Nectar of the Gods: Alcoholic Mythology

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Here are a handful of stories from around the globe that illustrate the long-time love of alcohol that connects the world.

The Kegger of the Gods

Norse mythology tells of Aegir, the ale brewer of the gods, who held a big party for honored guests every winter. The party was held inside a great hall whose floor was littered with glittering gold, providing enough light that no fires were necessary for illumination. The special beer for the event was brewed in a giant cauldron given to him by Thor and served in magical cups that refilled as soon as they were empty. He even had a couple of loyal servants who distributed food and otherwise cared for the guests' needs. The shindig was the highlight of the social season and all the gods attended. However, like so many off-campus college parties, alcohol and animosity could sometimes spoil a perfectly good evening.

According to the Poetic Edda, a collection of mythological poems, the party started off great, with everyone drinking and eating and telling stories. As they sat down for the big feast, the inebriated guests offered praise to the two lowly servants, Fimafeng and Eldir. The snobby rich kid of the gods, Loki, in his drunken arrogance, took offense to the gesture, feeling the servants were not worth such accolades, and killed Fimafeng. The others kicked him out of the party for being a jerk, but he returned shortly after, demanding to be shown some respect and allowed back at the table.

At first everyone ignored him, but he guilt-tripped Odin, king of the gods, into letting him return. But Loki couldn't leave well enough alone. He insulted the other guests, challenged them to fights, called into question the fidelity of everyone at the table, and pulled old rumors and skeletons out of the closet to “defend himself” against “attacks” from the other gods, who were simply asking him to shut up. This went on until Thor, the starting defensive lineman of the gods, arrived fashionably late and threatened to break every bone in Loki's annoying body. Knowing that Thor would actually do it, Loki decided to leave while he still walking.

Loki didn't get away unharmed, though. Skaoi, one of the goddesses he insulted that night, caught up with the god and tied him to a rock. Above his naked body, she hung a poisonous snake, whose fangs dripped acidic venom into a small dish, held up by Loki's wife, Sigyn. Whenever the dish filled, she had to pull it away and pour the venom on the ground. This meant the venom would occasionally drip onto her husband, causing him immense pain. According to legend, Loki's violent writhing is what causes earthquakes. Of course this could have all been avoided if Loki had simply known when to say when.

Rum Warms More Than the Soul

Rum has been known to do some very strange things to a person, many of which sound a lot like when a person is possessed by Ogoun, a warrior spirit in the voodoo religion. When Ogoun takes over a man, the original personality is replaced by one that is often completely different. For example, he will become brash and antagonistic, which is fine because Ogoun is supposedly bulletproof. These possessed men will wildly wave a machete, smoke cigars, chase women, and demand rum by saying, “Gren mwe fret,” which translates to “My testicles are cold” (presumably the rum will warm them). Some have even been known to wash their hands in flaming rum without showing any signs of pain - at least, we can assume, until all that rum they drank wears off. Thankfully they don't use the flaming rum on other, chilly body parts.

Put Saint Brigid on the Guest List

We've all heard about Jesus turning water to wine at a wedding, which is impressive, but it's a parlor trick when you consider the feats of the Catholic Saint Brigid. Her abbey, the first convent in Ireland, was visited by a cadre of Cardinals who were owed every hospitality, including an open bar. When the abbey's kegs had run dry, Brigid told the other nuns to dip their pitchers into a nearby bathtub, and serve the men the water. Reluctantly they agreed and were amazed to find that the water turned to beer by the time it touched the guests' lips.

She pulled the same trick with the members of a leper colony she was looking after. When the men complained they had no food, Brigid blessed a bathtub and the water became hearty beer for the men to drink. Finally, it has been said that one barrel of beer that she sent to a neighboring town was able to fill 17 more barrels of the same size. With skills like that, it's a good bet she was really popular at parties.

B.A.C. (Bunny Alcohol Content)

Part of the ancient Aztec mythology is centered around the Ometochtli, a family of deities who represent the excess in life. The matriarch of the family, Mayahuel, was the goddess of fertility, but also gave man the agave plant, used to make tequila and mezcal. Dad was Patecatl, the guy who discovered fermentation, as well as peyote, a natural psychotropic drug. From their union spawned the Centzon Totochtin, the 400 rabbits of drunkenness.

The Aztec drink of choice was pulque, a syrupy, pulpy alcohol made from the fermented sap of the agave plant. Pulque was available to almost everyone, but most people were cut off after four cups. The elderly, on the other hand, had earned as many cups as they could handle. The priests were also able to drink as much as they wanted in order to commune with the gods - and work up the nerve to commit human sacrifices. A believer's drunkenness was measured on a scale of rabbits, with two or three rabbits being a petty good buzz, all the way up to 400, which we can only imagine meant, “poke him with a stick and see if he's dead.”

So the next time you're doing tequila shots with friends, instead of saying “three sheets to the wind,” perhaps you could say you're “at least 10 rabbits in” and pay a little honor to Mayahuel, Patecatl, and their 400 kids.

Bacchus' Girls Gone Wild

Bacchus, first known as the Greek god Dionysus, was the God of Wine. His early followers were women who held secret meetings called Baccanalia. These Baccanalia were really little more than an excuse to get hammered on wine, a drink forbidden to women at the time, though there were religious rituals praising Bacchus involved. Later, men were allowed to join, and the baccanalians started to hold their "meetings" five times a month.

Of course if you take naked men, naked women, a culture with loose sexual boundaries, and add in all the wine you can drink, some acts only seen on pay-per-view were bound to happen. This bothered some of the more upstanding members of society (probably because they weren't invited) who complained to local officials. Their constituents aside, politicians also wanted to disband the cult because the parties had become known as dens of political discord, where it was rumored powerful players got together and drunkenly schemed to overthrow the government.  Scared about their jobs - and their lives - the Roman Senate banned the cult in 186 BC in a decree known as the Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus. Anyone caught at a Baccanalia afterwards was usually executed, but that didn't stop loyal worshipers from having smaller, more private affairs in their homes.

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October 18, 2010 - 10:02am
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