

Once inside, he assumed the form of a charming young man and made his way to where Gunnlod guarded the mead. He won her favor and secured a promise from her that, if he would sleep with her for three nights, she would allow him three sips of the mead. After the third night, Odhinn went to the mead, which was in three vats, and consumed the contents of each vat in a single draught.

Odhinn then changed his shape yet again, this time into an eagle, and flew off toward Asgard with his prize in his throat. Suttung soon discovered this trickery, took on the form of another eagle, and flew off in pursuit of Odhinn.

When the gods saw their leader approaching with Suttung close behind him, they set out several vessels at the border of Asgard. Odhinn reached the home of his fellow gods before Suttung could catch him, and the giant retreated in anguish. As Odhinn came to the containers, he regurgitated the mead into them. As he did so, however, a few drops fell from his beak to Midgard, the world of humankind, below. These drops are the source of the abilities of all bad and mediocre poets and scholars. But the true poets and scholars are those to whom Odhinn dispenses his mead personally and with care.

In this way Odhinn won the Sacred Mead of Poetry, a great source of his inspiration. He has other sources of wisdom and knowledge which we’ll talk about another time. In the meantime, thank you for coming by and reading this post, I appreciate it. I hope you found it interesting and even enlightening. Please leave a comment and let us know what you’d like to see here next. Any questions on a subject we’ve yet to address? What is something or how to do something? Let us know!

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Blessed Be!

Sterling Knight


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